Fiction - We Interrupt This Program...

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  1. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Preface to We Interrupt This Program.

    As some of you here are aware back in 2002 I wrote a story titled We Interrupt This Program... while a member of another board. I had not initially intended for it to be a novel length story at all, but rather merely a thought exercise that popped into my head back on that late July day. Of course I had not reckoned with the readers who then encouraged me to go on with it so I did eventually spin it into a full novel length story of better than 130,000 words. I'm not a novelist and have never sold a word of fiction in my life, but it was fun while it lasted.

    AngieM2, the Survival & Emergency Preparedness moderator and one of the original readers as I was writing the story, asked me if I would post the story here for the benefit of those members who may be interested in reading it and I have agreed. The complete story follows. Other than some minor error correction I have left the text exactly as it was when I originally posted it.

    If you would like to make any comments please do so on the commentary thread here: http://homesteadingtoday.com/showthread.php?p=2337919#post2337919 .

    This leaves the story thread clean for the benefit of the other readers.

    I hope you enjoy the story.

    .....Alan.
     
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  2. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    We Interrupt This Program...

    August 01 - 3:34 Eastern Time

    John Horne set down his coffee and once again addressed his screen. No matter how many times he recalculated the new budget there wasn't any escaping the fact that at least one member of the office staff was going to have to be laid off. Resignation washed over him and he clicked the "save" icon like he was signing a figurative death warrant. A rumble from the window caught his attention and he looked up to see the black afternoon thundercloud so typical of this time of year approaching from the northeast.

    Almost as if on cue the weather radio behind his desk clicked on and he slapped the kill button. "You're a little late to tell me we've got a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, I can see it for myself out the window.", he said to the radio as he turned back to his computer. The opening strains of Copeland's Rodeo flowed from another radio tuned to the local classical music station.

    Seconds later his concentration on his work was shattered with the following announcement:

    "We interrupt our programming: This is a national emergency.

    Important instructions will follow.
    "

    The cup fell over spilling across the budget papers as John leapt from his chair to cross the room to turn up the volume. His other hand swept his cell phone out of his shirt pocket, flipped the cover and punched the pre-programmed memory button that dialed his wife's cell phone.

    "This is an Emergency Action Notification. All broadcast stations and cable systems shall transmit this Emergency Action Notification Message. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House to participate in the Emergency Alert System.

    During this emergency, most stations will remain on the air providing news and information to the public in assigned areas. This is 88.4 FM, a radio service of the University of Florida. We will continue to serve the greater Gainesville area. If you are not in this Local Area, you should turn to stations providing news and information for your Local Area. You are listening to the Emergency Alert System serving the Gainesville, Florida area.

    Do not use your telephone. The telephone lines should be kept open for emergency use. The Emergency Alert System has been activated. We will also be serving as a message distribution and relay source to other broadcast stations.
    "

    He heard the connect on the other end of the line, "Hello, this is Ann!"

    "Ann! It's John. Where are you?"

    Her tone became quizzical when she heard the seriousness in John's voice. "I'm in town with Melinda. We're going to buy her school shoes. Why?"

    A new voice arose from the radio across the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States."

    John said, "Stay in the car for a moment and turn on the radio to 88.4. We've got some sort of national emergency breaking."

    "My fellow Americans I come to you with word of a grave emergency that has suddenly befallen not only our nation, but indeed the entire world.

    Moments ago I was informed by the North American Aerospace Defense Command that they have detected an asteroid in an intercept orbit with our planet. Unfortunately, it is coming at us from the direction of the Sun which prevented us from being able to detect this massive body in time to give an earlier warning.

    By means of our national technical resources this previously undetected asteroid has been established to have a diameter of 750 yards and is moving at a velocity of fifteen miles per second. This means that it will impact the Earth's surface with an energy greater than all of the nuclear weapons presently in the armories of the United States and Russia combined. As I speak news of this impending impact is being communicated by us to every government on this planet.

    Impact will be fifty miles southeast of Bermuda in thirty six minutes. The first tsunamis will reach American shores approximately three hours after impact. As they approach the shallow waters of our continental shelf the wave will be greatly slowed but will grow in height until it reaches an estimated 900 feet. The first wave will break, recede and be replaced by another wave and then another. Our Eastern Seaboard from Florida to the coast of Newfoundland will be flooded to the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. The coastlines of Europe and Western Africa will be similarly devastated with lesser waves racing through the Caribbean, past the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and around the southern tip of South America into the Pacific. Virtually every coastal nation on this planet will be impacted to some extent.

    As must be plain to you now the three and a half hours remaining to us will not be sufficient time to affect any meaningful evacuation of our eastern coastline cities. Those of you in the Piedmont areas of the Appalachian mountains are advised to leave your homes immediately with whatever you can carry in your hands and head further west higher into the mountains. Residents of the Gulf and Pacific coasts will have a longer time to get away from the coastline and you are advised to do so immediately.

    As I speak the highway patrols of every affected state are clearing the interstate highways and major national highways for one way traffic only in all lanes away from the shorelines. There will be prolonged and severe weather effects following the impact that your local radio stations will advise you about after this broadcast. As your President I ask and pray that you will remain calm, not panic, and to help your fellow man to the best of your ability so that as many lives may be saved as possible. I pray the Good Lord will watch over and guide us all in this time of emergency. I will be making further broadcasts as the necessity arises.


    Dead air for a moment before the local air person comes back and says, "This is 88.4 FM, a radio service of the University of Florida, we are serving the greater Gainesville, Florida area. If you are not in this area please tune to your local station for information specific to your area. Standby for upcoming information on evacuation areas and locations to move towards away from the coastline."

    Like all Gulf coast and southeastern Atlantic states Florida had a well developed emergency system for coping with hurricanes but nothing dreamed of by the state's emergency planners had ever been intended to deal with this.

    John came back to himself and realized he was still holding the cell phone in his hand. "Ann? Ann?!", he said, voice rising.

    "Yes John, I'm still here.", she replied, "What should we do? Will the waves reach us this far inland?"

    In a decisive tone he said, "Go straight home - right now. Don't stop for anything, God only knows how long the roads will remain passable once the shock wears off and people begin panicking. When you get there start bracing the place for a severe hurricane. There's going to be a lot of prolonged severe weather after that thing hits. Don't worry about filling water containers, we'll have more than we'll ever want to see again shortly. I don't think the tsunamis will come this far…but I'm not sure - that work was all theoretical. In any event there isn't time to try to make it Alabama. I'm leaving right now.

    I love you. Tell Melinda I love her."

    "And we love you John. See you when you get home. Sure hope we don't have to swim."

    The connection broke. John put the phone in his pocket, picked up his kit and left the building towards his car. He saw others with stunned looks on their faces not moving.

    As he left the building he wondered if he'd live to see another like it built again in his lifetime…
     
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  3. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Countdown

    This is the Emergency Alert System being broadcast on 88.4 FM, a radio service of the University of Florida serving the greater Gainesville, FL area. If you are not in this local area please tune to a station in your local area for news and information.

    The following is a partial list of emergency shelters being opened by the Alachua County Emergency Management and the Red Cross.

    Gainesville, Bucholz, Eastside, Santa Fe, and Newberry high schools.
    Kanapaha, and Lincoln middle schools
    The O'Connell Center at the University of Florida
    Florida Field football stadium at the University

    Other emergency shelters will be opened as necessary.

    The following roads have been made one way only to facilitate the rapid evacuation of evacuating coastal residents to the inland counties.

    State Roads 121, 24, and 26. Other local state highways leading inland from the Gulf Coast may be made one way in the next hour.

    Gainesville area residents are requested to avoid these roads to their maximum possible extent while the evacuation is underway. Further news and information will be broadcast as it becomes available.

    At the tone impact will be in twenty four minutes. Beeep

    This is the Emergency Alert System being broadcast on 88.4 FM, a radio service of the University of Florida serving the greater Gainesville, FL area. If you are not in this local area please tune to a station in your local area for news and information.


    At the beep John punched the button for the timer function on his watch and it began telling off the seconds. He then allowed his concentration to refocus on the road ahead of him. By leaving immediately after the initial broadcast by the President he had managed to get away from the University before the roads leading off campus had jammed with others fleeing work for their homes. He'd already seen two sheriffs cruisers putting out cones and he knew that soon the road would be blocked off for the direction he was heading but he could see his turn up ahead. He made his turn and steadily rolled up his acceleration until he was at 65 mph, all the speed that he felt was safe. He passed the turn off for his house and kept right on going. The other end of his county road intersected with U.S. 27, undoubtedly soon to be jammed if it were not already, but it was the country store at the intersection that interested him. He passed several cars moving fast in the opposite direction but encountered no difficulties reaching the store.

    Somewhat to his surprise there was an opening at the fuel pump so he pulled in. Taped to the glass of the pump was a hand lettered notice stating "CASH ONLY". Not surprising he supposed given the circumstances and he was gratified to see the pump price was the same as it had been the day before yesterday. John faithfully followed the "half=empty" rule but under the circumstances having the tank completely full would be a good thing. He also filled the two and a half gallon can he kept in the bed.

    Stepping through the screen door he looked for the balding man behind the register and said, "Hola! Buenas tardes Miguel! I'm glad to see you are open. Have you heard the news?"

    "Hola John!," replied the man, "Yes, it came over the television about fifteen or twenty minutes ago." He nodded at the set high on a corner shelf facing the register. "This is surely the Judgment of God come down upon us! Will the waves come as far as us?"

    John shook his head, "Miguel, I just don't know. This sort of thing has never happened before in all of human history, at least no one has ever lived to record it anyways. There was some theoretical work done some years ago that says not but how can we know until the waves roll in? Until they break over us we'll just have to keep right on fighting the good fight. Have many people stopped since the news broke?"

    "A few, yes, but most I think are going straight to their homes." The hose bell rang, "But I expect that will change very shortly." He reached under the counter and pulled out a holstered revolver on a belt and cinched it around his waist. "My son Ricardo will be here in a minute to help me run the store and watch for the bad ones. Be glad you live down the county road, soon the highway out there will be jammed."

    Nodding his head John said, "You're right." He glanced at his watch - 12 minutes, 34 seconds - and then eyed the sacks of chicken and dog feed in the corner. He briefly considered buying it all with the two hundred dollars of emergency cash he kept in the truck. "I've got nearly a year's worth of feed in the cans at the house and there'll be a world of people short of feed for their animals. I'll leave it."

    He took the money out of his pocket to pay for his gas. Miguel took it from him and asked, "Do you think we'll see it hit?"

    John considered for a moment and said, "I don't think so. It's a long way to Bermuda from here and the curvature of the Earth will block almost all of it from us and the cloud cover outside now will block most of the rest. We might be able to see the immediate aftereffects though when the vaporized sea water hits the upper atmosphere. It will begin to storm very hard not long afterwards. It may stay that way for many days. You should have your family get your house ready." He turned and started walking towards the door, he could see several cars waiting to get to the pumps and more were pulling in.

    "Vaya con Dios Miguel!" he called from the door.

    "And to you as well my friend" he heard Miguel reply as the door closed.

    By the time John pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the county road there were nine cars at the pumps and more pulling in. People were streaming into the store. The truck rolled swiftly towards home.

