Monday, May 27, 2024

Whack-a-mole (Cumberland Saga)

NOT I-80 or I-271...but typical of many US Interstates
Governor Brian Higgins had been chronically short on sleep for the last three weeks. Riots in Ohio cities had been ramping up and then the terrorism had started. He had been playing whack-a-mole with little effect. Moving resources and reconfiguring to new threats seemed to leave his state even more vulnerable to even newer ones.

Ohio had been hit particularly hard. Lake Erie was a natural obstacle and huge amounts of freight traveled parallel to its southern shore. Furthermore, the geography of eastern-Ohio had enough wrinkles that much of the freight passed over countless bridges that spanned modest but steep valleys.

Stir in decaying, Rust-belt cities, uber-liberal University towns and various meccas for immigrants and you had a recipe for disaster.

Higgins had been awakened at 2 in the morning. I-80 and I-271 had three of the four spans dropped where they crossed the Cuyahoga river. He had been bunking in a room that had been cleared out next to his office and living on fast-food his staff brought in and showering in the facilities set up for security. His wife of 51 years was NOT happy.

He knew that he had about four hours before he got ANOTHER call from the President. Not the actual President. The man was a moron. It would be a second assistant to some minor director who would lecture him as if he were a child. Appearances of power-structure had to be maintained, even when the Country was in a crisis.
Since when had securing national assets like the Interstate system become a State function? Why the hell had he been paying the IRS all of those taxes? Short of sleep, Higgans had a difficult time disciplining his mind and keeping to a single thought-track.

Higgans walked into the “war-room” wearing sweat-pants and a University-of-Akron tee-shirt. Higgans was the consummate politician and never missed a trick to show he was just a regular guy; he rotated through all of Ohio's universities wearing a different jersey or tee-shirt each day. He was carrying a cup of high-test, instant coffee as he crisply barked out “What do we know?” even before he sat down.

He wrinkled his nose as he reached for the tray with cellophane-wrapped pastries on it. He picked out what looked to be a cheese-danish. He looked at the wrapper and saw that it had been baked in Illinois and had an expiration date a month in the future. A quick glance showed him that his bottle of Tums was still next to his place at the table. Weeks of three-hours-of-sleep a night and excessive amounts of caffeine were playing hob with his stomach. That, and the crap they had for food.

Waiting for the presenter to order his papers, Brian heard a minor official complaining about the potato chips he had just bought from the vending machine. Clearly, the peon didn’t know the Governor could hear him.

“Fucking corporations” the man groused. “They ship bags of air with about five potato chips in it.”

“If you don’t like them, then why did you buy them?” Higgins snapped.

Realizing he had stepped into it, the man said “That is all that is left in the machines.”

Higgins’ mind ran down two separate tracks as he sat through the briefing. At the top level, he was absorbing how the terrorists had eluded the road-blocks and manipulated how he would present it to the President’s staff who, in turn, would massage and spin it to make it less embarrassing to the President's administration.

At a deeper level, his mind was grappling with two bits of information: The vending machines were nearly empty and that trucks delivering bags of air and cheezy-danish-food-like abominations were bogging down roadblocks.

An hour later, Higgins asked “Where is the list of probable targets that somebody ginned up a couple of weeks ago?”

It took a couple of minutes for the technician running the projection TV to find the requested graphic. Nobody was running at 100%.

“Which of those targets have been hit and in what order?” Higgins asked.

The tech opened up a sketch-pad function and the Commander of the Ohio State Police started reading off the major attacks in the order they happened and the tech Xed-out each target that had been attacked. There was a lot of overlap. There was a LOT of overlap.

“No surprise there” the Governor said. “A precocious 6th grader can see where we are vulnerable.”

“Does anybody have a plan?” Higgins asked.

The Commander of the OSP elbowed the slightly-built, ferret-faced man standing next to him.

“I have a plan” the man said, sounding almost timid.

“Do I know you?” Higgins asked.

“Johns. Ohio State Police. I am an analyst in the Counter-Terrorism Department” Johns said. Yeah, Counter-Terrorism Department, all six of us. At least our other responsibilities (to keep us busy) had been shifted to other officers.

