For today's short story, I've decided to post a chapter from my novel Schism. This is from Act Three: The Coup. By this point, the United States is deep into a new civil war - a new government has been formed, San Francisco has been burned, and news anchors from networks perceived as having bias have been hung. Now a new character comes into play, but is he a hero...or a new villain?
EARLY MORNING RUMBLINGS
Colonel Josh Roland sat behind his desk and stared at his computer screen. Reading his brigade’s latest training reports was one of the last pieces of business he needed to take care of before he could go back to his hooch for some sleep.
Roland was tall and lanky. He didn’t have the muscular build of a lot of his peers did in the infantry, but what he lacked in build he made up for in charisma. This marathon runner could draw almost anyone to him and make that individual feel like the only person in the world. His superiors and subordinates alike said he was destined for a star one day…if he could maintain a handle on his passions and keep his mouth under control.
The building Roland sat in was fairly new, and although it wasn’t much, it was a damn site better than the old Quonset hut that had been the First Brigade Headquarters for more than half a century. He had a spacious office and a large oak desk. The flags of the United States and the Republic of Korea stood behind him, and the Brigade’s colors were against the far wall, campaign streamers falling across it like balloon ribbons.
There was something else in his office that kept part of his attention – the TV. He’d always been a news junkie, but the events of the last six months, and especially the last three, made the blaring idiot box like another appendage.
He shook his head at the chaos back “in the states,” as the Soldiers in Korea so affectionately said. Things had gotten a lot worse since the burning of San Francisco – for starters, a mob out of Colorado snuck into Texas and retaliated by burning Lubbock even more extensively than the treatment received by the City By the Bay. On their way out, they emplaced a series of IEDs on the main roads, especially Interstates 25 and 27. The police from Texas that pursued them had been torn up as they pressed north.
Riots occurred in most major cities where the city’s politics conflicted with that of the state. From Redding, California, across to Saint Louis, Missouri, and on up to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, cities across the US had seen their share of violence, where the wrong word from a neighbor risked a beating.
Worse to Roland had been the state of the National Guards. There had been mass desertions and resignations, meaning that the remaining Soldiers were usually invested in the cause they fought for. However, even loyalties within a state were in question – when the National Guards of Minnesota and Iowa stormed into North Dakota and occupied both Fargo and Grand Forks before being rebuffed outside of Bismark, part of the Illinois National Guard moved in to reinforce them, only to see another Illinois Guard unit from the southern part of the state march through Iowa and hit them from the rear. Some areas of Iowa had paved the way for the insurgent Guard forces, while people in Des Moines and Iowa City set up road blocks to delay them.
For Roland, he was sick at heart. He knew a lot of people just wanted to hide out from the violence and that the conflict was instigated mostly by those on the fringes, but people would pick a side when pressed, even if they had little real knowledge of the issues at hand.
There was a knock at his door. Roland looked up to see a balding man in his late-30s, a folder in his hand. It was Major Pat “Curly” Robinson.
“Sir,” Robinson said, “I have those satellite images you asked for.”
“Come on in, Curly,” Roland said, pushing away from his computer. “What can you tell me?”
Robinson walked over to the desk and laid out the printed pages. Several images within the pictures were circled in red. “It’s not looking good, sir. The infrared images we were able to get before that satellite went down definitely showed significant underground movement. And these other pictures show what I think are ammunition supply trucks moving towards pre-dug artillery positions.”
“What are you basing that on? They don’t look like ammunition carriers.”
“We all know that the Norks” – their favorite term for the North Korean Military – “will try to disguise their movements before the first blast. They’ve been using so-called vegetable delivery trucks for years when they wanted to conceal what they were transporting, and unless there’s been some massive UN aid program we don’t know a lot about, the sheer number of trucks on the road makes me think there’s more in the back than carrots and rice.”
Roland nodded without taking his eyes off the pictures. “Any idea what kinds of units they’ve moved into the forward area?”
“Not until they come out of their caves, which they wouldn’t until just a couple of hours before they strike. Since the faggots in Washington can’t work things out and continue to fund the operation of the satellites, we aren’t getting any new images.”
“That’s not the only thing that they’re keeping us from using,” Roland grumbled. “We don’t have a lot of money left in our maintenance fund, so two of the Q-37 counter-battery radars along the DMZ are down. That leaves a lot of area that’ll get no warning of incoming artillery until after the rounds have landed.” He looked up. “I wouldn’t go repeating that on an open channel.”
