Sunday, June 12, 2011

Indivisible Chapter 5

Finally rescued from the swirling filth of the Chinese megalopolis by a driver from the U.S. embassy, Mae spent two more days at the compound trying to stay out of the way of the manic shredding and frenzied packing.  The morning of the third day she was hustled onto a helicopter, fall-of-Saigon-style, and choppered to the airport along with a number of diplomats laden with trunks of documents.  They loaded everything onto a 747 and whisked them away into the Pacific night.
The jumbo made one stop at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage where they sat on the tarmac for four more hours.  A Greyhound bus pulled alongside the plane and another dozen treasury officials and diplomats, who had flown in from other Asian financial capitals, were herded onto the 747.  Several hundred trunks were offloaded there by forklift and reloaded into a semi-trailer bearing a logo for corn chips.
At nine AM they were wheels up, landing at Denver International Airport in five hours. A fleet of black, tinted, GM SUVs pulled up to the passengers who were assembled on the tarmac under a cloudless blue sky.  One security agent dressed in a black suit grabbed Mae’s elbow and walked her into one vehicle.  Her boss ‘T’ was waiting inside.
“Mae!  We’re so glad you made it back in one piece!”
“Yes.  It’s good to be back in America,” she replied wearily.  “Why’s you send me there?  It was a complete waste of time.”
‘T’ stammered for a moment.  “We thought that… perhaps…well…that perhaps your gender would engender some open-mindedness on their part.”
“Well, they weren’t having any of it.  Why didn’t you tell me that before you sent me?” she asked, expressing her irritation with her furrowed brow.
“Uh…let’s just say we wanted you to be…how should I say this…as authentic as possible.  Do you follow?”
“It was absolutely terrible, T.  Don’t ever do that to me again.  They sent out these two Chinese Elvi…”
Her boss chuckled.
“..I fail to see the humor of it.  They were rude and insulting…a couple of middle management douches to boot.  I couldn’t believe it when they said they were authorized by Tsang.  Then they dumped me out in the middle of some Shanghai ghetto.  I was absolutely terrified.  I could have been raped or something…”
“Let’s not get carried away, Mae,” T interrupted.  “We sincerely apologize for everything that happened.  We had no idea they would do that.  They are behaving very, very undiplomatic at the moment.  All the channels are shutting down since we RIFed the embassy.  We barely got our documents out of there.”
“Why’d they even bother to meet us?”
“Tsang sounded amenable so we expected a good faith negotiation.  But in the final estimation, I think all they really wanted to do was to insult America…you know, give us the finger.  I’m so sorry it came down on you.”
“So what happens now?”
T pondered as their SUV roared across the white, blazing sea of concrete and into a shaded parking garage that ramped downward, underground, away from the blue and into the shadows of the catacomb-like facility.  T didn’t answer her until the SUV stopped at a checkpoint.
“Things are very shaky right now, Mae.  I mean we are really on the razor’s edge.  The problem isn’t China so much—we know what they’ve been doing with their recent liquidations.  The real issue is Japan.  They’ll be out of cash in a matter of weeks.  We don’t know if they’ll default on their debt or start selling off assets.  If they start selling assets they’ll start with U.S. Treasuries.  With China selling too, we’ll have to make sure they don’t whore up the market too fast.”
“What’s ‘too fast’?” Mae asked.
“We’re hoping for…well…we’ve been calling for an ‘orderly crash’.  We need to slow things down so our banker partners can get out. If the banks get caught hanging in too long then it could be a real wild ride.  We’re talking the mother of all bank runs.  Money markets’ll break the buck.  Mutual funds will dissolve.  Pensions, government payrolls, AR factoring, inventories, everything is at risk if the panic infection spreads.  The Fed’ll have to take over the entire banking sector and guarantee everything…monetize everything.  It’ll be a big, big mess.”
“So are we talking months?  Weeks?”
T shook his head.  Mae knew that to mean days.
“It’ll still be a sell-off of unprecedented magnitude.”

