Percy's Mission Chapters 20 - 24


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Chapter 20

Charlie was feeling pretty good, despite the news in the papers. He’d just made fifty dollars working for Clyde on a big cleanup. The hotshots were coming back the next day to do another inspection. Charlie hid his smile when Clyde groused about the banker.

“Thanks for the work, man,” Charlie told Clyde as Clyde paid him off. Charlie knew just what he would do with half of it. The thrift store had a really nice bike he could use to tow the cart he’d finally finished. Twenty-five bucks would get it. He would add the other twenty-five to his winter stash. He was trying to put twenty to fifty percent of everything he made away to help him through the winter. The winters seemed to be getting worse.

Charlie stopped at the hardware store the next day to pick up a few items to make the two parts of a hitch so he could tow the cart with his new bike. It wasn’t fancy, but it was durable. It made him much more mobile.

He was almost back to the building when everything in front of him brightened. He felt some heat on his back, and then heard a terrifyingly loud rumble. He took a quick look over his shoulder and began to pedal for all he was worth.

The crews on the jobsite first tried there vehicles, and when they wouldn’t start, began to run. Charlie assumed they were headed home. He’d just dragged the bike into his tunnel home when the earth shook. A sudden wind pushed him a few feet down the tile, and then pulled him back.

Suddenly he felt of his ears. There was blood coming from the left one. He wiped it away. As he was doing so, he noticed yesterday’s paper. It had some rules to follow in case of a nuclear attack. He had not read it yet. The earth still trembling, Charlie dragged his stuff down to the middle of the long pipe, sat down on a bucket, and began to read by the light of a small candle.

After reading the first few paragraphs of the article, Charlie hurried out of the tunnel, and went to the stack of plywood near the building. Working quickly, but carefully, he leaned several sheets of plywood against the end of the piping.

Figuring if he got into trouble, so be it, Charlie climbed up on the skid steer loader the construction outfit used around the building site. Fortunately the bucket was attached. It was the work of only a few minutes to push enough dirt into the hole, against the plywood, to provide shielding.

That done, Charlie checked the site over carefully, taking everything he thought he might need into the basement of the building, then into the tunnel. That included several wheelbarrow loads of dirt.

By the time he was finished he was aching and the fallout was starting to come down heavily. Making up a new bed, Charlie laid down, lighted the candle again and finished the article. After that he pulled his light blanket over himself and tried to fall asleep.

Chapter 21

Edward’s wife Emily was in Edward’s bank, talking to Angela about the shelter at the house and getting advice on what books to get and read, just in case. She never came to the bank, except on the days that Edward was out golfing. It had been sheer coincidence that she’d run into Angela at a nearby restaurant a few weeks previously and recognized her. Emily had struck up a conversation with Angela and they became friendly.

Like Angela, Emily was worried about the world situation. Emily had been totally amazed when Edward told her it was too bad that she would loose her prize azaleas, for he was putting in a survival shelter.

The only person she felt confident in confiding the news to was Angela. Edward and that scurrilous doctor had not played golf the week before, so Emily had to wait until today to see Angela. She wasn’t worried about Courtney seeing her and reporting it to her husband. Courtney always disappeared for several hours when Edward golfed during the week.

Angela and Emily were talking in the break room when they felt the building suddenly shaking. “Oh My God!” cried Emily. “An earthquake!”

“I don’t think so,” Angela replied. Both women hurried toward the bank lobby from the break room. The mushroom cloud was visible in the distance through the front windows of the bank.

Emily repeated herself. “Oh My God!”

“I don’t know about the rest of you people, but I’m heading home to find shelter,” Angela called out. She’d thought about the vault as shelter if something like this happened while she was here. But the building and vault were both old. The vault had neither a means to ventilate it, nor an inside lock release. Anyone using the vault for shelter would probably die of asphyxiation.

“No! Wait!” Emily said, grabbing Angela’s arm. “Come with me to my house. That shelter is big enough for ten people for months. I don’t have a clue how to survive, and I know Edward doesn’t either.”

“I doubt Mr. Baumgartner would welcome me,” replied Angela.

“I don’t care! I welcome you. I don’t care how many supplies we have. Neither Edward nor I have any clue what we should do. Edward just bought the shelter for a status symbol among his banking cronies. Please. I’m begging you, Angela. Help me.”

Angela thought about it and her own chances for survival at her apartment complex. She had a few weeks worth of supplies, but that basement was going to be crowded beyond belief.

“Okay. But you have to deal with Mr. Baumgartner. If we’re going, we’d better get started. We’ll probably have to walk.”

“Oh, no. I have the Mercedes.”

“I doubt it will run, but let’s check.”

It took all of a minute to decide the car wouldn’t start. Another minute and a very surprised Angela was urging Mrs. Baumgartner into her old Chevy, which started right up. Angela had not thought it would, due to the EMP.

They did have to walk the last few blocks. The streets were gridlocked within a half hour of the attack. Angela got Emily out of the car and hurried to the rear of the car. Angela opened the trunk. It contained a fold up cart, a large backpack, and three large duffel style totes. There was also a moderate size waist pack with belt. Angela put it on first.

It took only a few moments for Angela to set up the cart, add the three duffels to it and shoulder the pack. At Emily’s amazed look, Angela said, “My BOB. Bug out bag. I’ve been expecting something to happen.”

Angela was doing fine, even with the load, but Emily was breathing heavily by the time they made it to the Baumgartner house. Emily nearly fainted when she found her daughter and son alone in the house. The babysitter had left immediately after the blast.

“She’ll never work for me again!” declared Emily.

Angela simply responded with, “The fallout has started. Let’s get the children into the shelter and see what we need to come back and get.”

Emily herded the frightened children before her, Angela following as they made their way to the smooth, rounded entrance hatch of the shelter. Angela opened it without difficulty and had Emily go down first. Next Angela sent Catherine down, and then John. She lowered her bags to Emily. Finally she climbed down herself and closed and dogged the hatch.

Angela took a few long moments to inspect the shelter and decided they really didn’t need to go back out for anything.

Edward let Doc tee off, and then Doc’s wife. He was feeling good today. The building was coming along nicely. They would start constructing the vault the latter part of next week. The vault door was scheduled to arrive the day the rest of the fault was to be finished. The last independent bankers’ meeting had gone well.

Some didn’t like the new restrictions on withdrawals, but it suited Edward. And those that had made preparations other than strictly financial had been suitably impressed with his ten-person shelter with just about all the options.

He had food for ten for a year and water for six months. A generator that would provide full power for the shelter with fuel for two months. Battery capacity with a solar panel recharger that could stretch the generator use to four months or more. Every whiz-bang gizmo he’d been able to find to ensure his survival in style.

Once he started buying he found the subject of preparations rather fascinating. As much as he distained it, he’d bought some gold and silver, though his portfolio of paper assets was much greater. He’d even bought two guns. He refused to buy a handgun, but the Steyr AUG had been irresistible. So had the Benelli police style shotgun. Oh, yes. Let the world bring what it might. He was ready.

Except Edward happened to be playing golf on the north side of town. The side closest to the military base fifteen miles away. The three weren’t the only ones blinded by the brilliant flash of light. Nor were they the only ones the blast wave sent tumbling along the ground, their bodies bruised and battered beyond recognition. They weren’t the only ones to die. Just three of millions. Some quickly, like them. Some slowly, over time.

