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. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Distance, Chapter 39


4:45 p.m.
Good Friday,
April Fourteenth,
Des Moines, Iowa

Augie Kliest had left a few minutes before, and Doug was left with the feeling that Kliest was looking for answers without asking the hard questions.
Doug washed up and changed into fresh clothes, making himself more presentable for Julie and the Segher family.  He’d have liked to have been there already, but he thought it imprudent to brush off an employee from his employers intelligence division. He’d have to drive into town in the morning; his Regent accounting-department-prepared 1040 form needed his signature, and he’d drop it at the post office. Another ‘perk’ of the job.
The strong wind caught Doug by surprise when he stepped outside. The afternoon wind , although clear, was quite cold.  The drive down to the Farm was fairly slow, with numerous downed trees that had to have been down for quite awhile, given the amount of build-up around them.  He was less than a mile from the Farm when blue flashing lights came on behind him. Doug proceeded on, but pulled over when the police cruiser slowed behind him. He lowered the drivers window, and then put his both hands on the wheel, and looked in his rear-view mirror as a large, body-armored deputy stepped out of the drivers’ side.

“Step out of the car please, slowly sir,” the deputy requested.

“Sure,” Doug said, complying immediately.

“License, please.”

Doug fished out his wallet, moving slowly, although the officer didn’t have a weapon drawn.

“You’re almost late for dinner, Mister Peterson, Deputy Roeland Segher replied.

“Roeland! You scared the crap out of me!” Doug said, shaking his hand.

“Benefits of the job.  Good way to celebrate the end of my first week.”

“What prompted this?” Doug asked.

“Let’s catch up at the Farm. I’m off duty as of forty-five minutes ago.”

Roeland led Doug to the Farm, and Doug noticed that the ‘utility roads’ to the various farms near the main Segher property were gone.  All had been carved back into ditches; culverts removed, and much of the underbrush had been cleared.  There were few hiding places and fewer options for approaching any of the homes in a vehicle.
Roeland parked his cruiser in the massive equipment shed, and Arie beckoned Doug to do the same, and immediately closed the huge rolling door behind them.  As soon as the door was closed, lights snapped on. Doug saw a large Comex shipping container on the far end of the shed that hadn’t been there when he was last on the Farm.

“Douglas, I see Officer Segher tracked you down,” Arie said, shaking Doug’s hand firmly.

“He did at that. Scared the heck out of me,” Doug replied.

“What’s up with those stitches, there?” Roeland said, touching Doug’s head with the hand of a veterinarian.

“Long story,” he replied.  “Short version is that we were getting shot at. Piece of wood caught me in the head.” He stopped as Julie came into the shed through the side door.  He felt his heart stop a bit, as he saw her.

“Good to see you,” he said.  She wore a thick light yellow sweater, her hair down to her shoulders, and was looking at him with  particular intent.

“You have no idea,” she answered.

“Roeland, let’s you and I leave these two to their hellos, shall we?” Arie said.

Roeland and Arie made their way out of the cavernous room, and Roeland looked over his shoulder, raised his eyebrows and smiled at Doug as he shut the door.
Doug took Julie into his arms and kissed her, holding her close as she cried.  It was a long time before she could speak.

5:15 p.m.

Peter Forsythe was listening intently to the shortwave radio, listening for any signal that the Presidential ultimatum had been met—any sort of ultimatum that was news to Doug.  He hadn’t heard any of the Presidential address, and Julie filled him in on the substance of the broadcast, picked up only via shortwave, and had recorded it on one of the computers.  Doug listened to the address, wearing small earbuds plugged into the computer, while everyone else busied themselves with dinner preparations.

“Good afternoon to the citizens of the United States and those around the world who are listening as well. I know that both friends and enemies of this country, those that believe in freedom and those that would deny it are listening, and I will speak to both the Nation and the world about events today.”

“Through our national strategic assets, this broadcast is being made on all spectrums of radio and television, world wide. This is possible through the temporary interruption in the normal traffic of communications satellites belonging to, and being used by, any and all nations. This unprecedented broadcast is also being translated in near real-time by our communications specialists and broadcast in native languages world wide, to inform all people, and all governments, of the seriousness of events today.”

Doug felt the words spoken by the President, as much as heard them.  A series of chills ran up his spine.  Julie looked on as he listened.