The guard raised his arm and the SUV passed out of the ambient natural light and fully into the deeper dungeons of the complex.
“The Fed can slow it down by using the Wall Street operatives to buy up whatever the Japanese and Chinese sell with keystroke cash.  But the huge volumes will trigger manual overrides at some point.  With living, breathing animal spirits at the controls, it becomes a confidence game.”
“So are the insiders moving into cash?”
“I’m afraid, no.  They know once it goes, it’ll take the dollar down with it.”
“How far down?”
“We’re looking at a fifty to sixty percent devaluation over a few days…maybe two weeks.  It’ll be a full scale currency collapse, Mae.”
“What about the stock market?”
T shook his head again.  “When the bonds go, we expect limit down three straight days.  We’ll shut it down at that point…call a ‘Market Holiday’.”
“What are the sheeple gonna do, T?”
“Yeah, they’re probably gonna be pretty pissed off when their 401ks dissolve and their debit cards stop working.  The Cabinet’s got two ideas.  First, nationalize the retirement accounts and guarantee returns.  That’ll soften the blow a little.  We’ll use the funds in those retirement accounts to soak up all the new Treasuries out there.”
“And two…?”
“It’s gonna be a wild ride.  Did I say that already?  How should I describe option two?  Hmmm.  Let’s just call it ‘law and order maintenance’.”
“Martial Law?”
“The President just started his rapid redeployment.  He’s recalling troops.  4th Infantry actually arrives tomorrow.  He’s not gonna let a civil war happen on his watch.  Can you imagine a legacy like that?”
“I don’t suppose I’ll be allowed to get my money out?” Mae asked.
“I’m afraid not, Mae.  That would create a paper trail so it’s too risky to let government insiders sell right now.  We can’t risk any integrity.  But don’t worry, you’ll be made whole, inflation adjusted of course”
The black SUV parked.  The driver whispered something into his collar.  Then the door locks clicked open.  The chamber was poorly lit in an orangish glow.  Mae sensed a faint electrical buzzing vaguely emanating from all directions.  It was otherwise silent except for the ticking noise made by the SUV’s cooling exhaust.  An over-sized steel door, colored brightly red thus setting it apart from the dimly lit corridors, stood before them like a Clarkesian monolith.
Tick.  Tick.  Tick.
A mechanical noise emerged from the low buzz like a massive, lumbering, engagement of industrial iron gears.  It rolled and rumbled beneath them.
The buzzing sustained.
The ticking subsided.
The mechanical noise rolled away beneath them.
Another sound emerged, a low, oscillating noise.
The red door stood before Mae, framed by the windshield of the black SUV, obstructed by the silhouette of the driver’s motionless head.
“So what happens now?” Mae asked her boss whose silence was fueling her growing sense of dread.
“The President wants us to stay away from Washington for now,” he answered.  “We’ve set up operations here.  there’s not a lot for you to do right now but we’ve made arrangements for you to stay here as well.”
“In Denver?”
“Actually, right here at the airport.  Right through that door.  The setup is quite cozy.”
Mae felt uneasy.  This was the first time she didn’t feel comfortable with T.  The thought of holing up in a security complex in the bowels of an airport made her queasy.  She had a bizarre urge to dart out of the truck and sprint up the ramp to the surface…into the powder blue.  She would, of course, never indulge such an insane, unprofessional compulsion.
“Would you mind if I stayed downtown, perhaps the Brown Palace?”
T seemed disappointed.  “Not downtown, Mae.  We can make arrangements at a hotel nearby for a few days, I suppose.  Then you’ll either need to come in here or make your own arrangements.  We cannot guarantee you safety if you do, however.”
“My safety?  What do you mean?”
“We have not ruled out all melt-down possibilities.”
“What do you mean?”
“The President is quite confident we can maintain order but there is risk.”
“How much risk?”
“They’re estimating a one in six chance.”
“Of what?”
“Of total institutional collapse…government, police, fire, hospitals, you know.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“Like I said, only a one in six.  The President is committed to take any action necessary to maintain law and order.  Nothing is off the table.  Remember, his legacy is at stake.”
“So you suggest I stay here?”
“I wouldn’t play Russian Roulette myself, so yes.  At least until things settle down.”
Mae gazed again at the red door.  The silhouette of the driver’s head leaned forward as he whispered something inaudible into his collar.
The keypad on the door flickered.
The grinding gear noise rolled beneath them again.
The oscillating sound grew louder.
The shadows had crept in around their SUV.  The lights had been gradually dimming.  Mae’s queasiness grew.  Then she had an idea.
“No.  I don’t want to stay here, T.  Can you drive me to one of those nearby hotels for now?  I think I might have a safe place to go but I have to make some arrangements.”

Chapter 4        Chapter 6 and 7 will be available next weekend

Indivisible can be purchased here from Amazon: