CITIES OF THE EAST

by

Michael Edwards

 

Joey defied his leader one last time.  He was eighty years old, and he knew he was dying.  He had made the long journey alone.  He had not meant to come here first; this was to be his last stop - and so it was, but not as he envisioned it when he left his home.  He meant to go farther east first, to see for himself all the wondrous sights he had been told about.  All the things he had missed by turning west when his people crossed from Indiana into Ohio.  He had meant to honor yet another soul he had become indebted to along the way by keeping his promise to visit the cities that dotted the vast plains near the coast.  Then to work his way back to this mountain of eastern Tennessee.  To climb to its summit.  To look out over the valleys filled with mist as they were filled each morning before the world ended, even if he had never seen them that way before, even if all he had ever seen from the summit was an endless white landscape too frozen to give rise to the early morning.  Then to stand beneath the giant oak that stood vigil for fifty years.  Then to back away from the tree, as from an altar.  Then to work his way back down, to a lower spot, beneath the summit.  Finally to lie down until God was ready for him.

Instead, he came to Clingman's Dome first, drawn by something even more powerful than his pledge to visit the cities of the eastern plains.  He ascended the full height of this once proud peak left behind when the earth re-shaped itself, this peak once the highest in Tennessee, now a mere mole hill alongside its surrounding peaks.   He made his way to the tree.  He looked down at the form cradled within the giant roots reaching up from the earth.  The lifeless form of his leader and his leader's charge, become one over time.  He knelt a moment in prayer.

"I am not worthy to lie beside you in death," he whispered.  Then he arose, turned, and walked away.  He managed to climb down to the old encampment still standing beneath the tree.  He wandered through it, as much amazed at how little the earth had grown up around its unfinished walls as by its still standing after all these years.

Joey found a suitable place and, after taking a moment to silently commend his spirit to his heavenly father, he lay down and closed his eyes for the last time.  As he drifted off to sleep, a clear sparkle ahead of him, like an icicle, began to grow opaque until, in time, a soft white light enveloped him.  He felt himself being lifted into that light.  Then a feeling, unlike anything he had ever experienced, took hold of him.

The water was still beating against the hills of eastern Indiana when Joey turned back.  The gap he had found lay just below the twisted ruins of Interstate 74 and led straight into the town of Harrison in southwestern Ohio, a town itself mangled by whatever had re-shaped the hills.  A town Joey and Carol had visited, had been welcomed in, had made friends in.  It looked deserted, for which Joey was grateful.

"At least the people got out," he told Carol as they both tried to identify the ruined buildings, most of which were beyond recognition.  They hadn't simply fallen in on themselves, as from an earthquake; or disintegrated as if a tornado had ripped them apart.  They were almost literally mangled, as if someone had taken hold and twisted them into ropes of various sizes.

"I've never seen anything like it," he started to say then froze as an image from twenty years ago ripped across his mind.

"What is it?" Carol asked in some alarm.

"I have seen something like it," he uttered in a terrified voice.  "When I came back from the Sierras.  The ruins of Pod City.  The pods were all twisted into narrow slivers of metal."

He began running toward the buildings.  Brad happened to glance around and see him.

"Halt!" cried Brad as he lifted his gun and stepped between Joey and the line of buildings.  "No one goes near these buildings!"

Joey came to within inches of him and whispered, in a voice that sent a chill down Brad's spine, "Get out of my way."  Brad hesitated a few seconds, toying with his gun, before moving aside.

When Joey reached the buildings, he began digging his way through the twisted rubble, oblivious to everything.  Then he suddenly recoiled as if he had uncovered a deadly snake.  He stepped back and heaved a tortured sigh.

Brad and Carol came to him.  Turning to them, he muttered "It can't be the same thing.  The lava hardening around the pods caused them to twist like this, trapping those people inside too."  He paused a moment.  "Just like these," he finally added.

It took a moment before Carol understood what he meant.  "Oh no," she, too, muttered in a sickened tone.  "They're in there?" she asked.  Joey nodded.

"We can't search for victims or even survivors," Brad observed in a voice almost gentle.  "You understand that?" he asked.  Joey acknowledged his leader's request, but took a moment to look out over the buildings of Harrison to reassure himself that whatever fate had befallen this one at hand had befallen all of them.  Then he bowed his head and silently prayed to God for the souls of whomever lay buried within these ruins.

Brad had already returned to the main body of his people and was preparing to address them.  A moment later Joey and Carol rejoined the others.

"We know the direction we're going," Brad told his people.  "We just don't know how far, or where we'll finally settle.  Or what we'll encounter on the way.  I know we're all tired, and we'll stop soon and set up camp.  But we have to get beyond this town.  Whatever caused this could happen again.  We won't go beyond five miles.  Then we'll rest."

This time there was no dissent.  Although bone tired, Brad's people - the remnants of Henry's new world - fell in place behind their new leader and wearily moved past the remains of Harrison, following the northeasterly path Brad had chosen in order to avoid the cities of Cincinnati and Fairfield.  When they reached the border of Hamilton and Butler Counties, they were halted and ordered to make camp.  They rested three days before setting out again.

Joey yearned to break with the rest of the people and begin his journey west; yet he felt duty bound to continue through Ohio at least as far as he and Carol had traveled.  When he told Brad of his plan, he expected the same opposition from his leader that he and anyone else challenging his authority had met.  Instead, Brad advised him to go now, and not wait till they were through Ohio.

"I won't be asking your advice any longer," Brad explained.  "Whatever we encounter from here on, I will decide how to deal with.  You saved us twice.  But whatever perils we encounter on our journey will not be the same kind as before.  You were like Henry in that you knew the earth.  But the earth will no longer be as great a threat."

"You don't know that," Joey countered.

"But I do," said Brad.  "Whatever the earth had to do in the east has already been done."

Joey pleaded with Carol one last time to accompany him to California; but, once again, she refused.

"You carry too much baggage," she refrained her earlier observation.  "I travel light.  We would not make good traveling companions."

Joey said his farewells and took his leave of the people he had helped bring from the ruins of the old world to the new world, which now itself lay in ruins.

Felicia walked a ways with him before rejoining the others.  "You may never know what lies waiting just beyond the mountains," she warned him.

"Whatever God wishes me to know, He'll reveal to me when He's ready," Joey assured her.  They walked a little farther together before Felicia turned back.

"Even more than saving my life," she told him, "I'll always cherish you for bringing my father up out of the pit.  I hate the land."

"Will you be happy with Brad?" Joey asked, as a father would ask his daughter about her new bridegroom.

"Until it's time to go to sea," Felicia replied.

"Unless he goes with you," Joey suggested, but Felicia shook her head.

"I could never be at home with someone who would go with me," she said.   "Only someone who I must go with if I'm to be with him."

Joey watched as Felicia made her way back to the others; then he turned away for good and started his journey west.

No place on earth fared better than Africa when the world ended half a century ago.  For once, the continent of sorrows enjoyed a peace and prosperity it had not seen in a thousand years.  As the rest of the world crumbled, Africa flourished, almost unscathed by the events taking place around the globe.  The Great Rift Valley was torn apart initially, threatening to rend the entire continent in half; but the land healed itself and the continent remained together, gradually returning to its previous topography.  Life went unchanged, and unimpeded by the outside world.  The conflicts that had torn whole nations apart a century ago dissipated of their own volition without the rest of the world there to influence Africa's internal affairs.  And with its resources no longer beckoning outsiders, its people were free to use the land for their own benefit, free to live their lives in accordance with the requirements of their own survival.

The young man with flaming red hair and piercing green eyes was led in chains to the center of a small village in West Africa, where he was tied to a large tree that marked the village square.  The village was deserted, and the houses surrounding the square were in a state of decay.  A tall man, who appeared to be the leader of the men who captured him, moved forward to address him.

"Do you know why you're here?" the man asked in English.

"Of course," the prisoner answered matter-of-factly.  "Because I trade in slaves."

"That explains why you were taken prisoner - not why you're here," the man offered.  "Look around," he said.  "What do you see?"

"Nothing," the prisoner replied.  "Just some deserted houses."

"Yes: nothing," the man confirmed.  "Because nothing is left of what used to be a flourishing village.  It was destroyed by those like you who, after half a century of peace and freedom, decided we were a nation of uncivilized savages who, like our ancestors, were fit only to serve the white man."

"I never thought that," the prisoner admitted.

"Then why did you take us as slaves?"

"For the adventure," the prisoner answered unhesitatingly.

"You destroy our homes, steal our young men and women, leave our children and our parents to fend for themselves, or else kill them outright - all for adventure?  Not even for profit, or because you felt yourself our superior?  For adventure?"

The prisoner looked puzzled, as if his captor were challenging a creed he had taken as self-evident.  He had no answer, other than to question the concept that rocked the foundation of everything he believed.  But he had no words for his question, only a blank stare that begged for an explanation.

"I have no means of expressing my way of life," the prisoner finally said.  "So you may as well go ahead and kill me now."

The man raised the spear he was carrying and thrust it to within inches of the prisoner's chest.  Then he withdrew it.

"You show no fear," the man observed.

"I've never been run through with a spear," the prisoner explained.  "I've seen others run through, seen the pain in their faces, heard their cries.  But I've never experienced it, so I have no fear of it."

"You will know fear before the night is over," the man warned.  "When you took those who protected this village, the animals that share this land with us sensed it.  Our people became easy prey for them in times of hunger, when their natural prey was scarce.  Such a time is now.  Panthers and leopards now roam this land freely, and visit this village nightly in hopes of finding yet another to prey upon.  They will return tonight.  They will find only you.  You, who preyed upon us, will become their prey tonight.  They may kill you quickly, or they may fight over you, tearing you apart piece by piece.  I hope you die quickly, rather than suffer for hours as some of our parents did.  Why I hope it, I'm not sure, except that I believe you have no idea how evil your way of life is.  I should hate you more for that but I pity you instead, to bring so much misery to others without the slightest idea how abominable it is.  Now it is almost dark; it is almost time.  May your God, who sanctions the enslavement of my people a second time, have mercy on you - because my gods will not."

Soon the men were gone, leaving their prisoner alone, tied with thick ropes to the tree.  He watched as the last of the day's light was absorbed into a thick black gel, from which came a thousand sounds from all around him.  The sounds of night, which had taken the place of daylight as the dominant expression of life.  Some of these sounds, in the strength of their cadence, momentarily obliterated lesser sounds, then died down, allowing other sounds to again come forward.  This went on for several hours before another sound, different not only in pitch but in the quality of its execution, drowned out every other sound - not because of its volume but because of its significance.  It was the noise of footsteps, soft, almost inaudible, yet pounding against the prisoner's eardrums to where he could hear nothing else.  It was the walk of night cats, on the prowl.  And they had found the village square.

They grew louder and louder, these steps, as the panthers and leopards drew closer, though the paws that made them moved so sure-footed through the jungle they seemed to barely touch the ground.  But the prisoner heard them; and though they knew he heard them they still approached softly, as if to surprise their prey.  He heard them closing in on him, then he heard them all around him.  Then they stopped.  He could sense claws being unsheathed, reaching out into the night.  Then he felt something sharp at his back, then at his chest, his legs, his arms, his neck, and finally his throat.

In the morning the men who had tied the prisoner to the tree returned.  They found him lying naked on the ground beside the tree.  His tattered clothes, along with the torn and frayed rope, lay heaped around him.  This was unlike anything they had ever seen.  They approached to get a closer look, then leaped back as a strange noise arose from the ground - a noise as familiar as their own names made suddenly strange by the circumstances of its creation.  The sound of breathing.  They looked around but saw nothing.  Then they again approached the prisoner, still unable to comprehend what lay so clearly before them.  There were no marks on him, neither scratches nor gouges; there was no blood covering him or on the ground beneath or around him.  Then he stirred.

He rolled over onto his back and yawned, slowly opening his eyes.  Looking up, he saw the men staring down at him as if seeing some strange new kind of species.  He flashed a brilliant smile and started to get up.  The man who had addressed him in the evening before leaving him to be eaten extended his hand.  The prisoner took it and was helped to his feet.

"What has happened here?" the man asked.  "The great cats ate anyone they found.  They even broke through our doors to eat our parents.  Why were you spared?"

"They only killed the weak and helpless," the prisoner explained.

"You were helpless," the man reminded him.

"They had work for me to do," came the reply.  "If I live," he added, looking at the drawn spear.

The man immediately threw his spear down.  "No one in this land will lift a hand against you," he promised.  "You are blessed."

"You will not regret it," the prisoner, in turn, promised.  Then he reached down, picked up the spear, and, taking it in both hands, slashed his own throat deeply enough to draw blood.  Then he returned the spear to its owner.

"I have no right to leave this place unscarred," he said.  "My wound is nothing compared to the wounds I inflicted on your land.  I will never return to my old ways.  The big cats made me see it was evil.  They made me promise never again to hurt your people.  I swear to you - on the living souls of my brothers - that I will fight this evil till the last day of my life!  I will not rest so long as one single ship carries one single slave across the sea.  May my blood turn to sand if I ever go back on my promise.  I would dishonor not only you and your people but my own brothers as well."

The man nodded his acceptance of everything the prisoner said.  "We, who have lived here since the beginning of time, have only come to understand the ways of the great cats by watching them over the centuries," he told the prisoner.  "But, in a single night, they revealed their very souls to you.  You are indeed blessed.  What will you do now?" the man asked.

"Find my way back to the sea," the prisoner replied.

"But your ship sank," he was reminded.  "You were washed ashore miles from here."

"There are other ships."

"Slave ships like yours," the man said.

"I'll find one that's not," the prisoner promised.

"You must come with us to our camp," the man decided.  "You must be fed and clothed before we can let you leave."

The young man was led to a place deep in the jungle, where he stayed for three days before setting out to find another ship.  His captors accompanied him almost to the shoreline before turning back.

"Our lives have been enriched by meeting you," the man said.

"And mine has been changed forever," said the young man.

Just as he was readying to depart, the man took one final look at this young man who had changed from his enemy to become his prisoner and finally his protector.

"It is customary to give someone who has blessed us with his presence a special name, that has magic powers," the man related.  "I can find no name more magical than the one you have.  Share you name with us as you have your blessings."

The young man with flaming hair smiled at his captors.  "I am Sandy," he told them.

"Then Sandy will be our most magical name from this day on."

A cold chill ran down Cade's back and made him shudder.  He was staring off into the distance, toward the east, as if straining to see something.  Stone Creek, standing beside him on this bluff overlooking the Ohio River at the southwestern tip of Clark County, noticed his movement and asked what was wrong.  Still staring eastward, Cade answered in a voice barely audible.

"Someone has died," he said.  Then, after a long pause, he turned to his grandfather.  "Someone who could have answered the questions still unanswered," he added in a more normal tone of voice.

"The things even I don't know?" Stone Creek prompted his grandson.

Cade nodded.  "The connection I saw," he explained.  "The last piece of mine and Brad's heritage."

"You need to know?" asked Stone Creek.

"To understand, I do," said Cade.  "There's a piece of the future that's missing, and it will never be found without this final link with the past."

"The future will always find what it needs," Stone Creek observed.

"It's what we need to be a part of it," Cade tried to explain but realized he couldn't.  Then he nodded his resignation and beckoned his traveling companion to continue the journey they had begun when he abandoned his post.

"My watch is up," Cade announced to his grandfather late one evening.  "Tomorrow I must set out for the east."

"We can't go east," Stone Creek pointed out as the churning waters of the lake sounded a warning against trespassers.

"We'll take the long way around," Cade agreed.

In the morning, grandfather and grandson descended the western slope of the mound.  When they were at the base, Stone Creek slipped something into Cade's hand.  Cade knew right away what it was and shot an inquiring glance at his grandfather.

"I didn't rob Henry's grave," Stone Creek assured his grandson.  "It was just there, lying on the mound over the grave.  I'd noticed it almost from the first, wedged in the earth with just one end of it sticking up; then watched it as it seemed to work its way a little closer to the surface each day until, just yesterday, it was completely exposed.  It's as if it was being returned.  I'm as certain you put it there as if I'd seen you myself.  I know it was special to Henry.  His flower."

"The bitterroot," Cade named the object.  "His state flower - when he thought Montana was his home.  I almost wish he'd never discovered it wasn't.  He gave his life for Indiana - and to the end of it, never knew its state flower."

"The peony," Stone Creek named it.  "It says more about Henry than anything else in his life that if he couldn't find the answer in a book somewhere, or written in some cryptic earthen tongue only he could interpret, he never looked further.  It never occurred to him to ask someone.  But then, maybe he knew.  The bitterroot was his flower, no matter where he was born.  He didn't need to look further."

Though they didn't have to pass through Henryville to find a path around the lake - it was actually out of their way to go even these few miles north - they both instinctively headed up Henry's precious Route 160 into their abandoned town.  The mountains, too, had come up 160, right through Henryville, ripping almost every single building to shreds.  Only the town hall stood intact, seemingly untouched by the mountains, which rose now to tower over it as if protecting it from harm.  Stone Creek and Cade entered the building, the one expecting the floor to either be gone already or else to cave in as the floors in eastern Tennessee had done, the other oblivious to how the earth had redesigned the buildings of his childhood.  But it wasn't caved in, nor did it give way under their weight.

"Shall we stay the night here?" Stone Creek asked, though it was barely mid-morning.

"No," Cade answered.  "Too much is hidden here."

"You always refer to yourself as Henry's killer," Stone Creek remarked.  "Yet you knew it was your brother and I who plotted his death."

"At one time I thought that," said Cade; "now I know better.  You were given parts to play by the earth.  It wanted this land back, but it knew that Henry would have found a way to keep it at bay."

"You speak metaphorically, just as Henry did," Stone Creek mused.

Cade nodded.  "I speak literally - as Henry did," he corrected his grandfather.

Before noon, they left Henryville forever, heading south through Clark County along the broken stretches of US 31, past Memphis, then past Speed, and Sellersburg - all three buried beneath huge mounds of earth that had been lifted up and heaved onto their buildings and their unsuspecting citizens - finally arriving at the southernmost tip of Clark County.                

While Stone Creek and Cade were heading south to find a way around the lake, Joey was heading north.  He had managed to scale the escarpment the earth had forged out of the gently rolling hills of eastern Indiana.  Though he still could not see to the lake's northern or eastern shoreline, this perspective did allow him to assess the apparent depth of the lake.  More importantly, it helped him gauge its area of greatest depth, which seemed to be along a channel almost perpendicular to where he was standing, a channel some quarter mile wide stretching due west as far as he could see.  The water, having sought its own level, observed the contours of the plain that had become its bed, deepening to fill its natural gullies, growing shallow where the elevation was higher - but doing so on a large scale rather than in a thousand small synchronizations that alternated various depths throughout.  As Joey looked out over the newly created body of water, it appeared to grow shallower by degrees the farther north or south it spread.

He decided to head north, along the Ohio-Indiana border, past the escarpment.  He had no way of knowing how far north it extended, but he assumed it reached to the northern end of the lake, and that the water would cease flowing where it ended.  He realized that a giant question mark awaited him once he got beyond the lake, because if Henry was right in predicting the path of the mountain range that destroyed his town - if its goal was to reach the great lakes - there was a chance a far greater threat than this lake awaited him.  Somehow, though, he did not think this would be the case.  Whatever had created this lake by channeling the waters of the rift lake, he believed to be an anomaly, a purely chance occurrence ordained by neither the earth nor the path it chose for its mountain range.  He did not expect to find the water of Lake Michigan hurtling toward him in a torrent.  He turned and started back down the escarpment the way he had climbed up.  He had never felt so alone in his life, or so certain that he had chosen the one true path.  He expected to never see another human being again; and though the thought of being so utterly alone filled him with a dread greater than anything he had ever experienced, it also brought a sense of peace greater than any he had ever known.

"I will never again be the instrument or the witness of another's death," Joey said out loud, as if reciting a prayer, but without reference to God or the divine plan he had always invoked to justify anything that happened.

He followed the Ohio border as far as Fort Recovery in southwestern Mercer County, some eighty miles north of Harrison, where he had parted company with humanity.  He had been here before; it was one of the places Henry had considered as a prisoner of war camp, but decided against in favor of Fort Jefferson, twenty miles to the south.  Here, the escarpment abruptly ended, in a jagged stand of rocks chiseled to look more like stalagmites in a cave than part of a mountainous formation.  Joey walked through this field of natural ziggurats rather than going around, even though they were so tightly packed he could barely squeeze his way through.

When he cleared the formation, he was once again in Indiana, in east central Jay County.  The ground was damp, the way it is after a rain; but there was no standing water.  He was beyond the lake, just as he thought he would be when the escarpment ended.  He continued another ten miles into Indiana until coming to the town of Portland, along US 27; there, he set up camp for the night and began plotting his route back to the Sierras.

The young recruit, Darryl, who fought alongside Cade and, like his commander, nearly gave his life to help stop the invaders from Kentucky, followed Brad's people wherever they were going, almost oblivious to everything that happened along the way.  He had been swept away by the water several times but managed to make his way back each time.  He barely escaped being hurled against the escarpment the last time the water struck before the people passed through to the other side.  He saw it coming, but couldn't quite identify it; yet, instinctively, he lay down, perfectly flat, holding his breath under water as the wave spilled over him.  When he felt the intense pressure of the sudden rush of water ease up, he arose, gasping for air.  Then he followed the others through the escarpment.  The whole time, his mind was on the mound halfway across the state, where Henry's body lay buried, and where Cade stood guard.

"Why did he stay?" he asked himself as he trailed along with the others through southern Ohio.  "What did he want that he could only find there?"

Brad had already plotted his course. He led his people through Butler County, first northward as far as Hamilton, then eastward, between Hamilton and Middletown, both towns large enough to avoid even if the entire region appeared to be deserted.  Then he led his people through Warren and Clinton Counties, both familiar to him from the war with Kentucky, and southeastward through Highland County, across the northeastern corner of Adams County into Scioto County and finally into Lawrence County, which bordered both Kentucky and West Virginia.

Though his movements seemed entirely random, Brad's course was carefully chosen and executed without the slightest deviation; and though it was maps that helped him chart his course, it was sound advice that prompted him to chose it.  The advice of his mentor, Stone Creek, who had stressed three distinct characteristics of the escape route.  First, it carried him close to the Ohio River, which had always been a valuable resource for any undertaking; second, it led him eventually to the Appalachians, which, if Henry was correct - and Stone Creek knew he was - had already been re-engineered by the earth and was as stable as any terrain in the east; and, third, a large part of it re-traced the route taken by the Carolinians entering and eventually driven out by Kentucky ten years earlier - the same route that came to be known among the Carolinians as the Revenge Road when they tried to re-enter Kentucky after its war with Indiana.

"You follow Brad as willingly as you would his brother," Felicia observed one day walking alongside Darryl.

"He's my commander now," Darryl responded.

"The war is over," Felicia reminded him.

"But the structure that brought us through it isn't," Darryl pointed out.  "I will not question any order Brad gives."

"I know you mean what you say," Felicia observed, "but I don't believe your heart's in it."

Darryl said nothing else as he walked along, in step with the others; but a few days later, when he and Felicia chanced to walk together again, he reminded her of what she said.

"You're right," he acknowledged.  "My heart isn't really in it.  Every step of the way, I can't help thinking about Cade, wondering why he stayed behind.  I know he's probably dead now - he and Stone creek both.  Why was it so important to him to stand guard over Henry's grave?"

"Maybe he couldn't go with the people who killed Henry," Felicia proposed.

"You did," Darryl reminded her.

"I have a place to go," Felicia told him.  "Cade didn't.  His place was with Henry far more than mine was.  Sometimes I think that's why Henry let himself be killed: so I could be free to go to the sea.  He knew I'd never leave him to get there, and he'd never leave his people.  The irony is, Cade's the one who belongs with the people, not me.  Yet I'm the one who came with them while he stayed behind.  What about you?  Do you have a place to go?"

"I have the feeling I'll find a place once Brad gets us wherever he's taking us," Darryl explained.  "I don't know why.  Henry's town is the only home I've ever truly known."

"Where were you born?" Felicia asked.

"I guess Nebraska," Darryl said.  "That's where my folks joined up with Kirk's people, so I guess that's where I'm from; but my folks came from Carolina.  I couldn't have been very old, because I'm no more than a year older than Cade - and he was born at the cave in Tennessee."

