Percy's Mission Chapter 40 through end


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Chapter 40

The group began to see signs of the serious damage caused by the giant earthquakes caused by the nukes set off along the New Madrid fault system and related faults. Very few bridges remained standing and the pavement of many of the roads was wavy or broken in many places.

Only the presence of the barge trailer allowed them to cross the Missouri River near Hermann, Missouri. They were getting rain every few days and the river was swollen with the runoff. Fording anywhere near the path they wanted to travel was out of the question. Aerial surveys done after the war by FEMA showed not one intact bridge between St. Louis and Jefferson City.

They were ahead of schedule by at least five days, so Percy ordered a camp set up. The majority of the group would rest for two days while the barge trailer was rigged as a tethered ferry. Then everything would be shuttled across, a group at a time.

The Kenworth Service Truck was taken across the river under the power of the two big Mercury outboard motors on the barge trailer. When it was across a Unimog was taken across with the implements needed to get the south side of the crossing set up. They were able to use the remains of the bridge approach to anchor one end of the cable that had been brought along for the purpose.

The north side was anchored similarly. Heavy pulleys were fastened to each end and the middle of the west side of the barge. A Unimog was fastened to each end of the barge with cables long enough to reach all the way across the river.

Three days after they’d reached the river the first ferry trip began. They moved the animals first, to get them onto fresh graze. On the north side the Unimog would put tension on the barge to hold the ramps against the shore.

When everything was loaded the Unimog on the south shore would pull the ferry across, with the heavy cable running through the pulleys keeping it from drifting down stream. The south side Unimog would hold the ferry against the south shore until it was unloaded, then drive toward the river as the north side Unimog pulled the ferry back across. It took them less than half a day to get everyone and everything moved.

They stayed the night on the south shore of the Missouri, and then continued their trek the following morning. Now experienced travelers all, including the stock, it took less than an hour each morning to strike camp after breakfast and a little over an hour to set it up each night.

Summer was upon them and they were able to travel for almost ten hours a day. They were able to manage twelve to fifteen miles a day, depending on how many streams and rivers they had to cross. They were carrying three bridging sections they made after they found three forty foot long aluminum I-beams at a building site on the way. Four-foot wide platforms were built on each beam.

In places where the crossing was less than thirty feet and there was no easy way to ford the stream, the work crane on the Kenworth utility/service truck was used to set the beams in place to make a temporary bridge. It was much faster than rigging up the barge trailer each time.

Percy wouldn’t allow them to span more than thirty feet, even though the panels were forty feet long. He was afraid of collapse. Gaps wider than thirty feet the barge trailer was unlimbered and everything was shuttled across on it. Often as not the barge only had to move a few feet to make the crossing.

In those cases, as they’d done at the Missouri, the Unimogs would pull the ferry back and forth, only without the stabilizing cable, since the Unimogs could stabilize it, with the much lighter downstream flow of the smaller streams.

Since the barge was over forty feet long, it often could bridge the gap, on the water, and not need to be moved. It couldn’t support the weight of the equipment across an open span the way the I-beams could. It had to be in water to support the weight, so the backhoe on the Unimog was used to actually widen the stream at the point of the crossing to get the entire barge trailer in the water. The barge trailer had tow bars at each end, so it could just be crossed by everything and then pulled out on the other side. The larger rivers, they used the same technique that had been used at the Missouri.

Though they did find an occasional crossing that could be used, their average travel distance dropped slightly due to the number of crossings they had to make, and the much worse roads in the southern half of Missouri, caused by the earthquakes.

They continued traveling generally southeast and finally picked up Interstate 55 north of Cape Girardeau. The road was in poor shape, because of all the earthquakes that had shaken it. There was not a single overpass standing, or underpass that wasn’t blocked. The pavement was offset in many places by up to dozens of feet.

The ground had also shifted vertically in places, both by shearing and in waves. There were places where the pavement was a few inches to a few feet higher on one side of an uplift. The waves generated by the earthquakes had pulled the pavement apart at the joints in places.

But the route itself still existed. They changed their procedure of staying on the pavement most of the time and went to running along the shoulders or median. Sometimes in the ditches or along the edge of the fences where the ground itself could be smoothed by the equipment Percy had brought along.

A Unimog with the dozer blade led most of the way from Cape Girardeau, smoothing the path for those following. It was not unusual to have to pull a stuck vehicle from clinging mud, since the rains continued, off and on, heavier than they’d been further north, due primarily to the proximity of the rather larger Gulf of Mexico.

It was outside of Osceola, Arkansas that the group had their only pitched battle with bandits. Percy and the Lieutenant had information, both from the government and from locals that a band hiding in the Mississippi bottoms were raiding both river traffic and road traffic. They were reported well led and well armed.

But the members of the group were seasoned travelers now. They knew what potential ambush sites looked like. Lieutenant Pastolori had all five Hummers leading the way, and checked every potential ambush site. They found the bandits along a stretch relatively good road. Each end of the particular stretch had a fallen overpass blocking it. Both blockages had been cleared, but the material was still piled precariously alongside the road.

