Sunday, February 27, 2011

Distance, Chapter 16


January Twenty-fourth
1:30 p.m.

Doug felt a little like this was a first date. He’d cleaned the pickup as best he could, even though they wouldn’t be driving anywhere, and changed into a clean shirt and a sweater.  He couldn’t remember if he’d done the same thing for Cammie, the first time he’d met her.  It felt as if a good first impression was necessary.

After he’d talked with Julie, he left the radio off and plowed back into work, following up all of the client emails with a draft schedule for obtaining product samples and outlined integration strategies, all of which were accelerated by several weeks from the initial schedule that Delta had planned.  The iron was hot; the hammer light in his hand.

He’d had sent emails out to his team, informing him of the ‘OK’ from senior management about relocating outside of threatening areas, and encouraging them to log back onto the company network as soon as possible. He’d heard back from his product researcher Jim McGillicuddy, he was on his way out of L.A.; Austin Childress in finance, who was based in Columbus; and Rob Dowling, also in L.A., who was the integration specialist that had given Doug the ‘thumbs up’ on the schedule change.  He hadn’t heard from Jenine Wendt, a creative consultant or Ann DeMumber, the corporate marketing rep who covered all Regent product lines….but they could catch up.  He thought they were in the San Diego office though, and that could mean anything.

He’d also tried to get in touch with the moving company and the townhouse property manager, but the calls never went through to Chicago. Before he left for the Segher Farm, he’d tried to call Brenda. Again, the call wouldn’t go through.

The road hadn’t had much traffic, and the going was slow with the compact ice. Doug put the truck into four-wheel-drive when he’d slewed around just coming out of his driveway. He’d almost taken out the mailboxes across the road.  ‘Kliest’, the realtor; and ‘Miller’, the name on ‘his’ mailbox. He then realized that he’d forgotten to forward his mail….

“I wonder what else I’ve managed to forget,” he said to himself.

Doug realized his heart was beating a little faster as he turned into the long driveway…and he was smiling.  Julie was sitting on porch rail as he pulled up to the house, wearing an oversized sweater and a big coat. She met him as he parked the pickup.

“Hi! How’s the new house?”

“Other than sleeping on the floor, it’s okay but with a few surprises.”

“Let’s go inside.  I’ve been out for awhile, and I think Maria has coffeecake.”

“That sounds good. The heater in the truck just started putting out heat about three minutes ago,” Doug said as Julie took his hand. “You’re freezing!” he said as he saw Maria.

“Good afternoon, Douglas. Here. Coffee. Black if I remember,” she said as she handed him a huge mug.

“Thank you Maria. This is perfect.”

They sat at the kitchen table, which would be too small for even the immediate family for a meal.

“So, let’s hear about your surprises,” Julie said. “I need a distraction from the news.”

“I understand that,” Doug said. “I have a generator for one. Didn’t know I had one.  I also have some firewood in one of the barns, not enough for a full winter I’m sure, but it’ll do in a pinch. Surprise two is that without the generator, water pressure drops pretty quick….as I found out the other night when you called.  The power died, then the phone.  I didn’t think about water of course.  And the place has a security system…that has some sort of battery backup.”

“Hmmm,” Julie said, taking a cup of coffee from Maria as she set a plate of coffeecake on the table, and made herself scarce.

“How’re things here?” Doug said, cradling the mug and warming his hands.

“I’m a bit of a fifth wheel, to be frank. I can’t lift anything, twist, or bend. So I’ve a list of things that I can do, which seems like much less than everyone else around here, and it is. Everyone is working their tails off.”

“You know you can’t push yourself. Doc’s orders,” Doug said.

“It’s not really in my nature to sit around,” Julie said.

“You’re not sitting around, Julie. There is plenty to do inside that is just as important as outside work,” Maria said, coming back into the kitchen with an armload of dishtowels. “You’re our stand-in accountant for one, and that’s a full time job itself.”

“I know, Maria.  It doesn’t seem like enough.”

“Time will come you will look forward to rest. Trust me,” Maria said as she headed to the dining room. Doug could hear the news on in the living room.

“Smart woman,” Doug said. “You’ll heal up soon enough.”

“The President is on. Come in here to the television,” Maria said, beckoning them from the kitchen.

The entered the living room just as the television switched from the anchor desk in either New York or Washington to the blue background of the White House, the Great Seal centered on the screen.  Two ‘crawlers’ on the bottom of the screen ceased as they all sat down to watch.

“Good afternoon, my fellow Americans. 

I am speaking to you about the invasion of the American Southwest by forces harbored, sheltered and sponsored by the enemies of the United States and enemies of the freedoms we enjoy.

In a synchronized attack against U.S. forces in the Far East and at home, terrorists backed and supported by Mexican army troops have staged a series of attacks and invasions on the border cities shared by our countries. This effort, widely called the opening of the Reconquista—or re-conquering—of the Southwest, was joined nation-wide by terrorist cells operating in predominantly Hispanic areas of the country.”

Doug noticed the steely look in Maria’s eyes, but something like resignation on Julie’s face.  

“These attacks included the bombing of a daycare center not far from here, in Alexandria, Virginia. This attack wounded and killed people that I know personally. Children that I have met. Network television has broadcast all day the results of this bombing, in graphic detail. But that is not all. This type of attack has been used in many of our cities, against police forces, hospitals, and schools. Eleven such attacks have occurred so far today, fourteen have been stopped. At this hour, five hundred and seven have been killed, and over two thousand injured.”

“Good God,” Doug said aloud.

“Units of the U.S. military have eliminated Mexican Army units at the border, and are working both south into Mexico in pursuit of these attacking units, and north, into cities and neighborhoods where these terrorists have hidden like cowards. The U.S. military, acting on my orders, has seized major economic centers and resources of the Mexican people, and will retain these until a peaceful and unconditional surrender of enemy forces occurs and a stable government is in place. Funds received by the operations of these facilities will be retained for the Mexican people.”