The journey across southern Ohio - a distance of almost two hundred miles - took less than three weeks.  Brad made it clear from the outset that, once they began, there was no turning back and no stopping along the way except to camp for the night.  He set a goal of ten miles a day, which he plotted almost to the inch on the maps he had kept from the Ohio campaign.  Under no circumstances would he let his people set up camp until the day's goal had been met, refusing to allow either for the unexpected or the difficulty of gathering supplies.

"Why are you driving them so hard?" Felicia asked one night in their tent after Brad had made love to her and was drifting off to sleep.  She asked out of curiosity more than any particular concern for the people's well being.

"What do you mean?" Brad asked, rolling over to face her even though he could barely see her in the dark.

"Why is it so important to go ten miles every day - where are we going that we must get there so quickly?" Felicia elaborated.

"You've answered your own question," Brad said as he planted a kiss on her shoulder.

"Ah," Felicia mused, "so that's it.  To make us feel we're actually headed somewhere and not just moving at random.  That's a brilliant strategy.  But what happens if there really is nowhere at the end of our journey?  If we've gone so fast to get there but there is no 'there'?"

"There will be," Brad assured her.

"And what if someone else is there already?" she then asked, already knowing the answer.

"Then we'll take it from them," Brad predicted.

On a Wednesday, April 15, of the year 2093, Brad led his people the final miles through Lawrence County to the Ohio River.  He knew there were bridges across the Ohio at Ironton and at a small town called Sybene, farther downstream.  The Ironton bridge led to Kentucky; the one at Sybene led to Huntington, West Virginia.  He chose the bridge to Huntington: though a much larger town than he would normally risk entering, it was less risky than passing through even a few miles of Kentucky.  What he didn't know was that his choice was irrelevant, that both bridges - that almost all the bridges over the Ohio - had been destroyed when Henry's Mountains crossed the river a year ago.

A fifty foot wall of water swept upstream and downstream both when the mountains rose up from the Ohio's riverbed, reaching as far west as the Mississippi, as far east as the Monongahela, changing in a single day the entire landscape of the Ohio Valley.  Only the great cataract along the southwestern Indiana border remained unaffected by the water's sweep; it merely absorbed the flow into its thunderous falls and sent it the rest of the way to the Mississippi.  Every town and city along the Ohio as far as Parkersburg in west central West Virginia and Cairo in southwestern Illinois was inundated; all but the largest became ghost towns overnight.  In places, the riverbed itself doubled and even tripled its width; while in other places, the river grew shallow enough to wade across.

Even before the shoreline was within sight, and even though she had never seen this part of the Ohio Valley, Felicia could sense something different about the water.  There was an energy here, as if a great force had passed this way, generating an almost electrical field that filled the air.  She alerted Brad to the possibility of having to alter his route across the Ohio.

"Why?" he asked.

"Don't you feel something?" Felicia, in turn, asked.

"I feel only the reality that we're about to leave the past behind forever," Brad observed.  "When we cross the Ohio for the last time in our lives, we enter a world none of us have ever seen before."

Felicia shook her head.  "The water is different than we expected," she said.

"We go across the bridge at Huntington," Brad reiterated his plan.  But, again, Felicia shook her head, then walked away.

As they spoke, Andrea came up and overheard them.  She advised her son to pay attention to what Felicia said, reminding him that she knew the water as surely as Henry knew the land.

"The only knowledge I can afford to focus on is my plan for my people," Brad told his mother.  "The nuances of the landscape can be dealt with one by one as they're encountered.  But the plan cannot be allowed to change."

"Why?" Andrea asked.

"The people need a strong leader - one who means what he says," replied Brad.  "For too long they've been misled to believe it's they who determine the course of action, when it isn't and can never be allowed to be."  Perceiving a certain disapproval in his mother's eyes, Brad reminded her of their escape.  "You saw how easily they panicked before I forced them to do what was needed to survive," he said.

"But so many died anyway," Andrea reminded her son.

"A fraction of what would have died if I hadn't taken charge," Brad countered.

When they arrived at the town of Sybene, they saw that the bridge along US 52 leading across the Ohio into West Virginia was gone, only its base left standing.  Most of the people, however, only vaguely expected there to be some kind of bridge anyway, not having consulted any maps of the area; so they were not particularly upset.  They assumed their leader would find a way across.  But Brad did expect to find a bridge, and was upset at its absence.

He had already noted the almost total destruction of Sybene and, from the shoreline, could see the devastation in Huntington, on the other side.  He concluded that an earthquake had destroyed both towns and the bridge.  He ordered his people to set up camp near the river while he consulted with his lieutenants, a few of whom suggested they might find a better place to cross the Ohio farther upstream.                                                        

"A few of us could scout the area for a bridge, or at least a shallower crossing, or one not as wide," they offered.

Brad took out his revolver and laid it on the map they had spread out before them.  "The only scouting you will do," he told his lieutenants, "is for something to get us across right here, where we are.  Yes, we might find a better place upstream," he acknowledged; "or we might not.  But neither way matters.  All that matters is that the decision was made to cross here, so this is where we'll cross."

While Brad consulted his lieutenants and his people awaited instructions at the makeshift campsite they had set up from the supplies they were able to salvage both from Henryville and from the journey to the Ohio, the air began to grow cold and the wind started to howl.  By the time Brad was ready to assemble his people, snow had started to fall.  Within minutes the snowfall had become a blizzard.

"We've got to hurry and get across," Brad told his lieutenants as he watched the river churning into waves that reached several feet in height.  "Otherwise we could be stranded here," he added.  They stared at him as if he had gone mad.  He was about to order them into action when Felicia came up to him again.

"Your people are barely dried out from the trip here," she said.  "You can't ask them to cross this river now.  If you do, you'll lose half of them."

"I can't let them stay here, stranded!" Brad replied.

"But you must," Felicia insisted.

Finally Brad relented.  "Only until the blizzard is over," he reluctantly agreed.

For three days the snow fell before it finally let up.  Had it fallen as heavily as it fell in the first few hours of the blizzard, and had the wind kept howling as fiercely as it did in those hours, Brad and his people would have been buried in fifteen foot drifts.  But it gradually lightened over the seventy-two hours it fell, leaving three feet of new snow and drifts of nine feet.  All that saved the exiles from Henryville was the survival skills the old men and women had retained from their years as nomads - years which had made the provisions they carried on their backs as integral a part of their being as their arms and legs.  They made it clear to the younger men and women - those who came of age in houses rather than tents - that no matter what conditions they encountered, they could not let their provisions out of their grasp; to do so would be tantamount to leaping into an endless abyss.

So they had tents, blankets, even sleeping bags; they had the means of surviving the blizzard.  They kept constant vigil, venturing outside every couple hours during the height of the blizzard to free their tents from the accumulating weight of falling snow, and to keep a path clear in front of their tents.  In this way they were able to preserve their shelters from the fury of the storm.  When it finally let up, they found themselves not only knee deep in snow but surrounded by their leader's demands to begin readying to resume the journey.

The younger travelers balked at Brad's insensitivity to their plight; but, once again, it was the older travelers, having been through this regimen many times before, whose skills at dealing with what seemed like impossible demands managed to bring the entire encampment to a state of readiness despite the overwhelming obstacles.  Not that they were more compliant to their leader's demands than their younger companions; only that they understood from past experience the absolute necessity of keeping on the move - and, conversely, the inherent danger of standing still when the earth around them was in constant flux.

It took all morning to break camp.  When Brad's people were ready to move on, they stood before their leader as if at attention, awaiting his orders.  He was about to offer them the only plan of action he had been able to come up with in the three days they were stranded on the riverbank: to attempt crossing the Ohio by swimming its frigid waters.  But before he could speak, an excited young man ran up to him with what he believed to be great news.

"It wasn't an earthquake!" the young man exclaimed with great energy.  It was Darryl, the young recruit who fought alongside Brad's twin brother at Shelbyville.  Having his things together long before the others, he wandered along the riverbank, hoping to find a stretch of water that didn't look too deep: he had an inkling that Brad would insist on crossing here instead of searching for shallower water.  As he searched the shoreline, the last of the snow clouds opened to admit the early morning sun.  At the same moment, the snow that had fallen onto the water and had lain like a latticework began to move upstream with the current, leaving a crystal clear flow in its wake.  The water here was deep, at least twenty feet, but the riverbed was vaguely visible where the light shone brightest.  Darryl looked down and saw the fallen bridge leading to Huntington.

In a flash, a series of connections was made in his mind which sent him running back to camp to report his discovery.

Brad took out his revolver, not in a threatening manner but instinctively, the way someone else might take up a pad and pencil to transcribe some important event.  He said nothing, but looked Darryl squarely in the eye, his own eyes demanding an explanation.

"The bridge!" Darryl explained.  "It was a flood, not an earthquake, that knocked it down!  I saw it.  I remember my folks telling me how the great hurricane swept across the land, destroying everything in its path, and knocking down bridges like they were toys - knocking them down so fast they didn't even have time to fall apart!  And just leaving them lay there, twisted and mangled, and moving on to the next town, the next road, the next bridge!  Except where there were bridges pretty close together, the first one slowed the surge down just enough to keep the next one from being all twisted and mangled; instead, it just fell, but sometimes it barely sank down below the surface, only so much of its base broke off with it!  That's what they told me!  They saw it happen with their own eyes!"

Brad paused a moment - not to consider Darryl's report but to allow the corporal's enthusiasm to wane before speaking.  As he spoke, he toyed with his revolver; this time his manner was threatening.

"What does any of this have to do with us?" Brad asked menacingly.  "Whatever destroyed the bridge, it's gone and can't be rebuilt.  It doesn't matter if it was an earthquake or a hurricane or a flood.  We have to find another way to cross over."

"That's my point exactly!" Darryl exclaimed.  "There's another bridge just a couple miles upstream!  Look on the maps of this area.  It crosses from a town called Chesapeake into Huntington.  If I'm right, it may not be so far beneath the surface.  We might be able to still use it to get across!"

In the aftermath of Darryl's suggestion, a murmur arose among the people, growing louder as more joined in to protest his idea of trying to cross a nearly frozen river on a submerged bridge, no matter how close to the surface it might be.  Brad realized that he dare not put his own suggestion of swimming across before his people.  He had no choice but to go with Darryl's plan.  Raising his arm high above his head, he fired his gun into the air, as if to shoot down a bird or something.

"Silence!" he demanded of his people.  "I, too, am skeptical of the plan," he admitted when they had quieted down.  "But if there's a chance to get away from the Ohio Valley and all the heartache it's caused us, once and for all, and to do so with a minimum of effort, then let's at least consider it!  I say let's move on to Chesapeake, and see for ourselves the condition of its bridge."

US 52 ended with the fallen bridge at Sybene, but the highway that had followed the Ohio from Cincinnati continued shadowing the river, under the guise of Ohio State Route 7, for another fifty miles before veering off course; then, thirty miles later, setting itself once again in sync with the river's flow and staying in sync till the river turned eastward at the tip of West Virginia's panhandle and left Ohio forever.  Brad led his people along the battered pavement of Route 7 until coming to Chesapeake.

Leading his people, he saw it first, but only a moment before the others.  Everyone stopped, and stared in awe, then began running toward it.  Except Brad, who saw it as something to study, not an object of wonder.  Raising his gun in the air, he fired it again, signaling his lieutenants, who immediately turned back to him, to follow suit, the combined report of their guns bringing the people to a halt.  Brad stepped before them, commanding their full attention.  Behind them, just breaking the surface of the water, was the bridge leading to Huntington - their escape route, intact and beckoning them.

"No one goes near the bridge until I'm satisfied it's safe!" Brad ordered.  "It's foundation may have been damaged.  We have no way of knowing how much weight it can handle - if any.  When we start across, we'll do so in an orderly manner, testing it each step of the way.  But, first, I'll test it as much as possible using debris from the town to see how much weight it can handle."

With this, he signaled his lieutenants to begin herding his people away from the bridge back into the heart of Chesapeake.  When they were far enough from the bridge, he halted his lieutenants and addressed them again.

"We will not set up camp yet," he told them.  "If the bridge seems sturdy, we'll cross before the sun goes down."

While his people waited, Brad and a few of his lieutenants went about gathering, from amidst the debris that had been the town of Chesapeake, items sufficient for his purpose.  A couple hours went by before enough debris had been accumulated and piled in heaps on the shore.  Then, one by one at first, followed by several together, the items were hurled onto the bridge, at various points.  When it was seen that the bridge held firm, Brad sent his lieutenants to retrieve the items and hurl them farther onto the bridge, then a third time and one final time until every step of the bridge had been tested and found to be stable.  Then Brad ordered his lieutenants back to Chesapeake to help move his people across in an orderly manner.

The bridge swayed, as if it were a suspension bridge, back and forth against the weight of Brad's people.  He had made them go single file, down the middle of the roadway; but it made no difference.  Darryl came up to him as he stood watching the line of people nearing the halfway point, debating with their every step whether to order them back or let them continue.  He had resolved that if the sway intensified he would abandon the bridge and seek another way across.

"If you have them spread out, it'll help distribute the weight more evenly," Darryl suggested.  Brad gave him the same demanding look as when he had first mentioned the bridge.  "Stagger them," Darryl explained.  "One on this side, the next one on the other side, but not everyone in a single file.  My folks used to tell me about an old rickety suspension bridge back home, and how they always walked across it in pairs, so they could balance their weight."

Brad considered Darryl's suggestion.  Then, watching the bridge swaying perilously close to the point at which he had decided to recall all his people, he gave the recruit the go-ahead.  Darryl took off running for the bridge, momentarily halting all traffic while he worked his way among those already on the bridge.  He began positioning them from side to side until half were stationed in the far left lane, half in the far right.  Then he motioned for the others to begin crossing, indicating to them to follow the pattern he had set in motion.  A few minutes passed before the desired result was achieved, the bridge gradually ceasing its sway as the people religiously maintained the pattern established by those in the lead.  Two and a half hours later, Brad, the last to cross the bridge, stepped from the Ohio Valley into West Virginia and disappeared into a mist which had arisen from the heat of the early spring sun on the frozen white bank.

The dying man stood six feet nine inches tall and weighed a hundred sixty pounds, only slightly less than his normal weight.  He lay on a long handmade bed in the middle of a large room filled with expensive furnishings.  Persian rugs covered the floor, silken drapes covered the windows; crystal candelabra graced marble topped tables.  Situated throughout the room were strange ornaments grotesquely out of place amidst the traditional elegance, yet at the same time possessing an aura of priceless museum pieces.

A tall, stately woman with unkempt grayish blonde hair attended the dying man, waiting patiently for bits of conversation to escape his dying lips as he slipped in and out of a coma.

On the evening of Wednesday, April 1, 2093, his last day on earth, he managed to prop himself up and looked around the room, his eyes eventually settling on those of his attendant.                        

"I could have died just as easily in my own room!" he quipped.

"But I couldn't have issued edicts from your room!" the woman, in turn, quipped.

The man laughed in her face.  "Who would have thought you'd come to this?" he noted ironically.

"You mean attending you, or issuing edicts?" the woman asked.

"Both!" he answered.

"Being Queen of the Universe, or caring for my consort: I see no difference!  Nor do I see anything in either so very much at odds with the rest of my life."

"Even the grand, exalted Queen of the Universe cannot grant a dying man his last wish," the man observed.

"What is your wish that it cannot be my command?"

"To see my daughter one last time," came the reply.

"I thought your family was all killed."

"All but one," the man said.  "My wife had given birth barely a week earlier, but the child was too small to bring home, so they kept her.  They were going to release her in a day or two.  My brother had warned me to send my family away, that it wasn't safe for us there any longer.  I was planning to move them as soon as my daughter was big enough to leave the hospital.  I had gone to see her.  While I was away, they broke in and mowed my family down."

"So you gave your daughter to another family to raise?" the woman asked.

"Oh, I did more than that," the man replied.  "I gave her to another family as their own daughter.  You see, I switched her for another - a newborn who had died before its parents even knew.  They believed my daughter was the child they had just given birth to.  I assumed it was a poor family - otherwise how could they be so easily duped?  I planned to help out as much as I could without endangering their lives.  I had no way of knowing it was one of the first families of St. Louis!"

"You couldn't have made a switch like that all by yourself," the woman observed.

"You're not the first nurse I've ever hooked up with!"

"But the last," the woman said grimly.

"The last," the dying man mused in agreement.  "The last nurse, the last queen, the last person.  Who would have thought I'd end up dying in your throne room?  If someone had said I'd spend my last days with you, I'd have told them you'd probably end up slitting my throat."

"And if I had?" the woman asked.

"I'd have asked you to turn my good side to the sun before you moved on," the man answered then grew silent for a long time, as if he had slipped into a coma, before speaking once more.

"Death crept upon me for the last time twenty years ago," he told the Queen of the Universe.

"It's been a long time claiming you," the Queen observed.

"No," the man replied, "I've been a long time claiming it.  I've seen so much of it all my life, I wanted to study it for as long as I could, firsthand."

"And?" the Queen prompted her consort.

"And I'm no closer than ever to understanding what prompts us to give it such a place of honor at our table," he admitted.

"Do you ever wonder what became of your daughter?"

"No, I don't need to.  She came back into my life, so many times.  She married.  She gave birth to two sons.  I helped raise both - without her ever knowing who I was or that I was raising them.  Even now, I wouldn't tell her who I am.  I just wish I could see her once more.  The irony is, if I had studied death a while longer, I would have seen her again.  Because I know she'll work her way back to us in time."

A light came into the Queen's eyes just as the light was fading from her consort's.  She took his dying hand in hers and raised it to her lips, then gently kissed it.

"Of course!" she exclaimed, looking into his eyes for the last time.  "Of course!  Your daughter couldn't have been anyone but her!"

His eyes confirmed his Queen's conclusion before going blank forever.

At the exact moment the light left his eyes, half a continent away a blind sentry shuddered and whispered "Someone has died."

"We have one more detour to make," Cade told his grandfather, who knew at once what his grandson was talking about.

"I didn't know if it was important to you too," Stone Creek admitted.

"It's where I grew up," Cade reminded him.

Brandenburg was less than thirty miles from the tip of Clark County - but a hundred light years from the Ohio's northern shore.  With the bridge at Mauckport already down, and no possibility of finding the little boat Stone Creek had once used to row across, there was no way of reaching the Kentucky side of the river.  Both Cade and Stone Creek sensed this; each had decided to cross the Ohio at Louisville.

Closer to ground zero than any other bridge on the Ohio, the two remaining bridges leading from Indiana into Louisville - the George Rogers Clark Bridge at Clarksville and the Sherman Minton Bridge at New Albany - were the only two left standing after the fifty foot high wall of water Henry's mountains had summoned from the Ohio retreated.  Had the water been deeper, they too would have fallen; but not even the earth can build a tsunami from shallow waters quickly enough to engulf its own back yard.

Louisville, in the shadow of Henry's mountains, stood virtually intact, one of the few places on earth untouched by the past fifty years, its one bombed out bridge, from the time Kirk led his people past, the only outward sign of destruction.  On Friday, April 3, of the year 2093, two days after abandoning their post beside Henry's grave, Stone Creek and Cade calmly walked across the George Rogers Clark Bridge into Louisville.

"Your father blew up the Kennedy Bridge," Stone Creek informed his grandson.  "One of many acts that almost got him killed.  It ran parallel to this one, not three blocks away.  I knew the bridges at Louisville were booby trapped.  I knew why, and I knew where the bombs were; if it hadn't been for the crazy woman, I'd have had to tip my hand or watch both my nephew and my son be killed.  Even then, I knew we could have settled here, but I couldn't say it without revealing more than I wanted Kirk to know.  But then, you and your brother might never have been conceived."

"And Henry might never have been killed," Cade conjectured.

"He would have, no matter what," Stone Creek insisted.  "As hungry for power as Kirk was, it wasn't really power he was after.  He knew it was his time to rule.  He would have also known when his time was up.  He would have made Henry his heir once he realized it was Henry's time to rule."

"And my father?" Cade asked.

"He would have been both you and your brother to Henry: he would have supported him wholeheartedly - like you - until he realized Henry was leading his people on a path of destruction.  Then, like your brother, he would have risen up against him," Stone Creek stated as confidently as if it had actually happened.

They worked their way westward through Louisville by following the Ohio southward along its eastern boundary, continuing southward to Fort Knox then finally heading to the northwest the rest of the way to Brandenburg.  They encountered no one along the way, which surprised neither of them, Cade having sensed the moment they stepped off the bridge into Louisville that the city was deserted, Stone Creek assuming from the moment they were driven from Henryville that the outlaws of Kentucky would return to their underground hideouts at Mammoth Cave.

They entered Brandenburg along River Road and slowly worked their way to the center of town.  Though it had been flooded like every other town along the Ohio, it was still close enough to where Henry's mountains crossed the river to have been spared the brunt of the tidal surge.  Stone Creek led Cade to the junction of Fairway Drive, High Street and Broadway Street, to the house they had occupied for eleven years.  They spent the night there, getting an early start the morning of April 5th.  Neither of them expected to ever pass this way again; but before they had even reached Fort Knox on their journey east, something happened which brought them back to Brandenburg before the day was over.                                                                

The sun was setting when Joey looked up and saw a steeple piercing the western sky.  He had worked his way gradually toward the northwest, from Portland in east central Indiana along a diagonal that took him through portions of Wells County, Huntington, Wabash, Kosciusko, Marshall and LaPorte Counties, into Porter County, and finally to Lake County, which he entered at Valparaiso.  From there, he moved almost due north, to Hammond and then Gary, until he was stopped dead in his tracks by the most majestic thing he had ever seen.

Surrounded in a halo of pure gold was a cathedral risen above the horizon on the back of a mountain.  Buried fifty years ago beneath a hundred foot wall of water, Chicago was resurrected three days ago by a chain of solid rock stretching from the Cumberland Gap to the shores of Lake Michigan.  The waters, left after the Great Lakes finally retreated back into their basins, was sent streaming through the streets of Chicago down toward the shoreline as its crumbled buildings were lifted a thousand feet in the air.  Only one survived the resurrection, this one single cathedral; all the rest were reduced to rubble.  It stood at the very tip of the mountain range the earth had forged, perched like a giant rook on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Lake, its steeple cutting a path through the golds, reds and pinks of the sunset.

Joey fell to his knees instinctively, preparing to pray; but for a moment more his eyes kept his lips from thanking his heavenly Father.  No prayer worthy of the enthrallment the sight before him elicited came to him.  Finally, with a sense of defeat, he shut his eyes to the world so that words could be found to praise God.

"Thank you for all you've given us," he whispered.  He then prayed in silence, his lips moving as though straining to form sounds, as he fought his desperate desire to open his eyes and look again upon the horizon.  He remained in prayer until he knew the sun had started to fade.  Then he opened his eyes again and slowly arose.  But even the grays folding in on the sun enshrined the mountaintop in majesty.

"It isn't right," he attempted to explain.  "The beauty God creates shouldn't outshine the thought of Him.  It isn't right.  Is this what they meant when they said to pluck out your eyes if they offend you?  If they place the world outside before the world within?  Is that it?"

Joey shook his head.  "If so, then God will have to blind me Himself," he resolved.  "My eyes alone can take me home.  If they allow God's works to distract me from His goodness, so be it.  May God forgive me."

Joey set up camp right where he stood.  He told himself it was to get a better understanding of how to move beyond the mountains; but he knew what he really wanted was to see the mountain top in the morning light.

Inside his tent, safe from the temptress, he surrounded himself with his maps, and began plotting his way around the obstacle the earth had put in his path.  It wasn't enough simply to climb up the eastern slope and then down the western slope, as he had the escarpment.  He needed a strategy for both the ascension and its corresponding descent - not because the mountain itself posed any difficulty, but because it was clothed in millions of tons of Chicago's rubble.  And because he needed to plot a course that would take him far enough from the shores of Lake Michigan to keep from being drawn to the cathedral overlooking it.

When he had his escape route, Joey decided to step outside a moment before settling down for the night.  His eyes were immediately drawn to the mountain top; but clouds had covered the moon, so the only image before him was of a blurred, half distorted formation that could easily have been a stand of trees.  He thanked God for this.

Just when he started to turn and re-enter his tent, a cloud overhead parted, and the moon shone through a halo of clouds, lighting up the mountain top.  He stood transfixed, unable to pull himself away or even shut his eyes.  He watched helplessly until the clouds covered the moon again, finally breaking the spell.  He quickly returned to his tent and crawled inside his sleeping bag, pulling the covers up over his head as if hiding from a monster.