Percy and the Lieutenant studied the situation from the basket of the aerial lift on the Kenworth utility/service truck. They’d lifted themselves just to the tops of the trees at a ridge a mile from the first overpass.

“This has to be it,” Pastolori said. “The road is pretty good, but the ditches are wide and deep. You go through the first cleared overpass… They shift the rubble to block it and the one on the far end. You’re trapped on the stretch of road. They have clear fields of fire from the forest on the one side, and probably some emplacements out in that field.

“I’m sure they are there, though I have to admit, I can’t spot them. I think the reports are right. These guys know what they’re doing. We would have checked this out, but we’d have sent someone through if Charlie hadn’t spotted the movement at this first overpass.”

“So what do we do? I have no problem backtracking a ways and going around. Take some time, but we have it.”

“That’s the safest approach,” Lieutenant Pastolori said. “And that’s what I recommend we do if you don’t want to do the plan I’m about to explain to you. I’d like to put these bandits out of business. You’re in overall charge. I can’t order you to have your people go into a fight. But I think we can take these guys with minimal, if any casualties.”

“I don’t like the idea of knowingly risking any lives. We’ll lose three days, but we should go around.”

“And if they have people watching and move their ambush?”

Percy frowned. “You think that is likely?”

“I’m not sure likely, but definitely possible. We’re reasonably sure the bandits are here. Even if they’ve had someone watching us, they really can’t have a true idea of the capability of your equipment. It wouldn’t take long to rig some shields on front of your trucks. They have the capability to take to those fields at speed.

“The Hummers with their firepower can take those that would be at the tree line. They may or may not know about the grenade launchers. Their people have to be right at the edge of the trees. Once they fire, we can direct deadly fire right onto them. “I don’t think those in the fields would be able to stand up to a charging wall of fast steel with concentrated fire coming from it behind barricades.

“We would come up like we would normally, but would stop and pour fire into the area where those that are to block the road would be. The Hummers would advance on the woods, and your team, with soldiers behind the barricades, would attack those in the fields, if there are any. I have to be honest. All the attackers might be in the woods, but I suspect there are some in those fields.”

Lieutenant Pastolori fell silent and waited for Percy’s comments. “The country can’t afford to tolerate banditry. I say we do it, but I’m going to be careful who goes and doesn’t.”

“Of course,” Pastolori said.

Percy lowered the aerial basket and the two of them began to detail the plan to the group. Percy was more than a little amazed at the outpouring of rage toward the bandit’s plan.

Tom said it best perhaps, when he commented, “They would murder women and children in an attack like that. I, for one, don’t want them doing that to anyone, not just us. If we go around, they will prey on others. From what we’ve seen on this trip, there will be others following us. I don’t want the knowledge that I could prevent something from happening and didn’t do anything about it.”

“I’m not going to lie about it,” Lieutenant Pastolori said. “There is a significant chance of casualties on our side. And we will be killing people. I will give them a chance to surrender, but I imagine they’ll just laugh. Killing people is not easy. It stays with you the rest of your life. Anyone that doesn’t think they can handle that should stay in the group that stays back.”

The consensus was to attack the bandits as the Lieutenant had suggested. The timbers from the bridging sections were quickly removed and attached to the fronts of all three Kenworths and the three Unimogs, leaving only small view ports for the driver to see through. Secure platforms for two riflemen were incorporated on each vehicle, with firing ports for the riflemen to use.

Percy would not let any family men participate, including Tom. They had sharp words over it, but Percy told Tom that he wanted Tom in charge if something happened to him. It was just as difficult to get Sara to stay behind, too. She wanted to drive The Beast, which was where Percy would be with his HK-91. He finally convinced her, too. Other than himself, at one of the gun ports on The Beast, all of his people either stayed with the bulk of the group or were driving the vehicles.

It went even better than Percy had hoped. Like the other attack, many of the bandits broke and ran when the firepower of the group became obvious. There were six trapdoor hidey-holes in the fields along the road. Each had two riflemen. The rest of the bandits, twenty-three more they learned later, were in the edge of the woods.

There were three bandits at each of the overpasses. The ones at the first overpass were all killed almost instantly when the withering fire erupted from thirty weapons when the lead vehicles stopped and everyone in them opened up with rifles.

The Hummers charged toward the edge of the woods, drawing fire. As soon as a bandit fire point was identified, the Hummers used their machineguns and grenade launchers to good effect to silence them one or two at a time. By the time the first half a dozen bandits were dispatched by the gunners in the Hummers the others turned tail and faded into the woods.

The bandits at the far overpass were seen running for vehicles that disappeared quickly down the road. It was an absolute rout in the barren fields. The three Kenworths, on their high flotation tires didn’t even slow down when they left the road. They hit the fence that bordered the first field.

Only a couple of rounds were fired from the first hidey-hole. The sight of the six onrushing trucks panicked every one of the bandits in the fields. They all climbed out of their holes and began running. But there was no place to run. A few rounds from those holding on securely behind the barricades on the trucks and, to a man, the bandits threw down their weapons, stopped running and lifted their hands into the air.