Chapter 22

Percy and the others didn’t find out the sequence of events or the identity of most of the targets hit until months later.

China launched a nuclear attack on the US Fleets near Japan and Taiwan after the attack on Pyongyang. The US retaliated with a single nuke in an isolated area of China and a demand to cease hostilities. China responded with an all out attack on the US and Democratic Russia. This began the full-scale exchange by the nuclear powers.

Every nuclear power in the world began launching ballistic missiles, tactical missiles, and cruise missiles, all with nuclear warheads. Nuclear bombs were launched from aircraft. The few artillery pieces that could fire nuclear shells were put into use, until counter battery fire put them out of commission. Several nations and terrorists alike detonated many in-situ nuclear devices emplaced over the years.

Democratic Russia retaliated, primarily at China.

When the exchange began between the United States and China, after China’s first EMP blast in subspace over the Midwest United States, the newly communist Russian Republics launched the missiles now under their control. They targeted mostly Germany, France, and Great Britain with their medium range missiles, and the United States with their long-range missiles. Spain, Italy, and Turkey also took hits on American bases in those countries.

Several additional Russian Republics suffered Communist coups. They too turned their nuclear weapons on the West, including France and Great Britain.

Those countries with the capability retaliated in kind. Germany seized the US missile forces within their borders and launched retaliatory strikes. The US forces also struck back with the nuclear forces still under their control.

Israel struck nearly every Arab nation after Tel Aviv took a hit with a nuke from Iran and chemical and biological weapons from several other Arab nations.

Israel was not the only nation to suffer chemical and biological attacks. Besides the few terrorist nuclear devices detonated, most traditionally Western nations had terrorist planted chemical and biological weapons activated. Some had been in place for years, their sleeper agent handlers just waiting for the appropriate time to activate them. China also launched some missiles with chemical and biological warheads.

Many places took hits with multiple devices. Some intentionally, others because several countries targeted the same place for the same reasons.

Both China and the United States, with the openly available information on potential earthquake and volcanic problem areas of the world, targeted their respective enemies’ tectonic weak spots. Targeted as well were nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams. For the most part, China and the United States were the only two nations that targeted geological formations. Both used the geological targeting heavily.

The geological attacks worked as hoped. One of the missiles in the first wave of ballistic nuclear missiles from China targeted the Yellowstone caldera. The nuclear device triggered another massive super volcanic eruption similar to the one that had created the caldera previously. The local devastation was total. Massive waves of lava spread out for miles. Lava bombs, thick ash, and toxic gasses sprayed for miles more.

The westerly winds carried huge quantities of ash for hundreds of miles across the northern tier of states and southern Canada, all the way to the Great Lakes. The ash mixed with the radioactive fallout, from not only the warhead that created the volcano, but the series of attacks against military, industrial, resource, and population targets in the Northwest and Northern Rockies.

The Yellowstone caldera wasn’t the only tectonic weak spot hit. Many fault zones and dormant volcanoes took hits. Volcanic eruptions took place on a massive global scale, as did earthquakes.

The Great Rift in Africa was hit with five small devices, unleashing gigantic tectonic activity at the point where one plate overrides another.

The San Andreas Fault was only one of several fault complexes hit along their lengths. Destroyed dams flooded the river systems that lay downstream from them.

The volcano on La Palma Island in the Canary Island chain was hit. As intended, the western side of the island slid into the ocean, creating a mega-tsunami. The tsunami caused great damage to the southern portion of Great Britain and a few other places. However, the major damage was to the entire eastern seacoast of the United States, already reeling from the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons being used.

A series of huge waves, the largest of them towering over one hundred feet high when it hit the coast, devastated the entire eastern seaboard. Much of Florida was literally washed into the Gulf of Mexico. Other places were also devastated. The waves traveled inland as much as twelve miles in places, destroying nearly everything in their path.

Many of the Caribbean Islands, like parts of the state of Florida, where scoured clean. Some disappeared all together. The eastern coast of Brazil also suffered massive damage from the tsunami.

A new outlet channel for the Great Lakes opened when the New Madrid fault system and the fault system that includes the Saint Laurence Seaway received nuclear hits. Each of the Great Lakes were hit at least once, causing huge seiches. The combination of factors allowed the Great Lakes to begin draining from Lake Huron to the Ohio River at Cincinnati to the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois and thus to the Gulf of Mexico, a new bay of which now extends northward up the old path of the Mississippi River to just south of Memphis, Tennessee.

In addition to the geological targets, China targeted military, industrial, resource, and population centers, just as most of the other nations did, except, of course, in the areas where China wanted to take over in the Far East.

Part of China’s goal was to cripple the United States’ ability to respond to China’s expansion plans. Therefore, they targeted not only the oil fields and refineries the US controlled directly, but also those in Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America to deny the resources to the United States. Brazil also took several nuclear hits with the aim being to destroy the industrial capacity it has developed, to deny its use by North America.

China targeted all major cities in Australia and Japan to keep the Aussies and Japanese from interfering in China’s now much broader expansionist plans for not only India but all of Indochina as well.

The US targeted China, North Korea, and the Russian Republics that launched against the US, with some limited strikes against those nations that attacked Israel. South Africa used her small stock of nuclear devices to decimate regional tribal rivals.

Nuclear powered submarines and ships are sunk in several locations during the battles. Most are destroyed completely. A handful are sunk with reactors still mostly intact. When the controls failed, the reactors began to run out of control, pumping mega-joules of heat energy into ocean shallows and a few seas, off several coasts.

Some fires start from the thermal radiation caused by the blasts, but most are put out by the blast waves and their reversals. Others succumb to rain in areas with high humidity as the dust in the area mixes with the moisture and forms gigantic thunderstorms near many of the targets. Ash and smoke from fires still burning, and ash and gasses from activated volcanoes fill the air, mixed with radioactive fallout. Huge storm systems developed over the sites of the still active sunken nuclear reactors.

Huge amounts of fresh water dump into the Atlantic from the storm systems. This adds more fresh water to the North Atlantic, already freshened by the melting sea ice and glaciers caused by global warming. The warm, heavily saline Gulf Stream begins to sink beneath the less saline water of the east coast of the United States.

Chapter 23

“I don’t know,” Percy said, watching the western sky for a few moments before ushering the others inside. “But I don’t like it. If it’s nukes, we’re in for some bad fallout. If it is another earthquake, there probably will be more aftershocks. If it’s a volcano, we’re in for ash, And probably fallout.”

They heard the blast of an air-horn over the outside monitor speaker. Percy ran for the door again, then to the gates. It was Andrew Buchanan driving the Wilkins Oil semi tractor. He had a seven thousand gallon trailer with a three thousand gallon pup behind it.

“When it all hit the fan they’d just delivered the fuel trailers,” Andrew told them after Percy had him pull into the estate and park the trailers by the number one tank farm. “The guy dropped the tanks and took off like a rabbit. I guess he was lucky his truck was an old one. There’s a bunch of diesel trucks that aren’t running. I didn’t think EMP would get diesels.”

“Not just the ignitions system that get fried,” Percy responded automatically. “How’d you wind up with the tanks out here?”

“Mr. Wilkins was scared. He headed for the shelter some of the city employees made in City Hall for the townspeople. I was afraid something would happen to the fuel. Fuel is going to be really important. I knew you’d give it back. If that was the best thing to do.” Andy looked hopeful.

