Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Maria dropped Julie off in the driveway, just as Doug was getting another load of firewood from the barn. Maria waved and pulled out of the driveway nearly as quickly as she’d arrived. Julie picked her way across the icy driveway to the steps, carefully avoiding a fall.
“Hiya!” Doug said with a big smile, slightly off-balance due to the firewood carrier.
“Hi,” Julie said with a warm, coy smile.
“Let’s get inside. This wind is brutal,” Doug said.
“Firewood? You?” she said looking at the heavy carrier.
“Blisters and all. I split about a half a cord. Power can be a little flaky.”
“You have that nice big generator,” she said as she opened the side door of the house, letting Doug slip inside and downstairs to the wood furnace.
“Sure. If gas pressure stays up, and if I make the switch over, and if I want to stick out like a sore thumb with lights on when no one else has them.”
“True point…sorry. I’ve been a bit farm-ified,” she said and then paused. “It’s good to see you twice in one day.”
“You too. And you beat me to it,” he said, stowing the wood carrier before he kissed her softly.
“Down, boy,” she said before she kissed him back.
“Let’s go upstairs. I have some hot tea on the stove.”
“Did you hear?” she said as they climbed the steps. “They swore in Senator McAllen as Vice President. Early this morning. All this speculation about other candidates and he’s already been sworn in.”
“He’s probably already at the ‘undisclosed secure location,’” Doug said, pouring a cup of tea for Julie. The news was non-stop in the background from the living room.
“How was your trip?” he asked.
“The farm looks better all the time,” she said, taking a sip of tea.
“That good. When was the last time you were in town?” Julie asked.
“Couple days ago, why?”
“Gas stations are closed…well, for gas that is. You were pretty accurate about the shipments into town, too. Not much on the shelves anywhere. Everyone’s wearing sidearms or carrying long guns.”
“Sooner than I thought,” Doug said, referring to the food and disregarding the weapons, pondering what the shortages meant so soon. “So your trip—probably a waste of time and gas.”
“No, we did pretty well, actually. We’ve got an order in for spare parts for a lot of the equipment from Southern Iowa Farm and Field; some steel fabrication we need in lieu of another debt; a fair amount of diesel; and some bulk supplies. There’s only a few hundred dollars in outstanding debt owed, which is uncollectible.”
“You went to Mount Pleasant too?”
“After a fashion. We had to take a couple of back roads in. The main roads are barricaded.”
“What?!” Doug asked, shocked.
“They had too many citiots coming in. Blocked the roads so that you have to show identification to get in. We heard about it beforehand, so we found a way around.”
“City idiots,” Julie said. “One of the cleaner derogatory terms used for them.”
“I was one of them not very long ago. Still regarded as one by many people, probably including the Segher’s,” Doug said honestly.
“One difference is timing. The other is that you’re not demanding that you be served. A third is that you’re not armed, expecting to take what you want from simple farm folk.”
“The farm folk I know are anything but simple,” Doug said, motioning Julie to sit on the living room couch. He sat on the matching loveseat….she took a seat next to him.
“But the city people don’t think so, and they are not interested in what people out here think. They are interested in what people out here have,” she said as she snuggled closer to Doug.
“How do they build these roadblocks?” he asked, putting his arm around her.
“There are all kinds of natural choke points if you look around. Overpasses, underpasses, natural terrain, road cuts, bridges…you just need to take some time to either make them impassable or slow traffic down to make a checkpoint of some kind. Lots of obsolete farm equipment found a new use this week.”
“And they have to staff the barricades,” Doug said.
“Yes, that too.”
“Doesn’t that just move the problem though, to the roadblock? Isn’t it just dealing with a symptom and not the problem?”
“Time will tell. Houses nearby…if there are any, have been secured too, it looked like. One we saw had it’s ‘normal’ perimeter fence at the property line, and then layers of other fencing between the property line and the house. No one was getting through that quickly…”
Doug thought about that in terms of his own place. Anyone could drive right up to the house completely unimpeded. “Something to think about here,” he said.