    As he shot through his gate his watch read 21:30
     
  4. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Impact

    The ladder on which John was standing began to shake causing him to miss the nail and deliver a good rap to his left index finger. "Ouch! Goddamn it!", he snarled, then realized that it was not only the ladder that was shaking but the house as well!

    "John!", Ann anxiously shouted up from below where she was attempting to steady the ladder, "What's happening!? Why is the ground shaking!?"

    He'd never had to cope with seismic activity before so it took a moment for him to beat down the reptilian cortex panic reaction he felt and get himself back under control. The shaking wasn't intensifying but it wasn't dying down yet either. "Ground shock from the impact!", he shouted down at Ann, "It moves faster than the tsunami so we're feeling it now! Thank God we're not closer to Bermuda or it might be strong enough to do some damage. If it doesn't get any worse than this we should be OK."

    Almost as if in reaction to his words the shaking began to subside. He could hear the motor sounds of the tractor as his father drove it into the barn. He'd been watching a rising black cloud in the far northeast. They hadn't actually seen the impact, he suspected that anyone close to enough to have seen it clearly would soon be dead. What they could see still feared him with dread as the cloud front visibly grew larger and closer. It looked like an approaching Ragnarok.

    Fear drove him onwards and he readdressed the nail he'd been hammering. He, his father, wife, and daughter had largely removed everything that might blow in a hurricane wind. This late into hurricane season they did not leave a lot lying around so it didn't take them long. He'd become concerned that the antenna mast might not hold if the winds rose above 100 mph so he was running and anchoring extra reinforcing cable to strengthen it. Their livestock was now secure in the barn and his father was moving the last of whatever outside equipment remained under shelter. He thought they'd have the place as secure against violent weather as they could make it and prayed they wouldn't catch a tornado.

    Once finished with his task on the roof they all fell to in the garden and began harvesting everything that was mature or that would ripen after picking. There wasn't anyway to really protect the garden or orchard, it would all just have to take its chances.

    At Impact plus two hours the approaching storm front filled half the sky with a darkness so intense that it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. With nothing left to harvest he set Ann and Melinda to processing the produce they wouldn't be eating fresh. John and his father Robert set to cleaning, sanitizing, and filling empty barrels with drinking water. No one was sure how long it would be before the atmosphere would clean itself of salt, mud, and other debris and be OK to drink.

    At Impact plus three hours they all went inside and sat down to rest in front of the small household television. Helicopters belonging to many different media organizations were in the air watching the East Coast. Most of the best roads in the Florida peninsula run in a north/south direction - the better to move tourists and freight. What east/west roads there are were never intended to handle even a remote fraction of the traffic that was trying to use them now. State, county, and municipal emergency services and road departments were going to heroic efforts to keep the traffic flowing. Where ever a car stalled it was quickly pushed off the road by others behind it and the stranded occupants divided among the remaining cars. Heavy equipment had been moved to bridges and overpasses to push stalled vehicles over the side. Anything to keep the traffic moving. A network feed showed a veritable armada of boats of every sort of description going to sea from the Florida Keys. The larger craft were heading out into the open ocean to ride out the wave in deep water while the smaller were making for the mainland Gulf coast as fast they could make it - which wouldn't be fast enough for many. The approaching storm front grew ever larger.

    A knock on the front door proved to be from his neighbor Mike who was standing there with his wife, brother and three teenaged children. "We thought we'd see if you needed help with anything getting ready.", Mike offered, "Looks like you're pretty squared away though. You've got a better rig than I do. Heard anything about the tsunami yet?"

    John invited them all in. "No, not yet. We just finished a little while ago and sat down to watch it. Y'all come on in and join us." As everybody was getting settled he took down his best bottle of ten year old bourbon and a tray of glasses. He poured a good shot into each then handed them out including Melinda and Mike's boys who took theirs wide eyed with wonder. John said by way of explanation, "In the Gaelic from which the word 'whisky' comes to us it translates as 'the water of life.' If we are to be overcome by the waters of the deep I thought it only fitting that we who have come together here should share, perhaps for the last time, a taste of the Water of Life. As we drink it and it burns deep within us let us remember that Life too still burns within us until the waves roll over us."

    A helicopter borne television crew caught the wave with a long distance lens as it suddenly erupted from the ocean depths and climbed skyward. John reached up from his chair and took down the King James bible from its shelf. The rapidly approaching wave overtook the Jacksonville skyline and washed over it. Another taste of the strong whisky and John began to read aloud -

    "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters..."​
     
  5. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Darkness Falls

    CRACK!!!

    A flash of lightning out the window and a near deafening blast of thunder but hardly anyone notices anymore. It had been raining continuously for hours in the most intense downpour that anyone could remember ever having experienced before. The storm front had overtaken them moments after the tsunami had struck the coast. In minutes the daylight gave way to black night punctuated with rapid fire flashes of lightning and howling winds. The precipitation was muddy and full of salt gradually giving way to still salty but clear water. The noise of the downpour and thunder was so great that even with the television turned to its maximum volume the watchers had to sit close to hear.

    With the intense rain and winds the airborne television crews were soon forced to abandon their coverage and race away in search of safety. The last moments of footage they were able to provide showed the wave collapse into a frothing chaos of foam and debris. It had penetrated just ten miles into the interior of the Florida peninsula. The majority of the land mass of North Florida would be spared a salt water bath but ten miles was enough to devastate Florida's coastal cities from Jacksonville to Miami. Property loss would be reckoned in the tens of billions of dollars and the casualty rate would be in the hundreds of thousands possibly millions of lives. It was the greatest disaster ever to have struck the state.

    There was no word from north of the state line.

    Ann leaned over towards John and asked, "The news said there would be multiple waves. If the first wave made it ten miles how far will the following waves go? We're sixty miles from the Atlantic side, do you think they will come this far?"

    John replied, "I don't know. The tsunami study that I read said except for Miami they wouldn't make it very far inland and with the first wave only making it ten miles I'm inclined to think the rest won't make it much further, but I don't know for sure. All we can do is hope and pray."

    The big pine tree in front of the house is struck with lightning blasting sparks and bits of bark across the yard. "Of course," John observed, "we'll still have plenty to worry about even if we don't take an ocean dip. I hate to lose any source of news but I think it would be prudent to unplug the television before the lightning gets it. I'm not sure how long we'll be able to take this sort of pounding. Another day of this and the garden will be finished and the orchard will be damaged. If this goes on for months we'll lose all agricultural production for this year and next year's won't be so hot either."

    John's dad nodded towards the living room bookshelf and asked, "Son, you've read about impacts. How long do you reckon this is going to last?"

    "Dad, it's hard to say. There was never a lot of this kind of stuff written and most of what was modeled was for bodies one mile or larger in diameter. This asteroid was under a half-mile in size so it had a great deal less mass than was stipulated in the studies. If NORAD had the velocity right it wasn't moving as fast as it might have been. I'm hoping there will have been a great deal less dust and water injected into the upper atmosphere than the models predicted would be with a larger strike. If there was then the weather effects we'll suffer as a result of the strike should be correspondingly less. Hell, for all we know maybe the tsunamis won't have washed away the whole East Coast either. I think we may have a good chance of making it if we don't get hit with a tornado but it may very likely get hungry before the end."

    BLAAMMM!!! The blast was so loud that John's ears rang. He'd just opened his mouth to speak when the house shuddered and a loud crunching sound was heard. "Aww damn!", he shouted towards the back of the house. "I think that was the oak tree off the back porch and it's just fallen on the house!"
     
  6. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Through rain and storm and dark of night...

    August 08 - 12:00 p.m.

    Sheet lightning played across the sky and the resulting thunderclap seemed to shake loose even more rain. The wire slipped in the pliers and a barb penetrated both John's glove and his left thumb. "Son of a female dog!," he cursed, "I am sick and tired of being wet! If I have to fix this god damned fence one more time I'll just shoot the damned goats and eat them!" He pulled off his glove and critically examined his thumb. "Damn glad I had a tetanus booster last year and I'm FURTHER damned glad that Ann can't hear me or I'd get yet ANOTHER lecture on my damned language and its impact on the development of my children. Thank you Jesus for sparing me that!"

    He grabbed the broken strand of barbed wire with the fence pliers again giving it a savage pull and wrapped it around the post and held it so that his dad could nail it in place. "This rain's getting to me too, son," he admonished gently, "but we've just got to tough it out. You need to get a grip on your temper. This last day or two you've been putting the wind up Ann and the kids. This rain can't last forever."

    "Well, why shouldn't the wind get up them! It's for dam… uh darn sure getting up everything else!", John retorted. Feeling embarrassed he continued, "OK, OK, I'll work on taking the edge off my tongue. It'd be a lot easier if I could ever feel *dry* again. Seems like we spend so much time out in the rain it's about washed all the coping out of me. This is the fourth time we've had to fix fence since Impact. And the porch roof, and the barn roof, and hen house, and work shop, and Mike's house, and his barn, and Ed's house and just as soon as we get inside it'll be some other da… doggone thing that has to be attended to right away. Might as well go naked for all the good wearing any kind of rain gear does." He let the rest of his frustration out with a long sigh.

    The fence once again fixed the two men picked up the chain saw they'd used to cut up the tree that had fallen across the wire and the other tools and slogged their way across the pasture to the gate and then on to the workshop. It was Impact plus seven days and it had not stopped raining since. The salt rain had ended on the first day and what was now coming down was fresh. Sources at the University of Florida reported that forty six inches of rain had fallen during this time along with high winds and intense lightning. Rainfall, wind speed, and electrical activity were slowly diminishing but no one could predict when normal weather would return.

    Back in the workshop they cleaned and oiled the wet equipment then made their way back to the house. Smoke rose from the stack and they could smell coffee. When they had shed their slickers on the back porch and stepped through the door Ann handed them both steaming cups. "Bless you!," John cried, "You are surely a queen among wives!"

    Ann smiled and said, "Lunch will be ready as soon as the cornbread is done. The news just came on the radio if you want to listen."

    John and Robert walked over to the Sony on the kitchen table and turned it up as they sat to the table.

    The U.S. Geologic Survey released a statement today that it has now been firmly established that the tsunami of last Saturday was indeed caused by the slippage of a large section of the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands along a previously known fissure. Experts feel this slippage was induced by the shock of the initial impact of the asteroid followed later by the tsunami it produced. Damage and casualty levels of both tsunami series are still being determined with work being seriously hampered by the still violent weather resulting from the asteroid strike. Preliminary casualty figures for the state of Florida are projected to be 1,200,000 with the majority being in the greater Miami area but authorities caution this figure may be drastically revised up or down as more complete data comes in.

    The public affairs officer of the newly established East Coast Rescue and Recovery Command reports that the preliminary aerial survey of the tsunami stricken Eastern Seaboard have largely been completed. Initial reports indicate the tsunamis did not reach as far as was initially feared and in many areas penetrated inland to only a distance of 200 miles. Major river valleys were more seriously stricken with most showing damage all the way to the piedmont areas. This smaller area of devastation has raised hopes that the nationwide casualty figure may be kept to 40 million deaths or less. Rescue and Recovery commanders emphasize that a full and complete survey of the damage and casualty figures will take months.