He arose with the rising sun and stepped from his tent to behold God's temple one last time before turning away from it forever.  But it was gone.  It had fallen during the night into the broken remains of Chicago, indistinguishable now amidst the rubble.  He stared, as awestruck by its disappearance as he had been by its presence.  He shook his head sadly.

"God has blinded me," he muttered as he got his things ready and made for the mountain.

The crossing was perilous, the mountainside strewn with endless debris which seemed to offer a foothold but proved unstable when put to the test.  It took the better part of a day for Joey to ascend the mountain; and since the descent would be, if anything, more difficult, he decided to spend the night on the summit.  He found a slab of concrete wedged into a ridge just below the summit; he pitched his tent on it, climbed into his sleeping bag and fell into a deep sleep.

He spent the night re-living his life in his dreams.  Toward morning, just before sunrise, he was back in St. Louis, before his father was killed and he began the odyssey of revenge that sparked every other event in his life.  He was in the television studio where his father worked as a technician for the local weatherman.  It was Sanderson Spears' last broadcast, though no one knew it at the time.  Joey was helping his father, trying to learn his father's craft, so as to follow in his footsteps.  Along with the eagerness in his eyes was a sadness, which his father noticed and asked him what was on his mind.

"Will I ever look like you?" Joey asked.

"In time you will," his father assured him.  "Remember, you always favored your mother more than me.  That won't change just because she's gone."

"Will she ever come back?" Joey asked his father, who shook his head and answered that he didn't expect to see her again.

"Why would she leave?" Joey mused, the thought of leaving one's family almost beyond his comprehension.

"Remember: I told you," his father reminded him of an earlier conversation.  "The man she loved returned for her.  She only married me because she thought he'd drowned in a storm.  Even then she wouldn't have left if you needed her to take care of you.  But she knew you were old enough to take care of yourself."

"Where is she now, I wonder," Joey speculated.

"North Carolina," his father told him.

Joey considered his father's reply a moment, trying to picture in his mind the state's location on the map in his room.  Finally he shook his head sadly. 

"Then I'm never going there," he resolved.

When he awoke, at the first light of day, he smiled at the irony of his childhood resolution as he struck camp and readied to descend the other side of Henry's mountain.  He stood at the summit until the sun managed to creep its way high enough to illuminate the other side.  Once he saw that the land was dry as far as he could see, he started down.

It took him almost all day to descend the mountain.  The sun was already relinquishing its last rays to the western horizon; but, even so, he decided to keep going until he was beyond the mountain.  He didn't want to still be in its shadow when morning arose.

He headed due west through northern Illinois, reaching Aurora at midnight.  He camped on the outskirts, the city itself a mass of ruins, like every town he passed along the way.  When he arose the next morning, the same decision he had gone to bed with the night before still faced him: whether to keep going due west through Illinois, into Iowa, or to head south toward Missouri, and St. Louis.

He wanted to see his boyhood home again - for the last time, since he knew he would never pass this way again; yet, at the same time, he wanted to return to the Sierras as quickly as possible - as if his getting there sooner rather than later would determine the course of the rest of his life.  Finally, still unable to decide, he simply started out, following no pre-determined path, trusting, instead, in God to guide his steps.  He resolved to proceed this way till sunset, his feet literally setting his course.  Then, when he stopped for the night, he would see which way he was headed and that would be his route.

He covered almost fifty miles in the ten hours since setting out, ending up in a town called Peru in west central LaSalle County.  When he found the town on his maps, he found his direction.  God was heading him southwest, toward St. Louis.                                                        

Almost a week passed before he arrived at his destination, making his way through this part of Illinois very carefully, the memory of so many of Kirk's followers disappearing into pits hidden by mounds of snow still fresh in his mind, even if this was not the exact route that had taken their lives, or the open pits he now passed along the way the same ones they had fallen into.  But they were all one, these pits within the Great Rift, larger or smaller, deeper or shallower, according to the lay of the land, some slight geological variation creating a massive sink hole here, a minor one there.  Then, all at once, Joey stepped into the past - not his past but the land's past - and these sink holes suddenly morphed from something natural to something man-made.

It happened at Collinsville, east of East St. Louis and only slightly north of the route Kirk had taken.  A monstrous pit had sucked in everything but its own name.  At one end, perched as precariously as a toothpick upright on the edge of a table, was a plaque, looking as if it would tumble headlong into the pit any second.  Joey worked his way to it.  What he read made him question everything that had happened since the day he watched Eads Bridge break apart and tumble into the Mississippi.

Though he had grown up in St. Louis, he never crossed the Mississippi until the day Kirk led his people across on an ice flue.  Nor did he recall in school ever hearing the history of the region.  Now, what he saw on a sign flashed a thousand years of human history before him in a split second.

"Monks Mound," the plaque gave a name to the open pit lying before him.  But it wasn't always a pit.  A brief description re-constructed it as a ceremonial mound covering fourteen acres and reaching a hundred feet in height, created as much as a thousand years ago by a people known only as Mound Builders, their way of life, together with their cities, mounds, temples and plazas, known simply as the Mississippian Culture - a culture with reaches as far west as Nebraska, as far east as North Carolina, the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys the center of its physical and spiritual existence.

"A ring of mounds," Joey mused.  "A ring around the civilization we built on top of it.  A ring that gave way when the earth decided to re-shape itself, inverting to fill the spaces earth opened beneath them.  And taking our civilization with it.  That explains why the whole Mississippi Valley didn't collapse, but only parts of it.  It's where there were mounds.  And those pits Kirk's people fell into: they, too, were mounds."

When Joey made his way to East St. Louis and tried to re-trace the steps he had taken the first time he passed this way, he saw that some of these same pits were still there.  Time had melted the snows that had hidden them a quarter century ago, but had not filled them in.  Joey could stand and look down and still see the rubble that had killed those who fell in and, buried amidst the rubble, their bare bones.

He leaped back in horror as it suddenly dawned on him for the first time since leaving Clingman's Dome that a pile of bones would be all that remained of the boy he devoted his life to, and the other boy who lay beside in him death.

"My God," he thought.  "How can that be?  How can there be nothing but bones left of him?  How?"

He carried his question only as far as the banks of the Mississippi.  Standing there, looking across to what remained of the city on the other side, he realized how absurd his question had been.  He could not behold St. Louis without thinking of the man he watched disappear into total oblivion right before his eyes at the mere touch of a button, a man whose remains could sit on the tip of any one of his son's bones.

"I'm a fool," Joey confessed.  "At least Kirk is free to return to dust, while his father floats endlessly around the earth, unable to even rest in peace."

The river was wide, much wider than when Joey played on its banks as a child, but not nearly as wide as when Kirk led his people across its frozen surface.  The current had siphoned off the excess until it was satisfied with its girth, just as the land absorbed the waters that once flooded it.

Joey made a raft from the debris of East St. Louis and guided it across the Mississippi, landing at the base of Eads Bridge.  His raft nestling safely against the great spire that had withstood half a century of assault, he took hold and pulled himself ashore.  The ground was soft, almost sponge-like, even though still half frozen; he knew that, if he had come here later in the year, he could never have made it ashore without sinking into a quagmire of mud and silt.  He stood a moment beside the bridge then moved on, maintaining his way toward the heart of St. Louis.

Many of its streets were still knee deep in flood waters; most were dry though.  He quickly advanced through the city, coming in time to Forest Park on its western fringe.  He stopped at St. Louis Cathedral and went in, half expecting to find it still flooded from the time when Kirk rescued his cousin Brad from its altar.  But it was dry, and almost looked like a normal cathedral, awaiting the arrival of its congregation.  He saw down a moment in one of the pews and said a silent prayer then got up and left.            

Sandy was thirteen when he helped capture slaves for the first time.  He signed on board a windjammer out of Wilmington in eastern Carolina.  The ship had come through the Panama Canal and up the coast to Charleston, which had been partially destroyed after the great storm that ravaged much of the Carolina coast before moving inland to unearth the mounds of eastern Carolina.  Wilmington had not been as badly damaged as the cities and towns closer to the coast; even so, the ship's Captain had not intended to stop there; but a freak storm drove him around Cape Fear and up Cape Fear River to Wilmington, where he waited out the storm.  His ship had taken on water and nearly sank off Cape Fear; it remained anchored at Wilmington until his men repaired the damage.

It was while they were there that word of the ship reached the mounds of central North Carolina.  A contingent was dispatched to assess the situation; among them was Sandy, who told his mother that he intended to join the crew of the ship.  The Queen of the Universe objected, however, stating that this ship gave her a bad feeling; but when Sandy's mother roared her consent, the Queen had no choice but to acquiesce.  Unable to accompany the contingent to the coast, the Queen sent her consort to make sure the ship was safe before Sandy booked passage.

The ship's Captain, a square-jawed man given over entirely to making a profit, refused outright to allow a mere boy aboard his ship.  Without a word, Sandy leaped on board and began scaling the rigging, climbing the masthead then moving along the crossbeams with a dexterity no one in the crew had ever seen before.  Just then a powerful wind from offshore drove up the inlet and enveloped the ship, buffeting it back and forth so violently it looked as if it would capsize.  The wind bellowed for almost an hour.  Through it all, Sandy clung fast to the crossbeam while continuing along as if protecting the sails.  When it was over, the boy came down and saluted the ship's Captain.

"Reporting for duty, sir!" the boy announced in a voice bursting with enthusiasm.

The Captain nodded his consent and muttered "Welcome aboard, mate!"

The Queen's consort asked him the nature of his business.  "She's a supply ship," the Captain answered - an answer that sent a chill down the Queen's spine when it was relayed to her by her consort.

"You don't think that's what it is?" the Queen was asked.

"I wonder what kind of supplies," she answered gravely.  Then she asked what the name of the ship was.

"The Monterey Bay," she was told.

She burst out laughing.  "There's been no Monterey since California seceded from the Union!" she quipped.  "Sandy's namesake told me how it happened," she answered her consort's questioning glance.  "Either it's a very ancient ship or else all is not quiet on the western front!"

She attempted to track down Sandy's mother, to somehow relay her fears; but was unable to find anything but footprints in the soft ground.

It was October of the year 2088 when Sandy set sail on the windjammer Monterey Bay, leaving the port of Wilmington on a warm autumn day filled with brilliant sunshine that mined the jeweled bubbles of Cape Fear River before coaxing a steel blue sheen from the deeper waters of the Atlantic.  The ship headed due east, to Bermuda, where it anchored in Hamilton harbor for a day before continuing southeastward to the Cape Verde Islands.

Most of the trip bored Sandy to the point where he regretted ever setting foot on this vessel; but he performed his duties so diligently and kept the rest of the crew so enthralled with his stories about his boyhood adventures in North Carolina's mound country that no one suspected his disenchantment.  Then, on the fifteenth day out of Hamilton, a hurricane that had blown up out of nowhere engulfed the ship in a vortex of thick clouds that spun it around like a top, exposing it to an endless rush of fifty foot waves ramming it from every side.  Sandy quickly scampered up the mast and began furling the sails, one by one, to keep them from being ripped to shreds, as the rest of the crew watched helplessly, expecting him every minute to be thrown to the deck or carried off into the waves.  Instead, he clung tenaciously to the rigging as he climbed in and out among the beams securing all the sails then riding out the storm on the rigging, making sure the sails remained secured to the masthead and crossbeam until it was safe to abandon his post and come down some twenty hours later.

"Where did you learn to do that?" he was asked in amazement.

"Watching the rest of you work the sails," he told the crew.

"But we never handled them in this kind of wind," they reminded the boy.

"True," he acknowledged.  "What experience couldn't teach me the sails themselves showed me," he added.  "They knew how they needed to be folded.  Their movements guided me."

Later that evening, when the wind had calmed and the ship floated safely on the ocean surface, the Captain summoned his crew to the ship's hold.

"Those of you who've sailed with me before know the cargo I mean to carry," the Captain told his men.  "For those of you who sail for the first time, and haven't heard from the others, I offer you a chance to earn more than you'll see in a lifetime back home.  We traffic in durable goods, exotic goods, the most valuable commodity in the world today.  The Americas need rebuilding, and while they're being rebuilt, humanity must be fed.  Gentlemen, you have signed on the most profitable ship in the fleet, engaged in the most profitable enterprise known to man.  The slave trade.  We take and transport and ultimately sell human beings for the use of those attempting to rebuild their world.  We are a slave ship.  Now you see why our hold is empty.  By the end of the next month it will be filled with the cargo we contracted for.  Our journey back will be twice as long as our journey to the port of Dakar, where we will begin loading our cargo after we have secured it.  Now you see why our weapons room is locked.  It's stocked with everything we need to fill our hold."

Five days later, standing lookout, Sandy was first to sight land, Santo Antão, westernmost of the Cape Verde Islands.  He called his sighting down to his fellow crewmen, who stopped what they were doing to come look starboard.  Another few minutes passed before the island came into their line of view; when it did, they all began to cheer.

"We're going ashore!" the men cheered, then suddenly stopped their cheering as the island began slipping to their northwest.

Sensing his crew's unrest, the Captain came on deck.  "This is not our destination," he informed his men.  "We sail to São Tiago, a hundred miles southeast.  Praia, at its southeast corner, is our port of call.  It's there we'll land, there we'll dock.  From there we'll row to the mainland - a few of us.  And when it's time to collect our cargo, we'll sail into Dakar's harbor, load up, and start home."

The next morning, as Sandy was fast at work on the masthead, tending the sails, which he had come to regard almost as brothers, the island of São Tiago rose up before him.  He cried out "Land Ho!" to those below and pointed into the rising sun, which momentarily obscured the island's silhouette to those on deck.  Then they, too, saw it on the horizon; but, not knowing for certain if it was São Tiago or another of the Cape Verde Islands, they refrained from expressing their excitement until they felt themselves being drawn toward it.

Just as they were reaching the point of certainty, their Captain appeared on deck to confirm their conclusion.  "São Tiago," he said matter-of-factly.  And a cheer went up that reverberated throughout the ship.

When his men quieted down, the Captain addressed them again.  "We will go ashore when we've secured our ship in Praia harbor.  We must go the length of this island to get there."

With this, he retreated to the bridge to monitor his ship's progress along the coast of São Tiago.  As it moved southeastward to the tip of the island, one after another deserted village appeared on the shoreline, till finally the buildings of Praia rose up like a cliff overhanging the harbor.

By the time the ship was anchored in Praia harbor, night was beginning to fall.  Those who had sailed with Captain Clark before knew what nightfall meant; and, observing the disappointment on their faces, the rest of the crew quickly intuited the meaning and began asking why they must wait to go ashore.

"During the day, those who live here will do anything, for a price," the new crew members were told.  "But when it's dark, they'll slit anyone's throat unfortunate enough to be out and about."

"That's right," Captain Clark confirmed the warning.  "On my first voyage, we didn't know.  We went ashore at twilight.  By midnight half the crew was dead."

"Didn't you have weapons then?" he was asked.

"The weapons were for our cargo," the Captain replied.  "No one retaliates against the people of this island no matter what they do.  Without their cooperation the slave trade would cease.  We go ashore at daybreak."

The night was long, as the men anticipated what lay in wait ashore.  Few of the men slept, and those who did slept in fits and starts as the night wore on.  Only Sandy fell into a deep sleep and remained asleep till morning.

And while he slept, a boy of thirteen on a ship in a tropical port, a child of two ran chasing a phantom through a passage hidden deep within a cavern wall on a snow capped peak.  He had heard the passage before he discovered how to get to it - heard the cat's paws behind the wall, heard a muffled roar calling to him.  He followed along the wall until he came to a place where the sounds beckoning him were strongest; there, he searched, looking everywhere, poking, prodding and pushing the cold stone wall till finally it gave way before him, admitting him through an opening barely wide enough for him to crawl through, to a dark corridor lining the wall.  He felt a warm, wet touch on his cheek, then felt himself being nudged from behind.  Then a breeze shot past him and the cat's paws trailed deeper into the passage.  He ran after the sound rapidly fading into the pitch dark surrounding him.  Then, suddenly, he came to another opening, with a faint light ahead.  As he walked into this light, an ice cold breeze hit his face.  He looked up into the night sky and saw a silver blue ball bigger than anything he had ever seen.  He ran after it but it came no closer.  Then he grew very cold and began to shiver, lying down on the ground trying to huddle into a ball of warmth, when, all of a sudden, the sound of the cat's paws surrounded him and a warm breath was at his neck.  Then he was being lifted into a hot moist opening filled with jagged points that tickled him where they touched.  He started talking, thanking the big cat for rescuing him, then felt himself being carried very rapidly along a snow covered trail, the gentleness and warmth of his ride lulling him into a deep sleep that did not release him till he was in a dark cave lying next to a beating heart within a warm soft body.  He reached up and hugged the big cat.

At the first light of dawn the crew began assembling along the port side of the ship, awaiting their Captain's signal to begin lowering the row boats.  Sandy rushed out to join them the moment he awoke, as eager as any of the crew to see what wonders lay on the other side of the harbor.  Almost an hour passed before Captain Clark appeared on deck.

"I know you've been waiting," he addressed his crew; "but we don't set foot on shore till every last trace of night has been driven out of the sky.  Death can hide in a mere sliver of a shadow, and I need all of you.  So, at my signal, you can lower the boats and head ashore.  A word of caution: when you've had your fill of booze and women and fighting, it'll be too late to return.  So you don't have your fill, not on my command.  That's for when our cargo is safely delivered and your pockets are filled with your reward.  Then you can carouse till you drop.  I expect you back here no later than one hour before sunset.  If you see this boy's face, you'll know you've stayed too long.  Every minute it takes him to round you up and bring you back reduces your share of the profit by one percent."

They all cried "Aye, Captain!" in unison and started lowering the boats.  Sandy turned to the Captain with questioning eyes.

"I'm not going?" he asked.

"You're just a boy," Captain Clark pointed out.  "These are men, on their way to be with women and to get drunk and brawl the afternoon away.  It's a fact of life that at least one or two won't make it back, despite my warnings.  They'll end up in some back alley with their throats slit and their clothes stripped from their backs.  I can't afford to have that happen to you.  You're my best hand.  I can't risk losing you."

Sandy said "Aye, Captain!" and spent the day tending the sails, inspecting them for even the slightest hint of a tear.  While he worked, the day wore on, till finally the shadows cast by the masthead onto the ship's deck, and those cast by the ship upon the harbor, reached a point Captain Clark had determined to be the point of his men's return.  And since, just as he predicted, they had not come back yet, he ordered Sandy down from the mast.

"Help me lower this boat," Captain Clark said, "and we'll row ashore, you and I.  When we reach the shore, you go round up the crew while I wait in the boat."

With these instructions, the two remaining crewmembers lowered a small boat then climbed down a rope ladder and began rowing ashore.  When they arrived and docked their boat, Captain Clark issued one final instruction.

"You go off with no one," he cautioned.  "And keep out of alleyways.  You'll be safe as long as you stay out in the open.  Do not let yourself be lured by anyone for any reason.  When you've found the first of my men, do not leave their side till all the rest are rounded up.  Understand?"

"Aye, Captain!" Sandy acknowledged as he leaped ashore and began running along the wharf, stopping only to look into the places he imagined his fellow crewmembers might be.  The first one he found, he came upon purely by chance.  It was in an alley - the one place he was warned to avoid.

A half naked woman stood against a wall halfway down the alley.  When she saw him, she beckoned to him; when he refused, she began removing the rest of her clothes.  He stood there, unable to move beyond the alley, wanting desperately to go to her, to touch her, and to let her touch him.  Then something caught his eye that snapped him out of the spell she had cast over him.  Farther back, almost to the other end of the alley, a leg protruded from behind a wooden crate; on the leg was a snake - not a real one but a tattoo of a snake, a symbol he recognized as belonging to one of his fellow crew members.  He continued to stare, but the snake never moved.  Then, across from the naked woman, a shadow faintly stirred.  Sandy knew what had happened and what would happen to him if he succumbed to the siren.  Yet he had to see if his crew mate was dead.

Slowly his eyes roamed the alleyway, taking in every nuance of its environment.  Finally, he started down the alley toward the naked woman.  When he was within reach she grabbed him and the shadow across from her lunged forward.  A split second before a knife from behind reached around to his throat, Sandy leaped from the temptress' grasp onto a crate, and then onto a taller crate.  He crouched down on the crate as the man with the dagger came closer and closer and closer.  Suddenly he let out a scream and sprang at the man, sinking his teeth into the man's throat as his assailant fell backwards onto the pavement.  The woman screamed and took off running.

Sandy held fast to the man's throat until he managed to wrest the dagger from him.  Then he released his grip and jumped back, holding the dagger in his outstretched hand as the man gagged and gasped for breath.  Finally, the man began to get up.  When he was upright and steady on his feet, Sandy motioned him away.  He took off running.  When he had disappeared, Sandy went to his crewmate, who was lying face down in a pool of blood.  Sandy turned him over, reached down to the gaping wound across his throat, felt for a pulse, then closed his crewmate's eyes and retreated from the alley, his hands covered in blood which he wiped on his shirt.

He moved quickly once he was beyond the alley, one by one rounding up his crew mates from the dives that dotted the harbor, until, an hour after he came ashore, he had accounted for all of them.  Returning to the boats, the men found Captain Clark busy writing in a big ledger as his boat rocked gently with the rising tide.  A sense of dread overtook the men as they watched his pen rock back and forth across the ledger pages, each knowing full well that he was being docked a percent of his share because the boy had had to come after him.  Sheepishly, after hours of carousing and brawling, the men got into their boats and began rowing back to the Monterey Bay.

It wasn't until Captain and crew were safely aboard and Sandy's  bloodstained shirt became an object of curiosity that some of the crew realized they were short a man.

"Where's Snake?" they looked around to ask, referring to their missing crew mate only by his nickname.

"He's lying in an alley with his throat slit," Sandy told them.

"You didn't do it 'cause he was late, did you?" someone quipped.

Sandy shook his head.

"What happened?"

"There was a naked woman," he started to explain.

"And now you ain't a virgin no more," someone prompted.

"I wasn't a virgin when I saw her," Sandy replied with a mischievous grin.  "But I didn't touch her.  She tried to lure me the way she lured Snake, so the man hidden in the alley could slit my throat too."

"You ain't a ghost, are you?"

Again Sandy shook his head.  "They left in a hurry," was all he said of the incident.  "Then I went to Snake to see if he was dead.  That's why I got his blood on my hands."

Captain Clark went over to put his hand on Sandy's shoulder.  "I shouldn't have sent you alone," he said.

Sandy looked at him.  "Did I do something wrong?" he asked.

Everyone was silent for a moment as Captain Clark considered how best to answer Sandy's question.  He could barely contain his laughter as the irony of his concern for the boy's safety being taken as a chastisement sunk deeper into his thoughts.  Finally, he simply shook his head and said "No, you didn't."

A look of relief removed the worry from the boy's face and, as it did, the whole crew burst out laughing.  And though he failed to grasp the humor, Sandy understood their laughter to be directed not at him but at his predicament, so he joined in the good natured camaraderie, which lasted until the men went below deck to their bunks for the night, each of them knowing that tomorrow was the big day - the day their Captain would select the best among them to accompany him to the mainland.

A fog had settled in overnight, blanketing the harbor in eerie relief against the horizon as the morning sun slowly penetrated the fog without illuminating anything wrapped within it.  Anchored three miles offshore, the Monterey Bay sat dormant as if a larva inside a cocoon, the men stirring on deck like tiny veins waiting to become carriers of new life.

The crew had risen and assembled around the masthead, awaiting Captain Clark's arrival, each one praying to be selected.  It was the most dangerous part of the voyage, and the most rewarding.  Those chosen to accompany their Captain to the mainland were assured the lion's share of the take.

Finally Captain Clark appeared; but he ignored his men, going instead straight to the bridge.  He had come on deck to assess the fog, not to announce his selections.  When he returned from the bridge, he went over and addressed his men, but only to inform them that the fog would not likely lift for at least another day.

"We're stranded," he said.  "We can't row to the mainland in a fog.  We lose at least a day - possibly a week."

He turned to go below but his men insisted to know who would accompany him to the mainland.  "You'll know when I'm ready to tell you," was all he said.