“Approximately six hours ago, the United Nations, dominated by French, German and a mixture of Islamic nations and interests, attempted an attack on the sovereign nation of Israel. This attack was repelled primarily by Israel herself, but with some assistance and forewarning by the United States of America. United States forces were also attacked at Diego Garcia by conventional submarine-launched weapons; at Incirlik, Turkey by conventional weapons; and an aborted attempt at our base at Guam. This last attack was a nuclear-equipped ballistic missile launched from China. The United States Navy responded upon my orders and has destroyed any remaining space-launch capability of the Chinese. It is understood at this hour that elements of the former Communist regime attempted a coup today, the second in as many months, and gained control of that nation’s nuclear arsenal. That arsenal at this hour no longer exists, nor does the offensive capability of that nation. China is by all appearances now in a state of civil war.”

“Since this morning, our naval forces have been assisting the Israeli military in the defense of that nation. A number of attacking warships and ships that ignored repeated warnings have been destroyed. These include four submarines carrying intercontinental ballistic missiles belonging to France, recently re-named as vessels in the service of Allah. These ships were sunk off the east coast of the United States by fast-attack submarine forces of the U.S. Six German-built submarines, also similarly named, were destroyed by U.S. forces after they threatened U.S. ships and in two cases, shadowed a U.S. carrier fleet in the Mediterranean, providing assistance in the defense of Israel.”

“These ships were lost with all crew. No losses have been incurred by forces of the United States at this time.”

“The nation of Israel at this time is engaged in significant battle with forces from Iran, moving through and overflying Iraq; the Syrian Army, and elements of the Egyptian military. Israel has responded with forces appropriate to that used against her as well. European forces that participated in the attack have been repelled from their initial surprise attack, although intelligence suggests that these forces and the nations behind them are bent on continuing to fight.”

“I direct this next message to nations that are engaged against Israel and the U.S. Should offensive operations, anywhere in the world or in space, continue past midnight Universal Time, the United States will conduct offensive operations using conventional and nuclear devices against all military targets in enemy combatant nations and all capital cities of those nations.”

The broadcast paused, and Doug checked the computer briefly, before the President spoke again. Yes, you heard me correctly. That was an ultimatum, there is no negotiation. Cease your attacks or we will destroy you. For the forces of our military, the United States, the nation of Israel and the people of the world, I ask that all Americans offer their prayers for His protection and guidance. I pray for all of them. Good day.”

“That’s a Helluva thing,” Doug said.  Israel. China. Europe.

None of the regular television or radio stations were broadcasting.  Normally, there was ‘static’ where a carrier signal might have been, probably caused by the transmitter still broadcasting at power, even though no feed signal was reaching the transmitter.  Now though, there wasn’t anything on any of the conventional bands.  The satellite television feeds were also all dead, again nothing that had happened before.  There was very little small talk, as Maria and daughters Molly, Catharina and Elisabeth worked on the Good Friday meal, which Julie said was baked whitefish in a horseradish sauce. Traditional fare at the Peterson household on Good Friday in his younger years had been pickled herring and plain noodles, Doug remembered.
In the living room, Roeland’s older brother Hendrik and Cath’s husband Tom were keeping the kids occupied with a card game that was all but impossible for Doug to understand. Grandfather Arie held baby Ian, who was quite enthralled with his grandfather’s white hair and piercing blue eyes.
Dinner was subdued, with Arie telling the Good Friday story to the younger children in Dutch, with Julie quietly translating for Doug, whispering in his ear.  After dinner, the children were sent straight off to bed.  It was nearly eight p.m. before the adults could talk in private in the large dining room.  Peter still trolled for something on the shortwave.

“How is it on the outside, Douglas?” Arie asked.

“I’ve been in Des Moines for a few days, prior to that up in Wisconsin. To be honest, for average people it’s getting desperate.  It won’t get better,” he said, sipping a fresh cup of Maria’s coffee.  He told them of his trip to Wisconsin, and the fighting that left stitches in his head.  A few meaningful looks were exchanged between husbands and wives; parents and their adult children, but few words.

“That’s not the worst of it.  What I’m about to tell you could get me killed. The company I’m in, I don’t think I can leave,” Doug said, before spending a half an hour explaining what Regent, and RNEW could likely wreak on the unsuspecting public.

“This is hidden in food?” Cath’s husband Tom asked.

“It’s more complicated than that, but yes. Parts of it are.  Parts of the formula are in other food or beverage products.  Mid to longer term consumption of both creates the reaction within the body—within the mind,” Doug said.  “I’ve seen first-hand results, and I don’t know if it’s reversible or what the longer-term impacts are.  The short-term effects are scary enough.”

