Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Distance, Chapter 17


January Twenty-fourth
9:50 p.m.

Doug was thinking about turning in after working through the evening when his phone signaled that he had a text message.  The last of his team members, Janine Wendt, had finally replied.

“Mr. Peterson—
Sorry I haven’t been able to contact you today. I’ve been recalled to Active Duty with my former reserve unit in the Texas National Guard, effective immediately. My files are intact in the Dallas office, and my assistant Ian Baker has the password protocol.
I’ve completed a fair amount of the work needed for the first product launch across all the market sectors, and outlined the second and third product lines that Delta has planned for later in the year. Given the state of things, I’m fairly confident that I’ll be in this for the ‘duration’ so to speak.
I wish you and all of the Regent team the best in the future. 

1SG Janine Wendt
Texas National Guard”

Doug had no idea what the title ‘1SG’ meant, but appreciated the text message anyway.   His head hurt from eyestrain, reading the computer screen and writing up the next drafts of correspondence to his sales targets.

The message had two surprises for Doug: a second and a third product launch.  He’d read through all of the correspondence that’d been provided; nothing talked about follow-on launches. He questioned of course, if he was still to be with Delta for that work, or if they had other plans for him….like, cutting him loose should the RNEW launch fail to meet expectations or priorities change.

He punched up some streaming video on his computer as he got ready for bed.

“…..Car and truck-bombs have been used repeatedly, with some set off by remote control. Snipers are also active in targeting police and fire units, with two governors killed in the last six hours by sniper fire.”

“From Los Angeles and other cities, reports have come in to ABC that terrorists posing as illegal immigrants have been attacked and killed by legal immigrants and American citizens, and that police and military units have stood by while such actions are being taken, whether the victims are innocent or not. In these neighborhoods, rioting is virtually non-existent, while in more affluent neighborhoods, unrest is being blamed on looters from poor neighborhoods, with more aggressive attacks blamed on terrorists.”

“Journalists currently embedded with U.S. military units in Northern Mexico report that all civilians are being disarmed as the military invasion takes place, and that anyone firing on U.S. military units is being literally, wiped off the map. After the U.S. incursion began, large numbers of unidentified combatants began attacking the U.S. units from the rear—from U.S. soil. Arthur Jennick, our embedded reporter, filed a report earlier today that U.S. Army Airborne units were heavily engaged in Brownsville, Texas, and that the enemy troops were systematically being wiped out within the battle zone. A report of enemy troops trying to surrender, and then detonating suicide bombs was captured by a CBS camera crew. The resulting explosion killed the crew and the reporter, but the tape survived intact and was being broadcast on all major networks all afternoon and into the evening. Because of this tactic, the United States military is no longer accepting the surrender of Mexican troops. For now, it is literally,  ‘take no prisoners.’”

“Who’d blame ‘em?” Doug said to the radio after brushing his teeth.

“…ssions are being held at this hour in New York, to discuss postponing the opening of the Stock Market on Wednesday.  The President announced that by Executive Order, the Federal Reserve has been disbanded effective immediately, and that the currency of the United States will be backed directly by the Treasury, as was the case until the Fed was created in Nineteen Thirteen. Beginning within thirty days, a new currency standard will begin to be put in place, and a transition between the former Federal Reserve Dollar and the un-named currency will begin.  Many questions are being raised regarding this transition, especially related to debts, the value of the Federal Reserve Dollar to the new currency, and a rate of exchange.  Diana Markham will report further on this developing situation beginning at eight a.m. Wednesday morning, but did tell me earlier that it is interesting to note that since the Fed was created, the dollar has lost more than ninety-five percent of its purchasing power.”

Doug stood there, not quite believing what he’d just heard.  ‘New currency? What the Hell would happen to people who held dollars? What would happen to his accounts? Even if Hal Downing’s strategy worked, whatever that strategy might really be, wouldn’t it be lost if there was a new currency? What was left of the stock market would be gone in the morning….wouldn’t it? When was the government going to pull their heads out and fix this?’

“In yet another major story today in a day filled with them, the Vice President has been taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital for unknown reasons.  Local contacts at the hospital tell ABC that the Vice President was admitted at four-fifteen p.m. and secured in a respiratory ward in the hospital.  The White House has not commented on the Vice President’s health.”

‘Humph,’ Doug thought.  ‘I wonder what that’s all about. Heart problems again?’

“Technicians at all major internet service providers are working tirelessly to stop the internet attack set in place just prior to the Chinese military attack on Taiwan and on U.S. forces in the Far East. Internet services world wide have been systematically attacked by a self-propagating and seemingly self-mutating worm that has affected major server farms and all major internet browsers.  The attack seems to be multi-faceted, with computer information—especially with regards to financial transactions—corrupted in transit with records of accounts and account owners sent back to mainland China. The new Chinese government is powerless to stop the attack, and in fact has been attacked itself by the computer virus which has been traced back to a Communist Chinese-controlled internet service portal.”