Percy was a little concerned that the twelve men might just be shot by his people, but a few words about turning them in to the authorities in Memphis would do more good in the area than their executions would, calmed the situation.

The soldiers went into the woods a little ways on foot, but there was no sign of the rest of the bandits, besides the eight they’d killed in the first few minutes of the short battle. That was a total of eleven killed, including the three at the first overpass. With the twelve captured, Lieutenant Pastolori was sure the bandits had been broken up as a force. One of those killed at the overpass had been the leader of the band. The second in command had been killed in the woods. Their third in command was one of the captives.

From what the captives told Lieutenant Pastolori, those that survived were not very likely to be of any great danger. That end of the line in the woods had been the least experienced of the group, and those at the other overpass had been mere kids.

With the amount of supplies that had been used up there was room to take the captives with them the rest of the way to Memphis. The hunters in the group had managed to take a few game animals as they traveled in the bottomlands along the now even mightier Mississippi. There was enough food to feed the prisoners, though there were calls to let them go hungry until reaching Memphis. Percy made sure they were fed.

Interstate 55 had actually washed away in a few places, where the river was much larger due to the influx of the Great Lakes waters at Cairo, Illinois. The going slowed slightly more with the conditions.

The Corps of Engineers had a pontoon bridge in place across the Mississippi, just above where it emptied into the new Memphis Bay. The group was able to cross with no problems, though only a few at a time were allowed to cross. It was the largest group that had needed to cross since the bridge was installed after the others had all dropped during the first earthquake.

They met the Memphis FEMA representative and he directed them to the housing the group would use until each family group picked out the area were they would settle permanently. Percy had intended to turn around and head back immediately, but the horse trader in him wouldn’t allow it.

Percy and those going back with him spent two days in and around Memphis, with Percy making several deals. A few were immediate, but several were long term deals, having to do with sea based products now available with the changes in the Gulf of Mexico. As it was, they froze half a trailer load of seafood in the reefer trailer and took it back with them to the estate. The fish tanks at the estate in the animal barn provided fish protein, but the seafood would be a welcome addition to their diets while it lasted.

Percy was able to buy a few hundred gallons of diesel in Memphis. There was some coming by way of the Gulf from Texas. One refinery was back in operation. Most was going to the military, but coastal communities were getting some distribution. One of the things he’d hoped for, and managed to get, were significant quantities of the chemicals he needed to continue and increase his production of biodiesel.

He was also able to pick up more seed, including a quantity of hemp seed from the Ag department of Memphis State University. He’d had quite a bit from having done a pilot project for the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Percy had not been allowed to grow it on a production basis the way he wanted, but those restrictions no longer applied. At least, he didn’t intend to follow them. And from the source where he got the seed, quite a few other people weren’t either. Hemp was too important a source of too many products not to start growing it again.

They started back toward the estate the last week of August. With the work they’d already done on sections of the road, without the stock, and with everyone going back riding Percy’s vehicles, the trip went quickly, as Percy knew it would.

They said goodbye to the military in a town that looked rather different from what it had when they left. There were still plenty of buildings, but there were very few mostly wooden structures left.

Tom, and the handful of other townspeople that had gone on the trip to help, went the rest of the way out to the estate with Percy and his people. Like the town, the estate looked markedly different. The work on the new housing was well underway. The fields were showing good stands of crops. The snow and ice was all gone, except for Percy’s insulated mound.

Percy noted the fervor with which the twins were welcomed back by the Statler sisters. Amy and Sandra had decided to stay on, while the rest of the family headed for Memphis. Percy was sure it primarily due to the fact that Jim and Bob were both staying.

Andy and Susie disappeared quickly, but discretely after the welcomes were exchanged. Sara and Percy were left in the house, with Mattie and Tom and his wife Marie, whom they’d picked up in town, as everyone else went out on their own. Mattie was quickly filled in on the happenings of the journey. She began filling them in on the progress that had been made at the estate.

“Things are going well, Boss,” Mattie said. “All the hands had pretty much learned what they needed during the winter. With my talented daughter at the helm, and Jorge’s help, the care of the fields has gone just fine. The animals are doing great. You could see how far the building has gone. Everything is ready to put up the wall for the greenhouse enclosure. The clinic and hospital is almost done.

“The storms keep raging through, and there is some loss to the crops, but we all knew there would be. But we have enough people and hoes to keep the weeds down the horse drawn equipment can’t do. The hemp, especially, is doing great. The shipments to town are going fine. We had some trouble with the methane thing, but they got it figured out from your written instructions and the books in the library. Every tank we have that can be used for waste oil is full. You should be able to make several batches of biodiesel in a row, without any problems.”

“Good,” Percy replied. “I was able to get enough hemp seed to do another eighty acres next year, even if there is a problem with this year’s crop. But if it goes well, we can have at least one hundred sixty, if not two hundred forty. I take it the special seed plants in the greenhouse are going okay, too?”