“Well?” Higgins prompted him.

Johns gave the Governor a quick run-down on the “approaches” to the bridges and above-ground portions of large natural gas pipelines that had to be secured. He covered recommended manpower requirements and what was available. The latest attacks had been from beneath the bridges.
"The cupboard is bare" Johns said. So into his presentation, he had forgotten who is audience was, "The Federalization has been a complete goat-festival. We sent them complete, cohesive units and when it became clear Ohio was home to many major targets they sent back a dogs-breakfast of random individuals from a dozen different states...and no quick way to integrate them."
“The only way to make it work is to flatten the organization, expand exclusion zones, authorize lethal force, to simplify the rules-of-engagement and “go hot” with the Identification Friend-or-Foe smart-scopes.” Johns ended his 7 minute presentation.

“Do it” was all the Governor said. "Write it up and I will sign it."

As the meeting was breaking up the Governor looked in disgust at the balled up potato-chip bag where one of his aides had been sitting. “Brigham!” the Governor hailed his Transportation Secretary. “I don’t want you to run around like a chicken with your head cut off, but is there any way we can fast-track semis carrying full loads of frozen lasagna ahead of 8000 pound trucks carrying 800 pounds of potato chips?”

Brigham scratched a note on his spiral pad. He knew just the intern to take on that problem.


“I know its late and I know you are dog-tired. We all are” Roger told Adam and Evan.

“Blain told me that you both deserve your own plot to fool around with. He said you were thinking of growing melons and other sweet stuff?” Roger posed it as a question.

Evan slowly nodded his head in agreement. That seemed to have been a long time ago.

“Well, Alice and me got this plot we ain’t plannin’ on using this summer. You and Adam are welcome to it...with a few conditions” Roger said.

“What are the conditions?” Adam asked.

“You gotta get it planted and you gotta keep it weeded. When the time comes to share the harvest, I git two of the first four melons off each vine and after that I git one out of every four” Roger said.

“The other condition is that you will only plant half the plot to melons. You will plant the other half to sweet sorghum. We will split the sorghum 25:75 with me getting 75%” Roger said.

“That seems fair with the melons but it don’t seem fair, you taking most of the sorghum” Evan said. He knew how much work it was to till and plant and weed.

“Thing about sweet sorghum is that most of the work is on the back end. You gotta harvest it and crush it and boil it. That takes equipment and boiling pans firewood. I will supply that ‘cause you can’t. I think that entitles me to more than a 50:50 split” Roger explained.

Evan morosely shook his head. “I don’t think I will have time” he said, voice heavy with regret.

“Why not?” Roger asked.

“I gotta full plate” Evan shrugged. “I am responsible for teaching all of these newcomers to farm.”

“Any reason you can’t use this garden-plot as part of your school room?” Roger queried, craftily.

“Is that allowed?” Evan asked. “Don’t seem right.”

“Look-it this way” Roger pontificated. “How old are the people you are training. ‘Bout your age?”

Evan nodded his head in agreement.

“Now picture you and them standing around in the middle of August on a hot afternoon and one of them says “Dang, I’d give a million dollars for a cold slice of watermelon” and you say “I was gonna grow a bunch of melons but I didn't because thought I thought you would think I was takin' advantage of you.”

“You figure they are gonna say “Thanky Mr Evan. I do appreciate not having a cold slice of watermelon on this hot, August afternoon thanks to you being so fair and all.” Or do you think they are gonna give you the rough edge of their tongue?”

“So you think it would be OK?” Evan asked, a little bit shocked at the idea.

Roger responded “As long as you and Abe are straight-up with them from the beginning and you ain’t too stingy on sharing some of them later on, I reckon it will be fine."
 "Just like I am being straight-up on what I expect in terms of how many melons I git and the share of sorghum I figure is rightfully due for providing the land and the seeds and ‘quipment and firewood.”
"Maybe you keep track of who helps you out and you give them the first melon from your share. Somethin' like that, that they can take home is better than money an' it shows them you are somebody they can trust."