“How do we protect ourselves? Catharina asked. “You just said that all foods…”

Doug cut her off.  “No, I said that foods that Regent and her subsidiaries are producing, likely contain the RNEW base line and the activator. Steer clear of them. Best advice is to steer clear of anything you don’t grow or trust with your life.”

“What about that stuff in your rig?” Roeland asked.  “That had all kinds of Regent labels on it.”

“That’s the Preferred Line. Nothing in the Preferred Line has RNEW in it. The executives, and people like me, are ordered not to consume the common product lines—only Preferred, or other known and trusted foods and beverages.  That stuff is for you,” Doug said, looking and Julie and the Seghers. “I trust that stuff,” he said, and then went on to tell them how to identify RNEW-charged products.

“You’ve got to get word out,” Julie said. “You’ve got to stop this!”
“I don’t know how.  All of my communications, incoming and outgoing, goes through Regent, one way or another. Phone, email, messaging, internet access. My house watches me. My phone listens in—which is why I’m not carrying it right now. My car knows where I am, and Regent Intelligence knows where I’m going and where I am. A few hours back, my next-door neighbor who is an admitted Regent Intel operative, had a talk with me.  He was either trying to get me to spill something I shouldn’t or was trying to solicit information from me on the Bigger Picture.  I don’t know which way he was going with it, but I kept my mouth shut. He knows all about everyone in this room, including your politics, your religion, what you own, where you work,” Doug said.

“Thorough,” Arie said quietly, eyes narrowed, looking across the room.

“Write it down, longhand,” Peter said, coming up from the shortwave.  “We can type it up and send it out.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Regent is scouring the Internet for fragments of information that might be related to RNEW. It’s not safe.”

“Then we mail it,” Peter replied.

“And who do you send it to?” Doug asked. “Conspiracy Central?  Do you think anyone would believe it? Do you think that anyone would believe that Regent had a major deadline of today, for massive production quotas to be complete?  Today, not the end of the quarter, not the end of a fiscal year, just probably the day that the Third World War starts?  What do you think the odds are of that? That Regent knew that today was the day?”

“Could be coincidence,” Tom replied.

“I’ve worked in this industry for decades. Deadlines and quotas in the food production industry revolve around calendar dates: Fourth of July. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Easter.”

“It is Easter weekend,” Tom replied.

“Which means ham, leg of lamb, things like that as the main course and all the trimmings on the side.  Christmas can mean prime rib, turkey, and again, all the stuff on the side.  Easter product, by the way, would have been shipped and in the stores by last Tuesday at the latest.  This is something…different,” Doug said. “It is not a coincidence.”

“Got something,” Peter said from the corner of the room.  “They say that there’s no communications coming from Europe…Nothing whatsoever for the past three hours.” He held a hand over the headphone in one ear, adjusting the old-fashioned dial-tuner with the other.

“What does that mean?” Doug asked.

“Nothing good,” Arie replied quietly. 

“If attacks in Europe and the Middle East continue, it’d be hard to believe that we won’t be next,” Peter said.

“Thanks be to God for bringing us to this land,” Arie said. “We are safe here with His grace.”

Arie and Maria went to bed a few minutes later, knowing that another full day of labor awaited them. Doug and Julie were joined by Roeland, Peter and Molly in the living room. Tom and Cath were in the kitchen, working on a surprise Saturday breakfast.

“Are you having trouble with raiders down here?” Doug asked.

“No. North of here, though,” Roeland said. “Dusk to dawn curfews in most towns. Out of state plates get a whole lot of attention.  I’m a little surprised you didn’t have trouble getting out of Des Moines.”

“I had trouble getting into it.  Not out,” Doug said. “You don’t have watchmen keeping an eye on the place overnight?”

“No. Not for three weeks now. We have a better system,” Peter said. Molly went on to explain.

“Nightwatch is at the edges of our area, not within the center,” she said, taking a coffee cup and putting it in the middle of the table.  “This is us,” she said, pointing at the cup, then taking a handful of the kids Lego’s from a bucket.  “These are the edges.  Inside, we trust everyone.  The edges touch places that we either don’t trust or don’t know.  Lots of the corporate farms on the edges—there’s no one there to trust.”

“And, it’s not our week,” Julie said.  “We start up again on Sunday.”

“How many people on watch?”

“Two hundred, all the way around,” Julie said.