    On the West Coast California emergency services authorities continue to dig through the rubble of the 7.3 earthquake which struck Southern California last week within hours of the Impact. Seismological experts state that the ground shock of the asteroid striking the Earth is responsible for the quake but emphasize that stresses had been building along the southern San Andreas fault line for decades and that it was near to releasing on its own. Casualties attributed to the quake are moderate at 157. Twenty seven were reported dead from the tsunami that struck the next day as the hydrological pressure wave made its journey across the world's oceans. Missing persons from both disasters are reported to be 321 with many feared to be remaining in the stadium collapse rubble.

    A spokesperson for the Midwestern FEMA region states that casualties for the 6.1 earthquake along the New Madrid fault line have been moderate with 23 dead, 46 missing. All Mississippi and Ohio river bridges remain closed as safety inspections are carried out. Emergency water releases through the Tennessee Valley Authority dams continues to relieve stress on the dams possibly weakened by the quake as the record breaking rains continue to fall. Residents along the affected waterways are being evacuated as water levels rise.

    Locally, Gainesville Regional Utilities report that both of their generating plants have been inspected and found to be in safe working condition though only the coal fired Deerhaven plant is running due to the disruption in the flow of natural gas pipelines. Frequent local outages will continue for the duration of the violent weather but spokesmen stress that repair crews will be on continuous duty to restore power as necessary.

    There will be more news at the top of the one o'clock hour. This is Classic 88.4 FM, a radio service of the University of Florida."


    John looked at his dad and said, "Well, it's the worst disaster in recorded history but it seems the Union still stands, what's left of it anyways. That cornbread sure smells good. Ann's really gotten the hang of that woodstove."

    The overhead lights flickered and came on. Robert smiled at the sight and said, "Maybe it'll stay on long enough for us all to get a hot shower. We'd better get the batteries on the chargers while the power lasts."

    The rain droned on.
     
  7. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Limitations - Part One

    August 15, 2002 - 6:00 a.m.

    The mantle clock was softly chiming the hour when Ann stepped through the door of Melinda's room into the living room shaking down a thermometer. John ran his fingers through his hair, "Well?", a tone of worry in his voice, "any change?"

    "No, John", she replied, "the Tylenol hasn't changed it at all, she's running 103.4. She's curled up on her side in a fetal position with localized hardness and tenderness in her lower right abdomen. What are we going to do?"

    He let out a long sigh. "Well honey, we've just come up against an important limitation on self-reliance. We've got to get Melinda to a doctor and we need to do it today - right now. Mike's patrol zone covers the west part of Gainesville I'll go over there right now, he shouldn't have left yet for work, and find out what it's going to be like trying to get to Shands. We haven't been a mile away from the house since Impact and from what we've been hearing on the radio I suspect it's getting pretty bad in town."

    Giving his wife a kiss he stood up and headed for the back door. "I'll be back as soon as I talk to Mike and we'll take her in the van." A few seconds to don his slicker and he was gone, lost into the rain and darkness.

    Four hundred yards down the road he came to Mike's gate. "HELLO THE HOUSE!", he shouted from the road. He'd known Mike for years but since Impact one did not simply walk up on to anyone's porch anymore without first announcing their presence, most especially not in the dark. Word had come last week that a neighbor of Miguel, the store owner, had been found dead in his living room, his house ransacked. Now passing through someone's gate uninvited was asking to come face to face with a shotgun - or worse.

    A light sprang from the deeper darkness of the porch and played across his face and hands. "Morning John!", Mike called from the door, "What brings you callin' so early this morning?"

    "Mike, I need to talk to you. Mel's bad sick and needs a doctor, maybe a surgeon. I want to take her into Shands but from what we've been hearing on the radio I suspect it's going to be a chore to get there. What can you tell me about the situation in town?"

    "Are you sure she really needs a doctor?… No, I reckon you are or you wouldn't be here. OK, I tell you what. I go on shift at 0800. If you'll give me a lift to the hospital I'll have my partner meet me there. Since Impact we're all partnered to save fuel and… for other reasons and he's got my car. I'll be in uniform and will be able to get you through the check points faster than you'd get through otherwise."

    John nodded and said, "Is it as bad as that then? I'd heard that the Guard had set up checkpoints but I thought they were just looking for looters and whatnot."

    Mike studied his shoes for a moment and came back, "Yeah, it's bad alright. Might get worse too." He let out a sigh, "Probably ought to fill you in anyways. The way things are going it might come to… community involvement towards the end."

    The darkness was gradually giving way to a deep gray through the heavy clouds. John said, "I'll go and get Melinda and Ann in the van and I'll pick you up here in a half-hour."

    "Sounds like a plan then. Oh, and John? Wear a sidearm. Wear it openly and put a rifle in the back."

    John turned and walked back towards his house, the rain stealing the sounds of his boots on the pavement.
     
  8. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Limitations - Part Two

    "Better turns toward Archer", Mike explained, "Payne's Prairie has come up so high that it's covered the part of the Williston road that curves around it. Covered 441 where it crosses the prairie too for that matter and is threatening to cross the Interstate as well. They've opened all the gates but it's coming in faster than they can let it out again. Looks like it's going to be Lake Alachua once more instead of Payne's Prairie for a long time to come."

    "How bad is the water in town?" Ann asked, "I've heard that Hogtown Creek is out of its banks pretty far."

    "Hogtown Creek, Sweetwater Branch, every little crick or branch in the county is trying to become the Suwannee river. Word off the net is that the Suwannee, Santa Fe and Itchnetucknee are miles into the woods and threatening to undermine a couple of bridges. No one living along those rivers now unless they're ten feet high or more on poles and even a lot of them washed away I hear. Lake Santa Fe and Newnan's Lake have risen twelve feet since Impact. Dad says they ought to look like he remembers then when he was a boy. Fishing down to Lochloosa and Orange Lake ought to be mighty fine in a year or so if ever this weather settles down. Course, we'll all have to paddle or sail from the landing with the fuel situation and all. Be hard put to even be able to drive by then."

    This piqued John's interest. "Is the fuel situation that bad? Have they started rationing?"

    "Oh yeah, they're rationing alright. That is when there is any gasoline at all there's a definite hierarchy of who gets it. Even the sheriff's department is having a hard time keeping our cruisers on the road and you can bet that running the a/c is right *out*. I'm sure you wouldn't be wasting your fuel storage like that but it wouldn't do to be seen driving around too much where folks could see you. Might arouse some unwanted curiosity. Word has it that come Spring folks like us with tractors and land will be entitled to special agricultural fuel if we use it in food production. It'll be like the 'off road' fuel that's not taxed now and has a special dye in it. Just don't get caught with it in your car because it'll be more than just a fine if you do."

    The Horne's Aerostar came to the intersection with U.S. 27 and turned right, past Miguel's store now dark and with plywood nailed over the windows and doors. "Did something happen to Miguel?", Ann asked, "His store is all boarded up, he didn't get looted or anything did he?"

    "No," Mike answered, "I saw him yesterday. He's fine. His boy Ricardo did put a .357 bullet past one fellow's head who wanted to get rough with Miguel when he wouldn't take his credit card but that was about as bad as it got. He's just got nothing to sell and doesn't want folks to damage the place looking for food or gas. Told me that he pumped every gallon of gas he had before the waves hit and sold everything in the store that could be eat or drunk by dark. Got a box full of cash now. I'm bettin' he'd rather have his gas and food back, leastwise his food anyways. He'd just have had his gas 'requisitioned' if he still had it. A can of pork and beans'll bring five dollars now - unofficially, of course - price controls won't allow for selling it for more than what it brought before Impact."

    He grinned, "Course, there ain't no pork and beans and not much of anything else for that matter to be found for sale - officially that is. Nobody's starving…yet… but ain't no one getting fat in town either. Plenty of folks out here in the country ain't eatin' too well as far as that goes. We don't lack for feed corn to the house so we'll have pone at least right on but my boys would be pretty shy on protein if it weren't for them eggs y'all been giving us. Don't think I'll forget that."

    Ann said, "Mike, we've been friends and neighbors ever since we moved out here five years ago. I can't recall how many times you or your boys have helped us. That's what neighbors are about - good neighbors anyways. Those hens keep right on laying - Impact or no - and we're certainly not selling eggs to coworkers anymore. Better to share them with the folks who are important to us. I'd say you're making it up in kind right now."

    Conversation faded and they rode on in silence. Melinda moaned softly but her condition did not change. At Archer Rd and I-75 they came to the checkpoint. A dozen wet, dejected looking people sat under the overpass finding what shelter they could against the never ending precipitation under the watchful eye of a trooper who looked like a boy dressed up for Halloween. There was just one other car in front of them at 7:30 in the morning on one of the main roads into Gainesville. Another trooper walked up to the driver's window and bent over to see inside. "Good morning. Do you have business in Gainesville?"

    Mike leaned over so the trooper could see him, "I'm Deputy Mike Daniels, ASO, These are my neighbor's John and Ann Horne and their daughter Melinda. They're giving me a ride to work and taking their child to Shands. She's seriously ill and looks to need a doctor bad."

    The trooper, a corporal from the collar tabs, belonging to the local Gainesville company, gave a cursory examination to Mike's uniform, glanced through the car but scarcely noted the rifle in plain sight in the back. He took out a pad in an aluminum box and leaned inside the window to escape the rain. He wrote down the names of the vehicle occupants, their destination, license plate number and reason for being in town. He then gave a carbon copy of the form to John. "This is your pass to be in town Mr. Horne. You'll need to be able to produce it if you're stopped. We've had trouble with looting and stealing from the refugees so we're trying to limit their movements until things can be better organized." He glanced at Melinda, "I sure hope they can help your little girl. God speed to you."

    The makeshift gate swung up and John drove through. The traffic lights were blank but as there were virtually no cars to be seen moving this wasn't a problem. John glanced at Mike and asked, "Is it like that at every road into town?"

    Mike nodded, "Yes, it is. If I weren't with you and Melinda not so obviously sick you might have been a spell longer getting through - might not have gotten into town at all. I expect they'll be moving that checkpoint out to Tower Road before long, maybe even as far as Parker Road. They're not trying to restrict movement in the country but with the fuel situation being what it is and all no one's much driving out there anyways"

    He gave a glance back towards the overpass, "I wanted you to see that before I said anything. Once you get Melinda seen by a doctor you and I have to talk."
     
  9. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    In sickness and in health...

    The Shands emergency room was crowded which did not surprise him as it was crowded every time he'd ever been here over the years. It was also rather dirty which did surprise him but considering the circumstances he supposed he should have expected it. Occasionally a moan would be heard, sometimes from Melinda, mostly from others. A low, constant mutter of conversation filled the room as well the audio of the TV's mounted in the ceiling corners of the room - all tuned to different channels. As patients came and went John gradually moved his family closer to the one tuned to CNN. They'd been sitting for four hours and he fully expected to be waiting at least four hours more maybe much more. They'd seen the triage nurse in the first half hour of arriving - a tired, but efficient squad of them worked in the room's far corner - and he told them to be prepared for a lengthy wait. "Emergency services doesn't know how many refugees have made it into Gainesville since Impact but they do know that better than 50,000 have registered for services by now. Every hospital in town is inundated. If this rain doesn't let up soon it's going to get worse once we start having disease outbreaks. Your daughter's condition is serious but even that means a wait. Might as well make yourself comfortable."

