Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Distance, Chapter 30


Wednesday Morning
April Fifth,
Wausau, Wisconsin

Doug finished breakfast, poured another cup of coffee and dressed it with cream and sugar. He struggled to maintain an outward appearance of calm while inside he was a screaming for answers.

Off of the main gathering space, a plain steel door was labeled ‘Security’.  Doug knocked and was beckoned inside.

“Peterson, right?” the man behind the desk asked.

“Yes. You Martinez?” Doug replied, taking a seat across from the desk, putting himself in ‘confident sales rep’ mode.

“Call me Kevin,” the man said, reaching across the desk to shake hands. It was only then that Doug noticed that the man was in a wheelchair.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were on wheels.”

“Courtesy of the Taliban. I’d be fighting distant relatives now, if I hand my choice, down in old Mexico. For now though, I’m here. I understand you had some dealings with the great unwashed down in Madison.”

“I did. Not pleasant.”

“There will be more of those types of actions taken against perceived opportunities. I’m going to try to give you some advice and direct you toward some training that will hopefully keep you out of that kind of situation, at least until we reach the next level.”

“Next level?”

Martinez leaned back in his chair, assessing Doug before speaking. “Your immediate superior stated awhile ago on the phone that Regent teams would take care of those individuals in Madison that were responsible for your detainment, did he not?”

“He did,” Doug said, wondering just how many people were listening in on that call. 

“That doesn’t exactly happen autonomously. The Company and its allied relations can’t just decide to go out and off people like that.”

“So who’s approving it?” Doug asked, straining to maintain an interested, professional demeanor.

“I’m telling you this because you’re in the middle of it, and by the looks of you, you have no idea exactly what you’re in the middle of,” Martinez said. A perfect assessment.

Doug didn’t reply. He did notice that his question was left unanswered.

“Your product—RNEW—is key to the success of Regent and their plans for the next five years.  Sometimes those plans are at cross purposes with what certain Federal agencies would allow in normal times, but these aren’t normal times.”

“The FDA,” Doug said.

“Among others, yes.  RNEW testing was dramatically accelerated, fielded in trials and released to the public.  The next level is an upgrade to the product. The Feds are looking to the States to now regulate that which the Feds are no longer able. The States are therefore restricting things that they do not understand, slowing things down through taxes and permits and inspections. Regent teams are going to help smooth the transition through encouragement or direct action.”

“Encouragement?” Doug asked.

“The teams will threaten those that get in their way,” Martinez said. “Saying it plainly, because that’s what is done. Direct action means that we take out those that threaten our people.”

“Or the process,” Doug said.

“Or the process. Correct,” Martinez replied. “You’re not consuming anything with RNEW, are you?”

“Well, uh,” Doug was caught off guard.

“Don’t bother. I know you’re not. Your boss is, same as those team members who will be visiting the folks down in Madison. Bollard was kind of flip about the upcoming task over in Madison, don’t you think?”

“Uh, yeah. He was,” Doug said.

“Bothered you. Bothered you a lot.”

“Yes, it did. Still does.”

“He’s taking the product, along with the upgrade. Figure that about twenty percent of Regent Performance is on the full program. The team members in the field, well, naturally they’re on RNEW.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Figure you ought to know what you’re in the middle of. Also figure that you should think about your future with the Corporation.”

“That cannot be the only reason.”

“On Company orders, I’ve run background on you as far back as  possible, which is pretty much your whole life. You’re being vetted for your next assignment. Think of it as a liaison between Regent and a second party.”

“OK,” Doug said. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he thought to himself. ‘What is he talking about?’

“You’re not taking RNEW because you were told to avoid it, correct?”

“Yes, although I didn’t think much about it.”

“RNEW consumers…think of them as malleable.  They can effectively do things quickly, efficiently and repeatedly without being bothered by the ramifications of their actions.”

“How in the Hell is that even possible? RNEW was just a…”

“…Nutritional Enhancement. Yeah. It is that of course, depending on your perspective. It does allow several things, in addition to a little useful mental de-programming.  It allows more efficient processing of less-than-optimal food products in the human body; increases apparent energy; instills other feelings.”

Doug sat there, taking in what he’d just heard, holding his cup of coffee with both hands.

“Now you’re wondering what you do with what I just told you,” Martinez said. “You’re not the first one I’ve had this conversation with.”


“You’re not on RNEW because the higher ups have plans for you. Pete Bollard wasn’t deemed adequate for the task. Corporate needs a certain percentage of their staff to be able to think quickly, clearly, analyze, strategize, plan and react.  RNEW consumers are producers. They really aren’t all that great at strategy.  Give them an assignment and they’ll beat it all to Hell and gone and not give it a second thought, especially if they’ve been on the program a while. Don’t ask them to come up with an assignment on their own, though. Just doesn’t work. Bollard, your boss, is assigned things.  He’s been on the product for about six weeks.  Dramatic increase in production on your whole team.  Only a handful of them aren’t in the system, mostly because the Company needs them to be the creative juices to lube the rest of your team. As of today, they are being informed by my people of their positions in the big picture.”

