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Viral Implosion - chapter 12
The community that evolved around Jon and Rika was both typical and atypical. Similar coexistent patterns were dotted over the United States and Europe, differing by what talents and resources were available in the area. Unlike Preppers’ forts, these communities were based on mutual help and trust, and the sharing of information.
While everyone was noticing the changes around them, Naomi and Zach were the first to be directly affected by receiving notice that their university was being ‘disbanded’ and all positions, tenured or not, were being discontinued. This polite language meant that everyone at the college was being fired without recourse. There was an auction for the resources, facilities and equipment planned for a month after the dissolution of the school. This gave Naomi the idea of talking to all her friends at the next dinner party, which happened to be at her house.
The Shonfeld home was roomy, nestled on a fenced-in five acres. Inside and out it gave a very cozy feel. The yard was left to grow naturally, with as little manicuring as possible, allowing a variety of trees (including a fruit-tree grove) standing amid wildflowers, shrubbery, moss and lichen. Foot worn paths were the means of navigation. Inside was festooned with live plants and vases of flowers grown on those plants and those outside. After drinks and munchies were handed out they all sat around the huge fireplace, and Naomi shared her idea.
“As you all know, Zach and I are no longer teaching at the university. The state is auctioning off everything on campus, and even the campus itself, on the seventh of next month. My immediate thought was to purchase the greenhouses and the entire botany section. And Zach immediately latched on to all the animals being housed there. We were figuring that by renting a moving van for a day we could move the greenhouses and animals here; Jon could help us build a barn. If nothing else, this would enable us to have meat and even grow fruits and vegetables during the Pennsylvania winters.
“That would allow us to survive, but what about our friends? If a couple of you helped out on the farming and ranching, we would be glad to share what promises to be an abundance with you.
“Then I thought, what about the rest of you? Surely there are things you would like to have at a bargain price as well?”
Rika jumped on that. “Oh, yes. The mini pharmacy and the treatment room I converted my sun room to are becoming way insufficient. Don’t they have an infirmary at the university?” At Naomi’s nod, she continued, “I’m not sure where I could house all the equipment, but this area really needs it. Jon and I have some money put away. I’m certainly going to be sure all that stuff doesn’t end up overgrown with weeds!”
Jon added, “And their maintenance department must be a goldmine for all kinds of valuable equipment in order to take care of all those buildings and equipment. I’m in!”
As a lawyer, Ben had no major interest, but he did volunteer to attend just to make sure the auction was handled properly, considering all the rioting and looting that cities have been subject to. Laws are being regularly ignored, especially where there is no enforcement. But often just an authoritative voice is enough to keep people civil. Willie, on the other hand, was seriously concerned that all the good art be preserved. Portraits of past presidents are worthless, but universities are often the recipients of art as an alumni gift, and this one has a pretty decent museum of its own that she has visited frequently.
Beth’s mouth watered at the thought of computer labs and all the administrative computer equipment, a lot of which she would love to play with. However, on a practical level, she was already personally well equipped (“Mike, stop snickering.”), but would love to establish a Web server and a data server that were unmonitored by outside forces.
Mike listened to all these ideas. “I had to take four weeks of retraining to go from commercial airlines to private jets. I don’t overhear much, even though I admit to eavesdropping on the occasional opportunity. However, I see many influential people from the corporate world, the military and even politics, meeting together. Something is up and I suspect they are involved in this. So for my own curiosity, I want to attend.
Daisy added, “And I’m interested in knowing how this will impact real estate in the area. Mike and I have a minivan, as does Naomi. Why don’t we all go there as a group? If I don’t see anything worth purchasing, I can offer to help some of you to achieve your purchases.”
And so it was agreed; they would go as a small group of investors.
In the following month, on the seventh, the nine of them plus some of the adult children clambered into four vans and sojourned to the university campus. Braced for crowds, they were surprised when they clambered out of the vans in front of the assembly hall to find few competitors. There were musicians there, a few scholars with no idea what they wanted, and scientists. Quite a few students were milling around, with no way to get home or no home to go to. Foreign students had volunteered to be deported, as the only way to get home.
