Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

The Valley of Shadows: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2018 19:10 EDT



    All banks, and for that matter major companies of every stripe, as well as government organizations the world over, prepare for a variety of possible crises of varying severity. Localized environmental events, regional wars, massive global inflation, multiregional wars between major nations–all of these will interrupt “normal” life for a time. Post 9/11, national regulatory agencies required market makers–major actors on the exchanges whose activity facilitated the daily movement of cash money throughout the economy–to have plans to cope with these “mundane” catastrophes. Even the recent Paris scenario or the “nuclear event in the Caribbean” that the PI team strongly suspected hadn’t been a hoax represented manageable events, for values of the word manageable.

    To comply with their “market maker” status, BotA and all its peers had the ability to shift trading activity between widely separated and redundant physical trading floors, complete with identical work stations, data feeds and trading turrets. These facilities were located at radii of increasing values from the “main facilities,” which always resided in very large cities: London, New York, Tokyo etc. During a truly major event that might cause trading to be temporarily suspended for a day or three, the banks could “pass the book” to other regional offices located on other continents, allowing trades actually in progress to be completed. The financial sector practiced these routine sorts of emergencies every year.

    However, a few entities, mostly nation states and very large multinationals, extended their planning further.

    How does one preserve civilization in the event of a smallish planetary comet strike? What if the Yellowstone supercaldera lets loose just enough to stop the next growing season? How do you cope with the use of several major EMPs detonated in near Earth orbit? These events wouldn’t merely perturb markets for a short while. Globally integrated economic activity could cease for an indefinite period. Without the ability to finance fuel, fertilizer, spare parts and transport, the system that fed, clothed and healed the world would degrade very rapidly and even perhaps shut down across entire regions.

    Thus, Plan Zeus.

    In the event that market activity was projected to be suspended for a significant period, and the reopening could not be accurately forecasted, BotA had a “Go To Hell” strategy. In a nutshell, it would rapidly exercise long-term options on certain properties and stocks of materials. It would dispatch personnel for long-term duty at hardened data centers in order to preserve an image of global financial activity and capital reserves, to the level of individual retail transactions, enabling a restart at some future point. Certain high-value private banking customers would be notified and offered personal options. In short, the bank would function as a parachute for such of its staff and customers that could either afford the cost, were senior enough to negotiate this as a perk or possessed an indispensable skill needed to execute the plan.

    Although Tom had actually enjoyed working through the minutia needed to fill out Plan Zeus, he knew that refreshing the basic concept for the decision makers would require carefully reviewing and then explaining the rationale for the project. Once he had called the meeting, most NYC staff filtered into the secure conference room. A larger number were Skyping from London, Singapore and Zurich.

    However, the agenda that he had envisioned for the Gold call hadn’t survived two minutes. First, the meeting had been relocated to a large, bright executive briefing room with a multibillion dollar view of Manhattan, blowing his careful information security plans out of the water. Second, the first objection appeared before Tom finished his basic brief.

    “I’m not saying that this is a paranoid distraction that we don’t need on a Friday, but chrissakes, Rich!”

    Herbert Elliott, the regional chair of the Americas wasn’t raising his voice, much. However, his whining tone grated on Smith’s nerves. Titularly junior to the CEO, Elliott controlled a region that punched above its weight in revenue and that bought him quite a lot of leeway.

    Bateman smiled as though he didn’t take any offense at the outburst. He kept his tone mild, which his staff knew was Step One on the way to getting angry. Bateman trusted Smith, but he needed to get a sense for how his Board and Operating Committee were going to react.

    “Herb, maybe you could unpack that a little more helpfully.” The CEO replied smoothly. “Fill in the blanks.”

    Elliott moderated his tone a little and readdressed Smith. His angry squint didn’t change, however.

    “Rich, Tom, look–I understand. No, let me finish!” Elliott said, raising one hand though Tom hadn’t made any move to interrupt. “I understand that we need to accept the possible financial and morale costs of distributing our expensive antivirals on a global basis, even in places where we aren’t supposed to have them–and that is going to raise hell in Mexico City, I can tell you. I can even accept that we start with social distancing and send half of our non-business-critical staff to work from home.”

    Herb warmed up, sounding more confident.

    “I can even understand that we need open the recovery sites in case we elect to send staff there.” The tubby executive gestured magnanimously. “I’ll stretch as far as a sign off on the approval for the charge strings for this unbudgeted exercise, just in case there is something to it. What I can’t wrap my head around is that Tom wants to activate this insane, paranoid plan to exercise options for the haven sites at a cost of…” he consulted the briefing slides in front of him “…a hundred forty-five million dollars. Christ, that is our entire profit margin for the first quarter! And that’s just for the Americas region.”

    Tom carefully watched all the players without being obvious. Bateman kept his peace as well, but glanced at Smith. Clearly, he was reserving his personal capital and allowing some in the group to let off steam before he weighed in. Besides, Tom suspected that he enjoyed watching the gladiatorial style politics play out among the sharks on his staff.

    That’s how you bred better sharks, after all.

    Rolling his shoulders to relieve the tension, Tom abused his suit jacket seams and answered.

    “Herb, first, thank you, sincerely, for supporting the initial steps.” Tom’s polite smile was precise. “To your question though–this will rapidly become a ‘use-it-or-lose it’ proposition. If we don’t exercise the options soon, and by that I mean before the information that we have becomes public knowledge, the cost will jump substantially. If the assets remain available at all. We’re on the cusp of the weekend and rumors are going to have three days to build fear and uncertainty.”

    “Tom, pardon me, but that is bullshit speculation,” Elliott retorted angrily. “How many people died in the avian flu? Under a hundred? How much business disruption did we see from swine flu? Barely any. Why do we need to stampede to an expensive decision now?”

    “Herb, if I may?” Another voice cut in.

    Bradley Depine III, another managing director and the senior acquisitions officer for the Americas happened to be visiting from his L.A. office.

    “I want to congratulate Tom on being on top of this situation,” Depine said, his blotchy jowls jiggling as he spoke up. “The first new reports are only now becoming public–so we beat the news cycle again. We took a position on some pharma indexes which look to pay off nicely. Well done to the Security and Emergency Response Team.”

    He paused before he slipped the knife in. It never hurt to keep the regional chairs sweet–you never knew when you would need a favor and he knew Herb would remember this one.

    “However, I agree with Herb that we have the entire weekend ahead to monitor the situation and gather more information.”

    He affected a neutral pause before continuing unctuously.

    “Tom, this seems like an overreaction. How do we know that this situation is so different from what we have seen and weathered before?”

    Tom stayed cool. He knew that he was being played. What he wanted to do was roll his stapled brief into a rigid cylinder and then shove it down the visitor’s wobbly throat, where it could cohabitate with the Delmonico’s twenty-ounce sirloin and the half bottle of claret that Depine had likely inhaled during lunch. But, politics aside, these were smart people after all–he just needed to explain carefully.

    “I have to drop in to lecture mode for a bit–sorry.”

    Tom drank some water and composed his reply.

    “I was running security and risk operations during both outbreaks,” Tom said. “So let me address the comparisons to the avian flu from 2003 and the swine flu in 2009. Yes, it’s true that only about sixty people died in 2003 from H5N1–and actually about six hundred more since then. What made, hell, still makes H5N1 so scary is that it has a sixty percent mortality rate–but it isn’t terribly communicable as these diseases go. That’s a bit of luck. Swine flu, or H1N1, was much more communicable and therefor widespread but it had a very low mortality rate. Estimates are that more than a billion people have developed a strain of H1N1, and that it killed as many as two hundred thousand people over the course of fix or six years–but the geological and chronological distribution of deaths, as well as the booming global birth rate, made them nearly a global nonevent.”

    Blank stares.

    “One was deadly, but hard to catch,” Tom said, standing to make his point. His heels sank into the soft carpet so he braced himself by leaning upon the smooth, polished tabletop. “The other sort was really easy to catch, but it was merely a bad head cold for most of the afflicted. One or the other isn’t too bad. As of the start of this meeting, I’ve had about two and half hours to gather as much information on this disease as I can. What I know is that it’s damn scary. It looks like a flu at first–and simple flu is something that we know how to deal with. However, this seems to be different in a few critical ways: it appears to have a broad distribution, like swine flu.”

    Smith paused, and glanced around the room, reading his audience. There was a surfeit of skepticism, anxiousness and a bit of hostility. What he didn’t feel was a receptive vibe that might make it worth it to introduce a discussion of zombielike symptoms.

    “It also appears to have a very high mortality rate, like avian flu.” On the fly, he elected omit the Z-word and resumed. “It may be a two part disease where extreme symptoms occur later. Finally, the timing on the simultaneous emergence of a previously unknown pathogen with a high mortality rate in several places is strongly suggestive of an artificial event. In my opinion, and that of our intelligence staff, the likelihood that this disease arose purely due to natural causes is precisely zero.”



    There was a brief pause as the audience looked at him and one another.

    Bateman spoke up.

