Pandemica. Progress at last.

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 20 Mar 2022


I suppose I'll throw in the last chapters of my unpublished novel. But I'm not getting any feedback or points for all this work. If anyone has a suggestion please offer it. What do I do with the Ambassador program? Where do I place the link?

 

 

A Campus restored

Chapter nineteen

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Our state of affairs was finally starting to look up, the State of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire in particular.

This was because our two commanders were working in perfect agreement and the new troops integrated seamlessly. They were all happy with their duties, as they were now visibly helping people, repopulating the land, healing and improving the country, a task long overdue.

Buses were sent to the south and west, picking up the leftovers of a once populated land. The pill, the absence of the Church and the prospect of daily food was an instant decider, convincing them to move to the vicinity of Manchester and learn or resume farming. A few hundred a day were brought in, and the buses traveled further West each day, picking up more without a single shot fired.

On Sheila’s insistence that we get to Montreal, the army of Portsmouth was slowly making its way North, and always with a convoy of buses to carry back the survivors they found along the way, offering no resistance. They greeted our soldiers as liberators and were overjoyed to be resettled in our area.

But we played it safe. Along with daily shipments of gasoline to Portsmouth, now filtered beside storage tanks outside the city, a line of ten tanks and Humvees headed their column. They were never used in any engagement, but they made an impressive show as they rolled into each town and city. With the telegraph in operation and its grid spread to Providence, sending its army and buses towards New York, both lieutenants there kept in daily contact with us, reporting their progress.

But a meeting, face to face, of all the commanders and a few scientists was in order. And I asked if I could make the arrangements.  

I decided the Durham library wasn’t going to be stripped of its books. There was something wrong in that. It was too beautiful to desecrate. So I told the General we should hold our grand meeting there and he agreed. I’d need a few days to set it up, and his simple reply was: “Do anything you want”.

I took the whole flock of scientists, leaving the five doctors to mind the hospital, and a hundred soldiers in a convoy of jeeps and buses. I wanted the whole campus and surrounding areas repopulated. I’d made it a point to get to know a few of the men, with all my spare time at camp, and hand-picked some of those to take, those I liked, the most friendly, talkative and least military minded, ready for a change, along with one portly and compliant sergeant. Soldiers were not really needed as there were no threats.

We arrived that sunny morning, and parked in the quadrangle, right on the grass. I told them this was to be their new home, and to follow me. It was all so strange and new to them, a new life in fact, I thought a quick tour would be in order. So we started with the library, and they gawked in wonder at its vaulted ceilings and elaborate trim. I explained little, except to say: “Respect your new home and treat it with the decency it deserves. This is obviously no military camp and you’re civilians now, in a civilized place”.

Whatever impression that made, only time would tell.

The dorms were near so I took them to the closest, like a group of tourists. We ambled down a long, carpeted hall where I told them to each pick a room for the night, until better arrangements in houses could be made. In the first one Sheila entered she found a closet full of women’s clothes, of some former student, now long gone.

She immediately stripped off her white smock and put on the most colorful dress she could find, stepped out in the hallway in front of her colleagues and soldiers, and shouted: “We don’t need this anymore, we’re free”.

She threw the white smock on the floor and trampled it, in a pair of striped, knee-high socks and red sneakers, looking a bit ridiculous.

Then she went on: “You can all do the same, you’re free to wear whatever you want, forever. We’re all free. The Church is gone”.

After that surprise, a few of her colleagues followed suit, going into rooms and looking for more comfortable clothes. Then some soldiers did too. I told the bewildered sergeant to let them. Some had been made into soldiers when the evacuations began, part time national guard and park rangers who never wanted the job of soldiering. Within a few days everyone opted for comfortable clothing, eager to be rid of the hateful white uniform, a sign of oppression, worn every day in a lacklustre existence. A few of the heavier scientists and the sergeant had to go downtown to find their wardrobes, the student set not quite matching their physiques.

