River Of Night – Snippet 16

Bill Rush had missed that memo.

“That’s my point,” Bill said. Clearly still upset, he managed to not raise his voice this time. “They’re giving up. They aren’t fighting it anymore.”

Mike sympathized with Bill. Everyone was upset and with reason. The unprecedented spread of H7D3 was terrifying. Like many industries, electrical utilities had a real time view of demand for their product. The amount of electricity demanded by the grid had begun dropping slowly at the two week mark into the plague. The trend had accelerated as retail and industrial consumers scaled back how much electricity they used.

Four months on, and the flow of gas and coal for the conventional generating plants was all but exhausted. 

“No one is giving up,” Bolgeo said. “We’ve been going since the cities went dark. We kept going when most of the load evaporated. Now we must prepare to address all the possible outcomes. I’m just pleasantly surprised our ‘end of the world’ plan is working at all.”

“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” Mike retorted. He knew that despite her technical skills, Bolgeo was still a new-ish employee, having been at TVA less than a decade. “Both of you know that making, managing and distributing power is our religion. We are the Mormon Church of prepared public utilities. We’ve got a plan for everything. All we had to do was dust-off our zombie apocalypse plan. It wasn’t even particularly complicated.”

“Says you,” Bolgeo replied. “You’re not fighting kudzu that grows sixty feet a season. Three months without treatment and line tension is already approaching limits in some places. If we weren’t at the start of the winter season we’d have a problem starting right now. Come next summer, Katie-bar-the-door!”

“Phil, you still on the phone?” Mike asked as he leaned closer to the black tabletop speaker.

“Yup,” Mike’s deputy replied. TVA had a redundant, internal communications networks, dating back to the Cold War. The phone and cell network problems that had already made the retail networks unworkable weren’t a showstopper and all the dam locations were connected on lines wholly separate from the legacy Ma Bell network.

“It’s time to finish the consolidation,” Mike said. “Use the big truck to check the yards at the gas and cogen plants. All of them, even if they’ve been picked over. Inventory any remaining spare parts, fencing, raw materials, all of it. I want every spare transformer, power supply, every reel of primary conduit and cable, all of it. Bar stock, round stock, bigs and smalls. Put as much as you can in the yards next at Chickamauga dam and Watts Bar dam. What doesn’t fit there goes into the repair yard outside Unit One at Watts Bar,” he added, referring to the nuclear plant that lay on the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga.

“What about Sequoyah?” Phil asked, referring to the second nuclear plant in the immediate area.

“Both nuke plants already sealed and they’re responsible for their own spares,” Mike said. “If they don’t already have it inside their fenceline, they aren’t gonna get it. If you try to get in, you’re gonna get shot. But we’ve got Watts Bar. We can park extra stuff on the repair pad there.”

The TVA had been slowly finishing Unit Two at the nuclear plant referred to by Mike, but NRC permitting, intermittent protests and congressional deal making had slowed the process to a standstill. Now, absent a miracle, it wasn’t ever going to be complete.

“So are you walking away from the gas plants?” Rush asked, angrily. He scratched his ribs fiercely.

“Makes sense,” Bolgeo said, nodding in approval. “The fossil plants need to be supplied externally, and the flow of feedstock stopped weeks ago. Whatever they managed to build up outside is either gone or about to be gone. The nuke plants are already spun down to cold iron. That leaves the dams and those are easy to defend.”

“Well, easier,” Mike added. “We can move supplies by boat if we have to, and no one has seen a zombie swimming so far. It’s about planning ahead.”

“No!” Rush yelled this time. “No, we don’t give up! We protect the gas- wait- what’s-we doann’t…”

He stood and started tearing at this shirt, still yelling incoherently.

Mike reached into his waistband and withdrew his concealed sidearm. Despite his carry permit, unauthorized possession of a firearm in TVA offices or on TVA property was a firing offense.

He’d been carrying every day since the announcement of the plague.

Failing to plan was planning to fail.

His sole surprise was when Bolgeo beat him to the shot.



“Relax, Mr. Young,” Harlan Green instructed his newest guest. “Ms. Eva has already passed to me a precis of your biography, shared by you during your return from her latest run. Although this is in the nature of an interview, I think that it’ll go better if you aren’t sitting on the edge of your chair, ready to spring into action at any moment. If I weren’t interested in you personally, you would already have ceased to be a factor.”

And isn’t that a warming, reassuring statement of welcome. Jason thought. His glance roved around the surprisingly well appointed room, pausing on the truly enormous and well armed man by the doorway before he looked back at his host. At this point, he was so deeply in any potential trap that being ready to jump out of his chair was pointless. With a deliberate effort, he forced himself to relax and lean back in the admittedly very comfortable easy chair.

It was harder than he expected.

The military atmosphere that greeted him when his new companions drove into the Gleaner camp was startling. It was clean, for one thing. They had an actual armored truck from the Army, for another. Everyone seemed busy, even the obvious low-ranking laborers digging a ditch or washing vehicles.

“There you go,” Green said, smiling. “May I offer you a refreshment? We’ve a wide variety to choose from.”

“Water, just some clean water.” Jason replied. “If this is an interview, I might as well keep a clear head.”

“Of course,” his host said, lifting the cover on a small insulated bucket. “Ice?”

“You have ice!?” Jason said, trying not to squeak. “I mean. Sure, ice is fine.”

“This is our second encampment,” Green said as gestured about with the ice tongs. “We have been here a while, though it’s nearly time to move on. However, our group has grown and we’ve been able to add a few refinements, right Mr. Loki?”

“Right, Governor Green.” rumbled the huge man.

Green smiled unctuously and dropped a few perfect ice cubes into an ordinary water tumbler before filling it from a beautiful crystal pitcher.

“We’re successfully producing limited electrical power running on a combination of generator sets and solar panels,” Green elaborated, passing the glass to his guest. “Maintaining cold storage is important for our supply of vaccine. We’ve actually had to recreate some bureaucracy just to administrate our collection of personnel and equipment, so obtaining computers and people proficient in their use has been necessary as well.”

“Vaccine?” Jason said, unable to keep his features smooth. “How are you producing it?”

“We aren’t, not any longer,” Green said, pouring himself a few ounces of a brilliant amber liquid. He sniffed his crystal highball glass appreciatively. “Before the collapse I worked with a laboratory partner to collect and attenuate live virus. A few organizations were using that method, though the federal government didn’t attempt production until it was much too late. It involved killing infected humans for their tissue.”

“I heard about it, but I thought it was just rumors.” the former cop replied.

“Of course you did,” Green said, swirling his drink. He gestured with the glass. “Balvenie. The fifty year old limited reserve in the original crystal. Before the virus was released a single presentation set would’ve cost upwards of thirty thousand dollars. Now I can collect it from a ruined estate for free. A cheap high proof vodka is actually more useful now – disinfection and so forth. The price of things has changed, Mr. Young. And while the vaccine is very, very useful, it isn’t particularly critical to my plans anymore.”