The Dawn of Tears
Chapter Seven - The Start of a New Day
Note to Readers: Dawn is a favorite time of many. For me it is always a bitter-sweet moment when I see the sun rise over the horizon. The way the sky lightens an hour or so before the sun rises, the black sky turning a deep purple, becoming a darker blue, then a lighter blue, and finally that golden orb slides up over the horizon, driving out the darkness for a while. Warmth creeps through the world with the sun, birds start singing, plants and trees begin the process of photosynthesis, and life renews itself all with the coming of a new day.
I have lived for One Hundred and Forty Years now. If I bothered to count, that total would be somewhere around 51,135 days in my life. That is 51,135 dawns I have potentially seen. Thanks to the vagaries of air travel, being a kid, recovering from injuries, and long nights in bed, I've seen maybe 30,000 or more new dawns (blame it on that early military experience - I rarely sleep in). That's 30,000 odd new days I've seen, 30,000 times I've seen the sun slide over the horizon, and most of those days I've had tears in my eyes, scared of what it would bring.
A psychologist I spoke to before I turned eighteen thought my fear of each new day sprang from that one Thanksgiving Day, but she was wrong. Certainly the horrors of that day were something that I wish I could forget, or blur, or soften with time. I've visited the physical reminders of that day, laid wreaths there hundreds of times throughout my life, even after the rest of the world forgot, or tried to forget the reminders of human failings. But to me, that dawn was only the beginning of my tears, only the first example for me that the rising sun can bring devastation as well new life, and when I cry at the new dawn, I cry for both the good that might be, or the horrors that might wait for us to discover them.
The eastern horizon was just beginning to lighten as the humvee pulled up to the church's back entrance on that first Thanksgiving Day after the beginning of the crisis.
It had rained during the night, and the morning was crisp and cold. As I helped Mrs. Jacobs out of the military vehicle, I got a good look at the horizon, and the impending dawn. The sky in that direction was just becoming a deep violet, and I could see the tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains outlined against the lightening sky. Sergeant Connors said something softly behind me, and got me to move my feet towards the entrance to the church. It was cold outside, and I could feel my nose going slightly numb in the low morning temperatures.
However, the silence in the early morning was exquisite to me, and I was glad I'd taken a moment to enjoy the early morning splendor.
The growing religious side of me whispered about the beautiful nature of God's work, and considering what would be happening soon, it felt very appropriate to listen to that. I was nervous, tugging at the jacket of my dress uniform. I hoped I looked half as good as Henry did in his dress uniform. When we'd previously worn these uniforms, there had not been any rank insignia on them, but now the shoulders of our uniforms bore the rank insignia of a first-year cadet.
Last night, after the evening news broadcast, Colonel (soon to be General) Jacobs had produced the new uniforms and a signed document by the President of the United States recognizing us as the youngest Cadets in West Point history. The Colonel, smiling very broadly, had then showed us a set of orders to: Jacobs, Dylan Thomas and Jacobs, Henry James. They stated we were assigned to California District 21 Command under the command of Colonel James R. Jacobs for duties and responsibilities as he sees fit. The orders further stated that all coursework and evaluations received while under this command were to be forwarded to West Point for evaluation as credit towards graduation.
The Colonel had commented that at the rate we were going, we'd only have to spend a semester or two at West Point before we were graduated and commissioned.
As we entered the church that Thanksgiving morning, the uniform and surprises of the night before weren't the only thing weighing on my mind. Last week the Colonel had asked me if I'd like to speak at the special Thanksgiving Morning Service at the church and I had agreed. It would be my first public speech before a group larger than a classroom of kids my age, and the first time that I stood in front of the church since my baptism the week after Captain Overton's funeral.
What I hadn't expected was that the event would be televised. What made it worse was that it wasn't just being televised across the district as part of a special day-long Thanksgiving program, but also across the entire state as part of the Thanksgiving special two hour broadcast the state was making. Even worse it was being broadcast on television and radio across the nation.
While most of the people in the country didn't have power for the televisions in their homes, most would go to churche,s schools, or meeting halls that had power to receive the broadcasts. Since September, it had become a community function to listen to the news broadcasts at the public places, or at the least to the accompanying radio broadcasts on battery or hand-powered radios in their homes.
We quickly walked into the Pastor's office the Colonel had just off of the Sanctuary floor. Mrs. Jacobs was checking her make-up and expensive forest green dress to make sure they were perfect while a photographer prepared what would be our first family photograph. The Colonel, like Henry and I, was wearing his dress uniform. He had a chest full of ribbons and medals, and I looked down at the few on my uniform and wondered if I'd ever have that many. I had been surprised to see the Marksman ribbons for Rifle and Pistol on the uniforms in addition to the rank insignia, but the three ribbons on mine (and two on Henry's) made me feel a little cheap. I wondered if I'd really earned them, but Sergeant Connor's approving glance when he'd seen them and the way he checked them to make sure they were straight before the photographer had us posing with the Colonel and Mrs. Jacobs told me he at least didn't disapprove.
That helped my conscious a lot.
