DAVID CAMERON BIT INTO his freshly toasted bagel whiled he thumbed through messages on his phone. When the crisp edge gave way to warm chewy dough, euphoria melted his steely expression. Then the mug, making its way to David’s mouth, stopped and he rolled his eyes. It was a message from his boss, and it was alerting him to a crisis.
“Not a pre-coffee crisis.”
He licked a bit of cream cheese from the corner of his mouth and glanced at the clock on the stove. Thoughts of what he had yet to do, raced through his mind, as he calculated time. Still in sweats from his run on the treadmill and needing to shower, David decided to dump the coffee that he had just poured. He then set his bagel down and turned to let his barking dog in.
The morning sky, a brand-new blue, promising a clear sunny day, just twenty minutes ago, was now black. Billowing charcoal plumes filled the air. The vast cornfield that bordered his property was now angry flames licking at his lawn, like a red sea pounding against the shoreline. Curly, his two-year-old labradoodle, was barking furiously at the blaze for encroaching on his property.
David was out the back door and across the lawn, so fast his feet barely touched the grass. He had Curly scooped up and was heading, top speed, between the houses for the street. By the time he hit the sidewalk, sirens could be heard in the distance. His sock feet, soaking wet from the dew, leaked out into puddles around his feet as he looked down the row of houses to his right. The Bradley’s house, just six lots down, was on fire and the whole family looked on in horror from the curb.
David put Curly in his car and scuttled across the lawn to the Kane’s house next door. He pounded on the door with one hand and rung the bell with the other, but before it was answered, he was off to the next house, the Murphy’s. Everyone else was outside already, but Able Kane and the Murphys were all members of a coveted sect of society, the retired, and therefore could sleep as long as they desired.
As he reached the Murphy’s door, the scream of the sirens neared. David was banging and ringing when the creaking door from behind, drew his attention. Able Kane had stepped out on the stoop of the house which David had just finished accosting. The old man surveyed the scene while holding his housecoat together with one hand and trying to tame what was left of his thinning hair with the other.
“What in Tarnation!” was all he muttered before running back inside.
Andy Murphy swung open his door abruptly and presented David with a look of indignation. The open door allowed a wave of sight and sound to wash over him as emergency vehicles ripped past. The look of realization on his neighbor’s face was all David needed; he turned and ran back to grab his pooch.
Any thoughts he had of zipping in to grab a few things were dashed by the fire’s progression. The red sea had now crashed over the shoreline and was washing against the back of his house.
As he stood across the street from his place, David realized this was the last time he would be looking at the home where he grew up. In his sock feet, holding his dog in his arms, he watched helplessly while the flames moved methodically from the back of the house to the side. They were nibbling away at the bottom edge of the siding the same way he ate the edge off his Oreos. He noticed an orange glow inside the main floor windows and then the drapes disappeared unceremoniously. The fire drew his attention back to the side of the house as it became impatient with nibbling and decided to devour the rest of the side at once. The flames quickly ate their way up through the soffit and into the attic. Moments later the whole house erupted into a fireball. Some structural shifting made the dog flinch in his arms and then a window shattered, causing Curly to jump.
David felt like he just ran ten miles in full combat gear, carrying a fifty-pound rucksack. He felt gravity pulling down on him--there was a vice compressing his chest, and spots were jumping around in front of his eyes.
David shook his head, blinked his eyes, and focused on the new noise occupying the airwaves.
“I NEED EVERYONE TO CLEAR THE AREA NOW! WE ARE CLEARING A FIVE BLOCK RADIUS IMMEDIATELY!”
The blaring megaphone voice, although startling, brought lucidity. People--most of them his neighbors were all moving past him and towards the corner of the block.
“David! Are you okay? C’mon, we’ve got to go.” Andy Murphy said, as he walked past with a box of granola bars in one hand and a carton of orange juice in the other.
As he fell into formation behind the large exodus, David realized his boss was still waiting for a response.
The weight of the twenty-five pound dog was starting to cause some aching in his arms, but it was Curly’s sharp elbows that forced David to set her down. “Curly, come.” he commanded, as he started towards the corner again.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. After three rings, someone finally answered.
“Telecom Ops Chief Richards will have to call you back.”
“What? Wait!” David quipped. “He’s too busy to answer his own phone?”
“David, he’s meeting with the Comms unit and ordering field kits to be prepped and loaded A.S.A.P.”
“What? What’s going on Peg?”
“Shit’s hittin’ the fan. You haven’t seen the news?”
“Peg, my house just burned down. I’m out on the street ...being ordered to get off the street.”
“Oh David, I’m so sorry for you, but listen, you’ve got to get your skinny butt in here like fifteen minutes ago.”
“Roger that Peg; I’ll be there in T-minus fifteen ...out.” he said, as he hung up his phone and pocketed it.
“Comms units? Why is Doug prepping comms units and field kits?” David wondered, “He must be setting up command control communications someplace. Why, what the hell is going down?”
David, an Information Technology Specialist for the Army’s 7th Signal Command reported to Telecommunications Operations Chief, Doug Richards.
Chief Richards, as an Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 was responsible for all base systems and communications as well as support for all domestic Army units from corps to battalion.
Under Chief Richards’s command, David's mandate was to ensure all computer networks and systems on the base purred like kittens. He normally ran everything from his office and did so with effectiveness and efficiency.
“C’mon Curly, let’s go, double-time!”
David picked up his sock feet, broke into a jog and led his pup around the corner and up the hill, weaving through bodies until they got to the top of Maple Hill Drive. This is where Maple Hill intersected with Truman Boulevard, five blocks from his house and where the closest bus stop was located. Glancing back down the hill he could see everyone else slowly plodding their way. He took a seat, pulled out his phone and called Jessie’s cell phone.
He had been seeing Jessie for six months, which was the longest relationship he had had--besides Curly. David was twenty and Jessie was twelve years older than that. The guys at work bugged him about having a mother fetish. Who knows, maybe there was something to that since he hooked up with her a year after his mom died, but he did not care--he loved Jessie. He met her at the dog park while she was out walking her pooch, Frank, a female miniature dachshund. Their dogs got to playing and they got to talking. Her perfume intoxicated him, but it was her sense of humor that really hooked David.
“David? Where are you? Are you okay?”
“Yeah babe, I’m good. We’re good. I’ve got Curly with me up on Truman. There was a fire.”
“I know” Jessie cut in. “I just heard it on the news. I’m on my way over.”
She did not live far so, David stood up and looked north on Truman just in time to see her car rounding the bend.
He brought her up to speed on the way to his work; describing how fast the fire had snuck up on them, how Curly had tried to put the run to it and how it had devoured his house--his home.
After clearing the base gates, they pulled up outside his building. Jessie said she would head back to her place to get Frank. She would take the two pooches for a walk at the dog park. It had been a while since they were there.
“I’ll be back to get you at five. I guess that’s seventeen-hundred-hours your time soldier.” she said smiling.
He said there was a good chance he would be late, but he would call her to let her know.
David got out of the car, turned back and leaned in. “Thanks. I mean really; thanks babe.” He forced his stressed face into a smile. “You’re the best Jess, I really appreciate this.”
“Love you,” she said smiling back.
“Love you too.”
David walked into Chief Richards’ outer office where Peg, the Chief’s assistant, was on the phone and looking frazzled. She glanced up and waved him in, but kept the receiver pressed to her head.
Chief Richards looked up from some papers on his desk and his eyebrows popped. His eyes then scanned David up and down. “You had better rectify your aesthetics soldier. I need you in a uniform A-SAP!”
“Listen David, I got a call at zero-dark-thirty by a lieutenant ordering me to a meeting when I should have been horizontal for another four hours. I’ve been here for seven hours already and you stroll in wearing mufti and no shoes?”
“Sir, my uniforms burned with my house this morning and I had to bum a drive to get here.”
“I don’t give a... oh, erm, well ...find yourself one and be in the conference room at oh-nine-hundred ...sharp.”
David walked into the conference room a few minutes early. Lieutenant Colonel Greg Jeffreys and Captain Peter Moore were already there.
The two men glanced over and acknowledged him, “Specialist Cameron, please take a seat.”
When David sat down, Lt Colonel Jeffreys continued.
“Yeah, word is...that it was all crap. There was no hit on the POTUS motorcade.”
