Thursday, May 24, 2012

Distance, Chapter 42


11:50 a.m.
Easter Sunday
Chapel of the Woods,
Elsen Farm

The small chapel had been filled with many of the local families for the third and final service of the day.  The pastor, a lifelong friend of the Segher’s, had to be well past traditional ‘retirement age’, but Doug could tell that the man thrived in the environment. He’d met with he and Julie between the eight-thirty and ten-thirty services for a brief counseling session. The question of a formal marriage license was dispatched by the local judge, who wrote up a license legal enough to pass muster on the spot.

Doug borrowed a suit from Peter, who was nearly the same size, and Julie had a choice of dresses, but chose a simple, timeless blue number that could’ve dated from the Forties.  Doug thought she looked gorgeous.  They readied themselves in the small dressing rooms of the farm chapel, meeting their attendants just as a recorded version of Trumpet Voluntary began as the wedding processional. Both were surprised to see that not only was the church full, there were more people attending the wedding than had been in the last service.  Roeland served as best man; Molly was Julie’s matron of honor.

A few moments later, Julie stood by Doug; walked down the aisle by her brother.

“We are gathered at this time on this most joyous of days, the day we remember Christ’s resurrection and victory over death, to celebrate the marriage of Douglas Michael Peterson and Julia Kristen Forsythe. Despite the tragedies unfolding around our nation and world, we rejoice in the prospect of this union of this man and this woman, a reminder to us all that we must look to the future,” the pastor began.

“I have not known either Doug or Julie for long; Julie a bit longer during her stay here with the Seghers, but Doug just since this morning. Without much in the way of preparation and due to circumstance, I have been provided the liberty to speak off the cuff on the topic of marriage,” he said, pulling out a piece of paper.

“This is your marriage license, which I have on good authority will be legal as soon as I sign it,” Pastor Dietrich said, which garnered a few quiet laughs from the congregants.

“But it’s a piece of paper.  That’s all…not a marriage.  The marriage is built over weeks and months and years. It is built through the triumphs and tragedies, the births, the deaths, the birthdays.  Through skinned knees and runny noses. It is built on faith, and hope and the knowledge that through it all, your spouse will be with you.”

“Many weddings have readings from First Corinthians thirteen. Today though, we go to the Gospel of John, but starting with a verse that seldom is seen as ‘appropriate for a wedding’, but there are few that could be more appropriate.  John fifteen, verse thirteen: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

“Because the truth is this: Chances are very good that that you will never be asked to lay down your life for your spouse, but you will give yourself up for your spouse.  Marriage is the gift of yourselves to each other; not a piece of paper, not a ring. Every day you give yourselves to each other. That is a marriage.”

Doug and Julie exchanged their own vows, and with the introduction by the Pastor, shared their first married kiss. 

3:40 p.m.

What might have been a somber Easter dinner, given the national circumstance, turned into a more joyful wedding reception, attended by nearly all of the Segher extended families and a dozen neighbors. 

As the last of the neighbors headed home, Julie and Molly began to pack up Julie’s things for the drive first to Doug’s home, then to Des Moines.   The clear, bright morning had turned to a low overcast, with winds picking up from the northwest.  Doug felt he was a bit in the way, and was rescued by Arie.

“Douglas, if you’re not on the leash of your bride, a moment?”

“Certainly,” he said with a smile.  They headed out to the wrap-around front porch.
“I spoke with some of the men about your company. Rest assured the word will get out.  Expect it to be out within the next week or so. It will not be seen as coming from here,” Arie said.

“Thank you.  I never did meet Mister Krusen.”

“By design, of course,” Arie said with a sideways smile. “Things will be difficult now…and for a long time ahead.”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

“Des Moines then?” the older man asked, leaning with both hands on the porch rail, looking west.

“Unless by some miracle there is some news at my home that there is a change in plan.  My neighbor—he’s Regent as well. He may know something I don’t about what’s going on in the City,” Doug said.

“If it’s as bad as I expect it could be, you might not make it there. You realize that of course,” Arie said, turning to Doug with his piercing eyes.

“Yes, of course.  We’ll travel carefully.  Off of the highways, on back roads where we can.”

“Still could be...will be dangerous. No telling how people will behave—either in the towns or the cities…or on the roads.”

“I understand…but I think it’s smarter for us to at least leave the farm and get back up to my place. I have no idea how Regent might react to any of this...if they’re expecting me back after the attack, whatever.  I cannot imagine though, that they are doing anything but trying to capitalize on the crisis, and that cannot be done with the plants closed and the systems down.  That means that I’m valuable to the point of having them look for me.”

