A Glass, and Darkly
Chapter 3: Cracked Worldview
14 September 2001 – Canal Street, Shirley, Massachusetts
Jeff stood in the Devens Medical Defense communications center sipping his coffee and shaking his head.
CNN replayed a tape of a Soviet television broadcast from Wednesday which featured a speech by Soviet Chairman Yevgeny Vavilov; in that speech he railed against the acts of barbarity committed on Tuesday. He called on the United States and its allies to join with the Warsaw Pact in their stand against terrorism. Vavilov recalled their great alliance during The Great Patriotic War, World War II, and declared their ideological differences mattered little at times like these.
Reports of a West German Bundesmarine destroyer, FGS Lütjens, rendering honors to USS Winston S. Churchill and USS Gonzalez were making the rounds of the news services as well. During the NATO vessel’s approach, the Americans noted she flew an American flag alongside her West German flag with her crew manning the rails in their dress uniforms; the West German sailors on the bridge wing held a large banner declaring in English ‘We Stand By You.’ The American captains called their own crews to the rails in gratitude. Reports of American sailors in tears while returning the salute were also circulating. American tourists at Buckingham Palace crying while a British military band played ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ during the Changing of the Guard was no rumor.
DMD’s defensive posture relaxed bit by bit as the days passed. The section doors inside the building were unlocked that morning. The satellite bases would continue to be locked down for some time, as would the front doors of DMD’s headquarters. The troops at the gates of Fort Devens weren’t as numerous, though the crew-served automatic weapons were still there.
Hardware and flag stores couldn’t keep up with the demand for flag sets after crews at the World Trade Center raised an American flag found in the rubble. Nearly every house he passed in the past two days now flew one. Jeff was glad he installed a flag pole in front of the house in Lancaster when they built it otherwise he’d be waiting months to install one. DMD’s truck lettering contractor was out in the garage applying reflective flags to the sides and rear of his truck, the supervisor’s SUV and Paramedic Three; the other intercept vehicles would rotate through to have theirs applied later.
There hadn’t yet been any reports of retaliatory strikes by American forces in distant parts of the globe, though it was only a matter of time. Jeff hoped they’d be delivering a knockout blow and not a ‘message’ to whoever was responsible. He knew there wasn’t a simple answer to the question of why the attacks had occurred; if it was Islamic terrorism, as the press was speculating, he wondered how much was culture clash and how much was sixty years of foreign policy decisions which upset the people who attacked them.
Jeff walked out to his vehicle once he heard it was ready. The new flags looked great and not at all out of place in the original lettering design of the SUV. Jeff stopped at his favorite coffee shop in Shirley before turning east. The specialist checking IDs at the gate was polite, less terse than the guards had been on the 11th. Jeff figured they’d never return to the Class-B uniforms and polished helmets now that the military was already shifting to a war footing. The M-60 machine gun tracking him still unnerved him.
He made his way to the Provost Marshall’s building. There was another armed Humvee stationed at the entrance to the parking lot there. The MPs directed him where to park after they rechecked his ID against a list of appointments. He showed that ID again once inside the building and an MP escorted him the Provost’s office.
Lieutenant Colonel Gabriella Nava was a scant fourteen days into her assignment to Fort Devens when the sun rose today. The three days she’d been on-duty since the attacks each seemed longer to her than the previous ten combined. Rising from her desk to welcome her visitor took every bit of effort she could muster. Still, she put a smile on her face and extended her hand in greeting.
“Gabriella Nava,” she said while shaking Jeff’s hand.
“Jeff Knox, ma’am.”
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Knox.”
“My company has a vested interest in keeping your office happy, Colonel,” he smiled.
“It’s good to finally meet you; I’ve heard much from Colonel Lawton about you and your company since my arrival.”
“All lies, knowing the good Colonel.” Jeff smiled again. “We’ve developed a good rapport over the last year, particularly with the medics under his command.”
Gabby Nava smiled despite her fatigue. “I’m hoping we can develop a similar rapport.”
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t, Colonel. I like to think I’m not unreasonable. I’d have understood if you told us to get off the base after Tuesday; I wouldn’t have taken it personally.”
“If your employees hadn’t undergone the background checks they did, I might have had to,” she sighed. “A week ago I agreed with those who thought General Barrett was a crackpot; now I firmly believe he was a man ahead of his time.”