Doug felt both lucky and sick at the same time.

“You’ve got a bunch of effing drones,” Doug said.

“More correctly, you do,” Martinez replied. 

“This is a helluva thing to hear from a security person,” Doug said, thinking that ‘security’ meant a guy who guarded the parking lot.

“Think of my department as ‘intelligence,’” Martinez said, leaning forward on the desk.

Doug sat for a moment before responding. “OK. That makes a little more sense. Are you with Bluestone?” ‘Tied in with Kliest?’ Doug thought.

“No. Bluestone is…a little more provincial,” Martinez replied, a slight smirk on his face.   “Julie Forsythe. Her family. Let’s talk.”

‘Provincial?’ What the Hell does that mean?’ he thought before replying. “Julie and I had…”

“Have,” Martinez interrupted. “Don’t bullshit me. Seriously,” he said, unblinking. “My legs might be gone, but I still understand the need to get laid on occasion.”

“We have a relationship. We write letters, talk on non-company phones, very rarely.”

“And you help them out with supplies on occasion.”

“I have done that, yes. Medical mostly.”

“OK. Not a problem with me. None if it. Others would have a big-ass problem, because they like to control everything in everyone’s pond, including their own.  Miss Forsythe, her brother and his wife and his wife’s family don’t pose a real threat to Regent. They do pose a perceived threat, and that’s enough for some in the higher echelons of the Company.”

“What do I do next?”

“My guys found this stuff out about you, ran your history, ran the check on the whole Segher family. They have some quaint beliefs but are non-militant.  From where I sit they just want to be left alone.”

“That is accurate, I believe.”

“If you can stand it, keep it quiet.  Everyone needs family, although there are higher ups that don’t fully agree.”

“How long are we supposed to do that?”

“You’ll know when,” Martinez said. “Questions?”

“I’m sure I will have many. To be honest I don’t quite know where to start.”

“Yeah. You’re down the rabbit hole, Alice,” Martinez said, backing away from the desk and reaching down to a small refrigerator on his left.  He pulled out two identical bottles of orange juice.   “Look these over. Tell me what you see.”

Doug took a drink of his coffee and picked up one of the bottles. Both were produced by Regent for a national brand. Both had intact and identical bar codes. Doug couldn’t see a difference.

“Look closer,” Martinez said.

The bottles were slightly different. That was all Doug could find…just a small indentation on the bottom of the plastic bottle. Typically, the indentations were part of the molding process to allow for alignment of the bottles on the filling and sealing lines at the plant that filled the bottles with whatever product was being sold. These didn’t look any different.

“Different manufacturing plants. Plastic mold is different. Probably a different fill machine.”

“Good for you. Look for that triangular indentation on any plastic container at the ten-o-clock position from the mold seam. That’s a RNEW activator container. Other one is not.”

“Activator? I don’t understand.”

“Every single product produced for commercial distribution by Regent, with the exception of the Preferred line, contains the genetically modified building blocks needed to implement RNEW, as of mid-February. The activator products build the adjustment system. Without the Activator line, the products just taste better. With, well, it’s a different game.”

Martinez provided Doug a thumb-drive with the identification on all products with RNEW integration, the various activator products, and the means to spot them.

“That info will help keep your brain from getting addled,” Martinez said. “Memorize as much as you can. It’s not that tough.  Now, on to a subject near and dear to my heart: Firearms. You don’t strike me as all that proficient. Correct?”

“Uh, yeah. Not something I’ve trained in,” Doug said. He thought he sounded numb.

“You do have a shotgun at your home in Iowa, however.”

“Yeah, I’ve practiced with it a little, mostly to get used to the recoil,” he said. ‘They know everything,’ he thought.

“For the next week, you will be receiving training in some additional weapons that are being issued to select Regent personnel,” Martinez said, reaching into a desk drawer. “First, the Beretta M9, favored by a lot of people wearing digital camouflage these days.  Next, you’ll get defensive training with your Mossberg shotgun, although you’ll be provided a modified version.  You’ll then receive training on a military-style rifle. I understand that you’d like to take a few days off. Depending on how things go, you should be able to hit some vacation time come next Monday. Fair enough?” 

“Sure,” Doug said, trying to sound believable. “I’m supposed to be carrying these with me when I travel?” Doug asked skeptically. 

“You may have the need to defend yourself. The Company would prefer you alive,” Martinez said. “Weapons are your last resort.”