I left after they settled in. But when I drove back three days later in my shorts and a tee-shirt, I was amazed at the sight. It looked like a campus again, everyone in different colors and shoes and styles, individuals, not a herd of sheep. Sheila was among them, sunning herself on the library steps with a book and I couldn’t help but come up and ask her to take a walk with me.

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Sheila on the steps. Istockphoto

So, how are people adjusting to this change”?

“Most love it. The men you picked to work with the scientists were great choices. A few want to become scientists themselves, and this is the place, a university”.

“They were the smart ones” I said. “But what about the others, the career soldiers”?

“Some want to stay in uniform. They have no skills and want to be given orders. They don’t know what to do if not told specific tasks. And the sergeant, you’d better talk with him. He seems a bit flustered. Sorry for my histrionic display at the dorms”.

“That’s no big deal. You must have had something pent up inside you and just let loose”.

“I think I have a lot of things pent up inside me, to tell the truth”.

“Well I hope time will work those out. By the way what have you been up to these last three days”?

“I’ve been reading up on refineries. I think we can get one going”.

“I was thinking about that too. But the problem is that they require a huge amount of electricity to run. We’d have to get a power supply up and running, Which is another big job. I think some hydro-electric plant would be our best bet. But that could take months and we don’t have that long. They say the pipeline is half-empty now”.

“Refineries are a curious bird, I’ve discovered. They’re so fragile and flammable that any power interruption would cause a major disaster. So they all have built in emergency power supplies, UPS systems and huge generators that can keep them running for days, and large banks of capacitors for those few seconds when the power goes out before the generators can ramp up and take over. So they’re like little cities all on their own. The gas they produce can run the generators, which in turn run the plant, which in turn fuels the generators. We can get them up and running”.

“Sheila, you amaze me. You’re the rare bird. I don’t think there’s any problem you can’t solve. I’m so glad we have you. You’re one of the most important players in this bid to save the world and tireless in your research. I’ll make sure the General knows how much you contribute to our cause. He’ll be here tomorrow”.

“You’d better see the sergeant first, before the General. He needs guidance. Let me get back to my books”.

With that I gave her a hug. I was tempted to kiss her on the cheek, she was such a godsend. But I knew she was bashful. Even the hug felt a bit awkward.

I decided to see this sergeant as she headed back to the library. I came across two men in shorts and colorful shirts, just like me and asked where to find him.

“By the back entrance” they said, “with the only soldiers still in uniform, at a checkpoint, protecting our lives from the Indians”, was their mocking reply.

These men had civilian jobs now, setting up nicer living accommodations, some driving in food supplies from Portsmouth. They found one large cafeteria and had it running with a generator. Some cleaned, others cooked. Some ten were assigned to help the eight scientists. They’d found several labs with various equipment and wanted to consolidate the right equipment into one lab where they could produce more vaccines. This was a primary goal. One soldier knew electrical systems and with help ran some lines to the right panels to get that room operational.

The sergeant who’d been sent in charge of these men, still in his uniform, came to me with a worried look and said: “The General might not like this, and pound me a new one”.

I think he was referring to his head or face. But I calmed him down saying: “Look, your still in charge, but in a more civilian way. There’s no need for military discipline now, or reveille, or bugles or salutes. There’s no war, no need for an army. And look where we are. We have to find each of these boys a useful purpose, to rebuild this town, grow food, make it self-sufficient.

“Think of yourself more like a mayor now, and find yourself a suit, and an office here on campus, a place for people to come and get answers. You’ll need a few helpers, so pick a suite of rooms, or better yet a small building as things are going to grow.

“Pick out the soldiers you get along with best, people you like. They’ll be your assistants in setting up desks and file cabinets and a conference room. They’ll also be your secretaries. Make sure you give each one their own room so they feel important.

