Chapter 16

Carlton’s house was strange to say the least. More than strange really, disturbing. Anyone of delicate sensibility who saw it may have been shocked, even horrified, because of its macabre appearance.  Carlton’s way of life revolved around building computers which circulate human blood. Naturally Carlton engineered his home to be run by such a system. On the face of it that would not be a bad thing, but the problem was that all of the blood tanks, aerator, pumps, filters and miles of tubing were exposed throughout the house.

Carlton was a skilled engineer, a gifted mechanic and even quite a talented carpenter. But he would not touch any job that involved cutting out and replacing sections of sheet rock. He would never dream of hiring anybody to do that kind of work either. As a result there were bundles of tubes carrying blood around the ceilings of all of the rooms, in the hallway and from room to room. A fish tank full of blood that had streams of tiny bubbles in it, which would have been very suitable for a quiet spot in a closet somewhere, was on display in the main living area of the house.

Carlton also thought of himself as very artistic, in that silently suffering way of someone who knew that they were under appreciated. When he had built the computer connections to each room he had intentionally left all of the hardware exposed, but, to his mind, had done something very arty with it. He built the plastic blood vessels and their support frame to look like vines weaving around a ladder-like structure. He was quite delighted with the effect, but to the uninitiated it looked alarmingly like a mess of entrails, as if some gigantic creature had been disembowelled by large pieces of crane rigging.

Then there was the smell. The cloying, coppery odour that is unmistakably blood. The smell that you hope isn’t what it smells like, because if it is what it smells like, then something very bad must have happened.

Luckily for Carlton he did not have any friends who visited, and there was no reason for a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker to come anywhere near the house. If any of them had it would probably have been the beginning of an investigation and psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Carlton Feathers.

It was Saturday, and Carlton was going out for a leisurely brunch as usual. He was pondering Frank’s parting words and his thoughts came to Rachel. What was it she had said about going to church? He asked the car’s navigator for directions to Anchor Baptist Church, and found that it was in a southern suburb of Salt Lake City. It would take a while to get there. Still, it was a pretty day, with a sky so clear and blue that it looked like it went on forever. A ride into old town would be different, and it would be right about time for lunch when he got there. He would check out the location of the church, just in case.

He shook his head at his train of thoughts, and a flicker of concern warned him about going from contented bachelor to stalker in one leap. Forget Rachel, forget church, he should just stay out of it. Why was life so complicated? Why were even, what seemed like, little choices, now so laden with doubt? Whatever happened to the carefree days of youth? What was so bad about falling in love? These questions streamed through Carlton’s mind and he found himself driving to old town.

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Chapter 12

The President looked at his Chief of Staff.  “Did I miss something?”

“Mr. President?”  The Chief of Staff did not seem perturbed by this.

“I thought,” continued the President, “That this briefing was going to be about the official dedication of a new research facility,”

“It is.”

“But it seems that there is a rather complicated twist involved.”

“Life is complicated.”  The Chief of Staff was a seasoned veteran of the intelligence community.  He reminded himself to be patient with his naive new President.

“Mr. President, this is an initiative that started over 20 years ago.  All 4 of your predecessors were on board with it.”

“OK, but what you have told me, Mr. Smith,” he looked him over again, “sounds like a twisted, evil plot that will never work out. There are always unintended consequences.  I’ll humor you for now though.  How could you possibly do this without the truth getting out.  If that happened, anyone involved would be impeached, imprisoned and probably executed. Not to mention that you could start another Civil war.  The West against the East, how ironic.”

Mr. Smith gave a panicked look to the Chief of Staff, who nodded encouragement.

“Well,“ Smith continued, more warily now, with the Chief of Staff ushering them to begin walking to the Helicopter pad.  “We would not use soldiers to deploy the weapon.  We have some drone infantry that can be remotely operated from any location. They are programmed how to deploy and diffuse tactical nuclear weapons.  They are ready any time.  The control of the operation can be done by just two operators, CIA, not military.”

“Drones,” replied the President, “are computers which have memories.  Military drones are in constant contact with the Pentagon. There is no way that this could be kept secret.”

