Thursday, May 24, 2012

Distance, Chapter 42


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:40 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Company home,” she said skeptically.

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

“For what?”

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

Two hours later, they unpacked the car.

Monday afternoon
April Seventeenth,
Des Moines, Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think so?”

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

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

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

“How many apartments here?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Your company thinks of everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She has been so far.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

“Anybody from plant engineering?”

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

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

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

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

“What then?”

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

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

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

“Francine’s desk.”

“You sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure—no problem.”

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

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

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

“Fire them. Immediately.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Lucky me.” 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Distance, Chapter 41


10:30 a.m.
Saturday morning
April Fifteenth,
Near Mt. Sterling, Iowa

Roeland and Doug arrived at a small farmhouse, pulling into a large, well-treed area behind the house.  Two-dozen other vehicles were there, a mix of ancient cars and ancient trucks.  Roeland drove his nineteen fifty-six Chevy flatbed, which fit right in.

Doug was greeted with more than a few suspicious looks but most of the conversation was unintelligible to him---a mix of Dutch and English, as Roeland explained, and finally introduced him.  He noticed that none of them provided their names in return…security protocols, he supposed.  Doug tried to figure out if ‘Adam Krusen’ was present.  A third of the men there could’ve fit the age range that Roeland mentioned.  None was an obvious choice.

They met in a large, classic dairy barn, this one spotless and unused at present. Four large tables were set up in the middle of the main floor space, lit by antique kerosene lanterns. Doug noted that four men went into another room, also lit by kerosene, and appeared to be trying to find a radio broadcast.  

Roeland noted Doug watching.  “Antennas are hidden in the structure and around the farm. Unobtrusive that way,” he said, before moving to the end of the empty tables.  Doug tried to look like he belonged, knowing that it was hopeless.

“What do we know?” Roeland asked, the first to speak in the gathering.  Others looked to him, Doug thought, as if he were either the leader of the group or at least part of senior management.

“Navy bases in Norfolk and Newport News are gone. Groton in Connecticut and Quonset Point in Rhode Island are gone. Cape Canaveral, Vandenburg, Huntsville of course.  At least one carrier group, maybe more,” a man in his mid-twenties replied. “We’ve heard of a nuclear attack in the Middle East, but cannot confirm anything.”

“Confidence?” another man, closer to Doug’s age asked.

“Complete,” the young man replied.  Doug thought he looked ‘military’ in the way he carried himself.

“Fallout?” Roeland asked.

“Weather satellites are offline and probably permanently so,” another man answered in a deep voice. “And weather radar. Might as well toss your cell phones in a box for a few years too—the entire network in the Eastern U.S. is cooked for sure. Suspect the same thing out West, but cannot confirm.  Even if the cell towers weren’t damaged, it’ll be a long, long time before they’re back up.”

“So no idea about anything from Huntsville…” Roeland asked.

“Or any from anywhere else,” the man replied. “If you remember your nineteenth century weather signs, that’s how you’ll be telling what’s coming.”

“No tornado warnings, either,” someone in the back stated.  Tornadoes had raked Texas already; it was just a matter of time before Iowa would be visited. 

“Correct….until we get some sort of restoration.  Best watch your barometers and watch the sky,” the man replied.

“Does anyone have any way to measure radiation?” Doug asked, risking speaking out of school.

None answered.

“Not good news,” a man behind Doug observed. “We’re completely in the dark.”

“We’re hearing of some trouble on the edges,” an older man, probably Arie’s age, stated. “The Cities. They are leaving them for the country.” 

Doug didn’t have to ask who ‘they’ were.  Anyone still staying in a major city during a nuclear war just wasn’t paying attention.

“Which cities?” the man standing next to Roeland asked.

“Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis. Des Moines,” the older man said as numerous men commented.

“Impacts?” someone behind Doug to his right asked.

“They’re not ready. They shouldn’t have left,” the man said, speaking of the refugees.  ‘Fringe posts report back that there are hundreds, if not thousands of vehicles running out of gas anywhere from fifty to a hundred miles from those cities. Very few are making it past those points. Farms and towns in those areas will have serious problems. Those problems probably have already started. There is little we can do in support.”