“Even so.” started Captain Moore. “When those food riots broke out in Britain last week, it had been only three days since news of their shortage had leaked. In Japan, riots started in two days...they had total chaos in four. Hell...one week after their market dried up, there were reports of cannibalism.” Captain Moore’s grip on his pen, tightened as he spoke.
“Cannibalism Greg! ...and now the Netherlands have lost complete control...there’s been no word from their government for two days.”
“You’re talking apples and oranges Peter. Those countries couldn’t feed their populations before this crisis started. They were getting by on imports...and with no imports...they were done.” he shrugged his shoulders and then started again. “Look at Germany. They released information on figures and timelines, two days before the news leaked in Britain. They managed to maintain order by being open and running a ration distribution system...they’re still solid.”
“I dunno Greg. I look at places like Panama and Costa Rica, which have gone black...and the mayhem in Guatemala...the riots in Mexico. They’re right in our backyard.”
“Peter, calm down, you’re being paranoid. There’s gonna be casualties. We knew that...and more countries are going to implode. At last count, there were over sixty countries, which weren’t self-sufficient. They couldn’t feed themselves before. Those ones aren’t going to make it.”
“Well, from what I heard last night, the crowds are growing...from Maryland to Massachusetts...and they’re getting ugly. I don’t know if I’m really being paranoid.” Captain Moore answered back. “Things are about to simmer over.”
“Okay, now you’re being naive. Look, FEMA is already set up; we just need to get those crowds, herded into the camps and give them some hope. That’s how we maintain control.”
David had been half listening as they droned on. They were mostly replaying the highlights, which he had seen on the news all week--until just then. “Wait, what?” he thought, as his eyes widened.
He then focused on the conversation which he had until then, been sleepwalking through.
“Let’s get started,” boomed Lieutenant General Wayne Scantley, as he walked into the room with Chief Richards and Colonel Ken Moss in tow.
“Colonel Moss, bring us up to speed on the new National Emergency Operations Center.”
“Sir, the emergency operations center at Fort New Dawn was brought online nine days ago. It’s been operational for the last seven days. All testing and initial operations have been successful. They’re ready for our delta migration and cut-over.
Lieutenant Colonel Greg Jeffreys spoke up. “They have everything ready?”
“Affirmative. Rack space and power were provisioned for Cyber Command’s servers five days ago. Installation took two days and data synchronization began seventy-two hours ago. Everything else is already a go...the rest of the cooks are in the kitchen.”
David felt like he walked through a door into the twilight zone. “Cooks are in the kitchen? What the hell is this guy talking about? Migrating Cyber Command?” Although David was involved with all the preparation for a backup site, he was told it was just contingency planning, for an emergency offsite backup, which they hoped to get funded next fiscal.
“Doug,” the Colonel started. “How much time to complete your piece?”
Chief Richards looked at David. “How long to copy over the deltas and confirm Specialist?”
David stood up. “Sir, I need to stop all services and snapshot the deltas which will take thirty minutes. After that, I’ll start the transfer, which can take up to sixty minutes. The testing will only take about fifteen minutes...once the transfer finishes.”
“Well, we better wrap this up, so you can get started, son.” the Lieutenant General continued. “We’re stopping at Fort Leonard Wood to join up with the 5th and 94th Engineer Battalions, and the 92nd Military Police Battalion, who will be accompanying us to Fort New Dawn, Illinois.
You have exactly three hours to pack your kits, kiss your wives and have your butts parked on the trucks. I want wheels on the road at twelve-hundred-hours. We will be pulling into Fort Leonard Wood at twenty-two-hundred-hours.
Before zero-dark-thirty, the convoy will be pulling out of Missouri, because I want feet on the ground in Fort New-Dawn by oh-seven-hundred-hours tomorrow.”
When David walked out of the conference room, he was still reeling from what he had heard. Not just the mission, but also the state of the fires out west and the unruly mobs out east.
“Time is ticking.” he realized. David planned to start work as quickly as possible, so he could talk to Jessie during the transfer. He started jogging back to his office.
Chief Richards caught up to him and apologized for not having had the time to bring him up to speed this morning. The news had been flooding in all night.
“The fires in Nebraska had spread west into Colorado and east into Kansas. They destroyed crops and livestock across three states.