The auction began right on time. However, current incomes being threatened or nonexistent, whatever sold brought in only change. Daisy called a huddle – they should consider purchasing the campus itself as a group. And they did, getting the land and facilities for a total of $45,000, which they pooled. The state delivered a full quit claim deed. Everyone put in an equal amount and got an equal ‘share’. Married couples got a share for each person and contributed twice as much. Later Ben put it all into legalese, just in case any outside sources wanted to question it.
Naomi and Zach got in touch with their friends in the physics and engineering faculties and got a couple of them to join the group.
Musicians bought just about all of the instruments. Some were setting up itinerant bands, to travel from hub community to hub community and headquarters to headquarters. The solvent world was thirsting for entertainment. The drama club turned themselves into a traveling troupe with an ever expanding repertoire, purchasing all the scripts on campus and any plays in the library. A couple of would-be playwrights joined the fray.
When the dust settled, there was a communal intake of breath. What had they done??? In an action precipitated by opportunity, reality sunk in. This was the way ‘things’ were going and they needed to take advantage of this happenstance.
Since most of the members of the group owned their homes outright, these folks moved into faculty housing on the campus; their children, struggling with mortgages, moved into the homes and put their own homes up for sale. Anyone with farm animals moved them onto the campus. Any local regulations were basically ignored if they even existed, so there were no more leash laws or zoning restrictions. Like the settlers of old, they functioned with a minimum of rules. When there was something to be resolved, a town meeting of sorts was held at the assembly hall and decisions were determined by a majority democratic vote.
Willie was having a grand time helping everyone redecorate. Willie was also a very talented craftsperson, and often taught others how to sew, knit, weave baskets, just about any ‘crafty’ skill.
Ben became the ad hoc mayor of the campus. He wrote up an agreement, in plain language, that every participant had to read, understand and sign. This agreement was to respect and support the guidelines of the community. Upon signing it, each person was given a card signed by him/her; in the event that someone questioned the person’s right to participate, s/he could show the card. If someone blatantly defied the guidelines, a town meeting of sorts was held and the person’s privileges could be revoked, effectively exiling him or her.
Food grown or ranched on campus was stored in the cafeteria freezers and refrigerators. There were a lot of people (students, workers, faculty) who wanted to stay and help the effort. These people stayed at the dormitories and ate at the cafeteria. Rika managed the cafeteria, teaching people how to preserve food and cook on a large scale without turning it into prison food. People who wanted to cook in their own homes could submit a shopping list at the cafeteria, which was then filled and picked up. Residents of the dorms took care of their own cleaning and laundry and could rustle up snacks after hours. Thus the cafeterias became like a clubhouse, as did the dorm lobbies.
Jon finally found enough work to please him, taking over the maintenance shops and stores. He became known as The Handyman, and a few students and workers became his assistants. He still had time to continue his woodworking projects (with a couple of new disciples), so the look in the area lost a lot of its institutional flavor. He found a couple of engineers who were already looking into alternate fuels and they were tasked immediately to find a way to fuel the generator without depending on outside gasoline.
Transportation around campus was automatically scooters, bicycles and horses.
Beth took over the center for administrative computing. There are always talented students around, and they turned these computers into a closed system. All computers on campus were disconnected from the World Wide Web for the time being, not to punish the users but to secure the campus. In Beth’s office, a Web server was set up and one computer was set up to the Internet, with three layers of firewalls. From here, they could keep in touch with Usenets at other campuses and research facilities. Discoveries and solutions to problems were shared among scientists without making them public, to prevent the government from intervening and weaponizing the discoveries. This meant limited funds, since the government used to be a great source for grants, but they had dried up a long time ago. All the rest of the computers, in classrooms, private rooms, computer labs, and private homes were connected by cat-5 (cheap but very workable) so that they could all access an intranet Beth’s crew set up. This enabled communication throughout the community as well as sharing of updates schedules and just about everything else. Whenever someone needed something which required linking to the outside world, a request was sent to Beth and handled from her computer. Software could be shared and traded through Beth’s department.
Wi-fi usage was discouraged. This meant phones, notepads and all other devices. Rather than ban their usage altogether, users were asked to agree to not share certain information, such as locality and any information about this new mini-society that was developing. Everyone getting involved with the campus was fully oriented on the information gathering going on around them and how it would hurt the users to expose what was happening there. Rather than text or call each other, people were encouraged to meet face to face. With a limited space, this was not a very challenging request, and the cafeterias soon became more like public houses, replete with music and lounging areas. One spot on the east end of the campus was dubbed The Pub; the one on the west end was named The Rathskeller. For at least six months of the year the windows were open and music poured out onto the lawns.