“How long have we been planning this?” Maria asked. “Nothing like this happens overnight.” 

“Using our national resources and intelligence assets, we have determined without question that the current invasion of American soil was led by none other than the president of Mexico and his leaders, in concert with the Chinese and other nations. This man I called friend, who I have dined with, who I believe shared a vision for the common good of both countries and our common peoples, has betrayed his people, the people of the United States, and the good will of neighboring nations.”

“Look at him. Leaning forward like that. He wants to strangle the man,” Julie said.

“No one would blame him,” Doug said.

“Working with the leader of Venezuela, one of the attacks first actions was to seize our diplomatic staffs in both countries.  I am sorry to report that both the Mexican and Venezuelan governments have executed all American diplomatic personnel and numerous American citizen contractors in both countries, and did so before we could mount any meaningful response to their seizure.

There will be no safe harbor for people such as these.”

“When this war is over, I pray that there will be a new world, one which has no room for men like these, for countries like these, for evil such as has been committed this day.  I will do all in my power to ensure this is so.

Good afternoon.”

The television screen switched back to the Presidential seal for a few moments, and then switched to a network correspondent in San Francisco.  The footage showed the wreckage of a Chinese freighter, still afire, although it appeared to be beached. Some sort of oil-boom was surrounding the wreck, and a fireboat was spraying foam on the wreck. 

“That’s a body in the water…look…on the left, inside the boom,” Julie said.

The scene then switched to a fire in Sacramento, where the distinctive tail of a fighter plane was visible in the middle of the blazing neighborhood.  The reporter said that there were reports of small arms fire in the area as the plane took off from a local Air Force base.

“Unbelievable,” Doug said.

“To the contrary, Douglas.  It is all too believable,” Maria said. “I have work to do,” she said as she stood and left the room.

Doug and Julie finished their coffee and cake, and then talked for another hour, and both wanted the conversation to continue. Doug needed to get back into cell coverage and back to work though, and to try to get in touch with the rest of the team.

“It was nice to see you, Julie.”

“You, too….despite the unpleasantness all around us. Can you call later?”

“Can you get calls here?” Doug asked.

“On the business phone, of course.  Here’s the number,” she said, handing him a business card. Her name was on it, with the ‘Segher Farm’ logo.

“You have a business card? Already?”

“As of this morning, yes. Printed them up here after getting my drivers’ license switched.”

“I need to do that,” Doug said. “And my mail.”

“Maybe sooner than later. If you’re questioned about where you live, you ought to have a local license.”

“One more thing to do,” he said, giving her a hug as he neared the truck.

“You should do it today if you can,” she said with some quiet steel behind her voice.

“I’ll try,” he said, feeling she knew something that she wasn’t telling him. “What’s going on?”

“Things happen fast. You’ve seen that,” she said. “Especially now. Look at where we are this week and where we were a week or two ago.”

“Yeah. I know,” Doug said. She was right of course.  Two or three weeks ago, he would never have dreamed that things would be the way they are.

“Especially now….” Julie said. “Listen. We had a long talk last night. All the adults and some of the adjoining neighbors. Everyone believes that it’s going to get worse. A lot worse.”

“Julie, we’ve beaten the Chinese. Paid a helluva price for it though. We’re going to beat the Mexicans…..”

“The Chinese were the major creditor and supplier to the U.S., and invested elsewhere as well.  What happens when other governments are no longer afraid that China will stop them from their own expansionist policies? What happens when other governments don’t have the U.S. to fear because we’re pre-occupied?  We have had the largest loss of life due to a natural disaster in our history. The economy isn’t a shambles, it’s a funeral pyre. We’ve been attacked on our own continent by our immediate neighbor and invaded. What happens next?”

“It’ll work out. We’re the United States,” he said, realizing that the statement was a bit naïve, given the events of the past day.


“It’ll be fine. We will be stronger in the end.”

“The ‘end’ might be years. Meanwhile we are facing things that we don’t even recognize. Where’s our fuel going to come from? What kind of restrictions will the government place on us now? You think the TSA requirements were bad before? What about now? Who, if anyone will replace the things we used to import and now cannot? We don’t have the industry we used to have. We don’t have a currency that anyone except maybe us has any confidence in. This will not end well. You need to be ready.”

“This isn’t going to sound right Julie, but with the resources that have been made available to me through this new job, I am better off now than I would have been a week ago.”

“Not enough. It’s not near enough, Doug.”

“There’s only so much time in the day and so much money in the bank. And I need to work to make money.”

“You need also to take time to learn,” Julie said. Doug didn’t know if he should be offended by that or not, but it didn’t sit well with him.

“And where do I start? With what? To what end? I’m not a farmer,” he said with barely veiled irritation.

“That isn’t what I meant,” Julie said, knowing too late that he was reacting as she feared, not as she’d hoped. “I’m sorry,” she said, eyes downcast.

He realized that she’d said nothing that he hadn’t already figured out, and that his defensiveness was entirely wrong. “No, nothing to apologize for. I’m sorry…I’m slow to realize how late I am to the dance,” he said, taking her hand. “I’m not sure I even know where to start, because I don’t know what I should know.”

“My own epiphany was a while ago. I’ve had more time.”

“Prepare a crash course for me maybe,” he said. “You can be my tutor.”

“Now there’s a visual,” she said with a coy smile and a squeeze of his hand, taking the conversation in a direction that Doug never anticipated.

“For certain,” he replied.  A long kiss and gentle embrace later, he drove out of the Segher property, smiling.

Doug made the quick trip into Fairfield, found the license bureau about to close early, but they’d stayed long enough to get his ‘smart license’ processed, linking to the Illinois data network to verify his information. He didn’t know the specifics of the ‘smart license’, but he’d been using the Illinois version for a few years. In his business travel, it allowed him a shortcut in the TSA lines at O’Hare, fast processing at rental cars, hotels and banks.  The rest of its functions he didn’t think about.

