Chapter 1

My name is Jack, Robert Jackson Mathews, Jr. On the Day of Destruction, I was twenty-six and in excellent shape physically. I have even competed in Iron Man Triathlons though am not going to be a winner. I have hunted and fished all my life growing up in West Georgia. I went to college at Georgia Institute of Technology and had completed a mechanical engineering degree and almost a master's degree before the Day. When everything went down, I was finishing that degree planning to graduate in August. Now, that won't occur.

I had a small apartment in Atlanta for school. I would go home to my parent's farm on weekends. I had few friends in Atlanta since I didn't spend weekends at the apartment. I preferred being in the woods hunting or on the lake fishing to parties even at home.

It was Thursday, March 17, 2011, and I was chilling after my morning class load. I went to my apartment for lunch as it was close enough and cheaper than at school. I also had the time on Thursdays with the gap between classes and labs. I was looking forward to tomorrow when I would go home after class. I planned to fish all Friday afternoon and late into the evening. I had turned on the news and heard the newscaster give the news of an explosion in central Florida. At that time, there wasn't much known of any real value. I ate lunch and walked back to campus for my afternoon lab. The campus was abuzz about the explosion since it was supposedly nuclear. I listened but didn't comment. I had learned to keep my mouth shut unless I could add something intelligent to a conversation. No one knew anything except that nuclear plants didn't explode. Yet, apparently, this one had. Who knew what really happened or how. What was known was that there had been a big explosion and middle Florida was a mess.

When the lab ended, I headed back to the apartment. I planned to watch the news, study, and eat supper.

The newscasts were full of news about the explosion in Florida and the resulting chasm that occurred splitting the state into two pieces. Supposedly, that couldn't happen either. I was concerned about the people killed and fallout now that it was confirmed that the explosion had been, in some way, nuclear. The consensus on the 'casts seemed to be that the winds blowing toward the east would keep people safe though the Bahamas would get a scare. After the blast, it was the division of Florida that was causing casualties. Most of the people in the Bahamas were gone along with a number of ships in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Gulf. South Florida was in trouble and millions were dead and missing. I cut off the tube and studied for tomorrow, packed for the weekend (I do my clothes washing at home), and went to bed.

The next morning, the news was still looking bad. There was some possibility of the fallout moving northward according to the 'casts. I went to the day's classes and then got in my old compact car and headed home. When I arrived, I switched to my truck which had my boat on its trailer already behind it and headed for West Point Lake. My parents knew where I was going so I didn't check in. I fished until close to midnight before pulling the boat out and heading home to sleep.

I didn't have plans for Saturday morning so got up and joined my parents for breakfast. As we had coffee, we talked about what the newscasts had said about the tragedy in Florida. Millions of people were presumed dead with tsunamis that headed east and west from the partition of Florida as well as the blast and fallout. It sounded unreal.

Dad and I talked about what was happening and decided that we could do nothing since the National Guard was being called to keep people out. We had a couple of boats that might be useful as well as our trucks. We would wait to see if there was something we could do. After talking about it further, we decided to go fishing for the day. That suited Mom as she wanted to start her spring cleaning and wanted us both out of way. We left.

When Dad and I returned, we had fish for supper. We all ate and talked awhile out on the porch and then went to bed. We never turned on the TV. Sunday, we got up and I went to church with my parents. Back home, Mom was starting dinner while Dad and I settled in to watch the beginning of the NASCAR race. I put clothes in the washer to get my school clothes clean for the coming week. The first news bulletins about the sickness began later that afternoon. We ate another one of Mom's great Sunday dinners, watched the race and I enjoyed being home. Late that afternoon, I cleaned the truck and boat. Then I went over to the gas station and gassed them both up. After supper and folding and loading clothes, I headed back to Atlanta for another week of studying and classes. Driving my old car, I pulled into the apartment complex, parked and went in for the night.

