Yael Dragwyla and Richard Ransdell email: polaris93@aol.

com

First North American rights 10,700 words

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

Book 1: The End of the Beginning
Part 2: Judgment Day
Chapter 1: I left My Heart in San Francisco
8:45 p.m. PDT, July 16 (11:45 p.m. EDT July 16; 3:45 a.m. GMT, July 17), 2022, San Francisco, CA:

§ 1: Relay
For everyone in the Bay Area, no stranger as it was to the weird, it had been a remarkably long, bizarre day. Beginning not long after sunrise with the earthquakes that had shaken so many area denizens awake or even dumped them from their beds onto the floor, continuing throughout the day with the mad exodus of those of its citizens lucky enough to get transport, their own or someone else’s, out of the city before panicked, gridlocked mobs jammed the roads, making them impassable to anyone save those on foot, Mars’s devoted sons, Panic and Terror, had kept the urban witch’s-brew simmering sullenly away, waiting for their faster to come taste of it. Surely He would find it good – from the charred corpses in the burnedout wrecks littering the roads leading away from the city to those crushed and broken in the rubble of their quake-wrecked homes, the blood-spattered victims of opportunistic crime sprawled in alleys and inside deceptively safe-seeming buildings, and the countless others who had met untimely, violent ends here today, the brew contained the most savory of seasonings, the best meats. How could He not approve? However, quite a few had managed, one way or another, to find havens of refuge, however dubious some of those might have turned out to be as the day, the following week or month or year wore on. For example, early that morning, Reverend Anson Relay and his wife, Persephone, had been in Golden State Park to take part in various combat arts training exercises with local friends, something they did at least once a month and, frequently, far more often. Relay, an accomplished martial artist, though no longer a young man – in fact, the previous April he had turned 70 – kept himself in top form, both physically and mentally, by constant training. Since he also drew immense enjoyment from those training sessions, he never regretted the time and effort spent on them, and even made time for them when he could by skipping business-related and other activities others might have classified as far more important.

Persephone, younger than her husband by forty-one years, was likewise a devotee of the Arts of Mars. But whereas Relay’s favorite school of combat arts was Kagemushado, his wife’s was Tae Kwan Do – as she said, “it may be a bit simple-minded, but a lot of my friends are into it, and it works for me.” So she had gone down to the southern end of the park to do Tae Kwan Do workouts with people she knew from her dojo, while he had gotten together with several other members of the “’Mooj,” as they all called it fondly, up near the park’s entrance, for training and practice in applications of techniques of various ryu. Just as he and his friends from the Mooj were starting their warm-up exercises, necessary preliminaries to the hard workouts that would follow, a huge earthquake ripped through the park, throwing many of them off their feet, terrifying many of the park visitors, especially children. Screams rose throughout the park. Everywhere people were grabbing at whatever seemed to offer support – sometimes with tragic consequences: not a few were crushed by trees which, rather than providing the haven they had apparently offered, had turned out to be death-traps. As the quake came to an end and those who hadn’t been able to find something to hold onto before now groped shakily for support in case of aftershocks, to the east, north, and south Relay could see dark threads begin to rise into the pellucid, deep-blue sky above the city, threads that quickly expanded into great dirty-brown calyxes whose bases were jacketed by increasingly bright sepals of vivid orange-red and yellow-orange: fire. “Jesus, Anson – did you feel that?” said Sam Bowles, his current training partner, who, like Relay, had managed to grab the trunk of a nearby tree when the shaking began, holding onto it for dear life until the quake was over. “It felt like forever!” he said, still panting for breath. “You can let go of the nice tree, now,” Relay said, chuckling. “Otherwise you’re going to leave sixinch deep fingerprints in it.” Dressed in a black, short-sleeved tunic, loose black pants, and soft black boots secured at the ankles with black, wrap-around bindings, in spite of his age – he’d been born in 1952 – he was in far better shape than even many of the younger members of the Mooj, as adept at combat arts as he was at Magick, frighteningly formidable at both. “Uh? Oh, sorry . . .” Bowles said, relinquishing his grip on the trunk of the tree, which was young and still very slender. Flexing his fingers to work the stiffness out of them – as Relay had jokingly suggested, he’d been holding onto the tree so tightly that the muscles of his hand were rigid with strain and sore from slightly too-intimate contact with the tree’s rough bark – Bowles said, pointing at the city’s skyline, “I think that was the Big One, Anson. Like in 1906.” “You may be right,” Relay told him, looking where Bowles was pointing. Many of the columns of smoke rising over the city, hardly evident just moments before, had already grown into gigantic, greasy brown-black-and-grey pillars extending several hundred feet into the sky before topping off and spilling over, joining the ever-thickening mass of smoky smog hovering above the city’s rooftops, obscuring its great skyscrapers and office buildings from view. In many places the growing columns of smoke had been joined by banners of flame which, twisting and turning as they rose into the air, like lovers embraced and penetrated the smoke, limning it in lurid hues of scarlet, cadmium, and bright yellow. As the two men stood staring at the burning city, sirens began to wail everywhere. And then another sound: the rapidly approaching wop-wop-wop of rotors. His eyes narrowing, Relay looked up. “Wouldn’t you know it. The news-ghouls descend upon us,” he muttered, staring at the helicopter approaching them from the northeast, on its side scarlet letters KTSF-TV 1 on a background of white and sky-blue. It roared over the park, turning south and heading for South San Francisco as it came. “They probably got that one off the ground as quickly as they could after the quake, just in case,” said Bowles. “I don’t blame them.” “Maybe not,” said Relay. “See that one?” he said, pointing. Another, much larger helicopter, this one emblazoned with the famous CNN.COM logo, was approaching. “This one’s coming up from the south, the same direction the other one was heading toward. The nearest place big enough for a CNN chopper down that way is maybe an hour away, or at least as far south as San Jose. They got that baby off the ground way before the quake here started. Something’s up. Something big.” “Hey, it’s coming in! It’s gonna land right here!” said Bowles. Indeed, the big helicopter was now circling just a few hundred feet almost directly above them, scouting a landing place. The two men, who were close enough to the small copse of trees at their backs to ensure the pilot wouldn’t try to land too close to where they were, remained in place, watching the chopper descend. They were now part of a growing group of Mooj members who, wondering what the hell was going on, had already begun drifting toward Relay and Bowles, knowing Relay’s reputation for coolheadedness under fire and his ready ability to know what to do in emergencies, hoping he might be able to tell them what the hell was going on.

