Saturday, February 12, 2011

Distance, Chapter 14


January Twenty-third
8:00 p.m.

“….Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States,” Doug heard, and turned up the radio.

“Good Evening, my fellow Americans. I address you this evening during a period of growing tension, uncertainty and fear. Our nation’s economy is being rocked by numerous forces that we are striving to control. International relationships are being strained to the breaking point. Nations that were formerly partners in efforts such as the War on Terror and coalitions to fight evil have turned on our country, our soldiers and sailors, our citizens and our corporations.

I am here to tell you more, and to issue a warning to these nations and these governments and their leaders.”

Doug hopped up on the kitchen counter to sit, and picked up his coffee cup.  A chill ran up his spine as the radio broadcast changed history.

“Beginning at ten a.m. last Thursday morning, United States military bases, Embassies and Consulates throughout the world were surrounded by what were touted to be peaceful protesters, demonstrating against errant U.S. economic policies that are being blamed for the current world-wide economic crisis.

Within one hour of the initiation of these protests, it became known to our government through the resources of our intelligence services that these protests were being coordinated between each nation, at the highest levels, and that further, no Americans or American military forces were to be allowed to leave these countries or bases. In many cases, harassment by foreign forces has taken place, including violation of airspace over American bases, interdiction of U.S. aircraft, and deployment of host-country military forces around each base. Several American servicemen were killed in these actions.  U.S. Naval ships have been targeted and defended themselves.”

“Jesus…” Doug said aloud. “Someone’s gonna pay Hell.”

“I am here to tell this nation and the leaders of the world and these nations in particular—you know who you are--that you have until midnight, Eastern Standard Time to cease these operations and remove your protesters from around American bases and return all hostage American citizens to our Embassies and Consulates or you will face a military response the likes of which have not been seen in decades. This nation will not tolerate foreign governments holding the American citizen and the American soldier hostage. I will not target civilians. I will target the leadership of each country that we have identified as participating in this nefarious scheme. I know the locations of each leader and his family. I know the places that you intend to go to hide. I know the locations of your assets. I know the capabilities of your military forces, and I can assure you that you are no match for the wrath that will come your way should you continue on your present course.”

Doug’s phone rang in his hand. He hadn’t even had time to put it down.

“This is Doug,” he said, half listening to the radio.

“Doug, this is Julie. Are you listening….” the phone line died and a few seconds later, the power failed.  Doug flipped the radio over to battery power, after fumbling for the switch in the very dark house.

“…... Mark those words: Hunted down.  Being in a neutral country will NOT keep you safe.”

“To the American people: We face a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Excesses of the past have come back to bite us. It is time for the books to balance. We will work with every fiber of our being to restore the confidence of the citizen in your government. We will defend our Constitution, we will protect our citizens, we will protect our country, and we will not tolerate international thugs who would threaten our citizens. And I assure you this: We will prevail.”

“I ask for your prayers this night, but not for me or my family. I ask you to pray for this great land, this country of boundless opportunity. I ask you to pray for her defenders around the world. May He in His infinite Mercy watch over them and guide them to safety.”

Good night.”

Doug was shocked at what he’d just heard, and what had just happened.  Something felt very wrong, not with what he’d heard but something else…he just didn’t quite know what.   The network commentator was in mid-sentence when the broadcast went silent. No static, just…silent.   He hit the ‘scan’ button to find another station and found nothing on the AM for FM bands. The shortwave band though, was filled with broadcasts, some he couldn’t make out at all, despite the seemingly strong signal.

He fished out a real flashlight after using the cell phone screen to find his way around the pitch-black house.   The phone screen said, ‘No Service’, instead of the strong signal he’d had a few minutes before…meaning that the cell system was dead, along with the power. 

He looked outside, expecting to see some lights of any kind in the distance, and saw nothing but black.  ‘Now what?’ Doug asked himself.   He went into the ‘office’ room, and noticed a light coming from behind the ‘closet’ doors that contained the security system monitors. 
Opening it, he saw that the system was on some sort of battery backup, the video screens were active and had some sort of night vision.  He could see fairly clearly all the way around the house and the driveway.   Nothing out of the ordinary it seemed was outside.

With a few electricity-free nights already behind him, Doug fished out a lantern, the white-gas heater, and put both in the ‘office’, where he’d be spending the night.  He hadn’t had time to investigate the wood stove, and didn’t even know if there was wood ready to burn. The three bedrooms upstairs were still closed off, the master bedroom was too large to heat with the heater and it had hardwood floors.  The office at least had thick wall to wall carpeting, which would serve as Doug’s mattress until he had some furniture, and heavy window curtains.  With the addition of the sleeping bag and a pillow, the ‘bedroom’ was complete. 

Doug made his way back to the kitchen to find the three-ring binder that the agent had given him on the house, and retrieve the battery powered radio.  He thought he might be able to fiddle with the shortwave band long enough to get some more news.