It was weird posing for a family photograph without two squirming little girls in the picture, and while I still missed my original family, I was happy with my new one. I had a good brother, and even more two good and loving parents. That had been hard to admit to myself, and I lay awake for most of the previous night, fighting feelings of guilt, betrayal, and hurt and relishing the feelings of love, and belonging, a belonging I had not really felt with my old family.
Not even Colonel Jacobs knew exactly what I was going to say when he gave me ten minutes this morning to read bible devotion. He trusted me enough to let me prepare it myself, offering his help if I wanted it, but not pushing it on me. I had asked him for help, for suggestions on bible verses that related to a main topic, but he provided me with none that I hadn't already found. His eyes had lit up in curiosity, obviously finding the bible verses I'd mentioned a bit odd for Thanksgiving. I didn't know why he might think they were odd. They fit totally with the times, and the day itself.
"You know, both the State Commander and Deputy Commander are very upset right now." Colonel Jacobs was saying after the family photo was done and while two television make-up people were applying make-up to not only him, but Henry and I as well. Henry and I were both going to sitting on the dais on either side of the Colonel. Henry was going to be singing a hymn solo (not wanting to be left out if I was actually going to be doing something, and his singing voice was actually quite good). In fact, he was the only one who knew what I was going to do talk about, and had chosen a hymn to fit along with my reading, and would sing it immediately after I was done.
It had been Henry's idea, and the Colonel had readily approved it, knowing that Henry's sense of proper theatre was exquisite. Henry really could plan a stage production, or a church service and get the exact reaction he wanted. He had developed this gift while watching his own father, Colonel Jacobs, through many years of sermons and church services.
"Why are they upset, Jim?" Mrs. Jacobs asked and I listed with curiosity.
"They both had already promised to visit San Diego and L.A. respectively before the word came down from the Pentagon that they wanted to broadcast live from here today." The Colonel explained. "Both the District Commanders had put such emphasis on their coming that if they cancelled they risked riots or even worse, undercutting the faith of the public in those commanders. So they can't be here today. They wanted seats in the balcony for this."
"I noticed the Mayor has his seats reserved in the balcony." Mrs. Jacobs remarked with a wry grin. "Along with his entire family, most of the surviving city council, the police and fire chief and most of their lieutenants and families."
"I know." Colonel Jacobs said with a big smile. "We had to arrange twenty special bus routes for this morning so people indicated to their local garrisons they wanted to come. We're filling not only the sanctuary auditorium but all the overflow rooms as well. That television crew from Sacramento is having a field day interviewing people and setting up reaction shots for during the service. They've pretty much taken over the control booth. At least they are happy with the facilities and the uninterrupted power supply."
"You know, this isn't helping my confidence any." I groaned aloud, and everyone in the room laughed at me.
"You'll do fine, bro." Henry said. "You just have to talk. I'm the one actually singing here."
"You've done this before." I shot back as the make-up woman told me to stand, straightening my uniform a little. I got nervous when touched my gun belt to straighten it, and Sergeant Connors low warning made her pull her hands back quickly. The Colonel was also standing, checking his watch.
"I'm nervous as well." The Colonel said softly, and for some reason that helped calm my roiling stomach. Henry and I lined up between him and Mrs. Jacobs. Henry was on his left side, me next to Henry, and Mrs. Jacobs on the other side. The sound of organ music filtered in through the door to the auditorium and I took a deep breath. One of the make-up women opened the door to the sanctuary, and we moved out as a group. As we entered the packed sanctuary, I knew Sergeant Connors and Corporal Walters moved behind us, shutting the door and taking up stations with the two camouflage-clad guardsmen already there. The sound of applause filled the room and I was surprised to see most of the people there on their feet, clapping as we walked in. The Colonel and Mrs. Jacobs both waved slightly as we moved further into the huge room. We escorted Mrs. Jacobs to her seat in the front row of pews, the wives of several church leaders sitting next to her before the three of us moved onto the dais itself.
Colonel Jacobs shook hands with his assistant, Pastor Thurell, who then shook hands with Henry and I before we all sat down. Henry was on the Colonel's right while I was on his left. Pastor Thurell moved to the pulpit and began the service with a prayer. I knew that outside the first hints of red-gold light as peeking through the Sierra Nevada mountains, beginning the first Thanksgiving since the oil crisis had begun.
"Members of the First Baptist Church of Modesto, our honored guests, people of District 21, the State California, and of the Unites States of America, I welcome you to our special celebration service on this Thanksgiving Day." Pastor Thurell's voice was soft, and held a friendliness to it I didn't remember him ever quite mastering before. "It is an honor to me, and to Pastor Jacobs, that our State, and our Nation has chosen to grace us by broadcasting these special services across the airwaves and radio waves that still link us, bind us together as one nation under God. These last few months have been trying ones for all of us, testing our mettle, our dedication to the ideals of freedom, love, and faith that our forefathers established this country for.