Monday morning, I went to class and had lunch at school with a couple of classmates. I didn't have much time between my classes on Monday, so that made eating at school smarter. Also, it gave me a chance to meet with people who I worked with on projects. I noticed on the newscasts that there was no further news about Florida coming from Florida; it was all coming from Washington now. I didn't really listen but thought that was probably not good. After my afternoon labs, I went to the apartment and lay back for a few minutes and then cracked the books until time for a late supper. During supper, I did turn on the tube to check the news. The newscasters seemed strangely subdued. There was little information from the ground on the Florida mess though there were some excellent high altitude pictures. That surprised me as there were lots of people down there and I would think that the stations and networks would have rented small planes and helicopters to have a close-up look at the disaster. The division of Florida was hot news and deserved coverage. At least, that was my thought.

A week later, problems with sickness were starting to be heard from everywhere. We heard that it started in Florida and that was why there had been little news from there. The government admitted that they didn't tell us then to prevent panic. I never did like that idea. Father may know best, but Big Brother doesn't.

Anyway, we rocked along for the week and, toward the end of the week, people started to be sick locally. At school, once it started, it spread rapidly as everyone lived in close proximity. When I checked my email before leaving for home Friday, there was an email questioning whether classes should begin next Monday. I scoffed at that to myself. After all, I wasn't sick. I did load my laptop into the car to do a little work if I had time. When I got home, my mind changed. Mom was sick.

Dad heard me drive up and came outside before I left to fish waving me to come in the house. I came in and he told me that Mom was sick and I should hang around. I went up to their bedroom and talked to her. She insisted she was fine, that it was just a little springtime cough. I talked to Dad later and he told me that the doctor had suggested she stay home because the hospital was swamped and nothing they were doing seemed to have any effect upon the sickness or its flu-like symptoms. Dad and I had never been sick a day of our lives. Mom had rarely been sick. For one of the three of us to be sick was an event. I stayed around the house all weekend as Mom first got sicker and then started to perk up slowly.

I checked my email Sunday night. It told me classes were canceled for the next week. There was nothing for me in Atlanta so I stayed home with my parents. By Monday evening, it was obvious that Mom would be okay. We had missed church for the first time since I could remember. The prayer phone tree told us that there would be no services with many people in the church sick.

It was then that I realized that, just maybe, this was more serious than I thought. Tuesday, Dad and I talked. Mom was starting to improve and neither of us had been or were sick other than with worry about her. Dad said he thought this was serious and widespread. He had talked with some of his buddies in town and nothing that he heard made him feel better. Most of them were sick. We agreed to start watching more newscasts to try to understand what was being broadcast. I would also watch the internet for viral news and rumors. I added some free subscriptions to news and blogs more than I ever had before. I caught the President's speech and called Dad to come and listen. After the speech, Dad said, "He's lying. It's going to be very bad. A three percent survival rate and that includes those like your Mom who get well because there were healthy people to help them and people like you and me who don't get sick at all. Jack, think about what that means."

"Dad, that means the U.S. would be almost without people!"

"That's exactly what it means. We have a bit over three hundred million population and would go to just over nine million. Atlanta would go from about four million to just over a hundred thousand. That won't be the end. What happens to the power grid, natural gas, oil and other fuels? What about food supplies and production? This farm is not designed to be self-sufficient right now. It could but it hasn't been for a number of years. I made better money raising crops for sale."

"You think we should prepare for the worst because that's what will happen?"

"I think we should prepare because it's the thing to do. I'm going to call my brothers and sisters as well as your mother's and talk about what we can do as a group. Families are going to become important as a basis for survival. I hope survival will run in families. Maybe immunity is inherited somehow. The thing is, it won't matter if we don't prepare for the breakdown that's going to follow."

"Dad, if that's true, what should we do now?"

"I'm going to start by calling your uncles and aunts on both sides of the family. We will have to see who all can and will show up for a meeting. While I'm making calls and we are waiting, start a list of how we would survive ten, twenty and fifty years out. What kinds of things will be gone, what should we be able to repair, and how many people does it take to create a viable community? That should be good practice for you, Jack."