As he went to brush is teeth, he found that he had very low water pressure….and the longer the water ran the slower it ran.  No power, no water well.  He quickly shut it off.

“One more damned thing to deal with,” Doug said, leaning on the sink, wondering how he’d store enough water.

After settling into his sleeping bag, he opened up the binder and adjusted the nearby lantern to a soft light.  The shortwave radio signal was from somewhere in Tennessee, and seemed to be a ‘semi-professional’ broadcaster, who interjected opinion and commentary into his read of ‘the news.’

The binder was very well organized, and included all the property information, a folded-up survey of the site in a front pocket, and an index of the rest of the contents.  All of the manuals for the appliances and the security system were present, and, wonder of wonders, the instructions for an emergency generator.

Doug didn’t even know he had one.

The instructions for manual switchover were printed, plain as day, in twenty-four point text—big enough to read clearly in dim light.  The generator was powered by natural gas, the same as the regular furnace.  The system instructions also had a process for automatic switchover, and a sticky note attached.  The note, written Doug assumed by the previous owner, stated:

‘Auto switchover not advised for advanced scenarios. If power goes down region-wide, there is more reason to stay dark than to be a beacon!’

‘What the heck is that supposed to mean?’ he thought, and then remembered what Julie had done as soon as the power had come back on in Chicago—shut off the lights.  They were a target.  This house--if it had power when none around it did--especially if the place were lit up like Christmas, would be the only place in miles perhaps with power.

Doug went around the house, shutting off the outside lights and those in the kitchen, and then went into the basement to the electrical panel, carrying the switchover instruction sheet for the generator.  Following the simple instructions, the switchover was made, and the furnace came on, along with the basement light—which Doug didn’t know was switched. He didn’t hear the generator though—and would have to look to see where it was on the property.  He didn’t remember seeing any sort of enclosure for it on his three walks around the place. He let the generator run long enough to heat up the house, and then decided to shut it down. There didn’t seem much point in running it just for the furnace.

As he headed back to the stairs, he found that the basement light switch was a sensor—it kicked the lights on when he was in the room.  Since the room had no windows, there wasn’t a reason to maintain ‘light discipline’ here.

It took Doug more than an hour to calm his mind, and drift off to sleep.  Leaving the shortwave on though, did nothing to help his sleep.

January 24th

Doug woke with a start, noting that it was just after four in the morning…the radio was still on, and seemed to be broadcasting a regular news network. He was having a hard time shaking his dream. Some sort of rocket had been fired at him, and he woke as it seemed to go off right next to him as he ducked behind a brick wall and fell into the sand. He was in a cold sweat, which nearly never happened to him.

“This is Robert Charles reporting from the Pentagon. United States naval vessels, number unknown, have engaged Communist Chinese military forces within the past several hours.  Sources at the Pentagon who wish to remain anonymous state that the U.S. has lost at least four combat aircraft and six crewman, with many more Chinese aircraft lost.  Contact has been lost with at least one American naval vessel.”

A chill went up Doug’s spine, then another, and a third. The last time he felt that, he was in a high-end Tribeca hotel room and saw an airplane slam into the World Trade Center.  Then another.

“News really is coming in faster than we can report it, Daniel. We are now getting a report from Taiwan reporting a massive military attack taking place right now.  Our source reports hundreds of missiles have been fired outbound to repulse a Communist Chinese attack of some kind….update on that Dan.  Reports are now coming in of inbound missile strikes hitting critical infrastructure, ports and high-tech industries….”

“Jesus.  We’re at war with China,” he said to himself, immediately wondering if they had nuclear missiles.

“Thank you, Robert. We are now hearing from the southwest, we are hearing of an incursion….no I’m sorry, an invasion of the southwest from Mexico. Coupled with these invasions—including thrusts into Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas---are riots taking place in cities in the Southwest with large Hispanic populations.  Numerous reports—too many for us to keep count of—state that police officers and first responders have been shot on sight or hit with sniper fire in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson. American citizens are apparently fighting back, targeting these roving, well-organized gangs.”

“The United States military was taken by surprise by this it appears, but Marine units in San Diego are, quote, ‘fully engaged’ at this time…..reports now coming in from Austin, Texas that the Texas National Guard has been called up on emergency status and that all able-bodied men and women are to report to law-enforcement officers for deployment in defense of the State of Texas, and I quote, ‘bring your weapons and ammunition.’  Ladies and gentlemen, this is absolutely unprecedented….”

“They have the balls to invade us? Seriously?” Doug said, incredulous. He wished Julie were here. He looked at the clock, and wondered if he should try to call her. He checked the phone, and it still displayed, ‘No Service’.

He grabbed a flashlight, went to the bathroom, and saw out the window that there were lights on in the distance. He flipped a light on, being a little surprised that it worked.
Back in his improvised bedroom, Doug switched the radio to the AM band after programming the shortwave presets.  The local station was on the air, broadcasting the same network broadcast, with a much stronger signal.

