Just under fifty thousand words at this point. Thanks to all those who have read along and enjoyed. For those wondering, yes, the plan is to at some point assemble this all into a book. I will do some heavy editing and re-writing before it goes into print--it'll be the same general story, but I consider what has been posted so far to be a fairly rough draft. It'll be bigger, badder and all around better.
When completed, I intend to make the book available via Amazon, in printed soft cover format and via Kindle. Hope to have it done and out in advance of the holiday season, though we'll see how real life cooperates with that.
Chapter 18: Address
They stayed on county roads on their way out of the area before joining up with the backcountry highway that would take them a substantial portion of the way to the mountains and Barry’s cabin. So far, a little over an hour into their journey and a third of the way there, they had found the roads unexpectedly empty. Not entirely devoid of traffic—there was still the occasional speeding pickup or small caravan, all heading in the same direction, but not clogged and backed up for miles like Jack had worried. Mike had noticed the same thing.
“Man, I was worried we’d hit Katrina-esque lines of backed up cars from people trying to get out of dodge. The Interstate was real bad, and that was before those bastard terrorists blew half of it up,” he said, speaking up for the first time in a long while. Jack had a lot that he wanted to talk with Mike about—what he’d seen during his 24 hour paramedic shift, how well he’d been able to patch things up with his wife and so on. But, Mike did not seem to be in a talkative mood, and Jack didn’t have the energy to try to drag anything out of him. He was focused on driving and keeping an eye on the rest of the caravan, and, in his exhausted state, did not have the brainpower for much more than that. He’d kicked back a pair of extra strength energy shots—probably not a healthy habit to take up—and the caffeine jolt was certainly helping, but he was running on fumes.
“It looks like we’ve got smooth sailing,” Jack said, “I guess the masses headed for the Interstate and this route is clear. Lots of folks probably fled up this way earlier, but they’ve already bugged out long ago. I’d guess the curfew and threat of martial law are probably keeping people at home, too.”
Jack considered the path that had led them to their current situation—really, it had all been set off by Mike. He’d brought an ambulance, sirens wailing to the front door of his home, an enemy combatant in the back. Mike hadn’t done it through any kind of ill-will—he’d panicked, needed help and ran their way. But had that evil scum not been dropped off at his doorstep, he would almost certainly be hunkered down at his home—heck, probably polishing off the last the ice cream to make more room in the freezer. The choice to flee to safety had been a gamble, but it had been the best choice given the corner they’d been backed into
“We’ve actually had a lot of lucky breaks. Heck, we’re on our way to a lucky break right now. We’ve been relying on luck, divine intervention or whatever you want to call it too much for my tastes.”
Mike didn’t have any response to that, and they rode in silence for several more minutes. The radio was on in the background, tuned into the local news station. They were broadcasting sporadically to conserve fuel for their backup generators, but their last transmission had said something about an address from the Secretary of State, now Acting President of the United States—or what was left of them. Everything that they’d heard up until now had been bad news—Iran had attacked Israel, North Korea had invaded South Korea, and other conflicts were erupting across the world. To Jack, it felt very much like the start of World War Three—the dreaded war-to-end-all-wars that he’d grown up worrying about. He hoped that wasn’t the case.
The radio came to life, the local announcer’s voice breaking the silence in the cab of Jack’s pickup. He used the steering wheel’s volume controls to bump the volume up
“Good evening everyone—we hope you are safe and well at this time, wherever you are. In a few moments, we will hear from Susan Hearst, Acting President of the United States, in the first official address from the Federal Government since the attacks on our nation began.
“We remind you that a mandatory curfew has been put in place throughout the state. Please remain in your homes and off the roads. County and state law enforcement, with support from the National Guard, will be patrolling streets and enforcing the curfew. Those found violating the curfew may be subject to immediate arrest. Officials state that the curfew is only a temporary measure, intended to help combat looting and lawlessness that have been taking place throughout the area.
“County health officials have issued a boil water notice until further notice for the entire county homes with running water. This a precautionary advisory. This notice does not mean that your water is unsafe, but it does mean that you must take precaution and boil your water before use. Water should be brought to a rolling boil for one minute for all consumption or washing of food. County residents will be notified immediately when the advisory is lifted.
“For those residents who have lost water pressure and are without access to water, and those who have been displaced from their homes, state and county resources are being mobilized to offer relief. A list of water distribution sites and temporary shelters will be provided after the Acting President’s address.”
The radio fell silent, and Jack took a moment to radio the caravan, telling them to tune into the broadcast. When the radio came back to life, it was the tired, dry voice of a mature woman.