    “Tom, are you saying this is a man-made disease?”

    Smith looked his boss in the eye, and then scanned the room.

    “Rich, I’ve exercised our options for the services of a few epidemiologists and virologists, and the first is due in the office soon.” The tall security chief replied, his voice confident. “I’ll be speaking to him shortly. I expect to be able to answer your question more definitively then. However, at this time, with the information and analysis we have right now, what I’m saying is that this very strongly appears to be an artificial event. A bio-attack by a previously unknown pathogen which has been spread worldwide.”

    He took another deep breath because he could already sense that he wasn’t reaching this audience, and that made him angry.

    “But that doesn’t matter. As we have seen before, there are three predictors for success for organizations that weather or even thrive during a crisis. One–have a plan. Two–access to intelligence. Three–move first. We’ve already expended capital to complete the first two. What we’re discussing now is whether or not we want to invest in the final step.”

    “It’s a pretty expensive final step that you’re proposing, Tom,” Depine said. “As you say, we don’t have complete information yet, and the government isn’t saying anything. There’s barely any mention online or in the news.”

    “Look Brad–here’s the bottom line,” Tom replied. “Ensuring that we’re the first mover is Plan Zeus. Access to assets will rely upon exercising the options early in the news cycle. We can get them now, if we work fast and spend the weekend closing deals. I can’t guarantee that we can get them next week. If we wait till we have one hundred percent confirmation, we won’t get these assets at all and we’ll need another plan.”

    Bateman cut the exchange short, shooting a quelling look at fat accountant and his tall head of security.

    “Thanks, Tom.”

    Surveying the room in turn, Bateman addressed the entire group.

    “We’ve both a quorum of the Operating Committee and most of the executive board in the room or on the call. Can I get sense of how many in either group feel that they have enough information to exercise Plan Zeus options now?”

    Tom looked around as well. There were a few hands up, but nothing like a majority, despite a few affirmative comments on the phone speaker.

    “Thank you,” Bateman said. He turned to his right and addressed the Chief Risk Officer, a Swiss national and former armor officer known for his calculating nature and casual association with morals.

    “Otto, I’d like your global team, including Tom, to warm up alternate trading floors in all regions and stress test all the data pipes within the next day. Overtime for contractors is authorized.”

    He looked at the VTC camera and continued.

    “Right–two things: internal and external,” Bateman said. “Internally, everyone prep their teams to work the weekend. Monday, I’m directing that we establish readiness to move fifty percent of our trading operations to the alternate sites on one hour notice. That means bringing luggage to work and it means we’ll need to have thousands of hotel beds for an indefinite period. On Monday, we’ll also brief the possibility of social distancing rules for all staff. Purell stations on every floor of our towers and refresh all employees in your divisions on the ‘work-from-home’ protocols. Externally, I want Global Markets to recheck their existing workup on industries potentially affected by a pandemic so we’ll be ready to adjust our market position at start of business Monday. I also want the heavy industrials, metals and cereals teams reading what Markets and the business intel team put out on an ongoing basis.”

    He looked directly at Tom.

    “Tom, excellent brief. Tell your team that they did good work. Please keep all us updated and call me personally if there are critical developments. We can reconvene if there is new solid data, so everyone keep your phones with you and your admins aware of your location. Meeting adjourned.”



    Dr. Dave Curry was normally unflappable when it came to disease. He particularly enjoyed competing with his equally bloody-minded fellow virologists. There was a rotating award held by the scientist who could think up the most unlikely and fatal disease with the most ridiculous imaginary symptoms while still remaining epidemiologically possible. His personal favorite was the hunchbacked duck plague that would compel sufferers to crouch-walk everywhere while honking and quacking before dying of stroke. After showing that it lay within the realm of medical possibility, Curry had been the proud holder of the award, a gray plush neuron doll.

    No one even tried to joke about a straight-up zombie plague. It was just too cliché to be competitive.

    The chartered G6 that picked him up from Mexico City had in-flight Internet, so he was able to stay hooked into the exploding dialogue among the global community of scientists. They had woken up this Friday to the ultimate cliché.

    Zombie plague it was.

    One of the nice things about his consulting contract with BotA was that they respected his ability enough not to screw around with commercial travel. As a result, instead of fighting the traffic at Kennedy, the G6 greased the runway at the northern New Jersey Fixed Base of Operations, or FBO, where billionaires made their entry and exits from Manhattan.

    The black Mercedes that collected him from the FBO also had Internet.

    The information stream kept worsening.