It was three days before the fog lifted.  The crew was growing weary, anxious at having to wait, restless from having no work.  They attempted to pass the time either telling of their exploits, those who had served under this Captain previously; or just talking about all that had happened since the world started crumbling more than a quarter century ago.

A few still remembered the strange things that had brought their way of life to an end; but most only knew from word of mouth, each man in possession of tales indigenous to his own part of the country.  One told of a lake in upstate New York that froze solid in a single afternoon; another of a mountain in Montana that melted before his very eyes, engulfing an entire town.  Yet another had seen the ground open a mile wide just outside Atlanta; a thousand people - he swore on his mother's grave - were swallowed whole before the ground closed again.  In Washington state an earthquake offshore sent a tidal wave careening through Puget Sound; in Washington, DC, the sky turned green one night and all the lights went out in a single surge that electrocuted half the city.  From every part of the country, tales of catastrophe were related over three days in the hold of the fog shrouded ship, each stranger, more horrific than the last.  But only one sent a chill down the spine of everyone who heard it.

It was late the third night of the fog when Captain Clark, who had remained aloof from his men, came to them to announce that the fog was beginning to lift and they would set out for the mainland tomorrow.  Before he could get gone, his men drew him into the tales they were weaving out of their memories and their parents' stories.  He was asked if he had any stories of his own of the time when the world looked as if it would end.

"I lived in west Texas," he said. "Not much happened - not until the stories of a fabulous city somewhere in the panhandle started coming our way.  I was twenty-eight then and Eagle Flat, Texas didn't hold much promise; so when I heard some travelers telling about El Dorado, I left home to go find it.  I worked my way to Amarillo; it was deserted by then.  Almost every night fireballs rained down from the sky - sometimes the whole day long.  But I managed to find this El Dorado.  The day I came upon it was the day the whole southwest shook.  I still don't know what caused it.  I got to the rim - the whole city was in a narrow valley that stretched as far as I could see.  I looked down.  The valley was lined with corpses - thousands of them, surrounding the buildings.  The buildings were oval, like an endless row of eggs all connected by covered walkways.  When the ground shook, the walkways came crashing down; so did all the walkways leading to the rim overlooking the valley.  I hung around, waiting to see if the people in the buildings came out, but no one ever did.  Till one night a helicopter flew over.  And a wall of lava came pouring through the valley, about halfway up the buildings.  Then there was a huge explosion, off to the south; and the buildings began exploding one by one.  And the helicopter reappeared, and hovered over one of the buildings.  They rescued three people from the building.  Three fell out of the helicopter.  One was carried back up.  The helicopter flew off.  And when it did, the building exploded; but that was the last one that exploded.  I followed the valley north, through the panhandle, up through Oklahoma into Colorado.  I decided to wait it out, to see what would happen.  Eventually the lava cooled.  I expected to see the people coming out, if they were still alive; but no one showed.  Then the lava started to harden.  And all of a sudden, in a single day, it began crushing the buildings, twisting them into a thousand strange shapes, gouging the walls like giant claws.  That was when I got my first sight of the people inside the buildings.  Only they weren't trying to leave.  They were being crushed and squeezed and twisted into the shapes surrounding them.  I could hear them screaming, and see blood spurting through the cracks in the walls, and bones and flesh seeping up through shafts no bigger than water pipes.  I could see eyes popping out of heads, which were being squeezed till they exploded.  A whole day I watched, till there was nothing but a twisted mass of shapes left of El Dorado.  Then I moved on."

No one said anything more.  The crew would have broken up but for an innocent comment by Sandy, made mostly to himself.  "I heard about that place," he muttered, then shrugged and started off to his bunk; but his comment had dispelled the gloom that had settled over the crew in the wake of Captain Clark's tale.

"We haven't heard from you yet, boy!" someone called to Sandy.  "You must have some stories to tell even if you're too young to have lived through it!"

"Just what Alice told me," Sandy dismissed the question.

"Who's Alice?  Your mom?  Grandma?"

"No," said Sandy.  "She's our queen."

"The Queen of the Universe?" someone asked in great excitement.  "You know her?"

"Yes," replied Sandy.

"She raised you?" asked Captain Clark.

"No, she was just there.  She told me all about those things the rest of you talked about.  She said my father helped rescue some people - maybe it was the same helicopter you saw," he addressed his Captain.  "She said the man I was named for flew it.  She said Mount Everest knew ten times what she knew, but he wouldn't talk about anything he'd seen."

"So who did raise you?" the Captain asked.

"Her," was all Sandy answered.

"Her?  What was her name?"

"Her," Sandy repeated.  "Just 'Her' - that's all anyone ever called her.  She rescued me from the cold.  She called to me from inside the wall.  I got lost.  She came and carried me to her cave.  That's all I know.  How do you know Alice?" he asked the man who knew who his Queen was.

"I'm from Georgia," the man said as if that explained everything.  "Your Queen Alice led her followers into Georgia, as far as Atlanta, to conquer it.  The only thing was, most of us were better off after her conquest.  She drove the gang that ruled northern Georgia into the pit: the hole I told you about that opened.  It swallowed up all the gang members.  It's as if she knew that's what'd happen.  And I heard she drove out all the gangs in the southeast - from Virginia clear down to Florida.  And that tall man who was always with her - maybe that's that Mount Everest you spoke about: he was always by her side, always fighting right there with her.  People like me and my folks: we hope she lives a thousand years!"                                    

The next morning the fog was gone.  Captain Clark called his men on deck to begin his selection.  It took less than ten minutes to make his choices known.  Of the thirty men in his crew, he chose only ten.  The last one chosen was Sandy - the only choice he felt a need to justify.

"I know the rest of you are disappointed," he acknowledged.  "But I can't risk more than ten.  I need to have as full a crew as possible behind.  This ship is our greatest resource.  All of us are expendable.  Those of you who've sailed with me before know how it goes.  If we haven't completed our task and returned in three weeks, you set sail without us.  One final word before we lower the boats.  About the boy.  I know he's inexperienced, he's smaller than most of you; but I see in him a unique potential.  He needs to learn this trade while he's still young.  The day will come when he'll have his own ship.  He has it in him to become the greatest slaver the world has ever seen.  That's why he has to go with us."

Captain Clark led the ten men he selected to the weapons room, where they were given five weapons apiece.  Then, at last, before the sun had risen five degrees above the horizon, five boats were lowered, two men and ten weapons in each; and the arduous task of rowing the three hundred fifty miles to the mainland began.

The sea was calm, the rowing met little resistance.  Three days later the five boats docked beside an obscure pier in Dakar.   The men slipped along the pier to a line of abandoned warehouses.  Going inside one of them, they were met by a second group of ten men, and then a third.  When they emerged at the far end of the warehouse, two more groups of ten were waiting in a grove of trees.  Together, the fifty men climbed into the back of a truck which immediately left the compound, followed closely by a second truck, and started down a road that led away from the city into the countryside.  For three days the trucks drove deeper into the countryside, until they came to a village in a small clearing surrounded by fields and cattle pens - a village targeted months in advance by scouts for the slavers.  Nothing was left to chance.  Way stations, warehouses, wharves, cargo trucks, even gasoline, which had almost disappeared from the earth a quarter century ago: everything needed to carry out their trade virtually undetected by those in authority had been set in place by the slavers over the years and honed to a clockwork precision.

The villagers never knew what hit them; they had no warning and almost no opportunity to defend themselves other than a watchfulness they had developed over the years, as word of whole villages disappearing overnight spread from village to village throughout West Africa.  But, in the end, neither watchfulness nor stealth determined the outcome, only the weapons pressed into service on both sides - and, in that, there was no contest.  The villagers' primitive rifles and muskets were no more of a match for the semi-automatics the slavers carried than spears and arrows would have been.  The skirmish was quick and efficient; the villagers were taken without the loss of a single slaver - and, just as importantly for the slavers, with very few losses among the adult males and females of the community, whose capture was the goal of this raid.

Sandy was almost killed in the raid - and would have been had Captain Clark not saved him by killing the villager aiming point blank at his chest.  Once the captives were rounded up and forced into the second truck, the fifty slavers climbed inside the first truck to begin the three day journey back to Dakar.  Along the way, Captain Clark assured Sandy there was no shame in freezing on his first raid; but Sandy only looked at him with great puzzlement.

"It happens sometimes," Captain Clark tried to enlighten the boy.  "You see the enemy before you; you see his weapon pointed at you; and suddenly you can't move.  It doesn't mean you're a coward, just that you can't quite believe what's happening."

"Was I supposed to shoot him?" Sand asked.  "I thought the weapons were to let them know we had a right to take them away."

"But he pointed his gun right at you," the Captain reminded the boy.

"And I held mine so he could see his was no match for it," Sandy explained.  "I thought he would drop his and surrender.  He could see my weapon was more powerful."

"It's not about a show of weapons," said Captain Clark.  "It's about the willingness to use them."

"But if he had shot me, he would still have been taken, or killed - so what would he have gained?" Sandy asked.

"You'll understand, just give it time," Captain Clark ended the conversation, Sandy resolving to go among the captives the first chance he got and ask what they would have gained by shooting him.

When they returned to Dakar, by the same back roads, both trucks were taken to the compound where the salvers had loaded themselves onto the first truck six and a half days ago.  Their cargo was unloaded under cover of the thick grove of trees isolating this compound from the surrounding district, and taken to the warehouse to be locked in a holding cell until the slavers were ready to divvy them up.  Half the men from each of the five groups forming the raiding party remained behind to guard the captives while the rest returned to their respective ports of call.                                

Sandy asked to be left behind to help guard the captives but Captain Clark refused his request, stating that he wanted Sandy aboard the Monterey Bay whenever it sailed the open sea, no matter how short the distance.  Three days later the Captain and his four crewmen boarded their ship in Praia harbor and immediately set sail for Dakar, which they reached in two and a half days.  By the third day all the rest of the men had returned.  For three hours they haggled over the captives until a final tally had been agreed upon.  Seven hundred fifty men, women and children between the ages of twelve and forty were parceled among the five crews of slavers, each crew leading its share of one hundred fifty from the warehouse, along the isolated docks, to their awaiting ships, where they were loaded into the cargo hold.  Then the ships set sail from Dakar, each for one final stopover at their chosen port of call before beginning the long journey home.

There was no shore leave this time.  The stopover in Praia was to replenish their supplies then return to their ship.  It was also to give the captives a chance to adjust to the rocking motion of the waves before hitting the rough waters of the open sea.

"When you read tales of the first slave trade, you see the price of ignorance," Captain Clark told Sandy as they stood on deck watching the lights of Praia flicker into darkness as night descended and the citizens extinguished their candles and lanterns one by one as they retired for the night.  "They packed their captives so tightly and gave them so little time to adjust to the sea that half of them died," Clark elaborated.  "I don't intend to lose even one.  That's why I've stocked food, fresh water, medical supplies and means of sanitation.  If I had space for it, I'd give them privacy too.  I can make more on a load of one fifty than those early slavers made on a thousand.  And that's why I'm in it.  Not to provide slaves, but to turn a profit."

It was a week before Sandy was able to go among the captives.  His place was on the rigging, tending the sails and standing lookout.  Each night, when his shift ended and he went to his bunk, resolving to get up after a couple hours sleep and visit the hold, he slipped into a deep sleep that held him suspended till morning.  Finally, the eighth day out, the ship encountered a stretch of liquid calm sea that held the buoyancy of waves at bay.  For hours, the Monterey Bay sat quietly, its sails drooping like limp hair.  Sandy took advantage of the doldrums to carry out his personal quest.

He dared not enter through the door; to do that, he would first have to unlock it, leaving the captives free to escape.  Instead, he managed to squeeze his body through the tiny opening the crew used to pass food, water and supplies to the captives.  When he raised up he found himself standing face to face with fifty powerful men who kept moving closer and closer until they completely surrounded him.  They began pushing him back and forth among themselves.  All the while he simply stared in wonder.  Finally, a man approached from beyond the ring and raised his hand to the men, who immediately halted their pushing.  Slowly they spread apart.  The man came through the ring and stood before Sandy.

"I presume English is your language," he said.  Sandy nodded that it was.  "What are you doing here?" the man asked.

"I've come to ask something," Sandy answered.

"Then ask it and leave," the man told him.

"In the village," Sandy began his question, "a man was killed -"

"Many were killed!"

"This one my Captain shot," Sandy explained.  "He said the man would have killed me.  I don't understand why."

The man struck Sandy in the face so hard the boy barely managed to maintain his balance.  Then the man again raised his hand to the others before they could touch the boy.

"You don't understand why a man you came to enslave would have killed you?" he asked with contempt.

"He stood to gain nothing by shooting me," Sandy looked the man in the eye to point out.  "He could see his weapon was no match for ours.  He gave up his life for nothing."

"For nothing?" the man raised his hand as if to strike Sandy again, but withdrew it.  Instead he spat in Sandy's face.  "You can afford to show no fear," the man observed contemptuously; "you know if we harm you we die."

This time Sandy hung his head in shame as it occurred to him he had put these men in jeopardy by entering the hold.  Then he looked up again into the man's eyes.

"I will come among you again at a time when no one will know to look for me," he promised.  "I don't know where you're being taken, but I swear I'll find you and come to you again to ask my question.  Because you haven't answered it completely.  I was wrong to come here.  I failed to see how dangerous it was for you.  I thought," Sandy faltered at the foolishness of his supposition, "I thought once you were aboard, you would be like prisoners of war.  And I could be among you, to learn about you, and share your stories.  But it's different somehow.  I'm sorry I didn't understand."

"Prisoners of war?" the man asked incredulously, as if he had not heard correctly.  "There was no war.  We were kidnapped, taken from our homes to be the white man's slaves.  And what stories would we share with those who believe us sub-human?"

Now it was Sandy who tried to make sense of the words spoken to him.  "Sub-human?" he half asked, half mused.  Then an image came to him that seemed to correspond to the concept he was presented - an image of a cave, and a child being suckled.  There were tears in his eyes when he looked up again.  "You mean, to be hunted by those who are afraid of you and who run and hide when they see you approach," he observed.  "I would not make slaves of those who are less than human.  I would honor them as I do her."

Just then a noise sounded, first in the hallway then at the door to the hold, a tapping as of a nightstick.  Then a long handle protruded through the opening near the floor depositing a huge cauldron inside the door.  When the handle was removed, the tapping reversed itself away from the door.

"This is our dinner," the man told Sandy, who nodded and started for the opening once the cauldron was taken to a table at one end of the room.  "Were it not dangerous to us, I would ask you to stay longer, or else to come among us again," he added.

"I'll make sure it's safe before I come here again," Sandy promised - a promise he was able to keep on three more occasions before the journey came to an end. 

The last time he spoke to them, three days after the ship cleared the Isthmus of Panama, he sensed a growing sadness among the captives which, in turn, made him sad - but also confused him.

"I don't understand your unhappiness," he confessed.

Once again, the man Sandy had come to think of as a friend expressed the same kind of anger he displayed at their first meeting.  "You have uprooted us, taken us from our land to work as your slaves, and you wonder at our unhappiness?" he asked, but without raising his hand to the boy or spitting in his face.

"This is a great adventure," Sandy tried to explain.  "You're going to a new world, one you've never seen before - full of excitement and danger.  I understand your anger, but not your unhappiness."

The man shook his head in disappointment.  "You came so close to seeing us as we are," he admitted.  "Perhaps it's your youth, not your race.  Or the circumstances of your boyhood.  Perhaps being torn from your family was an adventure in your mind.  But not in ours.  You must go now.  In spite of everything I will cherish your memory.  Tell me your name."

"Sandy."

"And I am John," the man gave his name.

"But is that your true name, or only the white man's name for you?" Sandy asked.

"Like yours, it's only half my name," he answered.  "But also like yours, the other half cannot be repeated by those whose tongues have never made the sounds."                                        

One week later the Monterey Bay made landfall on an island in the Pacific, one of dozens forming an archipelago where, half a century ago, there was nothing but open sea.  The cargo was unloaded, packed into three trucks, and hauled away.  Captain Clark received his price and divvied it up among his crew, reminding them that he sailed again in one month's time.  Since Sandy had agreed upon nothing in advance, his Captain offered him a share of his own take; but the boy declined, saying he needed nothing but his wits to survive until they set sail again.

"You're welcome to stay on board till she's ready," Captain Clark told him.

Sandy shook his head.  "I hope to see this place first," he exclaimed.

"Then you'll need papers," his Captain said as he went to his desk to retrieve the paperwork required of all sailors.

A month later Sandy returned to the harbor where the Monterey Bay was docked.  He had kept his promise to the captives to go among them unarmed without anyone's knowledge of his whereabouts.  It took him almost a week to work his way to the fields and groves where they had been taken to work.  He watched for three days to get a sense of the routine before slipping into their compound one night.

He came up to John's bunk and gently tapped him to awaken him.  Sensing a presence but not knowing who or what, John reached out and grabbed him, throwing him to the ground as he leaped out of bed.  Sandy looked up, past the foot poised on his chest, into John's face.

"I've come for my answer," he said calmly.

John reached down and helped him up.  "No one knows you're here?" he asked.  Sandy nodded.  John reached his powerful hands around Sandy's throat and began to squeeze.  "I could bury you where you'd never be found!" he threatened.  When Sandy had almost passed out, John released him, catching the boy in his arm as he started to fall.

"You would have let me strangle you?" he asked.

"I had my answer," Sandy replied.  "I finally understood why he would have shot me.  And why you didn't strangle me.  He hated me.  You don't."

Sandy bowed down before this man who spared his life then got up and left.  It was ten years before he returned to the San Joaquin Valley.

Huntington was home at one time to the most bloodthirsty cutthroats on the Ohio.  Calling themselves the Hunters, this uninspired gang ruled Huntington for nearly half a century, until, as with virtually every other city in America, the inhabitants abandoned it to try and escape the end of the world.  Floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hail and lightening all conspired to drive the Hunters out of their stronghold and deep into the hills of West Virginia - then spared their city to pursue them, its rulers, all the way to the Kentucky border before swallowing them up in an abandoned coal mine they took refuge in.  No one ever returned to reclaim one of the most strategically situated cities in the Ohio Valley.  Brad and his people were the first to set foot in Huntington in almost thirty years.

Brad refused to proceed beyond one block from the riverbank until he sent a contingent to scout the city.  He assembled a team of ten men, led by two of his lieutenants, then instructed his people to set up camp until the team reported their findings.

"Cover as much of the city as you can in the next four hours," Brad told his lieutenants.

"They'll find everything we need to build a home here," Andrea predicted.  "It's Middlesboro all over again.  And, like Henry, you'll make us move on, won't you?" she asked her son.

"We will never settle so close to this or any other river," Brad told her.  "This place was spared from whatever destroyed the towns on the other side.  But it may not be next time.  No matter what's here, it isn't for us.  Tomorrow, if it's safe, we head southeast again."

Just as Andrea predicted, when the scouting party returned at dusk, they reported no evidence of anyone living in the city or any booby traps - but an abundance of provisions and plenty of housing just there for the taking.  Their recommendation to their leader was to settle at Huntington, at least long enough to reestablish a measure of control over the circumstances that had been thrust upon them.

"No one is to say a word to anyone," Brad ordered the members of the scouting party.  "I will address my people tomorrow."

Shortly after sunrise, everyone assembled in the center of the camp site.  Brad could sense an uneasiness among his people.  "We will be moving on within the hour," he told them.  "It's safe to proceed with our journey.  We will gather provisions as we pass through."

"Why can't we stay here?" someone asked.  Several more seconded the sentiment expressed.

"This place is not suitable for our needs," Brad answered.

"But it has everything we need!" it was countered.

"What makes any of you think that?" Brad asked as if making casual conversation.

"It's what your scouts discovered, isn't it?"

"How do you know that?" Brad asked.

Several people pointed to a young man standing among them.  "He was there, he told us."

The young man stepped forward.  "I just wanted them to know they wouldn't have to keep moving, they could settle down," he explained.

"I ordered you - all ten of you - to say nothing," Brad reminded the young man.  "You disobeyed my order," he said.  Without another word, Brad took out his gun, aimed it, and shot the young man dead.

"There will be no disobedience of direct orders," he announced to everyone present.  "We cannot and will not stay here, no matter how great the temptation.  This place is still too close to everything that drove us from our home.  The river can rise up again to claim the rest of us.  I can't put us in that kind of jeopardy.  We must get to the other side of the Appalachians before we even think about settling down."

Brad instructed his people to strike camp.  While they were doing that, he motioned two of his lieutenants to dump the corpse into the river.

"Was it necessary to take a life to make a point?" Andrea came alongside her son to ask.  He instinctively reached for his gun.  "Would you shoot me too?" she asked.

"I would shoot anyone who jeopardizes my people," Brad replied.  "We've gotten this far because I refused to allow anyone to interfere with our progress.  The rest of our journey - however much farther we need to go - will be easier than getting here was.  If anything, we'll need greater discipline, or else we'll leave ourselves vulnerable to anything unexpected."

As Brad led his people from Huntington on a southeasterly course through eastern Wayne County, cutting across the tip of Lincoln County into western Logan County; then through the easternmost part of Mingo County, the westernmost part of Wyoming County, due south through McDowell County into Virginia, his prediction of a journey less difficult than the one that brought his people to Huntington proved prophetic.  But the farther they moved through Virginia, the less tenuous his prediction became.  Nothing in the landscape, or in the atmosphere contradicted him; but things on the ground did - things deliberately left lying about.  At first it seemed almost natural: this was a thinly populated region, bounded by forests and mountains - an ideal place for trapping.  It made sense to find traps scattered across the area.  But the closer they got to the mountains, the less innocent these traps became.

Even before their more sinister side surfaced, Darryl cautioned his leader about the traps.  "This is not the work of trappers," he said.  "My folks were trappers, and hunters, and farmers.  They understood the danger of having live traps lying about.  And there are too many of them.  Someone's gone to a lot of trouble to set these."

"You forget," Brad countered, "the world as people knew it came to an end.  It's true we find provisions in the towns we pass through - because the people were forced to leave.  Those that survived had to learn how to forage.  Food wasn't brought to them.  It makes perfect sense that novices untrained in the ways of nature would error on the side of too many traps rather than too few."

Darryl remained unconvinced but said nothing more except to warn Brad to be especially circumspect as they proceeded - advice which Brad readily accepted.

They entered Virginia at the border of Buchanan and Tazwell Counties, proceeding almost due south through Tazwell to US Route 19, skirting the towns of Richland and Cedar Bluff, to arrive at the Clinch Mountains just northeast of Flattop Mountain.  They had gone over a hundred miles since leaving Huntington, and were within fifty miles of the North Carolina border.  Though it was mid-day, Brad decided to set up camp before crossing the mountains.  He sent scouts ahead to find the best route.

Two hours later the scouts returned, one of them covered in blood and being helped along by two others.  The scout's right hand was mangled and wrapped in a blood soaked shirt one of his fellow scouts had tried to use for a bandage.

"What happened?" Brad demanded.

"He got his hand caught in a trap!" one of the scouts explained.

"How?  Did he stumble?" Brad asked.

"No!  It fell on him!  It just fell out of a tree!  It just fell on him!  If he hadn't raised his hand to shield himself, it would have fallen on his head and crushed his skull!  It almost took his hand off!  I don't know if we can save it it!  And he's lost so much blood!  I don't know if we can save him!"

The injured scout was taken to a tent already set up, where a medical team Brad had assembled along the way tended his wounds.  They managed to stop the bleeding, but his hand was injured so badly they knew they could not save it, let alone try and re-attach it with the limited medical supplies at their disposal.  The scout had already lost consciousness from the loss of blood.  They gave him as much pain killer as they dared then proceeded to amputate his hand, quickly cauterizing it and suturing the wound to keep it from becoming infected.

"He can't be moved for at least another couple days," the leader of Brad's medical team reported, adding "if he lives through the night."

"I can leave one man behind to watch him," Brad reluctantly agreed, "and two days' supply of medicine - but no more.  It'll be up to whomever stays behind to catch up to us.  Our trail won't be hard to follow."

When everyone was turning in, Darryl came to Brad to ask if he could go ahead of the others to investigate the incident that took the scout's hand.

"Traps don't just fall out of trees," Darryl pointed out.  "There had to be a triggering device - a string or something that was tripped.  There'll be more."

"We could take another route," Felicia, who had overheard Darryl's conclusion, suggested.

"No!" Brad ruled out the idea entirely.  "This is the most direct route."

