The Plague Years (Book 1): Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here

BOOK: The Plague Years (Book 1): Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here



Mark Rounds


Copyright © 2015 Mark Rounds

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1517145736

ISBN-10: 1517145732






To my wife and family who put up with me.





I’d like acknowledge Elizabeth Wilmerding who helped me through this publishing process. I’ll include on this list Colonel Hugh Shoults USA and Lieutenant Colonel Donald Kaag USA(ret) for knowledge about the technical details. I would like to thank Lieutenant Kris Schweigert of the Washington State Highway Patrol for helping get all the police procedures correct. Any mistakes are the fault of the author. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Thia Kaag who edited my copy and chided me about commas.

Chapter 1


May 3rd, Wednesday, 11:17 pm PDT

Seventeen year old Jose Emanuel Ortiz could hear the footsteps of the men who were chasing him. He was panting like a dog as he had been on the run since he had finished work pruning grapevines for a new winery in the Amador Valley just before sunset. A man in a fine suit of clothes that cost more than he would make this year was walking by the table they were using to pay the migrant workers when they noticed him. It really wasn’t hard. He had been sick for two days. Jose was pale and had a fever. He was often mumbling because the fever dreams were getting more bizarre and scary even when he was awake. Lately, he had become ravenous, eating more and more. This was bad because he was sending most of his pay home to Mexico to help his mother and two sisters and he couldn’t afford to eat two and three times what he was eating even a week ago.

The suits had grabbed at him, shouting for him to come with them. Jose had panicked and run, sure that these suits were going to deport him. The rest had been a bad dream of running, hiding, being discovered and running again.

“I see him!” shouted a man in black tactical utilities; one of several who had replaced the suits that had originally started to chase him. Jose lurched up and began running. He had found wooded ravine in the mixed agricultural and rural land scape that made up the Amador Valley where he was working. At first he crashed through the brush randomly seeking to blindly get away from his pursuers. A shot rang out followed by another deep booming blast of a twelve gauge shotgun.

He couldn’t think so well but the gunfire stimulated a more primitive urge and he dove for cover in the underbrush near a stream that he had been following for water. A few seconds later running feet in large combat boots ran near his hiding place. Normally, shy, quiet, church going Jose would have lain quietly hoping his pursuer would go away, but since he had become sick, he had become aggressive, so much so that most of his friends on the crew avoided him. Without thinking a conscious thought, Jose clutched at the feet of the man pursuing him even though he topped Jose’s diminutive five feet three inches by a good foot.

The big man, for all his size was very quick and nimbly side stepped Jose’s clumsy rush and butt stroked him with the stock of his Saiga 12 semiautomatic shotgun. That blow would normally have felled Jose but not today. He hardly felt his cheek bone break or the loss of three teeth as he shook off the blow and reached again for his tormentor. The large man reversed the shotgun and fired three times into Jose who finally crumpled to the ground.

“Striker six, this is striker three,” said the large man into a microphone mounted on his utilities. Unlike Jose, he pursuer had hardly broken a sweat despite having searched the woods aggressively for over three hours.

“Go ahead three,” said the tinny sounding voice over the speaker.

“I had to terminate him,” said the large man harshly. “He jumped me from the brush.”

“Damn it,” said the voice on the radio. “We can’t afford people looking into this now, of all times.”

“Sorry sir,” said the large man.

“What’s done is done. Head over towards Wood Ridge and help them search. It seems we have another who was inadvertently infected after the vat collapsed. See if you can find that one without shooting him.”






May 4
, Thursday, 06:25 am PDT

The sun was one finger width above the horizon when Chad Strickland got out of bed. Mary, his wife of twenty-two years did not share his love of sunrises so he carefully extricated himself from the bed without turning on the light. The coffee pot had just chirped indicating that his morning brew was hot and ready. Chad was in good physical condition. He worked out at the Shotokan Dojo three nights a week and ran every morning but the warm cup in his hands felt good as he worked the kinks out of his fifty year old joints.