“Of course I’ll give it back. I’m not sure bringing it here was the best thing, but it is safe. You were thinking on your feet. That’s good. But why did it take you so long to get here?”

“I couldn’t get the truck started. It took me a while to find another Freightliner computer that wasn’t fried. Pete Broomhouser’s truck is down. Literally in pieces. The computer was in an old fridge he’s using to store some of the delicate parts while he’s working on it. I had to give him all the money I had and a check for everything I had in the bank. But I think it was worth it. I can always make more money.”

Susie had worked her way over and had her arm linked with Andy’s. “That was smart and brave,” she said, looking up at his face. “You didn’t know what might be happening. You were thinking of the community, not yourself. That’s real responsibility.”

Andy turned a little red and replied. “Aw, it’s nothing. There wasn’t any fallout kind of stuff, and I thought, ‘What would Mr. Jackson do?’ So I did what I did. It’s really no big deal.”

“I think it is a big deal,” Percy said softly. “Be that as it may, from now on, I want you thinking about yourself, just as much as others. Did you bring anything else with you?”

“No. I just thought it more important to get the fuel to a safe place. I’ll walk back to town and see if my Jimmy will run. Not very many cars are running, except really old ones. If it doesn’t I’ll figure out something. I can still stay here, can’t I, Mr. Jackson?”

“Of course, Andy. I’ll run you in tomorrow. I should say today. It’s after midnight. So get some sleep. Everybody. Mattie, put Andrew in the beige room. I’ll bring you some clothes and things. Everything else you might need will be in the room.”

Andy was dressed, sitting quietly in the kitchen when Percy came down at four-thirty. “I couldn’t sleep any longer. I wonder what’s going on.”

“We’ll find out,” Percy replied. “At least locally. After we take care of the animals, I plan to hook up a shortwave receiver to see what we can find out. May be too early for it, but I’m willing to risk one cheap radio.”

Andy followed along as Percy headed for the basement steps. “What do you mean, risk the radio? Do you think there could be more EMP?”

“It’s possible,” Percy replied. “There’s no way of knowing what attack scenario has been used. There could be nukes for hours more. Maybe even for several days. But there will be survivors. Just like us.”

“Yeah,” Andy responded, taking the dosimeter Percy handed him. He clipped it in the pocket of his shirt, the way Percy was wearing his. Then he uttered a soft “Wow!” when they entered the tunnel.

“The survey meter wasn’t showing anything, but I wanted you to see the tunnel. We can get to every major building on the property through these tunnels. It’ll be critical when we start receiving fallout.”

“Do you think we will, Mr. Jackson? Get fallout?”

“If there was a full attack, we will. If it’s just been a few, maybe not. I’m just not willing to take a chance. That’s why I want to get the animals taken care of and go get your things. I can’t see us having more than a few more hours without fallout.”

It didn’t take too long to tend the animals. They were restless, however, when they weren’t allowed outside.

When they returned to the house, the others were up. Percy told Susie, “The animals are restless. Work with them some in the barn. I want to get Andrew’s stuff as quickly as possible and get back. No radiation yet, but use the tunnels, anyway. There is some stuff coming down, but it’s not radioactive. Almost has to be ash from a volcano. We’re just going to grab some juice and coffee and be on our way. If the ash keeps up it’ll start clogging the air filters on the pickup.”

Like the Suburban, Percy’s Chevrolet one-ton extended crew cab pickup was stretched and equipped with three axles, all steerable. It had a ten-foot pickup bed with a retractable bedcover. It used the same tires and had many other components in common with the Suburban, including the same diesel engine. “Figured we might need the open space of a pickup,” Percy said to Andrew as they went into the large attached garage.

“Wow,” Andy said again. The garage boasted a pair of sixteen foot wide double garage doors, but was large enough to easily hold the seven vehicles in it with room for a at least three more. Besides the Suburban and the one-ton pickup, there was a lengthened Chevy one-ton van, converted, like the pickups to six wheel steerable drive. The Jeep the twins had picked up in Minneapolis was behind the Suburban.

Two other trucks had been moved from the house garage to the equipment barn after the Jeep had been added to the mix, to provide more space, just in case. One was a second pickup, identical to the first, except with a high shell on the bed, rather than the retractable bed cover. The other truck that had been moved was another one-ton extended crew cab, stretched, with three steerable driven axles and diesel engine, like the pickups. It had a twelve-foot long flat stake bed with a light crane.

The ’74 Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman was behind the pickup. Beside the Caddy were two motorcycles. The first a World War Two era Indian motorcycle with sidecar, equipped with a reverse gear.

The other bike was a customized Harley-Davidson. Not really a chopper, but with moderately raked forks and handlebars. The drop style seat rode on springs for comfort. Percy could straddle the bike and stand, feet flat, with comfort. The bike boasted a sliding, padded sissy bar, carrying a large pack. The bike was also equipped with huge leather saddlebags.

“I knew you had the Rokons,” Andy said. “I didn’t know you had a Harley!”

“I don’t ride much. I just always wanted one, and when I could afford it, I got one. That Baby Boomer thing, I guess. The Indian was my dad’s. It was in poor shape, but I had it restored. It was a military dispatch bike and has a reverse gear so you can back it up with the sidecar. Really stable and can carry lots of gear. I have trailers for each bike… see there in the back?”

“Oh. Yeah. Cool.” Earnestly, Andy added, “I really appreciate you taking me in to get my stuff. I hope the Jimmy runs, but even if it doesn’t, I want to get the other things.”

They climbed into the pickup and Percy started it, and then opened the garage doors. They were doublewide doors, and there were two doors for each opening. An inner door and an identical outer door, separated by the five-foot thickness of the outer dirt and concrete vertical wall that fronted the garage section of the house. Both sets of both doors were on electric openers with manual overrides.

Like much of what Percy owned they were custom units. The panels were three-eighths inch thick steel. The panels overlapped when closed. The doors were counterbalanced with weights and pulleys and could be opened electrically or manually. When closed they provided significant fallout protection. With the two layers of steel, separated by four feet of space, they were proof against most types of forced entry when locked. The man doors were also three eighths inch steel and doubled.

Percy activated the door closer when they pulled out and around the berm that had been put up in front of the garage, similar to the ones at the barns. “The berms for radiation protection or defense?” Andy asked.

“They’ll work for both. I hope we never need to use them for the latter. We did the same thing for the barns. We can wash down everything and still get outside after any radiation level falls to a safe point. Even if there is still some radiation beyond the berms for a while, we will have a safe place to work outside.”

“You’ve thought of everything,” Andy said with admiration. They were headed toward town on a deserted highway.

“No one can think of everything,” replied Percy. “I’m always worrying about what I might have neglected to get… or do… even now.”

They rode in silence. It was cloudy and a fine ash was falling. Percy ran the wipers to keep the dry material cleared. When the first faint scratch appeared he quickly turned off the wipers, remembering that volcanic ash tended to be highly abrasive. He would stop occasionally and dust off the windshield with a cloth.

He checked the survey meter often. They saw not a soul on the way into town. They began to see some movement behind windows as they pulled up to where Andy’s Jimmy was parked, near the door to his first floor apartment, in an old two story converted house.

“Good,” Percy said, “I thought I remembered you having a tow bar. Even if it doesn’t start we can get it out to the estate. Give it a try right quick. We’ll hook it up if it doesn’t run.”