The Post Office had a long line in a special ‘customer service’ line, watched over by three police officers. Doug filled out his mail-forward application fairly quickly, with a dozen or so people in front of him for ‘regular service.’ The people in the special line were anxious; some angry, and all were being watched. He checked his phone for email, and found again, that he had a ‘no service’ message on the screen.  The voices in the other line grew louder.

“My pension check didn’t arrive.  Neither did the direct deposit from Social Security.  Social Security said they’d mailed it here to general delivery,” Doug overheard the much older man say, his wife clutching his arm.  She looked very worried.

“I’m sorry, Mister Breckenridge, but we’ve not seen any checks arrive from Social Security for more than a week.”

“I know that, Mary Jean.  And I’ve known your mother for forty-five years and I know that you wouldn’t lie to Nora and I. How do we find out when we’re going to get them?”

“I don’t know, sir. I’m sorry. We’re in the same boat—Jerry and I. Our paychecks didn’t show up on Friday like they were supposed to,” Doug heard the clerk say as he moved forward in his line.   He’d remembered hearing something like that on the radio a couple days before, but that was in….Atlanta? ‘Did all checks from the Government come from one place, or had they just cut everyone off?  Welfare and Social Security? How could they do that?’ he wondered.

“Next,” the bored clerk in his line said to Doug.

Ten minutes later, his business done, Doug walked back to his truck, and saw the old man and woman drive off ahead of him. The woman was wiping her eyes.

‘Could people be that close to the edge?’ he thought to himself, almost forgetting that he’d been nearly there days before. ‘And if they are…here, in Iowa of all places…Is this what Julie was talking about?’

He drove home, trying to figure out what Fairfield, Iowa might look like in a week or three, if the pensioner’s checks and Social Security and welfare and other government payments didn’t resume.

While it wasn’t Chicago or Atlanta, and the entire ‘downtown’ area could be seen in minutes. What happened when the rural United States ran out of money?

7:40 p.m.

The cell service was still down, but the Internet connection was working.  After arriving home, he made a light supper and attacked the incoming email inbox. He noticed that no new email had arrived after four p.m. He had several emails in the ‘junk’ box, including three from his team.  The first two were routine, the third was not. 

Mister Peterson—
I’m not on the company network, but I hope this goes through. I’ve had to move my family out of Chula Vista—our house was a block away from a hospital that was bombed and now the whole place is a war zone.  We barely made it out before they took the whole area.     I’m up in Victorville right now at my parent’s place. My husband and I have no idea what’s next.  Marketing for the Delta release seems pretty unimportant right now---but I hope that when all this settles down I still have a job. Hope you understand.  Please contact me at this address.  It should still work even if we need to move again.

Best regards,

Ann DeMumber

She provided her phone number in the email footer, and that of her parents.  Doug sat there for a minute, imagining what it might have been like for Ann and her family. She was right obviously, marketing didn’t really matter.   For her, right now, it was just survival. He thought for a few minutes, wondering what bothered him about this email, and came to the conclusion that he was bothered that she felt the need to send it at all, it seemed to have an apologetic tone to it.  Was Regent the kind of employer that would take offense because a valued employee running for their life and the lives of their families?   ‘…I hope that when this all settles down I still have a job.’

“So do I,” Doug said to his computer. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Some thoughts from the Author:

I’m hoping that most everyone is paying attention to what’s been happening in Wisconsin.  At the moment, we have a Governor that is trying to save his state from default; we have minority party legislators who have fled the state rather than be present (and therefore create a quorum) and enable their opponents to vote as the people would desire.

That isn’t what should be most concerning, despite the noise that protesters are putting up, children taken out of school, whole school districts closed due to ‘teachers calling in sick.’ What is most concerning is that the President is effectively committing sedition, actively taking a role in funding the interference in a state to govern itself effectively and legally. Obama’s Organizing for America, the remains of his 2008 election campaign, is directly and admittedly involved in the situation.

From a sharp and clear voice on another forum, I submit for your consideration:


1. incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government.
2. any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion.
3. Archaic . rebellious disorder.

OBAMA, our currently sitting POTUS, is not only inciting this with words and deeds, he's ******** FUNDING IT! HE IS DIRECTLY INTERFERING WITH THE STATE OF WISCONSIN'S SOVEREIGN RIGHT TO GOVERN. I also believe that Obama helped orchestrate the acts of the Wisconsin Democrats and probably funded their 'escape' to the Illinois resort and their transportation to that resort....

Organizing for America is also actively looking at spreading this type of activity to other states that are looking to pare back on benefits paid to public employees and their unions by the taxpayers.

The problem is that most states haven’t been keeping up on these employee union obligations for years. Many years. My own state included.

Now, please consider this: If anyone believes that events in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Djibouti, Kuwait, Baghdad and Teheran and across half of Europe are unrelated to events in the United States of America, you need to step back and reconsider things.  If you've read my works, you know I really don't believe in coincidences. 

Destroying the ability of a state to govern, and then another and another, leaving only the Federal Government, provides a very bleak path to a Night of Long Knives.  (Some of you will get that reference immediately. Others, please Google it).

I would encourage all of the readers of these stories to take stock of your situation, honestly.  It appears to me that time is short. Very short, should some have their way.

This is how economies collapse, how assassinations take place, and how civil wars start.

If I'm wrong, you might have more preps set aside, another scattergun or three, or you might think I'm full of manure. 

I'm perfectly OK with all of those. But from where I sit, I really don't like what I see coming. 

Tom S. 

Distance, Chapter 15


January Twenty-fourth
6:10 a.m.