Doug raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Impressive. But no problems coming from the south?”

“Might be that the current wave has been depleted,” Roeland said.

“What does that mean?” Doug asked.

“It means the stupid ones are probably dead, or are now part of larger, better organized groups,” Roel replied.

“That outfit that you fought in Wisconsin,” Peter asked. “Were they…”

“They could’ve been anyone.  They were looking for food, medicine, fuel. They probably took the wrong kind of attitude with the locals, and it blew up from there. Maybe they got frustrated, maybe the locals told them to shove it, I don’t know,” Doug said. “Whatever they thought, they ran themselves out of options.” 

Doug talked for a few minutes more about conditions ‘up north’, and found himself alone with Roeland and Julie before he was finished.

“I’ve someone for you to talk with. Tomorrow if I can arrange it,” Roel told Doug.

“Who would that be?” Doug replied.

“An old friend of mine from college. His name is Adam Krusen.”

“What’s his interest in all things Regent?”

“Adam is a spark that could set a brush fire,” Roeland explained. “His father passed away three years ago after their family fortune was stolen.”

“How did that happen?” Doug asked skeptically.

“Without prosecution.  His father—and hundreds of other farmers—had their investments with Commodity Exchange.  Do you remember the story?”

“Name is familiar, but no,” Doug replied.

“Commodity Exchange Brokerage was a major player in the investments of farmers throughout the Midwest.  Most farmers have significant cash resources at certain times of year, after cashing in on crops or stock sales, but before incurring costs of the following year. They have a window of time where that excess cash can be put to work.  The wiser investors have a portion of their funds set aside for the known following-year expenses, and invest—or risk—the rest.”

“OK, that all makes sense. But didn’t that company collapse?” Doug asked. Something else about that company bothered him; something he couldn’t remember….

“They’re the ones…” Julie said, not finishing her sentence, looking down at the table, putting it together.

“They’re the ones,” Roeland replied. “They didn’t segregate the ‘safe’ funds from the ‘investment’ funds. They co-mingled them to give themselves a bigger pot to bet on the markets with. For years it worked. Then they got more and more aggressive to make the next kill. Management invested in foreign debt.  It blew up in their faces; they couldn’t cover the spread.”

“They’re the ones who lost their clients’ money,” Doug said, finally remembering.  “The first ones, that is.” There was something else though…

“Correct.  Adam’s family farm, that had been in the family for a century and a half, was lost.  The Krusen’s lost four million dollars in cash. They lost the ability to fund operations the following year.  They lost most of their thousand-acre farm. It broke Adam’s father, and destroyed the plans that Adam had for the future. Cost him his fiancé as well,” Roel said. “No one was prosecuted.  The SEC didn’t do anything, Congress bitched about it and said there would be increased regulation but did nothing, and no one went to jail.  Half a billion dollars is stolen, peoples’ lives were destroyed, and no one was punished. Karl Krusen died of it.”

“How can he help me? How can he possibly make a difference?”  Doug asked.

“First off, I wouldn’t be telling you this if I thought you were a different kind of man, you need to understand that, OK?” Roeland replied.

“All right, I understand,” Doug said, still questioning what Roeland had said.

“The impact on a young man to watch his father die under such circumstances forever changes him,” Roeland said, sounding just like his father.  “He will come to judge the intolerable injustices that have taken place, with even more dedication when there is no legal recourse.  The young man is provided a reason to take the lives of the men that are responsible,” Roeland said, looking Doug straight in the eye. “From what you have told us, you have a number of men in your organization that are the same type of creature that Commodity Exchange.”

Doug nearly said, ‘But they haven’t killed anyone’, and thought better of it. “They could be cut from the same bolt of cloth, yes.”

“Then you need to consider an appropriate course of action,” Roeland said. “If you have information, Adam can find a way to get the information out, and keep the source clean. He can get it to people who matter.”


“I don’t ask, but I know you’ll be protected.”

Doug finally remembered. ‘The former CEO of Commodity Exchange had been shot to death in New York? Or D.C?  Was this young man responsible?’

“Roeland, I just remembered something.  The CEO of that company died, I think last year….”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Roeland replied. “And Adam wouldn’t either, by the way,” he said, in effect stating ‘don’t ask.’ 

Doug remembered more, and kept it to himself. ‘The board members. The CEO was just the last of them. He was killed on a golf course….’

“Did your family lose money in that fiasco?” Doug asked.

“No. We don’t believe that farming and banking mix,” Roeland said.