    John and Ann took turns holding Melinda and comforting her as best they could. She was conscious but not alert, her fever unabated. Ann left for the cafeteria in search of something for them to eat and John focused on the news.

    CNN Breaking News - Reports are coming in from Paducah, Kentucky of the failure and collapse of the Kentucky dam on the Tennessee river. There are no reports of casualties yet but they are expected to be minimal as the river has been sixteen feet and rising above flood stage for days so most residents in the danger zones had already been evacuated. The Kentucky Dam was the final dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority series of dams on that waterway and one of the largest both in terms of volume of water retained by the structure and the circumference of its shoreline. The dam itself measured over 8,400 feet long with a height of 206 ft. Emergency warnings have been sent to all communities downstream along the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers all of which were already in extreme flood stages. Ohio and Mississippi river bridges that had just been reopened two days ago are now being closed again until the crest of the new flood has passed and they can be re-examined for safety. Dam safety experts state the dam was probably weakened by the 6.1 earthquake on the New Madrid fault of two weeks ago and further stressed by the record breaking rainfall lashing the nation since Impact. Local weather authorities tell us that sixty three inches of rain have fallen here since the asteroid struck. The remaining TVA dams are being evacuated until they can be inspected for safety. Experts say that with all dams already at maximum emergency water release that other possibly quake weakened dams may fail as well. Further details as they come in.

    Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers reiterated today that the Mississippi lock and dam system has been inspected and found to be holding even with all dams being in full emergency water release. It is not expected that the Kentucky dam collapse will cause dam failures on the Ohio or Mississippi rivers though the flood prone areas which have not already been evacuated are being cleared now as a precaution. Corp engineers do state they expect significant damage to levees and other flood control structures along the lower Mississippi perhaps as far north as Memphis. The record flooding along the river is severely hampering rescue and recovery efforts in the now sunken city of New Orleans devastated by the Impact tsunami"

    The National Weather Service reports Hurricane Dolly has now reached Category Three with further strengthening expected before she makes landfall on the Texas coast. Latest projections are that she will strike the coast between Port Arthur and Galveston tomorrow morning at approximately 9:00 a.m. local time. Dolly is the third hurricane to have formed since Impact and weather experts predict more will form before the asteroid strike generated energy dissipates. Rescue and recovery personnel are being evacuated from the area along with surviving residents in flood prone locations.

    This is CNN - more news after this.


    A commercial was next and John tuned it out. Presently Ann came back with two large Styrofoam cups of steaming soup. "There's absolutely nothing in the vending machines, the Wendy's, Pizza Inn, and frozen yogurt place in the food court area are all closed but the cafeteria is open. Not much there either but they did have hot soup and I got plenty of crackers to put in. Reckon it'll have to do until we can get home." Melinda moaned softly at the smell of the food but wouldn't take any of it. Pushing away the outside world Ann and John willed strength and life into their daughter.

    After a time their inward concentration was distracted when they heard the name "Melinda Horne" over the sound system. John had held Melinda in his lap for over an hour and realized his left leg had gone to sleep as he tried to stand but he held his daughter tight and limped to the examination room with Ann. Unlike the waiting area outside this room was clean and well lit. Melinda moaned occasionally and drew more tightly within herself as they waited. Finally, an hour after being shown into the room a knock came at the door and a man entered. John's eyebrows rose as he said, "Well hello Luke! They have department chairs doing ER work now?"

    The man in the white coat looked up from the chart he was reading and replied, "Hey John! Haven't seen you in a while!" He gave a rueful grin, "I'm afraid ever since Impact if you have 'M.D.' after your name you work when and where you're needed. My research schedule is just wrecked! When was the last time we went shooting? Been four, five months now." His face fell and he continued, "Looks like we won't be shooting for fun for a long time to come. I see Melinda is in a bad way today. Set her up here on the table and we'll have a look."

    The doctor examined the child with some difficulty as Melinda resisted being uncurled from her fetal position. She cried out as he palpated her abdomen. "It's as I expected. Her white count is very high. Looks like acute appendicitis but it hasn't burst yet." He pulled out a pad from his pocket. "Ordinarily", he explained as he wrote, "I'd schedule her for the OR and be done with it but we're critically short of surgical supplies now. Anesthetics are so low the chair of Anesthesiology has a team in the library researching the use of ether - ether! - because we'll soon be out of anything better.

    I think we may be able get this under control with a heavy antibiotic regimen. We're very short of those too but not as bad as some other consumables. We'll bag her and give her the initial course intravenously here and replenish her fluids, she's looking dehydrated. If she responds well I'll give you this prescription for a ten day course to follow up the IV with. If not we'll schedule her for the OR. I want to be straight with you, she's likely to have a chronic inflammation problem until it's removed but if we can forestall surgery for a couple of weeks or, better yet, months we should be in better condition when supplies are replenished. If she responds I'll want to see her again in three days. Do you have enough fuel to come back into town again? Still seems strange to say that but it's an important consideration now."

    Remembering what Mike had said as they passed Miguel's store John replied, "Well, we don't have a lot but we'll use what we have. We can come back."

    "Good. There'll be a pass waiting for you at the desk to come back into town. The authorities are restricting travel into and out of the city as I'm sure you've already found out. Frankly John, between you and I, some of what they're talking about makes me uncomfortable... but I'm needed here so we'll have to tough it out. I may not get to see you again if she responds to the antibiotics - I haven't worked like this since I was a resident! If I get a chance I'll bring Lisa out for a visit. She's always loved your country life. Good luck and we'll pray for Melinda."

    He shook John's hand and gave Ann a hug and was gone. The door closed behind him and once again they were left with the bright white stillness of the examination room. Melinda moaned and curled herself tighter.
     
  10. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Home is where the heart is...

    The rumpled looking nurse slipped the I.V. catheter out of Melinda's arm, and taped a small bandage over the injection site. The girl's color was improving. "We'll need to keep her under observation for another couple of hours," the nurse explained.

    The sense of relief John and Ann felt was so strong it was almost palpable. Melinda was sleeping soundly so John left Ann to sit beside her on her gurney in the hallway crowded with other patients on gurneys and in chairs - there was no other place to put her - while he went downstairs to get them something else to eat. The hospital cafeteria was largely empty of people and nearly so of anything to eat as well. He supposed the patients at least would be fed but visitors and staff looked like had to largely fend for themselves. Another consequence of Impact and he suspected it would get worse before it got better. He did manage to come up with two peanut butter sandwiches, more of the soup they'd had earlier, and two cups of coffee. He had just returned upstairs when Luke came down the hall. He examined the girl and read the new chart notes. "Turns out I've got a few minutes before I need to be in the OR so I wanted to check in again on Mel." he explained. "She seems to be responding well, no reaction to the antibiotics and she's not in as much apparent pain. You should be able to take her home in a couple of hours if she continues like this."

    He reached into his coat pocket and took out some folded pages. "I wouldn't do this for many but I know you and you're not prone to foolishness. Since you're out in the country and may be able to find some of this stuff I made up a list of veterinary antibiotics that are equivalent to those which can be used to treat Melinda's appendicitis. This is in case we run out of medical antibiotics. I've been working with one of the vet school faculty to put it together in case we have to resort to expedients. There's brand names, generic names, and dosage equivalents there. Until we can remove the appendix it's going to be prone to periodic inflammation. These should keep matters from getting out of hand." His pager went off and he removed it from his belt and read the display. "That's my OR call, I have to go. Good luck to you and we'll be praying for Melinda. The time may come that it will be good to have friends in the country. Good bye."

    The doctor walked quickly off down the hallway and disappeared around another corner. John and Ann studied the printouts that Luke had left them as they ate their dinner.

    ---

    Darkness was beginning to fall as John carried his daughter out of the hospital to their car. He carefully stowed away the pass the trooper had given him earlier and the other one they'd need to come back into town they had picked up at the desk. They drove away from the hospital along Archer Road heading west and did not see but four other cars and two Humvees on the road with them for the three miles to the big shopping center just before reaching the Interstate. As he reached the area of the grocery store they began to hear sirens. Looking in the rear view mirror he could see Gainesville P.D. and Alachua Sheriff's Office cruisers with several Humvees and a military truck rapidly approaching from behind. He was considering pulling over to let them by when he cleared the restaurants in front of the shopping center so that he could see the grocery store itself and the reason for the force moving in. A large crowd of several hundred or more people were rioting in front of the store attempting to pull down the plywood covering the windows and doors. A Humvee was burning in the parking lot. He could see two camouflage clad bodies lying on the ground and hear gunshots, some of the from automatic weapons. In a tense voice John told Ann, "Get the rifle out of the back seat and your pistol out of the glove box!" as he stomped the accelerator to race towards the Interstate overpass. As he reached it he slowed expecting to be stopped by the troopers at the roadblock but none were to be seen nor the Hummer that had been there earlier. He wondered if it were the one burning at the grocery store but he didn't wonder enough to stop. He kept a steady speed going through and passed under the bridge.

    "If it weren't for the necessity of having Melinda seen again it would be a long time before we came back into town." John said as he breathed out a sigh of relief. "If matters are getting so bad that people are killing for food there's nothing in town that we need bad enough to come get it - except a doctor. You and Lisa were always tight, do you think you could convince her to try to talk Luke into coming out with us? That posh little neighborhood they live in is pretty close to the poor side of town. Might not take too much convincing I think."

    Ann nodded her head, "I think it wouldn't take much either. With her and Heather there by themselves when Luke's at the hospital she's got to be scared about half to death now. You remember how reluctant she was when I taught her how to handle the little 20 gauge auto Luke bought her. I bet she's got it close by at all times now. When we come back in with Melinda I'll try to get over to their house and talk to her. Convincing Luke to come is going to be the hard part."

    John considered for a moment and said, "I reckon so but much more of what we just saw he might just come. We'll know better in three days."

    Passing through Archer they saw Miguel out working in his garden next to his house behind the store. They waved and he waved back. The rest of the trip home was completely uneventful. As they pulled up into the yard John could see his dad under the barn overhang skinning an animal. He waved as they got out of the car and went back to his task. After taking Melinda into the house and putting her to bed John went out to see what was up.

    At first he thought the animal was a coyote - they were shy creatures but were occasionally seen around the homestead - then realized it was a German Shepherd. A Labrador pelt lay near by. "Dad, is that a dog? Why are you skinning it?"

    Robert replied, "Saw these two and two more in the pasture chasing the chickens just before dark. They managed to kill one before I could get out with the shotgun so we'll be having chicken for supper tomorrow. I dropped these two right off from the barn, hit one more but didn't down him and the fourth got away clean. We've got more problems than dogs. While I was killing these two a boy jumped up from behind the mineral feeder in the pasture and hit the woods. Looked to be late teens, early twenties. Don't know who he is but I think I've seen him hanging around Miguel's. He startled me so bad when he jumped and ran that I missed the fourth dog. May have thought I was shooting at him from the way he leapt that fence at a run! Looks like we're going to need to keep someone in the barn at nights from now on. Reckon we can take it in rotation."