Doug heard the Emergency Broadcast System alert on the radio. Third time today, another test. Julie stopped talking to listen as well.
“They’ve certainly proved that the tests work,” she said.
“Seems like there’s a danger of crying wolf though,” Doug said. The top of the hour news came on, and he turned up the volume above background noise level.
“Protestors in Quebec today increased their level of violence against the government, with leaders of the reformed Quebec Liberation Front calling for a sixth day of work stoppages across all French-Canadian areas. The Prime Minister was hit this afternoon with a vote of no confidence, and the third coalition government in two years was dissolved as a result. Outspoken critics of the Conservative Prime Minister called for his immediate resignation. Prime Minister LeClerc staunchly defended his economic policies and the continuing support of the United States trade agreements, despite obvious failures of the U.S. to fulfill their obligations. QLF activists have instituted acts of aggression against Americans in Canada, with several border incursions in the Northeast United States. The U.S. Border Patrol as a result has attempted to seal the border from Minnesota to Maine. All urban area crossings at this hour are closed.”
“What station is this?” Julie asked.
“Not sure. Something out of Minneapolis, I think. I hit the ‘scan’ button on the receiver and this one popped up. Not sure if it’s a public station or what,” Doug said, intrigued by the broadcast as well.
“An hour ago, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the growing respiratory outbreak originated in Guangdong Province, China, the original location of the SARS outbreak in two thousand-two. This province is also apparently the location of a primary Communist Chinese biowarfare lab. The disease, originally noted in European bases of the United States military and the continental United States, now seems to be affecting a sizeable percentage of the population in China and the Asian continent and is now reported to be spreading unchecked throughout Europe and the Middle East. Common air travel between North America and the rest of the world has slowed, but not stopped the spread of the disease, which has an increasing mortality rate as the days pass. At this hour, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that in the Asian theater, the mortality rate could exceed thirty-five percent. No estimates have been released for potential deaths here in the United States, Europe or other regions.”
“If this is an engineered virus, we’re all dead,” Doug said, obviously not understanding the mortality rate.
“We’re all dead anyway. It’s just timing,” Julie replied.
“The interim head of the CDC has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to institute quarantines of all major cities effective immediately, including the cessation of all travel not essential to the war efforts on the southern border and within the continental United States. The mayors of Philadelphia, Washington and New York demanded a retraction of the statement, calling the quarantine unwarranted and unnecessary.”
“So much for your business trip,” she said.
“This outbreak appears to have been deliberately set by the Communist Chinese with a disease that appears to be created in the laboratory. We’ve been told that this is a weaponized version of the H1N1, or 1918-19 virus, modified into a more aggressive infectious strain. It is unknown at this time if further mutations are likely and what other long-term effects may be seen. It appears from all indications that either people will be infected, suffer common influenza symptoms and recover within seven days, or they will suffer much more serious effects of the disease and not recover. In the limited number of victims that the CDC has already autopsied, death appears to have come within thirty-six hours of initial infection in hospitalized cases, and twenty-four hours of infection in non-treated cases.”
“Just like the doc warned you in Chicago,” Julie said. Doug didn’t reply. He didn’t need to.
“Given the timing of the outbreaks, intelligence analysts assume that this was a deliberate attack upon non-Communist Chinese forces as part of an overall war strategy. This does appear to have backfired however, as the virus appears to have mutated already and is aggressively tearing through both the Chinese military forces and the common Chinese people. It is not possible to determine factually if this is the case, as most former leaders of Communist China have either disappeared, or in some cases have been publicly executed. Video of the executions of eleven members of the Chinese financial cartel was broadcast three hours ago. One would assume that the Chinese bioweapon would have only been launched after inoculations of Chinese troops had been completed. This does not appear to be the case however.”
“Does that strike you as odd?” Julie asked. “Wouldn’t they protect their own people?”
“If they wanted to preserve their population, maybe. Didn’t I read once that they had far more males than females though?” Doug replied. “Fairly ugly way to reduce the population. War…disease, all within a few days.”