Information has been leaked detailing how bad the food shortages are and violence has been breaking out all over the country.”
Chief Richards did not realize that David had stopped walking three steps before.
“David?” he looked back to find him standing with eyes wide.
“I ...I’ve got to call Jessie!”
He pulled out his cell phone and held J. The speed dial sounded and he put the phone to his ear to find it was not ringing. He pulled it down and saw that it was not getting any service.
“Crap, no bars.”
“David, there’s more.” Chief Richards continued.
“Some of the ‘operations’ being run by the ‘other cooks’ in Fort New Dawn...include cellular jamming.”
“What the hell?”
“Yeah, they tell me that they started jamming this morning...one of the emergency protocols. It’s an ongoing denial-of-service, for all cellular frequencies. They said all civilian communications will be cut-off...until we get a handle on things.”
He saw the look of desperation on David’s face.
“Look, David...get that transfer started and then take my car over to say goodbye to Jessie.”
“Really Sir? I appreciate it, thanks. What about Donna?”
“We’re old fashioned,” he answered with a smile. “We still have a landline. I’m on my way to my office to bring her up to speed right now.”
Chief Richards winked and walked off.
David got things set up, started the transfer and then ran--full out, all the way to the parking lot. The Chief’s car sat ready, backed into a spot facing the gates. “Perfect! Thanks Chief.” thought David as he jumped in and wheeled it out of the lot.
Traffic was more frantic than heavy, as even more than normal; people were bending the rules of the road.
He pictured Curly, greeting him at the door, tail wagging. He imagined Jessie’s tight embrace, her warm cheek--that amazing fragrance.
When he turned onto Jessie’s street, a reckless driver came close to hitting him. The wild car traversed the crosswalk and then hopped the curb onto the sidewalk.
The fifteen-minute drive, took less than ten minutes, before he was pulling into her driveway. With eagerness and a little trepidation, David shifted the car into park and shut the engine off.
When David noticed Jessie’s front door was ajar, his excitement had ebbed. He scanned her property for anything unusual. Her car was in the driveway--unharmed, the garbage can stood--unscathed, at the side door, and for the most part things looked-undisturbed.
Two doors down, the neighbors were loading up their RV. A jam-packed car across the street, looked ready for a long trip, but other than that, things were quiet.
David jumped out of the car and ran to the partially open door. Slowly he eased it open and leaned in. Nothing in the entrance or front room seemed out of place, but he heard noise coming from the kitchen.
When David approached the corner to the kitchen, he could see that something was wrong. There were cans and broken glasses on the floor--”maybe a thief was still here?” One more hesitant step brought everything into view.
The first sight was Frank. She lay motionless, just inside the door. He then scanned across the floor where his eyes met another object. David felt his heart sink to his stomach. He felt weak--and sick--as gazed upon Jessie’s legs. She was on the floor. He was not able to see the rest of her from this side of the table, but he saw blood. There was a lot of blood. His eyes widened as he scanned further, where he found a set of legs, standing in a puddle of blood. The legs led to the counter, where he could see Curly lying, partially blocked by the figure.
The scene was surreal. He felt like he was dreaming--or watching it on TV--while half asleep.
In a semi-fog, David’s eyes tracked to the left of the figure where Curly’s head lay with his mouth open and tongue on the counter. His head was jerking a bit, as if someone was tugging on him. Blip, blip, blip drew his attention to the figure’s right, where blood was dripping from a coil of bowels.
The figure, now the sole focus of his attention, belonged to a man--a psychopath. David’s burning eyes, strained to focus through the tears that had welled up. His brow lowered onto his eyes and its weight narrow his eyes into angry slits. Tears had started to stream down his face, as his fury drank in the details.
The psychopath stood at the counter with his back to David. His long hair looked wild, tangled, and soiled with dry blood. He stopped his work and lowered a knife to his side.