"Here in Modesto, we are beginning to recover. Most of us enjoy limited electricity in our homes once more. We have food on our table and no longer depend on the grace of others for our food. Here at this church, since the first day of the crisis, we have served 1.2 million meals to the people in need, and now we rejoice that most of those people are now eating their own food, in their own homes once again. For people of faith like us, these times tested not only our loyalties as citizens of the United States, but as Christians. I am proud that we have passed these tests so wonderfully. Our doors were opened, and remain open to all who need help, and we have been blessed in return to see so many of those we helped now helping others in the community. We pray that soon the rest of our great nation will be able to see the recovery we have experienced here. Now, let us sing praises to God, who made this all possible."
The music director led the church in a couple of hymns, and another prayer while I resisted the temptation to fiddle with the microphone that I was wearing. The battery pack was digging in the small of my back and I wanted to fidget, but was very aware that there was probably a camera pointed at us at all moments. I could see the Colonel smirking slightly at me several times and I almost blushed.
OH GOD, PLEASE HELP ME NOT BLUSH ON TELEVISION! My thoughts were screaming in a silent prayer as the music director ended the last song and introduced me for the bible devotion. I was shocked at the applause that filled the large auditorium, and at seeing the Mayor, the Police Chief, and Fire Chief, all men I'd gotten to know over the last few months, stand up in the balcony as they applauded.
My cheeks must have been fiery red by the time I reached the pulpit and opened my bible to the appropriate spot. I was thankful for the college professor's lessons in public speaking two weeks ago, because I had my cue cards ready, and they were legible in those large letters despite my nervous state. Finally people stopped applauding and sat down, an expectant hush filling the auditorium then.
"I don't think God answers all prayers because I definitely remember praying I wouldn't blush up here." I said, wincing as my amplified voice cracked halfway through the statement. However, the laughter that sweeped through the auditorium then almost made me blush again. I took a deep breath though, and began my prepared comments.
"These have not been easy times for us, either as Christians, or as Americans." I began, and my voice suddenly seemed to settle into the deeper bass it had sometimes reached as it changed. "Our lives, our fortunes, everything we had come to expect from the world around us changed in a single day, and we have struggled since then to rebuild some part of the lives we once had. We are not the first people in history, and we probably won't be the last, to face such challenges.
"In the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah lamented the calamities that he faced, and that his people faced in those dark days. Even as America today looked for help, and did not receive it from our neighbors, so did they, in the times of Jeremiah look vainly for help. In Chapter Four, verses 17 and 18, he says: ' As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us. They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.'
"Many of us might relate to these words written in an age long past. We might feel that the end of country, our lives has come, but even in his Lament, Jeremiah did not lose hope entirely. In Chapter Five, verse 21, he said: 'Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as old.'
"I know that many people of this nation had, in days past scorned the words of God, the lessons of the past they provide, and the hope that they provide for the future. But we should not, in these times of troubles, be so quick to scorn them out of hand. The bible is full of tales of woe, of loss, but also of hope. There can be no greater example of this than that of Job. A wealthy man, Job was tested by God, and the devil, and his story is one well known and studied. He went from wealth to being a penniless man, imprisoned by those who had once had been his friends.
"Despite the change in his wealth, despite the troubles that he experienced, troubles that many of us can relate to today as well, Job's faith in god stayed with him. As we see in Job, Chapter 42 verse 12, we see "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning " Job's faith, and his hard work paid off in the end, and he was rewarded far beyond what he had before his troubles began.
"This is the message that we, as Christians, and we as Americans, should hear, and remember. We are being tried; we are being tested now in this modern day. Our faith, our beliefs in the principles of our Christianity and our country, are being put to the test. We struggle to regain what we have lost, but I believe that we stand not only to regain what we lost a few months ago, but we also have the opportunity to become better than we were, richer in faith, richer love, and richer in the freedoms that have always made America a great country.
"My name is Dylan Thomas Jacobs." I said, looking up from my notes and the bible in front of me, and looking into the faceless audience. The bright lights for the television cameras made it difficult to see anyone beyond the first row, but I tried to look as if I was making eye contact with people in the audience. "A few months ago, my name was Dylan Thomas. My father was the principal of a local elementary school. My mother was an administrator at a local hospital. I had two wonderful sisters, twin five year olds named Cindy and April, and a best friend by the name of Henry Jacobs.
"My father was killed by rioters on the first day." I said, and my voice quivered slightly, and I felt a tear slide down my cheek. "My mother and sisters were killed a week later in another riot. Just as Job lost all he had, just as so many of you lost everything you had, so too did I lose all I had known in life. However, just as my old life was taken away, God opened a new door for me, offered me a new life. Colonel Jacobs, of the California National Guard, pastor of this church, and father of my best friend, Henry Jacobs, opened his arms to me, and offered me the love of his family. I am now Dylan Thomas Jacobs. As a member of his family, Colonel Jacobs offered me chances that I never dreamed of, and God offered me challenges that I never knew I could meet.
"In the third grade, I found out that God had granted me the gift of a strong intelligence. Desiring to experience a normal childhood, I chose to remain with my friends in my normal grade levels instead of being advanced like I was offered. However, as our country was challenged by the events of these days, I realized that to no longer live up to the full potential god had given me was wrong for me, for my family, for my church, and for my country. I embraced the challenges I was given, and I have seen more than I had ever expected to see.
