Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 16

The distributed secure video capability was a good thing because the mayor had decamped from downtown early in the crisis and was ensconced in an undisclosed location, funded in part by the licensing of his successful business systems and media brands. Naturally, he had empowered the first deputy mayor and other commissioners to make routine decisions. However, Kohn knew that a decision of this magnitude would need his personal approval.

“Mr. Mayor, the biochemistry and technology to make an attenuated vaccine is a known quantity,” Kohn said, ignoring the city attorney. “If we begin prototyping the process now, and if we can assure a large supply of live virus, we may be able to vaccinate not only the remaining emergency services personnel and critical city staff, but their families.”

Say what you will about the mayor’s physical courage, he didn’t shy away from the core issue.

“Joanna, I want to be perfectly clear,” he said in clipped tones. “What you are talking about is euthanizing the surviving infected people that we are now confining and using them to gather the ‘live’ virus. Do you know how many laws that would break?”

Angry faces stared back at Kohn from both the video teleconference monitors and from around the conference table. She ignored them all. Only the mayor could approve her plan. Or kill it.

She reached backwards with one open hand and Schweizer placed a blue binder in it. Kohn plunked it onto the table.

“All of them, Your Honor,” she said, tapping the binder with one finger. Her tone wasn’t insubordinate, exactly. “However, ask HHS if they think that there is an alternative. Ask them how much we know about the virus. Especially, ask how much time we have left to act.”

She waved to her right, signaling the Health and Human Services official. He had remained standing during her interruption, and was poised in front of the large polished conference table that fronted the wall of virtual meeting attendees.

Wearing a deer-in-the-headlights expression that failed to inspire confidence, HHS continued where he had left off.

“To recap, Mr. Mayor, the Pacific flu is a complex, manufactured biological agent,” he said. The HHS rep apparently noted the slight quaver in his voice and took a breath. “The disease has been artificially spread using air fresheners placed in public bathrooms all along the eastern and western seaboards, the length of the Mississippi and most major international airports in the United States. This dispersion pattern has been replicated globally and Asia is especially hard hit. There’s as yet no cure and no clear path to any therapy. Further, there’s no practical way to rapidly manufacture vaccine using conventional processes. The infection rate is accelerating and, well, it’s bad. It’s really, really bad.”

The mayor asked the question on everyone’s mind.

“How long do we have before the disease spreads so far that we can’t stop it?”

“Physical containment measures are already being introduced, with OEM’s help,” the sweating man said, with a deferential nod to Kohn. “We are trying to firewall locations where infection clusters occur, rapidly segregating anyone that’s been exposed. The efficacy of this isn’t yet known, in a practical sense.”

“Practical sense?” asked the city attorney.

“I mean we haven’t been doing it long enough to know if the changes in the infection rate, the rhythm if you will, is due to our response, or if the natural incubation rate is creating populations of infected persons who will reach stage two of infection as a group, each time jumping the perceived infection rate.” The HHS man paused for a breath.

“But, bottom line, if we can’t slow the infection we won’t be able to provide city wide basic services such as transportation and law enforcement in something like six weeks, perhaps eight,” he said, consulting his notes. “Fresh water isn’t a problem, and primary power generation retains ample margin, but a lot depends on how long we can keep refined fuels flowing. Fuels are critical to keeping basic requirements like food, health care and security functioning. The fuels industry relies utterly on intra-bank liquidity. If we lose that, the total collapse of the refined fuel sector follows in less than a week. Once we lose fuels, we lose everything else in days. If we don’t restart the energy sector within forty-eight hours then the cascade failure becomes effectively irreversible on a regional basis.”

A staffer spoke up. “We have Indian Point, it can supply a large part of the critical energy requirement, probably for years.”

Indian Point, a very old but still operating nuclear power plant, was located up the Hudson River, only a short distance from the City.

“Commercial nuclear power plants actually need some electricity from off site to function.” Kohn spoke impatiently. She was aware that the newest plants could actually self-generate, but Indian Point was nearly thirty years old and there was no point in polluting the limited technical comprehension of her audience with precise details.

“If they perceive that there is going to be a loss of load, they will start slowing the reactors, and if they have to, they will use their onsite diesel to run the cooling systems until the reactors can be safely shut all the way down. Even if they did not shut down, you can not power trucks, trains and cars with Indian Point.”

She nodded her head at the HHS officer, who resumed his seat. It was evident who was in charge. She looked back at the mayor.

“Our experts on the global pandemic all agree, to a point,” she said, leaning over and tapping the tabletop in front of her. “As you just heard, there is no routine, available and accepted process to mass produce a vaccine in time to fight this plague. But…

“But,” she continued, looking around at the audience, “we can make an attenuated vaccine. With a little luck, we might be able to vaccinate all of the critical city staff and their families. If we do that, we can then vaccinate enough of the citizen base that we can prevent the complete collapse of city services, the logistics infrastructure that we all depend upon and the economy that provides the cash flow that keeps everything running.”

The City public affairs officer tried to interject but Joanna’s words hammered over top of the feeble effort.

“If we keep businesses running long enough, we can keep at least the regional economy moving at a pace sufficient to buy the pharma industry, FEMA and CDC the time needed to begin a large-scale traditional vaccination program based on less…fraught manufacturing techniques. We can even start to reverse the disease trend lines–we can beat this.”

Before she could proceed, the chief counsel to the mayor cut her off.

“Can you even feel remorse?” he yelled. “Do you know how many tens or even hundreds of thousands of doses that is? How many murders do you propose that the mayor authorize?”

Joanna drew upon the core of her belief in change. She had to convince the mayor and he had to take the critical step. This arrogant puffball of a city attorney could not see the entire picture. He could be dealt with later.

“Unacceptable.” She struck the tabletop with a closed fist. “What this is, is life or death. If we do not stop the infection, This Is The End. All capital letters. There is no plan coming from Washington. The military has its own problems–we’ll be lucky if we can hold onto the local National Guard. We have failed to get in front of every crisis that has hit this city in the past. If we had improved the emergency response after the ’93 bombing, we might have gotten more people out of World Trade on 9/11. If we had built the floodwalls before Irene and Sandy, we would not have had to rebuild Rockaway and pump out lower Manhattan. Now we are faced with another decision. A harder decision. You are worried about the political damage to the mayor–I am worried about keeping the City alive. We could even save the country, and you want to argue.”