    Twenty-five minutes later the car pulled through the chicanes and antivehicle barriers into the BotA lot under the Wall Street tower. He still hadn’t found any good news to share.

    Whisked upstairs in a private elevator car, he was asked to leave his electronics behind and was offered a wall locker for his mobile phone and notebook PC. Finished, he found some very intent people waiting in a conference room equipped with anechoic tiles on the walls and a peculiarly thick door. Smith, and a few others he recognized from a previous investigation on a biotech startup, rose from their chairs.

    Tom Smith shook Curry’s hand.

    “Dr. Curry, thank you for coming so rapidly.”

    “Well, you do ask the most interesting questions,” drawled Curry. “This one is a doozy.” He looked around.

    “Nice room.”

    “This get together, all subsequent meetings and any data that we generate is being held very closely at this time,” Tom said, smiling faintly. “So, I’m taking advantage of one of our ‘deal’ rooms. Harder to snoop and fewer distractions. You’re the first of our experts to make it here, so let me introduce you to the team.”

    After the usual impossible to memorize exchange of names around the room, Tom led off. Though they had already spoken a few times, Smith started at the beginning, mostly for the benefit of his staff in the room who were hearing information for the first time.

    “Dr. Curry, you know that we’re monitoring the emergence of a potentially new pathogen that appears to have manifested on three continents within a single day. We’re seeing conflicting reports in some places. What can you tell us?”

    “Right off, let me apologize for mah accent.” Curry had anticipated the easy questions. “Grew up in the South, and it’s never rubbed off. But, to your statement, this disease isn’t on three continents. Between Wednesday morning, when some of the international labs upgraded their level of concern for what appeared to be a nasty, but still manageable seasonal flu, and this moment, I have read credible reports that there are cases with congruent symptoms on every continent save Antarctica.”

    Murmurs spread around the room.

    “We have been aware of the unusual symptom pattern for about a week,” Curry continued. “Nationally, UCLA had led the way in gathering preliminary information, largely due to their information hooks into Asia and Oceania. However, the amount of educated guesswork is still pretty high. The disease appears to have at least two stages, the first of which includes traditional, and in some cases lethal flu symptoms, and a second set, which are erratic and very confusing but so far, not directly lethal to the actual infected persons.”

    Everyone was taking notes and several members of the audience were quietly exchanging asides.

    “Next, and please note that the following figures involve a lot of speculation and extrapolation from scarce data, but it seems that about five percent of the cases result in death during the early stages of the disease.” The virologist held up one finger. “As you no doubt recognize, that’s a high mortality rate, but I need to emphasize that this is based on a relatively small case count, which can badly skew analysis. My immediate circle of professional contacts, as well as nearly every other specialist in the field, are working to refine the numbers.”

    Smith hushed the buzzing in the room.

    “Dr. Curry, can you explain you statement regarding ‘erratic and confusing but not lethal’ symptoms? Do you mean that the patients are uncooperative?”

    “That would be an understatement,” Curry replied. “Where we can document symptoms, now that there are a few videos available, the second stage features a completely dissociative, violent sociopathy, rendering patients untreatable and unmanageable unless they are completely immobilized. This occurs in at least half the suspected cases.”

    Tom looked over at Paul and raised his eyebrows.

    “…severe anhedonia, aggression and instantaneous aphasia,” Paul said aloud.

    “Well yes, exactly,” Curry said, appearing startled at Paul’s ready grasp of the lingo. “But remember, the law of small numbers applies. A few cases can appear to dramatically change the curve. These statistics are very, very preliminary.”

    Tom grimaced.

    “What can you tell us about communicability?” he asked.

    “The disease appears to be highly communicable,” replied the academic. “We don’t know with certainty, but there are several cases where all forms of transmission appear to be ruled out except for airborne spread. We are confident that the disease is droplet borne and transmissible via bites.”

    This time Paul spoke over the chatter around the table.

    “Doctor, when you say ‘transmissible via bites’ are you referring to family pets and the like?”

    “No. I mean transmissible via bites from people.” Curry looked over the top of his glasses at the intel specialist. “As in, if a symptomatic victim bites a nurse, then that nurse may develop symptoms within hours, which as far as we can tell is much faster than other vectors. In known bite cases, the second set of symptoms took anywhere from hours to days to manifest, but it skipped the flu component entirely.”

    A voice from down the table said it for everyone.

    “Like zombie bites? Are we talking about fucking zombies?”

    Curry winced, then nudged his glasses upwards so that he could rub the bridge of his nose.

    “Yes. Ah mean just like ‘fucking zombies.'”

    This time it took Smith longer to quell the hubbub.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image