  1. It's getting real dicy on the "outside"

  2. A "Dogs breakfast of random antiterrorist police given lethal force and "Smart Scopes" that somehow ID friend vs foe?

    Aside from equipping your "Friends" with ID beacons, how does this work.

    Messy situation indeed.

    Cove looking smarter every day eh, Evan? Being the leader of the Melon patch is hard work but can be profitable.

    Excellent writing Joe, enough details of the outside but not losing the thread of the main story.

    1. My premise is that one-countermeasure-in-four might look good on paper but be a disaster in the field. Thinking about "optics" and how it will play in the press will make the bad decisions "sticky" and they will not be abandoned very fact, decisionmakers will be tempted to double down on them.

      IFF isn't far away. It can be as simple as a high-viz vest with a couple of strobing, infrared LEDs on the shoulder epaulettes. Frequency of strobing can be changed (encryption can be our friend) to minimize risk of spoofing. "Warm spots" can get a red-ghost painted around them to identify if they are not wearing IFF.

      Dude without strobing LEDs entering an exclusion zone might get one verbal warning and then he goes down.

    2. Folks smart enough to know how to take down bridges are generally professionals in my experience. Bridges are tough targets, much redundancy built in (thus how long they last with neglect) How many hours before your folks get harvested FOR IFF gear.

      Media optics are easily "managed" as shown daily.

    3. BTW Joe as I've seen the underside of bridges often in my travels (architecture is a historian's hobby) I did a little research.

      You are aware that almost half of the natural gas lines in the Eastern US are running under bridges? Loss of a bridge is more than traffic, it's natural gas heating, cooking, and electrical generation. Why? COST. Under a river digging and installing is costly. That's also why the vast majority of natural gas lines are ABOVE GROUND.

      How much time has elapsed since this major terrorism has occurred? Long enough that some mention of lack of potato chips in the snack machine.

      How long before the "Just in Time" system proven inadequate during COVID, and major snowstorms almost yearly affect the ability of EBT folks to get food?

      The rest of us as COVID proved will not be too far behind in getting grabby of remaining stocks, thus increasing the panic and supply chain issues. TP shortages anybody?

      We didn't panic because the media was working, and nobody was seeing bridges being blown away.

      I suspect you've read this article before When trucks stop:

      The water issues need to be updated as recent EPA regulations sharply reduced the amount of on-site water purification chemical that can be on hand. HAZMAT issues.

    4. "Blue Force" systems for IFF have a poor track record for vehicles and people - it takes a bigger more expensive system like an aircraft or warship to make them work well, and even then there are issues.

      Toss in terrain, trees, and which way the person is facing and it's even more difficult.
      Plus, where are they getting the parts at this late stage?

      Finally, why don't they lay out routes with fewer bridges?
      For example, I 70 has fewer bridges than I 80 and choosing secondaries can almost eliminate bridges.

    5. Sorry Jonathan but how does taking a secondary road instead of a highway eliminate the need for a bridge to cross a river?


    6. Using secondaries can move traffic to where the crossing is much smaller, or spread traffic across many secondaries.
      Small bridges can be replaced by culverts with lots of fill on top - then bomb damage can quickly be fixed by a dozer.

      In rural Ohio, there are very few critical (major) bridges. Some states have even fewer. With our current road net, ways can be found around most bridges and tunnels.

    7. Thank you, interesting work around, Jonathan. However major rivers would still be major issues between "Security" delays and lost bridges. Culverts and fill wouldn't cover any of the local bridges I drive over.

  3. Bridges are tricky to guard. A pair of consequetive spans taken out is difficult to get the far end bridge seats anchored well enough to allow the beams to be placed on the spans.

  4. The "Cuyahoga" river, is proper spelling in the fourth paragraph.
    It's pronounced "ky-a hog-a", for anyone wondering.

  5. The cove scene of this installment referred to Adam in the beginning, then eventually changed to Abe. Just wanted to let you know.
    Love the story, and really impressed with the new and improved Evan.


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