The election for governor was held on May 15, and Bill Kraft was elected with 83% of the vote. He had opponents. In Maine, the law made it easy for candidates to get on the ballot. We didn’t want any rigged two-party system like in the old United States, because the two parties soon became one party with a common interest in keeping everyone else out. But most folks in Maine knew what Kraft had done for us, and they wanted to give him a chance to do more.
Governor Kraft was inaugurated on May 20, and since the other N.C. governors all decided to come, they got together for a meeting. There, they agreed that Kraft would remain the supreme decision-maker in military matters, just as the two previous Maine governors had been. States rights notwithstanding, everyone knew what war required.
I was called before the governors to tell them where the implementation of the peace agreement with the Muslims stood. The World Islamic Council had agreed to return the black Christians kidnapped from Boston and sold into slavery in return for the Islamic POWs we held. But so far, nothing had happened.
I’d been communicating directly with the Egyptian military authorities in Cairo, who were in charge of the exchange for the Islamic side. At first, I’d been troubled by an incessant gurgling sound on the phone; I figured it was some kind of recording or EW device. Then one of our intel guys with some experience in the Middle East explained that the Egyptian general was just smoking hashish in his water pipe as we talked. I understood why not much was happening.
However, the Egyptians did tell me they had collected some 3000 of our blacks in camps outside Cairo, ready for exchange. To get things moving, I proposed we tell them that as of June 1, unless the exchange was underway, we would forbid all our Islamic prisoners to practice their religion. No prayers five times a day. No Korans. And we’d send ’em all to work on pig farms.
Most of the governors liked that idea. But Bill Kraft was uneasy. “Gentlemen, I have to tell you this whole business troubles me. It’s gut instinct, and I can’t put my finger on it. But I feel in my bones that when we bring these black folks back to Boston, we’re bringing in trouble.”
“They won’t be in Boston very long,” New York’s governor responded. “Thanks to CORN, blacks are already moving out of the cities, back to the land, in substantial numbers. We’re not seeing the usual crime or unrest among those who remain. The good blacks have taken their community back from the scum. It seems to me these blacks coming back are good Christian folk who’ll help that process along.”
“What would be the effect if we repudiated our agreement with the black community to get their people back?” the governor of Rhode Island asked me.
“Militarily, it wouldn’t be a problem,” I replied. “The blacks know we won’t tolerate disorder and we have the muscle to put it down.”
“But I think CORN has shown us the way to make the Confederation’s blacks into contributing members of our society. If we broke faith with them, we would undermine their new direction,” I added.
“Of course, as a soldier, my word is my bond. If the Confederation broke the deal I made – a deal that saved Boston from widespread destruction – my honor would be at stake. I would have no choice but to resign immediately.”
The governor of Massachusetts broke in. “If I may speak bluntly to Governor Kraft, does he expect us to agree to break our agreement with the blacks just because he has a gut feeling?”
“I cannot expect you to do that, and I don’t,” Kraft replied. “But as those of you who have been in war or studied war know, sometimes your instincts are your best guide. Are you willing to agree to repatriate the blacks slowly, into a few limited areas, until we see how it goes?”
In the old days, politicians would have rolled anyone, military or civilian, who offered an argument like Kraft’s. The game was just to “win” the immediate squabble so someone could look good by making someone else look bad. But the cold shower of reality we had all taken in the break-up of the U.S.A. had changed things.
“I know Governor Kraft’s achievements as a soldier,” the governor of New Hampshire said. “If he says his soldier’s gut instinct troubles him about this, I’m troubled too. In the world we now live in, it pays to be careful. I don’t see any harm in some sort of quarantine of the people we’re getting back. Being too soft is what brought our old country down. I’d rather risk being too hard.”
The word “quarantine” seemed to do the trick. We didn’t know what these people might be bringing back with them. It would have been risky for the Muslims to impregnate our blacks with a genetically engineered disease because of the risk it would spread to their own people, but it wasn’t impossible.
The governors recommended that the matter be handled as a national security issue, which put Kraft in charge and left me to work out the details. Before the end of the day, the General Staff had selected a couple areas in Roxbury where returnees would be held for three months, until we could be sure they were not infected. The migration to the countryside had left places enough there for them. The remaining local residents could go or stay, but if they stayed they would be stuck there for the same three months. The governors seemed comfortable with that.
In the absence of any word from Cairo, on June 1 we implemented our threat. We made sure Al Jazeera got pictures of their POWS shoveling pig manure. We also made clear it would continue until the prisoner exchange began. The next day, Cairo called, and on June 7 the first planeload of our blacks landed at Logan. It took off the same day filled with Egyptian POWs returning home.
Boston received her heroes gratefully, but Boston’s blacks also accepted the quarantine. They had learned some lessons, including patience. They knew that when the Confederation acted, it was for the common good. In the 21st century, it was wise to be prudent.
For about six weeks, everything went smoothly. The number of black returnees grew steadily. Some local folks had deliberately stayed in the areas where they were quarantined, to help them reintegrate. It turned out that in almost every case, the experience of being sold into slavery had strengthened their Christianity, not weakened it. These people would be assets to our society.