“Our correspondent at the Federal Aviation Administration reports that all overnight and early morning flights have been ordered to land immediately after a reported—but unconfirmed—story of a missile attack on an Airbus airliner near Dallas Fort Worth International. We have tried to contact officials at DFW and have not been able to confirm the story.”

“This is Daniel Vickery reporting…now from the Midwest we are hearing of a brief period of panic overnight as an emergency shut-down of power and communications was inadvertently triggered. The shut down protocol, we’re hearing this from a source at Homeland Security by the way, that the system has been put in place to secure the infrastructure against an electromagnetic attack….We are now going to send it back to our local affiliates for about five minutes.  We will continue to cover the outbreak of war against the United States round the clock.”

Doug felt he should be doing something…but didn’t know what that might be. What exactly were people supposed to do when a real war broke out like this one?

“…Riyadh that the U.S. Embassy and military facilities are under siege, with fires reported inside the compound.  American correspondents nearby are observing the Marine Security Guards at the Embassy from several blocks away, and the Marines are heavily armed and prepared to defend the compound should the need arise, but at the moment they are taking only defensive measures.”

“In Germany, confirmation has come that an aircraft evacuating military personnel including wounded soldiers was shot down by a German military aircraft, with a loss of thirty-five aboard.  The President was informed of this immediately after it happened, which would be last evening our time. The German government immediately disavowed all responsibility, despite footage of the attacking aircraft landing at a nearby base after the attack….”

“One of our peer networks is reporting on an attack on the U.S.S. Rueben James in the Western Pacific, where she is serving as part of the escort screen for the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.  Rumors from inside CINCPAC state that a supersonic ‘Sunburn’ Chinese missile hit Rueben James amidships and that she is dead in the water with heavy casualties, and that a substantial military response has taken place.”

“To our listeners, it should be noted that the Presidential ultimatum, set at midnight eastern time, was apparently preceded by conclusive evidence that the Communist Chinese were about to launch a major military attack on the island of Taiwan. The President issued an ordered all military forces in the region to be on the highest state of alert and defend U.S interests and to assist Taipei in the defense of their nation.  Unconfirmed reports of ballistic missile launches are also trickling in through numerous sources, although no official sources are even available to answer this question.”

“Dan this is Jeff Eastman in Los Angeles.  We are now hearing of mass casualties in many areas of Los Angeles, San Diego and throughout Arizona, and despite an arguably late response, United States Air Force units are quote, ‘heavily engaged’ against both Mexican and Chinese forces in the Southwest.”

“Jeff, did I hear that right? Chinese?”

“You did, Dan.  Chinese troops dressed in Mexican Army uniforms and using state of the art Chinese weapons have been killed in action in the war zone. I heard that direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.”

“Thanks, Jeff. We now have Robert Charles back. Go Robert…”

“Dan, more reports of damage to Navy ships in the Western Pacific, including U.S.S. Essex…I’m not sure what kind of ship any of these are unfortunately, nor do I know of casualties. U.S.S. Antietam has been hit, and U.S.S. Harpers Ferry, which has apparently capsized after a submarine attack. The Air Force has also lost an undetermined number of aircraft in action within the last several hours…”

“Thank you…..Robert we’re cutting away to the White House…we’re waiting for the Secretary of Defense to speak.  The President and Vice President have been evacuated from Washington and are in secure locations.  Speculation is that the President may be either at Camp David or aboard one of the Air Force E4-B’s—a military Seven Forty-Seven in flight somewhere over the U.S.”

Doug took the radio into the bath, where he could listen as he showered.  He’d decided to get the house ready for whatever the day might bring, including possibly being without power, heat and water.  He knew that Regent Delta had other expectations, but no one in their right mind would be productively working today of all days…or would they?
After his shower, he dressed in casual clothes and boots, again hauling the radio around the house, and made a large batch of oatmeal for breakfast.

Turning on his computer, he found that he did in fact still have email and internet service. Doug mapped out his day in his head, composing a new marketing strategy for the Delta products, to play on the new need to maintain the economy, and how Delta’s products could help each food seller; the patriotic aspect of ‘home grown and home made’ products; and especially the need to enhance the nutritional value and flavor of foods of the fighting men and women in the field.

Doug crafted three different versions of the email, introducing RNEW products, created by Regent Nutritional Enhancement Workgroup, and by the time his oatmeal was ready to eat, more than two hundred recipients across the country had a new message, hard and to the point, describing the need of each company to strongly consider RNEW products, to ‘help regain the competitive advantage for our nation and for our future....’  


  1. Another fantastic story, keeping us on the edge of our seats for sure. You really have a good sense of storytelling with all your novels. Keep up the great work!!

  2. Great story, Tom. Eagerly awaiting the next chapter. I was curious about a home outside of town having natural gas service. I've lived in a city all my life and have no experience with rural utility services. How is it delivered?

    Stay safe

  3. Another great story - really looking forward to reading the rest of it!


Comments are welcome!