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By D. Michael Battey
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 D. Michael Battey
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Chapter OneJuly 7, 2039: The home security system announced, "Commander Hoggue, Buzz Striker on line one, which room?"
"Right here, Nellie, thank you."
Marine Lt. Colonel Theodore "Buzz" Striker's audio and video streams were routed to the monitor in the kitchen. Buzz, who appeared to be in the den at his condo on the DuPont Circle in Washington, DC, was now a highly placed intelligence officer at an NSA office in the Pentagon. His field of expertise was biological warfare, and the Chinese were his forte.
"Dwight, you remember my recommendations when Sandra and I were down there last month?" Navy Commander Dwight Hoggue did take Buzz's recommendations to heart. They chilled him to the bone, then and now.
Hoggue and Striker were highly disciplined, steely-nerved men, cut from the same genetic cloth. They had been forged, tempered, and annealed in a $2 billion nuclear submarine. The two men, who had stared death in the face and prevailed, seemed possessed during that last visit, obsessively talking about infectious diseases. Their intelligent wives were entranced instead of bored by the dialogue, and they eagerly joined the macabre conversation.
Dwight's mind flashed on the many years ago he was in that airport in Albany, New York, after visiting his mom. Hoggue was on furlough after his graduation from Annapolis. He was reading The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. From that book and many others since, Dwight Hoggue learned about Ebola, prions, mutated viruses of all kinds, more than a few infectious particles with and without nucleic acids, recombinant DNA, and gene therapy. The Coming Plague was scary stuff, until that lady in the shawl and the granny glasses read the cover and, in that rude, nasal New York tone said, "The Coming Plaque. So what are you? A dentist?"
Presently, Dwight was still in the navy but was now stationed at CentCom at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. His command and Buzz's command interacted with each other often.
"Yeah, Buzz, how could I forget?"
Silence lasted several long, long seconds.
Dwight broke the silence. "No!"
"Yes," said Striker.
"An index case of the Big One?"
"Numerous index cases, so it has to be man-made," Striker said with overwhelming sadness in his voice. "The Chinese say it's a highly mutated, highly aggressive H5N1 avian RNA virus, causing a cytokine storm in its victims in a matter of hours. The CDC received some samples from our diplomatic staff in Beijing, and the CDC says that's bullshit. It's not naturally occurring. They've never seen anything like it.
"Each particle has a lipoprotein capsule around two distinct nucleic acid molecules: number 1-coding genes that work in trans, which are heterologous plasmids; and number 2, cis-acting sequences to do some kind of transduction."
Hoggue was well aware that transduction was a dead-end infection that introduces functional genetic information into target cells.
Striker sadly, ominously continued. "Dwight, we believe this is an engineered infectious agent, like a synthetic nano-probe for gene therapy. And get this-the envelope has a terrifying resemblance to smallpox!"
"Smallpox, Buzz? Is there even a sample of that anywhere in the world?
"Yes, Dwight, one in the United States and one in Russia. And God help us, the coding genes and the cis-acting sequences are recombining into productive, viral-like particles. If this is gene therapy, that is not supposed to happen."
"Then what the hell is causing the plasmids and the cis-sequences to reconstitute?" Hoggue asked, disbelief in his voice.
"We ... don't ... know, dammit! It's worse than anything we could have imagined; if our intel is correct, there's a 100 percent lethality. Point of infection is human body fluid of any kind, including any little cough, and the particles stay viable on surfaces such as shopping cart handles for hours and hours, thanks to that very sturdy lipoprotein envelope. Did you and Marty do like I said and get a mortgage on both houses?"
"Yes, Buzz. When you tell it to Marty and me like you did last month, we have to take it to the bank, and we did, literally. Between my son's equity, Marty and me getting mortgages on both houses, cashing in my Northwestern mutual accounts, and with Marty's inheritance, we had a cool million dollars. I talked to that Reynolds guy in St. Petersburg and got all million of it converted to Krugerrands. The 'rands were authenticated by that jewelry appraiser in Altamonte Springs that you referred me to. The 'rands are in the safe at the house here in Tampa, but we're ready to move to the cabin. Should we go now?"
