The United States had slumped into a prolonged recession during the first three decades of the twenty-first century, and different terrorist groups took advantage of the nation’s preoccupation with its economic woes, relentlessly attacking stadiums, shopping malls, airports, and high-rise office buildings. In desperation, the president ordered the creation of the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense in 2019. The OCSD immediately implemented a quadrant marshal system to increase security, and the nation was re-platted into a grid of two-square mile quadrants, with marshals assigned to do everything possible to safeguard homes and citizens from small, localized attacks. Often this included monitoring the activities of the people they were there to protect. But it was a small price to pay for everyone’s safety.
Everyone was strongly encouraged to work at home and shop online, and soon most shopping malls and office buildings stood vacant. When the OCSD restricted air travel for pleasure, people accessed the larger world solely by watching the government-controlled PeopleCam, SportsCam, and VacationCam networks on television.
The changes seemed to work for a while, so when the attacks began again, the OCSD countered with more safety-enhancing Civilian Restrictions.
In 2021, the OCSD foiled a plot to blow up bridges in ten different cities simultaneously. Because the bombs were made of ordinary items purchased at hardware stores, the OCSD recommended that cash be abolished and all purchases be made with government-issued debit cards so the OCSD would be able to monitor and track anyone who bought items that could be made into something dangerous.
A deadly airborne virus, released at one hundred supermarkets in 2024, prompted the OCSD to recommend the creation of the Essential Services Department to make weekly home food deliveries so no one would have to risk his or her life shopping for groceries. Though the plan faced some opposition from the public, Congress passed the necessary laws without hesitation, and all grocery stores became off-limits to the public. The Essential Services Department’s nutritionists planned menus and determined how much each family needed to eat. Logistical engineers organized a weekly delivery schedule, and the Payables Department automatically deducted the cost of food from everyone’s government-issued debit accounts. The program turned out to be more costly than anticipated, and those who couldn’t afford to spend additional money on food ate only what was delivered to their homes. Before long, a great many restaurants were out of business.
A rash of car bombings in 2027 led the OCSD to outlaw personal vehicles, except for government employees and a select group of wealthy and powerful civilians in the private sector. It was too risky to allow ordinary citizens access to such large potential weapons. Just two years before, the OCSD decreed that, since large public gatherings attracted terrorist activity, concerts and sporting events should be closed to live audiences.
But even with the all the safety measures in place, random attacks were still commonplace, especially in the urban quadrants. Stress and worry eroded the people’s will, and they lived in constant fear. Parents forgot to teach their children to be brave.
In October 2034, OCSD director Dr. Lowell Stratford advised the president and Congress of a plot to use chemical weapons in a widespread attack against the entire nation. Stratford promised the president that the OCSD’s elite team of scientists wouldn’t rest until they’d developed an antidote—and they would do it before the terrorists could put the finishing touches on their deadly chemical weapon cocktail.
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