Friday, May 16, 2014

Chapter 17

“So what’s the plan for today?” Peggy Lee asked, taking a sip of coffee.
“First, we will stop at a boiler unit,” Graham replied.  “Fortunately, one of the western-most boilers is inactive today for maintenance.  Then we’ll swing by the solar panel fields, followed by a tour at the Farallon Platform, our regional command post.  We will be spending the night there.  We prefer to make the trips to and from the Farallons in the morning when the seas are calmest.  With visibility around three to four feet in spots, we take every precaution.”
Graham noticed that Ian had already wolfed down most of his bacon and pancakes.  What’s the big rush?  Graham cut a small triangle of pancake from his stack, sopped up some syrup, and raised it to his mouth.  He glanced at Peggy Lee.  He noticed a drop of syrup on her chin.  He wondered what it would feel like to lick syrup off her chin on a Sunday morning in the privacy of their own apartment.  Would she draw him close and kiss him, warm and wet, on his syrupy mouth?  Would they slide down on to the floor?
Peggy Lee looked up suddenly, catching Graham, who immediately blushed.  She laughed sweetly under her breath, and then felt the syrup on her chin.  Now she blushed, quickly dipped her napkin into her water glass, wiped her chin, and asked, “Couldn’t you just shut the boilers down for a few hours to increase visibility and make the trips out to the facilities less dangerous?”
“They used to do that,” Graham said, regaining his composure.  “To be effective though, they had to shut down a majority of units in the area.  It took too long to get the boilers back up and running.  The current regulation requires near-constant operation.  There are no more stoppages for navigation or any other purpose, just maintenance.  And that is usually limited to one or two boiler units at a time.”
“What if someone, without all the fancy navigation you guys have on your boats, happened to get off course and become stranded in the fog?”  Ian asked, shoving the last few bites of pancake into his mouth and pushing his empty tray into the center of the table.  “Would you turn off the boilers to save innocent people in trouble?”
“That would never happen,” Graham answered.  “We have what we call the ‘Coordinated West Coast Perimeter’ set up around the water production facilities.  Every foot of the perimeter is watched 24 hours-a-day by boat and satellite.  We have sensor buoys and aquatic trip lines.  We have never had an unwanted craft of any kind penetrate the West Coast Perimeter without our immediate knowledge.”
“Why does the Army need such high security?”  Peggy Lee asked.  “Are the water production facilities under that big of a threat?  When I was doing some preliminary research for this story, I saw some odd sites on the Internet, radical groups that want to get rid of the facilities, but aren’t there always some wackos who talk about blowing stuff up?  Do you take any of those threats seriously?”
“You can never tell.  There are still a lot of people – some verifiable ‘wackos’ as you say and some sophisticated organizations – who feel like what we do here is immoral.  Or maybe that’s not quite right.  Unholy, unnatural . . . .  They say that the silver slayer was a sign from some higher power – Jesus, Allah, Mother Nature, who knows – that we humans should stop manipulating the environment.  There are even some ‘scientists’ out there who theorize that if we cease operation of all of the water production and other geo-engineering facilities around the world, then the weather would eventually return to normal.  They claim that what we are doing here is hindering the earth’s return to a healthy climate.  Extreme times invite extreme reactions.  One of the most organized, anti-geo-engineering groups is called the ‘Movement for Earth’s Rebalance,’ or ‘MER’ for short.  Perhaps, you saw MER’s website on the Internet?”
Peggy Lee had finished her breakfast.  She poured herself a second cup of black coffee from the carafe on the table.  It steamed in front of her face as she blew gently onto the dark surface.  Ignoring Graham’s question, she asked, “So, do you receive regular threats against the facilities?  Has anyone ever really gotten close to damaging anything or disturbing operations?”
“We had a soldier once who tried to knock out the main operations unit on the Farallon Platform – what we call the Brain Room,” Graham said taking one final bite.  “He was a young guy, a bit on the quiet side, but nice enough.  He was a good worker, did what he was told and all that.  We assigned him to communications on the Farallon Platform.  About three weeks into his tour, one of my senior officers, who was conducting a routine inventory check, happened to walk in on him assembling an explosive device in a storage closet.  It was sheer luck that we discovered his plot.  Otherwise, he might have been able to take the facilities out of commission for quite some time.  The Brain Room, which you will see on our tour, is a critical coordination unit for all of the operations.  If he had succeeded, the water shortages would have been pretty drastic, possibly even cataclysmic.
“Anyway, after extensive interrogations, he admitted to being a member of MER.  The Movement’s leaders denied any responsibility, but the soldier was pretty convincing.  He knew a lot about MER’s organization.  He said that his orders came from the top.  After a thorough governmental inquiry, however, the Army concluded that there was not enough hard evidence linking MER to the attempted bombing.  The young soldier has been in the brig ever since.  You probably read something about all this.  It was a widely-reported incident – happened about five or six years ago.”
“Yes, yes, now I recall reading an article about that guy, Strom Miller, I think was his name.”  Peggy Lee sipped from her steamy cup of coffee.  “After he was caught, he started calling himself ‘Black Oak’ or something, right?”
“That’s right,” Graham said.  “All of the members of the Movement take on secret earth names, and his was Black Oak.  Wow, I am surprised you remembered his name – both his names.”
If you knew her well, you would not be surprised,” Ian interrupted.  “Her mind is like a steel trap.”
“Some things stick and some things don’t,” Peggy Lee responded.  “I just remember that boy’s innocent-looking face in the newspapers.  They gave him a very long sentence, right?  I thought at the time that it was a bit harsh.”
“Well,” Graham said, “he could have caused millions of people in Southern California to go without water for a very long time.  If he had managed to completely destroy the Brain Room, he probably would have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.  I for one am glad that he is behind bars.” 
“Hmm . . . I just always thought of him as a misguided crackpot, not a serious threat,” Peggy Lee said.  “But enough about MER and Black Oak or whatever his name was, can we get going?  I’m very excited.”

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