"Absolutely, Dwight. Pack up your son and his familyand then you, Marty, your son, and his family skedaddle out of Orlando and go to your cabin in the panhandle with lots of rifles, ammo, groceries, bottled water, and supplies. Get ready to stay isolated for three months, maybe longer. With a little luck, you can then return to Orlando. You take your pickup truck. Tell your boy to drive his dualie and keep enough fuel in reserve tanks to get back to Orlando, in case some Florida crackers siphon all the fuel from the trucks' tanks. Those Florida good ol' boys refer to eight feet of garden hose as a 'Carolina credit card.'"
"Oh Christ, Buzz. That bad? You think this is 'the Big One'?"
"Yes, I do, Dwight. I hope all of you are still alive when this is all over. I hope Sandra and I are alive as well, but be prepared for the worst. And by that I mean losing some of your grandkids, your wife, your son, or your daughter-in-law, if you don't lose yourself as well. You can't do anything about your daughter and her family in Albuquerque, except immediately warn them and get them to her cabin in the Jemez Mountains. Did you prepare her like I suggested?"
"Yes, Buzz, and she's spent the past month stockpiling stuff at her cabin, thank God, as Marty and I have been stockpiling the cabin near Defuniak Springs. I sent Heather enough money to buy everything she needed for lasting more than three months in the Jemez Mountains. She knows how to hunt; she'll be fine for weeks, even months, after that. Thank you, Buzz. We owe you our lives. We didn't think it would be this soon."
"You can thank me when all this shit is over. It hasn't hit the fan yet, but it will in the next two weeks or so, when it spreads outside of China. Mark my words. Buy everything you can for a long siege; stock the cabin well during the next week. After that, stay out of town and away from everybody. I mean it, Dwight. One week, then complete isolation. Gotta go, Commander, lots more calls to make to family and loved ones."
Chapter TwoChristmas Day, 2039. Commander Hoggue was devastated. Both his grandchildren were dead. His wife had died. His son, Donald, and daughter-in-law, Madeline, had survived. What the hell had happened? How contagious was this virus or whatever it was? They'd had no contact with anyone after a week at the cabin. They made limited contact with people, shopping at night for six days, and then only gassing up the trucks and filling the jerry cans on the seventh day. No reports of sickness yet in Milton, Bagdad, or Crestview. A few members of the overseas flight crews at Eglin Air Force Base were getting sick, but no one outside the base knew it.
Thank God for the Grid, the laser fiber-optic network that was ten thousand times faster than the old Internet. It was the mature spin-off from CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, the particle physics center that created the World Wide Web. After they'd heard initial reports of the plague on the Grid and then lost the broadband signal, the commander and his family were fine for more than two months. They still had enough supplies for another month, and they had fresh venison. It spoiled quickly without refrigeration, so they took the spoiling meat far from the cabin and tossed it in crevices in the rocks. It attracted no carrion eaters, and the commander thought that was odd. This was still Florida; vultures, opossums, and wild hogs were common.
The cabin was on the edge of the Blackwater River State Forest. Commander Hoggue and his son, Donald, forayed near the town of Milton, and they scanned the town from about a quarter mile away through powerful navy binoculars. They saw the reason there were no carrion eaters left in the forest near the cabin. They had all moved to town for the easy scavenging there. Father and son saw the bodies in the streets, saw animals plundering the corpses, smelled the stench, and became sick to their stomachs.
* * *
They arrived back at the cabin in late afternoon. A small dog was in the driveway and had brownish-red glop on its muzzle. The dog, a very young Doberman, was a friendly thing, wagging its tail and not afraid at all. Commander Hoggue was wary. The dog came near, and Hoggue took his Model 1980 Colt .45 out of a hand-tooled holster. He shot the Doberman in the heart, lest brains get splattered in the driveway.
Little Timmy came running down the driveway, crying, "You kill my doggy. Why you shoot my doggy?" Timmy went to pet the dog, as he had done before his dad and grandpa had arrived home.
"No, Timmy!" his dad screamed, and he grabbed his son's hands, noticing the traces of old, clotted blood on the child's fingers. "Timmy, did you pet the doggy?"
"He's my doggy. I want my doggy," the child wailed.
"Oh Christ, Dad, the dog's been eating carrion. Look at his muzzle, and look at Timmy's hands."
"Let's get him washed up, son. I hope it wasn't human remains."