"Several weeks ago, I was working with a team in the eastern part of town, helping to register people for work in the food plants that even now are shipping food to people all over this state." My voice quavered at this point, and I knew I was going slightly pale as I remembered the face of Captain Overton in that one moment. "A homegrown terrorist, bent on preventing the recovery of our country took the opportunity to take a shot at me. He missed by pure luck, and instead hit a woman who I had come to know as a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Captain Susan Overton was a mother of four, and a good officer in the California National Guard. She lost her life that, because someone sought to prevent us from providing food to those who were going hungry.
"He failed in his attempt, and is now in prison awaiting trial." I continued more strongly, my voice growing firm again. "He failed because we honor the memory and sacrifice of the thousands like Captain Overton, who work to help our great country no matter what is thrown our way. People like him will always fail so long as we remember the sacrifices of the past, remember our faith in God, and work to help one another.
"Today is Thanksgiving Day. In the past, it was always a day for a big meal and football on television, and visiting with my family. I remember the school plays about pilgrims and Indians, I remember people debating over the rights or wrongs of our ancestors, and I remember that it always represented a time of rich food, comfort, and the trappings that a materially rich society offered.
"Today though, Thanksgiving has been transformed for me. It is no longer just a time for food, football, family and debates. Today I have more to be thankful for than I ever have before. Today I am thankful to God for providing me with a mother, a father, and a brother who are my family not because I was born into it, but through the love we have for each other. I am thankful to God for the opportunity I have to help my father, Colonel Jacobs, rebuild this country into something greater than it once was. I am thankful for my brother Henry, who I learn with, fight with, argue with, and love like I had never imagined. I am thankful to men like Sergeant Connors of the National Guard, and Professor Elidge of our local college, who teach me and challenge me to learn to the fullest of my abilities, but most of all, I am thankful to God that I am alive today, and I might look forward to a better tomorrow.
"To you, my fellow Christians, to you, my fellow Americans, I tell you that this truly is a day to be thankful. We are being challenged, we are being tested, and I believe that the testing is not yet done. We will face more problems, more hurdles that must be crossed in the future, but I tell you that we will not be set tasks we cannot overcome. God has given us all the ability to contribute to the world we live in, to make it better. All we have to do is reach within ourselves, and want to help each other. If we do, we will survive everything that is thrown against us. Thank you and God bless."
I finished, moving away from the pulpit and wondering if I had just made a fool of myself. Pastor Jacobs, no, I was going to call him dad from now on, stood clapping and I noticed that the auditorium was filled with clapping people as well. Henry hugged me there on the stage, and dad joined in the hug, whispering 'very well done' to me. Henry broke from the hug first, as the church pianist began the song he was going to sing. I sat back down in my seat, and listened to him sing. Despite the fact that we were both going through puberty, his voice seemed to remain under control as he sang, and received a standing ovation as well. When he sat down after receiving another hug from our dad, and from me as well, it was Pastor Jacobs who stood up and took the podium, looking resplendent in his uniform.
"I'm going to have to have a talk with my son when we get home." Pastor Jacobs said sternly, looking back towards us with a wink. "He stole my sermon and now I don't have anything to say."
I blushed at that, knowing the camera was catching my bright red cheeks and Henry clapped me on the back as everyone laughed.
"It's a good thing for me he gave me a warning by asking for bible verses to go along with those from the Lamentations of Jeremiah." He continued. "So instead of focusing on Lamentations like I had originally planned, I'm going to talk about Job, and hopefully give examples of how we, as a country and as a people, are faring better than the most pitied man of the bible."
It was interesting to hear him draw allegories from the bible and slip into his sermon a realistic perspective of what was happening in the country today, the challenges that we faced, and the sacrifices that solving them would require. He was a master at doing it subtly, and I realized exactly why Henry was so much better at persuasive speaking than I could ever hope to be. He'd been watching a master all of his life.
The sermon ended twenty minutes later, and we left the dais immediately afterwards. Normally we stayed for the ending of the church service itself, but because there were so many people, Major Jennings had told his commanding officer that in the interests of security, we should leave a little early. We were in a conference room ten minutes later, waiting for our late breakfast guests to arrive. Mrs. Jacobs, mom I needed to start calling her, was hugging again and again, and Henry kept looking at me with a soft smile. I was hungry as hell and was getting impatient for the Mayor and the others to arrive.
When they showed up another ten minutes later I realized that I wasn't all that hungry after all. I came face to face with Terry, the Mayor's son and I remembered Henry's story of blackmail, and sex with this guy. It didn't help that the kid, who was a little older than Henry and I was good looking. In fact it made me a bit angrier, and I could see in his eyes that he was slightly afraid of me. For some reason that made me a little calmer, but I was feeling overprotective of Henry. Luckily, Henry squeezed my arm softly and gave me a stern look before smiling and purposefully shaking hands with the Mayor's son and saying it was good to see him again.
