Chapter 5: Mark Jones, November 9, Year 1

Helen burst into my office. “Mark, we’ve finally got the Clay Basin Natural Gas reservoir on line!”

“Really? That’s great!”

Helen grabbed my head with both her hands and pulled me in for a fierce kiss. “I’ve got a meeting with Al Littleton so I have to run. We have dinner with the Beigers and Blacks this evening at six. Don’t forget!” She turned and ran out of the room.

When we’d first started up, for a while we’d been able to make do with communal kitchens, communal showers and dormitory living. The folks that wanted to live on their own—which was just about everyone—had been able to scavenge propane appliances for heating, cooking and hot water. Others used camping stoves and heaters, but they weren’t designed for continuous use and were wearing out. There were fourteen thousand of us now, and demand had rapidly outstripped easily accessible supply.

Our solar chimney and new hydroelectric power plant provide reliable clean power, but we don’t have the household appliances to use the electricity. In its simplest form, any electric heating appliance is just a heating element and a rheostat, but the manufacturers had been loading more and more electronics into them since the 1970s, and they’d fried just like all the other unshielded electronics.

For a while there’d been a cottage industry manufacturing gasoline fueled heating and cooking stoves and hot water heaters, but after a series of explosions and fires, most people went back to humanity’s standbys of wood and charcoal.

The mountains that encircle Salt Lake City are the reason I moved to Utah: I love mountain sports. The downside of the encircling mountains is that they turn the city into a large, Los Angeles-type smog-trapping bowl, and it’s one of the reasons why pre-outbreak Salt Lake City had some of the worst air quality in the country. Turns out that the smoke from thousands of cooking and heating fires is far worse for air quality than emissions from hundreds of thousands of cars.

The city council’s knee-jerk reaction was to outlaw wood and charcoal fires. I used my influence to block that one. Before the outbreak, we’d had thousands of petty laws and rules and regulations that law-abiding citizens routinely disregarded. Now that we have a clean slate and a fresh start, I do not want to build a society that encourages law breaking through stupid, restrictive, unenforceable laws. The best way to do that is to only pass essential laws—ones that good people won’t want to break.

Natural gas was the obvious solution to our city’s cooking and heating needs. Give our citizens a cheap, efficient, eco-friendly way to cook and heat and they’ll willingly do it on their own.

The EMP had shut down all the natural gas lines. Turns out gas utility companies had given this type of situation some forethought. The default for a catastrophic power failure was to seal all of the natural gas in the pipes and reservoirs in place. Questar had 12.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas stored underground in Clay Basin near Vernal, Utah; enough to last us decades even accounting for anticipated population growth.

Helen and her people had been trying to get the pipeline from Clay Basin to Salt Lake City up and running for months.

It’s funny how life works out. I never thought I’d ever get married or have children, or that I’d be particularly happy about it if I did. Helen Hanson, my militantly feminist fiancée had some surprisingly old-fashioned ideas: she wanted a church wedding before our kid was born. We got married a month ago, and our son Eric Jones was born a couple days afterwards.

It was a good thing that Helen multitasks well and that we have round-the-clock nannies. She’s putting twenty hours a week into her City Council job, fifty plus hours a week running Hansen Enterprises, and spending as much quality time with her big baby and her little baby as she can fit in. She hasn’t slowed down any; just watching her makes me tired. We made a good team. I have the ideas; she makes them work.

I leaned back in my chair, laced my fingers behind my head, and put my feet up on my desk. Here I am with a new wife and a brand-new kid, and the responsibility for the lives, safety and well-being of an entire community. I should have been panicking and planning an escape. Instead I was as happy as the proverbial bivalve mollusk—go figure.

My walkie-talkie buzzed—having our radio signals encrypted gave us better security but messed up the clarity of the signal. I had to strain my ears to hear “Director Jones, Director Jones, this is Sergeant Major Rockwell” through the static.

My smile got larger. Hiram’s accidental betrothal to Prophet Levin’s daughter was funny as hell. Unlike me, Hiram has a healthy sense of self-preservation. As soon as he found out the shit he’d stepped in, he found absolutely essential work that needed to be done in the field up north as far away from Levin’s daughter and wives as possible. “What’s up, Hiram?”

“Sir, Colonel Wright’s aircraft has been out of radio contact for over an hour.”

I sat up. “Any idea what’s happened?”

Hiram’s voice was grim. “Nothing solid, sir. Staff Sergeant Smith’s an excellent pilot, the aircraft is well maintained, and the weather’s been good. Barring acts of God, my gut feeling is hostile action. Until we know otherwise, I recommend that that’s how we deal with this. We have Smith’s flight plan. I’ve dispatched an APC to see if they can find any signs of them. I further recommend that we not risk any more aircraft until we find out what’s happened to Colonel Wright and Sarn’t Smith.”

“I agree with you. Carry on, Hiram. Keep me advised.”

“Roger that, sir.”

We only had twenty men up in Idaho Falls and Hiram had just sent half of them after Jim and his pilot. I changed the frequency of my walkie-talkie. “Captain Heinz, this is Director Jones. Captain Heinz, this is Director Jones.”

“This is Captain Heinz, go ahead sir.”

“Captain, we might have some trouble up north. I want at least five hundred SaLTs geared up and ready to travel ASAP.”

“Understood. Will do, sir!”

Vampires had destroyed all the telephone lines outside Fortress Salt Lake. Inside our walls, our landlines were up and working. I dialed Mayor Bingham’s office. “Mayor’s office.”

“Emma, it’s me, Mark Jones.”

“I’ll get the Mayor.”

“Hold on, Emma. I actually want to talk to you as the head of the Valkyries. Jim Wright was flying up north this morning. His plane’s been out of radio contact for over an hour.”

She gasped, “Oh no!”

“Depending on how things go in the next little while, I may be leaving town with five hundred SaLTs. Would you please put the Valkyries on alert?”

“Yes sir, Director Jones. I’ll do that.”

I called Helen’s secretary and asked her to have Helen call me on my walkie-talkie as soon as she got out of her meeting. The odds of me making it to our dinner party tonight were slim to none.

I switched my walkie-talkie to my usual frequency so Hiram and Helen could get through to me. I headed home to grab my field gear. I hoped I was overreacting and that there was some non-fucked up explanation for why Jim’s plane was out of radio contact. But I got the feeling I wasn’t going to be that lucky. Dammit, I’d wanted to solve the northern mystery to prevent this kind of shit!
Chapter 6: Dave Henry, October 9, Year 0