"I'm not sure I want to know why that will be good practice. Anyway, how am I supposed to figure all that out, Dad?"

"You won't, but you can make a good start and give us something to think about when the family gets together."

"Okay, I'll get started." I fired up my laptop and started a new document. I started a list of questions that grew as fast as I could type. How long would computers last and how long would the internet last? How long would cell phones operate? Suddenly, I realized this was going to be a very big project and would get very complicated. Dad make a list of names and started calling.

Dad is part of a big family. He has four brothers and two sisters. Mom's family is smaller as she only had two brothers and a sister. His parents are alive though in their middle seventies. Mom's parents had been killed five years ago in an auto accident while on vacation.

"Tom, this is Robbie. Have you been listening to the news?" Dad asked into the phone. "Uh huh. That's sort of my fear. Anyone sick in your family?" A pause while Tom told him. "That's good. Annie was pretty sick but is getting better fast. Have you talked to anyone else?" There was another pause. "I decided to call the family and see if we could get together. I think we need to consider working together on this." Another pause occurred while Tom gave an opinion. "Good, I'll call you back as soon as a time can be set."

He hung up and then picked up on the first ring. After a second, he said, "Hi, Dad, I was just going to call you. Did you hear the President's speech? Okay, and did you believe him? I didn't think so. I think we ought to get the family together and make some plans. I believe this is going to get a whole lot worse and probably won't get better. Okay. Let's meet day after tomorrow at two o'clock at your place. Okay. Bye. Oh, Dad, Jack's here and I am having him look at some planning on power and such. I will have him prepare to make an initial presentation to get us thinking. Okay, good. See you Wednesday. Bye."

It took a while for Dad to set up everything, but we would meet Wednesday at my grandparent's house. My youngest uncle, Marshal, and aunt, Carol, would not be there. Their spouses were very sick and it didn't look good for them. Only Mom's middle sibling, Andrew could make it. He had been sick but was recovering. Her older sister, Alice, was staying with her husband who was very sick though Alice was recovering. Allen, her younger brother, did not answer the phone at all and Dad just left him a message. The brothers and sisters were to contact their children and bring any who could make it and report on their individual situations.

My grandparents' home is an old, big farmhouse. When the road had been reworked, it had been moved a few hundred feet further away and the old highway became a driveway for my grandparents and Uncle Tom and his family. The people living on the other side of the original road had received their money and moved away. Uncle Tom had bought most of that property over time and now farmed it.

We had quite a crowd there. I was the only one who was an only child and most of my first cousins had come along with their families. Uncle Tom's youngest son, Mitch, and his new wife did not come. She was very sick and not doing well. Marshal, Carol, and their children were not there. Uncle Andrew and his wife were there and Aunt Alice's oldest daughter, Mary, came. No one had heard anything from Allen or his family.

Granddad called us to order and handed the discussion over to Dad. He made some quick remarks on what was happening and why he thought it was going to get worse and not get better. That got everyone's mind moving and a discussion raged about his guesses on what would happen. After things quieted down and most agreed that, at least, things would get worse and not get better any time soon, he asked me to go over what I had developed.

"Folks," I started out, "this will be long. I want to go over my understanding of what is happening according to the best news I have found, what my research indicates is likely to happen, and some of the problems we will have in the future. I want you also to understand that I don't like what I have found and have been looking for better news.