For me, the meal was slightly tense, but after Henry's second warning glance, and an expression of curiosity from dad, who I was pretty sure didn't know that I knew, I suppressed my feelings and began to be as pleasant as I could, answering Terry's questions when he voiced them as nicely as possible. However, the breakfast was interrupted a few minutes later when Captain Williams rushed inside. I was surprised because he hadn't come for the service and would have just come off duty a few hours ago after being up all night.
"Sir, you need to return to base immediately. You better bring Mrs. Jacobs as well." Captain Williams said, and we all rose. The Colonel told our guests to finish their meal as we followed him out. I was surprised as we left the building to find two helicopters, blades still rotating, waiting for us. The Colonel and mom were rushed into the first helicopter while Henry and I were rushed into the second. We'd both gone through basic helicopter orientation three weeks before so we were able to buckle ourselves in, put on the helmets, and connect ourselves to the communications system.
"Pilot, what's going on?" Henry asked as we were plugged in.
"I don't know." The pilot responded immediately. "It must be something big though because traffic control is reporting that a transport craft is on its way from Sacramento and we're supposed to take you to the airport, not the base."
"What now?" I whispered into the microphone, knowing Henry would hear it. He was looking at me with wide eyes as the helicopter lifted off the ground, and I felt that dropping sensation from my stomach again as we gained altitude in a 'hot' take-off. As the chopper turned south and nosed down, picking up speed quickly, I looked towards the east, where the sun had finally cleared the mountains and was now rising higher into the sky. It was turning into a clear morning, and the city practically sparkled from the rain of the night before.
It was less than a five minute ride to the airport, and the helicopters landed next to the small terminal. We got out of ours and rushed into the terminal building close behind our parents. Sergeant Connors was right behind us with Corporal Walters. When we got inside, I almost cracked a joke asking if they'd checked the x-ray machine for snipers, but everyone's expressions were too serious. Sergeant Shavers was there already, and walked towards Henry and I with two M-16 rifles in his hands and another followed by two privates with several bags.
"Here." Sergeant Shavers said as he handed us the rifles and several magazines each. "We're trying to figure out exactly where you'll be heading. No matter what happens, you might need these. The privates will load your bags on the plane when it arrives. If you go into the head you'll find a set of BDU waiting for you. Get changed fast, the plane should be here in a few minutes. There's also web gear for you with a full field pack and emergency supplies if something happens."
"Thank you sergeant." I said quickly, heading towards the bathroom, grasping the rifle tightly. Whatever was happening was big, and I wanted to know, but I was now familiar enough with the military that I knew I'd have to wait for a bit. Mom was walking towards the women's room and gave us a worried looking smile but not saying anything either. We had just taken off our dress uniforms and I had one foot in the green camouflage pants when dad entered the bathroom. He stopped for a moment, looking at us as we both looked at him. Henry had stopped in the middle of pulling his brown t-shirt down.
"We better hurry." Dad said as he began unbuckling his uniform coat. "As soon as the plane lands we're heading to Sacramento. Once we're there, you two and mom are heading north to Redding where you'll stay with the District 2 commander. Both Modesto and Sacramento are too big of a target to risk all of us in one spot. The Redding DC will be in command if they hit Sacramento."
"If who hits Sacramento?" Henry asked, pulling his own pants on now. I was pulling my uniform top on, buttoning it with hands that are shaking.
"What is going on, dad?" I asked aloud, and both Henry and him stopped suddenly, staring at me for a moment before they both grinned.
"LA and San Diego are gone." Dad said as he turned around and started putting on his field uniform. I noticed oddly that this set had a star on them, instead of the Colonel's eagle. He noticed my gaze when he turned back around and smiled sadly. "I've just been promoted a day early. Shortly after the service ended, several nuclear weapons exploded over the United States. Things are in a bit of chaos right now. Washington, the Pentagon, the White House are gone. New York is gone as well, as are a few other cities in the East. Chicago is gone, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and of course LA and San Diego. I'm now State Commander since most of the command staff was in one of those two cities. Sacramento is trying to get in contact with the military command structure that is left but right now it's not looking good. They're speculating Hawaii was hit as well. San Francisco was targeted, but the USS Gettysburg fired all of her missiles at the single inbound and miraculously shot it down. A million to one shot, and they hit the thing."
"How?" I gasped at the same time Henry gasped "Who?"
"How, were not sure, and neither are we sure on who." He told us. I shook my head, realized I had stopped dressing and got started again. "You can bet that it was the Russian, the British, the French, or the Chinese, or all of them."
"NORAD was in Colorado." Henry said, and the importance of that fact hit me. Colorado was one of the states that had seceded from the United States.
"The base, last we heard, was still in federal control and locked down." Dad told us. "However, the state militia was jamming their communications and had cut all the landlines to and from there. If they spotted the inbounds, they can't tell us. There was only five minutes warning from a couple of auxiliary sources. You can bet that the President didn't make it out, and the V.P has been in Philadelphia, which was also hit."
"Why aren't we staying in Sacramento?" I asked. "Wouldn't they have hit it already if they were going to?"