“My first resort then?” Doug asked.

“Your first, best option is threefold: Avoid trouble, use deterrence and de-escalate the situation. It’s harder than it sounds.”   

Doug tried to stay focused through the blizzard of information provided by Martinez, who was going through various scenarios where he might be faced with unpleasant outcomes.

“You’ve had enough for this morning,” Martinez said, observing that Doug was glazing over.   “Be back in here at two o’clock. I know you have work to do with your team in the meantime.”

“Sorry. There is just so much you’ve thrown at me. I just wasn’t quite ready for the kind of day you’ve put in front of me.”

“Could be worse. You could be a RNEW consumer. You’d have a shitty day and not think a single thing about it.”

“Yeah, I suppose there is an upside,” Doug said as he stood.

“I want you to remember the first thing I told you about your first best option: Avoid trouble. Distance is your friend. Get out, go left, right, wherever. Get away from trouble, first.”

Doug nodded. The irony of what Martinez had just told him nearly made him sick.

The laptop was waiting in his room, along with a lunch menu, should he care to order.   The laptop was powered up, and the desktop was identical to his missing machine.

‘How in the Hell am I supposed to get any work done after that?’ he thought to himself, nearly saying it aloud. He caught himself though, figuring that he was being listened to, probably watched as well.  ‘Play it cool. Normal. Order lunch and get to business.’

For three hours and change, Doug emailed his team leaders, reviewed strategic plans, production figures, and further marketing efforts…all while tumbling down the well of a black hole, courtesy of Kevin Martinez.

2:25 p.m.

“Which branch did you serve?” Doug asked Martinez, who’d just provided Doug an overview of the M9, including a very fast demonstration of field stripping and reassembly. He doubted that he would ever be able to complete it so quickly…or that he should need to, for that matter.

“Contractor. We were a security detachment working to provide safe transport for American government workers. CIA, State Department, others.”

“Sorry. I figured you were in the service.”

“Pay was better outside.  Fewer obstacles as well,” Martinez said.  What Doug ‘heard’ was ‘fewer rules to obey.’

“All right, Mister Peterson, into the firing range for step two,” Martinez ordered.

For two hours, Doug was instructed on the finer points of reaching out and touching someone with a nine-millimeter handgun. By the time Martinez called it quits for the M9, Doug’s hand hurt from gripping the weapon.

Another forty-five minutes in the range, this time with the twelve-gauge Mossberg, a similarly configured Remington, and a few minutes with an “M4”. Doug thought it looked like an M16, asked about the difference, and received a twenty-minute long lecture on the subject.  Most of it was over his head.  Martinez, Doug learned, liked to talk about weapons at length. 

A little after five p.m., Doug headed back to his room and immediately changed out of his clothing and showered.  He was surprised that his clothing was so dirty from the afternoon in the improvised shooting range.  He hadn’t noticed it from his own practice.  Perhaps it was the difference in ammunition.

He flipped on the television but found no outside channels.  Regent did have an ‘in house’ movie channel, a travel advisory crawler and that was about it. He switched to the radio as he packed up his dirty clothing for the laundry service.  He was pleasantly surprised to find all of his clothing laundered and pressed.

“Syria today condemned the Israeli action, the third strike in as many days.  Today’s reaction destroyed a missile base near Adra, located in a valley surrounded by high terrain.  The interim government in Damascus, newly created after the coup in February, reacted strongly, pushing for a new offensive against the Israeli Defense Forces in the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon.

The European Union condemned the attack, with significant percentages of the E.U. representation demanding military intervention.  Riots within the E.U. spread for the sixth day, with foreign ‘guest workers’ demanding a greater voice in the governing of the E.U. Islamic clerics are blamed for instigating the riots, with the increased percentage of Muslim believers now outnumbering non-Muslims throughout southern and central Europe.

In related news, the Iran mobilized several divisions of Revolutionary Guards and appears to be moving to invade Iraq, although this cannot be confirmed.  The Iraqi government, shaky even when the U.S. was still in country, appears to be failing to recognize the threat at this time. Unconfirmed reports state that Iranian forces are moving into eastern Iraq unopposed.”

“So much for nation-building,” Doug said to himself as he logged into the corporate network.

“Federal troops are continuing to assist local authorities in Northeastern cities in the U.S. Urban youth in many locations have been blamed for widespread rioting, theft of food shipments and flash-mobs at medical facilities. Authorities in Philadelphia have pulled out of many of these neighborhoods, attempting to keep the riots from spreading.  Federal troops have been seen even further out, and appear to be preparing to seal all roads out of the region.  More on this as it develops.”

“In the Midwest today, food producing super giant Agnew Middleton is rumored to be unable to supply many producers with adequate agro-chemicals for the remainder of the planting season.  Spokesmen were not available for comment, but local growers state that fertilizer supplies were exhausted.” 