Doug looked at his computer screen as the newsreader coolly read words that had far more weight than the reader conveyed. Doug realized that every aspect of food production was inextricably dependent on a reliable computer network.  Loss of confidence or data corruption of the finance side made the buyers and sellers both nervous, but that was workable—pick up the phone, call the client and call the bank.  An attack on the Internet though, could trash the financial side, blow up the whole just-in-time end product delivery system, screw up materials deliveries…and if tampered with enough, could deliver the wrong products or even toxic products to the manufacturing or processing plants.  This could be a disaster for Regent….

“…Airlines are expected to declare bankruptcy on Wednesday, citing the dramatic fall-off in international travel since last week, and continued hostility towards the U.S. by foreign nations. U.S. citizens held in these countries boarded what may be the last flights out of those countries by U.S. carriers.”

“Like that’s a big shock,” Doug said.  Air travel had been a nightmare since the past October, when TSA had stepped up security screening for the fourth year in a row.  People had had enough and were voting with their wallets.

“It appears that for several reasons, including escalating fuel prices and declining travel plans, these partnerships are unraveling by the hour. U.S. carriers have noted a ninety-five percent decrease in immediate and long-term travel plans to Europe and non-North American locations.”

‘If the government would step in, this wouldn’t be such a death spiral,’ he thought. The government really should have more power over the economy, and use all the resources of the nation—public and private—to do what was best.  They could do that, of course, if they had the political will.  They’d taken a shot at bits and pieces of standardization of social services. They needed to do more. 

January Twenty-fifth
Doug had spent the night between dreams and nightmares, Julie Forsythe prominent in both. 

The two that he’d been able to remember included walking with Julie, somewhere on a dirt road on a warm spring day. It was perfect….so perfect that he awoke from the dream, smiling. He’d made a visit to the bathroom, turned the late night radio talk show on, and drifted off eventually, after hearing of reports from Arizona about the War.
The second remembrance was a nightmare through and through. He was running through the rain to get to Julie, she was trying to escape from people chasing her and Doug couldn’t catch up.  He woke in a sweat, yelling her name. He could feel heat from a fire behind him, and heard gunfire.  They were going to kill her…

A long time later, he got back to sleep.

Doug woke to a cold house bathed the morning light, and quickly realized that the power was out again. His watch read almost eight a.m.  His back was beginning to give him trouble; sleeping on the floor was catching up with him. He wondered if he had any furniture left at his townhouse for the movers to haul to Iowa.

He switched on the portable radio, hitting the ‘scan’ button to find the strongest frequency, and then pulled on some cold-weather clothes.

“The power outage is covering five states that we know of, and appears to have been caused by damage to major transmission lines, causing a cascade of shutdowns in smaller networks.  Private utility workers are working on the problem and are expected to have power restored within the next three to six hours.”

 ‘Three to six hours? Sounds like a cable guy schedule,’ he thought, lacing up his boots. ‘And damage caused by what?’

“…schools are closed for the remainder of the week due to the national emergency and reports in the state of a serious influenza outbreak.  All after school events are cancelled, including basketball playoffs throughout the entire state.”

“Other Iowa news includes reports that several businesses, starting in Davenport, then continuing to Iowa City and Des Moines, were robbed yesterday when large, seemingly coordinated groups of young adults swarmed into the stores, stealing whatever they could while store personnel were held at gunpoint.  Store security was not present in the affected stores at that time.  Citizens are advised that the suspects are traveling in several dark blue or black fifteen-passenger vans with Missouri plates.  The suspects are described as male and female, athletic, and include whites, blacks and Hispanics.” 

“The state legislature today suspended negotiations with public employee unions after the Governor threatened the public employees with termination if they did not return in full strength within twenty four hours. The union leadership had no comment on the matter, but  large gatherings of unemployed were observed at state offices, holding signs and chanting for the chance to replace those that would not work. The wildcat strike began at midnight, leaving all state provided public services in limbo. By eight o’clock this morning the legislature, in negotiations since last November, voted along party lines to suspend negotiations. Senate minority leader Chisholm stormed out after the session, calling the Governor and the majority leadership several names that cannot be repeated on this broadcast.”

“Fireworks in the statehouse.  Nothing ever changes,” Doug said, pulling on a hooded sweatshirt. “Doesn’t even matter what state.”

“Commodity futures continued to skyrocket, despite the stock market closure. Ag suppliers in Iowa and Missouri report shortages of certified seed for both major and minor crops for this years spring planting. Coming after a the announcement that fertilizer shipments to the Midwest have been delayed, farmers are scrambling to find alternate sources.”