Instinctively Doug knew he’d hit a home run. The heart of the need, a once in a lifetime lightning bolt that would resonate with every single exec, every marketing director, every distribution specialist that read it.  He knew that the next order of business would be to copy the West Coast team on the emails he’d sent, and to keep his higher ups apprised as to progress.

But he knew he’d smoked the sell.  There wasn’t any rush like the rush of ‘the kill’ on the sell, or the sale that would inevitably follow.  It was so much better here at Regent, because they flat out had something that no one else could possibly compete with.  Perfect timing, perfect situation, perfect outcome guaranteed. Doug was reeled back in by the radio, now with the Secretary of Defense speaking about Taiwan.

“….with the initial attack coming in the form of an electro-magnetic pulse carried out in near space to bring down the power and communications grid on the island. This attack failed when the warhead—a nuclear warhead—was destroyed by a laser hit from one of our airborne assets.  Simultaneously, a massive series of ground-to-ground and ship-launched missiles bore in toward the island.”

“What the Hell? Lasers? Are they serious?” Doug said to himself. “Since when do we have lasers?”

“The sheer number of missiles overwhelmed both US and Taiwanese defenses, with approximately thirty-five percent of incoming missiles making it through the defensive screen. Most of these missiles were targeted on industrial and civilian government command and control targets. The initial wave of missiles was targeted on key military targets, with civilian and governmental targets in subsequent waves.”

Doug heard the chime of an incoming email, then a second, and third in quick succession. He didn’t take the time to read them.

“The Battle of Taiwan is now concluded. The United States and Taiwan have won the day.” 

“Ships of the U.S. Navy that participated in the defense of Taiwan included the U.S.S. Essex, a light carrier deployed from Sasebo, Japan, which is on fire and listing at this time. Also damaged, Ticonderoga-Class Aegis cruiser, U.S.S. Antietam, which took four missile hits. U.S.S. Harpers Ferry, a Marine amphibious assault ship, was sunk by a Chinese submarine.  No United States submarines were lost or damaged in the battle.”

“Our response to the attack was swift and severe, but appropriate to the level of force needed to defeat the enemy.  Upon the news of the attack on U.S.S. Rueben James, the Commander, Pacific Fleet informed all U.S. warships in the theater of operations of the attack, the casualties, and the target package for each ship. As of five a.m. this morning, Eastern time, the Communist Chinese Navy has permanently ceased to exist as a viable fighting force in the world.”

‘We just took them out? Like that? We can do that?’ Doug thought to himself. He realized that he really had no idea what the U.S. military was capable of. He’d never really thought of it; they were people that went elsewhere in the world when the country needed them to. The few military people that he’d met didn’t leave him with the impression that they were all that intelligent. 

“Our submarine and surface vessels have sunk more than sixty submarines in port or at sea, including two ballistic-missile submarines, one off of Hawaii, the other off of San Francisco. All surface vessels worldwide belonging to the Communist Chinese, have been sunk or destroyed, with the exception of four vessels which surrendered to U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln’s battle group upon threat of sinking. Forty-two merchant vessels were also destroyed, after refusing orders to heave to for boarding, threatening U.S. military or civilian ships with illegally-mounted weapons, or in one case, attempting to ram a U.S. Coast-Guard cutter in San Francisco Bay.”

Doug wondered what sort of desperation made the Chinese decide that ramming a Coast Guard ship was the best option available.

“The President, when informed of the initial attack, was relocated to a secure location. I now will transfer this briefing to the Presidents’ location.”

More emails arrived in Doug’s inbox as the President began to speak.

Good morning. I am speaking to you from Camp David, to inform you of the defeat of the People’s Republic of China in their attack on Taiwan. The losses in Taiwan are high--they have paid a dear price for their freedom.”

“There is also news from Beijing. The ruling government of Communist China has been removed from within. The U.S. Embassy and consulate staffs have been released. At this hour, massive demonstrations are taking place for peace and democracy in major Chinese cities. It appears that this may be another country about to turn the corner to freedom and democracy, and away from enslavement, from evil, and from an ever-shrinking number of nations that wish to deny basic human rights upon their citizens.” 

“The news—and results--of this pre-meditated attack on the U.S. and Taiwan and the resulting Communist Chinese defeat were leaked to the Chinese people almost as soon as the first missiles flew.  It is our understanding that more than a million Chinese citizens stormed the Chinese Premier’s home and homes of other government leaders. Almost to a man, the former leadership was immediately taken into custody by the Chinese Army forces in the areas, which refused to defend the indefensible.   It is our understanding that some of the military leaders responsible for this course of action either committed suicide or were executed by their own troops before the former government was deposed.”

“To the Chinese people, I wish to welcome you on the path to freedom and democracy. As part of the terms of surrender, the mainland Chinese have agreed to full reparations to the island democracy of Taiwan, to the United States government, and to all other injured parties.”

“To the people of the island democracy of Taiwan, I wish to commend you on your bravery, your sacrifice, and your kindness in helping injured U.S. soldiers, sailors, and Marines.  These acts, which will become known soon, will be long-remembered and held with honor by many.”

“To the people of the United States, it is a new day. We will make the most of it and heal the fresh wounds on our country and our countrymen. While this war with Communist China was brief, consuming only a little more than a days time, the repercussions will be with the world forever. With losses in the thousands and tens of thousands,, but not millions, and none shall be trivialized on either side. Often, death came without warning, either from the missiles striking cities and ships, to the torpedoes suddenly sinking the pride of the Communist Navy throughout the world’s oceans. Brave men fought and died, as did innocent civilians. We will remember the sacrifices of all, with the goal of never having to fight another war.”

“Please pray for the souls of all the dead, and hold them in your hearts this day. I will return to you later this day, to discuss events on our southern border, and the actions taken to defend our land. Good day.”

Doug’s cell phone miraculously came to life, with the screen name of one of his Delta employees.

“Doug Peterson.  Jim? Is that you?”

