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GloBall War of Terror: Convoy Operation

[This is a continuation of a Down The Rabbit Hole series of posts. After the Firecracker War and America's land invasion of China, "Zero tolerance is the price we pay for victory," and the protagonist's silence is the price he pays for survival. See also http://drewkitty.dreamwidth.org/124594.html]

All things considered, I left the airplane at Detroit in a furious mood. I was not alone in my fury. But I held my temper, just like the other 200 odd passengers who had been on the plane for nine hours - two hours on the tarmac at San Francisco, a four hour flight, and another three hours on the tarmac at Detroit.

There are consequences to losing one's temper, as the bullet-riddled body covered with a tarp next to the security exit checkpoint mutely testified.

Like everyone else, I hand carried a transparent vinyl bag containing actual clothing - my entire baggage allowance - and wore bluish surgical scrubs that left little to the imagination. Without getting into too much detail, parts of my body still hurt from the security inspection to _board_ the plane. Now that EMT-Basics are authorized to conduct cavity searches, they are a feature of any entry to a high risk area.

"IDs, travel orders, landing fee, out in and in your hand." I had researched and tucked a nearly worthless $200 in with my travel orders. Too many of the passengers around me were revealing to the hungrily watching guards where they were carrying the rest of their money, a problem they might not have for long.

I passed metal detection. My bag did not. The screener opened it, took one look and said briskly, "Secondary!"

I was taken to the side, hand wanded, and patted down well enough to count as a solid second base. Then and only then did a supervisor start going through my bag.

He also stopped cold.

"Papers!"

I handed them over. California ID - it was impossible to get a passport these days - and two letters. One was a letter from the Interstate Commerce Commission authorizing (and ordering) me to travel "in support of essential parts support for a key component in the War on Terror." The second was a letter from my client (notably NOT my Employer) pledging that the client would provide for my support while I was out of California on the client's war-related activities.

The $200 briskly disappeared into his pocket.

"Who are you?" he asked, holding up the item on top that he seemed to most object to. A BDU - Battle Dress Uniform - shirt, black in color, of higher quality than what he was wearing, with patches on it.

He shook it out and looked at the patches. My name and my client's name on name tapes. My Employer's name embroidered underneath and the word "CONTRACTOR." The left and right shoulders with a shield-shaped patch, "[CLIENT] Security Group - Silicon Valley Operations" with crossed arrows in the center.

No rank tab. I'd thought about it and decided it was not worth the risk.

I gave my name.

"Well, duh. What the [obscenity] do you think you're doing with a [verb]ing uniform?"

"My job. Kind of like yours."

I didn't add that I in fact ran three security screening points just like his, as a smaller included part of my job protecting three client facilities from assorted mayhem. We didn't cavity search, except on suspicion, and we certainly didn't charge a toll.

He looked again. I met his gaze. If he sicced his guards on me - and he just might - they were going to be in for one hell of a brief fight.

The Detroit Police officer behind the uni-pod mounted medium machine gun overwatching the proceedings from the bed of his technical might do nothing. Then again, he might just hose us all down.

He shoved it back in the bag and thought twice about trying to shake me down for more money. "Move along."

I moved. My client met me just beyond the one way exit through the concertina wire, in the former airport proper.

We wordlessly started dressing from our bags. I tucked his scrubs in with mine when it looked like he was just going to throw them out.

My client - a balding 40 something, slightly overweight (which now takes some doing) man, wearing a badly rumpled suit and a well tied Windsor tie, without benefit of mirror. Frank DeOrzco. Client Facilities Manager.

I did not put on the BDU shirt. I tucked it away, this time inside out, and fished out a non-wrinkle shirt and tan slacks. To this I added a magnetic name tag with my name and the logo of my Employer.

People were still being poked and prodded behind us at the checkpoint.

"You man! You man halt!" boomed a voice.

I immediately tackled Frank to the ground with my body over his, scanning for the threat and cursing the weapons I did not have.

I was just in time to see the police officer in the technical open up with a brief burst. BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA - and the running man fell to the tarmac.

Cursing, the checkpoint guards grabbed him by the heels and dragged the fresh body over to the tarp under which the first body lay. The cursing reduced as they squabbled over his bag, a squabble resolved by the supervisor - the same one I'd spoken to - taking it for his own.

The police officer stood there like a statue, every line of his bearing shouting boredom.