Another batch of unintelligible conversation, more animated, from several parties.  Roeland chimed in, apparently a calming influence.  It was obvious to Doug that even though he didn’t understand the language, he understood the anxiety.  He thought it interesting that no one asked about the Federal or state leadership.

“Doug, the floor is yours. If you would, please tell these men what you told us about the food alteration.”

Feeling flushed, Doug took to the end of the tables near Roeland, the ‘head’ of the ‘boardroom’, a favorable position to make eye contact. Assuming that each of the men might be ‘Adam Krusen’, Doug made it a point to speak to each of them as if he were the man that would unveil RNEW.  He was only five minutes into his oral arguments when one of the men in the radio room interrupted.

“Got something here, friends. News report from North Carolina. President is supposed to address the nation later today,” the man said, reaching up above him to flip a switch.

“….a Department of Defense official has provided the major news outlets a printed update on the current military actions around the world, which include nuclear attacks on the continental United States and on naval vessels around the world, and the American response. An Assistant to the Secretary of Defense has provided the following information:  

“A nuclear first strike against U.S. and Israeli forces was made with a focused electro-magnetic pulse weapon centered over southern Europe and the Mediterranean, which most likely disabled the electronic warfare systems aboard the USS Nimitz and her associated Battle Group. This EMP blast was set off by a Russian satellite that was already in orbit, originally thought to be a communications satellite that never achieved proper orbit. Sources in Russia have informed us that the Russian President and a majority of the Russian government were in emergency session at that time, and were killed when a tactical nuclear device was detonated near their headquarters.”

“Regarding the Nimitz, our protective technology was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the weapon. Four minutes after the initial weapon was detonated, seven other EMP weapons around the Earth destroyed virtually all communications satellites in space, and dramatically affected power systems in North and Central America, albeit temporarily. A side effect of these detonations was the loss of the International Space Station and crew, composed of two Russians, one American, Commander Matthew Cooper, and one Japanese citizen, Mission Specialist Hiroku Watanabe. The Nimitz Battle Group was then attacked with a combination of ultra-high speed nuclear-armed torpedos and surface-to-surface missiles by both Russian and E.U. forces. D-oh-D officials at the press conference have stated that due to the nature of the attack, there will be no survivors.”

“Upon learning in near real time of the nature of the attack against USS Nimitz, Israel launched short, medium- and long-range nuclear-equipped missiles at several targets, including targets in Syria, Islamic Arabia, Iran, Russia, and several locations in France and Germany. These weapons were launched after units of the Israeli Defense Force shot down an undetermined number of inbound missiles launched from Iran and Islamic Arabia. Targeting of nations in Europe focused on centers of military activity noted to have provided ongoing support to the conventional attacks on Israel over the past several days, including submarine-port facilities and launch-points for strike aircraft. The United States, meanwhile, launched long-range nuclear missiles from ballistic missile submarines in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, and the North Pacific against targets in Russia. The D-oh-D states that no land-based missiles have been fired at this time.”

“Approximately four minutes after the secondary EMP weapons were detonated, missiles were launched from Russian ballistic missile submarines in the Atlantic. These missiles targeted design, construction and maintenance facilities of the United States Navy; space-launch facilities of the United States, and the Federal leadership. The majority of these warheads were successful in their missions. One series of warheads was destroyed in flight as it approached the East Coast, its trajectory suggested that it was aimed at either Washington, D.C. or Camp David. This weapon package consisted of ten independent nuclear warheads launched from a single ship in the Atlantic. A second warhead failed to detonate over Houston, Texas and broke up on impact, creating a radiological event in that city.  The nuclear detonations in Huntsville, Alabama and near Vandenberg Air Force Base were not missiles, but appear to have been fairly large tactical nuclear weapons enhanced with significant amounts of radiological material. Earlier reports regarding in-bound warheads falling short of the San Diego-San Francisco metropolitan areas are in error, the explosions seen were in fact American nuclear weapons used against inbound Russian warheads.”