"To where?" Felicia asked.  "I didn't think our destination had been determined yet."

"It hasn't," Brad acknowledged.  "But our route has.  We know we want to go east, as close to the coast as we dare.  And we want to head for a warmer place, so next winter we won't be forced to spend all our time and energy keeping warm.  These mountains offer the most direct route.  They aren't high mountains.  And there'll be passes -"

"Which will have been easy to sabotage!" Felicia insisted.

"True," Brad agreed.  "But easier to find whatever's there.  In a narrow pass, there's only so many places to set traps.  And we don't know anything else's been sabotaged.  This may have been an isolated incident."

"I'd like to hear what Darryl thinks," Felicia remarked.

"I agree with Brad," Darryl said.  "If there are booby traps, I'd rather encounter them in a narrow pass than an open plain, where they could be anywhere.  And if there are traps, we don't know who set them or why, or how widely.  Our best bet's to go slow, and keep sending scouts ahead, every step of the way.  Besides," Darryl added, "finding any other way around these mountains could take us weeks.  We either look for a break in the mountains or go all the way to Georgia, where the Appalachians end.  And any highway across would have crumbled years ago."

The next morning, Brad and his people set out for Clinch Mountains, leaving the injured scout still poised between life and death.  Instead of a paramedic, Brad left one of his lieutenants to tend the scout, with instructions to move on in twenty-four hours with or without his patient.

"If he's still near death," Brad advised, "send him the rest of the way, then catch up to us."  Brad's lieutenant nodded acceptance of his leader's command.  When he rejoined Brad a day later, all he said was "He didn't make it."

Darryl moved ahead of the others, making it without incident to the spot where the trap had fallen from the overhanging branches of a spruce tree.  He studied the area for over an hour before finally discovering an almost invisible strand of nylon thread broken and entwined within one of the branches.  He reported his finding back to his leader.

"I re-strung it," he said, "and tried looking at it from every angle to see if the sun's position helped make it visible."

"And?" Brad prompted.

"You can almost see it when the sun's directly behind it," Darryl continued.  "But you'd have to be looking directly into the sun.  What I suggest, since the passes are narrow, is to have someone carrying long sticks go ahead of the others and keep the sticks moving back and forth to try and trigger anything that's there.  The thing is, that might not be the only kind of booby trap.  There could be others, that we haven't encountered yet so we can't know what to look for."

"The sticks are a good idea," Brad agreed.  "As for anything else, we'll just have to wait till we encounter it.  Right now, our focus has to be on what we know is there."

Slowly and carefully, Brad led his people along the pass his scouts had marked the day before.  Several yards ahead of them, three men carrying long slender switches cut from young trees worked their way through the thickly wooded pass, swinging the branches back and forth amidst the overhanging branches to try and catch any strings hidden in the trees.  All of a sudden, Darryl took the switch he was carrying and whacked the man to his left so hard he knocked him down.  The man started to get up, yelling to Darryl to watch what he was doing; but Darryl blocked his rise with his switch, telling both him and the man to his right not to move.

By now, Brad had come up to see what was happening.  "What was that all about?" Brad demanded to know.

Darryl pointed with his switch.  "There's something there, buried in the ground," he said.  "I caught a glimpse of something glistening up ahead, just a few feet away."

Cautiously, Darryl led Brad to where a brief flash of light had caught his eye.  Both could see something barely protruding from the ground.

"It's a rock," Brad concluded.

"Then someone went to a lot of trouble to hide it," Darryl said.  "Look how loose the dirt is.  It's been packed around it, to cover it.  If we were still at war with anyone, I'd say it was a land mine.  Except neither us nor the outlaws had any back then.  But that's what it looks like."

"If it is," Brad pondered, "can we uncover it without triggering it?"

"We could throw a rock on it to detonate it," Darryl suggested.

"We don't know how powerful it might be," Brad cautioned.  "Still," he relented, "we need to know what it is.  We'll stand as far back as we can, then I'll toss a rock."

"Let me do that," Darryl asked.

"No," said Brad.  "It's what my father did, it's what I'll do."

Brad ordered his people to retreat to a safer distance, then he moved to within striking distance of the object.  Taking careful aim, he hurled a large rock he had picked up along the pass, then dove for cover.  The rock landed squarely on top of the metallic object and disappeared in a blinding flash and a cloud of blue smoke, from which shot dozens of fragments in every direction, several striking Brad, but none with enough force to penetrate his clothes.  When the noise died down and the smoke began to clear, Brad arose, dusted himself off, and went to investigate the hole the explosion left behind.  A couple of  Brad's lieutenants joined him, while Darryl went about collecting as many fragments as he could find.  When he had enough, he presented them to Brad.

"These pieces," he offered his opinion, "and the way they blew apart: this was not something hand made.  This is just what it looked to be: a genuine land mine.  The question is, where did it come from?  It had to be a military base.  The only one I know of around here big enough to have this kind of weapon stored away is Fort Brag."

"Then that's where we're headed," Brad at last had a destination for his people.                                        

They were almost two days crossing the Clinch Mountains.  They camped in a clearing Brad's scouts had gone over inch by inch.  Everyone was ordered to remain in their tents until given the word to begin breaking camp.  By late afternoon of the second day, they had made it to Poor Valley, on the eastern slope of the mountains.  Three hours later, as the sun was beginning to wane, they stepped into Rich Valley, where Brad again sought out a suitable place to set up camp for the night.

They had crossed the Clinch Mountains without injury.  Several more traps were found and rendered harmless, three more land mines encountered and detonated the same way as the first.  Brad was beginning to feel more confident about the route he had chosen; and as his confidence returned, especially now that he had a definite goal, he grew impatient with the pace of the journey - a feeling his people quickly picked up on and echoed in their own sentiments.

As they made their way through Rich Valley, crossed Interstate 81, and came upon the Iron Mountains - the last barrier standing between them and North Carolina - all without incident, an excitement and a corresponding sense of urgency overtook the people.  They felt as if it was safe once again to resume a normal pace.  The scouts were sent ahead, as before, but with instructions to proceed as quickly as possible.  Only one person objected to the adoption of this accelerated pace.

"These mountains scare me," Darryl told Brad.  "They're the last barrier between Virginia and Carolina."

"Whoever passed this way ran out of things to sabotage the trail with," Brad observed.  "You saw how many more there were when we began this leg of our journey, and how few there were by the time we got here.  They didn't want anyone following them."

"If they came this way," Darryl pointed out.  "What if they were heading west, not east?  Then it would have been back there they ran out of booby traps.  I say we take it as slowly, as carefully as before - if not more so!"

Brad considered Darryl's suggestion, weighing it against his people's growing impatience to reach their new home.

"We will proceed as carefully as we can," he concluded, "without bogging us down needlessly."

The border of Washington and Smyth Counties bisected the Iron Mountains; and it was this mythical boundary Brad and his people followed.  The scouts were given a two hour head start; they were to proceed to the summit of the path chosen then wait for the others to catch up to them before continuing the rest of the way.  They were only to report back if they encountered anything unusually threatening.  Their two hour head start went by slowly - almost painfully so - for those left waiting to resume the journey to their new home.  People who normally paid little or no attention to time found themselves watching the morning sun slowly ascending a gray-blue sky that seemed as if it were trying to push the sun back to the eastern horizon; still others took out watches they had not consulted since being driven from their homes.  Finally, the two hours were up, and everyone began gathering their things before even being told to.

As eager as everyone was to get started, none was more so than Darryl.  His reason was not theirs, though.  As he had since day broke, he sensed something very wrong on Iron Mountain.  Once again, he warned Brad.

"I know you told them to wait for us," he addressed his leader; "but they should have been back.  They should have encountered something that warranted returning to warn us about.  Please give me a head start."

Darryl had stayed behind precisely because he feared something terrible lying in wait and wanted a second line of defense between the people and whatever it was.  But Brad refused his request.

"I have no objection if you move to the head of the line," Brad told him; "but we all leave together.  Two hours is long enough."

Darryl acceded to his leader's wishes, positioning himself to go first when Brad gave the word to start.  He kept pace with the others to the base of the mountain range, and even as the ascent began.  But then he gradually moved ahead, careful to make his movements appear as simply a more rapid gait than the others.  This way, he managed to put himself a couple hundred feet ahead of everyone else by the time they were halfway up the western slope.

He was not charged with scouting, therefore had no switch to test the terrain with; so he let his eyes wander among the tree branches for signs of any disturbance.  But there appeared to be none.  Then he rounded a bend and came upon a clearing that gave him a view to the summit.  He stopped cold.  No one was there, standing in wait where there should have been four scouts clearly visible beneath the mid-day sun.  He knew if he ran back to warn the others, the scouts' absence would simply be interpreted as their having gone beyond the summit, to a point not visible from Darryl's perspective.  Yet he feared that his self-appointed scouting - as well as his own safety - would be jeopardized if he raced ahead to the summit.  Not knowing what to do, he quickened his pace, trying to concentrate even more on the terrain.

Andrea and Carol recognized what was wrong almost in the same instant.  Andrea ran to her son.

"Stop him!" she pointed to Darryl.  Brad simply shrugged.

"He'll stop when he reaches the scouts," Brad assured his mother.

"I know he will!" she snapped at him.  "Now do as I say - stop him before he gets any farther!"

Brad reached for his gun, but Andrea slapped it out of his hand.  "Do as I say!" she again ordered.

Brad took off running, calling out to Darryl as he ran.  Darryl abruptly turned and began to lose his balance; he tried to steady himself but couldn't find anything solid to plant his feet into.  As he was about to fall forward, Brad reached out and grabbed hold of him, managing to pull him back without losing his own balance.  Then the ground beneath both of them grew unsteady.  They leaped back just as it caved in.  They stood a moment to see if the ground would again give way, but it held firm.  Then they slowly inched their way to the edge.

Below them was an open pit that stretched all the way to the summit.  As they looked down, they saw four bodies lying impaled on wooden stakes.  Brad immediately turned back to his people to halt them, but they had already stopped.  Andrea had ordered them to remain where they were until Brad returned.

"I've got to see if they're still alive!" Darryl exclaimed.

"No!" commanded Brad.  "No one goes down there."

"But they might -"

"No!" Brad repeated his command.

Knowing that he could not disobey a direct order, Darryl acknowledged his leader's command with a nod of his head.  The two of them retreated back down the slope to the others.

"We can't continue along this pass," Brad reported to his people.  "We must find another way across.  Our impatience cost four men their lives.  We have no choice but to camp at the base of the mountains until another pass is found."

When they had reassembled and began their descent, Brad asked his mother how she knew about the pit, and the cave-in.

"There was something odd about it," she answered, adding that she and Carol both sensed it.  "It made us both think of the rift, and those who fell in.  We got to where we could tell - we just knew - when the ground was unsafe.  We learned to avoid any ground that was different."                        

When his people were settled in for the night, Brad met with his lieutenants to plan a strategy for getting around the pass.  He invited Darryl to join them - reluctantly, since he did not entirely trust him.  More precisely, he was not certain of Darryl's loyalty.  As honorable, as dedicated a soldier as Darryl was, he was an idealist, like Cade, like Henry, and like Joey; his first loyalty was to his ideal of humanity.  He would turn on his leader before he would compromise that ideal.  Brad knew the day would come when he would be forced to choose between Darryl's life and the good of his people.  He knew, too, that he wouldn't hesitate making the only choice his leadership warranted.  For now, though, his people's welfare needed Darryl's special skills, his uncanny sensitivity to the terrain.

It was decided, instead of seeking another pass, or going around the mountains - a virtual impossibility since they were part of a larger mountain range, the Appalachians - that they would work their way up the mountains and back down the other side through the thick forest surrounding the pass.  The same dangers they originally anticipated would still be there, only in far greater degree, owing to the greater number of trees and the greater difficulty of detecting booby traps.  But these same trees made a pit like the one they barely escaped far less likely.

When everyone had returned to their own tents, and Brad and Felicia lay huddled together in his sleeping bag, she told him she had witnessed the incident with his mother.

"I'll deal with her when the time's right," Brad responded.

"Why?" asked Felicia.  "Why must you deal with anything anyone does?"

"I can't allow anyone to challenge my authority," Brad said.

"She's your mother," Felicia reminded him.  "But, more than that, she sees things you haven't learned to look for yet.  Darryl would have been killed, like the others, if she hadn't acted."

"As valuable as he is, it would have been better for him to die than for anyone to see their leader openly challenged like that," was all Brad said.  Then he took Felicia in his arms and made love to her before falling asleep.

In the morning, the people set out once again in hopes of crossing Iron Mountain.  As before, scouts were sent ahead, but only a short distance ahead - this time with instructions to go slowly and to scour every inch of forest before, behind and around them as they went, maintaining a path no more than a hundred feet wide.  And no one, under pain of death, was to move so much as an inch beyond the scouts for even a split-second.

Already in their sweep of this hundred foot wide stretch of forest, the scouts had discovered and disarmed a number of devices hidden amidst the trees or buried beneath the leaves.  But as the day wore on, and the people grew restless and impatient with this snail's space, they began to get careless.

They never faltered in strictly observing Brad's command to remain behind the scouts at all times.  But they began to stray off the beaten path without even realizing it.  Before long, the hundred foot wide path the scouts had cleared of traps and mines became a hundred fifty, then two hundred, then as much as three hundred.

The first person to step on a land mine was one of Kirk's original followers - one of the T-Men, who had come from Wyoming to Nebraska to Kansas to Tennessee and, finally, to Indiana, surviving one after another natural disaster, only to have his life ended in a blinding flash in a forest on Iron Mountain.  Shrapnel flew everywhere, striking several others, inflicting only superficial wounds but causing a panic among the people, who suddenly realized they had wandered into a no-man's land filled with deadly peril.

At first, everyone froze. Then, as the realization of their plight sank deeper into their consciousness, they began to run wildly, seeking to escape the fate that had befallen their fellow travelers.  They ranged ever farther a-field, some attempting to go back down the mountain, others moving blindly through the thick stand of trees to the east or the west, putting hundreds of feet more between themselves and the path of safety.

Traps began dropping from overhanging branches as the guy wires holding them in place were tripped by those attempting to flee the forest.  Land mines began exploding as panicked feet stumbled into their sights.  In a matter of minutes, several dozen bodies lay wounded or dying on the forest floor, covered in blood and gore.  And still the traps were sprung, the mines detonated, until finally Brad and the report of his pistol were able to restore order.

This time, when everyone froze, they were afraid to move at all, even so much as an inch from where they stood - and nothing Brad could say or do could coax them from their island of safety.  To put an end to the stalemate, Brad announced that unless those who had strayed began returning to the path they had left, he would begin shooting them, one by one, at random, until they obeyed his command.

"I'll count to ten," he called out, "then I'll aim and shoot the first person I see."  He began counting, yet no one moved.  When he reached ten, he pointed his gun at a man a hundred yards east of him and shot the man dead.  Still no one moved.  He pointed a second time and fired, then a third, till finally his people began coming toward him, each one trying desperately to retrace the steps that had led him astray.  An hour passed before the stragglers returned, all of them managing to avoid whatever booby trap still lay in wait in the forest.

"What about the others?" someone pointed to the bodies left lying in the woods.  "Some of them may be wounded and need help."

"We will risk no more lives," Brad answered, then beckoned his people to resume their trek, admonishing them not to wander from the path the scouts had cleared of danger.

Before they even reached the summit, it grew too late in the day to continue.  Brad ordered a halt.

"We will remain here till morning," he announced.  Everyone was stunned and began looking back and forth amongst themselves then finally back at Brad.  They had never heard such a thing before as attempting to set up camp in the middle of a forest - and on a slope to boot.

Perceiving the source of their confusion before anyone said a word, Brad addressed their concern.  "There will be no tents," he said.  "I expect each of you - man, woman and child - to stay where you are till daybreak.  Sit if you wish, lie down in you can, but do not step away from the place you now stand.  We are not here to sleep but to keep vigil till we can resume our journey."

The night chill and the danger surrounding them kept all but a few awake; and even those who slept woke frequently and got very little rest.  To everyone stranded on Iron Mountain Monday night, May 4, 2093, it felt like the longest night of their lives.  All eyes were on the eastern sky; what little of the horizon could be seen between the branches and brushes assumed the awe and mystery of a once in a lifetime spectacle about to happen.  Then, finally, the faintest flicker of light appeared on the horizon with the force of a comet streaking across the sky.  Layer by layer the light arose, as if a painter were spreading it one stroke at a time across the horizon; until, at last, it covered the whole eastern sky.

Brad signaled his scouts to begin.  Half an hour later he beckoned the rest of his people to follow suit.  By mid-morning, they made it to the summit.  By nightfall they had descended Iron Mountain.  No one perished on the eastern slope.  They camped that night in the shadow of Mount Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia.  The next day, they crossed the border into North Carolina.

Not all the Carolinians who followed the Revenge Road west to Kentucky were killed when the earth gave birth to Henry's Mountains.  Those who settled in Ashland, in northeastern Kentucky, had been spared the ravages of nature, only to be attacked by the hordes fleeing across the Ohio.  After a week long siege, they were driven from their homes, fleeing deep into Kentucky to escape massacre at the hands of their conquerors.  They had wandered the state for almost a month before coming to Louisville, their primary aim - simply to escape - soon galvanizing into a resolve to locate a cache of weapons with which to reclaim their territory.  Instinctively, they headed for the one place they knew of that might yield weapons of war - the one place in Kentucky most like the arsenal that had armed them for their westward trek along Revenge Road.  They made for Fort Knox, the closest thing to Fort Bragg in the state of Kentucky, reaching it on the fifteenth of April of the year 2093 - the same day Cade and Stone Creek left Brandenburg for what they thought was the last time.

The Carolinians spotted them heading east before they themselves were seen.  Had they patiently waited in ambush, they could have finished them off; instead, they let their pent up rage override their judgment, giving away their position by firing one after another round at the approaching strangers.

In a split second Stone Creek had sized up the situation, his warrior's instinct warning him this was not "friendly fire."  Had it been his own people, crossed over from Indiana, or even the outlaws of Kentucky he had fought to a stalemate in war, he would have attempted to make his identity known.  Either group would have ceased firing.  But something told him this was someone out for blood, someone outside his sphere of influence.

He grabbed Cade, crying "Follow as close as you can!" and began running back the way they came, confident that his grandson's blindness would not impede their escape.  They ran the first three of the ten miles to Brandenburg before slowing up, Cade proving himself as sure-footed as the man leading him.  Stone Creek looked back, not to see if he and Cade had lost their pursuers, because he knew they hadn't, but to see if they had gained ground on him.  They had not, they had kept a constant distance; so he decided to continue at a more normal pace until they began closing in.

For the next three miles he and Cade maintained the speed of a forced march, then he slowed up to look back once more.  This time his pursuers had narrowed the gap between them, so he alerted Cade to resume running again, which they did for the next two and a half miles, slowing up to a brisk walk the next mile before ending their escape route in a final burst of speed which propelled them to a small warehouse on the northern fringe of town.  Stone Creek led Cade into the building, on Armory Road just off Bypass Road.

"If you wonder where we are," Stone Creek started to explain; but Cade shook his head.

"I had eleven years to explore this town," he observed.   "I know exactly where we are, and why.  This is your strongbox."

Inside the warehouse, just as Cade remembered, was a cache of weapons Stone Creek had collected over the years - a cache he was reluctant to dip into even when he was at war and desperately needed weapons.  This was his trump card, to be used only when nothing else remained.  The weapons were hidden inside crates of old electronic components which no longer had any use.

"You can't be planning to make a stand," Cade prompted his grandfather for his strategy.

"No, I'm not," Stone Creek confirmed.  "I am planning to hide out here till they've gone through."

"You don't think they'll look in here?" Cade asked.

"Oh, I know they will," Stone Creek answered.  "I've even given them something to look for: I locked the door behind us.  They'll go door to door till they've checked out every last building in Brandenburg - especially any with their doors locked.  But they won't find us."

Stone Creek then led his grandson to a secret passage built into one of the inner walls of the warehouse.  This passage led to a concealed staircase, which, in turn, led to a tunnel beneath the building which ran a hundred yards beyond it.  They hadn't been in the tunnel long when they heard footsteps overhead, then voices.

The voices were soft, in the manner of trying to communicate without alerting anyone outside the immediate circle.  Even so, Stone Creek and Cade could make out enough of what was being said that by the time the speakers left, they had confirmed what Stone Creek already half suspected.

"They're from Carolina," Stone Creek observed.  "That means they've come back to Kentucky.  We've got to try and find the outlaws who returned after the war.  We've got to go to the caves.  I know it's not what you want; but for now it's what we have to do."

Cade nodded his acceptance.  "Eventually I'll work my way to Carolina," he told his grandfather.

"We both will," Stone Creek acknowledged.  "But it'll be as part of a conquering army," he added.  "It's time to end the menace once and for all."

"The menace may end up being our own people," Cade pointed out.

"If Brad successfully routs them, true," Stone Creek agreed.  "But if there's more intrigue there than Brad's ever had to contend with - as I suspect there is - then he'll be led to his own slaughter before realizing the trap is set to spring.  He'll need our help."

"But will be accept it?" Cade wondered.

"He'll have to: it may be his only chance to survive."

An image flashed inside Cade's mind, too fleeting to fix on but substantial enough to pinpoint the danger facing his brother.

"One of his own followers will be his undoing," Cade said.  "But neither will realize what's happening till it's too late."

"More reason for us to be there," Stone Creek noted.

But Cade shook his head.  "Your army will unwittingly bring it about," he predicted.

When their pursuers moved on, they came up from the tunnel.  Stone Creek got weapons and ammunition from the cache he had hidden; and they set out early the next morning for Mammoth Cave, fifty miles due south of Brandenburg.                                        

Captain Clark was waiting when Sandy returned.  He knew the boy would show - not because he was stranded three thousand miles from his home but because he was a born seaman, and would not have passed up the chance to return to the sea for anything.  It was a month to the day when Sandy reported for duty.

"I'll take you aboard once more as an apprentice sailor," Captain Clark told him.  "Then you'll be my First Mate.  But not this trip.  Calloway's coming with us one last time."

"Before he dies," Sandy observed.

"He told you?" Captain Clark asked.

"I just know," Sandy answered.

Two days later, the Monterey Bay began her journey to the West Coast of Africa.  As they sailed beyond the harbor toward the open sea, Sandy spoke to the First Mate about the ship's mission.

"How long have you been capturing slaves?" he asked.

"I've been sailing with Captain Clark going on ten years now," Calloway said.

"Do you ever wonder if they're unhappy being taken from their homes?"

"I expect they are," came Calloway's answer.

"Does it ever bother you?" Sandy asked.

Calloway thought a moment before answering with his own question.  "Why should it?" he asked.  "It's pure chance it's them being taken and not us.  Although, in a way it is us too.  We've been taken from our homes - you and me and all the crew.  Taken by the slaves as surely as we take them."

"But we choose to," Sandy reminded his first officer.

"They choose, too," Calloway stressed.  "There's a whole lot goes on that none of the ones doing it knows why they're doing it.  It's like God or someone taps us on the shoulder and says 'This is what you're here for.'  It's not ours to question.  I feel sorry for them in a way.  But it's more than just a way to earn a living.  It's something that's supposed to happen.  Just like my lungs are supposed to eat themselves up, and the rest of me with 'em.  Six months from now I won't weigh as much as you.  I won't even stand upright.  I'll be sat in some remote place so my cries can't be heard.  It's just something that's supposed to happen."

Then the First Mate asked his deck hand if it bothered him capturing slaves.  "No," said Sandy.  "I was taught to hunt.  That's what I'm here for.  If it weren't for the slaves, I wouldn't have anyone to hunt."

"So you think it's right to capture them?" asked Captain Clark, who had come on deck and overheard his First Mate and Sandy talking.

Sandy turned to his Captain.  "It doesn't have to be right," he said.  "I'm a hunter.  The hunter doesn't ask if it's right to hunt.  He just hunts."

"Keep that attitude," Captain Clark insisted.  "It'll help you through some pretty rough times.  Your first voyage went pretty clean.  They won't all be that way.  You'll see things that'll make you want to give up the trade.  We all have.  But we manage to get beyond it."

The Monterey Bay was three hundred miles west northwest of Cabo San Lucas when a late season storm formed along the Tropic of Cancer and suddenly intensified under a dome of high pressure, exploding over the course of a day and a half from a tropical depression to a category five hurricane.  Instead of heading out to open sea, it was drawn east northeast toward the Baja Peninsula, its two hundred mile an hour winds churning the sea into fifty foot waves.