It didn’t. It took a couple of minutes to get the Jimmy attached to the back of the truck. As they began loading the things Andy wanted to take with him, a couple of people came out, standing under the roof of the porch.

“Aren’t you afraid of radiation?” the first one asked. It was Andy’s neighbor, Pamela Johnson. “We’ve been staying inside, behind piles of books and drawers full of dirt.”

Percy quickly showed them the survey meter. “You did the right thing. You’ve still got time to add more protection. I wish we could stay and help, but the fallout could start any minute. If you see any change in the look of the ash falling, get back into shelter. Do you have water?”

“A little,” Pamela replied.

“Again, there’s time to get some things. Andrew and I will go see what we can find and bring back, but take the time now to gather up whatever you can and improve your shelter.”

They finished loading Andy’s belongings as more people came out and Pamela explained what Percy had told her. Percy looked over at Andy when they got back into the truck. “I can’t not help, as long as there’s no radiation.”

“I know,” Andy replied. “I feel the same way. I’m lucky you’re letting me stay at the estate. It’s probably the safest place in the state, except for the shelters for government officials. I hope Tom Nesmith and his family have good shelter. They were helping get the shelter at city hall and one at the old granary set up for people when I was out looking for the Freightliner parts.

“We’ll stop at both places and see if there’s anything we can do. But Andrew, we have to be careful about becoming sidetracked or encumbered with too much. We have people at the estate depending on us. There could be some people that might want to take from us what we have. Just so you’ll know, there’s a Marlin semi-auto Camp Carbine in .45 ACP under the cover behind the rear seat. I want you to get it out the next time we stop and keep it handy. Extra magazines there, too.”

“Yes, sir,” Andy responded, hating the fact that it might be a necessary precaution, but knowing they must be careful.

Percy shifted the bottom of the windbreaker he was wearing. “And I have this.” Andy saw the grip of the Para-Ordinance P14 extending from the holster on Percy’s belt.

Fortunately they didn’t need the rifle or pistol at any of the stops they made. Steven Gregory, the owner of one of the small grocery stores, was in the store, rationing items out. He was letting people take a limited amount, without paying. He told Percy and Andy that the other store had mostly sold out, then been looted. He’d started rationing, at regular prices, until people had more or less run out of money. He quit asking and just handed out what was left, a little to each person that came in.

“You have any water left? The people at Andrew’s apartment house could use some,” Percy said.

“I’m giving everyone two bottles and two cans of food of their choice. You can take the same for however many are at his place. I trust you, Mr. Jackson, not to cheat.”

“Thank you, Steven. You’re doing a great thing here.” Percy looked around, and then took two coin tubes from his pocket. “Here’s a couple of tenth ounce gold coins and a roll of silver dimes.”

Pulling a pad of his small barter sheets from his pocket, he wrote quickly, tore the top sheet off at the serrations, and handed the piece to Steven Gregory. “Here’s a barter for a week’s food, when things settle down. We seem to be okay at the estate and so far the green houses and animals are okay. Use some discretion, but let people know you’ll be able to barter for food when the danger of radiation is over.”

Steven’s eyes brightened. “Really? I didn’t know what I was going to do when my personal supplies ran out. I didn’t think about the farms around here. Maybe some of the others will trade, too. Could I get some of those barter sheets you use?”

“Sure,” Percy said. “Andy, there’s a pad in the pocket of the truck. Would you get it for Mr. Gregory?”

“Sure, Boss.” Andy was back in a flash with the pad.

“Please don’t promise people too much,” Percy said, “Or be too specific. I’ll do what I can, but until we get together and see what I can supply, I wouldn’t do any bartering. I wouldn’t even say anything until we know we will be able to do it at all. I could lose everything if we wind up with a nearby detonation.”

“I understand. But you’ll come through. I know it,” Steven said, his voice filled with awe. Percy was the first person he’d seen that had any hope at all. Everyone else was just desperate to survive the next few hours or days. It was a rural area and people tended to keep a few groceries in the pantry, but that was usually a week or two’s worth. He’d not been able to think past when the store was empty.

When they got back to the truck, Percy looked at the survey meter. “Andrew, go tell Mr. Gregory the fallout has started.”


Percy turned the truck around and loaded up the items Steven had indicated. Andy jumped into the truck and Percy headed back to Andy’s apartment house. “I was afraid we wouldn’t have much time,” Percy told Andy. “It’s just barely above background, but we’re definitely getting fallout now.

They quickly unloaded the water and food, leaving them with Pamela to distribute. They told her the radiation had started. Pamela quickly called to the others as Percy and Andy drove away. It took only moments to check in with those sheltering at city hall. They seemed to have what they needed, including a survey meter.

Percy took a moment to take Tom aside and tell him much the same as he’d told Steven Gregory and asked him not to mention it until things settled down. “We might get some help from the state or the feds. I just don’t want to get peoples’ hopes up then not be able to follow through. I just wanted you to know there are some possible options for food in the foreseeable future.”

“Okay, Percy. Thanks.”

Percy started to turn away, but then said, “Is Patrick Wilkins here?”

“Yeah. He’s a real problem. Feel free to take him with you,” Tom said dryly.

Percy grinned. “Not a chance, but I would like to talk to him.”

It took only a couple of minutes for Wilkins to sign over the ownership of the trailer loads of fuel to Percy for an ounce of gold and a barter slip for a week’s worth of food sometime after the next two weeks.

Andy looked on as the two men had talked privately. He couldn’t hear, of course, but when Percy and he walked out to the truck, Andy asked, “Did you just buy that fuel from Mr. Wilkins?”

“Yep. Greedy devil, but not too knowledgeable of the real value of things. I would have given him a month’s food for that fuel. He took a week’s worth and an ounce of gold.”

“What good is gold? The food I can sure see. Not going to be many reefer trucks with fresh food for a long time.”

“He took gold. Others will. We’re still going to need a medium of exchange. I don’t think paper currency will do it. People won’t trust it. I think they will gold and silver, just like people have since the very beginnings of modern civilization. Barter is great, but you still need a medium of exchange. A means to acquire things when you don’t have the trade goods the other party wants. Some means to set values that people can understand.

“You’ve heard me refer to a couple of, quote, weeks’ worth, unquote, of food. There’s bound to be a difference of opinion on what that is. Since it will appear that I have so much, my definition is going to be considered a lot less than those that are hungry, with their hand out. I’ll be more specific in the future, but we’re in a hurry right now.”

It took a few more minutes at the other shelter. They didn’t have a survey meter, just a couple of dosimeters. They did have a hand held radio and plenty of batteries. They would be able to stay in touch with those in the town hall and coordinate activities.

“We’re not going to do this again,” Percy said, glancing at the survey meter as they headed back out to the estate. Percy had to swerve almost off the road to avoid a SUV rocketing toward them on the way back to the estate.

“That guy’s crazy!” Andy exclaimed when Percy had the rig back fully on the road. “He could have killed us and him.”

“Scared,” Percy said, calmly.

They backed the Jimmy into the garage of one of the cottages, and then returned the pickup to the garage at the house. They washed down both vehicles before they went into the garages. Then Percy called Mattie on the intercom and had her bring out a change of clothes for him. Andy took out a change from one of his suitcases that they’d washed down.

