Dec. 5th, 2016

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We had taken over the work tables next to the stock rooms for mission prep. Security had its own storage, armory and magazine - and that was just inside the building. But we also maintained and had input into the Site Operations stock rooms, which had both disgorged and gathered an amazing variety of parts, goods, equipment, tools and gear. Logistics now took the place of the catalogs one sees in every place of employment: Grainger, U-Line, Aramark/Galls, Snap Tool, Graybar - as none could deliver in a place where there was no UPS, FedEx, US Mail or even DHL.

No Fry's Electronics, Costco, Home Depot, Ace Hardware or Orchard Supply Hardware either. Oh, there were occasional empty buildings, looted shells or wrecked storefronts - but they depend on trucks too.

No trucks, no deliveries.

We, meaning Security, had risked lives - and in self defense taken them - to fill these rooms. Now the eight of us were packing for a little excursion, a field trip, which might require rebuilding equipment and would require keeping control of a small cage in a big facility.

If we didn't think to bring it, we wouldn't have it - and would die lacking it.

I'd lied to Legal 1. One of the three guards should never have left the site. Not only was he a veteran, he was my budding hope of developing an organic counter IED capability. But he was neither a veteran of the US military nor was he suited by temperament or personality to very dangerous, precise, finicky work.

Too damn bad.

He had been through his nation's basic military training, combat engineer school, and a brutal counter-mining program in which pass/fail was measured in trainee lives. He'd also walked away from the US joint EOD school after his sponsors had flown his wife and kids to America. He correctly realized (dumb people don't go to bomb school) that his own odds of seeing his kids grown up were essentially zero if he returned home to do the job he had been drafted into.

While fighting deportation, he'd gotten a job as a landscaper. After a review of my newly created security files post-Firecracker, I had immediately transferred him to Security and launched a successful rescue operation to save his family. Then he'd been assigned a course of sprouts - all guard posts, infirmary guard, assistant trainer, assistant security systems tech, cross familiarization with facilities engineering, our data center, IT support and our budding automotive shop.

None of this changed the fact that while the EOD instructors would have given him a pass, they had really wanted to downcheck him. Unsure of himself, nervous, prone to guesswork - horrible traits for a conventional bomb tech, who has to stand up to very aggressive people (his bosses) and say, "No."

He didn't need a spine, I would provide him with one. But he needed proper kit and in violation of safety, sanity, what remained of the law, and common sense, I had obtained it for him.

The proper paperwork for our demo shed (signed with "KEEP OUT! NO ENTRY WITHOUT SECURITY ESCORT! NO ELECTRONICS EVER! DEADLY FORCE WILL BE USED!" and skulls) and blast pits at the South Gate, small arms range and the "Back 40" had been typed up and E-mailed to HQ for action. I might have typ0'd th3 @ddR3S$.

So 'Mo' and I were going over the parts of his gear. Mine was already packed and ready to go. We'd already packed and safed the fun stuff in the demo shed. This was the rest of it.

He and I carried the same (crappy) detection gear. Flashlights, hand mirrors, a hand wand as likely to set off a charge as find a wire, a fiber optic inspection camera, high and low voltage probes, and smartphones loaded with vaguely relevant software (magnetometer, camera, ranging) and a picture gallery of related gear.

I also had a thick, very sharp hunting knife and two smaller knives. As the only training I'd managed outside of books (carefully censored) was from Samir (not going on this one) and 'Mo,' my approach to an IED would be to 1) recognize it and 2) GTFO for values of Get The Fuck Out.

But if I couldn't, I would have to cut wire and trust in the same Allah / Jehovah / Yahweh who was down with The City becoming The Barbeque. Bring your own sauce.

'Mo' had a hook, loop, pulley and wire kit on one leg and an electronics tool kit on the other. He wore soft body armor, a helmet and a handgun but his weapon was his mind. And a mini oxy torch in a belt pack. And the carefully wrapped bundles of 'play dough' in his backpack.

I wanted a bomb robot so bad I could taste it. But if there were any left operational, no one was admitting to it. So instead we had two of the next best thing. They ran on love, not batteries.

Attack dogs are easy to train. Teach them to hate everything that moves but to be afraid of their master. But enough about my childhood.

Guard dogs and police K-9s are much harder to train. They work on both love and hate in proper measure.

'George' and 'Richard' were Doberman K-9s in training whose trainer had been killed. We found them frantic in a kennel in the back yard of her home. They were still looking for her, and probably always would. Meanwhile they tolerated their half trained handler, her husband. As stockbroker was a singularly pointless profession here and now, Alvin had made lemonade from radioactive lemons and accepted a guard job.

(I have to hand it to HQ. Once they realized a remote site was not only hiring but doing it to Company standards in the middle of an apocalypse, they'd E-mailed me the relevant passwords and kept further comments to themselves.)

George had worked for us for some years before the Firecracker. Mild, soft spoken, huge - his nickname had been 'Tiny.' He was diligent but not all that bright. His performance evaluations rated him highly on customer service but poorly on safety and foresights.

George worshiped the ground I walked on. He was a genuinely decent man doing the best he could in a world of shit, and it had all come crashing home to him when I had literally beat the piss out of him at the range - in front of a crowd - for muzzling me.

This is a cardinal sin worse than mere battery - pointing a firearm at a person you are not ready and willing to kill.

I'd helped him up, he'd started to bawl an apology, which I interrupted and accepted, and then we'd gone on a run during which I'd explained to him what he'd done, why it was not OK, and that he could either shape the fuck up or transfer, with my blessing, to Cafeteria or Janitorial.

He had shaped up. He now carried one of our few automatic rifles (shhhh! what ATF doesn't know won't hurt us!) and could be relied upon to use short, precise bursts to proper effect. Call him a half trained infantryman. On convoy halts he was the designated dismount for the Hate Truck.

All four of us now carry silenced pistols and suppressors for our primary firearms. (Again, if there are any ATF agents left alive in a one hundred mile radius, they are either deep cover agents or recently retired, involuntary, for health reasons.) Normally Security did not need these toys, but patrols, ambushes, and night operations (including hunting) had given us a healthy appreciation for the ability to reach out and touch someone without waking the neighborhood. The pistols in particularly were silenced .22 long rifle, called 'Hush Puppies' in Vietnam for their use against sentry dogs.

Each of us carried three loads - a combat load, or what we needed to move and shoot and communicate; a survival load, to stay alive; and a sustainment load of water, ammo and food. We would cache the latter, about 100 pounds per person.

Any time I started to confuse us with special operations troops, my body would remind me. Even a twisted ankle would be a mobility kill, followed shortly by the real McCoy. We carried as much as we dared but still probably not enough.

We did share one capability with special operations troops. Each of us was a proven shooter. We would all do our jobs, with intensity and under fire. Four of us on the line meant four of us fighting. That matters.

We couldn't use the technicians as pack mules, as much as I longed to. They had their own loads to carry. Two IT techs, a network engineer and a Diesel mechanic with some electrical skills. Each had their profession's basic tool kit strapped to their body plus one large item they'd requested and I'd approved.

Daswant was your typical H1B IT tech, except for his love of fast cars and faster women. He had not really wanted to go but I'd beg-sisted. In addition to laptop, punch down tools, testers, etc. he'd brought a large, bulky cell phone he kept on his body. Even while showering he'd kept the shower bag containing it nearby. (Do not ask how I know these things, it's my job.)

He'd asked for and gotten the OK to bring a comb jump starter / inflator / power supply with a selection of car tools: tire plugs, crescent wrenches, flat head screwdrivers, etc.

Janine was not your typical IT tech. Rude, loud, covered in tattoos and prone to wearing as little as possible, she was so personally abrasive that a full time handler had to be assigned to her to keep her out of trouble around customers. Short, squat and terminally pretty in a quasi punk way, she liked to knit in her spare time - and now did so at site.

She carried the forcible entry kit - a short sledge, cutting torch, crowbar, saws, fire axe and lots of wooden door stops. She'd sinched her entry on the team by being a volunteer firefighter, and had helped train both Security and the newly organized Fire Brigade.

Curtis had a chip on his shoulder about the size of his home state, Texas. He'd been visiting California on another contract and swept up in his company's rush to find a safe place. He'd packed for a week, now going on four months, and all his gear was borrowed. He carried a package of four routers, with the fifth and smallest on his body as I'd insisted. He was a network engineer that 1) did not work for my client and 2) we could afford to lose in the field.

He was furious beyond all measure that I would not permit him and the other techs to carry a gun.

I had reason.

I looked around the room. Daswant was checking over his car tools again. Oh well.

"Buddy" Nolastname, which is how his badge read and my security files listed him, had done several years in the US Coast Guard as a 'wiper' (engineering seaman) before getting a General Conduct Discharge for habitual brawling. Considering that this happened in the 1980s, a neat trick. He'd been on site driving a tow truck when I'd arrived, and we'd needed the tow truck so bad I'd overlooked his brawling, drunkenness and corner cutting - all on display simultaneously, I might add. So far I haven't needed to beat him into shape. The news that I'd tuned up George aka Tiny, 6'6" and 320 pounds of meekness, kept me from having to tune up 6'3" and 300 pounds of pure mean. Which was good because I wasn't sure I could.

"Buddy" was a man of few words and gifted hands, who had gravitated to Facilities and maintained our 'backup' generators which had now exceeded their service lives on improvised parts. Sure we had mains power, but we had frequent brownouts too.

Buddy carried a 2000 watt portable generator with a duffel bag of carefully selected AC cables, adapters, wiring, plug in items and tools.

This left me to carry the gas can, George to carry the ammo cans, Alvin to carry water and Mo to carry a duffel that clanked.

We were loading up in two vehicles. One was a battered Ford Crown Victoria which had made the police, taxicab, security, discount taxi, private ownership loop a couple of times and looked it. The other was a gleaming near-new Lexus 4-door whose owner had been giving a sales presentation in Burlingame on Firecracker Day.

His bad luck had been to be in a room facing north. Either the body full of broken glass or the 30% partial thickness burns probably would have killed him, but both plus a significant radiation dose had made his end certain. Our good luck had been that he'd left his car keys in his office and ridden up with a co-worker, who'd escaped injury by addressing a urinal at exactly the right moment.

Daswant wanted to drive the Lexus, which I allowed as Mo was sitting right behind him. Buddy drove the Vic with me riding shotgun and both Curtis and Janine ignoring each other in the back. That put Alvin and both his dogs in the front seat of the Lexus and George in the right rear, rifle at hand.

The trunks and roof racks were full, as were the gas tanks and our bellies. It was time.

Big convoy, Hate Truck in the lead, technical second, two trucks with trailers, the Lexus, the Vic and a third truck - a U-Haul - towing an empty flatbed trailer. The flatbed had a powered winch and tow cable.

The convoy leader gave the "Move Out!" hand signal.

The gates rolled open and we rolled out. It looked like a large salvage op, intentionally so, and I tried to put myself in the heads of the observers watching with low power radios or wired phones.

Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, Environment. Seven vehicles and three trailers leaving South Gate at 1000 hours headed north towards San Jose downtown. All white except the silver Lexus. About numbers thirty personnel, all apparently armed.

And suddenly in a rehearsed movement we wrong-wayed the southbound freeway off ramp and floored it. It was a trick that could only work once, but we only needed it to work once.

Ambushers on top of the ped bridge at Meridian ran to the other side. They ducked as the convoy took them under sustained heavy fire, again a departure from our SOP. One stood and danced, spinning and screaming in a brief greasy ballet which ended in greasy smoke when he folded in on himself.

Mr. Molotov is a fickle drink. Served for others, he sometimes picks you.

We were not playing this one for table stakes. This was for all the marbles.

Armed with recent recon (last night), the convoy exited from an on ramp, crossed an unblocked bridge, and got back on the freeway going the right way, again flooring the gas.

A small car followed us and the very brave guard who had been lying down strapped to the flatbed of the last trailer sat up with his bipod mounted medium machine gun and fired a short warning burst.

When this deterrent did not work, further bursts turned the car into a bleeding wreck. Again, not playing softball.

Six exits to target. We made it without further incident. The convoy exited, the Vic and Lexus turned left, the Hate Truck popped smoke from its dispenser and the convoy got right back on.

"Janine, make sure the Lexus is still with us."

"Fuck you pig," she said and turned to comply. That was the difference between her and Curtis, who would have said "Fuck you fag" and not complied. My normal habit, well known to employees, was to keep friends close and enemies closer.

We proceeded, Vic in lead, down a maze of streets towards what everyone thought the target was.

"Buddy, right, now."

The Vic lurched and the Lexus followed. We pulled up to a locked chain link gate with a warehouse behind it. I shouted and banged on the hood, doing what I ordered them to do.

"Dismount! Now, now now!"

Daswant looked pale. Alvin dismounted but kept his dogs in the front of the Lexus. Mo flanked left and George right, rifles up. Buddy unfolded himself as Curtis and Janine sprang apart in mutual loathing.

A kid on a bicycle rode up and unlocked the chain. He waved as he locked the lock to the gate and rode away.

"Shift to neutral. Push the cars in," I said calmly.

"Why not just drive?" asked Daswant.

"Because that's not the deal."

We went, cars and souls, into the warehouse past two kids with AR rifles. A little hungry, a little angry, maybe fourteen years old. They didn't muzzle us so we didn't muzzle them.

The warehouse was empty except for two men in business suits and an armored truck.

One man's eyes flicked over us, narrowed seeing Curtis, and then he stood loosely out of the way. My practiced eye stopped counting his concealed handguns at five.

The other man extended his hand. I took it and shook. We sized each other up.

"You are known to make poor deals. So when you make a fair deal, I start to wonder."

"What use is an armored truck to you?"

"What use are computer servers to you?"

"Exactly."

"This is the truck. Where are my servers?"

"To be delivered tomorrow, in the truck."

"How do I know you will keep your promise?"

"Because I want three trucks."

"Ah," he says without surprise. "And what collateral do you offer?"

"The Lexus?"

He laughs.

"No, I can see the dogs from here. Messy. Truck today, servers and trucks tomorrow. From a poor dealer like you, I take your word. But just the once. Unless you want to give me her?"

Yet another reason the techs are not armed. Janine comes up from her bundle with the axe. The bodyguard's hand twitches.

"I will shove this so far up your..."

I interrupt with a hand in the air. She pauses, a minor miracle.

"You will need competent installers. That work is negotiable. But I do not trade in lives."

"Oh yes you do. You save them and you take them. As I said, a poor dealer. I will find my installers elsewhere. Keys are in the truck."

"Here, tomorrow, noon."

A second and third truck rumble up to the doors. The businessman, his bodyguard and the door kids mount up. I gesture George to take over as door guard.

"Mo, Buddy, Daswant, go over the truck please. Janine and Curtis, I want exterior cameras installed on this building now. Alvin, perimeter interior patrol with one dog. Other dog in the Lexus."

I go over and pocket the keys for the Vic, then the Lexus. Carefully. The remaining dog looks at me in that "I'd like to bite you, but you're the pack alpha" grin.

The team disperses to their tasks. I lend a steady hand as Mo disarms and then dismounts the tear gas packs. Buddy is doing an engine inspection as Daswant traces the on-board electronics.

Then I get some rags and waste a little precious water scrubbing bloodstains out of the driver's seat and cab floor.

"Where do you suppose he got the trucks?" Daswant asks.

"Probably about the time he stole the cash," I reply idly as I lift and lower the gun port flaps, checking their function.

The US government had pulled its own one shot trick about two weeks into the Firecracker. We were all still getting used to it.

Bill exchange. All greenbacks had to exchange with the new yellow specie in ten days, and after were worthless.

The act invalidated all foreign cash holdings at a stroke - a huge F U to certain countries, who hadn't been there for America when it mattered. China, which had nuked us and now was attempting to resist an invasion coupled with lavish use of nukes ("They started it!"), and Iran, which was noted for forgery, were most affected. But the Middle East ran on US cash and now it was eye catching toilet paper.

The bill exchange also kept opportunists from pumping stolen cash from shattered cities into the rest of the domestic economy. Had a side effect of wiping out small and/or illegal private savings, money laundering and the drug trade.

The US government would not have dared before the Firecracker. But the world was finding out the difference between America annoyed at peace and America waging desperate, vicious war.

The last news article I'd read prior to leaving site had explained how we were using tactical nuclear bombardment from field artillery to remove refugee columns from the path of American armor, because it was faster than machine gunning them and had less effect on the morale of our own troops.

I'm just a guard. But I'm an American guard.

###

Mo asks what I'd like done with the tear gas packs. I tell him to save them for backhaul to site. Meanwhile Daswant has defeated the antitheft and remote engine kill on the truck. Buddy sticks his head out from under the hood, after his crawl under the axles.

Buddy has gone over the engine, suspension and tires with a fine toothed comb. He smiles with the eight front teeth he still has. I ask him, "Willing to bet lives on this truck?" He nods.

I need more. "My life, or yours?"

He frowns. "She'll do."

OK, if that is the best I can get. Better than a signed appraisal.

We start cross loading gear, but not dogs, to a pile in the warehouse beside the truck. Daswant opens the left front door of the Lexus and George promptly growls at him. With the keys in my pocket it's not going anywhere anyway, but I watch out of the corner of my eye as he closes - but not all the way - that door again.

The warehouse has no power but the eight pack of cameras runs on their own batteries. Alvin returns with Richard, who joins George. Both watch Daswant as if he is the only dog toy left in the entire store.

(We looted a big box pet store last week. The food was all gone before we got there, canned and kibble alike.)

"Interior perimeter checked but not secure," Alvin reports crisply. "Doors missing, holes in walls. Recent occupants in the office area, nothing of value."

"Rest, you and the dogs, in the Lexus."

"Copy."

The Crown Victoria has a fuel pump kill switch. Daswant wouldn't get very far with that one, and hasn't had time to mess with it.

Mo gives George a break. George trundles over to me and has a word.

"Boss, we're being watched. Optics glint from the rooftops to the east. No stray dogs or people. Q is what it is."

My own hatred of the Q word - IET-QUAY in Pig Latin - has thoroughly infected my team.

George drinks some water, takes a piss, and ambles back to his post.

On Mo's return, he is deeply unhappy. He makes a small hand gesture behind Daswant's back - only he and I can see it. A thumbs up. Note: not an American thumbs up. Or perhaps it is.

I minutely shake my head.

Disgusted, Mo checks his gear again. He has a commercial blaster controller and keeps flicking the 'Power' and 'Ready To Arm' switches. He does not touch the two red buttons under their transparent covers.

Janine is unnecessarily sharpening her tools. I go over to Curtis, who is sitting dejected on a broken chair salvaged from the office area. I draw a Colt .45 from under my vest and pass it to him butt first. He grins and tucks it in his gear out of sight.

To minimize drama I walk over to Janine and give her my holdout revolver from my inside pant leg. She tucks it under her belt buckle.

Buddy notices and says nothing. I knew about the three knives he had on his belt alone. He pats himself over his favorite.

Daswant has wanderd off as if out of sight to answer a call of nature. This is a spectacularly bad idea, but he probably figures that the cameras secure the perimeter. He really needs to check his messages, and I really need to let him.

God help us all.

Daswant wanders back, pleased with something, and I consider Mo's gentle suggestion. Not just yet.

Instead we wait. I even take a short nap, to be woken by squealing tires. The rest of the convoy has joined us.

The Hate Truck is shot to shit. Steam pours from under the hood, but the driver ignores this and runs around to passenger side and saying loudly - but not shouting - "Help! Man down! Help!"

One guard from each vehicle is on security, I take overwatch, and the rest run to the truck. The convoy leader gets there first, reaching in, his hand coming back covered in blood, and then reaching again to hold head and neck.

"Rapid extrication! Lift on three! One, two three!" and the wounded 'shotgun' guard is lifted out of his seat and laid gently on the filthy floor.

Our two best medics immediately start working on him while the anguished driver gives the convoy leader a ringdown.

"Ambush, rifles, at a corner, point blank, full mags. Legs, arms, gut."

The medics are already stripping the wounded man down to find all the wounds. Failure to find a wound is always 100% fatal.

He has an airway and is breathing. The junior medic leaves the blood pressure cuff on his right arm, fully inflated, and gets out another one. He takes a pressure on the uninjured left arm.

"Sixty palp," he says.

"Two in the right lower quadrant, no exit, rigidity. Blood type A pos," the senior medic replies.

RH factor incompatibility. Damn. I get out my team form.

I decide that Daswant is A positive.

I volunteer him. He is unhappy.

"I'm a tech, not a blood bag!"

"This is Mad Max and you give blood the easy way or the hard way, asshole," growls Mo and pushes him towards the medics.

The senior medic pulls me aside while they argue.

"Boss, we evac him now to a hospital with surgical facilities or we're going to lose him. Internal bleeding, torn gut, he's going into shock. Blood will only help if he's in surgery in the next hour."

"Any chance back at the ranch?"

"Zero. None. Zip."

Stanford is way overloaded and more importantly, too far away. Valley Med is taking government cases only. San Jose Regional is "Closed To Internal Disaster," which is to say looted and stripped. The other hospitals are not capable of this kind of care and out of supplies.

This is a survivable injury, God damn it! Except after an apocalypse. When every trip risks lives, surgeons are few, and antibiotics and anesthesia exhausted. Our infirmary is minor surgeries only despite a vet surgeon and two doctors, an amputation is about their limit. We have ultrasound only, no X-ray, and so no way to be sure of getting the bullets and fragments out even if we traded for antibiotics in time and had a surgeon up to the task.

Worst of all, if it was the Site Executive or one of the key programmers, we could probably do it. Bribe Valley, cut deals, maybe even get a military chopper to fly him out to Sacramento.

But not for a guard.

The medic and I share a look.

He is the medical professional but I am in operational command. I cannot take this mission sideways for one life.

"Do your best. Keep him comfortable. He goes back with the team tonight."

Daswant is off the hook for giving blood. But my team despises him now.

The team working the Hate Truck's engine, including Buddy, has kept it from melting. They start repairing hoses and changing the run flat tire on the right front, which lived up to its name.

Everyone else - including after a moment Daswant - is unloading good sfrom the U-Haul, trucks and trailers.

To be specific, computer server racks and a scissors lift. The latter is immediately put to use setting up an Observation Post on the roof, stringing cable and rappel lines, and repositioning cameras. One camera is a very expensive and bulky P-T-Z infrared rig with essentially infinite digizoom. It is aimed towards the target building.

The racks - trade goods - are shoved out of the way. The convoy mounts up and heads out again.

George has taken the Hate Truck guard's place. Dammit, not his job! Except that it was his regular duty and I'd attached him to the mission team for a reason. Too late now.

The injured man's breathing slowly grows more and more labored. Then weaker. Mo goes over to him and holds one of his hands. Janine holds the other. I stay away.

His breath rattles, slows, and finally inevitably stops. The medic closes the dead man's eyes and gently places the cut off remains of his ruined shirt over his face.

