Authors: John Barnes
ABOUT THE SAME TIME. PUEBLO, COLORADO. 8 AM MST. THURSDAY, JULY 10, 2025.
“Given that everything I know to do came out of a 1942 Merck Manual,” Dr. Abrams said, “I think we’re doing
well to tell you that you’re going to have a baby. Other than that, all I can really say is that nothing I can find is wrong.”
Heather sighed. “I understand. Really I do. But I’m having my first kid as a widow right after my fortieth birthday. Look, the main thing I wanted to ask—is it true that a mother’s stress can affect her baby?”
Abrams laughed. “The manual here tells me to assure you your kid won’t get a birthmark.”
“Uh, I guess I was worried about the more modern superstitions.”
“Why? You might as well have a quaint old-fashioned superstition to go with our quaint old-fashioned way of life. At least don’t add the stress of worrying about the stress. Eat well, sleep as much as you can, stay active as long as you can without overdoing it, and do your best to remember that you’re a strong healthy woman and everything about the pregnancy is textbook normal—even if the textbook is eighty years old and came out of a dusty library basement.”
“What the hell, that’s no worse than half the congressmen I used to work with.” Heather left with the same comfortable feeling Dr. MaryBeth Abrams always gave her.
I suppose it’s one more way we’re back to the old days. Reassure the patient and let nature do its thing. Not unlike what I’m trying to do with the United States.
She was most of the way back to the old Pueblo County Courthouse when Patrick charged around the corner, holding out a message. “I checked at Room F to see if there was anything for you, Ms. O’Grainne, so you wouldn’t have to wait for their regular delivery.”
Room F was Incoming Crypto.
“And I bet they gave you one lousy coupon.”
“Well, it’s a pretty good coupon, actually,” he said, smiling. “I hear it’s gonna be hamburgers at the Riverwalk Kitchen tonight, a train hit a cow over by Goodnight.”
“Well,” Heather said, “since it’s hamburgers, you and Ntale will both want seconds and one of you might even need thirds.” She scribbled out a coupon for five entrees; he pocketed it and handed her the folded message. “Gotta run, Ms. O’Grainne. The mail must go through.”
It was a note from Larry Mensche:
arr ontor lst nite
bambi down abt 100 mi n of here
US 95 1/2 mi N of ID mi mkr 178
located clean fuel
located mules & skinners
plz authze $3k govt scrip
will need on return (est 12 days)
no troops/planes/special indic @ present but plz stdXjic
no worrying & tell Q 2
“Plz stdXjic” was Larry’s personal abbreviation for
Please stand by just in case.
Plz stdXjic had turned out to mean he’d needed a troop of cavalry, two doctors, three kegs of beer—not all on the same mission. It took her a moment to realize that “Tell Q 2” meant “tell Quattro too”—in other words, that Quattro wasn’t supposed to worry either.
She felt a kick and looked down. “All right,” she said. “Larry’s in Ontario, Oregon, and he’s on the job.
of us is supposed to worry.”
ABOUT THE SAME TIME. OLYMPIA, NEW DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (FORMERLY IN WASHINGTON STATE). 10 AM PST. THURSDAY, JULY 10, 2025.
Allie Sok Banh’s first thought was that she’d have to speak sternly to Brianna about who was allowed to make appointments with her, or at least cut Allie in on any bribes. Other than a kickback, there was no possible reason Brianna had given a half-hour in Allie’s already-impossible schedule to a delegation from the tribes, and no way that the First Lady/Chief of Staff could properly meet with the tribals at all.
since I run the White House for President Hubbo-baby, that makes me the second most powerful person in the second most functional government in the former number one, currently about number twenty, nation on Earth. I’m at least five steps too important to be talking to . . .
She looked down at the list and winced. From Sunflower Hammerhand of the Sunhawks down through reps for the Sunrisers and Morningstars, on to George Madisonsson of the Blue Morning People, and at the end: COALITION REPRESENTATIVE : MR. DARCAGE.