“Not much on these,” Percy said as he changed clothes in the garage, “But we do not carry any fallout into the houses or barns. We decontaminate every time from now on. We’ll deal with these later.” Percy showed Andy where to put the clothes they’d removed, for later cleaning.

“We were getting worried,” said Sara, when the two entered the kitchen of the house. She gave each a quick hug, and then stepped back. “We’ve been watching the meter. There’s radiation now.”

Percy showed them all how to read the dosimeter he insisted they each now wear at all times. He used his as the example. “See, it’s not even a measurable amount. But as I told Andrew, we don’t take any chances. From now on, until the radiation falls back to the background level I have recorded for here, we wear the dosimeters and track our accumulated dose, as well as taking readings with the survey meter regularly. We limit our outside trips to those absolutely necessary. And for the immediate future, only Sara, Mattie, and I will go outside, unless there is a major emergency.”

All the rest immediately protested that they should share the risk. Percy raised his hand to quiet them and explained. “We three are the oldest. We’ll be close to the end of our lives before a low dose of radiation will usually result in cancer or other problems. Like thirty or forty years from now. Even if it’s twenty, we’ll still be old. You all would just be in the prime of your life. Still in the childbearing years for some. There is no reason for you younger people possibly to suffer during the most productive part of your life, if it can be avoided.

“It’s not that you won’t get some exposure. It’s bound to happen. We won’t be in shelter forever. We will limit the exposure more, the younger you are. We’re talking long term planning here. We have to think of accumulated dosages over the next twenty, thirty, forty years. Even after it’s safe to go out… relatively speaking, each and every time you do, you will be getting a little radiation.

“We’ll decontaminate here. Things are set up to make it relatively easy. But the radiation will be decaying after the detonations stop and the dose rate peaks. By the seven ten rule, radiation should be one tenth what it is an hour after the peak dose rate, seven hours after that first hour. Then one-tenth of that 49 hours later. Then a tenth of that about two weeks later and so on. For each seven fold increase in time the dose rate, assuming no new radiation, the dose rate drops to a tenth of what it was.

“So, if we were to peak at… say… one thousand roentgens it would be down to zero point one roentgen in four months and down to zero point zero one roentgen after about two and a half years.

“While the fallout is building, then the first two days are really dangerous. Then the next two weeks, still dangerous. But okay after that to go out for decontamination and necessities. After four months, it will be a matter of sleeping in shelter, but working in decontaminated areas should be okay for a regular daily schedule. In less than three years, there won’t be much to worry about. Except the weather.”

“Nuclear winter?” Melissa asked.

“Possibly. More likely climate change for other reasons. We’ve been staring at the possibility since the North Sea started freshening up from melting ice. We might get colder, warmer, or stay the same. One thing is for sure, the weather will be unsettled for a long time. As much ash as we are getting, and the different varieties, makes me think that a lot of volcanoes let loose. A couple of big volcanoes can put more debris in the air than all the nukes that could be used.

“If the trend is warmer, we’re looking for lots of rain. If it’s a lot cooler, then drier weather. Either way, storms will be worse. Really heavy rains and snow, even it it’s cooler and drier over all. Lots and lots of rain if it’s warmer. If we’re really lucky… Geez!”

The dome shook yet again. Percy ran to the den and flipped on a TV, flipped another switch, then worked a remote control. “This camera is in a grounded steel housing out by the towers. I opened the cover. Look.”

There was an ugly glow in the distance to the west, illuminating the clouds and falling ash. “Probably thirty miles. Possibly more,” Percy said. “No target there. Could be one that just missed. Or there’s something there that we never knew about but they did.” Percy didn’t specify who ‘they’ were.

“I just thought!” Jock exclaimed. “What about chemical or biological weapons?”

They all looked at Percy. “They both have very localized areas of destruction. If any were used… are being used, the effect will be right there. They are primarily tactical weapons. They can be used for denial of territory, too, on a strategic scale. We should be fine. The house HVAC system has appropriate filters. So do the animal barn fans. There is a danger of biological weapons spreading diseases from locally affected populations, but I doubt there’ll be much long distance travel for a long time.

“Most of the biologicals I know about are virulent and would kill off those exposed quickly. It wouldn’t be able to spread without fast transportation. And chemicals should dissipate pretty quickly. Nor are they mobile. They’ll stay where they are, except for some possible runoff problems.

“There is always the possibility. We will just have to watch for signs of them as we go about our business. I have suits and respirators for the decontamination. They’re good for NBC. We’ll be wearing them when we first go out anyway, so if there was something biological or chemical we’ll be protected until we can detect it.

Since we’re on the subject, when we do start going out, without the protective suits, I want everyone in long sleeves and no shorts. Everyone wears a wide brim hat, or at least a cap. There’s going to be a lot of UV exposure, probably. Even when it’s cloudy. A person could pick up a burn without realizing it. Try to wear UV coated glasses, sunglasses or clear, whenever it’s daytime, to protect the eyes from the UV exposure.

“Now, I want to go check the animals after this tremor. They’ll probably be agitated and upset anyway about being cooped up.”

Everyone except Mattie went with Percy and helped calm the animals. The horses and dogs were the most agitated, but calmed down quickly with the human presence. The cattle and chickens didn’t seem to be affected. The pigs showed signs of having been, but were happily rooting around the dirt floor in their area of the barn.

The dirt areas in the barn had raised quite a few comments from people that learned about them. Percy never really explained why he had them. He just told people he was too cheap to buy concrete.

In actuality, it was for the animals’ health that he had put in pits in the barn floor and filled them with dirt. The surfaces were kept raked clean of wastes, which went into the compost piles or the methane generator, or both. Each animal had an individual stall, if needed, but were allowed, for the most part, to stay in designated areas in groups.

The barn was a series of connected domes, creating plenty of space for the animals, with a generous area for work and another for feed storage. There was even a well-equipped veterinary area so they could do much of the vet work themselves. Doc usually came to the barn to do what he needed to the animals. Only if one needed isolation did Percy take the animal over to Doc’s hospital. He could isolate three animals in the barn if he needed to, it was just labor intensive to take care of them. Doc had a couple of hired hands that did it for him.

The stalls were equipped with individual automatic feeders and waterers. The compounds were equipped with group feeders for each type of animal. Percy, as he did the crops, rotated the animals on the different areas yearly to minimize the chance for disease organisms building up. The occasional complete emptying and refilling of the pits also helped.

The studs were usually stalled when a female of the species came into estrus, when Percy wanted outside breeding. There were separate birthing areas for the horses, cattle, and pigs. The chickens had their yard and coop in the barn. There was a separate sitting coop for when he allowed a brood hen to hatch eggs.

Most of the cattle came to the edge of their pen to watch as Percy and Susie put the horses and dogs through their paces. The pigs pretty much just kept rooting around or sleeping. The humans seemed to enjoy the activity as much as the horses and dogs. They returned the dogs to their indoor kennel. Several went to the doors through which they normally went outside, but made no fuss when they were told they had to stay inside.

Percy showed them the rest of the tunnels and the utility rooms of the various barns before they went back to the house, staying in the tunnels. Mattie had a late lunch on the table when the others returned.

“Reading is up,” Mattie said when they all gathered in the dining room after having washed up. “A lot.”

Percy went to look at it before he sat down to eat. “Three hundred and climbing,” he said when the others looked at him. Percy wasn’t particularly religious, but he asked Sara to say grace before they ate.