When the helicopter’s rotors stopped spinning, one by one the news-crew, carrying cameras and microphones, dropped from the helicopter to the ground. Spotting the group of black-clad men and women clustered by the trees about fifty feet away, one of the CNN personnel, a tall woman who was clearly highly excited and agitated, called out to Relay and the others, “Can we interview you?” Stepping forward, Relay said, “Yeah, why not? As long as you tell us what the hell is going on.” A natural leader – he was so archetypal an alpha male that he hardly needed the enhancements of shaved head, Van Dyke beard, and dojo accoutrements to carry off that role to perfection – he said, “You’ve been in the air too long. It isn’t just the quake here, is it?” Startled, the woman said, “How’d you know?” “Darcy, let me do the talking, okay?” said one of her companions, obviously irritated by her speaking out of turn, threatening to ruin his delivery. “Sure, Alan,” she said, her eyes saying something else – if looks could have killed, hers would have had arrow-frog poison on it. Ignoring her, the man strode forward. “Hi,” he said, coming up to Relay, extending his hand, “I’m Alan Dulane with CNN News –” “I’d never have guessed,” said Relay, ignoring the proffered hand, meeting Dulane’s gaze with gimletsharp eyes. While Darcy grinned – Relay guessed that she and Dulane had some sort of office-politics feud going concerning their relative career status – Dulane, thrown for a loss by Relay’s response, or, rather, lack of one, said, “Uh, do you mind if we interview you?” “Depends. Like I just said, my friends and I would like to know why, and what’s going on,” Relay said, putting his hands on his hips and staring Dulane down like Wyatt Earp eagle-eyeing one of the Clanton boys. “I –” Running a finger around the inside of his collar as if it fit him too tightly, Dulane started over. “Look, you’re right, there’ve been some – some events this morning. The earthquake here may be related to them. There’ve been more quakes all up and down California and in other states, too, probably all connected to, to what happened to Seattle.” “Oh, shit,” somebody behind Relay muttered. “Seattle,” Relay said slowly, forgetting his irritation with Dulane. “What happened?” Quickly Dulane told him what was known: Around 4:30 a.m. that morning, the entire Puget Sound area had gone up in an explosion as vast and destructive as the fabled eruptions of Krakatoa and Tambora, taking out most of Western Washington from just below Vancouver, BC on the north to Vancouver, Washington on the south, as well as devastating a good part of British Columbia. What had caused it still wasn’t certain, but some were conjecturing that a well-disguised thermonuclear device brought into Puget Sound in a large tanker and triggered while the ship was at anchor in the Sound had punched a hole through the bottom of the Sound, clear into an enormous magma chambers lying directly below, a spur of the far larger one that extended all the way from Lytton Mountain in Canada, to Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier in Washington State, and all the other Cascade volcanoes south of them, clear down to Mt. Shasta in California. Instants later, the ice-cold bottom-waters of the Sound began rushing into that hole, striking the incandescent molten rock below, instantly sublimating into superheated steam which, expanding in all directions, had torn the hole wider and wider and wider as more and more water poured in. Within instants the Puget Sound Basin had been transformed into an erupting monster closely resembling the explosion of the Napoli Lava Dome that had taken place about ten days before; to all intents and purposes, from Centralia in the south to Bellingham in the north and from the eastern slopes of the Olympics west of the Sound to the Western Slopes of the Cascade Mountains in the east, Western Washington State was now one vast, fuming volcanic caldera, hundreds of enormous fountains of fire playing within it. If there were survivors anywhere in Western Washington, “they might well,” said Dulane portentously, “envy the dead.” “Quote, unquote,” snapped Relay. “We can do without the quotes from Khrushchev. – You say this happened around 4:30 a.m. this morning.” “Er, yes, sir,” said Dulane, unconsciously accepting beta status under Relay’s withering gaze, in spite of the fact that he was a good deal taller than the older man. “So the quake we just had – oh, shit, grab tree, everybody!” exclaimed Relay as the ground began to roll beneath them once more. Fortunately, the aftershock was light and short; over within a few seconds, it did little more than ruffle everyone’s already stressed nerves.

“Sorry about that,” Relay said to Dulane, laughing a little. “We just do that to give the tourists a thrill, you know.” “Huh? – Oh, tourists, yeah, heh-heh,” said Dulane, laughing nervously, not sure why except that this very intimidating man in front of him was doing so and it seemed like a good idea to go along with him. “Uh, yeah, the quake you, uh, just went through a little while ago here was probably triggered by what happened in Seattle. And there’ve been all those other quakes, too.” Now feeling a bit sorry for the lad and a little guilty over treating him so meanly – Dulane and his colleagues were all obviously pretty shook up by whatever had been going on the last few hours up and down the coast – Relay said, “Okay, why not? We’re not going to get too much training in today, the way things have been going, anyway, so might as well chat. Come on, bring your camera guys over . . .” While Dulane fired questions at Relay and the other members of the Mooj who had joined him there, from time to time someone would come trotting up from another part of the park to let them all know the latest news about what was happening in the city, some of it from transistor radios but more from people in the city calling them on cellular phones. Among other things, Relay learned that so far, his home was completely untouched by both the fires and this morning’s big quake. When Dulane asked Relay what he thought about that, he had fun twitting the reporter, who knew about Relay’s connection with the “Subgenially Satanic First Church of Nhee-Ghee, the place where “Bob” parties hardiest,” with the possibility that “maybe Somebody down there likes us!” Two or three other news helicopters from other news agencies, seeing CNN’s down in the park, had landed not far away by the time Dulane was ready to leave, or, at least, go to some other part of the park to find potential interviewees. In all, Relay and the others spent about an hour giving interviews and, in the process, typical of Mooj members, acquiring a lot more information than they gave out, information that even the most seasoned among the reporters had no idea they were giving away. Persephone came back just as the last of the reporters were leaving. “Where’s the party?” she cried gaily to Relay as she approached. “No party – unless you count the Sack of Troy and the Destruction of Pompeii as parties,” he told her. “I know, sweetheart,” she told him, coming up and giving him a peck on the cheek. Dropping the bouncy, buoyant expression she’d assumed when she approached – never let the public see you down, it’s like baring your throat to the wolves – she said, her voice low, “We got several calls from people about the quakes and the thing up in Seattle. Thank Nhee-Ghee for cell-phones!” “I’ll bet a lot of cops who’ve had to pull people out of wrecks due to idiots driving with cellulars at their ears would agree with you, babe,” he said, grinning, kissing her back. Quickly he told her what he and the other Mooj members had heard from the reporters as well as people in the city, via cell-phone and radio. “What do you think we should do?” she asked him. “Hmm . . . If we can get a ride back to our place, we should pack and head out of town as fast as possible. Although I’m not sure how long we’d have to do that – look up there,” he said, nodding to indicate the city skyline, much of it hidden now by smoke where it was being consumed by the growing fires. “Uh. Oh, dear. What about our things? Our pets?” “Anson.” “Zel! Hey, you old bastard, what’re you two doing here?” Relay said, turning toward the man and woman now approaching. “Just messing around, as always,” said the other man, chuckling. “Persephone! You’re lookin’ good, babe!” he said, taking Persephone’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “No better than Leonor,” she said, laughing, meaning the newcomer’s wife, standing by his side. A striking beauty, only a little older than Persephone, whereas Persephone wore her midnight-black hair shoulder-length, Leonor kept her platinum-blond hair in a pixie-cut. Other than that, both women were similar in appearance, tall and slender, fair skins tanned by the golden California sun, in top condition, lithe as cats and as ready for a fight or fun. Friends of the Relays for many years, Zel Ramos and his wife were “quiet survivalists,” believing that an all-out catastrophe of some kind was long overdue. They had spent the last several years doing whatever they could to prepare for it without drawing unwanted attention to themselves in the process. As he had said to Relay before, lately Ramos had been sorely tempted to take his wife and “cut and run for the Antipodes,” any small island out there in the Pacific with good sources of food and a reasonably low chance of ever being visited by representatives of any of the world’s governments. A sailboat enthusiast

