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Authors: David Hagberg

Heartland

BOOK: Heartland
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This book is for my children;
Tammy, Kevin, Justin, Travis and Gina.
The world is not running out of food, contrary to popular belief. There are vast surpluses of grain in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and several other countries. The United States and the European Common Market don't know what to do with their mountains of dairy products. But surpluses are concentrated in only a handful of countries; most of the world must import at least part of its food from those few.
We are heading at breakneck speed toward a disaster on another front.
All of the world's commercial corn is of a series of hybrids. These varieties are used precisely because they are so successful: they grow fast, produce wonderful yields, and have resistances to most diseases bred into them. What cannot be prevented by genetic engineering is controlled by chemical pesticides. As long as each
variety is grown in the environment for which it was developed—particular soil, temperature, and moisture conditions—these hybrids are among the miracles of our time.
But hybrids cannot reproduce themselves, so farmers turn every year to the seedsmen who, in effect, control what varieties will be available to them.
If a new, virulent disease were to occur in one of the surplus-producing countries—and I've been led by agronomists to believe that such a possibility does exist —the results could be devastating. It's possible that most of the world's commercial output of that crop would fail. The consequences are hard to conceive.
Corn is not a major foodstuff to most of humanity. Its importance lies in its use as feed for animals. Our standard diet—beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, butter, cheese—relies on corn-fed animals. A catastrophic failure of our crop would surely result in the almost complete disappearance of these items from the dinner table. And could we live with the fare of starches and vegetables that would have to take their place?
My thanks, for the intriguing idea, to Tom Doherty and Harriet McDougal, who believed not only in me but in the basic human ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps; to Dan Morgan, who wrote the fascinating book
Merchants of Grain
(Viking Press, 1979); and to a number of grainmen in my home city of Duluth, Minnesota, who showed me the practical side of all this.
 
 
September 1982
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow.
—Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
 