“This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Julie said, skeptical of the whole story. “It’s too convenient. Too well timed.”
“The White House had no comment on whether the Vice President may have been infected with the enemy virus...”
“Think about that one for a minute,” Doug said. “The V.P. was wanting protectionist and even isolationist measures put in place a couple months ago, remember? Said the United States was at a strategic disadvantage for business.” Doug remembered it well. He was hoping to get a piece of the action in China and help move Leinhardt National into Leinhardt International. They didn’t have enough time though or enough vision…and now they were no more.
“And the President said that he’d been mis-interpreted. Then the story went dead…and they signed that new trade deal with the Chinese anyway,” Julie said.
“I don’t know. I can’t even speculate. Did you catch any of the President’s address today? I missed most of it,” Doug said.
“We were in the truck when he was on. That’s another thing that just doesn’t square,” Julie said.
“Huh?” Doug said, tuning out the radio.
“Lambert has been all about government growth at all costs, and today he’s suddenly had some sort of transformation and is slashing the size of government? How does that make sense?”
“It doesn’t, except for the fact that we can’t pay for the government we have, and he wants to have the government we need, not the government he inherited.”
“The government he inherited he expanded. He didn’t do anything any different than anyone else before him, until now. Taking out the cloak of righteous indignation after you’ve helped cause the problem just doesn’t wash.”
“Sure. I don’t disagree. But what choice does he have? We can’t afford to go on the way we had been.”
“We have known that for years. Why now? What’s different?”
“Economic collapse comes to mind,” Doug said. “They cut up the credit cards,” referring to the creditors of the U.S.
“So that’s the reason that they put on big-boy pants and decided to finally change? No way. There has to be more to it.”
“How about we shut off the outside world for awhile, and just be us?” Doug said as he punched the power button on the remote control.
“That’ll be OK, too,” Julie said with a smile. “So, where are we going, you and I?”
“Right to the point, aren’t we?” Doug said smiling, eyebrows raised in shock.
“I’m not much for dancing around the fire these days,” she said with a giggle.
Doug paused a moment before answering. “OK,” he said, about to spill it. He looked straight into her eyes. “I’ve never felt about any other woman as I do about you. Ever. I don’t quite know what to think about that. It’s…I’ve realized that I’ve essentially lived most of my adult life lying to myself on what makes me happy. What really makes me happy though, is…you.”
Julie blushed fiercely. “Oh my,” she said, very quietly, looking down at her knees, then back to Doug. “What I realized is this: I’ve never been in love before. I am now.”
The kiss was soft, the embrace gentle; both of them knowing a new life together would be like moving from cold shadow into warm sunlight.
Around eight p.m., she rose from his bed and dressed, knowing she’d have some explaining to do when she arrived back at the Seghers.
Doug slept until morning.
Doug rose early, almost with a start, realizing that Julie wasn’t there, and then realizing that everything was now different. It was too early to call her, still not yet seven in the morning. He looked outside into the grey light that passed for morning and saw the snow drifting around outside. He showered, dressed, warmed up some oatmeal for breakfast and then tried to focus on work while he tried to figure out what would come next in the relationship. In their quiet conversation in bed, he’d almost proposed, but thought it better done in a slightly less intimate moment.
Regent provided the distraction from his newly-happy personal life with a series of urgent overnight emails from five division managers screaming for progress on the RNEW product. Corporate had secured ‘priority travel status’ for Doug, whatever that was supposed to mean. A follow-up email explained that this status would essentially allow Doug to avoid probable mandatory quarantines as a matter of essential national recovery efforts. He would be required of course to comply with all Federal authorities, should they decide that his travel itinerary wasn’t in conformance with the conditions at the time. The email also told him that he would be required to wear his personal protection equipment whenever traveling, even in his own vehicle. It seemed Regent had an established protocol for everything.