since boyhood who had owned his own boats since graduating college, he had the means to do so, too – a nice little yawl tied up at the docks at a private marina just north of Thornton Street Beach on the west side of the Peninsula. “Actually,” Zel said as he released Persephone’s hand, now taking Relay’s, “I lied.” “Oh?” “Reason we came down here, neighbor, is that we thought you two might be able to use a ride or so this afternoon. Like, clear out to sea, as far as we can safely get, as fast as we can get. I was thinking maybe the Channel Islands. You two up for a vacation? We – well, we stopped at your place on the way and picked up Melba and Ritz and Pete and Repeat and the rest of that menagerie of yours, along with some of your clothes and things. Couldn’t get your big organ in the rig, but that’s how it goes – maybe it’ll be fine when we get back. . . . If we get back.” “I – I don’t know what to say.” For one of the few times in his life, Relay was caught speechless. “Honey, it’s two short, simple words: thank you,” said Persephone, coming up beside her husband and throwing her arms around their friends, squeezing them tight. “Oh, you dears!” The Ramoses lived just two doors down from the Relays, a few blocks from the waterfront. For years they’d had duplicate keys to all the doors in the Relays’ place, as well as the combinations to Anson Relay’s safe and keys to the extensive wine-cellar kept by Relay, in case the Relays ever got locked out and needed help getting in, or there was an emergency requiring the police be let in. Apparently Zel and Leonor, leaving their place for the marina, where they obviously intended to take their yawl and get the hell out of Dodge, had stopped long enough at the Relays to pick up the Relays’ two cats, the dog, their cockatiels, and – as it developed – their ferrets, iguana, and tarantulas. “We couldn’t leave them to burn,” Leonor told the Relays. “Which would have happened otherwise – you can bet if your house hasn’t gone up by now, it will any time now, the way the fires are sweeping the city. Good thing we knew where their carriers all were, though – we’ve got Maxie and Pila, our own babies” – their Bichon-Frise dog and Siamese cat – “and without the carriers we couldn’t have done it. Anyway, we’ve got them all, even the spiders,” she said, laughing and shuddering a little. “Hey, the tarantulas were easy,” said her husband, chuckling. “I just picked up their little house and carried them out to the rig in that. We also managed to grab a big bag of cat food, another of dog food, plenty of ferret chow, and a big bag of bird feed, plus one of those 20-pound cans of dried insects for Roy, before we left your place,” he said, referring to the iguana and his food. “I dunno what you’re gonna feed the tarantulas, though.” “Grasshoppers, beetles, lizards, baby mice, birds, if we can live-trap a few (they don’t like dead prey). Not a problem – we can catch their prey just about anyplace,” Relay said. “Zel – Lord, how can we ever thank you enough?” “Wait until we get aboard the boat and I find out if we still have plenty of Dramamine in the medical kit,” said Zel with a grin. “Remember last time?” “Oh, God, do I – I fed the damned fish from Bodega Bay to Stewarts Point!” said Relay, joining Zel’s laughter with his own. “Yeah, so do I – me and Persephone had to swab the damn deck for hours to get it clean afterward!” said Leonor, making a hold-the-nose gesture. “Eccchhh!” Then she, too, along with Persephone, began laughing. “Come on, old buddy, let’s get going – I have this strange feeling we don’t have much time to get the fuck outta this place,” said Zel. “We’ve got the big rig parked in the visitor’s parking lot on the east side of the park – my friend George Kropotkin is a security guard here, hates those damned government rules and regs at least as much as we do, he gave me a permit to park it there any time I wanted, so we won’t have problems. We’d better move it, though – there are some park roads I can take over to the marina, the permit George gave me gives me the same privileges as park employees, but the next aftershock could block the crucial roads, and we’d have to hike down to the marina with only what we could carry, which I really don’t want to have to do.” “Yeah. Okay, let’s get going, then. We’ll worry about Dramamine on the way,” said Relay. “lead on, my friend . . .” A few hours later, iguanas and tarantulas and all, they were safely aboard the Tom Paine, the Ramos’ yawl, and making ready to leave the marina, heading south for the Channel Islands and whatever safety they might offer. On the way out to the marina, they’d been able to catch some news bulletins with the radio in Zel’s “big rig,” an old school bus converted into a custom-made RV able to hold almost as much cargo and