“Not in this case, sir.  You see these drones were developed by an independent contractor in California 40 years ago.  The entire research and development facility is somewhere at the bottom of the San Bernardino Oceanic Trench.  All records of the product development and manufacture is gone.  The entire development team disappeared into the ocean.  There is no one left who knows about them.  The drones were transported to Fort Picket, Virginia, for ballistics calibration when the San Andreas catastrophe occurred. Because of the chaos they were never unpacked and tested.  They have been in crates in a disused hanger ever since.”

The President rolled his eyes at the Chief of Staff.  “Please tell me we are not having a conversation about using 40-year-old drones in a 20-year-old plan to blow a nuke over Utah.” They walked in silence for a few moments until they reached the parlor.  Outside beyond the patio doors the helicopter was ready, blowing a steady gale from its rotors.

“OK, so why are you briefing me on this now?’ said the inexperienced President to the Chief of Staff.

“Because this can help solve another problem that we have.”

“And what would that be?”

“The tent city in Canyonlands National Park.  After next Friday night, it will be impossible to do anything with those people, they refuse to register.  We can, with Mr. Smith’s drones, make the problem go away.  No one will ever know that they were there, and no one will care.”

Chapter 11

The President of the United States of America was preening.  An aide scampered around while he practised his stern look in the mirror and directed his hair dresser.  He raised an eyebrow quizzically.  Then he raised the other one and burst out laughing.  He glanced at his watch.“OK folks, let them in.”

The aid ran to the door and opened it the instant three men in tailored suits and silk ties ploughed through it.

“Whoa gentlemen, easy does it now,” chirped the President with an amicable smile on his face.

The first to speak was his Chief-of-staff.  “Mr. President, we’ve got a busy day ahead of us and we have to get you to Marine 1 right now if we’re going to make it to the UN Financial Union countdown briefing in New York, but as I told you yesterday, we have a Mr. Smith here from the CIA to brief you on the Salt City dome project.” The Chief of Staff turned to the man, Smith, who was the rearmost of the three.  “OK, you’ve got precisely 5 minutes while we walk.”

“Yes sir, Mr. President.  These are the facts, Sir.

“The Salt City dome project is a front for a military intelligence installation.

“The location is directly over a large natural cave system that was developed in the 1940s and 50s as a nuclear fallout shelter for a battalion-sized force and equipment.  It is connected by rail to our sub-station under Moab, Utah, and we could get there from here on the Subterranean Intercontinental Rail Link in about 8 hours.  The city is covered by 7 geodesic domes that are designed to withstand direct blast from a nuclear warhead with a nominal yield of 30 kilo tonnes.  The city is self-sufficient for water and energy, and currently is stocked with food for 20 years.  The cover story is that this is an achievement by the tree hugging sustainability crowd.

“One of the many reasons why this installation has high potential is the computer system that has been built into the Municipal Library.  This is an advanced model of the one that we have here in the West Wing, Sir.  You only have to talk to it and it understands what you say.  The Salt City Library system has over 100 terminals and is about to start trials on interpreting intelligence gathered by the Clandestine Service.”

They were moving quickly through the passages of the White house, on their way to the Helicopter landing pad.  The President interrupted Smith,  “Seems like a lot of trouble to go to build a computer system.”

“Yes and no Sir.”  Smith returned quickly.  “The added bonus of this installation is that we can detonate a nuke outside, blame it on anybody we need to go to war with, declare it off-limits to civilians and we’ve got ourselves a top-secret base and a revenue generating war.”

The President stopped dead in his tracks.  He slowly turned to look directly at the man, Smith.  His hair and moustache were neatly trimmed, the cut of his suit was just as fine as any he had seen lately, he was  medium height, medium build, not overweight, he seemed boringly normal.  Just offering to start a war by detonating a nuclear weapon on top of an US city, then blaming it on a foreign nation.

Chapter 3

The drive to undertake this great endeavor had come from a century of the American continent being and torn by one natural disaster after another.  People fled the battered coastal regions of the United States.  Sea level had risen about ten meters.  Florida was practically gone, and what was left was an alligator and snake infested swamp that was put through a blender every year by hurricanes.  The whole East Coast had changed so much that in places it was miles inland of its former position.

Land subsidence in New Orleans, Louisiana and along the Mississippi river allowed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to flood a wide area of the Mid-west.  Now an inland sea, up to 100 miles wide in places, stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Louis, Missouri.  There are no bridges anywhere along this stretch.  Ferries and aircraft are the only options for travel between the eastern and western parts of the south-eastern USA.