Major General Marshall Barrett was the commanding officer of Fort Devens in 1993 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, attempting to topple one of the towers with a bomb in an underground parking garage. The general convinced Guilford Rail Systems to close an old branch line running along the fort’s eastern edge; he also successfully lobbied to have West Main Street in Ayer rerouted alongside the MBTA commuter rail line between Ayer and neighboring Shirley. Those closures and other improvements left Devens as the only military installation in the continental United States with a full, secure perimeter fence before the September 11th attacks.
“What do you need us at DMD to do, Colonel?”
“Call me Gabby, or Gabriella, first of all.”
“For now I’m going to ask that your people be patient with us, Jeff, especially once my office issues new access protocols. Our ID requirements will become stricter after this and I’m anticipating visitors from other bases will soon start arriving to study our security arrangements.”
“You’ll be giving lots of tours in the future I imagine?”
“Swell,” Gabby griped. She changed the subject and her demeanor when she asked, “I see you’re a veteran?” She waved at the jump wings he pinned to his uniform shirt every morning.
“Airborne all the way, ma’am! I served four years as an paratrooper between 1987 and 1991; I was with the 82d Airborne’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.”
“I’m guessing you were in Panama from the mustard stain on your jump wings?” ‘Mustard stain’ is Army slang for the combat jump star on the risers of Jeff’s silver paratrooper wings.
“Yes, as well as the Persian Gulf. My roommate and best friend from the 504th introduced me to his little sister the summer before Panama, too; Keiko’s now my wife. That was the best part of my time working for Uncle Sugar, as far as I’m concerned.”
“And your brother-in-law? Does he visit much?”
A shadow crossed Jeff’s face. “The other way around I’m afraid, Gabby. Ken is buried in Lancaster, about a mile from our house; Keiko’s parents moved his body here from Spokane, Washington when they moved to be closer to Keiko and our children.”
“I’m sorry, Jeff,” Gabby offered with an apologetic look. “I didn’t mean to stir bad memories.”
“You didn’t, Gabby. Ken’s always at the back of my mind, even ten years after his death; he was killed in action at the end of the Gulf War. My twin sons each have one of his names as their middle names and I have his name tattooed on my right arm; he won’t be forgotten in our household anytime soon.”
“May I see your tribute to your friend?” Jeff pulled his sleeve up to reveal the gold memorial star above the kanji of Ken’s name. “What do the characters say, Jeff?”
“That’s Ken’s full name in Japanese, which he also taught me to speak: Kenji Isoroku Takahashi. My sons are named Alexander Kenji and Ryan Isoroku.”
After a long silence, Gabby asked if he could drive her around the base while they continued their talk. When Jeff agreed she buckled on a pistol belt and retrieved a 9mm Beretta M-9 pistol from a safe.
“I hope you don’t mind me being armed?” she asked.
“I’d have brought my M-4 to work Tuesday if I could’ve gotten away with it. I didn’t think that would go over well, though; our state EMS office doesn’t allow us to be armed in any fashion. Plus your folks at the gate were wound tight enough as it was. If our state’s EMS office has a problem with someone from the Army being strapped while they’re riding in my truck on-post they can take a flying leap; this is federal property, not state.”
“You have an M-4?” she asked while they walked down the hall and out to his SUV.
“Well, the civilian version. Seems the ATF frowns on civilians having fully automatic weapons,” he grinned. “I’ve also got an M-1911, a Sig .40, a Remington 12-gauge pump shotgun, and a civilian AR-15A2.” Gabby raised an eyebrow. “I like to shoot,” he shrugged in response.
“What does your wife think?”
“That we don’t go to the range together enough,” he answered while they climbed into his vehicle. “Keiko’s a damn good shot herself, but I usually score higher than her when we compete. She gets to take out her frustrations on the mat at the dojo, so it works out.”
“Keiko’s a fourth-dan black belt in karate and working toward her fifth; I’m a second-dan who’s lazily inching toward his third. We teach at a dojo in Clinton twice a week and spar together in our gym at home.”
“What does she do?”
“Teaches English at the high school outside the Hospital Road gate.”
“Plans are already in the works to extend our fence around the plot Shirley’s police station and the regional high school are on.”
Jeff raised an eyebrow. “That’s going to create quite the traffic jam if there will be ID checks during drop-off.”
“We’ll probably only check the IDs of people who want to park their cars – staff like your wife or students who drive themselves – and restrict others to dropping off only. We’re still toying with ideas. Actually, the place that will see the most change is the new hospital.”
“I’m going to suggest a remote drop-off and parking area for civilian vehicles. It’ll be a challenge to balance access for veterans and Army civilians who live off-post arriving by ambulance with security for the base. There will probably be an internal checkpoint while people make their way in from those parking areas. Access to the ER for civilian ambulances will be another challenge.”