people as a California ranch house, which towed a big U-Haul style four-wheeled cart. The cart, 12’ long by 5’ wide by 7’ high, had been filled to the brim with the Relays’ and Ramos’ computers and other electronics, the best parts of both their libraries, Relay’s collection of vintage films and audio recordings and all his beloved collection of swords, guns, staves, maces, morning-stars, and other weapons, Zel’s safe and the matching one belonging to the Relays (the ladies’ jewelry collections were in the big bus), 25- and 50-pound bags of dog-, cat-, and bird-food, some small, useful pieces of furniture, both their collections of board games, and a thousand and one other useful and/or delightful things. In every nook and cranny of the load Zel and Leonor had stuffed bags of coffee, liquor bottles carefully wrapped in garbage bags against the possibility of breakage, similarly wrapped sacks of flour, and any other stores of food that could cushion the load against bumps and wouldn’t be too likely to spill and make a mess. Filling the cracks, keeping things from spilling out at the sides or over the top, were blankets, linens, and clothing belonging to both couples. Canvas had been drawn tightly over the top and tightly secured with strong nylon rope. As Zel said, a breakout from there wasn’t likely any time soon. The contents of the Ramos’ and Relays’ medicine cabinets and first aid boxes, on the other hand, were in the bus, along with all both couple’s pets, more food, Leonor’s and Persephone’s jewelry, photo albums, and other things they hadn’t wanted to trust to the trailer on bumpy roads, or which were small and light. “We didn’t take much from your kitchen, Anson,” Zel said apologetically. “We’ve got plenty of kitchen stuff on the yawl, and it would be excess cargo – though I did pick up your quiche-machine and those little flowered porcelain cups and saucers and a few other of those nice things you have. Like Bob Heinlein said, budget the luxuries first – I didn’t think you’d miss your pots and pans, but it’ll be nice to have the good stuff along.” He was driving the bus; Leonor sat in the passenger side next to him, and the Relays sat in the big, broad seats just behind the Ramos’s seats. As Relay turned his head away, hiding his emotions, Zel said, “We also picked up your silverware, I mean the real stuff. Those could be useful trade goods – we may need ’em for that, you know?” “Zel, you must have taken a lot longer to get all this packed than just an hour or two!” said Persephone, overwhelmed by the hard work and care their friends had gone to on their behalf and that of their pets. “How –” “Let me tell you a secret,” Zel said, maneuvering around a tight place in the road with apparent ease. Short and slender, one of those timeless men who never seem to age until it happens all at once, right before they die in advanced old age, he seemed much younger than his 50-some years, agile and dexterous as a man in his late 20s, still possessing the reflexes of youth. Whether it was something he’d inherited from the Indio side of his ancestry or a fluke of nature, it gave him a formidable edge over most other men, something which, in his quiet way, he had taken advantage of both for business reasons and socially many times. “We started yesterday afternoon. See, I’ve got some old friends in high places, you might say, and one of ’em gave me a heads-up yesterday morning. Said something big was going to happen last night or today, and we’d best get ready to roll out as soon as possible.” “Something –?” “You know we got hit by a big asteroid around 11 last night? – Actually, we didn’t, the East Coast did, and it was like 2 a.m. this morning there when it hit. Would’a been 11 p.m. our time last night.” “An asteroid?” “Yeah. Maybe a quarter or even a half mile across. Whole East Coast is a mess – I’ve been listening to the shortwave rig on and off since late last night, and it’s a madhouse there and in Europe. News stations here haven’t talked much about it, if at all – I think somebody’s trying to keep the lid on it as much as they can until they figure out what to do next, though by now, there’ll be a lot of people here picked it up using shortwave, like me.” “I – so you haven’t been to bed at all since last night? You want me to spell you driving?” “It’s okay – I had Leonor, here, take a nap or two, and if I get tired, she can spell me. I can sleep on the boat once we’ve got everything unloaded. I’ve been running on straight adrenaline since last night, you know – well, maybe with some help from Lee’s ginger tea,” he said, giving his wife a brief, affectionate look and reaching out to pat her hand. “It would keep Rip Van Winkle awake, I’ll bet,” he said, both hands back on the wheel again. “Anyway,” Zel continued, “Lee and I started packin’ about, oh, 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon. I kept eating everything I could, piece of Lee’s apple pie, a great big roast beef sandwich with gravy, anything to keep my energy up – the Eskimos, you know, say ‘food is sleep,’ and it’s true: at least for a day or two, you can substitute food for sleep and keep right on going without any problems, long as you’re healthy to start with, and I’m so healthy my doctor hates me,” he said, chuckling as they rounded another turn in the

narrow little road that headed for the Peninsula’s Pacific coast. “Got everything packed last night except our cat and dog and ourselves. About 4 a.m. I went over to get you two up – by then the asteroid had hit and I knew my buddies in DC were right and it was time to get outta Dodge – but you weren’t there, and that’s when I remembered you’d probably go to the park today for practice. So I got Lee up again and we got everything we could of yours loaded and headed over here – had several hours to do it, it turned out. We’d thought maybe you’d hang out in the park for awhile, and then, when the quake hit (by then, thank God, we had your pets and most of your best stuff loaded and ready to go, and were parked on that flat pan by your house so we weren’t about to turn over), it seemed likely you’d both stay in the park until things settled down, and we could meet you coming back. And then the fires started up, and it looked more and more likely that you wouldn’t be able to come back and that we’d better haul ass out to the park if we wanted to get out in the first place – well, that’s how we had the time.” “Oh, my Lord,” Relay said softly. “This – this asteroid – what did your, er, friends in Washington say about it? How did they know about it?” “They’re all friends of some admiral named Resh. He’s an old geezer, about a million years older’n God, but still sharp as a razor – he’s the guy started the nuclear sub program back in the ’60s, remember?” “Him? Yes, I sure do! One hell of a genius – and one of the few things left in the US government worth a damn any more.” Sighing, he said, “So they all know Resh. Did he tell them about it?” “Yeah. Just guys he could trust. They said, according to him, it was a terrorist action of some kind.” “Bastards! Double bastards! Who?” “The Organization – successors to Al Qaeda, or maybe they just took Al Qaeda over along with some other terrorist outfits, including some of Ghadafi’s people and whatever bunch Abu Nidal was head of before he was murdered, a couple of decades back.” “I know about it,” Relay said, shuddering. Thinking for awhile – Zel, who knew his old friend well, didn’t try interrupting his train of thought before Relay was ready to talk again – Relay said, finally, “You realize World War 3’s started, then.” “Yeah. Everybody out to take advantage of the chaos, get while the getting’s good. If nothin’ else, what happened to Seattle this morning would’a made that clear. – That one was all over the dial, by the way. Not only shortwave, but AM, FM, VHF stations, you name it! Somebody drove a fuckin’ hydrogen bomb into Puget Sound and set it off, looks like.” “That’s what we heard from some of the reporters that landed in the park. They think it was in a tanker, actually, but the details don’t really matter now, do they?” “Yeah. You can drive a ship just like you can a bus, too, only you say ‘pilot’ instead of ‘drive.’ No big deal, just words. Anyway, I think we’ll be all right down by the Channels, why I suggested it. If you’ve got a better idea, though, I’m all for it.” “No, no, the Channel Islands sound as good as any place about now, close enough so we can get there in a few days, far enough out at sea that if there’s any fallout from onshore, it may not hit there.” “I got Geiger-counters below decks, so we can test for that.” “You never fail to astonish me, my brilliant friend – good friend! What would we have done without you?” “Hey, you’d’a landed feet-first, butter-side-up, like always! I’m a staunch believer in Nhee-Ghee, after seein’ how good he’s been to you, old buddy – hey, we’ve even got our Nhee-Ghee talismans on, for luck! See?” he said, reaching into his shirt with the hand not engaged in driving, drawing forth a silver chain from which hung a large, round piece of black metal on which, in gold, was a cartoon of J. R. “Bob” Dobbs, pipe stuck jauntily in his mouth, his grin a little too wide for comfort, sparks snapping from his sulfur-yellow eyes, tiny but readily visible horns on his forehead. Dobbs’ portrait overlay an inverted Pentagram; below him was the legend, “Invest In Nhee-Ghee! The Best Deal In Town!” Chuckling a little weakly, Relay shook his head. “Oh, my! You know, it’s the faithful like you who’ve made our Church what it is – you two are clearly Nhee-Ghee’s own angels, sent to us in our hour of need. God, Zel, however can we make it up to you?” Relay said, turning aside again to hide the glimmering in his eyes. “Oh, hell, just come along for the ride! Wherever you and Persephone are, there’s bound to be one hell of a good party, Anson – we couldn’t have gone without you for anything! Without you, it would’a been dull as, as, well, as dull as anything can be. Can’t think of any two people we’d more want to be with at the end of the world than you, you know?” Each lost in his own thoughts, the four of them spoke little during the rest of the ride down to the marina. Upon arrival, they found that either no one else had thought to bail out from the Bay Area from