Captain Clark told Sandy to keep a sharp eye out as he tended the rigging.  "I don't like this air," he said.  "It's not what it should be this time of year.  My first ship was lost in an air just like this.  Only five of us survived.  We lost our entire cargo.  I'd have been hung from the yardarm for what I did if we'd have come through the storm.  I was First Mate, so I had keys to the hold.  I unlocked the door.  I knew we were going down, and even though I knew they'd all drown anyway, I couldn't keep them locked up like that with no chance of saving themselves.  It's a bad air.  There'll be a storm.  It may head away from land, or it may head right for us."

The thickening clouds and choppy sea soon signaled which direction the storm had taken.  Sandy alerted the crew the moment he got a fix on the dark swirling mass headed straight for them.  Captain Clark came on deck to personally supervise the preparations.  Sandy had already begun furling the sails and tying them to the masthead - but not all the sails. As Captain Clark watched, ready every moment to shout his commands, Sandy let the feel of the approaching storm guide him toward certain sails while leaving others unfurled, his every action fulfilling the letter of his Captain's plan for minimizing the storm's impact. 

By the time Sandy finished and secured himself to the masthead, the first wave hit, followed by the first gust of wind, both slamming the starboard side.  Then another wave and another gust, both stronger than the first.  Then a sustained wind that grabbed the sails Sandy had left and spun the ship around till it faced into the coming waves.  As one after another wave splashed over the ship's bow, Sandy maneuvered the remaining sails to help maintain a steady course.

The first assault - twenty-five foot waves, ninety mile an hour wind - gave way over the course of the afternoon to bigger waves, stronger winds as the eye wall drew near.  The ship rocked back and forth, its bow up and down into the waves.  All forward motion ceased, the waves pounding against it maintaining an illusion of motion as one after another wave ripped its way northeastward past the ship.

Sandy worked ceaselessly, scampering along the rigging, constantly adjusting the sails, closing one, opening another, trying to keep the ship poised headlong against the raging storm.  Again and again he almost lost his balance as an unexpected gust from a different angle caught him off guard; but each time he managed to right himself and reestablish his perch along the masthead.  Till a huge wind slammed him from behind.

Captain Clark cursed himself when the boy finally fell.  "It's over for him!" the Captain despaired; when, all of a sudden, a sail seemed to reach out and grab him.  Only it wasn't the sail that came to him - it was he who went to the sail.  It only looked from below as if the wind had knocked him off his perch.  A discordant flutter near the top of the sails caught his attention; his eagle eye cut through the driving rain to detect a tiny rip in the fabric.  In a split-second, he weighed what he needed to do against how quickly he could work his way along the rigging; he knew he'd never make it.  Then he felt a stab in the center of his back and, summoning all his strength, let out a piercing cry and leaped from the masthead, the wind pushing him headlong into the open sail.  He grabbed the cloth and worked it in his clenched fists into a thick pleat which he climbed down to where it met the masthead.  Then he quickly furled the sail and lashed it down before the wind could shear it apart; then moved on to his next chore.

Up ahead, several hundred yards, was the eye of the storm, its brilliant white light visible through tears in the thick veil of clouds surrounding it.  The wind was fiercer here than anywhere else, but the waves had started to wane, calmed by the gentle flow within the eye.  All of a sudden a rogue wave from out of nowhere overtook dozens of smaller waves to rise a hundred feet into the air, breaking against the bow of the ship with the force of a landslide.  The ship spun around under its impact, veering forty-five degrees from its course back into the eye wall.

Sandy was first to see it rise up, first to feel it crash against the ship, first to sense a shift in their course.  He targeted two sails that had to be taken in, and headed across to them.  In the same instant, his line of vision took in something else that needed help.

On the starboard a figure stood teetering beside a broken rail, desperately trying to balance itself.  The First Mate had been carried halfway across deck by the force of the wave, the sudden shift in his ship's position all that kept him from being swept overboard.  But with nothing to help steady himself, Calloway had only his own agility to keep his body upright as the ship reeled from side to side.

Sandy could have saved him by throwing him the rope he was untying.  Calloway looked up, saw the boy and the rope, reached up to grab the rope.  But it never came to him.  Sandy had to choose between saving his First Mate and saving the sail he had untied the rope to secure.  He looked Calloway straight in the eyes and shook his head.  With nothing to brace himself, the First Mate was washed overboard by the pitching of the boat on the waves.

Sandy watched him descend, his arms still flailing as if trying to grab hold of a tie-line.  A second later, he was swallowed up by the waves and Sandy returned to his task, hastily tying down the sail then moving to the next sail in an effort to return the ship to its previous course.  He could still see the eye of the storm through the swirling gray clouds, but nothing he could do could bring the Monterey Bay through the eye wall into the calm.  He managed to keep the ship from being drawn deeper into the storm clouds, to keep it poised along this innermost layer of the eye wall; but the eye remained just beyond reach.

As Sandy fought on the masthead and the rest of the crew on deck to keep the ship afloat, the storm was slowly beginning to weaken in the colder waters along the Baja Peninsula, beginning with the northeastern quadrant and gradually working its way southward.  Sandy had been on the masthead twenty hours straight; Captain Clark had already decided to order him down, when he detected a subtle change in the storm's intensity.  He knew they were heading toward the southeast quadrant, where the strongest winds were waiting to test his ship and his crew's resolve.  He knew also that any lessening of intensity, where it should be gaining strength, meant the storm was beginning to burn itself out.

As the Captain looked up to get Sandy's attention, Sandy looked down past his Captain, past the deck, into the heart of another rogue wave rising up from the sea below.  In the split-second before the wave came crashing over the bow, Sandy flew across the mast to a rope he had just tied around another sail.  As Sandy loosened the rope, the wave slammed into the unsuspecting Captain, washing him toward the same broken railing where his First Mate had been swept overboard.  Unlike Calloway, he did not reel, trying to regain his balance; he was knocked flat and carried along a swift current deep enough to drown him, with nothing to slow his headlong rush toward the edge.

He was within a few feet of going overboard when Sandy swung down on the rope he had untied, landing directly in his path.  He reached out and grabbed hold of Sandy's ankles, knocking the boy off balance but slowing the forward thrust of his movement long enough to grab a second rope, tossed at him from behind by another crew member.  Holding fast to this rope, he was pulled away from the railing to safety.  He got up and immediately turned back to where Sandy hung suspended from the first rope.  The boy had already started climbing when a fierce gust of wind again spun the ship around, heaving the rope so violently that it broke from its mooring on the masthead and was carried, along with the boy holding it, over the side of the ship.

Captain Clark ran to the railing to see if there were any trace of the boy in the water below; but he saw only the rope, for an instant, floating on the choppy sea before it, too, disappeared into the gray black vortex.  He slowly walked away from the edge, shaking his head to his men.  Then he stopped cold.  Everything stopped cold.  All motion: the ship's, the ocean's, the very air itself.

They had been pushed through the eye wall into the eye of the storm.  Captain Clark turned a second time to the railing.  "So close," he muttered.  "A few more feet and he'd have been saved."  He looked down into the suddenly calm sea, turned in an instant from black to blue green.  But he saw no sign of movement, only his ship's shadow stretching its full breadth across the water.  He made his way back to his men, to begin plotting a course beyond the storm's eye, first taking a moment for a brief funeral service.

"We lost two good sailors," he said with his head bowed.  "We've already commended their bodies to the sea; now we commend their souls to their heavenly father.  I was going to name this storm after my First Mate: Hurricane Cal.  There hasn't been a named storm in fifty years.  Now I can't give it a name without slighting my other crewman lost at sea.  So let it go nameless to its grave, as my sailors went faceless to theirs.  Amen."

It was growing dark - not from the clouds, which had not yet stalked the Monterey Bay a second time, but from the rapidly setting sun in the western sky.  Captain Clark was below deck, on the starboard side, tending to the business of removing his lost sailors' things from their bunks, to make space for the two new sailors he'd have to take on at the nearest port of call, when he heard a tapping somewhere in the hull.  At first, he dismissed it as the creaking of a boat whose resilience had been tested to its limit.  But the more he heard it, the less it sounded like a ship's wailing; it seemed too regular, too purposeful.

"What's that poem about an albatross?" he tried to remember.  "The Captain killed it and, in doing so, sentenced his ship to death.  Maybe it's that same albatross tapping - 'tapping at my chamber door'" - he mused.

He walked to the hull and tapped back, on his side.  The tapping stopped.  He listened, then tapped again.  The tapping on the other side started again.  He threw down the things he was collecting and, grabbing a lantern and a strong length of rope, ran on deck, summoning as many of his men as he could find to follow him.  He led them to the railing.  Tying the rope around himself, he ordered his men to lower him.

Several crewmen shone their flashlights over the edge.  When the light hit the water, it revealed something no one had expected so soon.  The water had begun stirring again, churning, beating against the side of the ship.  Only then did they notice the breeze picking up.  Lifting their torches, they saw a thick black fog rapidly approaching.  The southern eye wall, upon them hours before even the most seasoned sailors anticipated.

"Lower me!" Captain Clark ordered.

His men took hold of the rope and, shining their torches again toward the water, slowly began lowering their Captain down the side of the ship.  Every few feet he tapped his heel against the hull to try and elicit a response, but got nothing.  He knew that every passing second drew his ship nearer the eye wall; he knew he would soon have to give up this last attempt at a rescue - if there really was someone there to rescue.  The light from the torch he carried had beamed its way along the side of the ship as he descended.  He gave one final sweep of light before signaling his men to raise him.  And, as the light crept along the hull, it caught a hand rising from just above the waterline.

Using his heels to guide him, he maneuvered his way to where he had seen the hand.  He felt something grab hold of his ankles.  He tugged once on his rope - his signal to be raised.  Slowly, the rope was pulled back up, as the sea began beating against the ship and the wind started howling again.  After what seemed to him like a small eternity, as his rope was buffeted about by the wind and the hands around his ankles lessened their grip by degrees, Captain Clark finally felt his men taking hold of his arms to help him back on deck.  He let them maneuver him into a sitting position, then he began slowly scooting his way back from the edge, bringing his legs up over the edge a little at a time, all the while instructing his men to be ready to grab hold the second they saw what he was dragging up the side of the ship.

Finally the hands just barely holding his ankles appeared.  Two of his men, one on either side of him, lunged at his ankles, taking hold of the two hands and lifting the body onto the deck.

Sandy struggled to stand up, but immediately lost his balance and fell face down beside his Captain.  His clothes were tattered and soaked.  He lay there shivering, unable to move.  Captain Clark picked him up and carried him across the deck, the wind and sea like a battering ram someone was using to hold him at bay.  Finally he made it to the cabin, issuing one after another order to his crew as he fought the storm blocking his path.  He quickly disappeared down the stairway to the bunk.

First he stood Sandy upright against a wall and stripped the boy's clothes from his body.  Then he walked him to his bunk, laid him in it, and wrapped him in blankets from head to toe.  Sandy looked up at his Captain through a veil of exhaustion and tried to speak, to say he had to tend to his sails; but Captain Clark shook his head.

"There will be no sails till the storm is past us," he told the boy.  "It's weakening, if only a little.  Even so, we're approaching the area of strongest winds.  With or without you, I can't risk the sails, not in this quadrant.  We're at the storm's mercy.  But we'll navigate through it.  Right now, your only task is to sleep, and regain your strength.  I have no First Mate.  I need you to fill in for him.  Make no mistake, Sandy: this is an order.  And if you disobey, I'll have you tied in bed."

Sandy slept for the next two days, without so much as opening his eyes.  He barely stirred, as if the blankets his Captain bundled him in were some kind of straight jacket keeping his body stiff.  He neither talked nor moaned in his sleep, and barely seemed to be breathing.  Several of his fellow crewmen came up almost to his face to make sure he was still breathing.  Then on the morning of the third day following his rescue, he opened his eyes, threw off the blankets, and climbed out of bed.

The first thing he did was get his bearings - not to reestablish his own, but to assess the ship's.  For several minutes he stood perfectly still beside his bed, listening for the wind and feeling the sway of the sea; until, at last, he was satisfied that the storm was past, the ocean returned to its normal flow.  Then he got dressed and went on deck.  Several of his fellow crewmen were already on deck; they came to him.

"You saved the Captain," one of the sailors observed; "but you let Cal die.  We watched you.  We couldn't get to him in time.  You could have.  But you let him be washed overboard.  Why?"

"A ship needs a Captain," Sandy explained.  "And it needs sails.  But it doesn't need a First Mate."

"That's it?" came the startled reply.  "He was expendable?"

"Maybe you're expendable too," a second crewman pointed out.

"Any one of us is," Sandy answered.

"But I bet you're glad the Captain saved you!"

"Sure, I am.  But I would have understood if he hadn't."

"I wouldn't have," the voice of Captain Clark joined the conversation.  He had gone to check on Sandy and, not finding the boy in bed, knew where he'd find him.

"You say you would have understood," Captain Clark continued, "yet you reached out to me, you took hold of my ankles."

"Of course," Sandy agreed.  "Everyone wants to be saved, but not everyone can.  The ship is all that matters, then its Captain.  I couldn't save Cal without losing a sail.  I couldn't let that happen.  He gave his life for the ship.  Just like the rope gave its life for me."

The Captain and crew looked at him questioningly, as if he were delusional.  "The rope?" Captain Clark prompted.

"When the rope broke, we both fell overboard," Sandy explained.  "The rope caught on the hull long enough to break my fall and let me grab hold of something before it fell into the water and drowned."

"That's just something that happened," one of the crewmen said.  "A lucky break."

"No," Sandy disagreed.  "It happened because the rope made it happen.  Everything has its own life force.  That's what Alice told me, and Mount Everest agreed.  And when I asked my mother, she said it was true.  The rope gave up its life for me.  We'll name this storm," Sandy resolved.

"I was going to name it," said Captain Clark.  "Till I thought I'd lost two of my men in it.  Now I will.  Hurricane Cal."

"And Hurricane Sandy," the boy added cryptically.

"I don't understand," said the Captain.

"The great storm that opened up the mounds," Sandy explained.  "When we saw them and Alice learned how the storm had come fifty miles inland to unearth the great cities so that we could live in them, she named the storm Hurricane Sandy, in honor of the man I was named for."

"The cities of the east," Captain Clark mused.  "So they're real, not just tall tales carried by drunken sailors.  Fabulous cities, buried for thousands of years, brought back to life in a single afternoon."

"And Alice is their queen," Sandy told his Captain and crew.

"Crazy Alice?" one of the crewmen asked, then answered his own question.  "Yeah, that'd be her alright.  I've heard stories about her all my life.  How she cut the throat of the boss who ran St. Louis.  Now she's a queen, you say?"

"The same Queen of the Universe I told you about," Sandy reprised her official title.

"Oh yeah," a second crewman joined in, "that'd be just like those Tarheels, calling their leader 'Queen of the Universe'!  They always thought big in Carolina.  As big as Texas or any other state.  So maybe someday you'll go home and they'll make you 'King of the Universe'!"

Everyone laughed, and when the laughter died down, Captain Clark made an announcement.  "For now," he told his crew, "the only title our young friend here needs to concern himself with is First Mate."  A deathly silence fell over the crew.  "I'm appointing Sandy my First Mate, as of this very moment."

The whole time his Captain was speaking, Sandy was shaking his head.  "No," he said.

"You already know I was going to give it to you after this trip," Clark told the boy.  "This was going to be Cal's last trip no matter what."

"I'll do everything you tell me to do," Sandy promised.  "But I can't take Cal's title - not now, and not ever.  I let him die.  I'd do it again to save the ship.  But I can't take what's still his.  You know I can't - all of you know I can't.  As much as I need to be here to do all the things a sailor does, to have all the adventures a slaver has, as much as I love the sea, and all it stands for, and as great as my respect for you is, I swear on my father's soul - which Alice said was the most beautiful thing she'd ever known to exist - that I'll jump ship the first port we come to if you make me take Cal's title.  Please: don't ask me to take what he took with him to the grave.  Call me any title you want, but not First Mate."

"Alright," Captain Clark relented.  "There will never again be a First Mate on the Monterey Bay so long as she's under my command.  You, Sandy: you'll be my Junior Officer.  The rest of you: if you address Sandy in any formal ceremony, that's how you'll address him.  'Junior Officer.'"            

The rest of the journey to Africa was uneventful.  The Monterey Bay arrived in the harbor at Praia on January 17th of the year 2089.  The exact same instructions that had been given to the crew the first time Sandy was here were given again.  The crew disembarked for an afternoon of shore leave, playing out the same ritual of drinking, carousing, gambling and brawling that had transpired the previous shore leave - and a thousand shore leaves before that, on as many island ports as there were along the various routes of the slave trade.  The only thing different this trip was the blood on Sandy's hands.  Where it had been the blood of his slain crew mate then, it was the blood of a local thug now.

"Come on, boy!" Sandy's fellow crewman, the one who had heard of Alice's exploits, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into a dimly lit storefront along a narrow alleyway.  "It's time you had you some women!  And this is the place!"

The crewman pulled out a few coins and slapped them down on a counter.  "One of your best whores for me, and one for my little buddy here!" the crewman exclaimed.

The man laughed as he took the coins in his big stubby hand.  "Don't bring no boy in to do a man's job!" he snorted.  "But since you paid, maybe I can scare up something in a skirt willing to let a baby climb on top of her!"

"Just be real careful," the crewman cautioned Sandy.  "No matter how hot you get, don't ever forget where you are.  Keep what's supposed to be in her, in her; but keep your eyes off her.  Otherwise, while you're squirting inside her, her pimp'll be slashing your throat from behind.  Then, while you're still choking on your own blood, he'll cut off your thing and stuff it in your mouth."

They were each led to a separate room, where the woman chosen for each was waiting, naked, in a small cot.  Sandy followed his crewmate's advice, though not to the letter.  The moment he threw off his clothes and climbed on top of the woman, a figure silently entered the tiny room.  From behind, a powerful hand grabbed his thick red hair and pulled his head back, as a second hand, holding an open blade, went for his throat.

Instead of trying to pull away from the man's grip, Sandy lunged his body backward, against the man, knocking him off balance and digging his teeth into the wrist wielding the blade.  Blood spurted everywhere.  The man cried out.  The blade fell from his hand.  Sandy caught the blade in mid-air and slashed the man across his throat with it.

The woman, screaming, ran from the room, just as Sandy's crewmate arrived.  Looking down at the man gasping on the floor, the sailor tapped Sandy on the groin and said "You gotta do what the protocol calls for!"

Without a word, Sandy proceeded to sever the man's penis and stuff it in his blood filled mouth.  Then he threw the blade on the bed; got dressed; and, together with his crewmate, left the whorehouse.

"Today you became a man," Sandy was congratulated.  "You had your first woman, you killed your first man.  How does it feel?"

"The same as before," Sandy replied nonchalantly. 

When the crew returned from shore leave, Sandy's exploit was the chief topic of conversation the rest of the evening, and long into the night.  The next morning, after designating which men would accompany him to Dakar, Captain Clark summoned Sandy to his quarters while his men readied the lifeboats to be lowered into the harbor.

"I won't lecture you on the virtues of abstinence," Clark told the boy.  "You can't help being tempted by the sight of a naked woman.  But just remember: people are still rebuilding.  What happened thirty-five years ago nearly destroyed their world.  Making medicine so impulsive boys like you can get cured of the clap is not a very high priority just yet."

Sandy acknowledged his Captain's advice and started to go.

"Hold on," Captain Clark stopped.  "That's not why I called you in here.  Who you climb on top of is your business.  Who you kill - and how you do it: that's another matter.  You knew the risks.  You should have been more vigilant.  But you weren't, so you left yourself vulnerable.  I can't fault you for doing whatever you had to do to defend yourself.  If you slit his throat, he brought it on himself.  But the other thing you did - the thing the whole crew's bragging about you for: that was just pure butchery.  It don't matter that he would have done it to you.  It only matters that you did it to him.  Sandy, I won't have a butcher in my crew.  To have done something that barbaric, young as you are, I've got to question if you can be trusted with the slaves.  They're our bread and butter.  What we do to them - stealing them away from their homes, their families: we're already as good as sentenced to burn in hell forever.  But I won't have them mutilated - not by anyone.  I only hung a man from the yardarm once.  One of my crewmen.  He got into a scrap with one of the slaves boarding ship.  A young kid, no bigger than you, poked him in the eye.  Before anyone could stop him, he took out his knife and cut the kid's finger off.  The kid nearly bled to death.  It was all I could do to save him.  I lost money on that kid.  No one wanted him for a slave, so they freed him.  Just turned him loose, gave him papers and set him out in a strange land on his own.  I have no idea what ever became of him."

"I'll find him," Sandy swore.  "I'll look till I do."

"I hung the man who cut off his finger," Captain Clark finished his story.  "Like you, he was my best sailor.  But I hung him.  Don't ever make me have to hang you.  Because, I swear before God, if I have to I will.  I won't have a butcher on my ship.  Mark these words, boy.  Much as I care for you, I'll hang you first."

The sea was choppy from a succession of tropical waves rolling off the coast of Africa, their winds kicking up the waters of the Atlantic as they tried to form into a series of depressions.  The five life boats were tossed about like tops as the two rowers in each tried to make their way against the current toward land.  The trip took a full day longer than normal.  The rowers took turns rowing and resting, except when the sea grew too violent for one rower to maneuver his boat.

Sandy had been paired with the sailor from Carolina, Captain Clark hoping that his words to the boy would spark some feelings of remorse which, he knew, could only be shared with the man who witnessed his act of butchery.  During a period of relative calm, when Sandy rowed alone and his fellow rower rested, the image of himself hanging from the yardarm haunted the boy.  Tears began streaming down his face.  When the Carolinian - his name was Joe - moved to relieve Sandy, he noticed the tears.

"That ain't salt spray running down your cheeks, is it?" Joe asked.

Sandy looked up at him.  "Why didn't you tell me what I did was wrong?" he asked.

"'Cause I didn't think it was," Joe answered.  "Jesus Christ, you're just a boy!  He was going to slit your throat and mutilate you!  You ain't barely used it yet and he was going to take it from you!  Wrong?  Hell, it was all I could do to keep from cutting him to pieces myself!"

"Captain Clark said it was wrong," Sandy told him.

"Captain Clark thinks it's wrong to take slaves - but he does it just the same, don't he?  Something can be wrong, boy, and you can know it's wrong, and even hate yourself for doing it.  But you still do it, 'cause you know you have to.  You let Cal die, didn't you?  You had to know that was wrong.  But you knew you had to do it to save the ship - right?"

"Yeah," Sandy agreed.

"Cal and I go way back," Joe observed.

"Is that why you let me butcher that man?"

"No.  Cal's blood ain't on your hands, and no one on the crew holds what you did against you.  You ain't a butcher, kid - else you wouldn't have shed tears."

On the fourth day, they reached the harbor at Dakar.  All the other ships' crews were waiting in the warehouse.  Together they formed a convoy and headed inland to the village that had been designated as their target this trip.

This time, they went much deeper into the heart of West Africa.  Their last raid, two and a half months ago, had made all the villages of the countryside more vigilant.  The scouts sent ahead to stake out a target had also reported signs of villages - even ones generally hostile to one another - banding together in a common defense.  So a place much farther, and more isolated, was targeted, turning the three day journey of the previous convoy into a five day trek over terrain much more inhospitable.

The two trucks reached a forest surrounding the village mid-afternoon of the fifth day.  A remote place was found where the men could observe the village without being detected - the plan, as always, to attack after dark.  But, this time, something went wrong.  Some children, playing in the forest, happened upon the convoy and ran back to the village to tell of their discovery.  The decision was made to attack the village immediately, before the villagers had time to prepare a defense.  The cache of weapons was hastily parceled out and, within minutes of being spied, all fifty men were in flight fast upon the heels of the children.  Sensing they were being followed, several of the bigger boys turned back and came after their pursuers, wielding the machetes they had carried into the woods.  They were mowed down before they even had their machetes poised to strike, and the slavers kept going, stepping over the boys where they lay dying, a few stepping right on the boys in their haste to attack the village.

Sandy's finger was on the trigger, his rifle aimed at one of the boys, no older than himself, then a shot from another gun struck the boy in the forehead and killed him.  Sandy stood a moment looking down at the boy before rejoining his fellow slavers.

Within minutes, they were upon the villagers, randomly shooting one after another as they fanned out to surround the village.  A couple hours later, a hundred villagers and six slavers lay dead on the moist African soil.  The battle was over, the village vanquished, all men, women and children between the ages of twelve and forty rounded up to begin the long journey into slavery.  Returning through the woods, with the other slavers and their captives, Sandy observed one of the villagers stopping momentarily beside the body of the dead boy, stooping down to try and brush away an army of ants that covered the boy's face before being dragged along to the truck.  Sandy, too, stopped a moment to look again at the boy he meant to shoot, the boy's body completely covered with ants.  Sandy bent down as the captive villager had and tried to brush the ants from the boy's face, but a handful got on him and began biting; even so, he remained until every ant was brushed from the boy's face before he moved on, removing each ant that had crawled onto his hand, one by one, and crushing it between his thumb and forefinger as he went.  By the time they reached the trucks, all the ants were gone from Sandy's blistered and swollen hand.                                              

It took six days for the convoy to reach Dakar; and another six before the villagers were divvied up and loaded onto the ships.  In that time, Sandy barely spoke a word as he performed his tasks; and, on the return trip from Africa, he spent his every waking moment on the rigging.  He had resolved this time not to go among the captives - not out of fear, but some other emotion, which he could not identify but which nearly paralyzed him every time he went anywhere near the hold.

Late one evening, before the sailors turned in, Captain Clark called Sandy to the bridge.  "Remember what I said," he began.

"About hanging me?" Sandy interrupted.

"No," replied Clark, "about seeing things that'd make you feel like giving up this work.  I know you were hurt by that boy's death in the woods."

"I would have killed him myself," Sandy explained.  "He came at us.  Seeing him lying on the ground didn't bother me; but seeing him covered with ants made me realize if we hadn't come to take slaves, he'd still be playing somewhere with the other boys, and trading stories about the great adventures he'd have someday.  I don't question taking slaves; but it was wrong to take his adventures from him.  We would have given him new adventures he'd never dreamed of.  Instead, we took his.  Now they belong to some other boy, all those adventures when they were his by right.  We took that from him.  And I know his father saw him, because I saw one of the slaves stop and look at him.  How would it feel to see your son covered in ants? and know that nothing could ever take all those ants off of him."

"Those people aren't troubled by ants eating a dead body - even their own son's body," Captain Clark tried to reassure Sandy.  "To them, death is just another phase of life.  In eating the boy's body, the ants release his soul to go among his ancestors.  They don't hate the ants."

"I do," said Sandy.  "That boy was strong, and beautiful, and those qualities meant nothing to the ants.  They're soulless creatures.  I will always hate the ants."

The Monterey Bay crossed the Atlantic in record time, a feat which gave no satisfaction to its Captain.  He'd been troubled by the choppy seas off Cape Verde this time of year, by the storms rolling off the African continent, and, now, by the speed with which his ship reached the Windward Islands of the Caribbean.

"We'll be home sooner than we thought," several crew members expressed their delight with the unusually good sailing conditions.

"If we make it home," Captain Clark retorted.

Later that evening, after wandering the deck for nearly an hour, Captain Clark called his entire crew together.  "We're in for big trouble," he announced.  "They used to have folks they called storm chasers," he told his crew.  "We're about to meet one - except it won't be man chasing a storm: it'll be a storm chasing a man.  I've felt ever since we left Praia like something's after me.  Now I know what it is.  You think a late season Pacific storm's bad; it's nothing compared to a late season Atlantic storm.  There's one fast on our heels.  I can't see it or feel it yet, but I know it's there.  It's tracked us from the Verde's, picking up speed and growing stronger as it went.  We're about a hundred miles from Barbados.  I'd give anything if we could swing south and make for Trinidad; but it'll overtake us.  So we'll try for Barbados, though I have a feeling it'll get the brunt of the storm.  We'll sail around to the northern coast and anchor there."

On the way there, Sandy climbed down from the masthead and sought out his Captain.  "We can't go north," he stated as matter-of-factly as if he'd spied a barrier reef offshore.

"Why not?" asked Captain Clark.

"We just can't," was all Sandy answered.  "We have to go to the southern shore.  We just have to, that's all."

"Let me think about it," Clark told the boy.  He decided to consult a few of his more seasoned sailors, putting to them the dilemma facing him.

"Should I go with my judgment, or that of my Junior Officer?" the Captain asked.

"Go half and half," the sailors, to a man, suggested.

"I'd go to Bridgetown to sit it out if I thought we could make it to the other side of the island," Clark said.

"Then go to Kitridge," one of the sailors, looking at the navigation chart, offered.

"Kitridge Point?" Clark asked, as if he had not heard correctly.  "See how it juts out into the Atlantic?  That's exactly where it'll hit first - it'll take the full brunt of the storm!"

"But not the surge," the sailor countered.  "The surge'll pile up all around the island.  I wouldn't want to be at North Point or South Point - or even Bridgetown.  I'd want to be sitting right smack against Kitridge Point!"

Clark weighed all three options then decided to go with the compromise, immediately laying in a course for Kitridge Point.  The wind began picking up even before they got to the island, the waves growing higher and stronger.  By the time they reached Kitridge Point, the full fury of the storm was almost upon them.  Captain Clark steered his ship into a narrow channel and dropped anchor, to await his pursuer and, hopefully, to ride out the storm.

It hit all at once, as if something had suddenly applied a giant brake, sending all the clouds, wind and sea careening forward.  The Monterey Bay was buffeted from side to side for hours as the powerful winds wrapped around the island; and when the storm surge hit, early the next morning, the ship was lifted ten feet above its initial mooring.  Over the next several hours, the tide receded from the channel, gradually returning the ship to sea level.  A few more hours of howling wind, and the storm was gone, leaving the Monterey Bay virtually intact.

Captain Clark sent a few of his men to scout the island, some going north, some south.  They all returned with the same tale of utter devastation throughout the island.  As far as anyone could tell, Kitridge Point alone had been spared the brunt of the storm surge.  Later that day, the Monterey Bay again set sail, encountering only clear skies and smooth sailing the rest of the way to California.

When they finally docked at their home port, and the cargo was being unloaded, Sandy stood on the wharf watching the villagers stream past him until the one he was waiting for was brought ashore.  Then he fell in place beside the man.

"Was he your son, that boy in the woods?" Sandy asked, assuming the villager spoke English, as the others had.

At first, the man said nothing, ignoring the boy walking beside him.  Finally, though, as they neared the trucks that would take him and the others to their new homes, he answered Sandy's question.

"He was mine," he confirmed Sandy's suspicion.

"I hate the ants," Sandy told him.

"The ants didn't kill him," the man pointed out.

"But they were all over him," Sandy reminded the man.

"It was no longer him," the man replied as he got in the back of the truck and the door was locked behind him.  Sandy watched the truck drive away, wondering where the man would be taken; then went back to the ship to collect his wages and begin another month long adventure.        

As he worked his way among the mangled wreckage of the city designed to save humanity from the final ravages of nature, Joey became more convinced than the first time he encountered these ruins that those trapped inside had been alive when the cooling lava twisted their safe havens around them like wet reeds set to dry in the sun.  So tightly had the pods been wound into pipe-like shards of metal that, even with all the flesh rotted away from the arms, heads and torsos of those encased within, the exposed bones had not shifted so much as an inch.  And much of the bone was chipped, some even crushed, by the force of the imploding pods.

Joey understood the divine justice involved in allowing people who had turned their backs on their fellow man to suffer such a hideous fate.  He silently thanked God, though, that he had not been personally called upon to effect this terrible retribution.  Because he knew he wouldn't have - couldn't have.  Hundreds of men, women and children drawn into an ever tightening vortex that squeezed their bodies into shapes little bigger than stovepipes.  Nothing they could possibly have done - or failed to do - could have warranted such a sentence.  Yet, at the same time, Joey could not doubt the justice of it.

"God's eyes see things so differently from man's," he mused.  "I've seen those I love die, tragically and needlessly, even my own son; but I've never seen anything till now, picking among this ruined city of anonymous bones, that's come so close to making me question God's purpose.  I won't question it - not now, not ever.  But, from this moment on, I no longer understand it, as I once believed I did."

Despite his sense of horror, Joey remained a whole day at this section of Pod City just outside Eads, Colorado.  At night he wept, but not for the tragic loss of life here twenty years ago.  He wept for his own tragic loss - the loss of his wife, who could no longer remain hostage to the God who had all at once grown distant.  The very phrase that drove Carol from him - to proscribe all the terrible things that happened to the will of God - was ironically a phrase he could no longer say with the kind of perfect conviction that took her from his side.  It was clear to him that God intended him to make this journey alone; but it almost seemed as if God were taunting him with hindsight.  If he had seen a month ago what he saw now, she would have come with him.

The next morning, he departed Pod City to continue his journey to the Sierras.  He stopped to look back once at the trench of stone stretching as far as the eye could see.  In his mind, he meant to express the resolution that he would never pass this way again; but it wouldn't quite assemble as he wanted it to, it kept falling apart, as if the sentence were perpetually being parsed, its meaning slipping farther away with each parsing.  As he turned to resume his journey, the image of his first leader filled his mind; and he realized he had already resolved to see Clingman's Dome again, if only as the final act of his life.

"So I will pass this way again," he mused.

It only occurred to him seven weeks later, in the middle of Utah, looking up at Musinia Peak in Fishlake National Forest, just north of I-70, that when he said he would pass Pod City again, he had failed to qualify his statement with "God willing" - a small omission, one that no one else would have given a second thought; but it haunted Joey the rest of the way to the California-Nevada border.

On Tuesday, August 4, 2093, at 3 P.M., four months and two weeks after setting out, Joey crossed the Nevada border into California along the northern shore of Lake Tahoe.  Three days later, on the celebration of what would have been his son's eighteenth birthday, he stood at the base of Donner's Peak, looking up at the sky.  He gave thanks to God for guiding his way westward.  Then he ascended to Donner's Pass, and the little weather station he grew up in.

He knew it would still be there, despite the twenty years that had passed since he left it; but he expected to find it rendered uninhabitable by its years of neglect.  He expected to have to live in his tent at least through summer and well into the autumn before he could even began to have it ready to move into, his goal to move in by the first snowfall.  If he saw that he could not have it ready before the long winter set in, he resolved to move to Monitor Pass and pitch his tent in the cave where Sanderson Spears had discovered a cabin and made it his weather station until a tornado destroyed it.  At least there he would find some shelter from the howling storms and blowing snow.

As he forced the door open and stood in the doorway, he could hear himself calling out "You're under arrest!"  But he could not tell if he actually said it or simply remembered having said it the first time he crossed the threshold, a boy of twelve, silhouetted in the moonlight, come to Donner's Pass to bring his father's killer to justice.  He had stood a moment then, as now, before entering, unable to see far enough into the cabin to locate the man he'd come to arrest.  Then, as his eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, just as they now adjusted to the decay, he came to realize that his task would be much more difficult than he imagined, though not for any reason he could have anticipated.  The man he had pursued from St. Louis, had come to this cabin to arrest for his father's murder, became his second father.  And now, the cabin he had come to reclaim and to rebuild had become in the blink of an eye something it had never been during all those hard years of being criticized and blamed for any and everything: it became a prison.

Had anyone warned him that he would enter this cabin not as a man returning home but as a convict sent to solitary confinement, he would have dismissed their warning as utter nonsense.  Yet as he stood on the threshold, the full irony of his situation struck him with a force that almost pushed him back out the door.  It wasn't the cabin that he loved; it was the man he shared it with; and without the man, the cabin was nothing more than a cell confining him to a past devoid of all life and all meaning.

He fell to his knees to cry, but instead threw back his head and laughed at the absurdity of overlooking the simplest of all human banalities.

"You can't go home!" he muttered through his laughter.  Then he realized another truth he had overlooked: he had no home to go home to.  The only place on earth he could ever truly call his home had been utterly destroyed - the one and only place that was his alone, that only he had discovered: the cave on Mount Guyot.  But even that only became his home because Henry found a way to harness its potential.

"I made nothing," Joey was forced to admit.  "In all the years I've been alive I built nothing.  I created nothing.  I've simply participated in others' creations.  I have nothing to call my own.  Nothing to show for having lived."

Incredibly, instead of despair, he felt elation.  Instead of weighing him down, his life's complete lack of meaning released him from all the weight he had carried as long as he could remember.  Instead of branding him a loser, it marked him as one of life's greatest winners.  It forced him, as no other human being had ever been forced, to live life instead of pursuing it; to experience himself instead of creating himself; to walk in the world instead of walking upon it; to behold the wonders of the universe instead of studying them; and, above all else, it forced him to love God instead of serving Him.

"I'll wake up one morning," he resolved as he arose, "and I'll curse God.  Because I'll no longer believe it's wrong.  Loving Him will be all that matters.  And if love is what matters, nothing can ever be blasphemous.  The prayers, the rituals, the commandments - all the forms of good - are just so much excess baggage we carry around.  He travels fastest who travels lightest.  And from this moment on, I travel light."

He looked around the cabin.  Because I can now walk away from this place, he thought - from any place - I can now stay.  So I will.  Once again, I shall live in another's home - the home of the boy who shared it with the man who found it.  He found it first, then I found him.  Only, he truly found it, because he wasn't looking for it; but I was.

It took Joey the rest of the summer to get the cabin in shape.  It's structure was basically sound - the foundation, the walls, the ceiling, the roof; it could easily withstand another winter on its own.  But it could not offer him shelter from the bitter cold of the Sierras - only he could do that.

Most of his time was spent making trips to the surrounding communities to secure supplies and building materials.  For every hour spent working on the cabin, he spent ten on the road.  He was already familiar with the towns and hamlets dotting Tahoe National Forest, to the north, and El Dorado National Forest to the south; he knew which ones would have the things he needed, which ones had been devoted entirely to tourists and skiers.  He still followed the old injunction to avoid cities and large towns, so he rarely crossed the border into Nevada, even though half the towns on the California side of the Sierras had disappeared when the state split apart.  Between his occasional trips to Nevada and his scavenging the California border towns, he managed to find everything he needed to fix up his cabin, laying in a store of logs as his final task.

By early autumn, he had settled in for the winter.  Knowing that the snows could arrive almost anytime, he set out for Monitor Pass, to see it once more before being stranded on Donner's Pass for the next several months.  It took him a couple days to get there, and the better part of an afternoon to climb up to the cave where Sanderson Spears had lived out his days.

He found it just as he had left it.  The cabin, ripped apart by the tornado, was strews in shattered pieces throughout the cave; and the helicopter lay overturned and smashed against the wall of the cave.  Joey inspected the chopper to see if perhaps it could be rebuilt and made to fly again.  He concluded that it could be salvaged; but, as with so many other things in his life, he was not the one to do it.  Henry could have, or Bradley Jerome Carter, or possibly Brad Carter - even Sanderson Spears could have; but not him.

"If I could fix it," he said as he gathered his things to leave Monitor Pass after spending almost a week there, "the first thing I'd do is fly to the islands, to see what the rest of California looks like."

On his way back to Donner's Pass he laughed again, this time at his lack of imagination.  It had started snowing, the snow growing heavier and laying deeper with each passing hour.  And Joey laughed, because it took a winter storm to remind him that he could get to the islands the same way the storm got to the Sierras: across the water.  He didn't need a helicopter; he could build a boat and sail to the islands.

"I used to think God was testing me," he observed, "when all He was doing was teasing me.  So be it.  I stand the butt of God's jokes, knee deep in snow, struggling with all my strength to do what I did effortlessly for ten years - to walk home in the snow."

By the time Joey made it to his cabin in Donner's Pass, the snow was three feet deep.  He built a raging fire then stripped off his wet clothes to stand naked in front of the fireplace, feeling the flames reflect against his skin.

"I am Joey," he said, as if introducing himself to the flames.  Then he got his sleeping bag and brought it close to the fire.  He got in and fell asleep, as the snow slowly piled eight feet deep in the Sierra passes.                

On a vast plain it stood, surrounded by mounds of sediment washed downstream by some great mythical river that suddenly ran aground and vanished.  It rose to a height of forty feet before spreading out against the horizon, the sculpted spires of its great wooden buildings filling the breaks in the sunrise.  A wall ten feet high surrounded it, stretching five miles north to south and three miles east to west.  Looking at it from the northwest, the travelers from across the mountains wondered if they had been magically transported to some great walled city built by the Incas or Aztecs or Mayas.  It could have been Chichén Itzá or Tenochtitlán or Machu Picchu rising before them, but on a smaller scale that made it look more like a city and less like the grounds of a great temple.

This was the largest and most magnificent of the great cities of eastern Carolina clustered along an arc from Lumberton, in Robeson County, to Elizabethtown in the center of Bladen County, bounded on the west by the Lumber River, on the east by the Cape Fear River; cities unearthed by a great cataclysm that opened a doorway to the past, giving refuge to the present.  This was the capital city of eastern Carolina, home of it s ruler and seat of its government.

The travelers knew they had strayed off course, otherwise they would be    standing before another walled city, one designed for function over ceremony.  They had been on the road twenty days and covered two hundred miles since leaving the mountains of southwestern Virginia.  It was Monday, May 25th of the year 2093; and they expected to be standing at the gates of Fort Bragg.

Brad's gesture was superfluous, his command to halt already given by the ancient city in his people's path.  Nevertheless, he gave the command.  And almost immediately a second command: to retreat.

"We will go no farther," he ordered.  "Until we reach Fort Bragg and secure weapons.  Then we'll return here and destroy the enemy and capture their city."

When asked how he knew the enemy was inside the city, he gave no answer except to repeat that they were there.  But when asked who this enemy was, he readily answered.

"The ones who sabotaged our journey through the mountains," he told his people.  "This is their home."

"Then perhaps Fort Bragg is, also," Carol and Andrea both pointed out.

"We must take Fort Bragg," Brad insisted.  "Otherwise we have no chance of defeating our enemy."

With this explanation, Brad began his retreat to the northeast, refusing even to consult his maps until he was well beyond the walled city.  Just as the city was disappearing beneath the horizon, another, smaller, city rose up to his east.  He immediately veered his course westward until it, too, had faded.  Then he halted his people long enough to consult his maps of the region.  Pinpointing his location against the confluence of roads in the area, he set a course due north, determined to reach Fort Bragg by mid-afternoon, no matter how weary his people were.

Almost thirty miles stood between his people and his objective - which meant he had strayed at least that far off course when he came south.  His mother worked her way to him, as he studied his maps.

"You're wondering how you could have missed your mark," she observed.  He looked up at her.

"It was careless of me," he acknowledged.

"Just the opposite," Andrea countered.  "It was cautious of you.  In giving the cities of western Carolina a wide berth, you threw yourself off course.  Had you been willing to cover less ground each day, you would have left yourself time to re-calculate your path and discover your error.  Be careful not to make the same kind of error measuring human activity as you did marking your territory."

"I expect there to be resistance," Brad told her.

"Yes," Andrea agreed.  "You do expect resistance - and could overstep your goal precisely because of that expectation.  Be receptive to cooperation as well as resistance."

"I do not cooperate with my enemy," said Brad.

"But you can cooperate with someone who's not an enemy - or you can defeat your own purpose by making him your enemy," Andrea cautioned.

"You forget: they attacked us," Brad reminded his mother.

"You forget," Andrea, in turn, reminded her son, "there was no attack.  The trail was not sabotaged with you in mind.  Nor can you say when it was sabotaged, or why."

"What is your point, mother?" Brad asked with impatience.

"We don't know the history of this region," she answered, "any more than we know how those cities got there.  You need to find out what happened here before you begin a war.  I have a feeling this place holds so many secrets for so many of us that if we destroy it we'll never fulfill our destiny."

"Your mother's right, you know," Felicia spoke as she walked beside Brad later in the day.  "There are things here none of us could ever have imagined.  It's as if all our lives began here, in this part of the country.  Don't move so quickly to destroy it that you destroy our own past with it."

Brad looked over at Felicia.  "You expect to find your sea captain here, don't you?" he asked.  "I have no choice but to kill him," he warned.

"There is another choice," Felicia said ominously.  "To be killed by him."

Brad laughed at Felicia's warning.  "You really do want to go to sea, don't you?" he quipped.

"I don't need a sea captain to take me," she told him.  "I need only the shoreline, and I'll find everything else I need."

Brad did not laugh at this remark.  The thought of a rival whom he'd have to duel for Felicia's hand excited him; but the thought of her finding her way with or without him - or anyone else - unnerved him.            

Brad kept the pace he had set; he reached Fort Bragg a little before three in the afternoon, avoiding the city of Fayetteville at the southeastern corner of the Fort by working his way westward along US Route 401 then northward along North Carolina Route 20 to Weymuth Woods, a small park just beyond the western wall.  Once his people were bivouacked within the woods, safely out of sight, he took two of his lieutenants and set out to scout the Fort.

They worked their way to the northernmost tip of the Fort, where a small county road intersected US Route 1 just beyond the Hoke and Moore County line.  From there, they staked out the whole northwestern corner of the Fort. Seeing no sign of activity, they climbed the fence and got inside, working their way as far into the base as they could.

They had nothing to guide them except Brad's understanding of military reservations, and the military mind that designed them.  He used that knowledge to map the Fort as they went, leading his fellow scouts as unerringly to the Fort's arsenal as if he were a tour guide reading from a guide book.  They found the arsenal unguarded, just as they had found the perimeter.  Upon entering, it became clear why no guard was necessary.  The arsenal was empty, picked clean of its cache of armaments.

"They left nothing," Brad's lieutenants concluded.

"The question is," Brad noted, "did they do so as military men transporting arms or as civilians looting an arsenal."

"Either way, it's gone," his lieutenants pointed out.

"No military man puts all his arms in one place," said Brad.  "There would have been auxiliary locations, more remote and less exposed than this.  I didn't expect to find weapons here.  I only came here to see if the enemy were still here or if he abandoned his post once he stripped it.  We've encountered no one, nor are we likely to.  The base is deserted, or there'd be someone here right now.  This gives us a chance to scour the entire base until we find what I'm looking for."

Brad and the other scouts returned to Weymuth Woods just after dusk.  He had his people set up camp for the night.  Early the next morning they set out for Fort Bragg.  When they arrived, and had been led inside the compound, Brad broke them up into small search parties, sending each to specific areas to look through every single building.  Then he led a handful of his lieutenants throughout the base in search of ammunition dumps.  Before the day was over, he had uncovered six separate bunkers, each with a cache of weapons.

"This Fort is ours," Brad announced to his people that evening.  "It will be our base of operations.  We have the weapons and the ammunition we need to defend it.  From here, we'll move, one by one, against the enemy's camps, his bases, his cities.  And we'll claim this land as our own!"

Just as Stone Creek predicted, the outlaws of Kentucky had returned to Mammoth Cave.  The moment he and Cade entered, he sensed their presence; and, as they descended farther into the cave, he began noticing signs of the outlaws return - the kinds of things only a fellow outlaw would readily identify as evidence of present habitation rather than artifacts of the past.  By the time he and Cade reached the grand cavern, his eyes began revealing what his intuition had already pointed out.  One by one, the outlaws came out of the shadows until, eventually, he and Cade were surrounded by at least a hundred.  He knew each one by name as well as by sight - the rank and file as well as the leaders of the various gangs.

One of the leaders approached with a gun in his outstretched hand.  Placing the gun against Stone Creek's head, he said "You betrayed us.  You sent us into battle, then turned around and fought us to a draw."

Stone Creek looked his accuser in the eye.  "Don't flatter yourselves," he said.  "If I had wanted it, your army would have been destroyed before you fired a single shot.  You got what you were promised: Indiana.  It sits there now, just waiting to be claimed."

"Because of nature - not any of your doing!" came the reply.  "If the people hadn't been driven from Indiana, we'd still be no closer to owning it!"

"To the contrary," Stone Creek countered, "it'd be all yours now.  With Henry gone, Brad would be its leader now.  And, like me, he understands the need for order and discipline - which is something Henry never gave his people.  What you could never have won in war, you would have won simply by being the only force capable of bringing order to chaos.  Only you could have ended ten years of anarchy.  But, as you pointed out, nature had other plans for Indiana."

"You still haven't given me a good reason not to pull this trigger!" the outlaw noted.