“You and your staff have already put in a great deal of thought on this.”
Gabby shrugged. “That’s why they pay us the big bucks.”
The pair continued to chat while Jeff drove them around the base’s perimeter. Gabby nodded in satisfaction when she noticed her troops taking their jobs seriously; they were trained well and enjoyed good leadership from her subordinates.
“Do you mind a few trips up and down Route 2 while I look at the fence line from the highway?”
“Not at all. From where to where?”
“Route 110 out to Shirley Road and back a few times?”
“Sure. Do we need to drop your weapon off again?”
“No, I received special dispensation from Massachusetts as the Provost Marshal yesterday so I can check the areas adjacent to the base; the usual posse comitatus restrictions apply unless someone or something is directly threatening the base.”
Jeff rode the breakdown lane with his lights on while Gabby made notes. She said she was all set after their third round trip. She offered to buy him lunch on-post since wearing her weapon in a civilian restaurant would be frowned upon.
“How are your employees reacting to the events of Tuesday, Jeff?” Gabby asked before spearing some of her Caesar salad.
“They’re pissed,” he stated. “One of our medics lost her younger brother on the Pennsylvania plane. Two of our supervisors and their families are stuck up in Gander, Newfoundland until the FAA reopens the skies. Whoever these assholes were, they messed with two families: the US and DMD.” Jeff took a bite of his burger.
“And you? What about their boss?”
If life were a movie, Jeff’s eyes would have glowed an evil red while his face twisted into a snarl; all Gabby saw was the snarl. “You know the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii? You know how close to the surface the magma it spews is? That’s how I feel, Gabby. I almost crushed my Sig while I watched the attacks on Tuesday. I wanted to kill someone when I learned about my employee’s brother. Wednesday morning I learned that my best friend from high school lost his brother when the South Tower fell; I wanted to glass the entire Middle East with a swarm of nukes at that point. There’s a river of loathing flowing through me right now, it’s building, and I hate that.” Jeff took a deep breath and pushed the anger away. “What about your people?”
“The same. None of the people who work directly for me were affected, but there are a few in my other units who were. We’ve already sent them over to Hanscom so they can catch military flights back home to be with their families.”
“I wonder how much longer it will be before we hear about warheads dropping on foreheads?”
“My personal guess would be not long. Unfortunately, I’m sure it also won’t be long before we have troops on the ground.”
“This won’t be a quick ‘intervention.’”
They finished lunch in silence.
Just before lunch the following Monday, Jeff tried calling the CEO of Neptune’s Forge once again; Neptune’s Forge, the Glendale, Arizona-based company which developed a water-fueled home fusion power plant during the late 1990s, derived their technology from the 1920s water purification technology which saved Jeff’s home valley from becoming the site of a forty square-mile, four hundred billion gallon reservoir. Dr. Sacha Cohen, the company’s CEO, had been one of Marisa Knox’s first math students in 1972 in addition to being the inventor of the company’s technology.
“Sacha Cohen,” came the brusque answer from the other end of the phone.
“You’re a very difficult woman to get ahold of.”
“I’ve been known to play hard-to-get, yes.” Jeff could hear some of the stress leave Sacha’s voice when she replied.
“How are you doing out there?”
“We were lucky on Tuesday; nobody lost any family though some of our friends outside the company did.”
“You’re secure, though?”
“My new security chief is mad enough to – I don’t know, pick one: chew nails, breathe fire – something like that. He started on the 10th, a retired Marine master gunnery sergeant. He keeps talking about ‘mounting a mah deuce’ at the gate; I haven’t asked what that is yet.”
“That’s an M-2, a .50-caliber machine gun, Sacha. Incredible stopping power with that half-inch wide round. Scientists modeled the X-1, the first airplane to break the sound barrier, after that round since they knew it went supersonic when fired.”
“Figures you’d know that, you history geek.”
“As opposed to the actual geek, the one with a Ph. D. I’m talking to?”
“Yeah.” He heard the stress creeping back in.
“What’s going on, Sacha?”
She blew out a breath. “The crackpots have really stepped it up since the attacks out there. The threats are becoming nastier, more vitriolic. I don’t necessarily agree with all the arguments the Second Amendment folks make, but I’m at the point where I’m going to explicitly announce our employees may bring weapons onto plant grounds. I’ve already discussed armed security with Nate Hanson, our new security director.”
“That’s a big step, Sacha.”