* * *
Timmy died first, three days and five hours after his doggy was shot, seventy-seven hours almost on the dot. His grammy and his sister went next, within the hour. They had all screamed at first, often, for the first day. The second and third day, they were so galvanized and racked with pain that all they could do was pant and grunt, their tortured eyes and gray tongues bulging, every muscle taut, like one constant grand mal seizure from hell. At the end, their bodies twisted into a death throe posture known as opisthotonus, an extreme, dorsally hyperextended posture of the spine, characterized by the skull and neck recurved over the back, throat stretched and finally closed, and they gasped their last breath.
Commander Hoggue stood with his son and daughter-in-law and watched in horror, too stunned to do anything but fall into an exhausted sleep for a few hours.
Commander Hoggue buried his wife. Donnie and Maddie buried their children. They stayed at the cabin for another month, grief-stricken and numb, eating little, crying themselves to sleep and all jerking awake a short time later from the same nightmare.
* * *
January 25, 2040: The three went into Milton, finding an abandoned café on the edge of town. The old 6G air card didn't have a signal, so they plugged their iPad D4 into an old 5G router in a back room that appeared to be an office. Maddie plugged the router into the iPad's myPower charger, and wonder of wonders, they had access to the Grid!
Commander Hoggue had a hunch that if any newspapers had published to the bitter end, it would be the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. He was right. They spent the day at the café, opening cans of food, eating, reading the last issues of both newspapers, and loading the truck with cans and boxes from a very well-stocked storeroom that had yet to be discovered and plundered. There were several unopened five gallon jugs of Zephyrhills spring water in the office, and they took those as well.
* * *
The situation was grave and getting worse, according to both newspapers. It had started quietly enough, a slow news day turned into a fast one as reports filtered out of China. The country was then placated by the American Medical Association, mollified and pacified by every TV medical guru that "it cannot become a pandemic"they were seeing to that. This nonsense was repeated by state medical societies, area hospitals, and not a few enterprising physicians who offered discounted vaccines and shots. Chiropractors and naturopaths offered homeopathic medicines and miracle nutritional and herbal pills.
It was a variant of H1N1, and if you took precautions and improved your sanitation, it would not spread even if it came to the United States. The truth was, as America found out a week later, it had already come to the states. Yes, it was contagious, the media medicos said, but they had enough doses of vaccine for those who had not had an H1N1 booster.
As immunized folks started dying by the millions, the culprit was H1N2, then H3N1, then H2N3, and no!, it wasn't swine influenza A, it was influenza C. No! Recent tests indicate it was Avian H5N1. No! New tests showed it was a Hendra-like virus! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
Chapter ThreeOctoberDecember 2039: Over a period of ten weeks, the federal government collapsed, as had state and local governments. Complete anarchy had asserted itself within three months, at least in the smaller cities and rural areas. Orphaned children were already being herded into group camps, where they were at least fed, but their indoctrination and exploitation had begun.
In northern Georgia and in the Carolinas, a neo-Nazi named Speer, pronounced "Schpeer," had organized several anarchist groups into a paramilitary organization. In Florida, a neo-Nazi named Volksburg was organizing the anarchist groups into his paramilitary union-like structure. He was said to have several young teenage brides and had the demeanor and sexual stamina of Charles Manson.
The military was distributing food and other supplies, but without pay or discipline from their superiors, the military deserters joined up with paramilitary anarchist groups who were scavenging and stockpiling children, young adults, and all the food, supplies, guns, and ammo they could plunder from abandoned stores, warehouses, and armories.
With the population reduced by more than two-thirds, there was plenty for everyone. In the larger cities, law enforcement stood their ground for the most part against lawlessness but had their own skins and families to think about, if they had any family left. Acting police chiefs had their hands full seeing to the needs for survival for their beleaguered troops, and for the most part, the police forces were able to maintain some semblance of order. Looters were ignored, but not the slavers, crowed the newspapers.
The "Pollyanna" twits at both newspapers predicted that law and order would quickly reassert itself as the federal government was resurrected, and the rebels would be subdued with Bibles and law books. Hallelujah and praise God-a, but it didn't happen-a that way-a! Can you give me an amen, brothers and-a sisters?
* * *
January 26, 2040: Driving back to Orlando, Commander Hoggue had his doubts about the federal government being resurrected.
Excerpted from Tenacity Gene by D. Michael Battey Copyright © 2012 by D. Michael Battey. Excerpted by permission.
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