“Your first job is to start keeping records, maps of the town, the campus and all the goods available in stores. Then start a file on each person here, their names, ages and skills, maybe some background information, where they grew up, because there might be latent skills they have in that information.

“Finally, post your name and Mayor’s office in big letters over the front door. Go around and tell everyone, set each person up with a half hour interview in your office, with a secretary to take notes. Then they’ll know you’re in earnest. And they will come to you for information and help. You’ll see”.

I could tell the man has somewhat confused or just overwhelmed with all this information. But I also saw that he was pleased as he slowly thought about it, as if he’d just received a major promotion. He was more used to taking than giving orders. But now he’d have his own building and staff and a more polite way of handling things, along with more respect. He agreed.

“I’ll get right on it, sir, and have my building and staff picked out by days end. But it will take weeks to be fully operational, with all the records collected and functioning.”

“I know. But what have you been doing the last three days”?

“Next to nothing, sir, just sending out three teams to gather food. We found quite a bit in town as they went through the houses one by one and searched thoroughly, even the burnt ones”.

“Keep a small detail on that and have them collect any items you might need on this new assignment, down to paper, pads and pens. See if you can find a few old typewriters. Check the museum and put one on your desk. It will look impressive”.

“Good idea, sir, thanks again. But will this go down well with the General?”

“I’m bringing him here tomorrow and I’ll explain everything along the way. He’s the governor now. The Church is out of the picture. Just keep your handgun and belt around your waist until this is all settled, your soldiers too, and place a dozen who don’t know anything better at road posts at all the college entrances. Keep them there with their rifles and in uniform. Times have changed but they can’t change too fast. The General will be pleased with what he sees here. And he’ll be pleased with you if all your men are busy. I guarantee it”.

The sergeant seemed relieved, thanking me over and over again.

A tanker of gas was being sent to Portsmouth each day and others to Portland. Our crews at the pipeline were now filling up four a day.

The soldiers assigned to drive for fish and supplies, needing vehicles, had picked out the nicest trucks their wildest fancy desired, all of them from auto dealerships, unused, the last that were made. They blared their DVD players along the road, happy as larks in their civil clothes, Hawaiian shirts and shorts, enjoying their jobs and life again. They still kept their rifles at hand, most on a rack behind them, like Texas boys.

The people of Portsmouth were happy too, with gas to drive again they quickly followed our example, appropriating cars, dumping their white frocks in the garbage for the clothes they were fond of, denims and shirts. The few women gladly reverted to their former, colorful attire, making themselves pretty, doing up their hair again, lipstick and blush, simple things, even though they were headed to the fields for the day to water the crops. But this made their husbands equally happy.

The plague was beat, the whole mission of this Church was gone. And it hadn’t helped them, misguiding them all along, and making matters much worse. Now it was only a burden, producing nothing, a useless thing and in the way. Everyone’s perspective changed over these weeks, along with their newfound freedom.

They’d just heard the story of New York, a cautionary tale. The Church in Portsmouth was staying mum, the priests hiding in their cloister, wondering what to do. Some wanted to sneak away, and did at night, took off their smocks and ran through the woods joining the rag-tag flocks straggling in from the North, trying to blend in in, which wasn’t hard, as ID’s and records were a thing of the past.

But some were recognized and ostracized by the townsfolk in various ways, some beaten, some branded on the forehead with a star and given the lowest chores as garbage collectors. Others did better by begging for jobs at the docks. The boat captains would eye them and take one along as an extra hand to learn the trade. This increased their catches and more boats sailed out each morning, to feed all the newcomers, those at the college and elsewhere.

For the ones who stayed behind, this just wasn’t their time. These were the most unpopular and recognizable, who abused their power over the four years, walking through the streets with one of their policemen, admonishing people for the slightest deviance in behavior, always threatening punishments. Food deliveries to their church door became irregular now, and not by men but by a few old women, still catholic and going to mass as usual.