“Yes, sir. I…wanted to see if we’re working today. My wife…she’s pretty freaked out with the war and all.”

“Where are you, Jim?”  Jim McGillicuddy worked for one of the Regent specialty divisions, ‘Gold’ in his case, in product research and development.


“Where do you want to be?”

“Not L.A.” he said, with a nervous laugh.

“I’m not in a large city, Jim. I’m in an out of the way place in the mid-west. If you and the rest of the team can accomplish your tasks out of your assigned offices due to safety or personal security reasons, I don’t see why that would be a problem. I think I can clear this with management,” Doug said confidently, guessing that most of the management teams were not heading into anything that remotely looked like a problem area. “Have you heard from any of the other team members?”

“No sir, but phones are screwed-busy…I mean…”

“No problem. I got it.  Keep trying, and keep me posted either through email or text. I sent out an email this morning to the contact list….”

“Saw it. Effing brilliant. I mean, seriously. Brilliant.”

“Thanks. Can we deliver on it?”

“No doubt about it. None….assuming we aren’t nuked at some point in the next five minutes.”

“Sounds like the Chinese have been beaten,” Doug said.

“Which is fine, but no one’s told either the Mexicans or the Chinese south of here,” Jim said. “These aren’t just sympathetic riots.”

“What are you seeing?”

“Still dark out here. Sun’s not up until something like six-thirty. It won’t even start getting light out here for another hour….but there are some big fires in East L.A. I can see the glow in the overcast from here.”

“Where are you exactly?”

“Inglewood. The office is in Culver City.”

“Where do you plan on going to get away?”


“Generally. I don’t need specifics,” Doug said, understanding that Jim might be reluctant to tell.

“North. Not far from Paso Robles.”

“Wine country. Can’t beat that….Would you be able to complete the assignments already tasked?”

“Sure.  As long as we have phones and ‘net.”

“All right.  I’d say, ‘go.’  I’ll send an email out to the rest of the team and let management know.  Check in when you can.”

“Thanks, Mister Peterson. I appreciate this.”

“Jim I had a little close call myself a couple days ago when some yahoo shot up my townhouse in Chicago. So, I’m now in the middle of farmland and I think I’ll like it here.”

“Thanks again—I’ll check in later today.”

“Good enough. Good luck,” Doug said, ending the call. He’d heard several more emails come in as he was talking with McGillicuddy.  When he checked the inbox, he saw thirty-one new messages.

“Holy smokes,” Doug said aloud.

Five were from the various Regent offices that his crew was assigned to, informing all employees that work disruptions were likely due to ‘events beyond our control,’; three were from Regent Delta’s administration office, covering Doug’s medical insurance, various general administration procedures, and personnel policies.  The rest were from businesses on the client contact list….all positive, most eager and three, downright demanding.

The radio was continuing to broadcast and endless stream of bad news that just seemed to get worse as the minutes went by.

“….missiles fired from enemy combatants have shot down at least four U.S. aircraft attacking the Mexican invaders, including at least one A-10 Thunderbolt in the Arizona desert.  U.S. ground troops, backed by air support, have turned back the majority of the attack and are progressing into Mexico at this hour. We’ve heard from volunteer Militiamen who were overwhelmed by the initial invasion, that U.S. forces are literally, shooting anything that moves within twenty miles of the border, and appear to be moving farther south by the hour.  We have confirmed that two helicopter gunships were downed by enemy gunfire, and that the crews were alive after the choppers went down. We have also confirmed that the crews were executed after they were taken prisoner.”

More incoming email chimed from his laptop, including one from David Williams.  Doug punched that one open, but found it blank at first, and then a password screen popped up.  He was asked for his employee identification badge, which was swiped through a card reader above the keyboard.  The email then opened.

“Doug—excellent progress so far today on your contacts.  I’m going into an emergency board meeting, but wanted to compliment you on your agility today and making the most of the situation.  Terrible things have happened, but they’ll shake out eventually and we’ll all be stronger for it in the end.  I’ll be in touch later today—

‘Huh,’ Doug thought. ‘Odd.’

“.......Juarez, and Mexicali. Intense urban battles rage at this time in Brownsville, El Paso, the San Diego region, and as far north as Tucson. In addition to highways and airports, PEMEX—the Mexican national oil company—resources including oil fields such as the huge Cantarell field, refineries and pipelines, have also been seized by American forces.”

“In the U.S., urban battles at this hour continue to side with the guerilla force, with most active-duty and reserve police units being killed in an initial series of car bombings and sniper attacks. Given the battles fought in the western Pacific today, and the nature of the surprise attacks and invasions, it only seems a matter of time before the Mexican attackers, as well as innocent Hispanics caught up in the battles, are killed. Urban areas with high percentages of Hispanics and illegals in many U.S. cities also report vicious attacks on non-Hispanics, police officers, and military forces.” 

“Within the hour on the East Coast, a vicious car-bomb attack has occurred in suburban Alexandria, Virginia.  The bomb has apparently leveled a child-care facility used almost exclusively by Congressional staffers families. Two Mexican illegals seen running from the delivery van were captured after the explosion and beaten to death before police could arrive. They have been identified as in this country illegally through government records listing previous deportation.  At this hour, the death toll is rising, with forty-seven children under the age of five killed, thirty more missing, and more than twenty adults missing and presumed killed.  Eleven adults and four children were pulled from the wreckage and taken to local hospitals.”

Doug could not believe what he was hearing. He suddenly found himself throwing up in the kitchen sink.

……If there ever was a galvanizing event so brutal as to unite the American people against a common enemy, we must look back to the attack on Pearl Harbor for comparison.  Within the space of a single day, the United States has been attacked by the Communist Chinese, and our neighbor to the south, Mexico. The defeat of one was rapid and decisive. If you are a Mexican listening to this now, I can assure you that your defeat is coming, and it will be equally decisive and infinitely more painful…for you.”