 
Michael McCandless stuffed the last of the computer-enhanced photographs in his already bulging briefcase, snapped the catch, and walked out of his office on the third floor of the Central Intelligence Agency complex near Langley.
“Your car is ready, sir,” his secretary said.
“Right,” he mumbled, preoccupied as he passed her desk. He emerged into the corridor, took the elevator down to the subbasement, and was processed through the security post.
McCandless, a tall, thin man in his late forties, was deeply worried. But those who knew him would not have been surprised. He always seemed to be worried about something. This evening, however, his concern went deeper than usual, for reasons even he could not completely define.
Slipping his plastic identification card in the key slot at the door marked
TELEMETRY AND ANALYSIS,
he waited impatiently for the lock to cycle. When the door buzzed, he pushed it open and stepped inside.
The room was very large, and plunged three stories deeper beneath the building; equipment-filled balconies ringed what was called the pit on three sides. Dominating the far wall were two huge displays. One was an electronic map of the world over which were superimposed a dozen satellite tracks. The Agency's spy
satellites. The other was an identical map of the world, superimposed with the computer-enhanced photographic images of the earth as seen from the satellites whirling far overhead.
“Anything new?” McCandless asked, approaching the chief analyst's console.
Joseph DiRenzo, a young man with flowing mustaches and deep, penetrating eyes, turned in his chair. “Are you all set, then?”
“I have a few minutes yet. I thought I'd stop down to see if anything else has come up.”
DiRenzo glanced over at the maps. “SPEC-IV is just coming up on Novosibirsk,” he said. “You've got the entire package, along with our best estimates. I haven't seen anything to modify what we already know.”
McCandless set his briefcase down and pulled out his cigarettes, offering the other man one. DiRenzo declined. McCandless lit up and looked at the huge photographic display.
To the east of the central Soviet city of Novosibirsk, dawn had come to the land. To the west it was still night. As the satellite continued beaming its photographs down, widely separated pinpoint groupings of lights indicated cities still in darkness. But as the dawn came, the lights went out.
It was a strangely lonely, nearly empty view of the world. And McCandless caught himself thinking morosely that they had not come much further than cavemen. The world was still essentially uninhabited. Populations, for the most part, were centered around major rivers, along coasts, or within areas of natural resources. The oceans, and most of the land mass, were barren of people.
DiRenzo smiled. “If all of our problems were like this one, we wouldn't have much to worry about.” He glanced again at the maps. “I mean, it isn't as if they were building new missile bases, or moving troops. This isn't going to amount to anything more than a social and perhaps minor political problem.”
McCandless stubbed out his cigarette, his taste for smoking suddenly gone, and shook his head. DiRenzo was called the whiz kid around here, but he had no real understanding of geopolitics. None whatsoever.
He picked up his briefcase. “Anything comes up, you know where to reach me.”
“Sure thing,” DiRenzo said, and McCandless turned on his heel, left the pit, went up to the ground floor and signed out with the Marine guard at the front door, and went out into the early May evening.
As he was being driven into Washington, McCandless worried that the President would take the same offhanded view that DiRenzo had taken. He tried to marshal his arguments, fighting his underlying fear that he was missing something. Some vital element that would make certain sense of all this.
As an assistant DCI, he had had no problem in getting an early appointment with the President. General Lycoming, the director, was away, speaking before the California Bar Association, so there had been no one else to take this information to the top.
But now he was almost beginning to worry that he had overstepped his bounds. Paranoia, every Agency officer's constant companion. He sighed deeply, then lit another cigarette.
Lycoming would certainly hear about his appointment, but not until tomorrow, after the fact. The seed
would have been planted in the President's mind.
At the White House, the President's appointments secretary showed McCandless immediately into the office in the West Wing, where he greeted the President, opened his briefcase, and laid out the photographs and bulky report he had prepared.
“I'm not going to read this tonight, Michael. You'd better give me an overview of what you've come up with,” the President said. He was an old man, and although he normally looked years younger than his age, this evening he seemed wan, tired.
“In a nutshell, Mr. President, the Russians are preparing seemingly every square inch of their land for planting.”
“Planting?” The president looked up from the dozens of photographs.
“Yes, sir.”
“I don't mean to seem cavalier about this, but so what? Don't they do that every spring?”
“Not to this extent, Mr. President. What they are doing amounts to the most massive agrarian reform in the history of mankind.”
The President ran a hand across his forehead. He seemed vexed, and McCandless suddenly was very uncomfortable. “Give me the upshot.”
“The results could be devastating not only to our farmers, but to the entire world economy. If the weather holds, they'll have massive surpluses.”
The President sat back in his thickly padded leather chair. “If the weather holds. If they actually plant the acres you say they've prepared. If they can harvest such a massive crop. If they can distribute it.” He shook his head.
“I'm worried, Mr. President. We've had our troubles in the Middle East and now in Central and South America. Such surpluses could be a political bombshell.”
“I'm worried, too, Michael,” the President said, getting to his feet. “And I want to thank you for coming to me with this. I'll look it over in the next few days and get back to you. We'll probably get Curtis Lundgren in on it. Meanwhile, I want you to keep on top of things.”
“Yes, sir,” McCandless said, disappointed. He had tried.
When he was gone, the President's National Security adviser, Sidney Wellerman, came in.
“What was McCandless all het up about this time?”
“The Russians have given their farmers carte blanche, and he's worried about surpluses.”
Wellerman's right eyebrow rose as he slumped down in a chair across the desk from the President. He eyed the photographs and report. “Ship it over to Lundgren. He'll love it. Meanwhile, have you had a chance to look over the material I brought you this afternoon?”
The President nodded tiredly. “Do we get the rest of the Cabinet in on this?”
Wellerman shrugged. “Not yet, I don't think. But something big is happening, or is about to happen. Lycoming tells me that the Russians haven't had such a run on hard Western currencies since 1981, when they needed operational funds to hit Afghanistan.”
“Give me the bottom line, Sid.”
“No way of telling for sure, but the run'll be in the billions of dollars, unless I miss my guess.”
“What the hell do they need it for?”
“The sixty-four-dollar question, Mr. President.”
BOOK: Heartland
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