Turning slowly and lowering his stance into a crouch, the blood-covered maniac looked like an animal about to pounce. A smile stretched across his face. “A man’s gotta eat,” he explained, in a low-pitched growl. He tilted his head to the side and then leapt forward, swinging the knife in a high and wide arc. Responded instinctively, from years of hand-to-hand combat training, David planted his back foot and leaned forward. He thrust out his hands, together, with elbows wide. His left forearm met the inside of the maniac’s elbow, as the knife was coming around. David’s right elbow crashed into the man’s jaw. Immediately, David hooked his hands onto the back of the man’s shoulder and neck, and grabbed on tight. He pulled down with everything he had, while bringing his knee up, delivering a solid blow to the killer’s midsection. He heard the knife clatter to the floor, but David kept throwing knees. When the third strike landed, he heard the wind come out of the man, and he felt him go limp. David twisted and brought his left elbow down hard, onto the slumped man’s jaw. The psycho’s face slammed into the floor and he lay motionless.
Instinctively, he reached for his phone to dial 911, but then remembered that the service was down. He tried to push the phone back into his pocket with a shaky, adrenaline-drunk hand, but it slipped and fell.
“Damn.” he said as he bent down to grab it.
David sensed a presence entering the room and glanced up from his crouch, in time to see the butt of a rifle, swooping down for a kiss.
The bumping and jostling brought David around.
“I see sleeping beauty is awake,” said a loud voice.
He squinted to see a man sitting across from him. He was bouncing up and down on his bench and was smiling at David. There were others beside him that came into focus--soldiers. He was in the back of a truck full of soldiers and gear.
“How the...?” he managed, as the man beside him put his hand on David’s shoulder and said,” Relax man, you’ve been through an ordeal.”
“Alex? Hey, how did I get here?”
“We were getting ready to pull out and there was still no sign of you. Peg came running out of the office saying she had received a call from your girlfriend’s neighbor. So we hauled butt over and picked you up bud. You’re lucky that neighbor saw someone he didn’t recognize going into the house. Even luckier, he had the balls to go in and scare the crazy bitch off.”
David put his hands to his head and squeezed in an effort to ease the pain and keep his head from splitting open.
The memories of what he had seen--what had happened, flashed through his memory like a horrible slide show as he leaned forward with his head in his hands.
After what seemed like days of driving, word came back from the front, “We’re entering the burn zone.”
David tilted his head toward Alex, “Burn zone?”
“Yeah, that’s what they're calling the area behind the wildfire line. It’s quarantined. They have a line drawn from Utah to Kentucky and up to Lake Michigan. The Midwest is a dead zone.”
The truck slowed and then stopped for several minutes. He heard many voices up ahead. It sounded like distant yelling. Eventually they lurched forward and started moving again. As they bounced and bumped, the voices became louder, clear enough to be identified as the indistinct mutterings of an unhappy crowd. Through the opening at the back of the truck, David could see they were passing through a crowd of people. Many were demanding food and water, some were pleading. The truck passed through rows of soldiers behind sandbag walls and past several gates. He watched, as soldiers would hurry over to close each one as they passed.
Twenty minutes later the trucks pulled into Fort Leonard Wood. David looked down at his watch and sure enough, it was twenty-two-hundred-hours.
There was enough time to hit the mess hall and the latrine, while the Engineer Battalions finished packing their trucks. Word was that the Military Police Battalion had pulled out an hour earlier. They were called up to bolster defenses at the St. Louis checkpoint, as there was a situation that needed defusing.
It was the dead of night. The pale orb overhead glowed through thin cloud cover. And before the clock hit twelve, the convoy had been readied.
A heavy-hearted David Cameron pulled himself up onto the truck, dropped his rucksack and plunked down. The tailgate slammed shut and the last truck was on its way, out the Fort Leonard Wood gates, before zero-dark-thirty.
They were on their way to Fort New-Dawn, Illinois.
Specialist Hubbard, sitting beside David, hauled his field radio up onto his lap. He snapped it on and started tuning, working from four hundred and down. There was chatter coming in, that he tried to pick up on. He worked the knob, until the voices became clearer.
“It’s St Louis guys! The checkpoint is under duress. I’m picking up chatter from the 92nd.”
Sergeant Green stood up and leaned in to hear, “Yeah, that’s the Military Police Battalion from Fort Leonard Wood.”
Hubbard agreed, “Yup, they headed to St. Louis, just before we got to the fort. We’re only about five minutes out now.”
“Jesus," Green said. “It sounds like we might be in for some action.”
Indications from the conversation on the radio were that violence was escalating. The crowd was throwing rocks and pushing back on the fencing.