Doug went outside for a walk around the property, ignoring the cold wind. It took him a long time to get over what he had heard. He had never conceived of anything so brutal as what the radio had broadcast.

By nine a.m, Doug had walked most of the property, finding the hidden generator in a small, rough-looking outbuilding about twenty-five feet from the house, not far from the pump-house. Unlocking the big lock with one of the keys from the realtor, Doug found the room inside to be completely finished and heavily insulated, he assumed for sound. The natural-gas fed generator had an exhaust manifold that was piped into a sleeve through the floor, Doug guessed into some sort of large baffle or muffler to minimize the noise.  On the wall was a clipboard and service chart showing the generator was last ‘exercised’ in December.
In a low-roofed barn there was a small pile of wood, where a large pile might have been at one time.  Not really enough to warm the house for long. Doug wondered where he could buy dry firewood in the middle of the winter?  His late father always had six cords cut, split and delivered in his later years.  Winter on the lake was harsh, and the power was certain to fail several times each year. Doug loathed splitting wood in his youth….and he’d realized he hadn’t held a splitting maul since he was twenty-two.
The property had some oak, pine, and a number of other trees that he couldn’t identify.  They might be firewood some year, but not any time soon.
Back inside, Doug realized how cold he was, and warmed up some water for tea. He decided to leave the radio off. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more….ever.
He found himself staring at the laptop display, rolling a Regent screensaver over and around, changing colors once in awhile. The phone rang, no number displayed.

“Doug Peterson,” he said flatly.

“Uh….Hi Doug. It’s Julie. You OK?”

“Oh. Sorry Julie. Yeah, I guess I’m OK. More importantly, how are you?” he asked, perking up immediately.

“All right, all things considered. You’ve…heard the news?”

“More than I want to, actually. I had to shut off the radio and go for a walk.”

“Yeah. Bad,” she said.

“Bad. I did manage to go shopping last night though….actual groceries. And a burger and fries in town.”

“And what did that cost?”

“Well, a shopping cart was four hundred dollars and change. A couple burgers, fries and a shake….twenty dollars.”
Julie let out a long, descending whistle. “I wonder what it will be next week?”

“Unobtainable.  The supply lines are running out.  Day or two, and the Fairfield stores will look like Soviet Russia….or the prices will be too high for anybody.  How’s the farm? How’re you feeling?”

“I’m still sore. Tough to sleep long. The farm work is busy and I feel like I’m slacking, even though Maria and Arie aren’t letting me do much of anything.  Are you getting to work yet?”

“Started this morning.  Emails.  My team members though are mostly incommunicado or evacuating.”


“Talked to one in L.A.  They’re saying the riots are more than riots.”

“Oh. I saw some of that on TV, but didn’t know what to make of it.”

“No TV for me, but I have had internet for awhile.  Radio mostly,” he said, wondering if he should ask.  “Say, do you want a visitor later?”

“I would love one,” Julie said.  Doug could tell she was smiling.

“Midafternoon or so? Maybe one-thirty, two?”

“Sure….that’d be great,” she said as another call came in.

“Jules, I have another call coming in. See you later, OK?”

“See you then,” Julie said. “I won’t ambush you this time.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Distance, Chapter 14


January Twenty-third
8:00 p.m.

“….Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States,” Doug heard, and turned up the radio.

“Good Evening, my fellow Americans. I address you this evening during a period of growing tension, uncertainty and fear. Our nation’s economy is being rocked by numerous forces that we are striving to control. International relationships are being strained to the breaking point. Nations that were formerly partners in efforts such as the War on Terror and coalitions to fight evil have turned on our country, our soldiers and sailors, our citizens and our corporations.

I am here to tell you more, and to issue a warning to these nations and these governments and their leaders.”

Doug hopped up on the kitchen counter to sit, and picked up his coffee cup.  A chill ran up his spine as the radio broadcast changed history.

“Beginning at ten a.m. last Thursday morning, United States military bases, Embassies and Consulates throughout the world were surrounded by what were touted to be peaceful protesters, demonstrating against errant U.S. economic policies that are being blamed for the current world-wide economic crisis.

Within one hour of the initiation of these protests, it became known to our government through the resources of our intelligence services that these protests were being coordinated between each nation, at the highest levels, and that further, no Americans or American military forces were to be allowed to leave these countries or bases. In many cases, harassment by foreign forces has taken place, including violation of airspace over American bases, interdiction of U.S. aircraft, and deployment of host-country military forces around each base. Several American servicemen were killed in these actions.  U.S. Naval ships have been targeted and defended themselves.”

“Jesus…” Doug said aloud. “Someone’s gonna pay Hell.”

“I am here to tell this nation and the leaders of the world and these nations in particular—you know who you are--that you have until midnight, Eastern Standard Time to cease these operations and remove your protesters from around American bases and return all hostage American citizens to our Embassies and Consulates or you will face a military response the likes of which have not been seen in decades. This nation will not tolerate foreign governments holding the American citizen and the American soldier hostage. I will not target civilians. I will target the leadership of each country that we have identified as participating in this nefarious scheme. I know the locations of each leader and his family. I know the places that you intend to go to hide. I know the locations of your assets. I know the capabilities of your military forces, and I can assure you that you are no match for the wrath that will come your way should you continue on your present course.”

Doug’s phone rang in his hand. He hadn’t even had time to put it down.

“This is Doug,” he said, half listening to the radio.

“Doug, this is Julie. Are you listening….” the phone line died and a few seconds later, the power failed.  Doug flipped the radio over to battery power, after fumbling for the switch in the very dark house.

“…... Mark those words: Hunted down.  Being in a neutral country will NOT keep you safe.”