She did, and included Percy in the thanks for giving them shelter from the storm. They all said heartfelt amen’s to the sentiment, knowing the storm Sara meant. As the meal neared its end, Percy said, “I’m going to hook up a shortwave receiver and see what I can get. I’ve tried the regular broadcast bands and there wasn’t anything. Satellite services seem to be out, too. Anyone want to listen in?”

When the others all gave resounding versions of ‘yes, of course they wanted to listen,’ Percy muttered, “Stupid question, I guess.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon listening. There was a great deal of static. There were also some conversations going on in the amateur radio bands, which brought sighs of relief from most of the others. Percy had expected it, but the others seemed to think they might be the only survivors, after the radiation levels began climbing.

They felt several more shocks, though they were very weak. There was much speculation of what was causing them. Nukes, volcanoes, or earthquakes. There was simply no way to tell. Percy checked the camera occasionally, always closing the protective cover after a quick look around. It would be several days before he went out and installed another camera on the antenna towers.

The next few days were spent the same way. Sleeping, eating, tending the animals, and listening to the shortwave. Things were more or less normal, except they couldn’t go outside and there was no live TV.

Percy had a vast library of books, music, and video. There were days when there was quite a bit of activity on the shortwave, others when there was little but static. Those days the library got a lot of use. Percy was convinced that the war was still raging in some places in the world. The radiation spiked three times, the last time at six hundred roentgens, then began a steady decline.

At the end of eight days after the last peak, the dose rate was under two roentgens. Percy would go out the next day and put up a camera. Mattie and Sara would begin the decontamination.


Chapter 24

It took Percy less than a half an hour to mount the camera, return to the house, and decontaminate. He’d put a time limit of a half hour on all of them. He paced while he waited for Sara and Mattie to finish their half hour. They seem determined to stay the full length of time, though both had seen him go into the garage.

Percy managed to wait for them without calling them on the radio and telling them to come in. He was waiting by the door when they came through, each woman not starting to remove their respirators, rubber boots, or Tyvek suits until they were in the mudroom. Percy had a simple decontamination shower in the garage that drained to a dry sump in the yard. They’d hosed each other down thoroughly before going inside.

“Barely getting a tick now,” Sara said, handing Percy her dosimeter. He checked it, then Mattie’s. They picked up only a tiny dose, as had he. He made a point to log it on the chart he’d printed for each person. He’d enter the data in a computer later to keep a running track of accumulated dose over given time periods.

The Doctors Bluhm had been reading up on radiation sickness in the library and were now familiar with the symptoms. At the doses the three had been exposed to, there was no danger. The doctors, as well as Percy, intended to keep it that way.

“Just a tick,” Sara repeated. “Inside the berms of the house. Outside, of course, it’s still over one. Do you think we can do the animal barn tomorrow and maybe let the animals out, one at a time?”

“Not yet. They’re going to want to run free a bit. I want to use the sweeper on at least one of the pastures first. I’m debating whether or not to strip the top soil. I want to look at the crops, too, and decide what to do about them. I’ll do what I can in the greenhouses, too. The automatic systems are okay, I saw the watering system go on as I was coming back to the house. We should be able to recover quite a bit.”

“Whoa!” Jock said. “Even if all that needs to be done, you can’t do it all. Not in one day. It’s low enough that a couple of us can get just a little exposure the next couple of days. It should be below zero point six in less than a week, if my calculations are right. We’ll be able to do a lot then.”

Percy frowned.

“Come on, Boss. We spray the outsides of the greenhouses, and then I can go in and work the greenhouses for half an hour,” Susie said.

“Yeah. I know you and Mrs. McLain, and Mrs. Simpson will do most of it right away, but we can risk a little exposure,” Andy said. “Except Doctor Bluhm, of course, since she’s still pregnant.”

“And I will be for another eight months. I don’t want to go out much, but a few minutes of fresh air, in the decontaminated zone won’t hurt, will it?”

Jock looked reluctant, but his studies told him that the risk was minimal. They had to wear the respirators while they were stirring up dust, but a few minutes without one in the area that Sara and Mattie had cleared today should be okay. He said as much.

Melissa smiled. The others frowned. “Tomorrow,” Jock quickly added. “After the area is tested again.”

“Well, okay,” Melissa said. She touched her belly and said, “I don’t want anything happening to junior here, but I really need to get outside. I could stand it when I had to. Now it’s hard.”

“We all feel the same way,” Percy said. He hung up the suits and racked the boots, gloves, and respirators for their next use.

They had the entrances and work areas decontaminated by the end of the week, including the patios atop each of the buildings. It hadn’t occurred to Percy to do it sooner. As soon as they were hosed down, and the slopes of the dome, there wasn’t even a tick on the survey meter in the center of the patios, being as high as they were and with the mass of the earth covering the domes between the remaining fallout particles and those at the patio center. The radiation was very little higher even at the edges.

Percy decided, for the first pasture to be decontaminated, to till it very shallowly and scrape the tilled soil up. He dug a pit just outside the pasture and buried the dirt he scraped up. Percy had washed three large patches of grass near the barn. He’d used a fire hose run from the barn to wash any fallout from the patches to the surrounding grass. He left the washed patches when he tilled the rest of the pasture. When they turned the animals out the horses and cows went immediately to the three grassy areas. The hogs and chickens were happy with the large expanse of bare ground.

Percy debated about trying to reseed the pasture. The occasional rain they were getting was washing some of the high flying, very light fallout particles out of the sky, but the radiation levels were so low, and Percy knew it would continue for months, if not years, that he decided to go ahead and get the pasture reseeded. He waited until the next day and used a broadcast spreader on one of the Unimogs to get the seed distributed.

They were still limiting their exposures, keeping the time outdoors down, and wearing the exposure suits and respirators whenever they were doing decontamination work, which was at least a little every day it wasn’t raining. Percy decided the field crops were going to be a total loss, except as feed for the methane generator and the alcohol still. They would be cut down at ground level, raked into windrows, collected, and then fed to the stills.

After the alcohol content was extracted the material would go into the methane generator. The remains would be buried in a pit. Percy knew it would be useable as compost eventually, but decided to let it wait a couple of years in the pit. Then the compost would be used on fields set aside to grow crops not for human or animal consumption. Those fields would be used for fuel crops for the bio-diesel operation.

There was some loss in the greenhouses due to the lack of attention the first few days when radiation levels were too high to go into them from the earth-sheltered structure to which they were connected. Sixteen days after the radiation had peaked at six hundred roentgens, Percy decided to make a run into town with the produce from the greenhouses. Susie loved the animals and could not help when Percy butchered a dozen chickens, a calf and two of the yearling pigs to take in, too.

He’d always sent the animals in to the butcher shop, but had everything needed to handle the job at the estate. Percy was a bit surprised when Jock offered to help. He wasn’t surprised when Andy did. Andy wanted to learn everything. With the meat and fresh milk on ice from the large ice machine in the product barn, they headed into town with six dozen eggs, the produce, milk, and meat.

Percy was both pleased and disappointed with what he found in town. He, Jock, Andy, Sara, and Susie went. Percy and Sara were in a Unimog with the products, the others were in the van, with Susie driving.

Percy and Andy were both armed with HK-91 rifles and P14 handguns. Susie carried one of the HK-4s in .380. Jock declined, as did Sara.

