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There is something soothing about taking a long, hot shower.

Too bad the last time I did that was before the Firecracker.

So instead I was in the Data Center single user toilet, doing my daily scrub with a bowlful of hot water heated in a microwave and unlimited cold water to shiver and splash myself with. I also had a single hand towel, two cut up pieces of knit shirt to serve as washcloths and a single, carefully preserved manual razor. Rank had its privileges - an 8 ounce bottle of hand soap.

I had an interesting morning ahead of me. We were going to conduct an RTX - realistic training exercise - for the corporate militia, which we had dubbed the Reaction Force. They would be summoned to respond to a threat outside at the South Gate. The notional attackers were a mob of angry trespassers who would have to be suppressed without casualties, but mixed within, two or three desperate attackers with actual weapons.

The overhead PA announced, "Condition Yellow, this is a Condition Yellow for a security condition at the South Gate. The Reaction Team will draw arms and equipment."

My first thought was, are we kicking off the RTX early?

My second thought was to start frantically wiping in the best whore's bath style. Face, pits, junk in the front, trunk in the back.

"Echo 18, this is Control," paged my radio on Command frequency.

"Go," I replied, short on protocol while pulling on my underwear.

"We have a package delivery vehicle at the front. Subject vehicle claims to have a delivery for [Client]. Name checks out. But he's dead."

"Set Condition Red, divert him to Point One."

"Copy."

The PA changed its tone. "Condition Red, this is a Condition Red for a security condition at the South Gate. The Reaction Team will draw arms and equipment and move to defensive positions. The Reaction Team will draw arms and equipment and move to defensive positions."

This was followed by an annoying repetitive BONG-BONG-BONG tone every thirty seconds.

Productivity was wrecked for the day, and Site Ops would get nasty E-mails from various management teams.

But recent events had established that they wouldn't have E-mail servers to complain with if we didn't meet basic physical security objectives, such as not allowing threats to enter the perimeter.

I barely had time to shrug into my armor and fasten my gun belt before our least bright security guard barreled into the hallway outside and came to a shuddering stop near the door.

Shane Shreve had met the "bulky" hiring criteria back in the day. He was literally dumb as a post. No, dumber. I'd met smarter posts. He had passed the multiple choice licensing exam by taking it five times. Most of the questions had four choices, some had two.

I had caught him taking a company training program by clicking the right arrow with great diligence every time it popped up. I asked him the subject. He didn't know. I asked him to tell me something he'd read. He replied, "I'm tired, my eyes don't see so good." I checked the schedule later to see if this claim had merit. He'd just gotten off of a ten hour rest break. He was wearing earphones to listen to the soundtrack. A glance showed me that they were not plugged in and the sound was muted.

But he had been told to right click the arrows and right click the arrows he would, until the Certificate in Basic Access Control with his name (which someone else had typed) popped up on the screen. Then someone else would have to find the Save As and attach it to an E-mail.

With a great deal of effort, my senior officers and junior supervisors had worked with him to understand basic concepts of observation and reporting. It wasn't going to happen.

So I had him under my wing, so to speak. My personal guardian angel made of half stubborn and half stupid. Assigned as bodyguard to the Site Security Manager.

He would do what he was told without really understanding how or why. But with enough repetition he could follow simple commands.

It is a fair measure of a brutal industry that he had been a patrol driver before the Firecracker. He had only had two car accidents, neither his fault, or at least the other drivers had said when they saw him get out of the car.

I popped out of the toilet and Shane followed me to the golf cart.

"Where to, boss?"

The procedures called for the duty manager to respond to the threatened area. The threatened area had been announced on the PA, the South Gate. Two plus two, in Shane's case, still added up to zero.

"South Gate bunker."

"Yes, sir."

I had to be careful. If I said South Gate, he'd drop me off outside the front of the South Gate, ignoring minor obstacles such as vehicles, concertina wire, and automatic weapons fire.

Arriving at the South Gate bunker, I stepped into the room and looked at the zoomed image on the camera. A van with the logo of a well known package delivery company. A driver trying to do a bored imitation, but not very well. He kept glancing up.

"Why isn't he at Point One?"

"He said he would wait at the gate until someone signed for his package."

Point One was set up for this kind of situation. A secure large parking space with a little cover from the road and no cover from the gate defenses, it was meant for unverified truck deliveries that might be truck bombs, other people's convoys, and a useful turn-around in case one of our convoys came back in a questionable (i.e. not sure if it had been hijacked) status.

Instead he was parked in front of our South Gate, with no cover from anyone and blocking our main vehicle access.

That was just not on.

"Tell him to leave. If he doesn't, take him into custody for investigation."

If there had been still law, that would have been fairly illegal. But the law book was out the window along with clean food, hot showers, medical care, emergency services and not needing radiological detection equipment to decide whether to buy a can of beans.

The message was communicated to our gate guard, who spoke over a megaphone and waved his hand imperiously. The driver shook his head, the gate guard put down the megaphone and motioned him closer, then when the driver was at arm's length, suddenly tackled him.

Two other guards rushed forward and dragged the driver into the site. Some squirming (his) and kicking (ours) later, he had been searched for weapons.

He had a pistol. Well, if he was doing package delivery, probably a good idea.

He also had a grenade. That was another check in the "not our friend" column.

I had Mo paged to respond in order to identify the grenade.

Then I investigated the driver.

"What's your employee number?"

"Huh?"

"You're a [StateWye] driver. Your employee number, fast."

He blinked. "3 4 5 1 2?" he hazarded.

Not a StateWye driver.

"What's in the truck," I ordered him to tell me.

"Packages and stuff."

"The one for us?"

"Yeah."

"Go get it, drop it on the ground, drive away."

I nodded, the guards let him go, and he ran for his truck.

He didn't demand his pistol and grenade back.

So far we had two strikes out of three.

When he reversed his truck, however, and towards the gate, my patience had worn out.

"Green light," I stated into the microphone, and we heard a CRACK CRACK from the bunker roof and a THUNK THUNK from the truck's engine block, which obediently shattered and made metallic chunky noises until it lurched to a halt.

The driver came out with a rifle.

It all happened faster than I can tell you about it. "Drop it!" boomed the PA, he started to put it to his shoulder, a subtle coughing from the perimeter up ahead caused red blossoms to flower on his chest, and the rifle fell to the ground unfired.

Then the world blew up.

Either the driver had a deadman switch or someone had a remote detonator.

Instead of an access road to the site, we now had a crater about 6' deep and 30' in diameter, and an awful lot of asphalt and metal chunks flying through the air.

A large cloud of filthy black smoke mushroomed upward.

"Stay alert!" I ordered on the primary Tactical frequency.

To be continued...

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