"We don't know if there's more incoming missiles." He told us as I put on my web vest and picked my rifle back up from where I'd leaned it against a cubicle. "Sacramento was always a major target, as we were here as well. We've always been a major food producer and that made us a target, as did the old Strategic Air Command bases that were closed a few years ago."
"I'd rather stay with you." Henry said defiantly, and Dad looked at us sternly.
"Sons, you guys are the future." He said firmly. "You didn't grow up in the cold war, never really faced the threat of nuclear annihilation. The key to surviving this type of war is to not put all our eggs in one basket. That's why you're going elsewhere after Sacramento, and that is an order."
"Yes sir." We both said in unison, although our faces showed we didn't like to hear that. He sighed, crossed the distance between us and drew us into a tight hug. When he spoke, he had to choke back a sob.
"You boys listen, and you listen good." He said firmly, his voice filled with passion. "I love you both and am very proud of you. God's given me a great gift in both of you. If something happens to me, I want you to live your lives in a way that would make me proud. Know that I will always love you, and I'll be waiting for you at God's side."
"Yes sir." I said softly. Henry only managed a whimper. A few minutes later the sound of a plane landing jolted us out of the embrace and he stepped back with a sad smile.
"Get out there." He ordered. "I'll be out in a minute."
"Yes sir." We both replied in unison. Henry finished getting ready, and we grabbed our combat helmets, put them on and headed out of the bathroom. Mom was already out there, dressed in a dark pair of jeans and gray cotton blouse. She was holding a heavy jacket, and Sergeant Connors handed us a pair of heavy weather field jackets as we reached them. Mom smiled at us calmly, but was otherwise silent. Always in the past she had been very talkative, but her eyes held the look of fear in them, fear and determination I would have never guessed her capable of.
"Is the plane ready?" Dad's voice sounded from behind us, loud and confident.
"Yes sir, it is." Captain Williams said, straightening slightly.
"Good, let's get a move on." He ordered and we all moved out the exit to the plane that was waiting a short job away. I was surprised when Sergeant Connors got on the plane behind us along with Corporal Walters and a couple of other men from his unit. He made sure we were sitting in the plane's web seats properly before giving a thumbs up to the crewmember waiting at the front of the cabin.
It was a C-141 Starlifter, the military aircraft based on the popular Boeing 737 passenger plane, and the four jets roared to life as it maneuvered down the taxiway in preparation for take-off. Dad was handed a headset with microphones obviously attached to the plane's communication system. He was sitting across from us and was talking into microphone from the second he put them on. The rest of us were handed regular ear protection, which dulled the roar of the jet engines to a bearable level as we rolled down the taxiway. Minutes later we were airborne. Sacramento was a little over an hour's flight away, so this flight would be a very short one. Still, it spoke of the importance of the situation that we were going in a jet aircraft instead of a helicopter or more fuel efficient aircraft.
Ten minutes later the crewmember, who looked like he was barely eighteen himself came up to Henry and I. He leaned over carefully and asked if we wanted to see the cockpit. It was a stupid question really. What thirteen year-old wouldn't want to see the cockpit of the aircraft?
"Wow." I said as we entered the cockpit and I was instantly barraged by the sight of so many buttons, lights, switches, dials, and even small computer screens. The pilots both turned, grinning at us and motioning us forward and to take off the ear protection.
"You boys are the Jacobs boys?" The co-pilot on the right asked and we nodded.
"Nice to meet you!" The Pilot said with a grin. "I'm Major McCaffrey and this is Captain Hillard."
"Nice to meet you sir." Henry said. "I'm Henry Jacobs and that's my brother, Dylan."
"You boys ever thought about flying instead of dirt eating?" Captain Hillard and both of them laughed.
"Never had the chance." I said and they smiled.
"I heard you boys were smart, so let's see just how smart you really are." Major McCaffrey said, and began to describe all the dial, knobs, switches, and launching into a discussion of flight dynamics. Henry and I were so engrossed in the conversation that the crewmember bringing in four thermoses of coffee surprised us. Somehow he had known how to fix my coffee, probably from Sergeant Connors who had made many disparaging comments about my love from cream and sugar in the past, and laughed when I griped for the entire week milk and cream had been unavailable. It was even real cream not that powdered stuff.
It was when my thermos was half-empty, and Major McCaffrey congratulated Henry on a perfect recitation of the aerodynamic effects of rudder and wing control during a turn that I realized we should have long since landed in Sacramento. We'd been in the air for over an hour already. I vaguely remembered a show on the History Channel from a year ago where they had talked about the KNEECAP plane that would take the President to the air in case of nuclear war, and how it would remain airborne for days until it was safe to land. The only problem was, the plane was on auto-pilot, and flying in a nearly direct line, not circling. I looked out the cockpit windows and saw nothing but clouds far below us.
"Where are we going?" I asked when the Major had finished his sentence on landing procedures. "We should have been in Sacramento a long time ago."
"Oh, I thought you heard over the comm system." Major McCaffrey said.
"We weren't given headsets." Henry said.