“Yep,” Mattie replied. “I check those myself every few days. They’re coming along great. I’m not sure how much seed each one will produce, but every plant is doing well.”

Percy smiled. “Plenty. I probably didn’t need that other seed, but I’m glad I got it, just in case. Now, how are the Doctors doing?”

“We’re doing fine,” Melissa said, coming into the kitchen, Jock on her heels. “And the baby even better. Welcome back, by the way.”

“Thanks. Can I hold her?”

Sara looked at Percy in surprise. They couldn’t have children, of course, and Percy had never said a word about particularly liking children. He’d always done fine with the ones they came into contact with during the last few months, but he seemed truly anxious to hold the baby and see how it was doing.

As he took the baby, Percy was asking, “How have you two been? Mattie tells me the clinic and our mini-hospital are about done. How’s the health of everyone, here and in town?” Percy was looking down at the baby in his arms as he listened to their responses.

“Barbie’s little Michael is doing just fine. Barbie is doing okay. She needs to continue to take it easy. She is really struggling to keep it together. Losing Mike this winter hit her really hard. She’s still struggling with the idea of being a single mom in these times.”

Percy only nodded, and Jock took up the report from his wife. “As you can see, Melissa, Junior, is doing just fine. As is her mother, as you can also tell.” His arm was over Melissa’s shoulders and he gave her a loving squeeze.

“Mattie finally got over that cold, but only recently. She is going to have to take it easy this winter, too.”

“I’m fine, thank you very much,” protested Mattie. Rather less forcefully than her normal protestations. She was beginning to feel her age.

“Everyone else,” Melissa said, is doing fine. The usual minor things. No more broken bones. Just a few scrapes and things from the various projects. Nothing at all related to the farming.”

Percy looked up then. “And in town?”

“Not as good there,” Jock replied. “A couple of people haven’t recovered very well from illnesses from the winter. And there are reports coming in now of outbreaks of human anthrax and really bad smallpox.

“I don’t know if you heard it from the military while you were on the road, but it was confirmed that both biological and chemical weapons were used. Haven’t heard too much about the chemicals from the weekly report from the Feds. We were informed that Wisconsin and Michigan were both hit with anthrax.

“It’s just speculation, but they think they wanted to infect the dairy herds as well as people. I don’t think they were expecting the terrible winter. They’ve lost most of the herds north of us. Quite a few survived, of course, in isolated events, but the big dairies couldn’t get most of their herds into enough protection to save them.”

Melissa spoke up again. “We’re really going to have to watch things carefully, with the additional inter community travel. If an epidemic gets started, in the close confines like we have here, and had at the school and city hall last winter, the entire population of any given group could be wiped out. Epidemics turn pandemic quickly in these types of conditions.”

Again Percy looked up and nodded. “Anyone in town need any special consideration?”

Jock answered again. “Those that are still weak will need plenty of good food, especially protein. Everyone else needs are similar, just not as critical.”

Percy stood up and handed little ‘Lissa back to Melissa. “They’ll get it.” He looked at Mattie and continued. “I want you taking it easy. Let the sisters do the work. Just supervise.” He looked at Melissa then. “Tell Barbie we’re going to need someone to help with the smaller children here at the estate when we have families here. She was planning to be a teacher. As soon as she is up to it, she’s in charge of the littlest ones. She’s now on the fulltime estate payroll. Make a note, Sara.”

He looked over at Jock. “Print up some flyers with things people need to watch for this winter, including the signs and symptoms of the pox and anthrax. Anything else you think important.

“I’ll talk to Susie about starting a real safety program. We’ve always tried to work safely, but I want people aware of dangers. What might have been a minor annoyance in the past, can be life threatening now. I’m going to go look over the construction. Anyone want to come? Sara?”

“I’ll be out in a bit,” Sara replied, smiling at Percy. “I’ve a couple of things I want to do here in the house first.”

Percy gave her a quick kiss on the lips, grabbed his hat, and headed for the door.

“Whew!” Mattie said. “He was on a roll, there.”

“It was this trip,” Sara told the others as the Bluhms took seats. Sara took the baby when Melissa offered her.

“He’s seen the effects of no organization. Many people we saw really did have it a lot worse than we did. Right, Tom?”

“Sara is right,” Tom replied. “Some had as much in the way of resources as we did in some of the cities and larger towns. But a lack of cooperation and coordination of resources, like Percy did here, caused as much damage as everything else.”

“Don’t limit your contribution,” Sara quickly said. “You were the main other half of what happened here. Without your leadership in town, much of what Percy did would have been wasted.”

“Maybe you’re right, but less than half of us would have survived, except for what Percy had been doing for years. He did it on purpose. It was like it was a mission for him. But think about that one barn we saw. It wouldn’t have taken much to have bermed it up and used it for shelter for animals and people. People died for a lack of forethought.”

“Percy has more than his share of forethought,” Sara said.