“Good evening. Yesterday, our nation came under the greatest attack it has faced in its entire history. The horror of nuclear warfare was unleashed on two of our brightest cities—New York and Washington, D.C. Thousands of men, women—moms and dads—and beautiful, innocent children were murdered in an unprecedented, unprovoked act of evil.
“It is with sorrow that I confirm to you the deaths of the President, Vice President and the leaders of the House and the Senate. They were at work, serving this nation, at the time of the attacks. They were likely killed instantaneously. As the Secretary of State and next in the presidential line of succession, I have assumed the role of Acting President of these United States, until such time as an election can be held.
“As we have learned over the last twenty four hours, the vile attacks on the people of Washington and New York were but the beginning of what is clearly a concentrated attack on the foundation of this very nation and on freedom and liberty itself. Cyber-criminals have infected and temporarily disabled some of our nation’s most critical infrastructure. Small groups of armed terrorists have attacked in major cities throughout the country, detonating improvised explosive devices and striking indiscriminately at civilians and emergency personnel. Many of these groups have been stopped. Those still on the loose are on the run, fleeing as the full force of the United States government is brought against them. They will be caught and brought to justice.
“We have all felt great sadness, fear and outrage at these atrocities, at the loved ones lost and the impact that they have had on our lives. But, America, we must be strong. These attacks were designed to cripple our nation, send it spiraling into chaos and retreat. We must not do this. Please, America, remain calm, help your neighbors and obey local law enforcement and government officials in this time of great need. We must be strong. The world needs us.
“Our country is not the only nation to have suffered over the past day—American allies have come under attack. Iran struck out first, launching a full-scale nuclear assault on our friends in Israel, with assistance from forces inside Syria and Lebanon. Our allies in South Korea have also fallen under attack by land, sea and air forces from North Korea.
“America, the actions of these rogue states was not mere coincidence. We have discovered ample evidence that the attacks on our nation were supported and participated in by the militaries of Iran and North Korea, as well as numerous terrorist and criminal networks. I say again—the attacks on our country were perpetrated by agents working under the blessing and support of the governments of Iran and North Korea. These war crimes on our homeland and unprovoked attacks on our friends abroad will not go unanswered and they will not go unpunished.
“At this time, and with a heavy heart, I announce that a state of war now exists between the United States of America and the states of Iran and North Korea. We will defend our allies and battle these evil regimes until their leadership is removed, their ability to wage war on us and our allies is destroyed, and the war criminals responsible for the attacks on our nation are brought to justice. The full, deadly might of our armed forces will be employed in the eradication of these evil regimes.”
“And, sadly America, this is not all. It appears that this Axis of Evil was not alone in their actions. It is with great anger that I must also implicate a long time trade partner and supposed friend in the acts of war that have been waged against our nation.
“U.S. Cyber Command has been able track the attacks on our technological infrastructure to forces within the People’s Republic of China.”
Jack cursed, hitting the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. Iran and North Korea were one thing—but China? The Acting President continued.
“And while they have not yet attacked, a fleet of Chinese warships is moving to surround our allies in Taiwan. We have demanded that the Chinese government remove their fleet from the region and turnover the criminals responsible for the attacks on our infrastructure within the next twenty four hours. If they do not, then a state of war will exist between us as well.
“We call upon all of our allies in NATO and the United Nations to support us in these measures.”
The Acting President paused.
“This is unreal,” Mike said.
“Totally crazy,” Jack muttered in agreement.
“My friends, we may face a tough road ahead of us, but we will recover. We will rebuild. We will defend our homes, our nation and our way of life from those who would seek to destroy it. This I vow to you. Thank you. Good night, and God bless America.”
There was another pause as the Acting President’s speech ended, and then the radio announcer came back on, reading through the lists of locations where people could obtain drinking water or shelter.
They drove on through the night. There was surprisingly little radio chatter between the vehicles. Jack let the Acting President’s message set in. They had already heard of the wars being waged by Iran and North Korea, and Jack had suspected some involvement by their governments—it was too convenient to be a pure coincidence. But the revelation that China had been somehow involved was a startling revelation.
“Why would they attack us like that? Isn’t it total suicide?” Mike asked, wondering aloud.
“Maybe it is—their leaders are crazy enough not to care about the consequences. Maybe they have an ace up their sleeve, though. They argue whatever evidence we’ve got, try to call in allies of their own and make us think twice about turning their countries into smoldering craters. If Russia came in on Iran’s side, I’m not sure what we’d do. But it’s China that worries me more,” Jack said.