All of them would be people who used to be named something normal like Bill Smith or Ashley Gonzalez, who had absorbed some goofy Daybreaker ideas about the end of the world and gone off to be inept tree-worshipping bush hippies and make-believe Indians. The only real issue she should have with them was whether to assign them to the Justice Department for arrest or HHS for mental health evaluation.
But here they were, in her outer office. And the architects of the former Governor’s Mansion of Washington State had neglected to provide her office with a back door.
Well. She’d now used up three minutes of the allotted half hour. If she stretched out introductions and small talk, she might run out of time before Crystal Earthmommy, Shining Woowoofeather, and Barks at the Moon could voice their silly demands.
I just pray I won’t have to accept any gift with beads or feathers or any other Camp Forest Fruitcake shit.
They looked like the chorus of a community theatre production of
: braids, dreads, Stetsons and cloches decorated with machine parts, one hat that appeared to be a mummified turkey. Most were in multiple shirts, baggy pirate pants or granny skirts, and some kind of knee boots or leggings. All of them were white—tribals were New Age hippie wannabes whose mythology derived not-too-remotely from Conan, Xena, Tolkien, heavy-metal Nazism, and
The Da Vinci Code
, and the First Nations very sensibly despised them.
Mr. Darcage was easily the winner of the Best Dressed Fruit Loop award. He had dreads, but neat ones; wore a hat with a feather, but it was a bowler with just one feather; and was dressed in a tuxedo coat over a baggy white shirt with neckerchief, and black pants tucked into knee-high deer-hide boots. He bowed and began the introductions.
As she watched, she realized that
Darcage is the only real one; if there’s any deal to be done, it’ll be with him.
When all the handshakes and bows had been exchanged, Darcage said, “The group has chosen George Madisonsson of the Blue Morning People to present their petition.”
It began with a long, flowery prelude from the United Tribes of the Et Cetera and the And So Forth, in which each tribe named its founding values and claimed a history that had nothing to do with the events of the last eight months, when they had actually come into being. Darcage was appointed to be their representative to Olympia, and if the Federal government had any problem with any member of any tribe, he would—
Allie shook her head. “You’re American citizens. If one of you breaks an American law, you’re individually responsible to the city, county, state, or Federal government. If the guy next to you breaks a law, and you try to get between him and the arresting officer, that’s assaulting an officer, breach of peace, or obstructing justice, maybe all of those, and you will be arrested and tried for it. The Federal government does not give a shit about your little hippie-Indian or elven-Nazi clubs. The constable of the tiniest township has full authority to bust your silly asses if you break any law.”
The long silence was not awkward for Allie.
After looking around, George Madisonsson tried to go on. “Due recognition of the tribes under the new constitution—”
“There’s not going to be a new constitution,” Allie said. “And you won’t be recognized under the existing one, either, unless you put together a lot more votes than I think you have. We have states, counties, municipalities, and some more unusual categories like commonwealths, trust territories, overseas bases, interstate compacts, and Native American reservations. We don’t have tribes, autonomous republics, satrapies, or—”
“Or Castles?” Darcage did not raise his voice or look up.
“The so-called Castles are large, fortified private homes. Legally they’re no different at all from a big hotel or dude ranch with an extra-large security service.”
Darcage gestured for George to go on. “The territorial rights claimed by each tribe in the league are—”
“Irrelevant,” Allie said. “Absolutely irrelevant because all of that land is under some combination of the sovereignty of the national government, the jurisdiction of state and local governments, and the control of its legal owners. Daybreak, and the bombs, and the EMPs, did not abolish the Federal government. It sits here. They did not abolish the states—”
Darcage said, “Superior, Wabash, Allegheny, New England, and Chesapeake.”
