Yael Dragwyla and Richard Ransdell email: polaris93@aol.


First North American rights 6,000 words

The Eris War
Volume 1: The Dragon and the Crown
by Admiral Chaim G. Resh, USN detached

Book 2: This Devastated Land
Part 1: Deep Impact
Chapter 7: Pale Horse
When the ambulance – actually a tractor to which a hardy little trailer hastily rigged with interior insulation to keep heat in had been coupled – finally arrived at the Villemur’s, about noon the next day, Chloe was already gone. The proximate cause of her death had been what would eventually be named 30 Minutes to Hell – essentially, her lower abdomen had exploded as a result of a vast, almost unbelievably rapid build-up of gas in her colon, after hours of increasingly painful inflammation in her intestines. She died in agony, screaming, raving, clawing the air during the last, hellish 30 minutes of her life. Later, the pathology lab at the local hospital would determine that there were at least five and perhaps as many as ten or eleven unknown pathogens in her system at the time of her death. For all anyone knew, any of those pathogens might have killed her. They couldn’t determine which was the one responsible for the inflammation and gas build-up of gas in her intestines that ultimately killed her, nor whether any of the others might have contributed to her death – there just wasn’t enough data at this time to make such a determination. Martin, on the other hand, who had awakened at about 6 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep, had gone completely blind. He also had what seemed to be a killer migraine. Adelle felt fairly well, but was beginning to feel “all nervy and prickly,” and told Janet, sighing ruefully, that she must be getting lazy in her old age, because she wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep for another six hours. Janet, too, still felt relatively good – she would, in fact, be the last in Eltonville to die – but it nevertheless took her quite a while to come fully awake, and in the meantime she staggered around the house, trying to attend to whatever had to be done, almost as if she were half-drunk. None of the three of them felt really well, and

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all of them were more than happy to take advantage of the Eltonville hospital’s invitation to stay there for the duration. After loading Tom’s ham rig into the trailer along with several changes of clothing and plenty of food and other supplies for the two of them, then locking up the house, Janet and Adelle climbed into the trailer as well, riding to the hospital in the front of the trailer, next to the stretcher on which Martin lay (Chloe’s poor, shattered body had been body-bagged and stowed in a large storage-box that was then strapped down tight at one side of the trailer, in the back).. When they arrived at the hospital, Chloe’s body was rushed to the Pathology room by two men dressed in the “Moon suits” the hospital had purchased to fulfill requirements imposed on it by FEMA. The two men were members of the National Guard who had been detailed to the hospital by their superiors for the duration of the emergency on the first day of the War. Now that the government was effectively gone, the two Guardsmen were staying on simply because they really had no place else to go, had the skills and training to be of real use here, and would have medical help and care at once should they themselves come down with something, as so many others in town already had. Two other nurses wheeled Martin, tossing and turning feverishly on his stretcher, into an isolation ward. These two weren’t wearing protective suits like those which the ones who had taken charge of Chloe’s body had because there weren’t any spares. Those two environment suits were the only ones the hospital had. Janet wondered just what good having two at a time wear the suits would do. From remarks made by the National Guardsmen, the suits would be traded around among the people working at the hospital, and most of the time all of them would be completely exposed to whatever pathogens were in the vicinity. And wearing a Moon suit that had already been occupied by one or more people any of whom might already have been exposed to the new pathogens, whatever they were, or could already be coming down with something seemed more than a little counterproductive. When Janet asked a friend, a nurse who had come to take her and Adelle to rooms where they would be staying for the duration, why the hell anyone was bothering to use