Daswant starts to approach the body and I swear by what is left of my soul, Mo and Janine growl in unison at him.

He retreats, head bowed.

The junior medic brings me the dead man's pistol. I give it to Buddy.

The sun is low in the sky when the convoy returns again. More servers, parts and a collection of U-Haul hitches.

We are trading racks for trucks. But we are trading new racks, empty of data, that were just spare parts sitting on dusty shelves. Not racks full of other people's information.

Big bolts, nuts and an oxyacetelyine torch Facilities will be very happy to get.

Buddy supervises the installation of a trailer hitch on the armored truck.

We start to assemble the assault convoy.

# # #

Lexus, Vic, armored truck now towing trailer, scissor lift and one server rack strapped to trailer bed. Janine is shotgun on the Lexus. I am shotgun on the Vic. Mo is driving the Lexus and Curtis the Vic. Buddy driving the cash truck and Alvin with him. Dogs much happier now, they have space to stretch out.

Daswant after a moment gets in the back of the Vic. George joins him.

The rest of the convoy will hold what we've got. Worst case, they'll make the trade tomorrow and exfiltrate on their own. They will not attempt to throw good lives after bad. Unless of course, Legal One thinks it looks promising.

(If I'd thought I could get away with it, my real backup plan would have been to take over the target with what appeared to be a refugee convoy. But that would mean far, far too many witnesses -- too many of them Client employees.)

Our convoy passes stray dogs, stray people and bicyclists, piles of trash and debris, abandoned vehicles and not a few bodies - both in various states of decomposition.

As I had hoped, we approach the target building during late dusk. It is a one story office building connected to a four story reinforced steel and concrete rectangle, with tiny windows into two small stairwells and a large fenced yard.

We roll right up to the large iron gate with the armored truck in the lead. Buddy is an artist - he pops the truck into contact at a smooth twenty miles per hour, enough to fling the gate off its hinges and through the conveniently pre-cut crossbar, but not enough to bang the truck into wreckage.

(How did the crossbar get pre cut? An agent lying in the bushes for an hour with a crowbar.)

We roll right through the gap up to the glass front doors and assault dismount.

Janine punches a hole in the door with a spring punch, widens it with a few sweeps of a coping saw, smashes a hole with her axe handle, reverses it and uses the blade to pull the crash bar out towards her and force the door.

It takes a lot less time for her to do than to explain. Practice matters and we'd practiced this trick on prior convoys.

Alvin with pistol out is through the door, at which point his dogs pass him and leap on the two startled thugs who had just begun to think about grabbing their guns. Instead they obey commands to "Hold still or he'll eat you!" as Alvin gets really busy with large cable ties, the poor man's alternative to flexicuffs.

George has climbed on top of the armored truck and is watching our backs, and the roof line, with his rifle at the ready. Budddy is already cursing and wrestling with the tie downs for the scissors lift.

Mo and I swarm the front doors and then the inner service window.

As most facilities of this type do, there is a waist-high slit between the front lobby and the security area. Normally for ID, badges, and paperwork, today the long slim gap - about 8" by 4" in this case - will see other use.

I involuntarily flash back on the satchel charge flung into our former security command center. But this time we are the attackers.

A scared naked woman is fast crawling under the console as the man who had been sitting there draws a handgun, takes a bead, and fires - CRACK CRACK CRACK - starring the bullet resistant laminate separating us. He curses and runs forward to the slot.

I am about to take the hard waist high shot through the gap when Janine runs in the way with her axe. Dammit!

Mo is ignoring all of us and planting what looks a lot like a picture frame - no picture - on an interior wall of the lobby. Except that picture frames do not have dangling twisted wires from a corner.

The hand comes out with the pistol as the sharp end of the axe blade come down and takes the fingers off. She does it again and now he's spinning in a circle inside the security area, splattering blood all over and screaming.

"Fire in the hole!" Mo cries. "Allah be..."

None of us heard what Allah be because BOOM!

I rushed the hole and two men beyond were just sitting up from makeshift beds.

I could not see their hands.

I ensured their rest forever.

We then - including Daswant but not including Alvin and the dogs who held the lobby and our rear - bum rushed the area we had breached into - mixed use offices - and secured it. Six dead, three prisoners, one of whom was wounded.

The security room door opened as I was about to badge into it with a captured card left handed.

"I am unarmed!" a voice shouted as I entered very ready to kill.

The man with the damaged hand was turning purple and choking, dying of a blunt strike to the throat. The naked woman held a MagLite flashlight in her off hand.

"Drop it! Hands up! Turn away from me! Do it now!" I said in half a breath. She complied immediately, which was just in time to keep me from use the other half a breath to empty my pistol magazine into her.