“You turn back, the first sign of trouble. You don’t look back. You understand, Douglas?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Things like this have happened before, just not in America. I had four uncles who didn’t leave Europe in time to avoid the troubles. Two talked of leaving and wrote my father, but the tie to the land was stronger. They were never heard from again…none of them. My uncles, their wives, sixteen children…all gone to Hitler.  This can happen here. It can happen in Iowa. You need to understand this, ya?”

Doug took Arie’s quiet, forceful words to heart.  Perhaps for too long he had thought himself immune to, even above, the problems around him.  The trip to Wisconsin, the Explorer being shot up outside of Des Moines, neither hit him as hard has Arie’s determination to make Doug understand plain facts. 

Neither the Germans, nor their collaborators in their occupied countries, had a product like RNEW to make them check their conscience at the door. Without drug-addled brains, fully aware of what they were doing and willingly turning a blind eye, they slaughtered millions.

What could happen with those in control of a population motivated by RNEW, instead of those motivated by a mere Fuhrer?

5:30 p.m.
4121 Parker Road
Fairfield, Iowa

The rain was just starting as Doug pulled into his driveway, noting that neither his home nor Augie Kliest’s had any lights on. The house appeared unmolested.

“Welcome home,” Doug said as he squeezed Julie’s hand.

“A Company home,” she said skeptically.

“Well, yes. That is true,” he said as they got out of the car. “You ready?”

“For what?”

“Threshold, of course,” Doug replied with a smile, unlocking the front door, and then returning to the car. Without giving her the opportunity to protest, he swept his surprised bride off her feet and carried her inside to her mild protests.

Two hours later, they unpacked the car.

Monday afternoon
April Seventeenth,
Des Moines, Iowa

The drive to Des Moines had been chaos, only matched by the roadblocks in the industrial areas manned by armed guards, all privately employed, with all Army National Guard units deployed to Mexico. The military staffing remaining was barely able to man the empty Reserve Centers.

Doug had backtracked the route he’d taken just days before, but the experience was very different.  Like other parts of the Midwest earlier in the year, roads were blocked off through the use of heavy equipment—farm roads in particular—making them inaccessible from the main roads. The closer he and Julie were to Des Moines, the more abandoned cars and refugees they passed.  Only a few tried to stop them; the remainder looked resigned to their fate. Doug wondered to himself if they were RNEW consumers.

The plant was completely shut down, and only a handful of the day-shift staff--normally numbering in the hundreds--was present in the building. Regent Security forces were seemingly fully staffed.  Doug had no problem entering the compound with his I.D., and Julie wasn’t questioned.  It seemed that the security forces were looking for someone in charge, and Doug fit the bill.

“This doesn’t look good,” Julie said after they entered the production area.  At least it was intact.

“No, not a bit. Emergency generators are either dead or out of fuel. Without power, we’re screwed,” he said, flipping a light switch. Even the battery powered emergency and exit lights were dead. “This way—my office is in the Administration area.”

Francine Redmond’s desk was empty, along with all the others.

“What next? Where do you start?” Julie asked.

“Good question. I don’t exactly know. Won’t be long before we hear, one way or the other, from Corporate.  No idea how that’ll happen though.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. I just do,” he said, holding her hand. “Let’s get to my—to our apartment. You can get settled in.”

“Cooking will be interesting,” she said. “Or do you have things on hand?”

“I have stuff, don’t worry. Water, too,” he said as he unlocked the door to the apartment wing.

“How many apartments here?”

“Fifteen. Five occupied, or they were last Friday,” Doug said, noting the empty Information Systems department.  “Will you be OK getting settled by yourself?”

“Of course, as long as you’re coming back,” Julie said, sneaking a kiss. “It’s not like we have a lot of stuff to bring in from the car. Two or three trips and I’ll be fine.”

“Try to keep me away, Missus Peterson,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to try see who’s here. I’ll be back by six, OK?”

“Sure.  Dinner will be a surprise. How do you want me to cook with power off?”

“There’s a two-burner propane camp stove in the utility closet. There’s a pack of propane canisters on the top shelf.”

“Your company thinks of everything.”

“Nope, that was purchased at AmeriMart in Chicago.”

“I have a forward thinking husband. Good for me,” Julie said.

“Sometimes. Sometimes I’m just lucky,” Doug said as someone entered the apartment corridor. Julie took the key and opened the door. “See you later,” he whispered.

“Mister Peterson? I heard you were back,” Rob Dowling said from the darkened corridor.

“Yeah. And married, by the way,” he replied, walking toward Rob.  “You staying here now?”

“Commandeered an apartment. I can’t get to my place without a good chance of getting skinned alive. Married? Seriously?”

“Yep, long time coming, finally did it yesterday.”

“Some honeymoon,” Rob replied. “She must be very understanding.”

“She has been so far.”

“You brought her here?” Rob asked, quite surprised.