The vast area from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to the tip of Maine, and from Norfolk, Virginia, to Milwaukee, was a devastated wasteland, the Lost Quarter, far worse off than any other region of the country. Within the Lost Quarter, only about twenty-five struggling settlements here and there along its edge still called in to report famines, disease outbreaks, and tribal marauding. Seventeen contiguous states were functionally gone, with some bordering counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina also in ruins and not communicating. Just weeks before, General Grayson, acting on the orders of the Temporary National Government in Athens, had taken six battalions north along the Youghiogheny Valley in Pennsylvania to evacuate a few hundred Amish families with desperately needed skills. They had been attacked by and fought tribes literally every day, carrying out more than three hundred of their own wounded and taking more than fifty deaths. Everyone said that if it had been anyone other than Grayson, it might have been much worse.
It had forced the Temporary National Government at Athens to admit that there was no hope of restoring a state government quickly in Pennsylvania, let alone in other states in worse straits. The Tempers had declared all those states “suspended” and given the state governments of both Illinois and Michigan “observer status” since neither had any meaningful control over its own territory. There was no provision, of course, for suspending a state, or granting it observer status, in the Constitution.
Here at Olympia, Graham Weisbrod’s Provisional Constitutional Government had decreed the existence of five New States, temporary agglomerations of existing counties with portions of the Lost Quarter. Superior, with its state capital in Green Bay, was functioning; Wabash, with a nominal government at Quincy, Illinois, was going through the motions; Allegheny’s legislature, if they could manage to hold an election, would meet at Steubenville, Ohio, and about a dozen PCG agents were there, trying to raise a militia and begin pacifying the area. New England and Chesapeake were still completely unorganized.
The five New States had been created because Allie and Graham had believed they’d be able to control the appointment of their senators and representatives, creating a solidly dependable majority in the Provisional Congress; this would allow them to enact the programs Weisbrod had advocated for decades before Daybreak. By sending Grayson and the Army into what was supposed to be Allegheny, Cameron Nguyen-Peters, the Natcon of the Temporary National Government, had made the New States look like a sham, and the Provisional Constitutional Government like a hapless pretender. He had also revealed, by the public admiration for Grayson, that the American public did not want a relief area named Allegheny; they wanted a state named Pennsylvania. And Darcage had just thrown this into her face. More importantly, he had
that that was what he was doing.
As if he had somehow perceived Allie’s last thought, Darcage said, “These are the positions that the United Tribes intend to press, which I will be advocating here in every forum. You reject them now, but since they are matters of simple justice, eventually someone, sitting in that chair, will say ‘Of course.’ In the vicissitudes of politics, it may even be you.” He turned to the other tribals and said, “As we discussed, I should like to confer privately with Ms. Sok Banh—”
“My last name is Banh,” Allie said, evenly, “and I won’t be saying anything privately that I wouldn’t say publicly.”
“Matters have been tense, I believe, and a short private chat to establish a cordial relationship—”
“Won’t have any effect at all,” Allie said. “If I want to consult with the tribes as such”—
or, say, get the ski report from hell
—“I know where to find you.”
As the delegation filed out, Darcage stopped at the door and closed it, remaining inside with her.
She yanked the cord under her desk to bring in a guard.
Darcage said, “I am in a position to mobilize appropriate activities by the tribes to influence the 2026 special election, and frankly, you and President Weisbrod cannot afford to pass up any possible source of help. The election will very likely turn on the question of whether Provis or Tempers look like the people who can run a good reconstruction, and reconstruction will be impossible without our—”
The door opened and a muscular young sergeant of the President’s Own Rangers pushed in and pinned Darcage to the wall. “Mister Darcage,” she said, “I told you to leave.”
After Darcage was removed, Allie canceled her next two appointments, pleading a headache. She stood at the window. More than usually, Olympia’s mall looked like a dank, dirty miniature of lost and cratered Washington.
The thing is, Darcage’s right. Everything about the 2026 election will be a squeaker, and we need all the help we can get, including his, if he has any to give. Of course, there’s no reason to believe he can deliver, but then, I won’t know unless we talk, will I?
Graham would make a hopeless mess of this; President Hubby was sometimes such a big Goody Two-Shoes, and this was a matter for a subtle mind that didn’t shock easily.
Such as mine.