Daisy became the concierge, helping decide who lives and works where and finding people for needed positions. She set up a bulletin board in the cafeteria for news, and had a spot on the home page of the intranet. They tried not to turn anyone away, but each person had to be able to contribute something, which was easier than it might seem. The community needed barbers, hair stylists, dishwashers, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, dentists, doctors, nurses, everything that keeps a community going. They wanted to avoid monetary exchanges, so basically services were open to all. In turn, the servicing people were given housing and food. It was basically socialism until they could iron out methods of exchange. Daisy kept track of who came in, what their skills were, where they lived, and got them supplies they might need. A lot of professional people brought their own equipment and supplies.
Dorms were left as is. Other (classroom) buildings started converting over, one at a time, to “malls” for businesses and services. All of this was flexible, being handled as a situation occurs, with the knowledge that plans may change. People who had nearby homes could avail themselves of services, food and so on as long as they contributed to the community in one way or another.
One playing field with bleachers was maintained for casual sports, and the area around it was laid out for picnicking. Jon and his cohorts built a playscape for the little ones.
Other fields were converted to grazing land, one by one, for the animals. Pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, goats and horses were kept on campus. Horses were used for their strength (pulling wagons and plows) as well as transportation. Pigs were husbanded for meat. Sheep provided wool and meat. Goats and cows provided milk (and therefore cheese), and some cows were raised for beef. Chickens provided eggs and meat. Groves were started in one field, to grow fruit, nuts and olives. Some more tropical plants were raised in the greenhouses. Orchids made way for peaches. There was even a decent-sized herb garden for cooking and medicine.
There was no such thing as garbage pickup. “Trash” was delivered to a recycling area, to be separated as plastic, glass, paper and cardboard. All organic trash (food leavings, leaves, weeds, clippings, old flowers) were deposited at the compost center, where it was regularly turned over and made into mulch. Residents could then pick up mulch for their own gardens. Paper was in low supply, since there was little in processed food available. Mechanical engineers created a mill to reprocess paper. Glass bottles were recycled to bottle locally-made soda and sauces, so including bottle caps was encouraged. The same for glass jars. The gardens were producing plenty to be stored, and the kitchen people were enthusiastic about preserving any excess. Cardboard boxes were saved for packing food for pickup and other packing and storing needs. Cardboard that had been shredded was added to the paper mill.
Three windmills were built and located throughout the campus; this was sufficient to supply electricity to everyone with extra stored in batteries. Engineers also built solar panels which were placed on dorms and homes, supplying electricity to those buildings and filling up batteries. It was planned to eventually set up each building with its own solar power.
Water was still being supplied by the utility company, and that meant pooling (taxing) money from each resident, which wouldn’t work for long, as people lost their jobs. So a group of civil engineers went searching and found a stream which was fed by the nearby mountains. The water was tested and found pure, so they tapped the stream into the utility supply line. Waste water was still going through the utility’s sewer system. Plans were made to build a water treatment plant. Since groundwater and city water was no longer being used, it was assumed that the waste water would be easier to treat. Stream water is not treated with chlorine and not going through lead pipes, so there were fewer chemicals to deal with. Still, once treating their own water, regular water tests would continue, more frequently than they were with the stream water input.
Once the settlement was established, communications on the Usenets started flying about. Online shopping was shipped to depots, since there was no longer a postal service. But too much financial information passes along the Information Highway, so this was not available to residents. Instead, methods of resolving current situations in “the outer world” were traded.
None of this was viewed as a permanent solution, but rather as an evolution; as situations such as snow plowing all roads and driveways cropped up, people would find a methodology. Suggestions on the community bulletin boards were seriously evaluated and often adopted. The sense of community was high, and it became beneficial to have monthly ‘town hall meetings’ in the auditorium, open to all, to cover ideas, suggestions and changes. Rather than handling these meetings like a courtroom, they were information-sharing meetings, and when necessary, changes were adopted by a simple democratic majority vote of all who attended.
© 2016 Bonnie-Jean Rohner