What pleased him was that those that had stayed in shelters until the worst had passed had come through with flying colors. It had been crowded and uncomfortable in both the public shelters, but they had worked. What was disappointing was the number that had forgone shelter or left it early.

They had stopped at the clinic on the way in to pick up some of the medical supplies that had been stocked. The clinic was still intact and everything was okay. Jock took everything he thought he might need for those in town. He gave the care to the injured, sick, and dying that he could. There were many in the last two categories. Only a couple of injuries were sustained while cleanup and decontamination were being done. He treated them as well.

Like Percy’s group, people had been rotating outside work, with everyone still sleeping in the crowded shelters. Progress had been good. David Reynolds had run out of fuel for his backhoe and there were several still unburied bodies. Percy transferred most of diesel that was in the tank of the Unimog to cans for Reynolds to use.

Word was sent around the town by runners that Percy was at the town hall with food. Patrick Wilkins had already made his demand for his week’s supply of food. And as Percy had told Andy right after the deal had been made, there was a difference of opinion as to what a week’s worth of food was.

As people began to gather, Percy put it up to them. “There’s going to be lots of trading and bartering going on. Think about this. I’ll let what a week’s worth is be decided by vote. Remember, many of you will be growing gardens and trading labor, so think about what’s fair for all parties. Should there be more than I’m offering Mr. Wilkins for our agreement of a week of food?”

Quite a few hands went up. Wilkins demanded a lot more. Percy, pretty sure he’d be handling it like this, had shorted the pile somewhat from what he normally would have given. He added six more eggs and cut off another small piece of beef.

People looked at the quantity of food for the one person. They’d just gone through over two weeks of food rationing and knew what it took to get by. Patrick Wilkins was not a well-liked man. He’d been a constant source of trouble during the entire shelter stay and after. The consensus was that the pile of food was adequate for a week.

“You want to take it all now, or a little at a time as I come in occasionally?” Percy asked Wilkins.

“I want it all, right now,” came the growled reply. “And don’t none of you think you’re getting any of this. It’s mine. I traded for it all legal and square.” Wilkins gathered up his bounty and disappeared.

As Sara, Susie, and Andy began handing out the food, asking for an hour of labor out at the estate at some point, but not doing any barter slips, Percy talked to Tom and some of the city council.

“My field crops are pretty much a washout,” Percy told them. The greenhouses are okay and I think most of the fruit will be all right. But things are going to be short.” He waved Steven Gregory over. “I’ll get you that food in a minute. We were just discussing the situation.”

“Nothing to discuss,” Abigail Landro replied. “The city council will take over the farm and handle the distribution.

“I don’t think so,” Percy said. His temper suddenly was close to the surface. He’d expected something like this, but not this soon. Another of the town council was nodding in agreement with Abigail.

“I’m willing to share, but it will be on my terms,” Percy said, rather forcefully. “I have the means and the willingness to protect what is mine.” He made no move for the rifle slung over his back or the handgun on his hip, but several pairs of eyes took in the sight.

“Let’s be reasonable about this,” Tom quickly said. “We can work out something. Percy is a fair man. Always has been. He’s managed that place for thirty years and knows how to get the best out of it. He’ll help where he can, but has to have the resources to do so.”

“Oh, he has resources,” Jeb Canada spoke up. Wilkins told me he stole that last load of fuel that came in before the stuff hit the fan.”

“That little scene a few minutes ago was part of the pay off for that fuel. Wilkins was more than willing to sell it.”

“Yeah. For food to keep from starving and twenty pieces of silver, Judas.”

“Judas is the one that took the silver,” Percy said. “Not the one that gave it. Now, are we going to discuss this or do I pack up and leave you to your fate?”

“Come on, Percy,” Tom said placatingly. “We will work something out. You do have a right to get for give. What is it you want?”

“For the moment a day’s food for one person for one hour of labor at the estate. I’d figured to have Steven Gregory here act as my agent. He knows how to run a store.”

People were beginning to gather around. “I want a piece of that action,” said Rodney Stalinsky. He’d been the manager of the other grocery store in town. “I can run a store, too.”

“Not for me, you can’t,” Percy replied coldly. “I heard what you did when things started getting tough. You won’t be handling anything for me.” Percy looked back at Tom, ignoring the crowd around them.

“Steven did a good thing, rationing out what he had, even giving it away. I plan to bring in things as we can produce them, and let Steven run a store just as he has before. We’ll work out something between us for his doing this for me. The food will be bartered, at least for the moment, for future labor. I’m decontaminating my fields, but the fuel will eventually run low. I’ll have to farm with the animals and by hand labor.

“I’m going to need lots of hands. Everyone will have plenty to do, and not everyone can do that much physical labor. I’ll need people to watch the hands’ children, others to help cook for them, and so on. So just about anyone can provide an hour of labor from time to time. Steven will give everyone a barter slip. I’ll have a record of who owes me labor and work with the individual to pay it off. I’ll do all I can to work it out to the person’s best time, but some things on a farm just have to be done at a certain time. I’ll expect the town council’s help on seeing that people follow through on their agreements.”

“That’s forced labor, bub,” Jeb said. “We don’t go for that around here.”

“Shut up, Jeb,” Tom replied. “It’s not forced labor. This is still a free country. People still own their property and have the right to price it the way they want. I know for sure I’m willing to work for an hour picking corn or slopping hogs to get a full day’s worth of food.”

Tom had turned slightly and was addressing the crowd as he continued. “We’re scavenging from houses of those that died or abandoned them. If anyone comes back we’ll give the individual the equivalent of what we took. Everyone is helping, that can, to start the recovery. And everyone is receiving a share. This is America. We’re not inherently socialists. Many people will want to start selling or bartering whatever they can to have the things they want, in a free market. Mr. Jackson is just already ready to do it. What do you say? Do we strike a bargain with Mr. Jackson?”

Not everyone left in town was there, but a majority were, and there was an overwhelming yell of approval of what Tom and Percy had discussed. Percy asked Tom if he could say something else and Tom nodded.

Percy turned to face the crowd. “I’m going to need lots of things myself and I’ll barter food for them. For some things I’ll pay hard cash. I’ll also take hard cash if anyone has it, for food and fuel.”

Someone call out, “You mean gold and silver?”

“Yes,” Percy replied.

“What about bills?” someone else called out.

“Not right now. I don’t know about the future. For now, for me, it’s labor, gold, silver, and specific goods. Anyone that wants to convert large denomination gold to smaller denominations or silver, to make trading easier, let me know. Most of the gold I have is the one tenth ounce coins. I also have silver dimes and quarters. A few halves, but not enough to count.

“I’m figuring on converting using the ratio of thirty six ounces of silver to one ounce of gold, just to keep it simple. Two hundred pre-1965 quarters per ounce of gold, or five hundred pre-1965 dimes. That’s twenty quarters for a tenth ounce gold coin, or fifty dimes.”

“What about gold rings and diamonds and such?” yet another person asked.

“That’ll be strictly a negotiated deal. If I take any jewelry, I’ll probably remove the stones and melt down the metal. That goes for platinum and other precious metals and stones. Each case would be negotiated.”

The additional questions had caught Percy a bit by surprise. In order not to take undue advantage, or get peoples hopes up, he quickly added, “I’ll be back day after tomorrow. Anyone that wants to discuss this can see me then, here.”