    Nothing was said for a few moments as John paused to consider the implications of what his father had just related to him. "OK, but why are you skinning those dogs? "

    "Why, for the pelts of course!", his father said in an exasperated tone. "Wally World isn't going to be opening anytime soon so we need to be thinking about where we're going to get our clothing from. I'll tan these two out with the fur on. Might come in handy this winter. Been reading your books and from what they say it's going to be a cold one. Come to think of it we'd best be putting away more firewood. We're going to be using a lot more than we ever have in the past if we have to use it to cook with regular and depend on it for house heat. We'll cook the carcasses and feed them. Between the dogs, the pigs and the chickens they'll clean them up and it'll save on the stored feed."

    His son nodded his head in agreement. "I need to talk to Mike if he's home yet. I reckon you're right about the clothing but I'm going to let *you* explain to Melinda about her new Labrador coat!" Laughing he headed back out into the rain towards Mike’s house.

    He was wondering if he could convince Ann to sleep in the barn with him. He suspected he wouldn't be very happy with her answer.
     
  11. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    A deeper darkness

    Ann stepped through and closed the door to Melinda's room as quietly as she could. Her temperature was steadily falling and was now under 100. She shook the thermometer down, rinsed it and dropped it into its little alcohol filled holder. Glancing out the kitchen window she could see her father in-law working the two dog pelts and shook her head. Admittedly, it might well come down to needing to use the things but the idea of wearing a coat or whatever made out of someone's family pet underwhelmed her. She didn't even want to think how Melinda was going to take it. She had no problem helping her daddy butcher a chicken (most *especially* that nasty Aracauna rooster last year!) or nor even slaughtering a hog but wearing dog fur was probably going to be over the top!

    She wondered what Mike wanted to talk to John about and hoped it wasn't going to be another one of those wild conspiracies he listened to on the shortwave. He and John had really been thick into that junk when they first moved out here but when credible evidence proved to be lacking for many of the rumors and theories that were flying then John lost interest, but not the gear and supplies that Mike had convinced them to buy. At least she'd finally gotten John to move all that junk out of the house and into the barn and workshop - she didn't have to clean out there nor stumble over it.

    The power was on again - for now at least - so she poured herself a cold drink and went into the living room with the printouts that Luke had given them. After the Impact she was afraid they'd have to give up refrigeration for the duration with all that it implied for food storage and comfort. Fortunately, Robert pointed out that if they had even intermittent power they could still keep food cold by using the refrigerator as an old fashioned ice-box. They took everything out of the refrigerator freezer and stuffed it as full as they could with filled water containers then turned the freezer to its coldest setting. When the power was on the water froze solid. When the power was off the ice above kept the food below cool. They did much the same with all of the empty space they had in the chest freezer as well and they tried not to open either while the power was off to conserve as much cold air as possible. They all knew that if the weather stayed continually violent for months that one day the power would go off and might not come back on again - for a long time at least - but while they had it they were determined to make the most of it.

    In the living room she went to the bookshelf where they kept the family medical books. The whole family had somewhat eclectic tastes in reading and experience so their collection had a rather eccentric feel it. This time, however, she pulled down some standard references, the Physicians Desk Reference, The Merck Veterinary Manual, Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, Medicine for Mountaineering, U.S. Special Forces Medical Handbook, and Where There Is No Doctor. She didn't' recognize some of the antibiotics that Luke had put on the list and she wasn't going to give her daughter anything she hadn't read about first. Most of the books were at least two or three years old some even more, medical books were expensive even with their educational discount, so they couldn't keep up with the latest and greatest. She reckoned though that if they were using them on animals they probably wouldn't be the latest generation antibiotics so she ought to be able to find at least a little something on them in one of their books. She pulled the coffee table close, sat on the couch, turned on the reading lamp and started in. It felt good to be in a book again and the Impacted outside world began to fade away.

    - - -

    Outside lightning flashed and with the following thunderclap the rain began to pelt down harder. Sitting next to the fireplace John took another swallow of the awful Canadian whisky his host preferred, shook his head and gave a rueful smile. "OK Mike," he said disbelievingly, "I can see your point about the President trying to Federalize the Guard. It's been done before when a governor won't play ball but that's a long way from a coup. I just don't see how they could realistically pull it off and besides how can the Federal Government launch a coup against itself?…"
     
  12. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Reaction

    August 22 - 6:20 a.m.

    He could just make out Jimmy through the darkness, rain, and morning mist. The point man was about sixty or seventy feet ahead and to the left. For the hundredth time John wondered why he had volunteered for this. He had no law-enforcement training and had never particularly been any good at walking silently in the woods. When he hunted it was usually from a stand where the game would come to him rather than stalking it himself. Fortunately, with three weeks of perpetual non-stop rain the ground and everything on it was completely saturated so even a rhinoceros like himself could move more or less quietly and what little noise he did make was lost in the rain.

    Jimmy made the stop and cover motion so he froze behind a gallberry thicket. A moment later they heard the lowing of a cow. "Bingo!", he yelled in his mind, "We have you now you son-of-a-female dog!" They'd been tracking the men who'd rustled a half-dozen of Ed's cattle, shot and wounded Ed getting away when he surprised them in the act. About four hours ago Mike had come to the house with the news that Jimmy had located the rustlers and it was time for the posse to move on them. Naturally they'd headed for the thickest, swampiest, nastiest place they could find to hide rightly fearing that having shot Ed the community would not just accept the loss of the cattle and forget about it. Mike began to gesture and the posse began the slow process of enveloping the rustlers while trying not to give away surprise. As each man made what he felt to be a good position a single click on the radio was heard. John's click was the last.

    A moment later Mike's voice rang out, "OK, it's over. This is the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. You're surrounded. Put down your guns, put your hands in the air, and walk out into the open." For a heartbeat nothing else was heard and John began to hope they'd comply but his hopes were shattered when gunfire erupted from the bayhead. They were met with a return of answering fire followed by screams. Two dark shapes darted from a tangled mass of vines twenty yards ahead of him firing wildly to one side in the direction from where Mike's voice had come. John's Remington came to his shoulder and the 870 spoke once, twice and fell silent. A ghastly gurgling and thrashing sound was heard from behind a palmetto so John eased around a large pine to one side with his shotgun at the ready. A boy lay on the ground, drumming his heels, eyes bulging as he clamped his arms over his abdomen. The front of his torso was a bloody mess. The boy's eyes focused on him and for a moment he thought he saw recognition before light and life faded from them. A second body lay just yards away. It had been the first and his shot there had been high, taking the man in the neck and head. He was quite dead.

    John wondered at the lack of reaction he was feeling after having just violently killed two men. "Shock," he thought, "It's shock. Later there'll be a reaction." He then realized there were voices calling, Jimmy, Mike, his dad. He'd tried to talk his dad out of coming, he was approaching seventy but he and Ed were friends and he wouldn't stay home. Age or not he was still better in the woods than John was he had to admit. Mike's voice rang out, "John! You alright?! John!" He croaked at first, as if he hadn't spoken for a long time, then managed to get out, "I'm here! I've got two down - both dead. I recognize one of them." The young man he'd seen at Miguel's a couple of times in the past with the baggy pants and hat turned sideways. He was almost certain it was the same boy who'd been in his pasture when dad killed the first two dogs last week.

    - - -

    Mike had been trying to convince him all week that the Federal government was attempting to seize power but his success had been spotty at best. "Mike," he tiredly tried to explain, "the Federal government already *has* that power *now*! They don't need to seize it."

    Exasperated, Mike doggedly continued, "Not like this John! I'm not talking about the day to day kinds of things like before the Impact. We're talking about the suspension of civil government and civil rights. The Feds want to assume direct administrative control of all the Eastern Seaboard states. Homeland Security wants to supplant state governments entirely and institute a regional principality with county and city levels just being lesser bureaucratic levels of the greater whole."

    John grinned and retorted, "Would we notice any practical difference? Country's been like that for decades. Besides, how could the possibly pull it off without the active cooperation of the very state, county, and municipal governments you claim they're trying to supplant? Most civil rights are already trashed, the court system washed out to sea along with everything else! I don't like a lot of what I see either but that doesn't make it into some sort of dark conspiracy. When we pull things back together we'll be able to go back to normal civil government. They're killing each other for food in town, we've got thieves stealing anything that isn't watched over twenty four hours a day out here, feral dogs starting to pack up and attack livestock, there's not a tenth of the sheriff's deputies needed to cope with it, and if it gets any worse the Guard isn't going to be enough either. Where in Hell would the Feds get the kind of manpower they'd need to pull off some sort of dictatorial coup like you're talking about? There's not nearly enough surviving active duty military left in the nation to pull it off and that's assuming they'd all cooperate and support such a plan which I most certainly do not think quite a few of them would!"

    With a long sigh Mike said, "Well, you're right. We're all short of manpower and that's a fact. The Sheriff just let it be known this morning that he's going to reinstitute the Posse here in Alachua county. In fact, I put your name down to be contacted. If you're able bodied, got your own gun, don't have a record, and are a known, respected member of the community then you'll be asked to join. A deputy, active or reserve, will lead each group but we'll be looking for potential leaders who'll be sworn in as 'Special Reserve Deputies' to serve more or less as local constables. I think you'd do OK that way."

    With a chuckle John replied, "I've never had any law enforcement training at all Mike, and honestly not much interest either. I suppose I do have a civic responsibility to join the Posse, but I can't see myself as a lawman."

    In a serious tone, Mike came back, "That's exactly what we want John. Somebody who'll be conscientious about the job but who is doing it because he feels it has to be done, not because he likes doing it."

    Continuing on, "I can see I'm not going to convince you about the Feds, but consider this. There have been several reports already the Army is bringing troops back from overseas. Supposedly ten thousand have been brought back from Korea already. If that isn't enough they might just bring in a few blue helmets too."

    - - -

    "Mamma, Dr. Luke said my appendicitis was clearing up when we saw him two *days* ago!", Melinda pleaded with her mom, "I feel FINE! I'm SICK of being cooped up in the house! Can't I at least show Heather the routine for feeding the animals and gathering the eggs? She wants to learn and we can share the work."

    Ann considered for a moment and relented, "OK punkin, you're right. You've been moping around the house getting crankier by the day so I reckon you're well enough to do your chores. Show Heather the ropes and you two can work out how you want to divide them between you subject to her mother's approval when she gets back from the clinic in Archer. You be sure you wear your .22 AT ALL TIMES while you're outside but you KEEP that thing in its holster do you hear? When your daddy has cleared Heather to handle it then you can let her wear it if she wants but NOT before then! He'll take a switch to all three of us if he finds you've been misbehaving with it after he gave it to you. Now scoot and let me get these dishes done before the power goes again."
     
  13. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Continuity - Part One

    The shots he heard coming from in front of him rolled past in a dreamy, underwater, slow-motion fashion. The tangled mass of wax myrtle and cat brier shook as the two rustlers desperately attempted to flee the bag they found themselves in, shooting wildly, with the sound of each shot slowly flowing past him. Again the shotgun came to his shoulder, shoved against him, and he could see the charge of buckshot leaving the tube in a brief spurt of flame and smoke, the pattern beginning to spread before impacting and spinning the rustler into a downward spiral ending in death.

