River Of Night – Snippet 15

River Of Night – Snippet 15

Metaphorically speaking.

He patted the pliable upholstery again.

Still, every time he looked up his personal alarms sounded, because even the has-been ex-cop could see that this trio wasn’t quite the land-based version of the Cajun Navy that he’d first assumed.

“Uh-huh,” Miss Eva replied. “Well, like I said, we’re always looking for talent, the Gleaners I mean. We have a pretty strong team already, but our boss, the Governor, doesn’t hold nothing against anyone. He knows that just surviving this far means that a body is pretty competent. And he likes cops, soldiers, doctors, medics, engineers and so on, if they have the right mindset.”

“Like how? Jason asked casually, looking out his own window as he said it. 

“Hey,” Eva said, getting his attention.

Jason looked over to see her studying him.

“The way you’re patting the seat, you’re either a con or a cop,” she said. “And even after all the shit you’ve probably been through, you don’t have the eyes of a con.”

Jason studied her in turn, then the two up front. All three had stripped off the heavy, mustard yellow fireman’s turn-out coats, gloves and what looked like bicycling helmets that they’d worn during their sweep. Underneath they wore blue jeans, blue T-shirts and boots. Both men had slid their rifles into improvised plastic sleeves which were pop riveted to handy interior surfaces, but they retained pistols and knives.

When they took their gear off, the obvious prison ink and long hair had been a dead give away. Much more puzzling was that the driver had forearm tats that included ornate Chinese hanzi and what looked like a winged snake coiling out of his collar while the other had the roman numeral thirteen inked onto the nape of his neck.

It didn’t take a genius to know that the Triad and MS-13 weren’t natural allies.

Eva, sitting to his right, had re-slung her weapon, and kept it casually pointed across the compartment. The muzzle didn’t quite cover him. She watched him carefully.

“We take all kinds,” she said, smiling. “But there’s a mandatory interview first.”

“Who with?” Jason replied, essaying a smile.

“With the guy in charge,” Eva answered. “Governor Harlan Green. And you don’t want to judge him by us and you don’t want to lie. He can tell.”

“How’d he get those two to work together?” Jason asked, deciding to take a little risk. Hell, if they’d wanted to, they could’ve shot him back in town.

“Mr. Green is a no-shit genius,” Eva said, emphasizing her words unironically. “Somehow, very early in the plague, he figured it out. He was some sort of hacker mastermind who did some shady shit back when we had an internet. When he saw how it was going and where it would end, he took steps to put together a team.”

“A team of ex-cons?”

“Well, we’re only ex-cons by courtesy,” she said, keeping her right hand on her rifle’s pistol grip. “You might say we were released early on Mr. Green’s recognizance.”

There were chuckles from the driver. The dark haired man who rode shotgun said nothing, but his shoulders shook with silent laughter.

“He supplies the smarts and the plan,” Miss Eva went on.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” the ex-cop said to the somewhat ex-con next to him. “What’s his plan?”

“I don’t know the details yet, because I don’t need to know,” Eva answered unwaveringly. “But I know this. He’s gonna save the world, or at least our little part of it.”

###

“No, you can’t kill her Astro,” Copley said wearily. “You made the rules and she’s following them.”

“But, but-” Astroga replied, sputtering. “It’s not music!”

“Feeed theee woorld,” Bua sang, defiantly staring at her Army nemesis while she stretched the lyrics for all they were worth. “Let them know it’s Christmas time again. Fee- aWWWK!”

“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” Astroga yelled at the top of her lungs, lunging over the bench seat for the speaker wire jacked into Bua’s iPhone. “And that’s not music! It’s an abomination!”

“Don’t make me stop this car!” Kaplan said, warningly. “I will stop it! I don’t like it either, but it aint any work that the crap you picked!”

“Astro!” Copley reeled her back in by one ankle. “Square your shit away, Specialist!”

“It’s not even –. Wait,” Astroga stopped in mid re-lunge. “You called me Specialist!”

“Oh shit,” the Army sergeant released his hold on her ankle and she sat back, smiling. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

“Ha!” his subordinate said with an air of satisfaction, now ignoring Bua. “You recognized the new rank. That makes it official. Even more official.”

Astroga’s highly irregular promotion scheme during the evacuation from New York had involved access to an Army headquarters shared drive, an open laser printer, a clipboard and a National Guard general in dissociative shock. She’d arranged for a bump upwards for her and their now missing comrade. No one had really challenged her so far.

And his use of the appropriated rank just permanently legitimized it in her eyes.

“You know what, this calls for a celebration! Hit it, Bua!” she said, poised for some quality seat dancing. “I’ll even join you!”

“Feeed theee woorld…”

“This is so much worse than I expected,” lamented the senior NCO.

###

Tertiary Powerhouse Control Room, Tennessee Valley Authority, Region II

Watts Bar TN

“That ended better than I expected” Stantz said, leaning across the table with a grunt of effort. “Hey Phil, stay on, wouldja?”

Pre-Plague, TVA staff meetings ended noisily, as management and line personnel hustled back to their actual jobs, usually indulging in a little banter on their way back to their offices or trucks.

This time a sort of stunned silence drifted across the half full meeting hall. Since this was the TVA, with power and to spare, the room was brightly lit. The mood, however, was dark. The announcement of the presumed loss of another dam control center, this time the Nickajack, just two stops downstream from Stantz’s own location near Watts Bar, had dispirited many.

Mike Stantz, the unassuming regional General Manager for Power Transmission, spared a glance for the relatively few people in the room. Social distancing rules had been mandated by TVA headquarters in Knoxville only weeks after the plague had been formally declared as a pandemic by the CDC. Between folks who had been infected and the long ago announced option to attend meetings by phone, the headcount for the meetings was lighter than he had even seen it.

In this case, exactly three of them remained at Watts Bar.

Bill Rush, the long time watershed management officer for Nickajack and Chickamauga reservoirs, slapped his hand down on the table. The sharp smack caused his table mate to glare at him.

“Give it a rest, Bill!” ordered Mike. At fifty-three, he was among the oldest of the line managers, having dedicated his entire post-Navy career to the TVA. Like most of the full time employees of the public corporation, the mission came first, last and always for Mike.

He didn’t have a lot patience for unproductive posturing, especially as it pertained to the crisis.

“Give it a rest?” Rush began to yell, but lowered his voice with an effort. “Six nuclear fueled generating plants, thirty hydroelectric damns, fifteen gas or co-gen plants, plus the dinky solar and wind stuff and they want us to walk away?”

“Stop exaggerating, Rush,” Brandy Bolgeo said pointedly. “No one said to walk away. They said to take steps to preserve the generation and distribution infrastructure while we still have the people to do it. We don’t know what happened at Nickajack or Chickamauga. All we could see was a lot of smoke over their facilities and now all we know is that they aren’t answering the phone anymore.”

Bolgeo was an up-and-coming engineer who had been moved, somewhat against her will, into a junior management role in the Distribution division. After a great series of interviews, Mike had offered her a relocation package back to Tennessee and away from California taxes and crumbing infrastructure. Her masters in Electrical Engineering was only a few years old but Mike was confident that Bolgeo manage the living fossils, all male, which populated her department. Most of them were almost ungovernable, but they usually had the grace and experience to be right every time.

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