I helped Frank up with a hand.

He was quite shaken.

"What do we do now?"

"Find the company contact. Follow me."

I'd arranged by E-mail with the company selling us the parts to meet us at the airport - but we were several hours late. Even if we'd flown with phones - somehow - and they had not been stolen by the guard point - unlikely - they would not have worked across state lines. Telecommmunications Regulation Act.

So it was the pay phones for us, after not being able to bring coins on the flight. Fortunately I had a number of access codes memorized. The third one worked. I made the arrangements while Frank tried to compose himself.

"They killed that man, right there, for not waiting in line."

"Yes, they did," I replied carefully.

"For not waiting in line."

"For failing to follow security instructions in a high security zone. I'm half surprised he didn't blow up before they shot him."

New threat - body cavities stuffed with explosives. A lower cavity search only gets at the most recent part of the business - something swallowed many hours ago or surgically implanted would not be found. Thus, I suspected, some of the flight delays - but even those in the security business are not encouraged to think too much about it. "Naught down that path but death," I thought, then said out loud.

While we waited for our ride, I chatted up the vendors and threw a few worthless 10s and 20s about. This got us several sealed bottles of water - I insisted - some 'beef' jerky which I inspected carefully, and a couple business cards advertising fixers. I also paid for Frank to use the pay toilet - he shuddered on exiting. Then I used the free toilet, which was a neat trick to avoid becoming contaminated.

Frank appreciated the jerky without my suspicion as to its content.

An armored limo arrived escorted by two motorcycles. The motorcyclists wore reflective vests over heavy armor, and holstered sidearms. The backs of the vests said "DEARBORN POLICE."

A fierce-eyed woman in a spotless business suit got out of the limo and scanned the crowd. I approached her. She gave my name. I gave her name. Then and only then did we whisper a word into each other's ears.

Protocol satisified, I waved Frank forward and introduced him to the older gentleman who had gotten out behind his bodyguard, in a much more expensive suit.

They chatted in the back. I rode up front with her and the limo driver.

"Welcome to Detroit, California boy. Want to go home yet?"

"Sucks everywhere," I sighed carefully. There's a fine line to what you can say nowadays. "Long flight."

"At least you made it. Last week we lost a flight to Unemployed terrorists. They got a bomb on board somehow."

Or merely bad maintenance. But that was the kind of thing you whispered to a battle buddy after searching for bugs, not a confidence you shared during a first meet.

"You know, you're going to have to ground pound it with the convoy all the way back to sunny California."

"I know. Any advice?"

"Update your will."

"Did before I left. I need just about everything in terms of gear. What can I get?"

"No guns in secure zones. They're really serious about that one. Knives 3" or less. No unauthorized comms. WiFi cells only."

Ah, the lovely WiFi cell. Only works to make and receive calls if you have the passcodes for that site. Some change them frequently; others don't. But the days that a phone would just work anywhere - unless you were a highly authorized official - ended with the Firecracker.

Neither Frank nor myself rated such treatment. He was along to make sure we got the parts his company was paying for. I was along to 1) keep Frank alive and 2) get him and his parts back to site in one piece, or intact. So to speak.

But the big part we needed - the one that we couldn't get at all in California - was the replacement power transformer for the one that had failed. Without it, the site was at half power - but it was a twenty ton object, ten feet wide and twenty feet long, another ten feet high. A lowboy load by itself. And no one was making any high end transformers new any more. The old plant in America had been shut down before the Firecracker; its replacement in China had gotten the fusion treatment along with the city it had been in.

But salvage continues, and we had found one that would work on a corporate auction site. It had been pulled from a power yard on the outskirts of what had been Cleveland.

We would have to convoy it back. Ground haul, on the Interstates, a load that would have taken four days way back when. Maybe two weeks, maybe more. Maybe not at all, considering how much disputed territory any convoy had to cross.

The client needed the transformer that badly. They needed the power to run the computers that would do their part in the war. No computers, no contract, and in the old days a bunch of employees have to look for new jobs. Not much in the way of new jobs nowadays.

Badly enough to pay to send someone like me to escort Frank back. Badly enough that I could be spared from the day (and night) job of keeping the perimeter secure and Unemployed out, despite starving-in-the-street levels of desperation.

Badly enough to get us both travel authorizations.

I nodded.

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