Then, on July 23, I got a phone call from the head of the public health office in Boston. “Captain Rumford, I don’t like making this call,” the fellow said. “I hope what I’m about to tell you is wrong. In the last week, we’ve had fourteen deaths among the blacks who returned from Islamic countries. They all showed the same symptoms. Now, we’ve got three local people from the quarantined areas showing those symptoms.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“First, inflamed swelling of the lymph glands, usually surrounded by a ring. Then, fever, chills, diarrhea, and internal bleeding leading quickly to death.”
History told me immediately what we were facing. Black Death.
“It’s the plague, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, it’s plague. But there’s a difference. Normal bubonic plague responds to antibiotics. This one doesn’t. The doctors have tried every antibiotic known, with no positive results.”
I gave orders to tighten the quarantine by evacuating all areas bordering those where the returnees had settled. No one was to be allowed in or out on pain of death. Snipers in full MOP gear were positioned to enforce that order. The prisoner exchange with the Islamics was also suspended immediately.
We had a network, established in the 1990s by the Marine Corps, that tied us into scientists who were specialists in biological warfare and genetic engineering. I immediately pulled a team together to go to Boston and figure out what we were facing. If it was genetically engineered, we needed to find out how before we could develop a vaccine.
Meanwhile, the black returnees continued to die. We had communications with them, of course, so the picture was clear. Just as in the Middle Ages, the houses filled up with dead, the living too weak to drag out the bodies. Some dropped in the street, where the dogs and rats feasted on them.
We sent every medicine we had, but none made any difference. Some white doctors and nurses went in as volunteers. Since this plague took at least six weeks before symptoms appeared, they could relieve some suffering before they too went down. By then, we hoped to have a cure.
The scientists worked frantically, but without success. The problem was, there were many ways bubonic plague or any other disease could be genetically engineered to get around the usual vaccines and medicines. Finding which genes had been altered and how took time – too much time for those who had been infected. By the end of September, they were all dead, including the local residents who had remained and the volunteers who had gone in to succor them. Roxbury was a cemetery.
Yet even as they died, those black Christians accomplished something. They did not rage or rail or issue demands. They prayed together, and died together, quietly helping bear one another’s burdens to the end with a Christian patience that inspired us all. In so doing, they worked powerfully to change whites’ late 20th century image of blacks from whiners who always demanded something for nothing or punks with guns to an older, truer picture: a good, faithful people who suffered without complaint and humbly served God and their neighbor. In a society that was beginning once again to accept such qualities as virtues, that was no small legacy. It did much to ensure that blacks had a solid future in the Northern Confederation.
Nor did their deaths go unavenged. In the Muslim countries where Boston’s blacks had been sold as slaves, the buy-back program had slowly gathered them in camps, in preparation for the POW exchange. There, they had been injected with the engineered plague. The Islamics thought this safe enough, since the disease took about six weeks to manifest symptoms and was not contagious until it did. That was plenty of time for them to be shipped off to the infidel.
Only now it wasn’t because we had halted the exchange. So the plague broke out in the camps. There, too, the blacks died, but in the process they infected their guards. Islamic countries not being noted for their efficiency, their quarantines had holes in them, and the bacteria crawled through. Soon, plague was raging through the slums of Cairo, Istanbul, Tehran, and Islamabad. By the Fall of 2029, thousands were dead or dying and hundreds of thousands were infected.
We still held the Islamic POWs, and I thought turnabout was fair play. I asked our scientists to come up with a different genetically engineered variant of plague, one that would mimic the symptoms of the Islamic variant but not respond to the same vaccines or treatments. Genetic engineering had become all too easy in the 21st century. Some teenagers working in a basement in Stockholm cooked up one bug that gave a week-long case of diarrhea to anyone who ate either rutabaga or herring, thus wiping out Swedish cuisine. We had the right stuff in a couple weeks’ time, and as soon as we had inculcated it in the POWs by mixing it with their hummus, we sent them home. Our blacks were dead or dying, so the POWs were no longer of any value to us as commodities.
The Islamics took us for fools, welcomed their heroes with open arms, and ended up with a mix of plagues it took them three years to sort out, at the price of millions of dead. It was a small lesson in not playing games that advanced, disciplined societies could play better.
Governor Kraft’s gut instinct had saved us from a similar catastrophe, but it had been a close call. The lesson, once again, was that closed borders were essential to survival. It wasn’t just movements of people that had to be controlled. It was easy enough to send a bacillus by shipping container or mixed in a bulk commodity. Foreign trade fell drastically throughout the world as every import had to be quarantined, examined, and tested. Only what was local was safe, and even at home we developed a “neighborhood watch” to report any suspicious basement laboratories. This didn’t require a police state. People were eager volunteers, because they knew the mortal danger genetic engineering posed to everyone.
It was funny, at least for those with a sense of irony, the way Americans in the early 21st century had howled about the stupid mistakes of earlier generations in pursuing “better living through chemistry” and similar scientific great leaps forward. As they scorned their forefathers, they made the same blunder on a vaster scale. Genetic engineering rolled Frankenstein’s monster, “The Fly,” and the Black Death all into one, yet they hailed it. Computers reduced their operators to mindless androids while hooking them on the drug of virtual reality, yet they were the miracle machine no one could do without.
It wasn’t a case of those not knowing the past repeating it. They knew, yet they repeated it anyway. That’s what brings civilizations to their end.
We in the Northern Confederation were lucky, once again. We figured out early what everyone who survived learned eventually. Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. Those who depart from the ways of their ancestors do so at their own peril.