“Yeah,” Mattie replied. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve learned that he seldom does anything for a single reason. Most things that he buys have multiple uses, just like those ugly trucks. And those bikes of his. He uses one to cultivate the garden sometimes. Whoever heard of gardening using a motorcycle?”

The others smiled.

“He takes the responsibility he’s taken onto himself very seriously. He did before, but even more so now.”

“I know how he feels,” Tom said softly. The others looked over at him and smiled. Then they all noticed how much more gray hair he had than they could remember. The little group broke up then, Sara and Tom going out to join Percy on his inspection tour.

The work was coming along nicely. Sara could see that Percy was pleased. The structures would be completed by October first, with the rest of the estate’s equipment now back. That had been Percy’s goal. The weather would be turning bad by that time, but Percy was confident the finishing touches could be put on the structures and people moved in before the worst of the expected bad weather hit.

“Tom, are you, Marie, and the kids planning on moving? You know you have a place here anytime you want it.”

“I know,” Tom said. “But as long as we still have a town that is a town, I feel like I should be there. Some of us are going to finish fixing up the city hall and live there this winter. There and the school, with the improvements that are being done to it, should house anyone that doesn’t want to live off by themselves.

“I know quite a few people are going to take you up on the offer to stay here, at least during the winters. Now me… I was thinking… well… Never mind. It’ll be a couple of years probably before I could do anything, anyway.”

“What?” Percy asked. “You have a plan of some kind?”

“Actually, I’d like to get back to farming. It’s even more important than it used to be. I was a farmer for a long time before I went into the insurance business. You know that. I was leasing out the three hundred acres I had. I’ve been thinking about trying to farm it again. It’s just pretty difficult to get geared up again. In a couple of years, maybe.”

“You’re still concerned about the town. What about continuing to live there and start farming right there. With all the vacant lots now, you could start with them and then start working your acreage when you have things the way you want them.”

“Percy,” replied Tom, “You know I can’t afford to buy up those lots. I don’t want to trade my current land, even if someone would take it. I want my kids to have at least some legacy. And before you offer, I won’t use your property without paying for it, and I can’t.”

“We are going to need all the food and other organic products that can be produced. There are other arrangements that can be made, besides outright purchase. Such as lease purchase and farming on shares.

“If you want to use the arable land in town that I own, you can, for ten percent of what you produce. I’ll provide what you need, that you can’t acquire on your own, and you can pay it off over time with another one percent of production until everything is paid off. How about that?”

Tom looked thoughtful.

Sara urged him, “Talk it over with Marie, Tom. It’s a good deal, and the more substantive farms we have going in the area the better. Even with the weather, there’s rebuilding to be done. And it will be done. With the discussions going on in Congress, flat rate taxes payable by hard currency or goods, products, and services will provide the means for a full recovery eventually.

“Not everyone has the ability to inspire others to do their best, the way you and Percy do. If you have an ongoing estate, even if it starts small, our little area of Iowa will be a model for other communities.”

“You make it sound like a responsibility I can’t shirk,” Tom replied.

“It is, in a way. Everyone that can contribute, should, each in his or her own way. You’ve already been doing it, with you duties as mayor. I’m not suggesting you haven’t been doing your share. You have. It’s just that if this is something you want to do, anyway, it’s just one more way of helping the community.”

“What? Did you two rehearse this? You aren’t really leaving me much choice, the way you’re both putting it. I mean, it’s too late to start now, except for prep work, but it does sound like a good deal.” Tom paused, looking off into the distance for long moments. “Look. Let me talk it over with Marie and the kids. See what they say. They’ll be a big part in the success or failure. If they really don’t want to do it, I’m not going to make them.”

“I’m confident,” Percy said. “Marie’s like you, and your kids are your kids. They’ve all done more than their share. I suspect they’ll want to do this, too.”

They did. During the evening radio contact with town, Tom said as much. They would work out the arrangements over the next few days.


Chapter 41

The harvest of the early crops was beginning and Tom ran a harvesting crew for Percy, as part of their arrangement. Two crews were still working on the housing, but most of the rest of those that could labor were working in the fields. Everyone else was providing a support function of one type or another.

The weather cooperated, at least part of the time. The indications were, as feared, that it would be another severe winter. Equipment had finally been rebuilt to access the few satellites still in orbit, including a few of the weather satellites. Naval ships were a large part of the reporting network providing global weather information.

There would be no moderation of the North Atlantic weather systems with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream now traveling deep under the fresher waters of the ocean between North America and Europe and North West Africa.

Cold snowy winters and cool, wet summers would be the norm, counter to the normal weather cycles when the climate turned colder. Cool climate eras tended to be dry eras. There was less evaporation and much of the available moisture was locked up in ice and snow.

Warm climate eras tended toward lots of rain. With the higher rates of evaporation and the huge amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, the rain, drain, and evaporation cycle was constant. With warmer oceans overall, storm system after storm system would develop.

