Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Distance, Chapter 40


2:05 a.m.
Saturday morning
April Fifteenth,
Des Moines, Iowa

“Doug—Get up!” Roeland called loudly.  “We’ve got a problem.”

“Huh?” Doug stirred, for a moment not remembering he was sleeping in the Segher’s guest room. “What’s going on?”  Roeland was holding a flashlight.

“Nothing. No power. No communications. Nothing,” Roeland said.

“OK, so the power’s out…” Doug answered, pulling on his clothes.

“No. I mean everything’s dead.  Generator’s dead. Electronics are dead. My cruiser radios are dead. CB. Shortwave. Not sure what else.”

Doug sat on the edge of the bed trying to comprehend what Roeland had just told him.

“Did you start your car?” Doug asked.

“No, just tried the radio.”

He was shaking off the cobwebs. “A lightning strike once took out one of the plants where I used to work. Big power surge….”

“No thunderstorms,” Roeland said as they left the guest room.  Julie, Arie and Maria were in the kitchen around an antique kerosene lantern.  Peter then came out of the basement with a small metal box in one hand and a tiny AM/FM radio in the other, a roll of paper under his arm.

“I know—it’s the surge effect that could’ve done this.  Storm could be a long ways off and still done this,” Doug said.

“It wasn’t a storm.  A nuke went off down south. Alabama,” Peter said quietly as he rolled out a map. “Huntsville,” he said as he pointed to the city.

All of the adults spoke at once, and stopped as Peter hushed them. “It’s more than one. That’s the closest one I’ve heard.  There’s three more of these Sony’s in here.  I’m listening on seven-eighty out of Chicago.  These have clear channel frequencies on the back, each radio has a different list,” he said as he handed a radio to Julie, another to Roeland, the last to Doug.  “See if you can find anyone broadcasting. Write down who you find.”

“The bomb took the power out?” Doug said, sounding even to himself a little stupid.

“Electromagnetic pulse,” Peter replied, not looking at him.  “If we’re lucky, we will be able to reset circuit breakers and still have vehicles and equipment that works. The pulse could’ve fried everything.”

Doug and Julie took the radios and two small flashlights from the counter and went into the living room.

“What are we going to do?” Julie asked.

“You’re going to map what got blasted,” Peter said from behind her. “So far, that is.”

“I mean…”

“I know what you mean, sis. If we find someone broadcasting from west and south of us, we’re less prone to fallout.  If we can find someone east of us, we’ll hopefully know that the East Coast is still there. They’re not going to drop one on Van Buren County.”

“Shouldn’t we get into some sort of shelter?” Julie replied.
“Nearest big target is Chicago—prevailing winds are in our favor. Then Des Moines. Iffy on the winds. Then Kansas City, St. Louis, and of course the grand daddy at Omaha,” Peter said.

“Offutt,” Doug said.

“Yep, and Guard bases all over the place, big and small,” Peter said. “Let me know what you find.”

Doug and Julie turned on their radios, each placing a small headset on their heads, tuning their radios to the frequencies that Peter had written on the back.  He picked up three stations from Chicago right away, but one went off the air without warning. He quickly checked the other two and found them still broadcasting…each was broadcasting the Emergency Broadcast System tone and repeating that the United States was in a state of war due to a surprise nuclear attack.
Nothing from the Eastern Seaboard at all, or the Northeast. Doug was surprised when he picked up some faint signals from both Denver and Dallas. Nothing from Little Rock or Omaha; Oklahoma City or Saint Paul or Minneapolis.   He couldn’t get anything from Des Moines or any of the closer stations, which left him wondering if power had been disrupted to larger parts of the country.  Fifteen minutes of listening, and he’d made it through his list.   Julie seemed to be having similar luck.

“Peter? We’re ready,” Julie called to the kitchen. 

“He went outside with Roeland. They’re looking at the electrics,” Maria said.

“I’m going to get some warmer clothes on and see if there’s anything I can do,” he told Julie.

“There’s rainwear on the back porch. You’ll need it, Douglas,” Maria said.

“Julie, can you help me with the firewood? We’ll need wood for morning,” Maria asked.  “There are splits for the firebox on the side porch.”