"First, what is happening now. You all know about the Florida disaster. What I have found on the internet is more frightening than what the news stories are telling us. This is what I have found. It was a nuclear blast in Florida in a research facility. That facility was researching a number of things and one of the research projects was cures for biological warfare diseases. It is believed that one of the viruses was released in the blast. People have been dying all over Florida but from the disease not from fallout. I have checked weather maps and the prevailing winds are from west to east. Because of the tsunamis, there is little hope for south Florida any time soon. The satellite pictures from the NASA feed show that area was totally flooded. The Bahamas are probably also gone for the same reason. They looked flooded to me. However, looking north from the rift in Florida, the photos that I have found show what appears to be dead people everywhere. A couple of teams went in with hazard suits and found no radiation. To me, that means the virus escaped and started moving around. Mankind's history with viruses is not good. No medicines stop them. If you have enough immunity or the virus is weak, you get better, otherwise you don't. People in Florida are dying quickly. It's spreading everywhere and doing so rapidly. There are cases all over the U.S. and overseas already. Finally, it is a killer. Including those who don't get sick, there is a possible three percent survival rate.

"That leads me to my second point which is what is likely to happen. We don't know much but, using the three percent figure, we will lose most of the population. Immunity may run to families but that's not certain. If we assume a three percent cure and immune group, that still leaves ninety-seven percent of the population dead by the time the disease runs its course. It could be worse, it probably will not be better. Florida evidence suggests that the three percent figures are optimistic. However, let's use the three percent right now for argument's sake.

"Initially, the distribution system breaks down. It probably has already along with production in factories including food. That means trucks don't run and replenish the stores. Later, the power system will suffer. That's when it could get tough. It means the internet will go away, cell phones and land line phones will quit, and electric power will cease. Government will break down simply because too much of the leadership will be dead. If there were more people left, then lawlessness could be a serious problem. We need more information that only time will provide to give us any better read on survival rates generally. Violence still could be a problem because some people are not nice and others will panic. That means we should expect, at some point, to have to defend ourselves from attack.

"Finally, I think we should plan what we will do in a worst case analysis. You all know how often the power goes out with storms. How will we function and survive without power and with no help from any other group? How can we get power for ourselves and should we attempt that or should we make other plans? For the short run, we can stockpile gas and diesel to run electrical generators for ourselves. In the long run, those fuels will be exhausted and we will not have the manpower to pump, refine, and distribute them.

"Therefore, Dad had suggested that I come up with some ideas for short run things to do. First, we need more information and, second, we need to develop some plan for the power grid. I know that's not much but, that's where my thinking has gotten me and that's a pretty big bite."

I sat back and listened to my Uncles and Aunts talk over what I had said. They all knew that my engineering studies included management planning and all of them were good, intelligent people. My main advantage is that I had spent the last two days working over the problem with a goal of having some recommendations to offer.

After a lot of discussion and some moderately intense questioning of me, everyone agreed that one of my cousins, Ed (Jr.), and I would go scouting. Atlanta was our choice because Ed and I both knew the city. I had my time at Georgia Tech and Ed was an almost graduate of Georgia State University. Ed actually might know the area better than I since he stayed up there more. Ed was not my favorite cousin but he was tolerable. Our uncles and parents wanted us to go armed and I was the best shot of the cousins. After some more talking, we were told to go on Monday giving us time to prepare and put together a route to gather the most information. There was more discussion. My truck would make the trip. We might find some people or supplies to bring back. Also with its heavy duty suspension and four wheel drive, it could go anywhere.

Ed and I talked through what we would do and how we would be armed. Ed had hunted but was not close to my level of gun handling. He was not familiar with a pistol. I gave him one of mine and shells and we went out to shoot. After shooting, we decided to bring a deer rifle, a twelve gauge shotgun, and two pistols along with a fair bit of ammunition. Neither of us really expected to need the guns but, I had found from experience, if you had a gun ready, you weren't near as likely to need them. When hunting, I had only seen a rattlesnake when I wasn't armed. We also decided to spend the night at each one of our apartments taking our time to go through the city.

The rest of the week and weekend, we watched the newscasts on television and could see that the sickness was spreading very, very quickly and that the three percent survival rate just had to be optimistic. By Sunday night, all the local stations were playing taped versions of their newscasts with nothing new being sent out. The network news was also suffering. Their only advantage was a larger pool of correspondents and production people. You could see gaps in their coverage where they no longer had anyone available to report.

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