The weather was clear and a bit nippy this early in May, but the blossoms were making their appearance on the pear and apple trees in Chad’s backyard. From his deck, he could see most of Kennewick and the sun was just high enough over the hill behind his house that it was hitting the tops of the bridge crossing the Columbia. This was Chad’s favorite time of day.

When they had moved here almost twenty years ago, Chad had a newly minted Ph.D degree in Statistics from the University of Washington. He had taken a job with the group focusing on the radiation effects from Chernobyl when that reactor melted down. Since that time, he had been involved in several health related projects in epidemiology, most recently using GIS to determine charting how diseases expand and spread.

His wife had taken what she had thought to be a temporary part time position in a local winery in the tasting room while she looked for a “real” job. She decided to keep it while they looked for a permanent home and then while she coped with their two children, Fiona who was fourteen years old going on twenty-five, and Connor who was seventeen and starting next year at the University of Washington studying Computer Science.

Mary’s position morphed into a full time job managing first the tasting room and then the hospitality and entertainment side of the business. She had leapt in with all the ferocity that her Irish grandfather applied to his bootlegging concern in the 1930’s and made friends and connections all through the wine country.

The side benefit of that job was that they had a very eclectic and fun batch of friends. One of them, David Tippet was already up and about next door. Through the hedge, Chad stood as he watched Dave run up his American and Marine Corps flags and pause for a moment of reflection. Chad had watched Dave, who was wearing his Marine booney hat with all his rank insignia, private through buck sergeant and then after his commissioning, 2
lieutenant through major around the hatband, go through this simple ritual a hundred times before but the simple reverence was always moving.

“Hey Dave,” said Chad, “how about a cup?”

“Never say no to a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer,” said Dave with a smile.

He walked across the lawn with only a hint of limp left over from a piece of shrapnel courtesy of his last tour in Afghanistan that cut his promising Marine Corps career short. He still worked out six days a week but running for any distance was extremely painful along with all the other precautions that came with his artificial hip. Like many military officers, Dave had earned a Master’s in History at night while on active duty as a precursor to his Major’s promotion board. These days, he used it to teach history at Columbia Basin Community College but the semester was winding down and he was at loose ends again. 

That was bad because last year, two days after Christmas, Dave had lost his wife and best friend of twenty-one years to pancreatic cancer. They had never had children but had been very much in love. It had hit him hard and he seemed lost and needed looking after. Chad and Mary, who genuinely enjoyed his company, had him over often for dinner and, like now, for coffee. Once the ritual of pouring a new cup, adding the appropriate amounts of cream and sugar, stirring and sipping was complete, Dave asked Chad “the question.”

“Any new cases reported?”

Two months ago, there were rumors that some sort of disease had broken out in California. The symptoms included dementia, a reduction of liver function that resulted in the build-up of heme in the blood, and a ravenous hunger.

The buildup in heme, the iron bearing component of hemoglobin, resulted in a condition resembling Cutaneous Porphyria, where the patient was sensitive to light, developed skin lesions, and other tissue degeneration.

“Two more,” said Chad.


“One of them is in Bend, Oregon.”

“Damn! That is getting closer every day. How many total?”

“Dave, I really can’t say. Our group has been coopted by the Center for Disease Control and I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement that covers this.”

“You’ve said enough. If the number was small, you would have patted my hand and told me that my conspiracy theory paranoia was acting up again. The media is waffling from ‘this isn’t a serious issue’ to ‘don’t go out without a condom over your head’ all week long. Bloggers on-line are having a heyday for and against. It’s getting serious.”

“Yeah, it’s getting serious. The transmission on this one is a bitch. Sometimes the profile is like AIDS where direct contact is required which sometimes including exchange of bodily fluids, but the last few cases have been via indirect contact as best we can figure, you know, touching surfaces that a contaminated person has left fluids on. Blood, saliva, even sweat can transfer the disease and unlike other pathogens, this stuff appears to be viable for a very long time in an inhospitable environment. We are talking weeks here.”