With the effects of the massive amount of ash and nuclear created dust that had entered the atmosphere, that would take years to eventually settle, temperature drops were worldwide. Less so in the southern hemisphere, though even there many more nukes had been used than most scenarios had foreseen. And many had been tectonic plate attacks, activating many volcanoes. The southern hemisphere, though with slightly clearer skies, still had significant temperature drops.

Instead of the world going into another little ice age, the nuclear reactions still going on under the oceans and seas in several places continued to pour heat into the system in isolated spots. These were creating huge storm systems one after the other, carrying large amounts of moisture, counter to the general cold era climatic trend.

Normally, when a reactor lost its cooling system, it would quickly go critical, usually blowing the reaction vessel apart by steam explosions, which scattered the reaction material and therefore stopped the reaction

In the cases of the nuclear powered ships and submarines that had gone down more or less intact, the cooling system had failed, of course. However, a more than suitable one was immediately available. The ocean or sea itself. The nuclear fire continued to burn, moderated and cooled by the salt water surrounding it.

A few of the reactors that went down still operating were nearing the time when fuel would need to be replenished. Most had anywhere from five to ten years of fuel remaining, under ordinary operating conditions. The reactors, controlled only at the level they were in when the sinking happened, and moderated by the seawater, would probably run for considerably less time as the sea took its toll on the equipment. In any case, it appeared that the particular distorted climate that the war and nature together had created would exist for at least another three to five years.

After that, nature would take its course. What that would be; only time would tell. For the moment, Percy’s and Tom’s concerns were planting, tending, and harvesting crops during the shorter growing seasons the current climate was producing. Tom was able to get some help from the Iowa state government, and the federal government. State governments, as well as the Federal government, were much changed, but still in place and beginning to offer real help again.

People were willing, for the most part, to pay their taxes, since they were payable with other than money, of which people had very little. Gold and silver were circulating again, but much of the trade that was going on was still for tangibles. With the government accepting them to provide much of the support required to do their work, the work was getting done. The economy was still running on a value base; gold and silver; but much of the actual transfers were in goods, products, and services, though valued on the gold and silver standard.

One of the highest priorities was the housing and feeding of the remaining population. So farmers got as much help as could be. With much of his reserves still intact, Percy traded most of the assistance offered to him to the few other farms still in a semblance of operating condition, including Tom’s in-town efforts.

As the town had done, county, state, and the federal governments took possession of property not legally claimed by anyone. They were honoring deals and trades, such as those Percy had entered in to with the former legal owners. Those simply claiming property because it was abandoned lost it to an appropriate government entity.

Towns were entitled to property within their pre war city limits. The counties, states, and federal government divided the rest. Counties got twenty percent for their use, the state fifty percent, and the federal government controlled the other thirty percent.

Some of it was sold outright, to people like Percy that had the resources to buy it. Most was leased out for use to generate the income needed to accomplish other tasks. In Tom’s case, a few city lots were rented from locals that still owned them. Most of what he was preparing to put into production were lots that Percy had bought from people leaving the area.

The war and its aftermath had changed Camden Dupree. After Percy had started using the bank as his central exchange, and other people did the same, Dupree, with the profits of his handling of the accounts, had begun doing things much the same way as Percy. He acquired some property, not just because he could, but also because it could be put to good use. In no way a farmer, the lands he bought he leased at the same types of rates that Percy started to do. A share of the production. But it let people get back to productive work, and put land into production that would have lain useless otherwise.

It wasn’t always farmland, either. He began financing cottage industry, too, just as did Percy. When Percy and Tom realized what Dupree had been doing, they met with him and set some long-range goals, and instituted cooperative plans to get them done.

One of the people that took Percy up on his new housing at the estate was Randy Phillips. He took one of the community housing units and one of the commercial ones for his use. His former welding service was now essentially a blacksmithing operation. He was converting some existing farming equipment to horse drawn, as well as building new, there at the estate, using scavenged and recovered materials.

That wasn’t to say that only animal-based farming was taking place. With the a few refineries going again, each state was getting an allotment for fuel for emergencies and for food production. The government would not provide fuel for other types of farm products. Since much of Percy’s production wasn’t food, he got very little of the fuel so allotted.

Tom, when he’d retired from farming and begun leasing out his land, had sold his equipment. One of the items Percy had taken in trade the previous winter that he really hadn’t needed, was a Kubota estate tractor. While it wasn’t suitable for large-scale farming, it was ideal for Tom’s city lot farming. The family that had owned it had been using it to mow their large yard, and for a garden.

Percy, though he had no need for it, and because of the Kubota’s utility, had kept all the attachments the family had for it intact. The tractor and implements were enough to set Tom up for the town farming. Partly because he simply didn’t want to get everything from Percy, on general principles, Tom made other deals for a pair of horses and a wagon, though they weren’t really needed for the ground prep work. The tractor would get done what he planned that fall.

Though he worked one day each week at Percy’s, as did Marie, Tom Junior, and Shirley, the rest of their time, other than town council time, was spent preparing several of the now houseless town lots for the spring. Remaining piping and such was taken down below ground level and carefully capped for possible future use. Then available manure from the animals being kept in town was spread and turned under. With the ground in furrows, it would accept all the moisture it would be getting through the rest of fall and throughout the winter.