Doug’s ears perked up at that story, knowing both the implications on the market and the reason they were having a difficult time—he’d forecast it a month and a half ago, based on output from the fertilizer producers.  Their raw materials were largely based on petrochemicals, and with the collapse of the economy and disruptions in the energy sector, fertilizers and plastics were both in scarce supply.

The impact on the American farmer in a normal year would have been huge.  The impact in a year such as this would certainly spell huge shortages in food for domestic consumption; disruption in export markets (if there were any); many of the ‘wrong’ crops being planted (many were geared toward export, and the domestic market wasn’t geared toward them).  Many increases in production over the past decade had been aimed at the ethanol market—grow your own energy.  Those markets had displaced food crops from those fields, and couldn’t quickly be switched to food production.

Between Agnew Middleton and Carlyle, three quarters of the grain trade worldwide would be affected by the petrochemical shortage. The other three or four ‘major’ companies handled the rest.   A whole lot of people would be hungry this year.

Doug filtered through three-dozen emails from his team, hitting the oldest first.  A half-hour later, the computer chimed, and he found an email from his ex-wife, Brenda.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to call or email or write, but I finally have a chance to email you. Don’t bother emailing back—we’re in town at the library, and for the first time in a long while, they actually have Internet service. There’s a long line of people waiting so I’ll keep it short.

First off, everyone is doing OK, despite the circumstances.  Power has been undependable, phones have been down for weeks, cells haven’t worked for at least a month.  Someone’s been systematically harvesting the copper out of the cell towers and power lines closer to civilization, and all of us out in the boonies are paying the price for it.  The utility companies can’t do a thing of course. There aren’t replacements to be had for love or money (Money! Ha!)

We pulled the kids out of the government school you may remember, and I’ve been home schooling them with another Mom in the area.  They’re all doing well and are ahead of their grade levels and all growing like weeds.  The town school is barely hanging on. Most kids eat all three meals there, because there isn’t enough food at home.   A lot of folks have been lost to the flu…more every day.

I know you said you were down in Iowa, but are you sure that’s safe in the future?  Matt and his fellow officers are seeing more and more people try to get out of the cities and into the rural areas and it is becoming a real problem. We’re far enough out, just, but other folks have had home invasions and roadside robberies.

If by chance you happen up this way, you are welcome of course for a visit, but Matt and I wanted to warn you first.  Don’t travel by night at all, and if there’s a chance to caravan, be sure you know whom you’re caravanning with.

Take care of yourself Doug.  Despite everything in our past, I still remember you in my prayers.

Doug replied immediately, hoping she was still on line.

I have some work here in Wausau until Sunday.  Will plan on being up in Crandon on Monday.  I’m doing OK. Will try to bring you some supplies.
Thanks for the prayers. I could use them—

Doug didn’t really have a strong belief in God and was non-committal on an afterlife.  Faced though with recent events, he was beginning to doubt in his cavalier attitude.  He knew that his parting sentence would probably shock Brenda.  She’d tried to get him to attend church, talk about her faith and her beliefs.  He just wasn’t interested at the time.

He ordered dinner ‘in’, so that he could spend time alone and deal with the tumult in his head. The implications of what Martinez revealed could change the face of the business…no, the face of everything.  Anyone consuming the RNEW product long enough could be completely pliable to whoever was in control.  Bollard was a first hand example. No remorse, no sense of the wrong being done by Regent.    Of course that just meant that they could be happy slaves…or remorseless butchers.

Doug was inclined to believe he was helping create the latter. 


  1. Thank you for the new chapter Tom. Good to see Doug is starting to see whats going on. Lots of interest in where it goes from here.

  2. or....zombies....I love this story! I have a degree in agronomy, currently a rancher and for once someone has written great fiction on the subject of food. Looking forward to the next chapter!

  3. You just jumped the shark, Tom.

  4. Aaaack! You just introduced me to a new reason for food storage!

    In the last few weeks I have seen several mentions of food supplements in the news. One of them, BTW, is adding finely ground cellulose (as in sawdust) to add bulk but no useable calories. I was thinking RNew would be this kind of a product, but not the vehicle for mass drugging of the population. Great story line, very creative. And, we all know how reality tends to follow art...

  5. Write faster!! LOL

    Seriously though, I wait anxiously for each chapter no matter how long between them. Good writing (and good editing/proofreading--thank you, thank you, thank you) like yours is always a treat.

    It's always a toss-up which is stranger, truth or fiction.

  6. To Anonymous, anyone who read the first three books knew this was coming.
    To Tom, thanks for your continued efforts, and best wishes for a happy and peaceful (and productive - hint, hint) Advent and Christmas.


Comments are welcome!