    His arm pulled the slide backwards, the spent shell he had no conscious memory of seeing kicked outwards to his right and his arm pushing the slide forward again to bring the shotgun back into battery. Again the shove and the charge of shot exiting the muzzle, leaping forth, spreading like a lethal rain to impact the boy's torso. The pellets dimpled his clothing and disappeared into his body, causing him to stumble and fall. Again the slide action ejected the spent shell and rammed a fresh one home. Minutes went by as John stepped around the big pine tree to get a clear view and there on the ground was the boy laying there staring at him intently with an expression that clearly communicated, "You shot me for a cow?" before closing his eyes as if to take no more notice. As if coming across a vast plain he heard voices - some seemed to be the wailing of the damned, others seemed familiar, Mike, Jimmy, dad - all calling to him. He felt his voice rumbling upward from his chest, not quite making it, then rumbling forward again - "I'm here. I've got two down!" or was it "I've got to go down!" He still wasn't sure who he'd been responding to when he awoke.

    His mouth tasted like the floor of the hen house and his head felt dangerously overpressured and at risk of bursting along his cranial sutures. He closed his eyes and laid his head back down on the pillow, a gassy belch bringing the taste of bourbon back into his mouth. "That was stupid," he berated himself in the throbbing confines of his head, "that whisky is irreplaceable and you're still dreaming. It's just a delayed stress reaction - it'll pass in time." He knew he was too awake now to go back to sleep so he slid out of bed as quietly and tried to focus on the clock radio on the headboard - 4:30 a.m. With the violence of the weather gradually subsiding the power was staying on for longer stretches which suited him fine since he hated listening to the ticking of the big brass wind up alarm clock which would have sounded cacophonous in his present state. Of course, if they started power rationing like they were threatening to do he'd have to suffer with it anyways. Making his way into the bathroom he voided his bladder, washed his face and scrubbed his teeth thoroughly to get the hungover taste out of his mouth. He pulled on yesterday's pants and went into the kitchen. He really, really wanted a couple of ripe bananas to soothe his stomach but they'd eaten their last nearly three weeks ago and God only knew when they'd ever see another. Bananas would grow here but they were really still too tropical of a fruit to make for more than a novelty so he'd never planted any. He made do with a cold glass of water from the fridge and a bowl of cold cereal. Now that he'd become accustomed to drinking the fresh, raw milk they traded eggs for with Ed's wife he kicked himself for not having done it years sooner! They had goats, but not milking animals. He'd see about changing that when he could.

    He washed his face again at the kitchen sink then crept into the bedroom to retrieve his clothes to dress in the living room. He stuck his head in Melinda's room - Melinda's AND Heather's room now - and they were both asleep. There wasn't a spare bed so rather than share one the girls had elected to eliminate the bed and make what they called a "sleeping nest" on the floor. They seemed happy with the arrangement and it freed up a bed to be used by Lisa Hatcher.

    They'd given it their best shot but nothing would convince Luke to leave town. He did, however, readily agree to allow Lisa and Heather to come and the females were all too happy to make the move. It had been a few years since Lisa had worked in the field but upon a time she'd been an RN working in a trauma clinic in Cincinnati which put her a long leg up on anyone else in the neighborhood in terms of medical skill and experience. When Luke came to UF and made chair they decided Lisa would stay home and concentrate on home and family as well as getting serious about a promising writing career. Her third book was to have been published in the fall but the Impact had washed away her publisher when it washed away New York City. As a doctor and department chair Luke rated a small amount of gasoline each week which he elected to use in coming out to see his wife and children and catching everyone up with the news. During the week he slept at the health center in his office - their posh neighborhood having proved to be unsafe when civil order began to decay. So far he'd only managed to make it once but felt that as the situation settled he should be able to accomplish the trip more often. No one was sure when it would be safe for his family to move back into town. From what Mike told them those who could leave Gainesville for a safer place were doing so as more poured into the town from everywhere.
     
  14. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Continuity - Part Two

    His fast broken, John pulled on his boots - he rotated boots each day to give each pair a chance to dry before wearing them again - and stepped onto the back porch, pulled on his slicker and slogged out to the barn. The grass wasn't dead - yet - but he figured it surely wouldn't take much longer before it simply drowned or died of some fungal disease. He thanked God that he'd bought hay in July when it was cheap rather than waiting they way some did. They were feeding it as sparingly as they could to make it last and it would just have to do. For all he knew the rain would go on all the way until it turned into snow.

    Stepping into the warm, heavy smell of the barn he saw his dad working another pelt. At more than three weeks since Impact the food situation for many was getting so desperate they were eating the dog food themselves - assuming they had even that - so now there was a growing problem of abandoned dogs turning feral and beginning to hunt in packs. He regretted not having bought land even further away from town but it was done now and would just have to be coped with. The problem would eventually resolve itself he figured between people killing the dogs to eat them and others killing them to eliminate a predatory threat.

    Until then they had to keep a close eye on their livestock and they did not allow Melinda or Heather to leave the property without being properly armed. Mel's little .22 revolver would kill even the biggest dog but it might not stop a large dog in time before it hurt her so now when they left sight of the house to go to a neighbor's house they carried Lisa's little 20 gauge loaded with buckshot and slugs. Mel took it in stride but Heather was reluctant to have anything to do with the weapon until John had made it clear that she wouldn't be allowed to leave the yard without demonstrating competency. The thought of a ten year old being allowed to go and do when a fourteen year old had to stay home was enough to goad her past her distaste. Even then she was cavalier about gun safety. Until she'd forgotten about being careful where she allowed the gun to point just once too often after John had corrected her and he demonstrated the gravity of her offense with a spanking and some time standing in the corner after her mother declined her appeal. At the next encounter she displayed the proper attitude to the relief of everyone.

    Picking up a pitchfork John began forking out soiled bedding into the loader bucket of the tractor. They had to keep the manure pile covered to conserve nutrients due to the rain but it would be as valuable as gold when the rain stopped (someday) and they could apply it to garden and field. As he was doing so he talked with his dad about the nine pelts tacked to the barn walls, the range they were taken at, number of shots fired, efficacy of the particular caliber, cartridge, and bullet type. Robert had more hunting experience (and interest) than John but it was his son who did their ammo reloading. It was a way to share each other's company doing something they both enjoyed. Now it was invaluable. One of the pelt's had been taken by Ann and Melinda accounted for two, with John and Robert accounting for the remaining six at three each. They'd also killed several more that hadn't been worth skinning and thought they'd fatally shot but hadn't been able to retrieve several more. Everyone in the neighborhood heartily cursed any and all who owned large dogs that just let them go feral without having the intestinal fortitude to kill them. John's dogs - Jake, Andy, and Bad - wouldn't touch dog meat, cooked or not, but the hogs didn't care a bit nor did the chickens. John still resented the loss of one goat, four chickens and a turkey to the predators and the use of the ammunition but at least they were getting something in return. If it turned as cold as he feared it might this winter they'd all be glad of a pair of dog skin mittens and the black chow pelt his dad was working would make a nice hood lining for their coats.

    Six a.m. rolled around and his dad turned on the barn radio to catch the morning news. The intro came and went, the quicky weather forecast was as usual - rain and more rain -and then they were into the national and international news.

    President Bush reiterated today to the Chinese leadership that their attempts to forcibly incorporate Taiwan into the People's Republic of China would not be taken lightly by the U.S. stressing that America was quite prepared to meet force with force if no other solution could be found. 'The American Eagle has been hurt but it would be a grievous error for the Dragon of China to forget that she still has her talons. America will not allow the people of Taiwan to be forcibly incorporated into the P.R.C. against their will and any further attempts by the Chinese navy to land troops on Taiwan will result in the U.S. Navy sending it to the bottom."

    Robert looked up at John who looked back at him. "Son of a female dog", he said in a voice of soft wonder.
     
  15. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Getting by

    "Pass the okra, please" Robert said and Heather handed him the bowl. As he spooned out another helping onto his plate he remarked, "I reckon it was inevitable. A month ago the U.S. was the global superpower and carried a big stick. Now we're hurt and the whole world knows it. Everybody who wants to jump someone else is going to try it now that they think we can't do anything about it nor back up what's left of the U.N. if they decide to interfere."

    Lisa observed "It was probably chance that China was the first to act in a way the President decided he could not afford to ignore."

    Robert nodded in agreement, "Now he has to slap her down - hard - so that the smaller dogs will stay under the porch or every one of them will come out and start yapping at our heels. Likely we could handle any one of them but not everyone at the same time."

    Ann asked, "Do you think it might go nuclear? What can we do if it does?"

    He swallowed a mouthful of okra then said, " If China gets away with taking Taiwan then we'll probably see others make their moves right quick so he's going to do whatever it takes to convince anyone and everyone that we still can. Don't know what we've lost in the way of ships and planes but it's been more than three weeks and we haven't heard from Carla. She was supposed to be in port at Norfolk about the time of the strike according to her last letter so we may have lost ships that were at the dock. We do know the East Coast bases were destroyed and probably the Gulf and Pacific Coast bases were damaged. Resupply is probably going to be tough so the President is likely going to be reluctant to take major losses in a toe-to-toe stand up fight with China. Wouldn't surprise me at all if he ordered nukes."

    John took a long swallow of his iced tea and observed, "Well, if we zap them we zap them. I can't see much we can do to get ready for it here that we're not doing already. I don't think China has the same throw weight of nukes that we have so I don't think she'd attempt a general exchange but if she does we're not downwind of any likely targets. An EMP burst could really hurt us long term but we're living with on again, off again power and telephones now as it is. If she did nuke mainland U.S. targets she's got to know we'd well and truly unload on her. Wouldn't surprise me if Russia didn't move in on some of her western and northern territory once the fallout settled. Probably going to mean fuel and other supplies are going to get even tighter. Surely it's got to have rained monstrous amounts in China too, you'd think she'd be too distracted to be worrying with Taiwan."

    The conversation went into deep shade so for a time everyone attended to the matter of their plates.

    "Daddy," Melinda spoke up, "Timmy Daniels tells me that a market is starting up to the old fire station in Archer. Do you reckon we can go tomorrow? It's supposed to open at 9:00 on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon after church if enough people show up."

    John considered the idea as he had another forkful of peas and rice. He swallowed and replied, "Mel, we don't have much to sell or trade at a market right now. Going to have to hold on to what feed we've got and it's for sure the garden is shot and we may not even get a Fall garden in this year. With daylight being so short from the cloud cover and range being so poor from the rain the hens aren't laying like they should and we're pretty much either eating what they lay or are trading the surplus eggs already."

    Mel's face fell and she turned back to her plate. There was silence at the table.

    "But," John continued after a moment, "I suppose we could at least go and look. Sooner or later this rain's got to end and we'll eventually be producing more food than we're going to need - I hope anyways - it'd be good to have a place to trade or sell it. Not looking forward to a ten mile round trip in the rain but I reckon we can go. We'll go Saturday morning this time and if it looks like it's going to take off we'll go Sunday afternoons afterwards. I've had a hankering to go back to church and we can attend the morning services first. At least for the folks in the country I think more of them would come on a Sunday so they could go to church and not have to make two trips into town since they're going to have to walk or ride a bicycle or horse."

    At this Mel, Heather, Ann and Lisa smiled. John glanced at his father who quirked an eyebrow but said nothing. "Reckon y'all have been feeling a little confined here it looks like. It'll be good to get out. Ten miles on a bicycle in the rain though."

    "Can't we drive daddy?" Melinda asked.

