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Vaxdemic Book 2 Chapter 3

talexratcliffeFeb 20, 2022, 12:06:54 PM
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Chapter 3

Ruth’s rule number 1, if you want to keep someone’s interest let them do all the talking. That’s not really the first rule in the book she left me, but it’s been the most useful. Dean Saugus loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice. Our first meeting was brief and thankfully uneventful. After some very uncomfortable introductions he told us he would return in two days to ‘offer help’ with our project. Roth looked ready to shot, until a second man took his place next to Dean.

He was in many ways the opposite of the braggadocious giant who wore a suit and the ruins of the old world. He was a little shorter than myself, with short cropped hair, square jaw, and sharp eyes. Everything from his clothes to the empty holster on his right side screamed dangerous. Seth would later tell me this man was Michael Taylor, Dean Saugus’s second in command, the general of what passed for the iron works military. While Dean waxed on, Michael sized up the crowd. He looked away for just a moment to a gangly teenager by the trucks I would later find out was his son. I watched the others as Dean and Roth argued and quickly realized that next to Saugus himself the others were weary of Michael. Eventually we had to concede to Saugus’s request to return in two days, though no one but Saugus seemed happy about it.

After our little showdown I got to formally meet Matt Chou. Matt is an interesting guy, and likes to talk almost as much as Dean. The main difference is what they talk about. Dean blustered on about what he could do, and great visions of the future. Matt talks about what he’s done, and what he’s currently doing. Apparently, he once ran his own fabrication shop, then one day be got so well connected he made more money setting up jobs for other people than doing them. He became a go to guy in construction, and so started helping people with prepping and homesteading before the collapse. He told me this and so much more in the two hours we were unloading the carts and SUVs. It became very easy to see why the homesteaders go to him.

I would have listened to him for longer but Harold’s wife and Roth’s daughter collected us for dinner. I need to stop here and talk about Harold’s wife, Beth. I don’t think you could find as unlikely a pair as these two. Harold is so quiet you sometimes forget he can speak. Beth talks like stopping would cause her blood to stop pumping. She’s not rude, quite the opposite, but she does suck all the oxygen out of a room. I still don’t know the other women’s names because all I can hear when I think of her is Beth talking. Harold seems very happy with her, but now I understand why he doesn’t say much.

Dinner is not something I’m going to soon forget. One, because they brought ham, two because they brought cheese, and three, for the first time in nearly two years I got to eat potatoes again. We ate in the back yard, where the women had set up some long tables and chairs. Claire looked less uncomfortable when I saw her, but she was determined to stick close to me when we sat down. I think she might have the same antisocial tendencies I did. Unfortunate for her, Beth chose to sit on her other side.

Until this point, I had been able to avoid saying too much about myself. Now I was sitting in the middle of all my work and it was my turn to answer some questions. Matt led the inquisition from the seat across the table. The first thing they all wanted to know, was everything about the electric system. I was three questions in when I had to start getting specific on how it worked when I noticed that even though every man there was listening to me, there wasn’t a spark of comprehension on their faces. It turns out despite having access to similar systems, none of them had been able to build a working system from scratch. When I was a programmer, I hated explaining to clients why or how something worked. Their eyes would glaze over and by my second sentence and I could tell my explanation could have been on the mating habits of sea slugs and they would get the same amount from it. This was different, my dinner guests didn’t understand details but they were happy about it. It took two more questions before I called them out.

This elicited laughter from Matt and his crew. He explained to me that since there had been an attempt at a mandate before everything collapsed there was almost no one left who understood these things. Those that were left had retired years before, and without modern medicines had declined quickly when the medications ran out. I may be the only person who had this knowledge left in the area.

I suddenly felt like a great weight had pushed down on my shoulders and I understood why they were so happy. Desperately uncomfortable I tried to change the subject. After diner the others insisted on a tour of the farm. When I was fresh out of high school, I remember giving a few friends “tours” of my spartan apartments that had two stops “here’s the fridge I store food in, and here’s my computer on a milk crate I sit in front of and work”. It’s different when you actually have stuff to show off. The homesteaders were more impressed with my gardens and greenhouse than the Mennonites. The Mennonites were more impressed with my water system than the homesteaders. Both were floored when I showed them my gun room which has now been dubbed the armory. This was actually the smaller of the two rooms I keep the guns I had collected from around the city. I decided it was best not to show my full hand, but it’s not easy to store all the munitions I’ve collected in one house, let alone one former master bedroom.