At Percy’s urging, Tom prepared several basements that existed on some of the properties to hold water in the rare chance of a drought. Having seen the utility of Percy’s ice mound, he set up a system to make ice blocks to stack in a few of the basements that would then be covered with straw at the end of winter. The ice would be used the following summer to help keep some of his products cool until they could be sold.

People had learned a lesson the previous winter. Insulation was an important survival tool during the severe winters to be expected. Every acre of tall grass that grew naturally or had been sowed was used. Mostly for feed, but much of it found its way into, onto, or around buildings as insulation. Because of the great danger of fire, wherever possible it was covered with earth or a fair grade of adobe made from the local clay soils.

Tom converted one of the remaining large buildings into an insulated barn. With his team and wagon he moved some of the grass bales Percy baled up in order to insulate the barn. More were stored for feed and bedding for the winter for the wagon team, a riding horse, two brood sows, half a dozen piglets to be used for food that winter, two fresh cows, and two dozen chickens.

Part of the deal he’d made with Percy was for additional feed for his animals. It would be oats, some of the protein rich cakes left after pressing various plants for their oil, and some of the mash from his stills after the alcohol had been extracted. It would be enough to supplement the regular high-grade hay and the grass hay that Tom would buy. The extra milk from the second cow would not be needed for the family’s use. It would be sold or used as feed for the other animals.

The snow began to fall before Tom was finished, but all the weather critical work was done. The rest could be done at his leisure. The one thing he asked Percy for some help with was additional firewood. He simply had not had enough time to get enough together to last the winter, even with the much better insulated housing.

Percy had been careful of his wood harvesting. He maintained the harvesting rate of his coppicing woodland that encircled his estate and was part of the fencerows between the forty-acre fields that made up the arable land. Quite a bit of the land he’d acquired had some trees. Even those he allowed only limited cutting.
Many people were cutting anything and everything. Percy wouldn’t. There was quite a bit of scrap wood from dismantled buildings. It would be used. Percy would be making paper and cloth from the hemp he was growing eventually, but at the moment, at least this winter, the hemp straw that wasn’t used otherwise, would be available for burning.

Percy was raising tree seedlings in one of the new greenhouses that had been built that summer. The seedlings would be planted the next spring on some of the property that Percy now owned adjacent to the estate. The seedlings would be heavily mulched the following winter and each winter after that until they were large enough to survive without it.

With the tree spades Percy had; a medium sized one for the Bobcats, and a larger one, for the Unimogs; the trees would be transplanted to their final growth spot. Most of the trees were ash trees and would be harvested over and over again, through the coppicing process. It would just be a few more years before the first harvest. But Percy knew it was important to get the process started with getting the trees into the ground initially. With other fuel sources available for the meantime, Percy held fast on his tree cutting restrictions.

With the alcohol production going well, Percy was selling some of it to people who had bought the simple alcohol stoves that Randy was making and selling.

Two of the other sources for firewood were state and federal lands. They allowed selective cutting, supervised by a state or federal employee. Percy had enough time and resources to send teams in to purchase and harvest all the governments would allow.

He was permitted to take more than most, since he offered, and fulfilled, a promise to give ten percent of the firewood harvest to the governments for their use, and leave another ten percent with the governments for the governments to sell with no labor or fuel investment of their own. Percy added the government wood to the stocks he made available for sale to those unable to obtain wood on their own.

Steven Gregory’s grocery store had evolved into a bartering center serving the entire area, not just the estate, town, and immediate surroundings. Like Camden Dupree, Steven took a small percentage of each transaction from those with ongoing goods, products, or services to barter. He had an arrangement with the town to provide those that weren’t bartering on a constant basis, like Percy and several others, the facility for a small fee.

Once it became the primary place for the region to barter, the counties, state, and federal governments kicked in a little to support the operation. Most of the things the government agencies acquired wound up going through the Steven’s Barter Store. Like Tom and Percy, Steven acquired some additional property, including the stores adjacent to his store. He had a place to store goods and products that people brought in to barter on consignment.

Also, like Tom, he made arrangements to have ice made that winter and stored for use the next summer to make shipping some of the more perishable items feasible. People were learning how to deal with the situations that the war and climate had presented to them.

With the preparations complete that had been planned to endure the winter, those at the estate, in town, and at isolated locations elsewhere, put their lives into winter living mode. Only one trip per week was required to get enough of the estate’s products to the town to serve their needs, and keep Steven Gregory’s store supplied.

People stayed relatively healthy and happy. The Doctors Bluhm had a great deal to do with the first, and a little with the second.

Percy had a great deal to do with the second. One of the things he’d acquired while in Memphis was another large screen high definition monitor and home theatre system. The town had not had a theatre for years, but each Saturday night everyone that wanted could watch a movie in the gym at the school.