The priest in charge committed suicide the day after we occupied the college with the soldiers, and the reports of the mass desertion of the army of New York, along with the pandemonium at Church headquarters spread through town like a wildfire.

The Church had always been a hugely overstaffed burden on each community to feed. In the early days it was easy. But in later days it proved hard, so many useless men, doing nothing but admonishing the citizens for pointless details, and arguing more and more among themselves, as the population and their status dwindled accordingly.

Curious to me, three of the elder priests stayed and opened their barred doors to the sunlight the morning after the others had fled. They were the real priests from before the plague and they stepped out to face the crowd of townsfolk who soon collected on the grassy hill leading up to the church, as word spread quickly through the town, that the doors had been opened again.  The citizens wondered at this unusual sight.

The three priests kneeled, as if in penance, and ready to bear whatever punishment they might happen to receive. But a few good people recognized them and shouted out: “No harm, no harm” and forgave them, for all the forgiveness and help they had given these same people in the past.

Some ran up to them and bid them rise, taking them by the hand, and ushering them back into the church, leaving the doors wide open.

Now the church was restored to what it once was. It was even revered again for its service in serving the people, and the Sunday masses were crowded.

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                    The Church in Portland. Wikipedia

The people who were being brought in from the wilds to Manchester were interviewed one by one as they arrived. Some were assigned to the abandoned farmhouses nearest the coast, and around our camps. Many had farming experience, as those were the ones that survived.

Others were the looters, now humbled and ready to do anything they were told. Some were partnered up with those sent to farm the land. There were a few single women in these groups and they were each interviewed by an officer for hours, as most of them were women kept by the gangs, for one reason. They spilled their guts on what had happened. The men they pointed out were dragged off and summarily shot, the gang leaders who’d committed a thousand atrocities, the hardened criminals, incorrigibles. The Army had no time to deal with them. So in a few minutes, lined up against a wall, with a bevy of bullets, that problem was solved.

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Summary justice. TwoByOne

The day for the meeting had arrived. The four commanders arrived on schedule, exactly at noon, as military men are wont to do.

They were surprised, shocked at first seeing everyone in civilian clothes. The General recognized some of his own men. Leisurely walking by, some politely saluting, though I’d given him the low down on the way there. He must not have registered it completely.

But as I ushered the four commanders through some of the other halls, then on into their dining hall, they were amazed at the high ceilings and splendor of rooms far larger and more elegant than any they’d seen in a long while.

We had a feast set out on a central table, with bottles of wine and whisky on each table, the proper glasses, silver platters, decanters and plates and serviettes all left there intact, except for the liquor of course, which I secretly appropriated from my left-over stash in the tunnels.

The soldiers hooked up a basement generator and now with plenty of fuel we had the lights turned on in their honor. The cooks did an equally fine job with the fish and fresh vegetables, inspired by the elegance of the setting to match it with their finest, garnished platters. The eight scientists and the soldiers assigned to them were invited to dine with us at separate tables and they too, knowing the occasion, dressed to the tee, in dress jackets and ties, as the downtown stores, not burnt, were full of them.

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Huddlestone Hall Dining Room. unh.edu

We all sat down in such grandeur in the best of moods and enjoyed a feast. I called the sergeant over to join our table, uncomfortable in his suit, squirming and never mentioning he was now called mayor. The General gave him one glance and snickered, especially with the gun belt tied below his large belly, not quite gracing the light blue suit outfit. But there were so many suits in the room they accepted this. One person they did admire was Sheila, whom at the last minute I insisted she come over she sit at our table. She was wearing a stunning low-cut dress and lipstick. Everyone stood up as she approached, and compliments followed. We didn’t discuss any serious business, the food and drink were too fine to ruin it with shop talk. We had all afternoon for that.

After an hour-long lunch with desserts of fruit and cake, a toast of whisky to a better world and our compliments to the cooks as they took away the plates, the five of us retired to a private room where each of the commanders lit up one of the General’s cigars. Then they got down to business.