"That explains it then." Captain Hillard said. "The General received a patched transmission from Wichita Command. Admiral Fullard, COMNAVLANT is the highest surviving officer. They've pretty much patched comms together from the surviving command centers. There's an emergency meeting that's going to happen in Huntsville, Alabama. Key command staffs are all being diverted there for an emergency meeting with every surviving member of Congress they can get their hands on. The government has pretty much been destroyed and they're going to meet to decide what to do now."
"They're calling in all the State Commanders?" Henry asked and the Major laughed.
"No, as far as I could tell from what I overheard, there's only two National Guard Commanders that are going. Your dad and the Alabama Commander. Everyone else is a two, three, or four star staff officer from the federal forces or an elected member from the last conference. Right now Admiral Fullard is in command. Now, Dylan, how do the flaps affect the aircraft when landing and taking off?"
I answered him almost verbatim from the explanation that he'd given, but my mind was churning over our destination and what he'd just told me. I felt like a liar because a little more than two hours ago I had just told people all over the country that things were getting better, and now they were far worse than they'd been even at the beginning of the crisis. I remembered the Terminator movies, and the scenes of a nuclear explosion, and imagined millions of people all over the country vaporizing in that fire and nearly lost my lunch in the lap of Captain Hillard. He took a look at my face and looked worried.
"Airsick?" He asked me.
"No." I answered.
"Don't think about it, concentrate on the flying lesson." He said thickly. "My wife lives in San Diego. I'm trying not to think about that either."
"Is it working?" I asked.
"Almost." He said. Henry was now talking one on one with the Major. "So, walk me through how you'd make a thirty degree turn without gaining or losing altitude."
While I answered, I realized that he had been correct. Not thinking about it was helping right now. I wouldn't ignore it forever, but it was just to knew, and to overwhelming to deal with. I'd have to ingest the whole picture in chunks that I could manage or I'd be overwhelmed. For now, focusing on how to turn a plane was enough to deal with.
Two hours out of Alabama, Major McCaffrey stood up from his pilot's chair and told Henry to replace him. Captain Hillard took off the auto-pilot, and although his hands rested on the controls in case Henry messed up, Henry took the plane through several slow turns, climbed a few thousand feet, descended a few thousand feet, dropped the throttles back until the plane came close to stall speed, and then to full throttle. I noticed a couple of times that Captain Hillard's hands tightened on the yoke, but that only happened three times. Henry was grinning widely when he got out of the chair and I slapped his hand in congratulations. He'd never ever let me forget that he'd gotten to fly first. It was my turn next, sitting in Captain Hillard's seat while Major McCaffrey monitored.
It felt so natural, so easy to guide that huge plane through the air. I'd never felt anything like it and from that moment a burning desire woke inside of me. I didn't notice that Major McCaffrey's hands never tightened on the yoke, nor did I notice the smiles on both pilots faces as I moved through several evolutions. I did notice when Captain Hillard put his radio headset over my ears and that's when I looked at the plane's clock and realized I'd been flying the plane for almost an hour. I looked back at Henry who was just shaking his head at me, grinning. Major McCaffrey's voice brought my attention back to the plane quickly though.
"You're drifting off course, Jacobs." His voice was sharp, but held no disapproval. I corrected the plane's flight path immediately and another voice came over the headset.
"Air Force flight Lima Oscar one-one-three-niner, this is Hunstville contol. Descend to angels one-zero-thousand and transmit upon completion."
"Roger that Huntsville." McCaffrey's voice was cool. "Lima Oscar three-niner descending to angels ten thousand.
I waited a moment for him to take back control, but he just nodded at me and I began the gentle descent. When we reached the altitude, he told me to radio it in to the controller. My eyes widened but he nodded again insistently, and I keyed the mike to make the call. Naturally my voice had to break while I was speaking and I started to blush. Henry was chuckling, I knew that without even looking.
"Who was that Lima Oscar three-niner?" The controller's voice was agitated.
"That was Cadet Dylan Jacobs." Major McCaffrey's voice was filled with humor as he replied. "He has the plane."
"If you say so, Lima Oscar three-niner." This time the controller's voice was also filled with suppressed humor. "Tell the kid he's a good speaker."
"Thank you." I replied after keying my mike and this time Major McCaffrey laughed aloud.
"Okay, three-niner, change course to one-niner-three true and maintain for one hundred and twelve kliks at present speed."
"Roger, Huntsville." I answered, and made the course adjustments. I noticed that Henry was now leaning forward, making the navigational changes to the plane's computer system. Okay, I might be the better pilot, but he was probably the better navigator. It seemed to fit with the way our skills always played off of each other.
I kept waiting for Captain Hillard to return to his seat, but he never did. I waited for Major McCaffrey, whose hands were resting on the plane's yoke, and whose voice was telling me everything that could go wrong on a landing and how to counter it, to take back control but he never did. When we were lining up on final approach I kept waiting for him to switch, but realized he really intended to let me do this. I was sweating as we finished the landing checklist, and the flaps were lowered. When the landing gear went down, the plane jumped, and my sweaty hands slipped on the yoke. Major McCaffrey though just corrected the plane's altitude and loosened his grip when I regained mine.