“Safer than leaving her alone at our house down south. Strength in numbers.”

“Sure, if you’re not in the center of a target,” Rob replied.

“Des Moines isn’t going to get hit,” Doug replied dismissively.

“I wasn’t talking about Des Moines. I’m talking about the plant. Security fired on people last night. And again this morning.”


“Yeah. Not good. Warning shots, this time anyway,” Rob said as they entered Doug’s office.  It looked just as he’d left it.

“What happened?”

“All hell broke loose.  Too much for the local cops to handle. Stores are stripped bare. Power went down, about the same time that Huntsville got hit we figured. After that, it’s been a free-for-all. The Governor instituted martial law after dark. Looters get shot. Frankly, I’m surprised you made it in.”

“Never hit a checkpoint that we weren’t waved through,” Doug said, thinking for a moment.   “Who do we have on site?”

“Maybe twenty line workers. Two or three supervisors. That’s it,” Dowling said. “It’s not like most of the staff live within walking distance, and with the lock-down, no one’s willing to put their lives on the line for a job.”

“Anybody from plant engineering?”

“No,” Rob replied.  “But I haven’t exactly scoured the bowels of the place.”

“Let’s say you go round up a handful of the security folks outside and do just that.  I want all personnel in the production training room at three o’clock. We need to assess the plant and see what we can do about getting the place running.”

“You know sir, that main power is off line for the whole city, right?”

“Was at our place, too. There are five diesel generators on this site. If they weren’t damaged, they should be able to power the plant for a week.”

“What then?”

“We’ll get to that later. If the generators are done, then so are we. If they’re not, people will want our product. People out there,” Doug pointed to the windows, “need our product.”

“Making us too important to loot,” Rob said. “Hopefully.”

“Yeah. That,” Doug said with a grin. “I’m going to try to find the emergency procedures manual.”

“Francine’s desk.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. She printed about a dozen of the updates last Friday,” Rob said.

“Did she know something that we didn’t?”

“I’m sure she knows a lot of things we don’t know,” Rob said, obviously referring to Francine’s reputation.

The plant Emergency Operations manual was prefaced on having critical staff on site to actually implement the plan.  The creators of the Ops plan had done a thorough job of creating various scenarios for plant emergencies, from explosions in the adjacent rail yards to severe winter storms; national emergencies to tornadoes.  A half dozen of the scenarios had large-scale, widespread and long-lasting power disruptions affecting the region.

None of the scenarios involved electromagnetic attacks, war on the North American continent; fallout, radiation or economic collapse. Almost all assumed that the management and production staffs would actually be present for a recovery process, rather than running away or staying home either in fear of what was outside, or fear they’d be attacked in their own city.

Rob Dowling had rounded up fifteen production workers and a half-dozen security men from the complement of forty-two.  In Rob’s opinion, half of the security men (no women in the group at all) could not be trusted, and were likely on site to case the joint and get first-pickings. They were eyeing everything in the place that wasn’t nailed down, and half of bolted in fixtures.

“Good afternoon,” Doug started in the half-darkened room. “For those that haven’t met me yet, I’m Doug Peterson, plant manager and general corporate fixit man.”

“You’ve got a lot to fix here, mister!” one of the more overweight security men said, getting a few quiet laughs.

“Yeah, so it seems. First off, no news from corporate of course, so we’re on our own to figure out how to get the plant up and going again,” Doug said.

“Do you think that’s possible?” one of the younger line workers asked. “I mean, I need this job.”

“I’d like to say right off the bat, Hell yes. Honestly I don’t know. I need people with experience in electrical operations to help figure that out. Anyone got that in their background?”

One hand went up. “OK—there’s a start.  What’s your background?”

“I worked as an electrician’s apprentice in residential construction back when there was residential construction…”

“OK, See me right after we wrap up here,” Doug said, then heading into other key production roles.  Half of the people were just line workers, with no experience outside of building boxes or loading or feeding machines. Doug noticed as he was questioning the small group that two of the security men were acting suspiciously, looking at the workers as if they were making lists of their own.

Doug asked the other workers of their specialties, and assigned them to review their areas for anything that needed repair, replacement or general work before the line could restart.  Those assignments were in fact busy work, but they needed something to do, and the work would need to be done sooner or later.

“Good. Who’s head of plant security?” Doug continued. 

“Greg Rollins. Right here,” one of the security men said—Doug was pleased to see he was not one of the ones that had been eyeing the workers.

“Can you break any of your men loose for plant operations if needed?”

“We can talk about that—my contract with Corporate doesn’t really allow a lot of latitude in that area,” the man replied. Doug thought he had stated that for appearance’s sake.

“OK—good enough. According to the Emergency manual, there are supposed to be personal supplies for emergency operations in the Personnel and Security offices. Is that correct?”