“I haven’t heard a thing, sir,” Robinson replied as he crossed his heart. Glancing at the TV, he asked, “Anything new?”
“Not really. You know that the California Guard pulled out to try and liberate Sacramento and San Francisco, but they ran into a bunch of IEDs along I-5 and I-80 that were probably put in place by the guys along the interior of California – they aren’t fond of the guys on the coast. Worse yet, when they pulled out, they left a gap for Turlman to escape.”
“News tonight says that the Northwest Republic Compound has been deserted for days. Given that the Cal Guard also pulled out of Montana, Turlman could be anywhere.”
“Amazing the trouble we’re going through due to one man,” Robinson said, shaking his head.
“It’s a whole chicken and egg thing – was Turlman the spark, or would things still be quiet if the ANFPP hadn’t torched his family? And would that have just delayed the whole thing from blowing up?”
“Good question, sir. I really don’t know.”
“Okay, back to this,” Roland said, pointing to the pictures on his desk. “I take it you’ve showed this stuff and your analysis to the guys at Division.”
“Yes, sir, I have. The G2 agrees it’s troubling, but without guidance from USFK or the guys back in the states, they’re not willing to commit. They’ve labeled this as just part of the usual Nork winter training cycle and don’t think we should get too spun up.”
“But you think we should?”
“I do. This would be the perfect opportunity for that short little bastard to flex his muscles. He’s been looking for a way to make an impact, and he hasn’t done a lot since shooting some rounds at Yeonpyeong Island a few years back. Now, with the US otherwise engaged, they think the ROK shield is down. There might never be a better chance to reunite the peninsula.”
Roland’s guts churned because he knew his intel officer was right. If they were going to come across, now would be the time to do it.
“How long before you think they could strike?” Roland asked.
“If I knew that for certain, sir, I’d have some stars and be running INCOM instead of being a part of your staff.”
Roland grinned. He and Robinson went back a few years to when Curly was an enlisted man. Finally, he said, “Give me your best guess.”
“Honestly, it could be any time. The MILSTAR satellite was giving us pretty good intel about the supply push, and I think they have enough down south that they could start shooting now.”
“If that happens, I suspect we’ll get a strongly worded letter sent to them from the UN,” Roland said.
Now it was Robinson’s turn to grin, but his face turned serious when he asked, “Anything about the UN’s latest attempts to stop our mess?”
“No,” Roland replied. “They tried to get into Charleston harbor, but a group of folks – some civilian, some Guard and Reserve – started lobbing old rounds at them and then opened up with a .50 cal when they wouldn’t stop. That turned them around, and Gilchrest said that this was an internal US matter and no business of the UN. Cantrell then said he couldn’t accept UN troops until Gilchrest did, so the ships turned around and the planes diverted to Canada. Britain’s not too happy about it, but what are they going to do?”
“Sit back and sip tea, I suspect,” Robinson said.
After a chuckle and a couple of seconds of thought, Roland said, “Okay, Curly, thanks for showing me this stuff. We’ll look to upgrade the brigade’s alert level in the morning. I’m going to write Major General Desmond and see if I can get 2ID to buy off on it, but I doubt I’ll have much luck.”
“Understood, sir. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Don’t forget – tomorrow we run Dragon Valley. Bring your nerves of steel.”
“As long as those nerves have something wrapped around them,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be cold as balls.”
“January always is. I’ll see you at PT.” The S2 walked out and Roland went back to reading his unit’s training reports. He just hoped that what he was reading about would stay in the realm of practice.
Unfortunately for the Soldiers of 1st Brigade, 2ID, that hope faded away around 4 in the morning. Roland was asleep in his command quarters when the sirens on Camp Casey started going off, followed shortly thereafter by a series of explosions that rocked the small US Army outpost.
He knew the drill as well as the next guy – throw on clothes, grab your body armor, and head to the nearest bunker. Throwing on his clothes was easy enough – they were right next to his bed – as was grabbing the body armor that was next to his door. The problem came from getting to the bunker since it was a few hundred meters away and across open ground.
Tearing open the door to his hooch, Roland looked out at what appeared to be an anthill that had been stepped on. Soldiers were running every which way, knocking each other down in their mad dash for cover. Roland stopped his rush to grab a couple of Soldiers and push them in the right direction.
“Get to your bunkers, boys!” he shouted. “Don’t worry about anything else – we’ve got to keep you guys alive.”
The shaken Soldiers that were in his path looked at him and mumbled “Yes, sir” before heading off under noticeably better control. Roland sprinted to his bunker, located in a hill next to the base’s tennis courts.