“In the Western Pacific, the Department of Defense confirms the loss of the majority of the USS John C. Stennis Battle Group, in a surprise nuclear attack by a Russian submarine, which was then destroyed by an American fast-attack submarine.   United States submarines are now pursuing several other Russian submarines and have destroyed at least six as of six a.m., Eastern Time. An undetermined number of American naval assets are engaged in hunting down the Russian submarines around the world. The U.S. has learned that each Russian submarine has been released to launch its weapons at the discretion of the captains in command.”

“Nuclear detonations within the continental United States included both large- and small yield weapons. The submarine construction and maintenance facilities operated by General Dynamics, known as Electric Boat, in Groton, Connecticut and Quonset Point, Rhode Island, were both hit by high-yield weapons with significant blast radii. Shipbuilding facilities at Newport News and the naval shipyard at Norfolk, Virginia were hit by relatively low-yield weapons, although this is small comfort.”

“Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral was destroyed by at least one high-yield weapon, which virtually erased the space center from the Florida landscape.  In the second leg of the attack on the United States’ space launch capabilities, an attack on launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base was carried out with what appears to have been a truck-carried tactical nuclear device that also contained significant amounts of radioactive waste products, which has spread radiological materials through both the explosion of the low-yield weapon and surface winds.  The Department of Defense believes that the actions of USS Virginia, SSN-74, and her on-board weapons systems saved military assets and millions of citizens in San Diego, as well as other military ports and facilities in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.”

“Department of Defense contacts on conditions of anonymity, and outside of this news release and the news conference, have confirmed that at least thirty nuclear weapons from the United States, and an unknown number from Israel, have been used in this battle. These sources confirm that a significant amount of the Iranian military was destroyed by Israel, and that Israeli high-yield weapons destroyed the Russian Missile Space Center at Tyuratam and the space-launch facility at Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Until this war, Israel was not known to have high-yield weapons or the means to deliver them.”

The broadcast ended abruptly with the Emergency Broadcast Signal, but no spoken warning.  The radio signal then went dead.

“Live on our end, dead on theirs,” the radioman replied before the question was asked.  

“That was coming from over in Fort Madison, by the way.  I understand that they relayed that out of Chicago on a ham frequency.”

Doug didn’t know quite what to say next.

“Continue, sir if you would,” the man with the deep voice said. 

Doug spent another half an hour laying out the RNEW products, how to identify them, and the effects that he’d seen first hand. Another fifteen minutes was spent on the distribution targets and some speculation on his part, as to what Regent was up to, including the ‘coincidental’ date of April Fifteenth. Two minutes on Regent’s apparent depth of intelligence and their perfect willingness to take out any obstacle in their way.   

“I’ve told you this because there is no way that I can do it myself. To do so would likely get me killed, and they’ll put someone else in this job. It would also likely get people around me killed, perhaps including the Seghers. If you can find a way to get this information out there—it needs to get to known and trusted people in authority.”

That met with a few chuckles. “Not too many people in authority that anybody trusts, Mister Peterson.”

“Fewer in my organization,” Doug replied. “It must be done in a manner that does not come back to Iowa. Questions?”

No one replied. Doug continued. “I’ve described what I saw first hand with light industrial employees in my own plant, but the clinical case report showed much more than my own observations. What happens when you have those same RNEW-pacified minds and bodies under the control of a sociopath? What if they’re armed?  Let me answer: They have no social limits. There is no internal check and balance.  There is no conscious decision that what they are doing is right or wrong—if they are praised they continue on that path, whichever path that might be. They can either build and be unstoppably successful or they can destroy and be unstoppably destructive.”

“Have you seen that type of behavior?” Roeland asked.

“I’ve seen the path of the behavior. I’ve read the clinical studies that showed the ‘beneficial impacts to society,’ always though the positive spin, as if the coin had a single side!   I’ve seen enough to understand that with minimal instruction one way or the other and some favorable reinforcement, these people will stay on that path until some other instruction is given and reinforced, even if the two paths are diametrically opposed. What I present here is just the logical conclusion to the path that Regent’s products are on.”

After a few minutes with an awkward silence, Roeland asked Doug to step outside.  One of the older men joined him, probably to keep an eye on him, Doug thought.