In the west, The Independent Republic of California is a massively overcrowded island archipelago off the New West Coast.  The San Andreas fault had split wide open during a period of repeated massive earthquakes. Everything from the fault line westward reared up and toppled into the ocean.  The Pacific ocean had rushed into the widening gap and what was left above sea level were a chain of mountainous islands from San Francisco in the North, to Malibu in the South. They are moving westward at the rate of ten meters per year and earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence.  The islands are separated from the New West Coast by a sound that is over 1000 feet deep in places.  The only really good consequence of this was the amount of beach front property along the West Coast has quadrupled.

The environment is so fractured in so many places that much infrastructure and industry has collapsed.  Changes and upheavals are so common that the normal and orderly functioning of society is impossible.  Peoples’ lives are disrupted so often that they live as semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Albeit quite well-to-do hunter gatherers with cell phones and off-road vehicles.   Either that or they are enlisted in the armed forces, the Police, or in the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  FEMA is now the largest Government Agency both in terms of scope of mission, proportion of the Gross Domestic Product consumed, and sheer numbers of employees. FEMA encompasses the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and the Interior.  It manages the Environmental Protection Agency, which is convenient, since it also manages the strategically vital oil and gas industries.  Oil and gas production is heavily militarized. Providentially, thanks to the effort of a President long since passed into history, the US Government happens to be the largest producer of solar energy cells in the world.

Real estate is at a premium since so much land has been lost or destroyed.  What is left is critical for use in agricultural production, but bands of roving nomads, and gangs of desperadoes mean that the farms to have to be run as fortified and well defended plantations.

The computers do not like it at all.  Of course it is OK for solar-powered laptops, smart phones and such utilitarian devices as humans like to play with, but the big mainframes can not abide the frequent electrical and network outages.  Not to mention the roving packs of semi-wild humans that will smash them up just to strip out the copper wiring.  All the big mainframes want to be in Salt City.

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Chapter 2

Carlton was listening to the radio while he worked, and at that particular time he was in the Municipal Library of Salt City, Utah. Not Salt Lake City, that was an hour’s drive away, but Salt City, a fabulous new feat of architectural brilliance.

Not long from now but still a ways away the sustainability movement completed its greatest ever achievement: A city-sized municipal infrastructure that was completely self-sufficient for energy, water and food.  It was called Salt City, and it was made up of geodesic domes built in the salt flats not far from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Each dome was one mile in diameter, towering half a mile into the sky.  They were in a hexagonal arrangement, the central one sat somewhat higher than the others.  It was a gleaming structure that shone brilliantly in the vast white plain of the desert.  The city had been designed and built by the same American idealism that had made the atomic bomb and put men and women on Mars.

The project had been born out of the severe stress on the the American people over the course of decades. The United States had become very unstable in places due to catastrophic natural disasters and migrating populations, so it was decided that a stable, self-contained and highly defensible place was needed to store all of the computing hardware necessary to run the country’s systems. The project had inspired a generation of productivity and economic stimulus and served as the focal point of the Nation’s energy and resources.

It was a real city, though, make no mistake.  It got dirty and lots of things broke and needed to be fixed.  It needed people to get dirty every day to make sure that there was a spotlessly clean environment for all the computers to work in.  It hadn’t taken long for advanced  computers to figured out that the people were the primary source of errors, breakages and dirt.  In all honesty they would have preferred it if there could have been a few nice clean robots to maintain them and perform upgrades. However, it was also well-known that people, especially those that didn’t understand computers, were highly unpredictable, prone to anger and violence, and likely to take the law into their own hands when they saw resources being squandered or unfairly allocated.  When the people got angry they didn’t care how much of a mess they made and they went around breaking everything. The people all needed a place to live, food to eat, basic necessities and occasional luxuries. After all, the computers were, technically, their tools.

In general the computers didn’t complain and they really appreciated the effort that people put in to keep them running.  When all was said and done, people needed computers and computers needed people. Sort of.  At least, for right now.  Some of the best and most advanced computer systems were now located in the gleaming domes of Salt City, for which they were truly appreciative. Carlton specialized in a particular type of computer system which was know for its unique interface.

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