there, or had already done so – the area was virtually deserted, most of the slips empty. The only others there were – “Hey, asshole!” yelled Zel as he brought the bus to a screeching halt, already reaching for the Glock 9 he carried in a shoulder-holster. A youngish man dressed in camouflage fatigues, was in the process of untying the lines mooring the yawl to the slip, while a second man, this one dressed simply in jeans, Tshirt, and Zoris, was fiddling with the lines to the sail on the mizzenmast. Then all four of them – both the Ramoses and the Relays – were outside the bus on the tarmac, each down on one knee, taking aim. Instants later, the two men who had been about to hijack the Ramos’ boat lay sprawled where they’d been standing, a crimson wash puddling on the deck below each, twitching in the last, fleeting moments of life and awareness as their bowels and bladders opened, releasing their contents. “Shit, we got here just in time!” Zel muttered, getting to his feet. “Careful,” Relay said, as Zel started to head for the boat. “There could be more, maybe below decks.” “Okay, you may be right. Only one way to find out,” Zel said. Casting caution to the wind, giving a rebel yell that could have been heard all the way to Modesto, he ran toward the slip holding the Tom Paine, using broken-field running to lower the odds that anyone on board trying to take aim at him might hit him. Moments later he had boarded the yawl, bounding down the steps to the galley and bunks, still yelling at the top of his voice. When he emerged from below decks a minute later, he was grinning. “Nah, nobody here. All clear, guys.” “Oh, God, Zel, you could have been killed!” his wife cried, running up to him and throwing her arms around him as he dropped back onto the pier next to the boat. “Don’t do things like that!” “Aw, come on, babe, you know me better than that – and we got Nhee-Ghee coverin’ for us, so there’s nothin’ to worry about!” he told her. Even so, above her head, for a moment his dark-brown eyes were tunnels far into his head, his long, brown face drawn and drained. Clearly he’d been terrified – but he’d always been a man to confront his fears rather than run from them, a strategy that had worked for him for more than half a century. But by the time Leonor straightened up, he was wearing his normal, insouciant grin. “You – whatever am I going to do with you?” she said, reaching out to ruffle his thick, black hair. ”Oh, I got suggestions, babe,” he said, leering at her. “Have I ever got suggestions! We can try some of ’em out tonight. – Hey, Ritz, you missed the party!” he said as the Relays’ dog, the only one of all the pets in the bus not in a carrier or habitat, apparently deciding he’d waited long enough in the bus for them to come back for him, ran up to him, tail wagging but still looking worried – sensibly enough, those gunshots couldn’t have been very reassuring. “Woof!” said the big Alsatian-Labrador mix, his deep voice ricocheting from every surface in the marina, amplified by the acoustics. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get you something to eat. Maybe we’d better feed Maxie and the cats, too, Lee, what do you think?” “I’ll do that, honey. Why don’t you and Anson get started unloading? Persephone, wanna help me get the animals squared away? We can take them on board now, get the habitats lashed down below decks, feed them and all.” “Sure! We can get their feed in there, too. – And we’d better dump those two bodies somewhere, too. Just push them overboard – I don’t think anyone’s coming back here after today, anyway, and neither will we.” “We can do that, Zel,” she told her husband. As the two women headed back to the bus to get the animal feed, the carriers, the cat-boxes and catsand, and the habitats, the two men went to the trailer to start unloading. As it turned out, they didn’t have that much work to do. The trailer’s bed could be tipped down at a 45° angle, something made it very easy to simply push its cargo from the trailer into the bed of another, mastless boat which Zel now rolled out on wheels from a big shed sitting on the north side of the parkinglot, not too far from the water. “We got two trailers, Anson – the one we’re gonna leave behind, which we drove here from the park, and this one, a floating trailer, which we can roll right down to the water, where we can just push it off the frame it’s sitting on.” “No mast?” “Nope. We just tow it behind – I don’t want it to get too frisky if a storm comes up. Mostly it’s just a big, water-tight box with airbags in its sides and top for buoyancy – I’ll fill those after we get everything into it, all I have to do is flip a switch and the little machine under there starts feeding air at high pressure