“If they’re still there, I’ll be surprised, sir,” Rollins replied. “When things started going south over the weekend, the plant workers helped themselves.”

“Please check on that.  Lighting in particular—flashlights, batteries, that kind of stuff.”

“Will do,” Rollins said, looking at one of the men to his left, again apparently a trustworthy-type. The man nodded without a word.

“All right, that’s all I’ve got for the moment. Plant staff, you’re welcome to stay here of course for the duration.  Completed product is in the cafeteria, along with bottled water.  There are a couple of empty suites that can be used for the night as well. We’ll look further into longer-term on-site accommodations.”

The workers filed out, followed by the suspicious security men. Three of the more trustworthy types trailed them.  Rollins stayed behind, along with the electrician’s apprentice.

“I’m Brandon Hackworth. Good to meet you, sir.”

“Thanks Brandon. You as well. Can you give me five minutes? I need to speak with Mr. Rollins here for a few,” Doug said.

“Sure—no problem.”

“Great—meet me in the plant engineering office. Three doors down that hallway on the left,” Doug said. The young man headed down the hallway.

“Mister Rollins, you have a couple men there that don’t look altogether honest.”

“They’re cousins of the former plant manager, Mr. Peterson. Not my hires.”

“Fire them. Immediately.”

“That could be more trouble than having them here, sir.”
“OK. Your discretion then. But I don’t want them in the plant at all. No access to product, supplies, or equipment. Is that manageable?”

“Absolutely. I’ll pair them up with known men and keep them busy.”

“Excellent. Now, another assignment—this one’ll be off-property. You OK with that?”

“Sure.  I just told the assembly that for the benefit of appearing inflexible. Which I am, for most audiences.  What do you need?”

“I need men—I need the men that operate this plant.  We’re toast without them. I need you to track them down if they’re still in the area. Even in the outside chance that we can get the generators working, two dozen people cannot do the job of hundreds.”

“I can give it a shot. Not personally. I’ve got a couple men in touch with law enforcement. Might be better—safer—taking that route.”

“That works,” Doug said. “What’s the status of law enforcement in the city? Martial law I hear? Seriously?”


“Rob Dowling told me that you had to warn people off overnight. Is that correct?”

“Yes. Fair sized crowd of urban youth decided that they’d make a go on the east fence along the rail lines. Directed some fire near enough to make a point. A couple loners this morning. Fired a little closer that time.”

“Any issues with the police on either of those?”

“None. They don’t have time to look into it or resources to either help us or stop anyone.  We’re all that stands between a plant that might recover or a looted burned out shell.”

“What’re the fires north of here?”
“It was a liquor distribution warehouse. It was overrun early Sunday morning. It’s been burning since then.”

“How are you getting information? Are you hearing anything from farther away?”

“Shortwave.  Some of our radios are working, most aren’t,” Rollins said.  “Fried, we assume. Batteries were good. As far as commercial bands, there are precious few stations broadcasting. Cell and landlines are done,” Rollins said.

“Making me wonder how we’re supposed to function as a business.”

“That’s yours to figure out. E-Branch.”

“Yeah. Lucky me.” 


  1. Tom,

    Thanks again for another wonderful chapter!

    We will see how marriage will work out in the new world.


  2. I have been away from this story for a while. Glad to see new chapters. Then again it appears author has been away for a while....

    Hope new chapters soon.

    I like idea that folks that know better would STILL take drugged food. It makes sense.

  3. So would it be easier (possible) to make the renew without the drugs??? Thanks for chapter. It would be hard. Leave wife home? NO WAY so either she goes back to her parents or you have to bring her along. Hope she is armed...

    I thought I had commented on this?

  4. All caught up now :) Thank you for the time you have put into this! Very good reads, all your stories!

  5. Love your stories. This one is my favorite. I believe because Doug is like the average man. Who has been thrown into a situation that is way above him and how he deals with it is by taking chances. Thanks again for the great stories

  6. This is a great story and I can't wait to see how it ends up. I am re-reading Shatter right now (another great story) and hoping you will have time to give us another chapter of Doug's adventure soon. Take care.

  7. My supply of RENEW is almost gone. I am ok when on it (I think) but I KNOW I get nasty when going cold turkey going off it......

    You have been informed......(warned sounds like a threat... Threats can be faked... Info is real)

    :) :0

  8. I would like to thank you for another great chapter and i hope you find time soon to post more.

  9. Great story. I hope life slows down for you. Looking forward to the next chapter. Take care.

  10. Hey Tom - long time no post. Hope everything is ok. Eager to read next installment when you can get to it!

  11. Part of me thinks this is a bullshit prosecution and another part of me thinks that this person may have been involved a lot more than they can prove right now.
    We will know more after debriefing.

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Comments are welcome!