“We’ve a new world today,” the man said to Doug as he leaned on a stock fence, looking over across the pasture. The man was attired in typical farm wear, and looked to be a little shy of sixty, with the deeply lined face of many years of labor but a thick shock of white hair under his John Deere cap.

“And the rules it operated under apparently no longer apply,” Doug replied.

“So what’s your next plan?” The man asked, taking out a cigarette. “Smoke?”

“No thanks,” Doug said. “Back home tomorrow night I suppose.  If I don’t show on Monday at the plant in Des Moines, I expect someone will come looking for me.”

“Back into the machine,” the man said, inhaling deeply. “I’ve got stage four cancer,” the man said, looking at Doug.  “So I took up smoking,” he said, staring off at the field.  “Figure I have nothing to lose. You though, you do have something to lose, don’t you? Or you wouldn’t have stuck your neck out like that.”

Doug immediately thought of Julie. “Yeah. I do.”

“You gonna let them take it from you, or are you going to do something about it?”

“I’m trying to.  That’s why I’m here,” Doug said, feeling a little defensive.

“We aren’t here forever.  Are you living the life you want to?”

“No, I’m not.  I know few people that are.”

“You need to travel in a better crowd.  Or more precisely, you need to get your act on stage and make your own future. You might want to do that sooner rather than later,” the man said as one of the big doors opened and men started filing out.  “Think that over,” he said as he shook Doug’s hand. “You’ve less time than you’d like to think you have,” he said as he headed to an ancient, rusted Dodge pickup.  Roeland walked up to him. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” he said.

A few minutes later they were on the way back to the farm. “You OK?” Roeland asked.

“Yes,” Doug said. “I’m good.  I’m setting a date with Julie today.”

“About danged time,” Roeland said. “And congratulations. What brought this on?  You didn’t seem to be in any all-fired hurry earlier.”

“Something that man said to me. Hit a a good way.”

“Artemus. Good man,” Roeland said.

They drove in silence for awhile before Doug spoke again.  “What happens next here at the farm? Are you and the family going to shelter?”

“We could pretend to hide from what we can’t see, or we can live our lives. We’ll do the latter I suspect.  Besides, we’ve got stock to feed. Fields to work, all that stuff. I assume you’re heading back to Des Moines?”

“Assuming the war is over. I should get back or they might well come looking for me. I should try to get there Monday. I suspect all Hell will have broken loose with the company, nuclear weapons aside,” Doug said.

“How so?”

“If communications are fried, and they probably are, product tracking is impossible.  Vehicle tracking. Raw materials, the same.  Just-in-time processes are destroyed. The stores are probably already stripped to the rivets of food, water, whatever.  Regent—and every other company like it—will not be able to create, let alone deliver, food products we’ve all come to know and love…and that’s just with a communications collapse.  Contracts can’t be met. Cash flow collapses. Creditors panic…”

“Got it,” Roeland said.

“Yes, but in this type if crisis, you have workers fleeing wholesale, fuel depleted, freeways filled with refugees. Everything breaks down.”

“Sounds like an ideal opportunity for a rider and white charger to come in and save the day.”

“Yeah, it does.  The problem is, I think the rider is interested in something else,” Doug said. “I think the rider is Regent.”

2:35 p.m.
April Fifteenth,
The Segher Farm

The dairy barn wasn’t the most appropriate place for the conversation, but Doug brought up the wedding date anyway, as they were resting after mucking out stalls. 

“Let’s nail down a date,” Doug said.

“Let’s,” Julie said, slipping her arms around him and kissing him.

“Before we do, we need to…”

“Tomorrow,” she said definitively, stopping Doug cold.

“There won’t be much of honeymoon,” he said, laughing despite the circumstances. “I should try to get to Des Moines on Monday. After that, I have no idea when I’ll be home again.”

“I’ll go with,” Julie said with finality before kissing him again. “Try to stop me.”

“I have a house, too you know.”

“You’d rather me be alone there? Or here?”

“Absolutely not,” Doug said softly, nuzzling her neck, just below her ear as his hands explored. “I don’t know where things are headed is all.”

“No one does,” she replied, reassuring him. “But I’m happy to go there with you.”