into them. After that, we button it up, make sure the seals are holding and all that, and run it into the water, right up behind the Tommy, so we can hitch her up to the yawl with the tow-cable. Even if the Peep breaks loose from us, she’ll float for days; if we’re still floating by then, we can come back for her, following the continuous signals these little transponders, here, give out,” he said, touching places along the side of the strange boat where small electronic gadgets were mounted. “We just hitch her right back up to the Tommy, and we’re on our way. It would probably take a direct hit from a Stinger missile or something like that to sink her. I call her the Bo Peep, ’cause she’ll be wagging right along behind us wherever we go. – Okay, it’s a dumb joke, but that’s really her name, ’cause ya gotta call her something. Anyway, she’ll hold everything in the trailer and then some. We can take the clothes out – we’re all gonna need a change of clothes soon – and some of the food, things like that we’ll need right away, but the rest goes in here.” “The fishing tackle?” “Right. Should have that up front in the Tommy, along with the guns and ammo, so we can use it if we need to. When we need to. We will need to, too – no supermarkets where we’re going, not on the Channel Islands! – Okay, you wanna help me push this over to the trailer so we can start?” “Sure. Let’s go . . .” As the two men unloaded the trailer into the weird little boat, the two women dumped the bodies of the would-be pirates over the side of the yawl, making sure they wouldn’t foul the passage away from the pier, then began transferring the pets, the cat- and ferret-boxes and sand for them, and the pet-food from the bus to the yawl, getting food out for those that needed it, the cats complaining LOUDLY the entire time: “MOUT! OUT!” they insisted. “R-off! R-off!” Maxie added in his hoarse voice, fed up with being cooped up in his carrier for so long. The ferrets, not ones ever to be outdone, weighed in with a fusillade of hefty cage-door rattling. “Oh, shut up,” Leonor told them. “You’re lucky we brought you. – Now don’t you start that up!” she snapped, as the cockatiels joined the chorus, ratcheting up the noise-level by 20 or 30 decibels. Finally, however, everyone who was hungry had food and water and was busily chowing down, and the rest weren’t in much of a position to make noise – after all, other than a little hissing, how much noise can a tarantula make? Sighing in relief as relative quiet descended, the two women set about unloading the rest of the bus. Other than food and some kitchenware, destined for the galley, and clothing, which they stowed in the two bunkrooms, most of the things taken from the bus were either secured in holds and lockers in various places aboard the yawl, or taken over to where the men were unloading the trailer, to be added to the cargo loaded aboard the Bo Peep. It took the four of them, working together, about three hours to unload the road trailer and the bus and get everything stowed aboard the Tommie and the Peep where they wanted it. They let Ritz run loose while they worked – he needed a good run and a chance to move his bowels. And as well-trained as he was, he wouldn’t go far; if unpleasant strangers happened to intrude, he’d give his people sufficient advance warning to give them the drop on whoever it was. But nobody else came by. A good thing, too – even friendly people could delay their leaving by crucial minutes, something none of them wanted. By a little after one, after transferring the last of the load from the bus, all their precious weapons, ammunition for the guns, arrows for the hunting bows, and quarrels for the crossbows, they were almost ready to go, only needing to get the Bo Peep into the water and hitch it to the Tommy. Normally, they’d have waited to do that until after they’d had a nice, leisurely lunch – but these weren’t normal times. Also, ever since they’d arrived at the marina the four of them had been noshing on sandwiches and other goodies from a generously-stocked hamper which Leonor had prepared before leaving San Francisco, just to make sure they didn’t have to stop anywhere to eat, or waste precious time preparing food they’d brought. So they kept on going, getting the Bo Peep safely buttoned up and into the water, the Tommy out of the slip, her backside accessible to the Peep, and the two satisfactorily mated before 1:00 p.m. “Okay, guys, we’re gonna stand out to sea. Ready?” Zel asked. “I’m with you, buddy – we really don’t want to hang around here any longer than we have to,” said Relay, who was beginning to feel unaccustomed nervousness, as if someone were sighting on the back of his neck through a sniperscope. “Yeah,” said Zel, looking over his old friend, noting the little signs signifying something more than normal worry. “You feel it, too, don’t you?” “Yeah. – Are we going straight out to sea, or south, or what?” “Actually, I was thinking maybe we oughtta head north, past Point Reyes, as far north of there as we can get by nightfall, make for Bodega Harbor, if we can. It’s protected on all four sides, except for the little

neck you have to squeeze through to get into the harbor proper from the rest of the bay. Unless somebody lays an egg on Santa Rosa or Petaluma, which would be about as dumb as you come, why would anyone want to bomb them?, anyway, we should be fine there. Then tomorrow, maybe, or anyway as soon as the shit stops hitting the fan, we can turn south, head for the Channel Islands.” “That works for me,” said Relay. Both men were thinking of the high ground standing between the beaches north of Point Reyes and San Francisco – there were coves inside Bodega Harbor where they could tie up for the night, tall cliffs along the coast of the outer bay and the northeast side of the harbor protecting them against whatever might come from the land, and two peninsulas closing off the harbor on the west and south from danger coming from the ocean. “Okay, what say we try for Bodega Harbor? Wherever we are around, say, 8 p.m., when it’s getting on to sunset and the light’s starting to go, though, that’s where we’ll head in.” “Good enough. Come on ladies,” Relay said to the women, “we’d better get moving. C’mon, Ritz, you, too.” Silence fell over the little group as they made their way down to the end of the pier, onto the gangplank still tying the Tommy to pier, and into the boat. Ritz, normally ebullient and full of energy, had his tail down as he got into the boat, just behind Zel; from time to time he uttered a minute, almost inaudible whine, his brown, doggy eyes filling up with emotions Relay found it hard to put a name to: Worry? Misery? Anxiety? Dread? Probably something of the same mixture Relay had been feeling increasingly as the day wore on. Looking down into Ritz’s eyes, Relay laid a comforting hand on the dog’s head, telling him, “I feel it, too, Ritz. We all do. That’s why we’re leaving, going someplace where we can be safe.” Uttering an interrogative sound, part whine, part snort, Ritz lifted his head, searching Relay’s eyes as if testing for truth. Finally, apparently satisfied at what he saw there, he uttered another snort, this one probably the canine equivalent of “Okay, boss,” and, his tail wagging again, he trotted along beside Relay as Relay, following Zel’s directions, headed forward to release the sail from its ties so the onboard motor could raise it while Zel took the wheel. Leonor was doing the same for the aft sail, while Persephone went below to make sure there were no loose cannons down in the galley, things that could fall and break, or even a lantern that could pose a fire hazard. It took very little time to stand well out from the coast – providentially, a smart little offshore breeze had come up just as they were getting ready to leave, and it took them far enough out to sea that they wouldn’t have to worry about sandbars, rocks, or any other obstructions once they’d made their turn north, heading toward Bodega Bay. Which they did, shortly thereafter. From then on, all the way up the coast, tacking along beneath a hot turquoise sky, perfectly clear and spectacularly beautiful save for the growing bank of greasy-looking dark smoke hovering just over the horizon to the southeast, it was smooth sailing – almost frighteningly so, considering how nasty the Pacific could be sometimes, this close to land, and the heavy marine traffic that normally filled the area, but was not in evidence now. All that first day at sea they encountered no other boats, though they did see a few in the distances, those few were invariably headed south or west, never north or east. Of course, the lack of eastbound traffic was understandable – after today’s news, nobody with a grain of sense wanted to go into the Bay Area, not if they could avoid it. Even so, whatever the misgivings of their skippers, naval vessels running under orders might have been headed there, but they saw none. They made Bodega Bay a little before 8:00 p.m. Once into the bay and through the neck into Bodega Harbor, it didn’t take them long to find a nice little cove to tie up in. There was a marina in the harbor, of course, and they could see a few beach-shacks and other housing here and there along the cliffs. But nobody seemed to be at home, no boats in the marina, no people along the beaches or up on the cliffs. “God, it’s like a tomb here!” said Persephone. “Creepy! Where is everyone, anyway?” “Probably took off in a panic as soon as they heard what happened up north, especially after the quakes hit,” said Zel. Ever since they’d left the Peninsula, whenever they could, they’d all been listening off and on to the big shortwave rig he’d set up in the galley, picking up the news as they went along. It wasn’t good. Added to the catastrophe in the Puget Sound area, two equally horrendous but apparently natural volcanic explosions, one in Long Valley, California, one in the Yellowstone area, had devastated thousands of square miles in eastern California and the area around southwest Wyoming. On top of those catastrophes, earlier in the day, Phoenix, Miami, Chicago, and Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico had been destroyed by multimegaton devices brought in the same way as whatever had triggered the catastrophe in Seattle had been, by boat. New York City and Washington, DC had both been destroyed by ICBMs with multimegaton thermonuclear warheads. Farther afield, Paris, Moscow, Baghdad, and numerous other cities

in Europe and the Middle East were gone, scorched into nothingness by hydrogen bombs, and the British Isles were no more than radioactive ash-heaps. Hundreds of other major cities had been destroyed, most of them by daisy-cutter-sized bombs deployed via trucks, boats, or ICBMs. Asia was in chaos, Beijing now only a vast, dark crater, easily seen from space by night because of the radioactivity filling it; Mecca had gone the same way. Israel – somehow, except for Tel Aviv (the bastards would make sure to at least nail that, wouldn’t they? thought Relay sourly), Israel had, by a miracle, escaped – so far, Relay thought, thinking of his cousins, the Silbersteins, he’d played with all the time in Brooklyn, who’d moved to Israel around 1970. Were they safe? Were any of the people he’d known back then and grown up with, presumably still alive at least as of yesterday, still safe, still alive now? There’d also been mention of the possibility of tsunamis all up and down the coast due to the catastrophe in Seattle and its aftermath. Maybe, after hearing the tsunami alert, the people who had lived here or, at least, were vacationing here in and around Bodega Harbor and the outer bay had decided to bail, leaving in any boats in residence at the time in the harbor marina. As for the tsunamis, he thought, looking around, apparently, for some reason, this area had been spared those – so far, anyway. The harbor’s beaches looked untouched, the piers hadn’t been damaged, there was no sign that water had washed up to or past or over the cottages and other structures up past the beach. He had a feeling that the people here may have jumped straight from the frying pan into the fire by heading out to sea – or had they? Maybe the tsunamis had passed right under them without a sign of their passage, as huge waves away from shore can do to a boat. Let’s hope, he thought, tsunamis aren’t due here now. Tsunamis were funny things, depending very much on the topography of the sea-bottom over which they had to pass to get to their ultimate destinations. Maybe some had come rolling this way, and had then been reflected away by the topography of the coastline and the continental shelf beneath the nearby waters. It would take him years to learn what had actually happened here, and why; in any event, they weren’t bothered by tsunamis during their relatively short stay in the cove, nor during the trip down the coast to the Channel Islands afterwards. They had been spared, and would continue to be spared; as for why, timing and luck could account for some of it, but for the rest, only the Gods knew. And it would take him far more time to find out what They had to say about it. “Honey, are you all right?” “Persephone? – Uh, sorry, just woolgathering. What’s up?” “Lee’s trying to get Zel to go take a nap. I swear he runs on Energizer batteries! He’s been up since last night. I don’t see how he can keep going the way he has today with all that energy. All we need to do now is tie up in that Marina over there, Lee says. Could you take over from Zel so he can go lie down?” “Hey, I’m just fine!” came Zel’s angry voice from the wheelhouse. “We’re almost home, okay? Now let me do this, and you three do your jobs, and then, once we’re battened down properly for the night, I promise I’ll go take my nap like a good little boy, okay?” The Relays, chuckling, exchanged glances. “That’s our Zel,” Persephone said, smiling. “Well, let’s hope he’s right – I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go in there and try to take his command away from him now, he’d be worse than a mother cat defending her kittens.” “Yep. – Zel, how close are we to the pier?” “We’re by it, Anson – see?” “Oh, so we are.” “Now pull that tiller hard left and we’re in!” A couple of minutes later they were in the slip, pulling up to the tie-off, Bo Peep trailing sedately along after them. For a short while they were all so busy securing the two boats – Zel wanted a second set of lines run over to the Peep, “just to make sure” – that there was no time or room for argument. Then it was over. They had reached their goal, had tied up securely enough that even Zel wasn’t bitching about it, and could relax. The four of them, the dog beside them, stood on the pier for a few minutes, taking in the beauty of the sunset, one of those spectacular California sky-shows like something on a Hollywood set, not quite real. Deep orange light, shot through with red, pink, and greenish-yellow rays where altocirrus clouds, invisible save for their effect on the light of the Sun, created strange refractory effects, filled the west like flowing lava into which the Sun was sinking. Above the cliffs to the east and north, the sky was already growing dark. A star appeared there. Two stars. The heart-piercing cries of seagulls came from nearby. Then, save for the sounds of low wavelets breaking on the beach around the marina, it was quiet again.