His nighttime operations officer, Captain Lisa Collins, held a clipboard and was checking people in. She looked up at Roland as he approached.
“We’ve got about 50% of the staff so far, Colonel Roland,” she said. “I don’t have a count yet on anybody wounded or dead.”
“If you had, I would’ve wondered about your clairvoyant skills,” Roland replied. “Focus on who’s here now – we can get to the rest once we hit first light.”
She acknowledged and went back to trying to account for the incoming deluge of people while Roland went to his makeshift desk against the far wall. Major Robinson was already staring at the hastily hung map on the wall, and Major Greg Pierce, the Brigade Operations Officer, was looking through a red folder marked “SECRET.”
“Looks like you were right, Curly,” Roland intoned. “Just with you could’ve given us better specifics on the timing.”
“Better now than during PT,” Robinson replied. “Imagine the carnage of Soldiers running along the road when those shells started going off.”
Roland nodded. Turning to Pierce, he said, “How long do you think it’ll be until we get our batteries moving for the counter-fire fight?”
“The Ready Batteries from USFK should already be shooting back, assuming they survived the initial assault. Our boys have to get their stuff from the motor pools and move to their firing positions, but, obviously, we’re going to have to wait out this barrage.”
“Okay. Get someone on the radio and start getting status reports from the battalions. I want 1/15 fires to start moving as soon as they can, and they need to be shooting back by dawn. As for the rest of our folks, except for the escort units assigned to secure the batteries, I want them to hold tight until sunset. Then we can marshal and begin our move south.”
The plan called for only artillery units to be involved from the US side to start with. Then, the intricacies of OPLAN 5514 had the brigade moving south of Seoul to Cheonan and stage while the rest of the ROK Army blunted the attack. 2ID would spearhead the US Army units that arrived at Pusan and Osan in the counterattack north.
Roland reached for the VSAT radio and tried to reach 2ID headquarters at Camp Red Cloud in Uijonbu. “Warrior Six, this is Iron Six.”
“Iron Six, this is Warrior Five.” It was Colonel Stan Livsey, the Division Chief of Staff. “Warrior Six is on another line. What can I do for you?”
“We’re still moving people into the bunkers here, sir,” – the brigade commanders always referred to the Chief of Staff as “sir,” given that the man was a senior Colonel who’d already had a brigade command – “and we’re trying to hold out through the initial barrage, but I should have my first alert elements moving to firing position in the next two hours.”
“Hold on now, Josh,” Livsey cautioned. “The boss is trying to get instructions from Washington and Seoul on how to react. We don’t want to commit too early.”
“We’re not committing anything,” Roland replied. “It’s just that I know that the MLRS and other 155s from USFK and 8th Army could use some help, and our boys have rehearsed the plan. We can start contributing.”
There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the radio. When the line crackled back to life, Livsey said, “The counter-fire batteries aren’t shooting yet.”
Pierce swiveled his head to the radio, this conversation now having his full attention. Roland stared at the hand mike for a few seconds as the ground over his head continued to rumble. “I don’t understand. The drill is to begin launching artillery back once the balloon goes up. We’ve got to start shooting.”
“Unfortunately, we’ve got no clear orders on that from Washington. General Guillaume up at USFK is trying to get that authority right now.”
“Screw that,” Roland said. “We don’t need authority to defend ourselves, and God knows the ROKs aren’t going to just sit by and let the Norks beat on them.”
“General Giullaume says that firing into North Korean territory is offensive action that goes beyond his authority. Sure, we know the drill, but we’ve always assumed we’d have a coherent government back home to give us the official go-ahead. We have to hold off until that happens.”
“Say again, Warrior Five. Your signal is breaking up.” Roland said this despite Livsey’s words coming over the net clear as day.
“I say again that we can’t move into position until we have guidance from someone in the National Command Authority. You are to hold fast until otherwise instructed.”
“I still can’t read you,” Roland said. “Your transmission is…” He reached over and shut off the radio. “Damndest thing for the power to our radio to get cut like that. An enemy arty round must’ve hit our retrans platform. Last thing I heard was something about getting our guys into the fight. Is that what you heard, Greg?”
Pierce took a breath, but he finally responded, “Yes, sir. That sounds about right.”
“Okay, get to it. If the barrage hasn’t slackened in the next hour, we may have to move under fire, so prep the guys in 1/15. In the meantime, get me in touch with our buddies in the Air Force, as well as our partnered unit at the 48th Mech. It’s time to get in the game.”