First we filled in the commander from Portland, whose name was Wilde, with news of the South, lieutenant Johnson doing most of the talking.

The greater part of his men had been transferred from their camp of despair to the comparative luxury of our fort and assigned rooms in the buildings around the camp, to recuperate and eat with the Manchester soldiers and get acquainted with them. Many needed medical care but the pill did most of that. A proper diet and rest, with showers and soap and clean clothes, and most of these young men were restored to health in a week. It was also a matter of their spirits, instantly raised and improved by this sudden relief from fear. They had a future once again, the prospect of a long life.

The worst off needed a hospital bed and IV’s. A few died. The others recovered slowly. Half were healthy enough to leave in a few weeks and join their comrades.

Then he mentioned the madness, the panic going on in the UN headquarters, and his suggestion was to just let them be. Their police had started deserting, like the priests in our other cities. In a matter of weeks they would all be gone, dead, or in hiding, in civilian clothes.

Our Lieutenant from Providence, named Steele, had moved three hundred of his now re-enforced men and a number of tanks all the way to Greenwich, where they were picking up all the deserters and fugitives coming in, some seven or eight busloads a day, taken back to Manchester. 

The Portland General was delighted to hear this, not just the vague rumors he’d received so far. Then our General spoke. I supposed he held the highest rank now, with the largest and the central command.

“I’ll take care of Boston and everything west and you Johnson will handle a Southern flank and move past New York, inland, to the Delaware. I know your men want nothing to do with New York and I don’t want any useless carnage. You, Wilde can move further North and see what’s going on up there. Luke here has some crazy plan to get the Suncor refinery in Montreal up and running again for a permanent supply of gas. It’s the closest and we already have some info on it, thanks to Luke’s discovery and our scientists. It’s only a hundred miles from your base and you can move your army that way. I’ve heard nothing about the Canadians or even if there are any, nothing about any ‘Church’ up there”.

“I can be there tomorrow and with more tanks and men and set up a safe corridor to Portland.

I broke in: “Great. We need to get on this right away as our gas reserves will run out in another month at this rate. From all I’ve seen, and I’ve been the further inland than any of you, they’ll be in the same shape as here, a few small groups of renegades left, all fighting each other over the last crumbs of food and dying off with the plague, mostly in the cities.

“I can tell you from what I’ve learned in the last weeks is that there aren’t two hundred people left between Manchester and Burlington. We’re already seeing them wander in from as far as Buffalo, all for the pill. And they aren’t hostiles, they’re starving vagrants and beggars, more likely to kiss your feet than point a gun at you. We need to save all we can and move fast, drive right in there with tanks and men and occupy the place.

“How many tanks do we have General”?

“Hundreds. I don’t know the count. The Church told us to collect and destroy them in the beginning, just like the fighter jets and battleships. Those we burned or sunk. That was easy. But a tank is a hard thing to destroy. So they left me that job. We drove a few hundred into the ocean at Port Chester but halfway through that slow show the Church officials left and went home so we drove the rest back to the outskirts of Boston and hid them in some woods.

“Later on when I was put in charge of Manchester, I brought some twenty here for my own personal defenses, emptied their gas tanks and munitions so they’d be useless to anyone with big ideas. They’ve been hidden in basement garages in my town for years. The rest we left in case we needed them for the damned war.”.

“Any one of you can have all you want tomorrow”.

So I began again:

“With tanks and Humvees and jeeps you’ll meet little or no resistance. I guaranty that. You need to safeguard Sheila and the scientists and a few dozen technicians and look for more. House them right next to the plant with a detail of fifty soldiers to protect them. We need to start this week. She knows what to do. I talked with her yesterday. The gas they produce will come just in time to keep us rolling. For more men you can clear nine tenths of your posts. There’s nobody out there. Use that manpower to resettle people. Once Montreal is set up, take smaller convoys out in every direction. Save who you can, always spreading the news that it’s safe to come here, no Church.”