“To the American people: We face a crisis of unprecedented proportions. Excesses of the past have come back to bite us. It is time for the books to balance. We will work with every fiber of our being to restore the confidence of the citizen in your government. We will defend our Constitution, we will protect our citizens, we will protect our country, and we will not tolerate international thugs who would threaten our citizens. And I assure you this: We will prevail.”

“I ask for your prayers this night, but not for me or my family. I ask you to pray for this great land, this country of boundless opportunity. I ask you to pray for her defenders around the world. May He in His infinite Mercy watch over them and guide them to safety.”

Good night.”

Doug was shocked at what he’d just heard, and what had just happened.  Something felt very wrong, not with what he’d heard but something else…he just didn’t quite know what.   The network commentator was in mid-sentence when the broadcast went silent. No static, just…silent.   He hit the ‘scan’ button to find another station and found nothing on the AM for FM bands. The shortwave band though, was filled with broadcasts, some he couldn’t make out at all, despite the seemingly strong signal.

He fished out a real flashlight after using the cell phone screen to find his way around the pitch-black house.   The phone screen said, ‘No Service’, instead of the strong signal he’d had a few minutes before…meaning that the cell system was dead, along with the power. 

He looked outside, expecting to see some lights of any kind in the distance, and saw nothing but black.  ‘Now what?’ Doug asked himself.   He went into the ‘office’ room, and noticed a light coming from behind the ‘closet’ doors that contained the security system monitors. 
Opening it, he saw that the system was on some sort of battery backup, the video screens were active and had some sort of night vision.  He could see fairly clearly all the way around the house and the driveway.   Nothing out of the ordinary it seemed was outside.

With a few electricity-free nights already behind him, Doug fished out a lantern, the white-gas heater, and put both in the ‘office’, where he’d be spending the night.  He hadn’t had time to investigate the wood stove, and didn’t even know if there was wood ready to burn. The three bedrooms upstairs were still closed off, the master bedroom was too large to heat with the heater and it had hardwood floors.  The office at least had thick wall to wall carpeting, which would serve as Doug’s mattress until he had some furniture, and heavy window curtains.  With the addition of the sleeping bag and a pillow, the ‘bedroom’ was complete. 

Doug made his way back to the kitchen to find the three-ring binder that the agent had given him on the house, and retrieve the battery powered radio.  He thought he might be able to fiddle with the shortwave band long enough to get some more news.

As he went to brush is teeth, he found that he had very low water pressure….and the longer the water ran the slower it ran.  No power, no water well.  He quickly shut it off.

“One more damned thing to deal with,” Doug said, leaning on the sink, wondering how he’d store enough water.

After settling into his sleeping bag, he opened up the binder and adjusted the nearby lantern to a soft light.  The shortwave radio signal was from somewhere in Tennessee, and seemed to be a ‘semi-professional’ broadcaster, who interjected opinion and commentary into his read of ‘the news.’

The binder was very well organized, and included all the property information, a folded-up survey of the site in a front pocket, and an index of the rest of the contents.  All of the manuals for the appliances and the security system were present, and, wonder of wonders, the instructions for an emergency generator.

Doug didn’t even know he had one.

The instructions for manual switchover were printed, plain as day, in twenty-four point text—big enough to read clearly in dim light.  The generator was powered by natural gas, the same as the regular furnace.  The system instructions also had a process for automatic switchover, and a sticky note attached.  The note, written Doug assumed by the previous owner, stated:

‘Auto switchover not advised for advanced scenarios. If power goes down region-wide, there is more reason to stay dark than to be a beacon!’

‘What the heck is that supposed to mean?’ he thought, and then remembered what Julie had done as soon as the power had come back on in Chicago—shut off the lights.  They were a target.  This house--if it had power when none around it did--especially if the place were lit up like Christmas, would be the only place in miles perhaps with power.

Doug went around the house, shutting off the outside lights and those in the kitchen, and then went into the basement to the electrical panel, carrying the switchover instruction sheet for the generator.  Following the simple instructions, the switchover was made, and the furnace came on, along with the basement light—which Doug didn’t know was switched. He didn’t hear the generator though—and would have to look to see where it was on the property.  He didn’t remember seeing any sort of enclosure for it on his three walks around the place. He let the generator run long enough to heat up the house, and then decided to shut it down. There didn’t seem much point in running it just for the furnace.

As he headed back to the stairs, he found that the basement light switch was a sensor—it kicked the lights on when he was in the room.  Since the room had no windows, there wasn’t a reason to maintain ‘light discipline’ here.

It took Doug more than an hour to calm his mind, and drift off to sleep.  Leaving the shortwave on though, did nothing to help his sleep.

January 24th

Doug woke with a start, noting that it was just after four in the morning…the radio was still on, and seemed to be broadcasting a regular news network. He was having a hard time shaking his dream. Some sort of rocket had been fired at him, and he woke as it seemed to go off right next to him as he ducked behind a brick wall and fell into the sand. He was in a cold sweat, which nearly never happened to him.

“This is Robert Charles reporting from the Pentagon. United States naval vessels, number unknown, have engaged Communist Chinese military forces within the past several hours.  Sources at the Pentagon who wish to remain anonymous state that the U.S. has lost at least four combat aircraft and six crewman, with many more Chinese aircraft lost.  Contact has been lost with at least one American naval vessel.”

A chill went up Doug’s spine, then another, and a third. The last time he felt that, he was in a high-end Tribeca hotel room and saw an airplane slam into the World Trade Center.  Then another.

“News really is coming in faster than we can report it, Daniel. We are now getting a report from Taiwan reporting a massive military attack taking place right now.  Our source reports hundreds of missiles have been fired outbound to repulse a Communist Chinese attack of some kind….update on that Dan.  Reports are now coming in of inbound missile strikes hitting critical infrastructure, ports and high-tech industries….”

“Jesus.  We’re at war with China,” he said to himself, immediately wondering if they had nuclear missiles.