Doug stopped in his tracks at that, looking over his shoulder at the radio.

Shortage of seed for major and minor crops equated to high drama and massive stress in the food processing industry. Unchecked, it meant worldwide competition for raw product that would eventually end up on American dinner plates.  For the United States, this had never really been much of an issue because crop failures really hadn’t happened in decades, and when minor problems arose, it was simply a matter of opening up a checkbook and importing whatever was needed. Adding in a fertilizer shortage, and companies like his old employer, Leinhardt, would be in a foaming and spittingd panic over news like this.  He wondered if Regent was positioned for something like this. It seemed remote that they would have anticipated something like this and actually had the ability to bulk-store enough of the basic product to weather this type of scenario.

The volumes of food storage processed by a Regent-type multinational corporation were simply beyond the comprehension of the average person.  Tens of thousands of tons of product daily were produced from the raw materials, every single day.  Shortages in raw materials equated to first, higher prices to be paid by the manufacturers, then higher prices for the end user.   Continued shortfalls in raw materials would soon mean shortages in staple products across the country. Unheard of in the United States, as what food goods were put on the shelves would be hoarded for fear of even tighter supplies.  While it was unfamiliar in the U.S., it was an all-too-familiar pattern in much of the world, and every major food supplier knew it.  Most tried to position themselves to smooth out the peaks and valleys of uneven supply through imports and exports. No one wanted to be branded as the company that couldn’t deliver.  The buying public had a very long institutional memory for failure.

Downstairs, Doug followed the instructions for the generator.  He’d use the generator during the day, and the woodstove at night, and wondered how things were at the Seghers, and if Julie thought of him as often as he did of her.

By nine, he had a decent fire going in the woodstove, more to figure it out than to use it for warmth, and the chill was off with the furnace running for twenty minutes solid. He ate some leftover oatmeal with some fruit tossed in, and figured that he should figure out a way to store some water. Of course he didn’t have any containers of size. Nor did he have an axe, a splitting maul, sledge or wedge for firewood.  He started a list for his next trip into Fairfield, using the back side of the list he’d used in Chicago.

Doug was getting used to the ‘no service’ screen on his phone, and the frequent power and internet interruptions. He would need to continue to work ‘off line’ while he could, continuing to hammer out tasks along the Regent business development path.  When power and internet were available, he’d have to make the best of the opportunity to communicate.  He was feeling out of touch though, and wondered how that would reflect on him by his superiors. Hopefully, they were in the same boat he thought, realizing that no, he hoped that someone was actually able to work despite the chaos.
The dreams he had of Julie remained in the back of his mind despite his attempts to work through them.

By noon, he’d made good progress on his business tasks, and decided to make the run into town for a break.  Twenty minutes later, he was at the hardware store, which now reminded him of AmeriMart more than he’d like.  A young man, clad in duck coveralls, cradled a shotgun at the front of the store.  Three more were inside. The crowd inside was quiet and respectful. Only one parking lot entry was open, the others were blocked with flat-bed farm trucks, a tractor and a road grader.

The store, a locally owned franchise of a national chain, was still accepting credit cards and local checks with proper identification.  Doug realized he owed Julie another debt. Without her reminding him, he wouldn’t have local I.D. That would have been a problem, starting today.

Doug took one of the few remaining carts and looked for the tool section, seeing many relatively elderly people in the aisles, filling their carts with all kinds of stuff…half of which he couldn’t even identify.

In the far corner of the store, he found the splitting wedges, sledges, axes and hatchets, and picked out one of each and spare handles.  He found four five-gallon collapsible water jugs, and then noticed the hunting section.  Four men were at the counter, waiting their turn for the two salesmen.  Doug then did something completely out of his depth of experience, and joined them in line to buy a shotgun and shells.

While he waited, he alternated between listening to the salesmen and customers, and scanning over the Chicago list. There were probably things here in Fairfield that he should pick up to add to his supplies. The men in front of him were talking about ‘penetrating power,’ and fairly quickly handed over several hundred dollars for a black shotgun and a case of ‘home defense’ shells…whatever those were. Doug noticed there was no paperwork to fill out.

“Sir? What can I do for you?” the salesman asked, a man in his early sixties, grandfatherly, Doug thought.

“In the market for a shotgun. And I’m the first to admit I don’t know much about them.”

“No time to learn like the present,” the man said, not questioning Doug’s inexperience.  “Am I correct in assuming you’d like a firearm for home defense?”

“Yes,” Doug said.

“No problem. Let me walk you through a couple options,” the man said. “Inventory’s getting thin, so our choices are getting limited. Probably a good thing you’re here today. No telling what tomorrow brings.”

“That is a fact.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad Doug's starting to plan ahead, even if a bit late. Now , what will tomorrow bring? More story please!


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