The General laughed: “you talk like you want the whole god-damned country taken back in a week”.

“Yes I do, and I’m convinced you guys can do it too. We’re the only ones with fuel. Otherwise we’d have been attacked from the West. “Every army is gone or immobilized. The whole country fell under the madness of the Church, and that pretty much killed it. We have to re-organize starting here and we’ve done a good job so far. Portland has a working population of ten thousand, with everyone organized and fed and well”.

“Fifteen”, Wilde broke in.

“Well our Boston area has at least fifty and it will be sixty soon with all this influx. We’re making a thousand pills a day and with this new lab we can triple that soon. Those are how many lives we can save”.

Then I turned to the General. “By the way I made your sergeant mayor of Durham yesterday. I hope you don’t mind”.

He burst out in laughter. “So that was what the silly suit was all about, that fat old boy. I thought he’d gone mad when I saw him. Tell him to find a better suit and drop the gun belt. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. With that high and mighty title he doesn’t need one.”

Everyone chuckled, except me.

“Look, I’m not kidding. In a month commander Wilde, you’ll be governor of Canada, and you Johnson commander of the South, and you, General, President of the United States”.

They all laughed for a few seconds, then caught themselves and looked serious, the thought crossing their minds that there might be some truth in this, that I might be right again.

The general set down his cigar, looked straight at me and said, in a serious tone: “What about you, Luke. You started all this, made everything happen. What title do you want, and what authority”?

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The General.   reddit.com

“None. I’m going back to my farm, as soon as Nancy’s better. In a few weeks I’ll be home and I’m staying there”.

“Well you have to have some reward” the General spoke. “You started this whole movement, broke the deadlock”.

“No I didn’t. It was bound to happen. I just hurried it along a bit, and I was extremely lucky with everyone, everywhere I went, amazingly lucky, and you good officers are the proof of that.”

“I’m so in love with Nancy and happy with my home and friends there, no command could match it. Happiness trumps everything, even power. Just leave me be. I’ll be in command of two hundred acres”.

They quietly laughed at this. But it was an expression of relief on their part, that I didn’t ask for a large swath of the continent to rule over and leave them less.

“I’ve been so lucky with my books, my mansion, and finding Nancy, I don’t even understand such luck, but to prove my point I’d like to show you something. It’s just around the corner.”

With that statement we all stood up. There were two armed soldiers standing in the hall at strict attention, as if guarding us, from nobody. I asked one for a flashlight and was handed it. The five of us walked around the building and they followed, orders I guess. I took my friends to the underground parking lot, to the far end and with my key opened a steel door.

We walked in through a maze of tunnels, the flashlight guiding us, down winding corridors a few hundred yards long.

Then there stood the sight before us, the wall of boxes, cases of every type of liquor imaginable.

All of them gasped, even the guards.

“Now how could I find this, in a town I’d never heard of before, in one day”?

The General finally spoke: “You must be a magician of sorts. You see through everything and guide us. You truly are the ‘Prophet”.

“No, I believe it was just the can of beans I was cooking on the library steps. I saw an empty campus and came to it. Then Mira came out of the bushes, hungry. So Tom and I fed her and she showed us this, and the room to the charts. And now we have all the gas we need to save thousands of lives and retake the continent.”

“I hope you take that lesson to heart. It’s important for all of us.

“Tell your soldiers to be kind to all they meet, their fellow mortals, however ragged. That act will return to you a continent worth running.

We’re all in this boat together.

“The war is over, I’m guessing, and we’ll only find souls like her out there, all of them raped and ravaged by the disease. It’s goodwill and help they need now and our soldiers have to provide it. Though they carry guns they’re an army of deliverance now”.

Everyone stood motionless and speechless at the sight and what I said, as if it were something to ponder a long, long time.

And I hope they did.

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Diomedes
Diomedes

B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.


Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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