“How did you and Mr. Black meet?” Madison asked when they were back underway to Omaha.
“Tinder,” Judy said. Madison turned and stared in shock, and then Judy laughed. “I had you going there. Tinder is that dating app, right?”
Madison laughed. “Oh my God. Yes. You got it right. You’re kind of funny, you know that?”
“I try,” she said. “Richard and I met at a fundraiser. Except it was all a setup. He learned about my background and skills and had arranged for me to be invited. I don’t normally go to D.C. fundraisers. Those are for the rich and powerful.”
“What background and skills?” Madison asked.
“I used to work for the agency,” Judy said.
“The EPA?” Madison asked.
Judy laughed. “No, dear. The agency. Central intelligence?”
“Ooh! Sorry. I should have known that. So you were a spy?”
“I suppose at various points in my career you could call what I did spying. If by that you mean going into a country and sending reports from the ground into the State Department. In a lot of these countries, they don’t have a free press like we have here, so it can be a little hard to know what’s going on without having your own people on the street checking in.”
“So you were kind of like me—a reporter,” Madison said.
“In a way, I was. I would hear things, look into them, follow leads. So yes, I suppose your job and mine have a lot of similarities. Perhaps you should consider a career in the agency once this is all over,” Judy suggested.
“How’s the pay?”
Judy laughed. “Terrible.”
“Being a reporter has terrible pay, too,” Madison said. “I’m never going to be able to pay off my student loans.”
“Oh, I don’t expect there will be any such thing when this is over.”
“No student loans?” Madison asked.
“Probably not. To have loans, you need a credit system. But that’s going away along with everything else. No, I think the government is going to have to bootstrap higher education. I think we’ll see temporary nationalization of lots of industries.”
“You think America will adopt Socialism?” Madison asked.
“Not for good. But for a while, I don’t see how the country will have any choice. It’s pretty standard when the country is on a wartime footing. During the second world war, the US government nationalized all sorts of industries. Coal mining, trucking, you name it.”
“I didn’t know that,” Madison said. “They didn’t teach that in history. Funny how they leave things out that don’t fit the narrative… So you think we’ll be on a wartime footing for a while?”
“Absolutely,” Judy said. “The change is going to be so sudden and so comprehensive, people are going to need the government to step in and show them the way back to a new normal. And the military is going to be the only outfit with working infrastructure.”
“The military will survive HEMP?” Madison asked.
“Absolutely. Milspec hardware is fully shielded to protect from the effects of EMPs. They’ve been more worried about tactical nukes than high-altitude. But shielding has been a key element of military design since the 60s.”
“That’s a relief, I guess. I worry about the government having too much power, though,” Madison said.
“I don’t. Our government, including our military, are run by good people. I’m not talking about politicians. I’m talking about people like Richard who made their career in public service. They just want to do good. They will step up and handle things. I’m quite sure it will all be fine. And it’s temporary.”
“Turning the earth off and back on, to see if that solves the problem,” Madison said.
Judy laughed. “That’s a perfect explanation.”
“Does the government know what you are doing?”
“For the most part, no. But we do have friends throughout the government. Most of the people operating the cells are retired government employees, so they still have connections. But obviously, we’ve needed to keep the details close to the vest. Mostly people believe the cover story Richard gave you.”
“Which one? That you are preparing for an environmental disaster?” Madison asked.
“Right. And, in a way, that’s true. A cover story that is the truth with just a few pieces missing is the best kind. If you look at what the cells are actually doing, it perfectly fits.”
Madison watched the road for a while. “This is all so crazy. I can’t even decide whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. The more I talk to you about it, the more I believe you have thought this through, and you are doing what’s best for the planet. Aside from the environmental stuff, it can fix so much of what my generation sees wrong in the world. Income inequality, indentured servitude to consumer debt, privatized health care and education. All those things we hate. They just go away.”
“They do. They’ll come back, though. Greed is a powerful motivator,” Judy said. “They’ll come back unless your generation can stop them from coming back.”
“Do you think we can?” Madison asked.
“I thought we were going to change the world when I was growing up,” Judy replied. “But we didn’t. We just became our parents. So I don’t know. I hope so. But I don’t know.”