“Sure,” she replied. Doug noted the worried tone in her voice.
“We’ll be OK,” he said quietly, trying to reassure her. She was clad in sweats, her hair tousled from sleep.  Doug thought that she’d never looked prettier.

“You don’t know that.”

“No, but I believe it anyway, so that counts for something,” he said as he gave her a kiss and held her close. “Let’s get to work.”

Doug donned a thick black rain shell, and followed the muddy tracks to the equipment shed, where flashlights were playing over the electrical panel. Roeland, Peter and Arie were all there; the faceplates to four breaker panels were leaning against the wall, below the blackened panels.

“What’d you find?” Doug asked.

“Everything’s fried,” Roeland said. “Starting with the main breaker, which is completely cooked,” he said, holding the crumbling remains of a master shutoff, “and probably every single branch breaker.  It must’ve been one Helluva charge to do this.”

“Do you have spares?” Peter asked.

“Yes, for some of them; but for four two-hundred amp panels and all the individual breakers? No. Not even close. Even if we did, the transformers must be gone, too,” Arie replied.  “Roeland, pull all the masters, just in case more surges come.”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“Peter, Douglas, let’s go look at the generator,” Arie said. 

The generator was powered by a large diesel engine, and sized to be able to handle all of the critical needs of the farm plus about half of the ‘convenience’ circuits.  The generator was installed in a roofed enclosure, open on the sides.  The generator enclosure access panels were open, as Roeland had tried to start the generator manually. Arie looked at the control panel, which did not appear to be damaged, and then looked at the battery bank for the starting motor.

“Seems in order,” Arie said, exhaling.
“May I?” Doug asked.

“Do you know generators?”

“Not really. A couple of the plants that used to work for had some flaky switches on their backup generators.  Did you or Roeland check the transfer switch?”

“I do not know,” Arie said. Peter immediately headed to the manual transfer switch.

“Try cycling it.  A plant that we had years back had some sort of interlock in the transfer switch that would not allow the generator to start up unless it was locked in position. It kept the generator from back feeding the mains.”

“This is in the locked position,” Peter replied.

“Sure it is. Humor me. Unlock it and re-lock it,” Doug said.

“OK. What are you thinking, corrosion?”

“Yeah. Contacts could be dirty, or loose or oxidized.  We replaced our plant electrician after finding that the generator test logs had been forged.  They hadn’t fired up the backup in three years. Arie? When was the last time the generator was tested?”

“Monday,” Arie replied as Peter cycled the manual transfer switch and a series of small circuit breakers.

“No need to fire the electrician then,” Doug answered. “Try it now.”

“No, not yet.  If you’re correct, we need to make sure that circuits in the house were not damaged.  If we energize them, we could start a fire,” Peter replied.

“Is there a master cutoff that will isolate the generator from everything else?” Doug asked.

“Yes,” Arie answered. “On the other side of the generator. The yellow panel.” He walked around to the far side of the unit as Doug and Peter watched. Arie pulled a heavy, two-handled block switch from the yellow enclosure.

“Start it, if you would, Peter,” Arie said.

The big diesel fired up on the second revolution, quickly coming up to speed and settling at idle.  The digital display panel indicated the hours-to-date, and a utility light above the generator came on.

“Who’s the miracle worker?” Roeland asked as he walked up.

“Douglas,” Arie said, explaining what they’d done.

“Really,” Roeland replied. “And I figured you for nothing but a city-boy.”

“Lucky,” Doug replied as Arie shut down the generator.

“Come morning we will check the circuits on the farm. We will have to set up a schedule for running the generator.  We will also need to let the Weerstand know what Douglas discovered here. Roeland, you see to that, ya?”

“Yes, sir,” Roeland replied, immediately heading back to the house.

“What is the…Weerstand?” Doug asked, mispronouncing the word.

“Peter, you explain. I need to check the stock,” Arie said, walking off to one of the livestock barns without another word.

“OK, that was odd,” Doug said.

“Think of it as ‘resistance’, or ‘defiance’,” Peter said. “It’s an informal name for the informal alliance we have here. It’s been in place for a very long time.”

“How long?”

“Think, a hundred and fifty years or more.  The families often banded together when they homesteaded here from the old country. They often ‘resisted’ change that was not in keeping with the values they brought here.”

“And now?”

“They resist that which would destroy them. Simple enough.”

“Yeah, simple,” Doug said.

Back inside the house, the men took off their drenched rain gear and boots, and Julie handed them hot tea, made on the ancient woodstove that Doug thought been a decoration.

“Any more news?” Peter asked.

“More stations gone,” Julie replied, not saying what she was thinking. Peter stopped cold.

“Which ones?”

“Nothing from Dallas. Nothing from Denver.  Chicago is dark, all three stations now. Waterloo was on the air for a few minutes though, but then went off without any warning,” she said and took a deep breath. “There’s more,” Julie said as everyone gathered in the kitchen.

“They hit Kennedy Space Center along with Huntsville.  I heard part of a report about attacks in Virginia and Connecticut too. And California. Then a big blast of static and nothing after,” Julie said, struggling to keep her composure. Doug took her hand.

“Which station were you listening to?” Peter asked.

“San Antonio.”

“There are bases there, ya? Military?” Maria asked.

“Yes, several,” Doug said. “Lackland Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston, Randolph Air Force Base, Brooks City-Base.” He’d supplied them off and on over the years while working for Leinhardt.

“Big target,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Doug replied. “Huge.”

They sat around the table for a long time, no one speaking. 

“The sun will be above the horizon in three hours,” Maria said at last. “It will a new day and we need to be ready for it. Arie, come now, back to bed. You children, you get some rest. Douglas, Julie, you go now.”

They finished their tea, and Julie joined Doug in the guestroom, holding each other until they drifted off to unpleasant dreams.

Saturday, April 15
6:00 a.m.

“Doug—you awake?” Julie whispered.

“I am now,” he answered.  “You O.K.?”

“Not bad.  I should get up.  It’s already late.”

“It’s only six.”

“We’ve been up at quarter to five for weeks,” Julie replied, snuggling a little closer. “Maria’s in the kitchen. I should go help.”

“What should I do?”

“Whatever needs doing,” she replied. “Or…whatever Arie thinks.”

They both rose, Julie disappearing down the hall to her own room where she cleaned up for the day. Doug headed for the bathroom, and found no water pressure in the lines as he tried to wash his face. A pitcher of water and a bowl was on the sideboard. He used a little water to splash his face, and a small towel to dry with. The aroma of coffee filtered his way.

“Good morning, Douglas. Did you sleep well?”

“Not particularly. And you?”

“Not a lick.  Nothing good for news, Peter tells us. We have some chores in the barn that need tending to. After those, I’m afraid we’ll be house bound.”

“Fallout?” Doug asked.

“Conjecture of fallout. There is no news coming from the East, and what little we’ve learned is decidedly thin. Maria has coffee and rolls ready. Join Roeland and I when you finish, ya?”

“Glad to.”

Maria had a large mug of coffee, already topped off with sugar and cream, and a large fresh cinnamon roll ready for him.

“Did you and Julie rest?” she asked, a twinkle in her eye.

“Partly,” Doug replied with a little smile. “Can’t really call it a sound sleep though.”

“You take good care of her.  You will have me to answer to before the men folk,” Maria said with dead seriousness.

“I intend to, Maria,” Doug answered as Peter came into the room.

“How’re you and yours today?” Doug asked.

“Molly and Ian actually got some meaningful sleep.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask, with your new place, why are you staying here?”

“Makes more sense to double up.  There’s room here, easier with more people.”

“Did you just….close up the other house?”

“Yeah. Mothballed it, figuratively speaking.  The basement is fully stocked, and we can use it of course in a pinch,” Peter answered, implying that the house was a fall-back position.

“What were you able to find out about the attack?”

“Attacks. Plural,” Peter said. “But really not a whole lot.  I couldn’t find a single radio station broadcasting anything intelligible off and on all night. Nothing within at least five hundred miles.”

“What got hit?”

“Huntsville, but you knew about that.  Rumors about Vandenburg in California. Cape Canaveral got hit.  Norfolk and Newport News. Some place in Connecticut, another in Rhode Island. Heard something about Houston too, but missed what it was about. Did we know that last night? Which ones? I can’t remember,” Peter said. Doug thought he looked…grey. Overly tired. 

“I think we knew all of those last night. But not D.C.? Not New York?” Doug asked.

“Not yet,” Peter said, taking a bite from a roll.

“So, is there any news about…fallout?”

“Nothing meaningful. The old base station CB radio is working—I ran a test with it and a walkie-talkie, but no one is broadcasting or their radios are fried. Scanners are only picking up some random scrambled broadcasts. The two ham radios are bricks—they were powered up when the bombs went off I guess. Can’t get them to power up at all, fuses are fine, dunno.  Of course no Internet. One of the laptops is dead; again it was powered up when it went up.  The other computers seem fine.  Oh yeah, the three GPS units power up, but it’s like there’s no satellites to lock onto.”

Doug thought about that for a second.  All of the Regent trucks were GPS linked, and he suspected that there was a link between the regular production RNEW products with their RFID chips and corporate GPS tracking.  If the satellites were ‘gone’ or the links broken, there wasn’t going to be any ability to track distribution of RNEW, whether it was a legit distribution or if product was being stolen. Doug remembered his original question, before Peter answered without answering.

“So fallout is probably not a big deal?”

“If the wind is blowing up from the Gulf, from the southeast, we might see some from Huntsville. If we do, it won’t be very long before it gets here.”

“Do you have a Geiger counter?”

“No, nor do we have any way to know that we have fallout.”

“Does anyone in your…I forget the name, sorry. Does your group have any way to tell?”

“The Weerstand,” Peter replied. “Need to check. I don’t know if anyone has thought of it. Someone must’ve though. They must’ve…” he said, looking ahead and not focusing.  “After Fukushima, you’d think that everyone would have that kind of stuff.  A lot of people just don’t want to know what they’re breathing, what they’re eating…” 

“Did you get any sleep last night at all? You look like Hell.”

“Not much.”

“You can’t keep up that kind of schedule you know.  It’ll put you under.”

“I know.  I’ll get some rest tonight.”

“No, you will get some rest today,” Maria said, taking his coffee away.  “I saw your notebook on your radio log.  There wasn’t a fifteen-minute space in that book, Peter. You get off to bed this minute. There is nothing to be known from those radios that will not wait until later.”

Peter realized that it was pointless to try to argue with the family matriarch.  He nodded, finished the last bite of his roll and headed to the bedroom.

Doug finished his breakfast quickly, and was headed out to the barn as Julie came into the kitchen to help Maria. She stole a quick kiss and pushed him out the door.

In the dark stock barn, Arie and Roeland were feeding the livestock.  The Segher’s had cut back their stock to a fraction of their former levels more than a year before, seeing that a market collapse was inevitable.  They kept their key dairy breeding stock and enough head to remain viable, along with chickens, geese, turkeys, a dozen or so goats and many cages of meat rabbits.  
Doug was shown the way around, and then assigned to manually pump water from a cistern to an above-grade tank, allowing a gravity feed to each of the stock watering stations. The electric pump control panel was blackened by the surge that had fried much of the farms’ electrical system. It took an hour to refill the tank to the level that Arie had requested.

“We’ll have to check that water at least twice a day,” Roeland said.

“We should get inside, Douglas. Roeland has an errand to run,” Arie said.  

“I’d like Doug to ride shotgun, if he’s willing,” Roeland said.

“Sure.  Let me get my rifle,” Doug said. “It’s in the back of my Ford.”

Doug turned to head to the equipment shed and stopped for a moment, hearing and feeling something…different. 

Four fighter jets screamed across the sky from behind the barn, a few hundred feet up.  All three men stood speechless for a moment.

“Perhaps they’ve let the dogs from the chain, ya?” Arie said before turning to the house. 


  1. I had forgotten about the EMP. I need to get that metal trash can at the local hardware store and put my transistor radio, old laptop and some flashlights inside.
    Another great chapter!

  2. I had forgotten about the EMP. I need to get that metal trash can at the local hardware store and put my transistor radio, old laptop and some flashlights inside.
    Another great chapter!

  3. Tom,
    UGH!! the suspense is killing me. I love the story and can hardly wait for the next post.
    Thank you for giving us this terrific story.

  4. YEA! Thanks for the update.

  5. Great chapter!! Can't wait for more


Comments are welcome!