Jock Bluhm came up to where Percy was standing on the steps of city hall. “Mr. Jackson, I need to talk to you.” They stepped away from the others.

“What do we do about the injured, sick, and dying? Some of the people I can help, others… Don’t have much hope. We don’t have that large of a stock of drugs. I guess the pharmacy was picked pretty clean sometime after this started. I talked to the pharmacist. He said there’s nothing left.”

Percy rubbed his face with his hands. “Okay. Let’s go talk to Tom and the council. I have a couple of ideas. But let me talk to Steven first.”

Jock nodded and moved over to let Tom know he and Percy needed to talk to him again. Percy went over to join Steven Gregory. “You heard what I told the others. You willing to be my agent? Handle the food distribution? Maybe with Claude’s help?”

“Sure. I bought meat from Claude. Some of yours at times, I suppose. I think he’ll go for it. Of course, we don’t have refrigeration.”

“I know. I can do the butchering at the estate, but I prefer to bring them in for Claude to do it. We’ll bring in the animals as needed. Keep the meat on the hoof until butchering day. Say Saturdays. The other stuff, two, maybe three days a week. I thought perhaps providing you and your family with the minimums. Anything over a basic amount, you’d have to buy with labor or whatever.”

“It’s tempting to ask for a percentage, but I know what would happen. Just like with Wilkins. If it is thought I get more than a fair share for doing this, people are going to be really upset.”

“Right,” Percy said. “If they see you and your family working to get extra, that should mitigate any problems like that.”

“Yeah. Okay. You’ve got a deal. I’ll talk to Claude. Same deal?”

“Yes,” Percy replied. “I’ll have a price list when I bring in the first load.”

Steven nodded, and Percy headed back to the steps of city hall.

“Jock said you had something else?” Tom asked.

“Yeah. I just had an idea, after people started asking the questions about jewelry and stuff. Look. I’m set up okay at the estate. We can make it just fine. But I was sincere about needing help, in order to help the community.

“What I have in mind is to buy up some things, to get some circulating currency to make it easier for trading to take place. If people start accepting the coins, it’ll make it a lot easier. That’s why money was invented in the first place.

“What I’m thinking, is that I’d buy the clinic shuttle bus from the town. I’ll use it to run workers to and from the estate, with stops at the clinic. Kind of like it was planned anyway. There are probably a few more items I can use that I’ll use gold and silver to buy. That way the city will have a treasury.”

Percy smiled. “I’ll even pay my taxes in advance in gold and silver. That should be enough of a base, with what I’ll buy from individuals, to get the coins flowing. How does that sound?”

“You know good and well the town can’t tax you for anything.” Tom frowned when Percy just shrugged. “We’re going to have to talk this over,” Tom said. “We’ll let you know when you come in day after tomorrow. Is that okay?”

“Of course it is,” Percy responded. “I want to get everyone back to the estate. And Dr. Bluhm needs to take care of some of the people that need help. I’ll also trade some fuel for a few things. I know you need to get some bodies buried. I transferred some from the truck to Reynolds, but I imagine you need some more.”

“We sure do. We’ll make a list of what we need and want. One thing we do need, that I don’t think you’d charge us for anyway, is water. Without electricity, we can’t pump. The boys are dipping some, but it’s a struggle.”

“I’ll bring some in when I come. Have everyone keep their empty water bottles and bring other containers. We’ll figure out how to get the supply back here in town.”

“Okay. Then we’ll see you day after tomorrow.” Tom and the rest of the city council headed into the building to discuss things. Percy joined his small group. They were just handing out the last of the food.

“What now?” Susie asked.

“We check with the doctor. See what he needs.”

“Until it’s safe to stay at home,” Jock said, “I’d like to take a few of these people out to the estate so Melissa and I can take better care of them. I think they’ll all be okay, if we keep them from catching something. A couple can be treated and brought to town in a couple of days. The rest… It’s only a matter of time. There are eleven more that I don’t think will make it, even with the best care I could give them.

“I feel cold and heartless not offering them more than some over the counter stuff that the pharmacist managed to save. If I use more effective measures, it’ll only treat the symptoms. It won’t save them. Won’t even make them that much more comfortable. Except maybe at the end. All of the eleven are okay at the moment, but their first symptoms indicate that they received lethal doses and are in that period where things appear pretty normal. They’ll start losing hair and teeth, bleeding at the gums and under the fingernails in a few days. They’ll only have a few days after that.”

“It’s up to you, Dr. Bluhm. I don’t mind bringing some out to the estate, even the dying ones, if you think that best. We’re making sure those that die will be buried quickly. I’d just as soon not start a cemetery at the estate, though we can, if necessary.”

“No. The ones that are sure to die should probably be with their families, even if it is hard on them. I’ll talk to the families. We might need to take one or two that don’t have anyone to care for them.”

“Okay.” Percy had noticed Andy sitting off by himself, and then saw Susie go over and sit down beside him, taking Andy’s hand in hers. He went over to them.

“Andrew, are you all right?” Percy asked, looking at the tears shimmering in Susie’s eyes.

“It’s pop. He died three days after the power went off. I was sure it would happen. He knew it too, when I talked to him the other day. If the facility lost power, he wouldn’t last too long without his machine. I thought I was prepared, but…”

“We’ll see to it that he gets a proper burial,” Percy said.

Susie stood and took Percy a few steps away. “They’ve already done that. For all those that died at the care facility. He’s beating himself up about not trying to do more, even though his father didn’t want him to, and there wasn’t anything he could have done, anyway.”

Percy nodded. He went and sat down beside the young man. Andy was trying to hide his tears, without success. “Whatever you want to do, we will,” Percy said gently. “Your father loved you very much. He knew you would not be able to help him and I’m sure as can be he wants you to go on and help as many others that you can.”

Andy, tears still streaming down his face looked around at Percy. “I know. He even said, ‘You can’t help me. Help someone else.’ That’s part of why I did some of the things I did. We can help people, can’t we? Me, at least? I’ll work for my share at the estate, but I want to help those here, too. This is my town.”

“I know,” Percy said, fighting back his own tears at the anguish Andy was in. “We’ll all be helping, in whatever ways we can. The city council has a few plans we can help with. I imagine you’ll be part of that. At the very least, you’ll be driving workers back and forth, and delivering food to the town.”

“Really?” Andy said, the tears slowing. “More food like this?” He motioned to the food that was already gone.

“Delivering to the store. It will be distributed from there. Might as well make that the pickup point for the laborers, too. What it amounts to is you’re going to be my transportation captain.”

The tears stopped now, Andy nodded. “Okay. That sounds like a good plan to me. I can drive pretty much anything with wheels. And drive a team, too. Pop taught me when I was little and we had a pair of old horses for fun. I guess I should check the rigs. Make sure everything is ready for the trip back.”

When Andy had turned and begun walking toward the truck and the van, Percy found himself encased in a bear hug from Susie. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Jackson! You made him feel a lot better. A useful human being again. You know just what to say, every time. Thank you.” She released him and ran after Andy.

Sara was smiling at him, standing a couple of feet away. “Not you, too?” Percy said, frowning.

“No, of course not,” Sara said softly. “I won’t add to your embarrassment.

“Good,” Percy said. He turned to go help Jock and Sara followed. “Oh,” he said, absently, “I need you to figure the value of my property. I need to pay taxes to the town. Figure it in gold.”

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