Daswant stumbled in behind me -- apparently pushed -- and threw up. Then he asked, "Aren't you going to help him?"

"No." Once Janine and Mo had followed him into the room, I turned my gun on Daswant. He turned as pale as he was equipped to do.

His "What?" and my "Hands up, Daswant! Now!" intermingled. He did put his hands up which sadly saved me the effort of shooting him in the legs.

Mo immediately took charge of Daswant in approved Company Security (post Firecracker) style, jabbing him in sensitive places and searching him as he fell on the filthy floor.

Mo came up with the sat phone, as I knew he would. Janine secured the naked prisoner with a single cable tie behind her elbows and sat her down on a folding chair, at axe point.

Loud beeping from outside indicated the scissors lift in operation. George was going topside, to the roof.

Things were about to get really busy.

I keyed Daswant's PIN into the sat phone, read his most recent messages "("GET OUT NOW") and pocketed it on my vest. His eyes widened.

"You knew," he started to say before Mo jabbed him again in the gut and helped him join the cable tie party.

"Identify yourself," I demanded of the naked woman.

"Sarah Stewart, [XYZ] Technologies Security. Before these shitheads took over."

"Birthday, fast."

"11 August 1981. Who are you?"

I bowed briefly. "Paid professional rescue. And one of your customers. How many hostiles left?"

We had a quick whiteboard session. She knew through intensely personal knowledge that there were fourteen tangos, two captive and innocent techs, and - hidden away - a second guard force survivor.

"Secure Sarah's hands in front please. Sarah, please log in and get the access and cameras up."

Ten accounted for. Four loose.

"Echo 18 to Echo 45, there are numbers four adversaries. Hold what you've got. Help on the way."

George's double mike click acknowledged.

"Mo, Alvin" ... the latter looked up from where he waited in the lobby ... "Roof first. Sweep down. The techs and I will hold here."

The scissors lift had a huge advantage over other climbing methods - it allowed us to get dogs to the roof with ease.

Janine still had her axe. Buddy and Curtis had traded up for enemy rifles, and knew how. Daswant was further secured to a chair.

"Echo 45, Echo 18, I have contact with Costco. One on roof, down and dead."

With that long range camera, a good line of sight and good radios, our storage warehouse - callsign Costco - had seen someone trying to sneak up on George and advised him, meaning that George had gotten him first.

Three more to go and search carefully, not trusting the count.

It was a half hour's work to locate and neutralize them. They got only the one chance to surrender and no promises. One took us up on it, and joined his peers in the conference room we kept on its own dedicated camera view.

The other two debuted and gave their last renditions of "The Dance of Lead."

Now we could get to work.

Alvin on perimeter with his dogs. George on roof overwatch, covered by the Costco long-range camera. Mo rigging the front lobby for guests. Daswant and Sarah in the security area under my control. (We'd spotted her a sleeping bag. I was not going to allow a prisoner who had killed with a flashlight to put on anything with pockets.)

The other four prisoners were not enjoying their stay in the conference room. We'd flipped the table upside down and tied them off to the legs, then rigged an IED to the door from the outside, making sure they knew. This kept them in sight by camera but in ignorance of what we might be doing.

Sarah talked Janine by radio to her only surviving co-worker, who had been shot and hiding under the raised floor crawl space in an obscure spot for over a week.

The techs carried the survivor to the security area and went back to work. That left me to play medic.

Male, mid 50s, malnourished, horribly dehydrated, even more horribly swollen left leg I was afraid to even touch.

I gave him a clean wet rag to suck on, cautioned him that I could not otherwise give him water as he would likely need surgery, and checked his vitals. BP and pulse high but not dangerously so.

I checked the leg again, carefully. Horrid purple streaks from the entry wound up and down the thigh on both sides. Compound fracture of the femur. He should be passed out, screaming or dead. But he was none of the above, only an infinite weariness that slurred his words.

I dared not let him drink fluids, and he needed more rehydration than a rag could provide. No ice chips. No IVs.

I briefly, baldly explained that there was one thing I could do for him and that it would be annoying and humiliating but not dangerous. It was however his call.

Daswant let out one startled giggle before I got up from where I had been kneeling, toed him in the ribs until he stopped screaming, and gagged him with a dead man's bloody dirty sock. I'd wanted to kick him to death so damn bad, but he still had one part to play in all of this.

The patient consented so I turned him on his side, used up a precious pair of gloves (from their kit, not mine) and a tube and hot water bottle (from mine) and gave him a low saline enema. His skin color improved almost at once. Hydration is hydration.

I carefully stripped off the gloves and sat them next to the kit for re use later. More satisfied with his vitals after a second check, I now took the time to debrief Sarah.