“Thank you, Robert. We are now hearing from the southwest, we are hearing of an incursion….no I’m sorry, an invasion of the southwest from Mexico. Coupled with these invasions—including thrusts into Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas---are riots taking place in cities in the Southwest with large Hispanic populations.  Numerous reports—too many for us to keep count of—state that police officers and first responders have been shot on sight or hit with sniper fire in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson. American citizens are apparently fighting back, targeting these roving, well-organized gangs.”

“The United States military was taken by surprise by this it appears, but Marine units in San Diego are, quote, ‘fully engaged’ at this time…..reports now coming in from Austin, Texas that the Texas National Guard has been called up on emergency status and that all able-bodied men and women are to report to law-enforcement officers for deployment in defense of the State of Texas, and I quote, ‘bring your weapons and ammunition.’  Ladies and gentlemen, this is absolutely unprecedented….”

“They have the balls to invade us? Seriously?” Doug said, incredulous. He wished Julie were here. He looked at the clock, and wondered if he should try to call her. He checked the phone, and it still displayed, ‘No Service’.

He grabbed a flashlight, went to the bathroom, and saw out the window that there were lights on in the distance. He flipped a light on, being a little surprised that it worked.
Back in his improvised bedroom, Doug switched the radio to the AM band after programming the shortwave presets.  The local station was on the air, broadcasting the same network broadcast, with a much stronger signal.

“Our correspondent at the Federal Aviation Administration reports that all overnight and early morning flights have been ordered to land immediately after a reported—but unconfirmed—story of a missile attack on an Airbus airliner near Dallas Fort Worth International. We have tried to contact officials at DFW and have not been able to confirm the story.”

“This is Daniel Vickery reporting…now from the Midwest we are hearing of a brief period of panic overnight as an emergency shut-down of power and communications was inadvertently triggered. The shut down protocol, we’re hearing this from a source at Homeland Security by the way, that the system has been put in place to secure the infrastructure against an electromagnetic attack….We are now going to send it back to our local affiliates for about five minutes.  We will continue to cover the outbreak of war against the United States round the clock.”

Doug felt he should be doing something…but didn’t know what that might be. What exactly were people supposed to do when a real war broke out like this one?

“…Riyadh that the U.S. Embassy and military facilities are under siege, with fires reported inside the compound.  American correspondents nearby are observing the Marine Security Guards at the Embassy from several blocks away, and the Marines are heavily armed and prepared to defend the compound should the need arise, but at the moment they are taking only defensive measures.”

“In Germany, confirmation has come that an aircraft evacuating military personnel including wounded soldiers was shot down by a German military aircraft, with a loss of thirty-five aboard.  The President was informed of this immediately after it happened, which would be last evening our time. The German government immediately disavowed all responsibility, despite footage of the attacking aircraft landing at a nearby base after the attack….”

“One of our peer networks is reporting on an attack on the U.S.S. Rueben James in the Western Pacific, where she is serving as part of the escort screen for the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.  Rumors from inside CINCPAC state that a supersonic ‘Sunburn’ Chinese missile hit Rueben James amidships and that she is dead in the water with heavy casualties, and that a substantial military response has taken place.”

“To our listeners, it should be noted that the Presidential ultimatum, set at midnight eastern time, was apparently preceded by conclusive evidence that the Communist Chinese were about to launch a major military attack on the island of Taiwan. The President issued an ordered all military forces in the region to be on the highest state of alert and defend U.S interests and to assist Taipei in the defense of their nation.  Unconfirmed reports of ballistic missile launches are also trickling in through numerous sources, although no official sources are even available to answer this question.”

“Dan this is Jeff Eastman in Los Angeles.  We are now hearing of mass casualties in many areas of Los Angeles, San Diego and throughout Arizona, and despite an arguably late response, United States Air Force units are quote, ‘heavily engaged’ against both Mexican and Chinese forces in the Southwest.”

“Jeff, did I hear that right? Chinese?”

“You did, Dan.  Chinese troops dressed in Mexican Army uniforms and using state of the art Chinese weapons have been killed in action in the war zone. I heard that direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.”

“Thanks, Jeff. We now have Robert Charles back. Go Robert…”

“Dan, more reports of damage to Navy ships in the Western Pacific, including U.S.S. Essex…I’m not sure what kind of ship any of these are unfortunately, nor do I know of casualties. U.S.S. Antietam has been hit, and U.S.S. Harpers Ferry, which has apparently capsized after a submarine attack. The Air Force has also lost an undetermined number of aircraft in action within the last several hours…”

“Thank you…..Robert we’re cutting away to the White House…we’re waiting for the Secretary of Defense to speak.  The President and Vice President have been evacuated from Washington and are in secure locations.  Speculation is that the President may be either at Camp David or aboard one of the Air Force E4-B’s—a military Seven Forty-Seven in flight somewhere over the U.S.”

Doug took the radio into the bath, where he could listen as he showered.  He’d decided to get the house ready for whatever the day might bring, including possibly being without power, heat and water.  He knew that Regent Delta had other expectations, but no one in their right mind would be productively working today of all days…or would they?
After his shower, he dressed in casual clothes and boots, again hauling the radio around the house, and made a large batch of oatmeal for breakfast.

Turning on his computer, he found that he did in fact still have email and internet service. Doug mapped out his day in his head, composing a new marketing strategy for the Delta products, to play on the new need to maintain the economy, and how Delta’s products could help each food seller; the patriotic aspect of ‘home grown and home made’ products; and especially the need to enhance the nutritional value and flavor of foods of the fighting men and women in the field.

Doug crafted three different versions of the email, introducing RNEW products, created by Regent Nutritional Enhancement Workgroup, and by the time his oatmeal was ready to eat, more than two hundred recipients across the country had a new message, hard and to the point, describing the need of each company to strongly consider RNEW products, to ‘help regain the competitive advantage for our nation and for our future....’