Dave poured another cup and thought while he added his cream and sugar.

“So you think it’s a virus?” said Dave.

“We are operating on that assumption but we haven’t isolated a pathogen. It also seems to be mutating. Certainly none of the antibiotics they have tried work. Some hospitals are desperate and have tried some of the anti-viral therapies developed against the AIDS virus but there is no conclusive evidence that it helps.”

“Well, are you going into work today?”

“Yeah, I can at least chart the expansion of the infection, see where it’s going.”

“Well, I tell you what,” said Dave. “Picking up some supplies for the long term might not be a bad idea. I will be going down town later today after my final exam. Why don’t we get a late lunch and see what we can find.”

“Works, see you at the Inca.”

After Mary and the kids had gone through their morning rituals and been dropped off at school and at work, Chad settled into his office and checked his e-mail. There were the usual forty-seven messages from people who didn’t realize that the world didn’t really need to hear their reply but one message was marked “Urgent” from his boss, Dr. Wilson Riley. The man was a legend in the field of epidemiology.







Re:  GIS and Epidemiology Area Meeting

[email protected]

To:  undisclosed-recipients


If you are receiving this mailing, you have been nominated to be a member in a working group subordinate to the Biological Assessment and Threat Response (BATR) protocol concerning the outbreak of the unidentified condition currently code named AH10N3. There will be a staff meeting at 10:30 this morning to brief you on the details of this working group. All details of this group are covered under NDA which you will sign before the briefing. Attendance is mandatory.



Chad thought that was odd. He had been selected before for groups like this on short notice but both the NDA and the mandatory attendance were out of the ordinary. He shrugged and got busy dealing with bureaucratic minutia until 10:30.

They met in the big conference room. They filled perhaps half the seats in the room designed for perhaps thirty-five attendees.

Chad looked around. It was a pretty eclectic bunch. There was Dr. Rousseau, the resident authority on computer security, Herb Burnside, head of physical security, Dr. Gunter Jurgen, head of the epidemiology group and Chad’s immediate supervisor, Clinton Taylor, chief counsel, and a bunch of other administrative high rollers. There were also just about all the statistical analysts in epidemiology. Chad was wondering what a number cruncher like him was doing in is this group. He didn’t have to wonder long.

“There is an old joke that goes, I suppose you are wondering why I called this meeting,” said Dr. Riley. He waited while the polite laughter died down.

“You have been selected,” he continued, “for a working group to deal with the outbreak of AH10N3. This is not an optional appointment. Effective immediately, you are removed from ALL other projects. No exceptions.”

Chad looked at Dr. Jurgen who shrugged and was obviously in the dark as much as Chad was. There were three projects with short fuses in his group and they were pretty big contracts. This must be serious.

“In front of each of you is a new non-disclosure agreement.  Our legal counsel will describe the salient clauses.”

Chat thought this was weird as well. Normally, they just passed the non-disclosure agreements out, you perfunctorily read them, and then signed them.

Clinton Taylor stood up. He was a balding, paunchy man in his early sixties. He was never a poster child for a healthy lifestyle but he looked worse than usual today.

“First let me state,” said Clinton as he rose from his chair, “that I do not agree with this document and I do not believe it is enforceable or legal. None the less, I am required to brief you on its contents.”

The room, which was silent a moment before erupted in a buzz of conversation.

“Clinton that will be enough!” said Dr. Riley. “I thought we settled this before the meeting.”

“No sir. You shouted me down” said Clinton. “I have thought about this all night and I will not be silent. You cannot make signature of this mandatory. It goes beyond standard NDA’s and is not enforceable. I will brief this document as required by my employment but I will brief the law as it applies to the best of my ability or I will resign; your choice.”

BOOK: The Plague Years (Book 1): Hell is Empty and All the Devils Are Here
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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