Ideally, Daswant should not have been present -- but gagged I needed to monitor his airway, I was not about to allow him to communicate with the other prisoners, and the techs and guards were too busy to take control of yet another person. I did find a pair of headphones and put them over his head.

I will spare you the graphic details of what fourteen criminals did to pass the time in between taking over and our arrival.

The key point was that they had shut us down specificially, on purpose and on orders. They had accomplished this by pushing the "Emergency Power Off" button to the area including our cage with a sledge hammer.

The site was still on intermittent mains power, much like our home site, but unlike our home site had full network connectivity.

An hour's work by the techs had triply redunduant communications with our site, which was now back in contact with the larger world.

Now to keep this status.

I jacked my small laptop (carefully sanitized for our protection) into the network and opened a chat with my security control at Site. Sarah and the man with the ruined leg - Wyatt - checked out as clean. Soon the site access control and cameras were remoted to Site, and literally dozens of programmers and techs were flooding through the link, fixing everything that could be fixed remotely.

I offered Sarah and Wyatt a job, including full and immediate medical coverage. They would be back here but not for a few days. The medical benefits sold them on the deal.

Daswant's muttering got to be annoying, so I ungagged him, waited patiently for him to finish vomiting, poured a half cup of water in his mouth - he spat to the side just in time to avoid another rib kicking session - and asked "What?"

"What are you going to do with me?"

Good question. I gagged him again and let him stew for a couple minutes.

Finally I said, "Depends on you. Tell me the whole story, which I already know, and I'll let you go in that Lexus. Fuck with me again and I'll let Sarah beat you to death with that MagLite. Your call."

I took out the gag.

He broke like a cheap bar of motel soap.

He'd been smuggled the sat phone, he'd been promised $1.5 million as his share of the ransom, which is a neat trick with a $1 million ransom. He guessed it was a foreign power that wanted us down. I recorded the whole thing on smartphone. It doesn't get much better than videotaped confession.

He eventually started repeating himself so I told him to shut up, and gagged him yet again when he wouldn't. This time I used one of his own clean socks from his bag. I believe in rewarding good behavior.

I summoned Mo to remove him from the room, which he did more or less gently. Mostly less.

Then I turned to Sarah and Wyatt, talking for them and for the facility's cameras as well as my own recording.

"If I were the police, I'd arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, rape, torture and armed robbery. A court would sentence them all to long prison terms. But there are no courts and I am no cop.

"If I were a soldier, I'd have to treat them as Prisoners of War until their stories could be adjudicated. As bandits guilty of all of those crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a tribunal of three officers could hang or shoot them.

"If I were a commanding officer, I could find them guilty or execute them as a clear and present danger to my unit and my mission.

"I am none of these things. So I have to let them go."

We reorganized. Mo on the roof, George and Alvin on prisoner control - dogs are so helpful in convincing people to do what they are told - Sarah and Wyatt in the Security area with Janine and Curtis, Buddy in the armored truck powered up and locked down. Just in case.

I put the keys in the Lexus ignition and seated Daswant in the driver's seat, handcuffed to the wheel and the key on the back seat floorboards. The other prisoners got seats, tied up and belted down. They could get free but it would take time, and George cheerfully explained that trying to get loose early would get both that prisoner and the prisoner next to them 'splashed.'

Daswant started the car, which we had pointed out the now permanently open (until we repair it) exit gate.

I said nothing. Neither did he.

He drove away slowly - a rifle pointed at you and a truck that will turn you into confetti inhibits road rage.

Out of sight of any camera, Mo switched on the power button.

Daswant floored it, racing out the gate and barely making the sharp right turn to the street.

Mo switched "Ready To Arm" from "SAFE" to "ARM."

The Lexus raced away, bouncing. I could imagine the prisoners complaining about the rough ride.

Mo switched the safety cover up and held his thumb over the button.

The tires screeched as the Lexus made a second turn and kept accelerating. The car fishtailed but Daswant was barely able to recover it.

I thought what Mo was probably whispering to himself, four stories above.

Mo jabbed his thumb down on the button twice.

The Lexus disintegrated into a dark sooty ball of hate. The engine block briefly flew into the air then skidded down the street.

Allah akbar.

The shockwave rattled windows and boomed across the valley.

God is great.

And when He is asleep at the switch, we puny mortals must do the best we can with what we have.

# # #

Wyatt lost the leg (in our infirmary, to a chorus of curses by two doctors and one vet surgeon), but lived.

Sarah is now our night Security Operations supervisor. Just as I do not know how many rads I took while sleeping at the Redwood City emergency command post, she does not know if she has Hepatitis (A, B, C ... the whole score card) or HIV.

Life goes on, for 3500 people in the midst of madness.

The guard riding shotgun in the Hate Truck is still dead.

And I did not enjoy my time off.

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