    "No, honey, we can't" John explained, "I did have fuel stored before the Impact but we've used a fair amount of it. With no knowing when we'll be able to get more what we've got is going to have to be saved for necessary work and emergencies. Radio says that limited fuel shipments are supposed to start this week and that rationing would be started for those folks who have a demonstrated need. Lisa here being one of the primary clinic personnel in Archer ought to be in line for a fuel ration I'd think. If we're careful and conservative we might be able to get by on that but it's too soon to tell. Shouldn't take us more than 45 minutes or so to get to Archer on the bikes, even in the rain. We can take clothing in dry bags and change there."

    The mood lifted somewhat at the table - most especially when Ann and Heather brought out the blueberry pie they'd made for dessert. As she handed him his slice Heather asked, "Uncle John, would you teach me to shoot a rifle like Mel?"

    John glanced at Lisa who nodded so he said, "Well sure, honey, I'll teach you to shoot. We can start on the basics tonight before you go to bed if you like. Taking an interest in shooting?"

    Before Heather could reply Mel spoke up and said, "Stevie Daniels said he won't take anyone hunting with him if they can't shoot" then took a bite of pie. Heather went red in the face and whirled around to stare daggers at Melinda.

    A chuckle arose from the table and he said with a glint in his eye, "I see. Well then, in that case I'll not only have to teach you how to shoot but how not to embarrass a young man when you can outshoot him!"
     
  16. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Endings and Beginnings

    John was dreaming of taking a cruise to the Bahamas when Big Red's crowing in the hen house woke him up. "Why do roosters have to crow an hour and a half *before* dawn!" he mentally muttered to himself and rolled over to go back to sleep. For a moment or two he lay still trying to slip back into his dream when the sound - or rather lack of it - that he should have been hearing brought him fully awake. He sat upright in bed and said, "It's NOT raining!" Leaping out of bed he ran to the window and threw it open. Sure enough he could hear no rainfall but water dripping from the eaves of the house. He ran into the living room in his drawers then remembered Lisa and Heather, went back into the bedroom and wrapped himself in his housecoat and went back and out the front door to stand in the yard. Ann groggily stepped out onto the porch to say, "John, what on Earth are you doing standing in the yard? It's 4:30 in the morning!" He saw his father step out of the barn. John stood face up to the sky. It was still cloudy and overcast, the stars were not to be seen but no rain fell on him. "It's not raining Ann! It's stopped! It's not raining!" he shouted as he ran back up on the porch, grabbed his wife and swung her around and kissed her. They went down the steps and stood in the yard again as his father walked up.

    In minutes the entire house was awake and standing in the yard looking up at the blackness overhead rejoicing over the lack of rain.

    "Cool!" Heather said and squelched her toes in the wet grass with Melinda.

    "Thank God!" Lisa said passionately, "These bike rides have been really getting hard to take!"

    "Do you think it's stopped for good?" Ann asked, "I mean, the Impact induced rain? Is it ending?"

    John said, "Probably not. I expect it'll rain off and on for a while longer yet until the last of the asteroid strike energy dissipates but I think this is a sign that it's beginning to wind down. I wonder how much we've had since Impact? Anyone heard lately, I missed the news last night."

    Robert replied, "News last night said we were supposed to top seventy two inches total since the strike sometime last night or this morning. I think I've had enough of standing in the mud so I'm going in to fix a pot of coffee."

    Everyone had seen as much of nothing as they cared to see so they all went back inside and set about preparing breakfast - two hours early but no one wanted to go back to bed."

    Melinda asked, "Do you think we'll see the clouds break today? It'll be good to see the sun again. I've been feeling like a mushroom."

    Her father said, "I don't know but it's a hopeful sign. Clouds have got to break up sooner or later."

    John and Robert went into the barn to put fresh bedding down and feed the goats. The chickens wouldn't come off their roosts for another couple of hours yet so they'd come back to put their scratch down after breakfast. They opened all the doors and windows into the barn to promote air flow. Even the animals seemed excited with the younger goats bouncing off the walls.

    After breakfast the six o'clock news came on and the end of the rainfall was the lead story. The official weather service reading was for seventy two and three quarters inches of rain from the first day until the rain had stopped at just past three a.m. in Gainesville but as expected the forecast was for more rain in the late morning or early afternoon. The meteorologists did say they thought the worst of the Impact induced rainfall was over and the sun was expected to put in its first appearance in weeks over the course of the next several days. Even the news that hurricane Gustav had reached Category Three and was turning northwest towards the Florida peninsula from its present location several hundred miles beyond the remains of the Bahamas did not diminish their brightened spirits.

    While Mel and Heather stayed behind to wash the breakfast dishes and mind the baby the adults went outside to survey the garden. If the rains were going to ease up it would be possible to work the soil once it had a chance to drain. Fortunately, the garden was on a slight rise so water ran off quickly. "We've got enough gasoline still that we shouldn't have any problems turning up the present garden area and there's enough usable room that we should be able to just about triple it in size." John observed, "It's going to mean a lot of labor but it'll greatly extend the food storage and maybe even give us enough to trade at the market. If we keep winter greens going we'll be able to keep up egg production through the cold time and they should fetch a good price. I didn't see but one other person trading eggs last weekend and she sold out right quick."

    Robert bent down and picked up a handful of soil and examined it. "After six feet of rain we've probably had a serious loss of nutrients. Even with fertilizer this Fall's garden is likely not going to produce the way we'd expect. We'll need to expand but we might not have as much to trade as we might think. Been reading your books and they said something about increased levels of ultraviolet light after an impact event. We're going to need to find what can take higher UV and what can't so we won't waste seed, fertilizer and time."

    John studied the blank, gray sky for a moment then said, "Well, the Impact was smaller than the ones that were modeled so maybe we won't have so much of a UV problem but you're right. Somewhere I've got a list of crops that will withstand higher UV levels and those that won't. We'd better find it. I seem to recall the grains were OK but some of the beans weren't. I suspect we'll get cold weather early this year so we'd better be sure to plant cold hardy crops as well. We've never grown oats before but we've got a couple of hundreds pounds of whole oats in the feed cans. We should try out an acre or two, they'll grow through the winter and be ready for harvest about the time we want to put in the corn. I think we can even use them for winter grazing if we manage it carefully."

    Ann turned and looked the workshop, "We had a lot of trouble with that rototiller last Spring. Have you tried to crank it yet?"

    "No" John replied, "Not yet, but this time I made sure there was plenty of fuel stabilizer in it when I put it away. Probably ought to sharpen the tines too. It'll be a few days at least before the grounds dry enough to work so we'll have plenty of time to get all the equipment running. Sure hope the pasture recovers, we're going to need all the grass growth we can get before frost to make the hay last."

    They were all walking towards the orchard when Melinda came running up from the house. "Daddy!", she said out of breath, "There's three soldiers at the gate in a Hummer and they say they want to talk to you!"
     
  17. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Tension - Part One

    The group walked towards the front of the property. John said to his dad, "Until we know what they want I think maybe you'd better take the family into the house while I talk to these soldiers at the gate - you'll be able to see me from the house."

    His dad nodded and led the family into the house as his son walked around the outside towards the front gate and the awaiting troopers. As he approached he could see the men and their equipment looked like they'd seen a lot of use. He put out his hand and said, "Howdy, I'm John Horne. My daughter says you were asking for me?"

    The older looking of the three shook his hand and said, "Good morning, Mr. Horne, I'm Sgt. Bob Nichols, Eastern Recovery Command. We're here to inventory your livestock and feed pursuant to the National Recovery Executive Directive."

    A puzzled look cross John's face, "Excuse me sergeant, you're here to inventory my what?"

    Sergeant Nichols adopted an affable smile and explained, "Your livestock and feed sir. Under the powers of the National Recovery Executive Directive all farms are to be surveyed to determine the extent of their surplus livestock and feed grains so they can be utilized in recovery efforts. Once your surplus has been determined the Eastern Recovery Command will issue a requisition, determine the fair market value, and issue you payment for your products. Right now we're just inventorying what is on hand and the experts back at the HQ will then determine your surplus and cut the appropriate requisitions. Based on the size of your recorded acreage this shouldn't take more than twenty or thirty minutes at the most and we'll be out of your hair."

    John let his voice take on a neutral expression, "I see, or at least I think I do. Sergeant, how are you defining what is and is not a 'farm'?"

    "Sir, I don't get to define anything. A list was generated at the regional HQ at Camp Blanding and sent down to the local HQ, a small portion of which was given to me. Your name is on the list as a farmer. I see a barn, pasture, and fields. Sure looks like you're a farmer to me."

    "Ah so," John replied, "Then much is explained. Someone is obviously working with county records which states our acreage and structures and came to the probably not unreasonable conclusion that we farm for a living. Unfortunately this is not true - my wife and I both work for the University. We don't sell any agricultural commodity products or anything else on the market - other than a few dozen eggs a week from my flock of yard hens. What with the weather and all even they aren't laying like they should so between my family, the family we've taken in since the Impact, and what we trade to the neighbors even those are all used up. Whoever generated your list is mistaken."
     
  18. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Tension - Part Two

    "Yes sir," the sergeant continued, "but the fact is you *are* on the list which means I am obligated to inventory your livestock and feed. The experts back at the HQ will compare this to the number of people living here on the property and will then determine what your surplus is."

    "Sergeant," a note of determination crept into John's voice, "I've just explained to you that we are not farmers and we do not sell agricultural commodities. This is a private home and what animals we have are for the consumption of my family, dependents, and immediate neighbors. Surely this 'Executive Directive' you mention was not intended to be used to search the homes of private individuals to seize their private property."

    "Mr. Horne, I'm just a sergeant. I don't interpret policy, that's for officers, but I do carry out my orders and they are to inventory *your* livestock and feed. I have my orders and the authority given to me by the regional Recovery HQ. I must ask you to cooperate or at the very least to stand aside and not hinder us."

    "I'm sorry sergeant," John tried to sound conciliatory, "but I'll have to decline your offer to search my home. Civil law still holds sway here and I do not believe your 'Eastern Recovery Command' has the valid legal authority to search private homes without a duly executed search warrant served by a sworn law enforcement officer - neither of which you seem to have. "

    "Mr. Horne, I have tried to be reasonable with you but you are unwilling to cooperate. I have thirty other places besides yours to inventory before I can call it a day and you're holding up the program. Allow me to make it plain for you - either cooperate, get out of the way, or we'll have to restrain you while we conduct our business."

    John was surprised at how steady his voice sounded as he spoke in a quiet manner to the trooper. "Sergeant, I presume you're familiar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice?"

    This took the trooper by surprise so he blinked and said, "Yes sir, it's required of all troops. Why?"

    "Then you are aware of the stringent requirements the UCMJ places on disobeying illegal orders?"

    An edge crept into the Sgt's voice, "Mr. Horne, I've reviewed my orders quite thoroughly and I have found nothing in them that I interpret to be illegal…"

    "But I do Sergeant Nichols. As a private citizen of these United States I find your orders to be illegal and as such I am justified in resisting their execution - if necessary by unmitigated act."

    "Mr. Horne, are you threatening me?"

    "Sergeant Nichols, if you intend to attempt to carry out these illegal orders which you have been given by whatever misguided individuals are presently in charge of this Eastern Recovery Command then, yes, you may construe this as a threat."

    "Mr. Horne," the sergeant's voice was very cool, "that pistol on your belt isn't going to do you much good with the three of us standing here with rifles. Now just stand aside and let us get on with our job."