the suits at all, her friend muttered, “Bureaucracy!” Then she clarified. Shaking her head in disgust, she said, “Regulations. Somebody high up here thinks it’ll all get back to normal soon, and wants to make sure that FEMA’s happy with us when it does. Personally, I think whoever it is happens to be stark, staring batshit, but nobody listens to me. – Come on, Jan, Adelle, let’s go find you a room,” she said, once more shaking her head, disgusted, as she drew them both by the hand down the hall that had the rooms for patients who weren’t critically ill. The plagues that had been loosed by the savage, surging tsunamis that had followed the Impact, then lifted up into and over the mountains by the turbulent winds riding the crests of those tsunamis, had now struck everyone who had been in the Villemur’s house on what was rapidly coming to be called Day 1 of the War. In addition, most of the permanent residents of Eltonville were ill themselves, showing a vast variety of symptoms of varying intensities. Many of these had only minor symptoms, such as sore throats, low-grade fevers, achy joints, that sort of thing, but some were already in what, it would soon become clear, the terminal or near-terminal stages of lethal diseases, nearly all of them unknown and the rest dreaded killers the mere mention of which had panicked countless generations before them, such as bubonic plague. Now, July 18, as of 3 a.m. Eastern Time or so, the War was over, but few yet knew that. In panic, irrationally terrified that Eltonville would be the next place to be nuked, many townsmen, even many of those who were ill, had already fled west, south, and north to doubtful or imagined places of refuge. The rest, about two-thirds of the town’s resident population, would stay – they had no choice, for they were all rapidly becoming too sick to travel, or even consider it as an option. Janet Parker, now sharing a room with Tom Villemur in order both to conserve bed-space in the tiny hospital, which was already overwhelmed with patients and could take no more, and to help nurse her ailing fiancé, even given what she knew about the horrifying epidemics now stalking her state, had trouble believing how quickly the green hands of pestilence had seized on her town, her own people. It was like something out of a textbook on the history of the Middle Ages. People were already beginning to die of those horrific new diseases –in just over 48 hours since the rogue asteroid had impacted the offshore waters of the Maine coast, Chloe Hamilton had succumbed to something heretofore utterly unknown, terrifying and unspeakable in its effects, and others were rapidly following on her heels into Death’s nighted shadowlands. What were these unknown new diseases that they could act so fast, so lethally, so cruelly? As she received more and more reports from ham operators all over New England and the South about emerging new plagues – reports she dared share only with a few of the resident hospital staff here, for fear of generating even more and worse panic than

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there had already been in town – despair began to settle over her like a hot leaden cloak. She still felt fine, herself – would she, like Ishmael in Melville’s Moby-Dick, finally be left, bereft of parents, lover, neighbors, everyone she had known and cared for all her life, alone escaped to tell the tale of what had happened here? One of the few bright spots on the horizon was the fact that Rachel Yeats had recovered somewhat. The morning of July 18, Rachel had awakened about 9 a.m., more or less coherent, complaining about being thirsty. A young nurse brought her a carafe of orange juice that had been kept cold for the past two days in a hastily improvised cold-chest, a Styrofoam beer-chest parked in the hospital kitchen and filled with snow from outside, and Rachel drank a good two glasses of it. The nurse came to give Janet a cheerful progress report afterward. According to her, while Rachel wasn’t up to eating any of the oatmeal, scrambled eggs, or bacon cooked on one of the Coleman stoves that had been brought in by staff-members and set up in the kitchen, she did manage to eat some buttered toast. Her fever was, for the moment, gone, and while she was weak and tired, she looked so much better than she had the day before that Janet, who decided to visit Rachel and see how she was doing for herself, began to hope that maybe Rachel would actually recover from whatever she’d had. Janet’s hopes were boosted even further when Rachel responded to her question, “How are you doing, Rachel?” with a wan smile and the sardonic reply, “I think you can safely elevate my condition in your reports from ‘roadkill’ to ‘she’ll live, but really isn’t too sure yet it’s a great idea’. – I can’t exactly get out of this bed and do the Twist with Chubby Checkers yet, but I’m working on it. How are you doing, dear? And Tom? I hope to God neither of you come down with whatever this is!” “Well,” Janet said, taking a seat on a chair next to Rachel’s bed, reaching out to take the older woman’s hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze, “I feel fine. Tom’s under the weather, but I’m sure he’ll be better soon –” “I hope so! I know about what happened there on the other side of the mountains, too, if you’ll remember – I was there when you gave us all a report on it.” Biting her lip, Janet looked away briefly, feeling like an idiot. Shit, she thought to herself, carefully not meeting Rachel’s eyes until she had her thoughts under control again and a plausible theory for why they should all be all right soon firmly in place. Then, once again meeting Rachel’s gaze squarely, she said, “They may have exaggerated those reports, you know. At the time I got them, I was so frazzled by what we’d been hearing since the Impact happened that I didn’t even think of questioning any of it, but I should have. I’ll check with some people again in a bit – there’s a group of people there in St. Albans with your husband that have been talking with some Navy guy who seems to know things about it, and I’ll bet he says it isn’t –” She was almost babbling in her haste to reassure Rachel. She felt pressure on her arm. Looking down, she saw that Rachel had put a hand on her arm. “Hey, it’s all right – que sera, sera, and all that,” Rachel told her with a pale, tired smile. “I – I’m sure it’ll be all right. Really. Um, can we call Steve sometime today?” Now on far firmer and happier ground, Janet told Rachel, smiling in return, “Of course! Tom and I wanted to set a rig up in here, so you can talk with him as soon as we get it set up and make contact. Tom isn’t feeling all that well himself right now, but if he isn’t up to it, I can do it, no problem. Why don’t I go arrange for that now?” she said, getting to her feet. “Er, would you like anything more to eat?” she added. “I can get more for you if you would.” “Yes, I’d like some more juice. And maybe some oatmeal – they said they had some. I think I could get that down. The nurse took my tray, though, so I don’t have my glass. Could you –” “Sure!” Janet told her brightly. “I’ll do that first, then I’ll bring the rig in here and try to connect with St. Albans.” “Thanks. You’re a love, Janet,” Rachel told her, laying her head back down on her pillow, her eyelids drooping “We were . . . very lucky to have . . . come by Tom’s . . .” Then Rachel was asleep again. But it seemed to Janet that her weariness was no longer that of a patient worn down nearly to nothing from her body’s desperate war against a weird alien invader of a sort it had never even heard of, let alone encountered before now, but rather the normal sort of tiredness of someone who has done hard work and now needs to recharge her batteries so she can get up and face the day once more. If so, it was a hopeful sign. Rachel might actually recover from whatever it was she had. From what some of the early reports on what had happened to eastern Maine had said, Janet thought as she headed for the kitchen, whatever bugs had been loosed there may have been too far removed from anything familiar to be able to hold on very long in a human body. Maybe they were mostly things that had been cultivated in rhesus monkeys and

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culture media and other non-human environments, on their way to becoming something useful as a biowarfare weapon – Janet shivered in disgust at the idea of using such a thing on civilian populations, utterly foreign to everything she’d learned and trained for in her preparation for medical school, not to mention the strong Protestant code of morals she’d grown up with, learned from her elders and in Sunday School and church – but not quite there yet. Maybe they weren’t going to be the biohazards everyone was afraid they would be. And maybe the Godawful hazardous wastes illegally dumped there in the Bay of Fundy or wherever it was were so fried from the heat of asteroid impact or so diluted by seawater that they would have no effect on local microbiota, or, if they did have an effect, the sea and its purifying salts would kill off any mutant beasties caused by the contamination before they could do anyone harm. She needed desperately to believe that, anyway. Despair was a sin, wasn’t it? As long as hope existed, she must cling to it, she thought as she went into the kitchen and began rustling up a brunch of oatmeal, more toast, and a carafe of juice for Rachel. Delighted to find there was even good, fresh cream for the oatmeal contained in glass bottles in one of the ice-filled Styrofoam coolers they were using there as improvised refrigerators – the cream had probably been brought in this morning by Johnny McNeil, a young RN who was also native of the town who lived with his parents about two blocks from the hospital; his parents owned a small herd of about five cows, and Johnny often brought in cream from the cows for everyone’s coffee and patients’ cereal with him when he came to work – she filled a cream-pitcher with it and added it and a sugar-bowl to the tray before bringing it to Rachel’s room. Rachel had awakened again, and the little nurse who had come to Janet earlier to report on Rachel’s improved condition was back again, fluffing her pillows, helping to brush Rachel’s sweat-streaked hair, and otherwise doing what she could to make her patient comfortable. The nurse, Jeanie Buckley, was, like most people in Eltonville, a long-time fan of both Steve and Rachel Yeats, and was delighted to be able to get to meet one of her two favorite writers first-hand. “Though not,” she was telling Rachel as Janet came back into the room with Rachel’s tray, “under these circumstances, Mrs. Yeats. Gee, I wish – oh, hey, here’s Janet again. – Oh, damn, Jan, I’m sorry, I should have –” “No, no, Jeanie,” Janet told the little nurse, smiling, “it’s fine. You always do great work. I happened to be talking with Rachel, here, while you were helping others, and she said she’d like some more to eat. So I fixed her a tray, no big deal. If you’d wait here a few minutes, though, I want to go get a rig to set up in here, okay?” “ ‘Rig’ – oh, you mean a shortwave! Sure, Jeanie said, giggling. Janet thought to herself, if you didn’t know how sharp a mind actually existed under those short, fluffy, golden locks of hair, behind those huge, cornflower-blue eyes, or just how good she was at everything from jiu-jitsu (twice state champion at trials over in Augusta) to accounting (she was actually a bona fide CPA, had minored in Business Administration and gotten her credential as a CPA in order to be able to support herself all the way through medical school), you’d swear she was the mold out of which every blonde joke in the world had come. Over the years many a con-artist, male on the make with date-rape on his mind, and misogynistic hospital administrator had learned the hard way to his or her horror just how blonde Jeanie’s mind wasn’t. A favorite topic of conversation among staff at the hospital when things got slow and there was nothing much else to talk about was whose mind sweet little Jeanie, who was now thirty-one but still looked a vibrant and luscious 21 or so, had blown this week (instead of whatever he’d been hoping she’d blow). “Okay, I’ll go get the rig. Jeanie, Tom’s not feeling well, but if he’s up to it, I want to bring him in here, too, let him help, so could you push Rachel’s bed closer to the window so there’s a space next to it for Tom’s bed? Then I can put the rig between the two beds, and it’ll be convenient for us – I’ll sit on his bed, in that case.” Fortunately, Rachel was in a single-patient room, but that meant there wasn’t much room in there for anything else besides a couple of chairs and whatever machines the doctors wanted to bring in to monitor the patient. But Janet was sure there was enough space for Tom’s bed and the rig next to Rachel’s if Rachel’s was pushed next to the window. “You sure Tom isn’t contagious?” Jeanie asked, worried. “I mean, Rachel’s just recovering from whatever she’s got, and if Tom has something else . . .” Her voice trailed off, leaving the rest of her sentence unspoken, but it was clear she was very concerned about the possibility that Tom could expose Rachel to something worse than she had already. “We were all of us together at Tom’s parents’ place for a day or two, Jeanie,” Janet told the other woman gently. “Whatever Tom might have, all the others must have been exposed to it.” “Er. If you say so. – Okay, you go get the rig, and I’ll watch out for Mrs. Yeats, here. You need any help moving Tom’s bed?”

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“No, it’ll be fine. He may even feel well enough to walk. He wasn’t that sick this morning – he may be able to manage a wheelchair by now.” “Yep.” “Tom!” Janet almost shrieked it as she turned to stare at Tom, who, grinning, was sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway. “Oh! For a second there you almost made me jump out of my skin!” she exclaimed, still catching her breath. “Sorry to sneak up on you like that, my love. I am feeling better, much better.” “So why are you in the wheelchair?” Jeanie snapped. “Hmpf – listen to her!” Tom grumbled. “You watch out for her – you turn your back on this lady, next thing you know she’ll be Big Nurse!” Then he laughed, and the three women laughed with him, and the atmosphere in the room was noticeably lightened. “How – how are the Hamiltons?” Rachel asked. Tom and Janet exchanged an Oh, shit! look. Before Janet could come up with a good answer, Tom took charge, wheeling himself into the room and taking up a position next to Rachel. Gently taking her hand in his, he told her, “Mrs. Yeats, your friend Chloe didn’t make it.” “She – died?” Rachel said. Oddly, she sounded as if she’d been expecting it. “Yes. I’m so sorry.” “I knew it . . .” “How?” Janet asked. “You only just woke up a little while ago. Mrs. Hamilton died early this morning, before the ambulance could get there to pick her up. How did you know?” she asked, wonderingly. “I . . . I had this dream . . .” Brushing tiredly at locks of her gray-streaked dark hair which had fallen over her forehead, she added, “I just sort of knew. You know. “Anyway, how is . . . is John doing? Does he know about Chloe?” she asked, sounding wan and tired once more. “No,” Tom told her, his face grave. “I’m afraid he still hasn’t come out of his delirium – when he got here, according to the doctor, he was running a temperature of 104 degrees, and was alternating between delirium and complete unconsciousness. His temperature is down some, maybe 102 degrees, but that isn’t good at all in a grown man. When I checked with the doctor on my way here, Mr. Hamilton was apparently asleep. They think they’ve got him stabilized now. They’re giving him lots of fluids via an IV, including various nutrients such as vitamin C to help bring down the fever, minerals, that sort of thing –” Suddenly smiling, Rachel asked him, “Sounds like they believe in Adelle Davis around here!” “Actually, they do, Mrs. Yeats,” Jeanie told her, grinning. “It’s because of Ms. Davis’s soul-sister, Tom’s mom, and Jan.” “My mom’s always been a believer in Adelle Davis,” Jan agreed with a grin of her own. “She’s worse than the Seventh-Day Adventists are about preaching the Word; Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit is just about Mom’s bible. Has been since before I was born, I guess. That, and that guy Bob Cathcart from the Bay Area in California – he died about twenty years ago, but you can still find his articles on ascorbate therapy all over the World Wide Web. (Well, could find them – I hope they can get the Web back up one of these days!) “Anyway, I started talking to the doctors here about at least trying some of the things Adelle Davis recommended, and they finally did on this guy who had intractable pain associated with horrible burns he’d gotten months before from this explosion at the plant where he worked. Nothing standard worked, so they tried giving him vitamin C and calcium and vitamin D, like Adelle Davis recommended for pain, and vitamin E for the scarring, and you know, within two months that guy was basically a new man! His pain had stopped, his horrible keloid scars had begun to heal up, at least to the point where he could move so much more easily and without that terrible pain, and he was feeling a million percent better! So the staff got a little religion of their own and started checking out everything they could find out about nutritional science, even had Mom do a workshop for them, and now things like vitamin C and E and minerals are as much a part of treatment here as penicillin and digitalis and all the other standard drugs! “In fact, Rachel, earlier, when you were still unconscious, they used an IV drip on you that contained vitamin C and some other good things. That’s probably why you’re feeling better now. They won’t use nearly as much of the supplements as I’d like them to – whatever we’re all fighting now seems to be very nasty stuff, far worse than just about anything we’ve ever handled before – and so the pharmacy hasn’t

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prepared nearly enough for the doses I’d like to recommend for everyone. But you sure do look a lot better now, and you can thank Mom and her namesake for that,” she told Rachel, laughing. Chuckling herself, Rachel said, “I believe. We’ve been, er, devout followers of Adelle Davis ourselves in our household for years, ever since Steve and I were first married. We simply couldn’t afford to get sick back then, and preventive medicine in the form of supplements was one hell of a lot cheaper than therapeutic medicine after the fact, so we used supplements all the time. Hardly ever had a day sick, and then only from the inevitable bouts of poison ivy or that sort of thing. “I wonder why John hasn’t gotten any better, though? It should have worked on him, too – or is he getting vitamin C and other supplements with whatever they’re giving him?” “He is, Rachel, but as I said, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. I think you have a more rugged constitution than Mr. Hamilton does, and you needed much less to get better.” “That’s possible. John was so sand-bagged by hearing what had happened to England last night – or was it the night before? I guess it was the night before, wasn’t it? Anyway, hearing about England hit him very hard. That can take the starch right out of you, it really can.” “Well, I’ll see about getting the amount of C and other supplements we’re using on him increased,” Janet said, giving Rachel’s fingertips a reassuring squeeze. “How – how are your parents doing, Janet? And Tom’s?” Rachel asked, lying back on her pillow with a sigh of weariness. She may have been recovering, but not quickly, and it didn’t take much to tire her out. “Adelle’s in pretty good shape,” Tom volunteered. “I just looked in on her on the way here. She’s in the same room that Elaine’s in.” When he didn’t add anything more, Janet, becoming apprehensive, asked him, “Is my mom okay, honey?” For just a moment his eyes seemed to hold a thousand-yard stare. It was gone so quickly she thought she must have imagined it. “Tell you later, my love. Your mom’s not doing real well, but . . . oh, I’m sure she’ll be all right,” he evaded. “And Daddy?” “He . . . he and my dad are in intensive care,” Tom told her, his cheer suddenly gone. “They’re running high fevers, and your dad has a . . . well, they’re going to keep a close watch on both of them for awhile. As I said, I’ll tell you later.” “You want this in here?” came a voice from the hall. Breathing a prayer of thanks for the interruption, Tom turned to see a stocky, auburn-haired man clad in light-blue scrubs with a small wheeled cart standing in the doorway of the room. On the cart sat one of the six ham radios the hospital had on hand, thanks to FEMA’s regs and his own insistence over the years. On the cart’s bottom shelf was a large battery, the sort they used for powering the rigs when power went out. “Andy! Come on in! Yeah, that’s the one,” Tom told the newcomer happily. “Just roll it right on in here – we need it right next to Mrs. Yeats’ bed, here.” “Okey-dokey,” the other man told him as he began pushing the cart into the room. The cart’s wheels creaked shrilly in protest. “I’d better oil the damned thing when you don’t need it in here any more,” Andy muttered as he maneuvered the cart around to place it at the side of Rachel’s bed. “This okay?” “That works fine, Andy,” Janet told him, smiling at him. “We can take it from here.” “Sure. I got to go do stuff, okay?” Andy said. He looked worried and a little harassed, and his heavy features were taut with concentration, as if such concentration required hard work on his part. “Not a problem, my friend,” Tom told him. “See you later.” “Sure thing, Tom,” Andy told him as he turned and hurried back out into the hall, on the way to whatever errands he had yet to perform. “Andy’s a little slow, but he does the hard work of maybe six other people when we need him to,” Tom said admiringly. “One of the most dependable workers they’ve got here, I’m told. “Anyway, shall we fire this sucker up so you can talk with your husband?” he asked Rachel. “Oh, that would be wonderful! Yes, please do. Do you think you’ll be able to reach St. Albans today?” “Let’s give it a try. Here, Jan, give me a hand with this thing . . .” There was some radio interference that made connecting with the hams in St. Albans somewhat difficult, but soon they had established contact with a young woman there, a fan of Steve Yeats’ who was delighted to hear from them. “Joe Cabrini told me you might be calling,” she enthused. All the others in the room were able to hear her easily, since Tom had turned on the speakers that came with the rig. “I’m

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Karin Bailey, by the way, a friend of Joe’s. Joe’s here in the lounge with me – Joe! Go get Steve! They’re calling from Eltonville!” she cried. Then, returning again to her callers, she said, “He’s going to fetch Steve. I know Steve will be overjoyed – he really misses Rachel. By the way, how are their friends, the Hamiltons?” Tom and Janet exchanged another Oh, shit! look. Then Tom, who had actually placed the call and was holding the receiver, told Karin, “Well, they’re not doing too well, but they’re in the best possible place for what ails ye,” he told her, sliding into an obviously fake brogue that was neither Scotch nor Irish nor Cockney but some impossible bastard offspring of all three. As she chuckled over his amateur theatricals – something that made him like her at once; obviously she wasn’t a proponent of the rabid Political Correctness that altogether too many people outside of very small towns like Eltonville espoused that would otherwise have had her jumping all over him for his “insensitivity” – he added, “Look, if Steve can’t talk right now, that’s all right –” “Who says I can’t talk, Junior?” came that deep voice, so familiar to those who had listened to his many audiobook readings of his own work or seen the movies and videos of his work in which he himself, like Hitchcock so long ago, had had one role or another. While not especially deep, that voice with its trademark coastal Maine accent was so full of subliminal Hadean power and metallic strength that you could never take Steve Yeats for a wimp. “Hey, I hear you’ve got my wife there – you planning to steal her away from me?” Yeats joked. “He wouldn’t dare!” Janet called out, laughing. “I’d snatch him bald-headed – then I’d make him grow his hair down to his butt so I could do it all over again!” Yeats roared with laughter. “Good for you, Janet! I see you’re following in my wife’s footsteps – I’m glad to see they’re training them right these days. Uh, is . . . Rachel there?” Nodding at Rachel, who was now leaning eagerly toward him, Tom handed her the receiver. “Go for it,” he whispered to her as she took it from him. “Thanks,” she whispered back. Then: “Steve! Steve, are you all right?” “I sure am, sweetheart – especially now that I’m talking to you! How are you doing?” “I’m . . . fine, Steve. I was very sick, but I feel a lot better now. How . . . how are you doing there?” “No real problems, honey – other than the . . . damned weather. If it weren’t for that, I’d have used that chopper to get over to where you are now. I’d still have given it a try myself, if I’d had to knock the pilot out and just take the controls, but there’s no way I could have taken off and flown all the way there in all this! It’s snowing like a bastard – it’s gotten much worse over the last day or so than it was to start with – and there’s an unbelievable wind out there. One of our people, Linda Stansell, athletic gal about 25, big, tall girl who normally doesn’t have any problem holding her own no matter what’s going on, tried to go outside to find a cat she swore she could hear calling to come into the building and damned near got blown away by the wind! From what we can see of its effects through the windows here, as well as what Linda said, it comes at you from all directions, first this way, then that way, non-stop for the last two days. As if we were right where six or seven fronts were colliding with one another, force- and temperature-gradients going in all directions all the time. Not good.” “No, it doesn’t sound good at all. As long as it’s like that, Steve, please, please don’t try to come here!” she pleaded. “No, baby, I won’t – no point. Chopper wouldn’t get more’n a mile from here before it crashed, and in this I wouldn’t be real likely to survive the crash, either. On top of everything else, there’s been a lightning-storm in the mix, a big one, since it started, and there’s nothing like getting hit by about 30,000 volts to really mess up your day, you know?” he said, chuckling in a way that made Janet sure it was forced. “I can imagine,” Rachel told him, laughing a little. “Stay there, my darling, stay there – I can wait. I do not want to be a widow before my time.” A sudden burst of static obliterated whatever his response might have been. “—Rach’? You there?” “Yes, Steve. We just had some static.” “Yeah, I know,” he said, sounding irritated. “Damned near deafened me! I think we’re starting to get the effects of some of the fallout from New York or one of the other cities that got nuked. I shouldn’t complain, though – it sure as hell is better than no way to communicate at all!” Another burst of static. “Steve?”

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“Yeah, I’m here. I think we’re starting to break up again. Tell you what: we’ll try calling you there this afternoon or evening, and if you want to do the same, that’ll work, too. Somebody’ll be here on standby throughout the day, just in case anyone tries to reach us – some of the out-of-area families of people who came here for the convention have been calling in, too, so we’ve got a 24/7 detail here to make sure that if anyone calls, somebody’ll be here to answer it.” “Oh, that’s wonderful. All right, darling, I think I want to rest now for awhile, anyway. This afternoon, then?” “Or tonight. I promise you, sweetheart.” “All right. Until later, then. I’m going to hand the phone back to Tom, now.” So saying, she did just that. Taking the receiver from Rachel, Tom said to Yeats, rushing to say what he wanted to Yeats before static could cut them off again and perhaps end the call, “All right, then, Steve, this is Tom Villemur. We’ll give it a try later. You take care now.” “You, too, son. You, too. And God bless you for helping me talk with my wife.” “Any time, sir.” Another burst of static. This time they couldn’t reconnect. But the fact that the call had been completed and everything that had needed to be said had been before interference cut them off seemed to be a very good omen.

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