“Man, I could sure use a drink, couldn’t you?” Zel said. Relay looked at him. The energy seemed to have suddenly run out of his friend, and there were dark, heavy circles under Zel’s eyes that Relay hadn’t noticed before. The word that came to Relay to describe his friend at that moment was grey. “Yeah, I could. Why don’t you sit down while I make drinks for us, okay? You’ve been doing most of the work today – we don’t you to wear yourself out, at least not before the warranty expires!” “Heh. Okay, I give up, you’ve twisted my arm. Sounds good,” he said, following Relay down to the galley, dropping onto one of the benches as Relay started getting out the liquor and glasses. “You know, I could’ve taken the wheel while you had a nap on the way here,” Relay told his friend as he fixed two whiskey-and-sours, one for himself, one for Zel. “Smooth as a baby’s butt, all the way, I wouldn’t have had any problems.” “Yeah, well, you never know – thanks,” he said, accepting the drink Relay held out to him. “—Ahhh! Perfect! Just what I need. Didn’t you tell me once you’d been a bartender, Anson?” “Yeah, for about three months – that was right after I first moved to California. Hell, it’s not hard to learn how to mix good drinks. That I learned in my teens from the guys I hung around with, then.” “Drink? Did I hear somebody say ‘drink’?” said Leonor brightly as she came down the galley steps. “My favorite fruit! What’cha got?” “Whiskey-and-sour – there’s vodka, too, and gin, all the rest of it, but most of it’s still packed.” “I know where the vodka is,” said Persephone, joining the others in the galley. “You want me to –” “Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Zel. The other shoe he’d been waiting for all day had finally dropped. “What – oh, my God!” exclaimed Persephone. “The light – it’s so bright!” Above the cliffs to the east and southeast the sky had suddenly filled with light so blindingly bright that “white” was a misnomer – if one could have seen into the far ultraviolet with naked eyes, it might have looked like that. It hurt the eyes to look at it. For long moments the entire sky was awash in it, the last dying halo of light from the Sun, now just below the western horizon, no competition for it at all. “The color out of space,” Relay breathed. “The Bomb, isn’t it?” Persephone said in a small voice. Slowly, slowly, the light in the east began to shade down the spectrum from bluish-white to yellow, orange, crimson, scarlet, burning nitrogen rising in a ring above a sullen, dark-red glow. There was no way they could have seen the mushroom cloud from where they were – the intervening land-mass and the curve of the Earth stood in the way. But the light – it looked as if a gigantic forest-fire were raging there, just a little way beyond the cliffs to the north and east. Then the ground shock began. It built rapidly to a crescendo, about the same as a 4.0 earthquake, rattling the dishes in the galley and making overhead lanterns sway a little, then, as rapidly as it had begun, fading away. It was soon followed by a wind that swept the cliff-tops rimming the bay, sending sand flying off the cliffs and down to the beaches below; enough of its warmth remained by the time it had reached this far to raise the temperature slightly as it spilled over the cliff-edges, down to the beach and on out to sea. “Thank God we’re as close to those cliffs as we are,” said Zel in an uncharacteristically hushed voice, once the shockwaves and the wind had come and gone. “If we didn’t have them between us and . . . that . . .” His voice trailed off. Relay looked at him. You stayed awake because you knew that was coming, didn’t you, old friend? he thought. You couldn’t sleep until you knew we were all here, safe from that. The love he’d always had for Zel increased by quantum leaps. “What time is it?” Leonor asked, as if trying to anchor herself as firmly as possible in the moment, trying to make sure the winds of change surely coming didn’t blow her permanently off her moorings. In a small, very weary voice, Zel said, looking down at the digital watch on his wrist, “8:45 p.m. Or it was when that went off, anyway. And I hope to God I shielded everything properly down in the hold and back on the Peep.” “What –?” Leonor asked, puzzled. “Honey, look at my watch,” he said, holding his arm out to her. “Notice anything.” It took several seconds to register, but, her mind never slow even at the worst of times, she finally realized what he meant: “Your watch isn’t running any more, is it?” “Nope. Must’ve been one hell of an EMP to hit us this far out.” “Oh, no,” Relay muttered. “Well, I think everything we’ve got below decks on both boats should be okay. Months ago, I lined both areas with lead cloth and copper cladding sandwich, just in case – I got this hunch. (The copper makes for a great Faraday cage, if we run into some kind of EMP.) Looks like it paid off.”

As it turned out, he was right. Even the electronics on which the Tommy’s engine was dependent were shielded so well they easily withstood the EMP from the bomb that destroyed San Francisco. But the watches they were wearing never worked again, nor did a Gameboy left out on the galley’s table, a small transistor radio sitting on one of the bunks, nor the electronic cuckoo-clock, Leonor’s pride and joy, that had been mounted in the galley above the refrigerator, nor the electric motor that they had used earlier to raise and lower the Tommy’s sails – from then on, they would have to use the manually-operated windlass installed as backups for that task. And for a long, long time, years, in fact, Relay wondered just what effect the EMP had had on them? Would they or their pets die of some horrible galloping cancer? Was their resistance to disease knocked down to nothing? Neither he nor Zel were getting any younger – this was no small worry for them. And in a few years, if not before, the women would have to worry about it, too. Lord God of Hosts, he said silently to the God he had never admitted to publicly since just past puberty, long before he’d founded the First Church of Nhee-Ghee, what have You done to us? To this world? To its life? You Who made a promise to Father Abraham, so long ago – have you given up on that promise? Or will you still keep it, even now – and if so, how? his thought a moan of despair. Still, he realized as the days wore on, only those who, like the four of them, had headed north or northwest from the Bay Area would have had a chance – those going south would have been cruising by the Bay Area just as that bomb went off, and would have been permanently blinded, fried right where they were, instant fish-food (the fish would probably regret that lunch later as the tumors began sprouting in them). Perhaps there was a providence watching over the fractious human species, making sure there would be survivors of the War, and maybe that providence had been watching over and guiding he, his wife, and the Ramoses. Perhaps. And the evening and the morning that followed were the first day – and God spoke only in the things that came after. And when at last, weeks later, they had made their way down the coast to Santa Cruz Island, where they were welcomed with open arms by the Ransdells and the Champions, who were ecstatic at the chance to double the size of their tiny island colony by the addition of genuinely competent people willing to work with them as equal partners at the hard business of survival, he wondered again: We survived. What are we, oh Lord, that Thou hast been mindful of us?