    "Sergeant, as I've told you before my family lives here but there is only myself standing here in front of you. You may not see them but right now we are betting our lives - yours and mine - that they can see you - through rifle scopes. Your body armor will not avail you. The second you attempt to lay hands on me or draw your weapons you, your troops, and your Hummer will never be seen again. I honestly and truly do not want any trouble with you but I cannot allow you to endanger the lives of my family."
    The two troopers became very still and the sergeant's hand eased slowly away from his holstered pistol towards which it had been gravitating. "Mr. Horne, let's not be rash now. You really don't want to start this kind of trouble. We are NOT here to endanger ANYONE - most especially not your family. All we want to do is to inventory your animals and feed so that whatever you don't need can be distributed to the hungry. You've got to know there are tens of thousands of refugees in this county alone and a hell of a lot more in the other interior counties. Food is getting tight and is going to get tighter before it gets better. It's everything the Guard and civil authorities can do to keep order and if things get much hungrier it won't be enough. There's not enough active duty troops in the States to seriously back them up without resorting to killing people - a lot of people. Surely you don't want it to come to that."

    "No, sergeant, I don't want it to come to that but you and I both know that it's almost certainly going to in spite of however much food your 'Recovery Command' can 'requisition.' What you're proposing to do very much threatens the survival of my family because you and I both know that these faceless bureaucrats you are toadying for will surplus away my family's food supply until we are in the same straits of starvation that the refugees are in. I've told you twice now we DON'T raise commodity livestock or crops. We have NO surplus. Everything we are capable of producing at the present time is consumed within a half mile of this house keeping my family, dependents, and my neighbors are alive. With any luck and by the Grace of God we'll make it through to next Spring with sufficient breeding stock and seed left to ramp up our production and maybe by then we'll be able to do some real farming but right now we have just enough to try to survive on while leaving enough to have *something * to farm with next Spring. Let your Recovery Command get us the seed, fertilizer and fuel and we'll grow food to feed the starving for all we're worth but you cannot have the food my family must have to survive the coming winter. If you try to cross my property line by force you will be met with force. I realize you are only trying to carry out the orders you have interpreted to be lawful but I do NOT interpret them to be lawful and we will NOT comply. "

    "I am offering you the opportunity to go in peace. Please take advantage of it. Our conversation has come to an end." With that John stepped two paces back, keeping his hands clear of his holster.

    The sergeant's jaw worked and he looked as though he was going to attempt to carry on with his arguments. He stopped, slowly turned towards his two troopers and said, "Get in the Hummer! HQ got us into this ---- and they're going to get us out of it!" Keeping his hands clear he walked to his vehicle and got in with his men, started the motor, turned around and pulled onto the road going back the way he came.

    John waited until they were no longer visible around the bend then let out a long, long sigh of relief as he turned around. The front door opened and his father stepped out with his deer rifle followed by Melinda with her .22 rifle, Lisa with one of John's rifles, Heather with the little 20 gauge, and Ann with her .243.

    "I may have just gotten us into some deep ----," he said as he stepped up onto the porch. "This problem is bigger than just us - it affects the entire community and we need to let them know what they are in for from this 'Eastern Recovery Command.' Mel, you and Heather run over to Mike's place and ask them to come here right now, tell them it's urgent. If Mike's not there, ask Kate to come. When you're done there go tell Jimmy. Ann, you go and get Ed and Rick behind him. Dad and Lisa, take the truck and go to Miguel's then work your way back towards here. We've got to move fast. They're gone for now but they're not going to take this lying down and when they come back they'll be in force. Almost everyone out here is in the same position as we are and have as much, maybe more to lose than we do. If we act fast and stand united as a community we might be able to resolve this somehow where no one gets hurt."

    The house split up and began making their appointed rounds. John went into the workshop and began opening up some long sealed surplus ammunition cans. "Dear God", he thought, "Mike may have been right!"
     
  19. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Action - Part One

    Within ten minutes of the children's departure Kate Daniels and her two older boys arrived at the house followed soon after by Melinda, Heather, Jimmy Bryant and his brother Don who had come to stay with him. Not long after Ann came back with two more of their neighbors - Ed Strickland and Rick Young. Their faces grew grave as John explained to them the encounter he'd had with the soldiers and the implications it held for them all. They'd just begun to discuss possible options when Robert and Lisa came back in the truck with four more in the back. John knew the name of only one - Steve, who he'd met at Miguel's from time to time - and three others who he'd seen in Archer but had never spoken with before but who turned out to live between them and Miguel. He explained the situation to them and just as he was finishing Miguel arrived driving a large flat bed Ford with his sons Roberto, and Albert and seven others John assumed were Miguel's neighbors. Once again he launched into an explanation of the National Recovery Executive Directive and its implications.

    Jimmy said, "Goddamnit! The Sheriff's Posse just killed four men for rustling and here comes the government to do the same thing and call it 'requisitioning'! We're all going to be hard put to avoid starving before next year's crops come in if the winter is as bad as John says it's going to be. If they take what they please of our livestock and feed we'll starve for sure!"

    "Well, there are a lot of refugees in Gainesville, Ocala, Lake City, up to Newberry, over to Palatka and probably a lot of other places that I haven't heard of.", a woman said who John hadn't met before but who had come with Miguel, "The government's got to feed them. It's only natural they look to area farmers for the food."

    "But that's just the problem Angela," Miguel explained, "Except for Ed here, none of us here *are* farmers. I doubt that any of us here have made more than pocket change from what we raise on our land and with grocery deliveries stopped we're eating it all. Even that's not quite enough. Maybe Ed here has enough cattle that he could let some go but what are they going to pay for them with and how are they going to determine their worth? Do you know what a dollar is worth now? Government price controls won't let food products be sold for more than ten percent over what they brought a month ago but there's very little to be bought from price controlled suppliers. Flour went for a dollar twenty five a pound at the new Archer market last weekend. Next weekend I expect it'll be at least a dollar and a half, maybe more. Since this is the government they're going to pay what the price control board says the cattle are worth and pay for them with dollars that lose value every day. They'll pay a pittance for what they take and we'll be short of food with no way to get more"

    Rick said, "They're not searching my place and that's a fact. I've got my sister and her kids with me and we're all losing weight as it is. As soon as the weather gets cold we're going to butcher my two pigs so we can stop feeding them. Like as not we'll be eating the pig feed before anything we can plant comes in."

    Ed Strickland joined in, "Well…, I'm willing to sell them cattle. What with having lost that last cutting of hay to the rain and the possibility of a prolonged winter I'm not going to be able to feed them all so someone might as well eat them. I'll be damned if they'll just waltz in and tell me how many I'll sell and for how much though! I'll sell for a reasonable price but I'll decide how many I'll sell, not them."

    Kate Daniels said, "John, I've got a message into Mike over the radio to come here right away and I told him what Heather and Mel told me. He said he was on the way but he didn't know what he'd be able to do. Do you have a plan or anything?"

    John paused for a moment before speaking, "Well, the most important thing is to not let them take the food we're going to need to survive the winter and the second most important thing is to make sure no one gets hurt. I can't help but think that if the whole community presents a visibly united front they'll listen to reason… They'll probably listen better if we can get them at a disadvantage though where they can't damage our homes."

    He turned, looked at Jimmy and asked, "You were in the infantry in Vietnam so you've had some experience in this. Is there some place we can box them up and make them listen to us?"

    The man considered for a moment before replying, "Yeah, I think if we can barricade the road on just this side of Skunk Bend where the tree line crowds the road on both sides we can block them there. Of course, it all depends on what they come with. Nothing we have is going to trouble even an APC much less any real armor. A few Hummers and a couple of trucks or something we can make an attempt with."

    Ann put in, "When they left all they knew they were dealing with was just us and Lisa. If they think there's just four adults and a couple of kids would they send a lot of troops with the situation in town being as bad as we keep hearing it is?"

    Jimmy said, "You might have a point. They're really short on manpower from what Mike tells me so for just one family of holdouts they may not send more than a couple of Hummers. We can probably deal with those if it we get them at a disadvantage. I'll go get my chainsaw and John you get yours and let's head to Skunk Bend."

    The group nodded. Miguel said, "If there's anyone that doesn't want to be a part of this say so and I'll drop you off. I'm going back to my place so Roberto can get the other truck. John, we'll meet you at Skunk Bend. Vaya con Dios!"
     
  20. A.T. Hagan

    A.T. Hagan Guest

    Action - Part Two

    "Sergeant," the man in the right seat asked, "how far out of Archer did you say these people were?"

    From behind the wheel the non-com replied, "About five miles out of town to the southwest down the county road. Nothing much out there but scattered houses, barns, gardens, pastures, and woods. Other than planted pine and maybe hay I didn't see a terrible lot of what I'd call real farming. If you don't mind my saying so, sir, this fellow Horne may be right."

    "That's not for you or I to decide," said Captain Frank Swift, "we've got clear orders from Blanding and fifty five thousand hungry refugees in Alachua county alone that have got to be fed. If we let this fellow Horne get away with this it'll spread across the whole damned county and the entire effort will collapse. We're going to inventory his place and get this program back on schedule!"

    Sgt Nichols sighed, said "Yes, sir.", and drove on. He darkly thought to himself, "Christly way to save the nation. Wish I was back in Arkansas."

    The convoy of three Humvees and sixteen troopers passed unmolested and apparently unnoticed through Archer, they saw no one on the street or in their yards even though it was early afternoon and not raining. The Sergeant shifted uneasily in his seat. "Captain," he asked, "When did you join the Army?"

    Swift frowned slightly and replied, "In 1995 after I graduated. Why do you ask?"

    "Just trying to make conversation. Me, I enlisted back in the eighties, just in time to be sent to Panama. Spent some nasty time in Haiti and like to have sweated to death in Saudi during the Gulf War. Figured we'd be for Afghanistan this year or next some time but with the Impact and all I suspect we'll be pulling out there. Here's the county road. We turn left here and it's about five miles to Horne's place. White house with dark green trim. Barn in the back painted the same way."

    "We'll pull up out front and have the troops deploy." The Captain explained, "This Horne fellow doesn't sound like he really wants a fight. Once he sees there's sixteen armed troopers surrounding his place he'll listen to reason and you can get on with your inventory. I'm surprised you weren't able to handle this yourself Sergeant."

    Nichols sighed again and said, "yes sir."

    At about three miles out of Archer the road passed between a thick, mature stand of planted pine on one side and a heavy stand of oaks and tangled undergrowth on the other. The road began to bend more to the south and the trees crowded close. As they were halfway around the bend they saw a number of pine trees felled across the road making a barrier too high for the Humvees to climb over. A man sat on top of the trees, his hands resting on the trunks, apparently unarmed.

    "That's Horne, Captain," the Sergeant said, "but I don't see any of his family. We're still a good two miles or so from his place."

    "Stop a hundred feet in front of him Sergeant." The Captain instructed, "I'll get out and talk to him." He picked up the radio mike and spoke with the other two vehicles. "Have all the men get out when we stop, but keep their rifles slung. We're just going to put on a little show of force but I don't want anyone getting hurt."

    The Sergeant did as he was instructed, stopping short of the trees. The Captain stepped out, leaving his rifle in the vehicle and approached the man on the trees.
     
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