People had liked the fact that Percy had working video at the estate in one of the activity rooms of the bunkhouse. Now everyone could see some of the huge collection of movies that Percy had, in addition to those that people brought from their own collections. The town’s contribution to the community night was the power from the generator for the electronics. On Saturdays the generator was run and all the other things that needed power were taken care of at the same time the movie was shown.

As during the previous winter, Percy threw a huge Christmas party, providing mostly everything except the decorations. While there’d been a few outsiders the previous time, quite a few people managed to show up for the party. The invitation with RSVP had gone out through the radio network in the area, now kept manned daily. Several government officials attended, from various jurisdictions.

The news coming in that winter was much better than that they’d received the winter before. Theirs was not the only community doing better than it had the previous winter. One final blizzard dragged on until April the next spring. There was a short break, with the snow beginning to melt, when the rains started. They were not alone in the devastation wrought by raging floods. The estate and the town fared well, but the roads suffered tremendously. There had been some maintenance the previous summer and early fall, bringing the road system to a slightly better stage of repair, making for an easier mode of travel.

The rains and the floods wiped out many of the repairs and created much new damage. Percy used the bridging sections they’d created during the move south to span the stream he’d put a culvert in the year before. The culvert had been washed away. The parts of the bridge that had not been salvaged shifted and dammed the stream. This caused the stream to find a new route for a half mile before it merged into the old streambed again.

It took some time, after the initial rains had ceased for a while, to get a permanent low water bridge put in, using concrete rubble from the old bridge, plus rock and gravel from the nearby gravel pit. It would be washed away, probably, in another storm like the first one of the spring, but things were set up to rebuild it relatively easily and quickly.

Percy and Tom got their crops in all right that spring. Percy conserved much of the seed he had stockpiled and used the seed provided by the federal government, through the Iowa Department of Agriculture, which was one of the biggest government departments in the state now. The federal government had rescinded the laws restricting the production of hemp. Percy no longer had to grow it in violation of the law. Those in power had finally recognized the importance of the crop to the recovery of the nation, much as it been instrumental in the early days of the republic when it was a crime to not grow hemp.

Percy went back to his plan of rotation of his land. With the additional acres he’d acquired adjacent to the original estate, he was able to bring a full six hundred forty acres under cultivation, leaving three times that much each lying fallow, being built up with compost and manure from the much larger animal population, and having nutrient building cover crops planted.

Assuming reasonable harvests, there would be an excess of every product, even after harvesting for seed and local use.


Seven years later Percy was still able to retire early, at age sixty. The estate was being ably run by Susie and Andy. The new regional hospital was nearing completion at the site of where the clinic was to have been so many years and events before. The old town site was now one large farm, as productive as the estate, owned by Tom and run by his children and their spouses.

New vehicles were seen on the freshly paved road that ran on the south edge of the estate. The new town had grown up on the other side of the road. Percy’s estate was now in town and Tom’s place was five miles outside of town.

The statistics were showing between a four and five percent increase in cancer type diseases. A few of the locals that had survived heavier doses of radiation in the days after the war were beginning to show signs of the diseases brought about or hastened by radiation exposure. Only three children out of twenty-seven born in the years after the attack had shown any signs of abnormality. Only one of those cases had been severe.

There had been slightly more than an average number of naturally aborted pregnancies, some of which were attributed to the radiation. The area was about average for the nation. Some places the problems were worse, others less severe.

From all appearances every reactor sunk during the war had finally failed to function. The climate wasn’t getting any warmer, but it was getting drier. People were prepared for it now.

The anthrax and smallpox pandemics in the United States had finally run their course. They cost the country another twelve percent of the population surviving after the first year after the war. Whole communities had been wiped out by both smallpox and anthrax. Apparently the Enhanced Bubonic Plague that had been used as a weapon in the United States had been destroyed by nukes from other countries that hit New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Europe, most of Africa, and much of China. The New Black Plague took over half of those that survived the war itself. Countries were making progress. Some much more than others.

The Unimogs and Bobcats were still doing their work, running on plentiful hemp biodiesel. So were the Kenworths. Sara and Percy were ready to do a little sightseeing of this rejuvenated nation. They were up to it and so was The Beast. The barge trailer had been expertly modified over the years. The Suburban and the Harley could now be carried both trailered and on the water with The Beast.

Percy finally decided to use up some of the rations he’d put aside in the preparation days before the war. Some of that freeze-dried and dehydrated food was pretty good.

Post Word

This has been a cautionary tale. I have tried to paint a picture of what life might be like for those that have chosen to prepare for natural and manmade disasters. I make no claim that this is exactly what would happen, if something like the events in the story were to take place. This story was written so people would think about the so-called unthinkable. It must be remembered that it’s not that Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, and Nuclear Weapons cannot be used. They’ve all been used during war. All three in World War Two. Chemical and biological weapons several times since then. Human beings have always, and will always, seek progress. It is part of human nature. Even progress in warfare. It is simply a matter of time before weapons of mass destruction are used again.

Jerry D Young

Copyright 2005

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