The canopy over their heads started to rattle from heavy wind, as the beating sound of a helicopter closed in.
“Jeez, that’s low,” exclaimed Hubbard.
“Yup.” replied Green “Sounds like an Apache. I’d bet it’s an AH-64E Apache Guardian.”
The driver yelled back that they were being ordered to detour, around the checkpoint. “Strap yourselves down guys! Sounds like things are gonna be rough ahead.”
To David, it sounded like the irate fans at his last high school football game. There were more than thirty thousand on hand to see them be crushed by their arch-rivals that night. Thirty thousand, surrounding them, yelling, and threatening them. The unruly mob started throwing whatever they could find on to the field. As they huddled up to call their last play, a shoe actually hit the guy next to him, in the leg.
The here-and-now slapped David across the face and jolted him out of his daydream when a rock, the size of a baseball, hit the floor in front of him. The rock bounced up and hit Sergeant Green.
“You bastards,” Green hissed, as he pulled the rifle off his shoulder and readied it.
The outside of the canopy came to life as objects started pounding it from the outside.
Several gunshots registered close by, which incited the crowd more. It sounded like a riot had erupted outside and from the small opening at the back of the truck; a frenzy of bodies was swarming.
When the brakes engaged, no one was ready. David fell hard into the aisle as bodies toppled over him. As he struggled to untangle himself from the pile of people and regain his feet, David saw the faces of the mob glaring into the back of the truck. Sergeant Green saw this as well and was quicker to his feet. He ran to the back as someone tried to climb up into the truck. He caught the invader square in the face with his boot. Green pulled his foot up and went to stomp on another, would be invader’s head, but hands grabbed hold. An octopus of arms sprang up from behind the truck’s tailgate and pulled Sergeant Green off balance. He tried to grab the edge of the canopy with his outstretched hand, as he fell outward, with a look of terror on his face. A heavy rain of feet, rocks and makeshift weapons stomped out Green’s pleas.
Hubbard, who was closest to the back, was stunned and sat gaping. Two soldiers quickly knocked Hubbard to the floor while trying to push past.
David was desperately trying to locate his weapon among four others doing the same, when a hail of automatic gunfire erupted. He whipped his head around to see the two soldiers arriving at the truck’s tailgate. They had their weapons readied, but the rain of bullets was not coming from them. Above all other noise, screams ripped through the air, as the horror of bloodshed tore through the crowd. A deafening, single shot echoed through the truck, one of the soldiers staggered back from the tailgate, and fell to his knees. The other, squeezed the trigger of his rifle and stepped forward--screaming--as he strafed back and forth, in a mad panic. The last bullet left the chamber, as his weapon exhausted its clip, and the last few brass shell casings fell to the floor. The scream faded with his breath and his expression of anger slowly morphed into a look of horror, as the soldier stumbled backwards into the truck, and fell onto his butt.
Time stood still for a moment. Everyone in the truck stared toward the opening at the back.
Although the crowd could still be heard like a roaring ocean in the distance, a quiet fell over the small area behind them.
“You mother fuckers!” was the first noise to shatter the stillness of the shock. The screaming and the crying followed.
Their truck lurched forward and started moving again. David walked wearily to the back of the truck. He grasped both sides of the partially open canopy and leaned outward. He watched as they pulled away from the gruesome result. He could still hear the hailstorm of bullets from a block away and the screams of pain and loss. As their truck was passing through the outer edge of the crowd, he noticed the looks of desperation, not anger or malice, on the faces.
To David the single-word signs, carried by some, along the side of the road spoke volumes. These were people who wanted—needed—food and water. They were trying to find a way to take care of their families and they were desperate. He remembered hearing someone say something, years ago, that resonated with him, “We are only nine meals from anarchy”.
That prophecy was now coming to be, he thought.
High school Political Science class taught him that society works because everyone has a way to obtain bare necessities. We are all part of a precariously balanced community and when the balance is lost, society is devoured by the chaos of desperation.
A figure caught David’s attention; one boy, about twelve, stood alone at the side of the road. He wore soiled blue jeans and a tattered t-shirt. The boy’s head followed David as they drove past. His eyes fixed on David’s. He was holding up a piece of bristle board with three words,
WHAT’S FOR SUPPER?