“Ya—I guess the prices at Wal-Mart will be going up,” Mike joked, though it fell flat, neither of them laughing.
“Well, there is the whole trade relations thing, but they’re also a military super-power in their own right. Not on par with the U.S.—their navy is about half the size of ours, they have a couple hundred nukes and we’ve got a couple thousand. But that’s not a fight we want to get in.”
Mike was quiet for a moment, thinking things through.
“It didn’t sound like we even had anything that implicated the Chinese government itself in the cyber-attacks. Maybe it was some rogue group of hackers who got tired of playing World of Warcraft?”
Jack shook his head.
“But if that’s the case, then why are they surrounding Taiwan? If we’re lucky, that’s just a coincidence. If we’re not and the attacks had the blessing of the Chinese government, then we are in trouble. It’s a fight we can probably win, but it’ll be a tough one, and it could turn nuclear pretty darn quickly. Hell, who am I kidding, this already is a nuclear war. I guess it’s just a matter of how ugly it gets.”
They fell silent again. In the background, the radio broadcast had ended. The caravan drove on into the night, the asphalt flashing by.
A half hour later, the walkie chirped to life with Tex’s tired voice.
“Hey, we’re picking up something that sounds like a road block on the scanner here. Can’t tell how far up it is, but the range on this thing ain’t too hot, so it can’t be that far.”
Jack swore under his breath.
“All right, slow it down. Let’s figure out our plan of action before we get ourselves stuck in traffic.”
The brake lights of the vehicles came on as the caravan cut their speed in half. They were on a two lane, backcountry highway, with dark forest lining either side. The road had taken them past farm houses, trailers and through tiny country towns, but so far it had been clear.
“Tex, are you sure it’s a road block?”
“Sure sounds like it—I’m pickin’ up transmissions that sound like status updates. Some guy keeps talking about how many cars they’re seeing, who they’re checking out and what they’re finding. Sounds like a road block to me.”
“Copy that. Barry, what can you tell us?”
The former gun shop owner’s gruff voice came on over the walkie.
“There’s a town a few miles up ahead—I’m gonna guess this is the local cops getting enthusiastic ‘bout their job. Bad spot for us, though. If I ‘member right, we gotta backtrack about ten miles back south and then head east for another fifteen miles to get on the alternate route. But that route still goes through the same town. If I was in charge, I’d be smart enough to put a checkpoint on that road, too.”
They didn’t have line of sight of any road block just yet, but Jack kept anticipating a line of traffic and the flashing lights of squad cars around every bend in the road.
“Any way around the town?” Jack asked.
“Yes siree. We backtrack and then head about forty five miles west. There’s another highway we can take up into the mountains there. Probably an hour out of the way, if we’ve got smooth sailin’.”
Jack swore again in frustration, careful not to broadcast it over the walkies. He wasn’t the type who made a habit of swearing frequently, but sometimes harsh language was called for. They had made it just over halfway to Barry’s cabin, and it looked like they’d already hit a major detour.
“Remember that luck we were talking about earlier, Mike? Looks like its running low at the moment. Can you check the GPS for me? How far are we to the hunting lease?” he asked. The GPS system seemed to have been totally unaffected by the Chinese hackers attacks and was operating normally. He waited a moment while Mike punched in the coordinates of their land. The unit took a moment to spit out the route and details.
“Not that far—twenty eight miles. Thirty minute drive according to this thing.”
“I’ve got traffic up ahead,” Barry radioed in as they rounded a bend in the road.
“Can you see the road block?” Jack asked.
“Nadda. Long line of cars and trucks, though. Looks like they’re bein’ thorough.”
“All right, let’s pull over. Shut off your headlights, too.” The convoy moved quickly in response, rumbling to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
Jack rested his head back in the seat, exhausted. His mind was foggy and slow to respond, despite the caffeine infusion from earlier. As he sat there thinking, his tired mind started playing over a vision of a helicopter swooping down, picking all of them up and whisking them safely to Barry’s cabin. That, of course, was not going to happen.
He shook the daydream away, facing the facts and the real options they had. They could try to talk or bribe their way through the road block, with a giant olive drab two and a half ton truck and a pickup loaded with illegal weaponry. Smashing through the road block did not seem wise—they’d have half the Sherriff’s department on their tails. They could turn around and take the long detour around, hoping that it turned out better than this route. Or they could give up the journey to Barry’s cabin for the time being and make for the hunting lease, over roads that they knew at this point were mostly clear.