Doug still had no news or contact from any of the other team members assigned to his project. It was becoming routine for him, and with the lack of contact and the need for the work to get done anyway, their assignments would be meaningless given the time crunch he was under. He just did the necessary work anyway, alone.
He was reading the third of ten dossiers provided by Delta’s Research Department on his ‘target’ clients. ‘DRD’ as they were known internally, had extensive information on each of the executives in the target companies. The files on each were many pages long, and Doug was sure that each would have a serious feeling of violation of personal space if they knew what Delta Research ‘had’ on them. Sexual preferences, which churches they attended (if any), their creditors and associated debt balances, hobbies, addresses of home and vacation properties, children’s and pet’s names and much more. DRD seemed to have an appetite for the salacious details. There was much more ‘dirt’ than there was ‘background.’ A low rumble stirred him from his computer, and he went outside to see if he could figure out what the noise was.
By the time he reached the ground in front of the porch, the noise was much louder, coming from the northeast from behind the trees. With no more warning than the rumble, a dozen big military helicopters passed overhead and were gone. Doug ran around the house and watched them until they were specks. He thought it odd that the helicopters’ paint didn’t match. Some of them were green, others tan, a couple were flat gray. He thought about that as he went back inside, hearing his phone ringing on the way in. He rushed to answer it, hoping it might be Julie.
“Good morning, this is Doug,” he answered without looking at the caller I.D.
“Doug, this is Pete Bollard of Regent Delta. Do you have some time?”
“Certainly. Call me Doug. What can I do for you, Mister Bolland?”
“I have…unfortunate news. David Williams passed away early this morning of the Guangdong Flu. The Board of Directors has forwarded my name to serve as interim President of Regent Delta.”
“My God. I had no idea he was that ill.”
“He wasn’t. I worked out with him at the gym on Monday. He bench-pressed twice what I did, and had been a competitive tri-athlete. He was as healthy as a horse…until this infection.”
“This is terrible news. Did he have family? I never had the chance to meet him—just met over the phone.”
“They’re…now deceased as well. Wife, two daughters and his son.”
“All of them? From the flu?”
“This is a biological agent. Weaponized influenza, Doug.”
“I know, I guess I do anyway. I heard that on the radio yesterday.”
“The CDC doesn’t know how to respond. David was probably exposed to it on Tuesday. Half of our Board members were exposed during an emergency meeting. Six of them are dead, five more are quite ill. Two have no symptoms whatsoever, myself included.”
“Sir, I don’t know what to say.”
“Disregard everything you’ve been sent in the past twelve hours, Doug. I’m not sending anyone out in the field. If it can’t be done electronically, it’s not going to happen,” Doug’s new boss said. He sounded heartbroken, shell-shocked. “I’ll have one of the admin assistants get you my contact information. We can video conference on the Regent network….assuming we still have someone here that can handle that.
“Understood, sir….Should I find a way to inform my call list electronically and set up a sample run for their products? I mean, we can essentially forward them product; work through sample integration runs, get the mix ratios right.”
“Probably, yes. Frankly I’ve been trying to deal with far more critical issues than getting RNEW launched. Work something up. Forward it to David’s email address and I’ll take a look at it. Later today would be outstanding.”
“I’ll get on it, sir.”
“Doug, we know that RNEW is important, even critical, to Regent’s success in the near-term. The Directors know what kind of opportunity this presents and the time-critical nature of a successful launch. Despite our efforts, we’re going to be faced with gun-shy clients. It’s going to be a natural reaction, being skeptical of anything that might change their proprietary formulae….especially with this God-damned flu. Their priorities are going to be on themselves and their families, and not on keeping their business lines moving forward.”
“I’m sure that’s correct, sir. Faced though with just the economic problems, it’s not a stretch to see an uneven breakup of shipping and distribution lines..even the shipping companies, since they’re almost all credit-based. That of course can cascade into chaos fairly quickly. Now with the flu, and I heard the word ‘quarantine’ earlier, that could destroy shipping, production and distribution.”
“Yes it can. God help us if it goes that far.”