The plane bounced when he hit the runway, and I almost lost it, but remembered what he'd told me to do in that situation, and did it. His hand was tight on the yoke at that moment, but his smile told me that it was me who had corrected the mistake. As I geared down the jets for taxiing, he took back the control of the plane. He told me to make our arrival announcement and switched the radio to the cabin intercom. I gulped nervously before speaking.
"Uh, this is the cockpit. We've arrived at Huntsville Metro and are taxiing to the terminal. I hope you enjoyed the flight, and sorry for the bumpy landing. It was my uh, first. Please remain seated until we finish taxiing."
"Not bad for a first landing." Major McCaffrey said a moment later as Captain Hillard tapped my shoulder, signaling me to trade places. This time it was Henry holding his hand out for me to slap in congratulation, which I did.
"Dylan, you really are wasted in the army." Hillard said as began running through a check-list. "You should get into the air force. Your height, and skill, you could be flying fighters in no time."
"Sorry, family tradition." I said, and they both smiled.
"Well, if you ever want to fly again, just look us up." Major McCaffrey said as he expertly pulled the plane up next to the terminal. There were several armored personnel carriers waiting next to the terminal and as the plane halted, they drove up towards the plane's side door.
"Thank you Major." I said softly, shaking the man's hand. "I've never done something like that before and had no idea it was so amazing."
"No problem son, and good luck." He said. I shook hands with the Captain while Henry thanked the Major, and then we were heading back into the cargo area where a grinning Sergeant Connors handed us our rifles. Dad and mom both were grinning, although mom's eyes were slightly wide.
"So, did you both get to fly?" Dad asked and we both nodded with silly grins on our faces.
"Dylan flew longer though, and landed." Henry said, boasting. "I did okay, but he's a natural."
"Maybe we should consider the air force for him?" Mom asked quietly and we all laughed.
"That's what the pilots said." Henry told them as the crewmember opened the door and I noticed that nearly two full squads were deployed around the area.
"I told them Army was the family tradition." I said and smiled when dad laughed.
"We do have helicopters." He answered, clasping an arm around my shoulder for a moment. I just nodded as a Major came through the doorway and told us they were ready to go. We all left the plane at a quick jog, a pace set by the major, and were in one of the tank-like troop carriers moments later. Mom looked uncomfortable in the web seating, but Henry and I stowed our rifles in the proper slots and were sitting down, ready for the vehicle to get moving. I noticed the Major observing us closely, and he gave us an approving nod before sitting in his vehicle commander's station and ordering us away. Sergeant Connors, sitting next to me on the right (Henry was on my left), was grinning broadly at the Major's gesture of approval. He took great pride at the fact that he was primarily responsible for most of our basic training.
It was a forty minute trip to the Huntsville Space Center that was the meeting place we were heading to. Huntsville had more extensive connections to the Space Command system, and the equipment necessary to use those connections, and in the last month had been attached to the military systems by the local National Guard and an Army brigade as well. Nearby hotels that had once housed tourists and space campers, were now the homes of nearly two thousand Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard personnel. An impressive barrier of tanks, machine guns, unmanned drones, infantry, and attack helicopters made it a very secure compound that made our old HQ look like children playing at war. The APC first stopped at the hotel that would become our new home, and we were told to disembark here, along with mom. As soon as we, and the National Guardsmen that had come with us were out, the APC roared away, heading for the main buildings of the complex.
Two black and a white hotel porter rushed out of the building and immediately took our bags while a pasty-faced man in a suit asked us to follow him. He welcomed us to the "Sheraton" and announced that the facility now hosted twenty-four hour electrical service and that all elevators were once again operational. He then handed us card keys and told the porters, who were waiting nearby to show us up to our rooms. The porters showed Connors, Walters, and the other four guardsmen to rooms that were on either side of a larger door further down, at the end of the hallway on the top floor of the hotel. When the last porter opened the larger door, he announced that this was the room for General Jacobs and his family. It turned out to be a very large, and well-appointed suite with four bedrooms. When he asked, mom pointed to the largest room and announced that it would be for her and the General. Then she told us to pick the rooms we'd want while the porter took their baggage into their room. Henry and I found that two of the other bedrooms were connected by a shared bathroom and we picked them. Both rooms were three times the size of the old room we had shared, and I stared at a bed that was three times larger than both of our old bunks combined. The remaining porters took our baggage into them while the first porter showed mom the amenities of the suite. They then left very quickly.
"Ma'am, we'll be posting one person on guard at the doorway." Sergeant Connors said as he poked his head into the room. "If any of you need to leave, please let him know and two of us will accompany you. I just spoke with the Captain in charge of security for the building and they'll be augmenting your personal security detail this evening. I'll interview the people he sends. We should have enough for 24 hour coverage and personal escorts for each of you by tomorrow morning."
"Thank you sergeant." Mom said in a voice very reminiscent of Dad's, something I'd never heard from her before. I remembered Henry telling me she'd come from a rich family, and this was the first time I'd seen any evidence of that in her behavior. When the door was shut, she turned to us with a soft smile and said, "Boys, sit down, we have a lot to discuss."
Feedback, an Author's Lifeblood