The highlight of the evening was of course my electric system. They all wanted to see what I had done, how I had rigged everything up, how the windmills worked, and what they were made of. It was well past nightfall when we were done and our company departed for the guest houses. I could see the lights from our bedroom. For a short while, it almost felt like I had neighbors again, but comforting. Claire was unusually clingy that night. I’m still not sure why but I won’t complain.

The bulk of the next day was spent listening to Matt and Pastor Roth. Both were keen to tell me as much as they knew about the dam. It was decommissioned two decades ago and half of the equipment removed. They left systems to allow the water to pass through. Before the turn of the millennium, it supplied the city and outlying area with power. As it aged and changed owners it was used less and less. There should still be turbines, and enough equipment to make it work, but we would have to do some major work on it.

Something started to niggle at the back of my mind. “How do you intend to distribute this power?” I had to ask.

Matt and the others looked at me blankly before Matt said,” It’s still hooked up to the grid, that should be enough with some fine tuning I think.”

That didn’t sound right so I thought for a moment. Memories of all my failed attempts at making the windmills work came to mind. “There may be a few problems with that, and not just that the grid hasn’t been used in two years. If you don’t balance out generation, storage, and load you’re either not going to make enough, or something’s going to pop.” The other men looked at me like I was speaking Greek. “In other words, we can’t just make the dam generate power and let it go. We need to control how much we make and where it goes. I don’t know if it will have the equipment we need, or even how to use it. It’s going to take time and study, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to do it alone.

Now Matt smiled. “You certainly won’t be alone. I have several people who have little to do these days. We have no shortage of masons, carpenters, and electricians. In fact, it will be good to put some of these guys to work. They need to be kept busy.”

This was a sentence I had trouble understanding. The world had basically ended, you couldn’t just get food from a store anymore. You had to do almost everything yourself. I finally had to ask Matt how these people could possibly be bored. The answer was simple, so many simply lacked motivation. On the plus side obesity is no longer a problem, since all food suddenly had to be sourced locally everyone tried gardening. Some with more success than others. Suddenly, former factory workers found themselves better fed than the lawyer living in the big house down the street. It wasn’t long before conflict started.

A lot of former “professionals” were very upset at the change of fortunes. Some rolled up their shirtsleeves and got to work, others fell in to depression and started drinking. Apparently, it didn’t take long for one of the new farmers to start his own brewery. Over the past year and a half, a lot of wealth has changed hands from the former rich to the former poor. This has caused a lot of conflict and it’s only gotten worse as many have simply given up hope and fell into the bottle. Matt made the point these people needed something to do to occupy their time, but also something to unify them and give them something to work for.

This was a lot for me to take in. I had pictures in my mind of doctors trading artwork for mason jars of moonshine, as a redneck moved in to a 5000 sq ft mansion that used to be owned by a lawyer. “I’m confused, how exactly is all this trading happening. Are they still using money, what if people disagree or lie about a trade?”

“Disagreements are the biggest problem, but not money,” Matt said looking away. “There’s an old Farmers market in a town up the highway where people meet once a week. Nobody uses cash anymore. Trade is often done with silver, bullets, or barter. At first it was just a few stalls. Now the nearby restaurants have been re-opened or converted into stores and homes. Its not as big as the old famers market in the city, but it’s were most stuff is done. That is the best place to conduct business since everyone sees. A lot of people have tried doing deals in private, many of these deals have ended in violence.”

“So, everyone just trades in silver and bullets?” I asked.

Roth cut Matt off. “Not everyone. Some people trade in lives. Treating people worse than animals. They take travelers off the roads and put them to work, claiming to the outside they’re apprentices and helpers, when they’re really nothing more than slaves. That’s the man we’re meeting tomorrow. I will not see Saugus’s hand on this dam!”

Matt suddenly got heated. “That’s nice to say, but we may not have a choice. We’re going to need a lot of metal, and like it or not he can get it.”

“I will not allow that man or his lackies anywhere near my home or my people! We just need faith, and a willingness to work hard. God will provide the rest as he always has.” Roth’s argument suddenly made a lot of things clearer and slightly more difficult.

The world may have shrunk, but has become far more complicated.

Bob Stackey

June 12, 2023

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