"As usual, you have it backwards," Stone Creek calmly replied.  "You need a reason to pull a trigger.  You need no reason not to.  But you've gone through your lives pulling one after another trigger for no good reason.  Is it any wonder you never get invited to the very best homes?"

"We don't sit around waiting for invitations: we kick down the door and take what we want!"

"That'll stop in time," Stone Creek predicted.  "Once you've left these caves for good; found a permanent home above ground; settled in; started communities and families - once you've become the masters of the land, it'll begin taming you."

"We are masters of the land - this land!" the outlaw insisted, but Stone Creek shook his head.

"You use the land as your hideout," he reminded the outlaws surrounding him.  "You're not its masters as long as you depend upon it to hide you from the rest of the world.  You will never become masters in your own home, because you'll always see it as a hideout in times of crisis.  If you're serious about being its masters instead of its shadows, you must leave Kentucky - and never look back, or you'll remain silhouetted against its hiding places forever."

"So that's it," the outlaw concluded.  "Your reason for coming back to us.  There's no one left across the river, they've all been driven out, so you've come for us, to lead us at last to Indiana in triumph!"

Again, Stone Creek shook his head.  "No," he replied, "not to Indiana - to North Carolina."

"You're here to lead us to North Carolina?" the outlaw mused.  "And who'll guide you there?"

"They will," Stone Creek pointed upward.

All the outlaws drew their weapons, and started aiming at random.  "So you didn't come alone!" their leader exclaimed.

"I came with my grandson here," Stone Creek told him.

"Then who's up there?"

"The ones who'll lead us to our new home: the Carolinians.'

"You're in cahoots with them now?" the outlaw accused.

"Oh, they won't willingly lead us," Stone Creek assured the outlaws.  "But they will lead us.  We'll round up whatever remnants remain, and, at the point of a gun - just as you like it - they'll lead us across to Carolina.  That way, if there's anything or anyone laying in wait, it'll be the Carolinians who encounter it, not us."

Eventually a deal was cut between Stone Creek and the outlaws, first to subdue the Carolinians remaining in Kentucky, then to force their captives to lead them back to North Carolina the same way they came.

"What about him?" the outlaw leader asked of Cade.  "Blind man's no use to us, he'll just get in the way."

"Ever hear of the Byzantine Empire?" Stone Creek asked.

The outlaw thought a moment.  "That in the Ozarks somewhere?" he asked.

"Somewhere," Stone Creek acknowledged.  "It was the greatest empire of the Middle Ages, till an army lead by a blind eighty year old prince destroyed it.  A blind man sees things the rest of us can't see.  I want Cade to come with us, but it's his choice."

"I'll go part of the way," Cade told his grandfather.  "I won't know till we get that far if I'll continue on the rest of the way."                

Sandy made six more voyages to Africa with Captain Clark before returning home. His first suspicion that something was wrong came at Monterey, his ship's homeport.  When the Monterey Bay docked, Clark disbursed his crew's wages then granted shore leave to all who would be sailing with him on his next trip.

"We sail in two weeks," he announced, to everyone's amazement and a few sailor's disappointment, chief among them Sandy, who had meant to explore the mountains on the main island's western coast during this shore leave.  He said nothing however, making the most of his brief time ashore by going to the Carmel Valley, where he picked up a trinket that intrigued him: a small ceramic head, said to be the likeness of a god whose head had been severed from his body, by a conspiracy of lesser deities, and thrown from heaven onto one of the islands in the California Archipelago, where it now sat in a glass case deep within a great temple and was worshipped by the people of the island.  Sandy resolved to learn more about this deity on his next shore leave and to someday visit the temple to see it for himself.

When he returned to the Monterey Bay and the ship set sail, he showed the ceramic head to his Captain, who said he had seen similar trinkets throughout California.

"Have you ever visited the temple where the head itself is kept?" Sandy asked.

"Once," Captain Clark answered.

"Is this a true likeness?" the boy asked.

Clark nodded.  "Truer than the little plastic ones," he said.  "Why are you so intrigued with it, anyway?"

"He looks like I pictured my father to be," Sandy replied.

The sailing was as swift, as effortless, as any voyage Sandy had been on since joining the crew of the Monterey Bay - which made an ever so slight shift in their course upon emerging on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal all the more suspicious, a suspicion confirmed before they had sailed a hundred miles into the Caribbean Sea.

They were heading east north east instead of due east.  Sandy descended the rigging to make his way to the bridge, where Captain Clark was busy charting his course.  Sandy observed how intently he worked, when it should have been second nature to him to plot the course to Africa.  Clark happened to look up and caught Sandy watching him.  He smiled.

"I knew you'd perceive the shift in our course," Clark said.  "I just didn't think you'd see it so soon."

"Do you suspect a storm?" Sandy asked.

"No," said the Captain.  "I'm heading for the mainland.  You haven't been home in almost two years - two years before the mast!  I'm taking you home."

Sandy was dumbfounded.  "I won't sail with you anymore?" he asked.

"I hope you will," Clark replied.

"But not this time?"

"I hope this time.  I've given us two weeks - the ocean has graciously added a couple more days, which I'm sure it'll charge us for sooner or later.  I want you to have that time to be with your family.  We'll dock at Wilmington, just like we did when you joined us."

"But, sir," Sandy tried to point out," the weather is good.  We can make Praia ahead of schedule.  Maybe we could take more slaves this trip, capture a small village on our own."

"No," said Clark.  "Everything is done together.  To violate that code is to invite retaliation.  Let that small village remain at peace."

"But we're taking them on a great adventure!" Sandy insisted.

"Don't concern yourself with that," said Clark.  "Just enjoy the time with your family.  The day may come when you'll no longer be able to."

Monday, June 19 of the year 2090, the Monterey Bay sailed past Cape Fear into the mouth of Cape Fear River and, late that evening, docked in Wilmington.  The next day Sandy set out for home, arriving at the great walled city near Elizabethtown where his people had settled.  He stood at attention a moment, saluting the mighty fortress, before moving on to Black Lake, a couple miles to the northeast, where a cave lay hidden in a small hillside.  It was late in the day when he entered the cave and greeted his mother; then he lay down beside her and fell into a deep sleep that was only disturbed the following morning by footsteps on the hillside.  He got up and ran to the mouth of the cave to greet the visitors; but there was only one.  He looked all around.

"Where's Mount Everest?" Sandy asked his visitor.  "I thought I heard two sets of footsteps - yours and his."

"He wasn't up to making the trip," Alice told the boy.  "You'll have to go to him if you wish to see him."

"What's wrong with him?" Sandy asked.

"I believe your mother is taking his life force to keep herself alive," Alice replied.  "I always thought I'd be the one eaten, but it's him she's chosen."

Momentarily, the mountain lion appeared at the mouth of the cave.  Alice bowed her head in greeting, after which the lion retreated back into the cave.

"She sees me as a usurper," Alice remarked.  "But then, I did steal her kingdom's throne."

"You fought for it and won," Sandy pointed out.

"It wasn't a fair fight," Alice confessed.  "I cannot possibly fight and lose," she explained.

"Why is that?"

"Because I know the next move.  When I stop knowing the next move my opponent's planning, I'll be defeated."

Alice returned to her walled city, leaving Sandy to spend time with his mother.  Three days later, the boy appeared at the main gate, seeking admittance.  The gate slowly opened, and Sandy went inside.

From within, though still imposing, the city was far less magnificent than its outer walls foretold, less a fortress and more an ordinary town where people carried out the commonplace activities of everyday life.  There were a number of impressive buildings, none more so than the palace; but most were either common dwellings or places of commerce, interspersed with open air markets and bazaars.  It almost had the look of an old west fort, where settlers sought the protection of the US Calvary against the Indians of the Plains.

Sandy made his way along a dusty street, stopping at the markets to speak to the vendors and to tell as many as he could of the wondrous adventures he had had.

"We captured slaves," he told the citizens of the walled city.  "Sometimes we had to kill many before we could subdue their village and take the young men and women to a new land across the ocean, filled with fabulous adventures.  We had to shoot a boy my age who came at us with a knife.  Later on, the ants were all over him, eating him.  Africa is a strange land, but I love it, and I'll live there some day, and maybe someone will come and carry me off to work in the fields of San Joaquin, like John.  Maybe he and I will work side by side.  He wanted to kill me but he couldn't.  And look!" he pulled out the trinket he found at Carmel.  "This is a great powerful god, whose head fell from the sky, and the people worship his head in a great temple on one of the islands of California, halfway across the Pacific Ocean!  And a man in Praia tried to slit my throat and cut off my piece of manhood and stuff it in my mouth; but I did it to him first, not knowing it was wrong, or that I was a butcher.  And if I ever do it again, Captain Clark swore he'd hang me on the yardarm, even if he did risk his life to save me when the ocean tried to keel hole me!"

By the time he reached the palace, Sandy had cast a spell over all his fellow citizens, every one of whom now yearned to go to Africa and capture slaves for the fields of California - even if it meant abandoning the God of their fathers, the one true God, to go worship this strange looking head in a great temple on an island in the Pacific.  And to work in the fields beside John, the slave whose hands cannot kill what his heart tells him to.

Sandy went at once to Mount Everest's bedchamber, where he found Alice's consort seated before his desk.  Mount Everest arose, towering over his guest like an oak over a sapling.  He extended his hand, which Sandy eagerly grasped; then he drew the boy into a warm embrace.

"Welcome home," he said.  "Although, from what I've already heard, this will no longer be your home as it once was.  Come, tell me about your adventures - and the adventures you've forced on others."

As freely as Sandy offered his tales to the people in the marketplace, he withheld them from this man he loved as a father, going instead to the matter uppermost in his mind.

"Alice says my mother is draining your life force," he said.  "Is this so?"

Mount Everest smiled.  "If it is, I welcome it.  I cannot think of a better use for it than to serve your mother.  She saved that life force once.  Alice's too.  But as for her draining it from me, I suspect that's something only Alice would know."

"Will my mother die if you live?" Sandy mused aloud but mostly to himself.

"Her breed does not usually live to see their sons come of age," Mount Everest replied.  "But give it no further thought.  Death has been lounging on my doorstep since before you were born.  I've helped send many a man to him."

"Is this him: death?" Sandy held up his trinket to ask.

Mount Everest studied the features of the small ceramic head.  "No," he said, "this is not him.  It is another.  But I've met him too, in a place called Recluse."

"Do you worship him as they do in California?" Sandy asked.

"I don't worship," Mount Everest answered.  "I do something far better: I accept."

The next day Sandy appeared before Alice in her throne room.  She looked down on him from her throne, then beckoned him to approach.  H came close; bowed his head before the Queen of the Universe; and, as he took the trinket from his pocket and held it in his outstretched hand, said "I bring you an offering."

Alice started and her face turned white, as if she had seen a ghost.  She seemed reluctant to reach out and take the offering.

"They worship him as a god in California," Sandy told her.

Alice burst out laughing.  "So too shall I!" she exclaimed as she finally accepted the gift Sandy had brought her.

"What do they call him?" she asked.

"I don't know if they speak his name," Sandy explained somewhat hesitantly.  "He is just the god whose head fell from the sky."

"Then we shall call him Sky King!" Alice declared in the tone of a proclamation.  "And whoever refuses to worship him I shall have beheaded!  What say you to this?  Off with their heads - eh?"

For three days and nights, Sandy stayed in the walled city, a city that had no name, its ancient name lost, its present day inhabitants reluctant to bestow a modern name on it.  Alice was not its first ruler; but in the twelfth year of her reign, in this, the year 2090, she was its longest reigning monarch, and had proven its most capable military leader, staving off not only one coup attempt after another but repelling one invasion after another as well.  But for all her majesty, and all her military might, she was powerless to stop this boy she helped raise and meant to groom as her successor from going off to sea.

"Why does your mother insist on letting you go to sea?" she asked the boy.

"She says I'll find my father," Sandy replied.

"By carrying slaves to California?" Alice asked in a haughty voice.  "Does she know your trade?"  Sandy nodded that she did.  "And she approves?"

"She understands, like me, that everyone must leave their home to seek their fortune," Sandy explained.  "Some willingly choose to leave, some are driven from their homes.  But all must leave, sooner or later."

Alice cursed under her breath, because she could find no argument to counter his mother's.  "So who will succeed me?" Alice asked.  "One day I must step down from this throne: who will succeed me?"

Sandy considered the Queen's question a moment, then offered her the only advice he could think of.  "Pray to him for an answer," he said, pointing to the trinket he had given his Queen.  "Perhaps he'll send someone to you who will be able to ascend your throne."

"Perhaps he'll send me you," Alice conjectured.  "Perhaps you'll grow tired of freeing Africans from their homeland."

"No," Sandy assured her, "I will never grow tired of the adventure."

"Then the sea has claimed you for good?" Alice half asked, half declared.

"It's where I shall live and, God willing, where I shall die," Sandy told her.

"Will you ever return?"

"I will," Sandy promised.  "Captain Clark will see to it that I do."

"I shall accompany you to Wilmington," Alice decided.  "I wish to meet this Captain who can make you return to your home when even your family cannot.  Before we set out, visit Mount Everest one more time.  Unless your Captain sends you back to us again soon, I fear you will never see him again."

Sandy did as his Queen requested, even though he was anxious to move on to Wilmington.  "Alice fears you may die before I come this way again," the boy told Mount Everest.

"Who knows: she may slit my throat one night while I'm whispering sweet nothings in her ear just to see her prophecy come true!" Mount Everest quipped.  Then he grew reflective.  "There were nights when I half thought your mother would rip my throat out while I slept - and Alice's too perhaps," he admitted.  "She would have for sure if we had tried to take you from her; but we wisely kept our distance.  She let us share her cave on Mount Mitchell after leading us from Mount Guyot.  But she watched over you night and day; and when she hunted, she hid you from us in a cave higher up on the mountain where she knew we could never find you.  Alice and I would have died on Mount Guyot, in the fire that exploded in front of us, blocking our only escape route, had your mother not roared out to us from within the walls of the cavern.  We followed her cries until finding a hidden passageway which led out to the southern side of the mountain - the same pathway you had found and wandered into the cold from, which was where she found you and claimed you as her son.  We all thought she had carried you off to be eaten - even Alice, who vowed to kill your mother with her bare hands."  Mount Everest paused a moment then resumed speaking.  "The day will come, Sandy," he predicted, "mark my words, when you will cease trading in slaves to become their champion.  As tirelessly as you work to capture them, you will one day work to free them.  I don't know what will bring it about, but I know it will happen."

Sandy thought about Mount Everest's words on the way back to Wilmington, though he said nothing to Queen Alice.  And he thought about them every time he entered the jungle in search of villagers to enslave.  They seemed so odd to him, so out of touch with the magnificent adventure that was reality; yet he honored them because they were given to him by a man he cherished second only to his Captain.

Sandy introduced Alice to Captain Clark by her formal title.

"Your fame precedes you," Clark told her.  "Much of the world has heard of you.  I knew your name, and of your exploits, long before I met Sandy.  It was Tierra del Fuego where I first encountered the Queen of the Universe.  A shipwrecked sailor had told the natives about you before he died.  When I came along, barely escaping the same fate, the natives asked me if I knew you and would I take a message to you.  I told them I would; so now, six years later, I'm here to deliver it to you.  They want to become part of your kingdom and to come under your protection.  If I see them again, what shall I say?"

"Tell them they are my most loyal subjects," Alice replied.  "Tell them I will visit them before the century is out, and will bring them as many riches as I can carry.  I'll go in one of my ships - or maybe, just for the adventure, I'll commandeer a vessel to do it - not yours, of course; but one of the ships that comes here regularly carrying goods from the Caribbean Islands.  But tell me, Captain: what foul wind drove you to Cape Horn?"

"Not a wind," answered Captain Clark, "but an uprising.  The Canal was blockaded during a revolution in Panama - which a flotilla from California eventually crushed in order to safeguard our trade route.  I had no choice but to go around South America - an experience I hope never to have again."

"One day I should also like to visit California," Alice told the Captain.  "If only to see the land this boy's father loved so much."

"The boy's father?" said Captain Clark in some surprise.  "He lives in California?"

"I don't know where he lives, or even if he lives," Alice confessed.  "But he grew to manhood in the Sierras - in the company of a god! - in a weather station on Donner's Pass."

"Then you won't find him in California, said Clark.  "At least not my California.  The Sierras remained behind when the rest of the state broke free.  My home port - Monterey - lies a thousand miles west of Donner's Pass.  But now I must ask you something: why did his father abandon him?"

"He didn't," Alice told Captain Clark.  "He thought the child had been eaten by a mountain lion.  It's only through a miracle that I found him, but had no way to get word to his father, or his real mother.  Joey may go to his grave believing his son died ahead of him."  A strange look came over Alice's face, as if she had inadvertently betrayed a secret she was sworn to keep.

"What is it?" asked Captain Clark.

"It's nothing," Alice replied.  "I must return to my people now - before they stage a coup and install yet another usurper!  The people of Georgia migrated northward over the years, lured by tales of riches -"

"The cities of the east," Captain Clark interjected.  "Ruled by the Queen of the Universe."

Alice acknowledged the Captain's designation of her empire.  "And yet," she continued, "there are other cities here in the east.  But they don't sit on land.  They mine the Caribbean for a different kind of wealth - just as California has its cities in the west, one of which you and this boy man.  Perhaps one day our cities will do battle with your cities."

Alice looked pointedly at Sandy as she issued this last prophecy. But the boy insisted her fleet would lose to California's.

"We'll destroy anything that gets in the way of the trade," Sandy assured her.

A chill ran down Captain Clark's spine, but he said nothing till his ship had set sail.  Then he said simply, "I believe Queen Alice means you to command her fleet," in the manner of a quip, though neither he nor Sandy took it that way.

Brad sent scouts to observe the great walled city and the smaller city his people had passed, and to look for any other city on this plain between the Cape Fear and the South Black Rivers.  They reported back that they had found five more cities, each the size of the smaller city.  On the heels of their report, Brad sent scouts daily to each of the seven cities to note every coming and going, hoping to get a fix on their vulnerabilities.  This went on for nearly a month before one of his scouts was finally captured.  Each scout had been given the same cover story: he had been lured to this part of Carolina by tales of fabulous cities filled with fabulous riches.  It was understood that any scout caught would almost certainly be put to death; therefore it was imperative that his story be convincing.  Under no circumstances was the enemy to suspect that an army of occupation lay in wait less than fifty miles away.

"I've always been allergic to sumac," Felicia told Brad in bed one night in the commander's quarters after he noticed marks on her neck and asked her about them.  She explained that she had been out walking in Weymuth Woods late one evening and had brushed against a stand of sumac.  This satisfied Brad.

"Is is contagious?" he asked.                    

"Somewhat," Felicia acknowledged.

"Then we'll both be scratching," he said as he took her in his arms.

Only half her story was true - the part about walking in Weymuth Woods late at night.  She had invented the part about the poison sumac to explain the marks on her neck.

She had heard something, an almost inaudible rustling somewhere nearby, which at first she took for a squirrel or a rabbit.  But as she moved deeper into the woods, she heard it again.  Then a few moments later she heard it a third time, only closer.  And again, and again, until she knew she was being followed - stalked; but it was too late to do anything about it.  Her stalker was almost upon her.  She stopped beside a tree, bracing her back against it; and she prepared to do battle with whomever or whatever was after her.

Suddenly it sprang upon her, knocking her down and pinning her to the ground.  She struggled to free herself but was helpless beneath the weight and strength of her attacker.  Then a breeze stirred the overhanging branches, admitting a sheath of light from the full moon directly overhead.  Two large fangs glistened an instant in the moonlight before plunging toward her throat.  She felt the fangs going into her throat.  I want to see you! she resolved, shifting her gaze from the teeth to the eyes of the creature about to tear her throat open.  The second her eyes met the creature's, a light came into those oval eyes looking down on her from within the massive head.  A second later the fangs withdrew from her throat and the powerful jaws released their grip.  The next thing she felt was the creature's tongue licking her throat, as if to seal the wounds.  A moment later, the creature's eyes met hers one last time.  Then it retreated deeper into the woods.  Felicia climbed to her feet and slowly made her way out of the woods, trying to make sense of her release.

"Sumac?" Andrea repeated incredulously.  She, too, noticed the marks on Felicia's throat and was given the same explanation as Brad; but, unlike her son, she refused to accept an allergic reaction as the cause of such marks.  "I had no right to ask," she said after a moment, as if acknowledging Felicia's response as a polite way of saying "It's none of your business!"

"I just didn't want Brad to know," Felicia relented.  "I was attacked in the woods by something - I think a mountain lion.  I know if I told Brad he'd send a hunting party to track it down.  I don't want it tracked, or killed."

"How did you manage to get away?" Andrea asked.

"It let me go," Felicia answered.  "I looked into its eyes, and it released me."

Andrea shuddered at Felicia's words, an image flashing before her, of a young man lying in Felicia's arms, his chest covered in blood, a second young man looking over her shoulder.  But she said nothing to Felicia about the image or what she took it to mean.

Brad and his people had been at Fort Bragg just over three weeks when he called them together the evening of Friday, July 17, 2093.  The air was already filled with a sense of foreboding before Brad said the first word; and when he finally addressed them, they felt as if he were passing a sentence upon them.

"Tomorrow we attack the walled city," he told them.  "It's the moment we've been preparing for since we arrived here.  I'm satisfied we're ready.  We set out at daybreak.  I expect to take the city by evening.  Then, the day after tomorrow we begin our assault on the other six cities.  Within three days this will all be ours."                        

Everyone was too stunned to respond, even if the announcement seemed to demand a response.  They all knew why they were here and that it was just a matter of time till they were called upon to attack the cities of the Lumberton Plain; but they expected to be given notice of the actual date and time the attack would occur in order to prepare themselves for it.  Now here it was being thrust upon them all at once, without warning.

Brad had his lieutenants go among his people with specific details, showing them precisely where they would be deployed, when they would attack, and what their objectives were.  This helped anchor Brad's announcement to the everyday world; and, in doing so, brought the reality of the announcement into sharper focus.  And the reality of it was that they were being driven once again from their home - from a safe haven they had grown accustomed to after being on the road for three months.  They began to resent being driven out after just barely getting settled in; and, once the initial shock had worn off, they began to grow bolder, some even daring to question Brad's unilateral decision.

"Shouldn't this have been put to a vote?" a few dared to ask.

Brad toyed with the gun he always carried when addressing his people, but did not openly display it this time, choosing instead diplomacy as his weapon.

"We have stayed in this Fort long enough," he told his people, adding "possibly too long already.  It's just a matter of time till the enemy gets wind of us.  I would have given you greater notice if I had had it to give; but it hit me all at once that we've got to attack now, or we could lose the momentum - and we may never get it back again.  We have no choice.  One of the scouts hasn't returned; he's undoubtedly been captured.  We must move at the very first light of day."

A few more stray objections were voiced, each met with the same sense of urgency; until, finally, all the people accepted their leader's decision as the only possible course of action open to them.  Gradually, they all returned to their quarters, to get ready for whatever tomorrow might bring.

As the night wore on, clouds slowly covered the overhead moon, eventually extinguishing all its light, until, by early morning, Fort Bragg was surrounded in pitch black.  And a myriad of infinitely tiny sounds crept from the edge of Fayetteville southward, northward and westward to Weymuth Woods, completing a soundless circle about the Fort, a circle to be broken only by the first light of morning.

At daybreak, Alice gave the signal.  Her army began moving forward, all five thousand soldiers closing ranks around the Fort where the latest usurpers were holed up, their orders to hold their fire until, as Alice put it, they saw the whites of their eyes - a reference unknown to every single soldier assembled outside Fort Bragg.  Standing at attention, Alice and her army began to see signs of activity within the Fort. 

"Remember," Alice told those nearest to her, "this is the day they mean to attack us, so they'll appear shortly!  Be ready!"

"Something's not right," Andrea mused to herself long before sunrise.  She had awakened from a vivid dream about the walled city Brad was poised to attack.  It was as if she had gotten inside, so clearly did everything appear before her - its streets, buildings, even the throne room of its imperial palace.  In her dream she met the lion that attacked Felicia - it lay before the throne, watching her.  She walked up to it, somehow knowing it would not spring upon her.  It moved aside, letting her ascend to the throne.  At first she refused to sit on the throne, but the lion gestured to her to be seated.  When she still hesitated, it roared an imperious command, which she had no choice but to obey.  When she was seated, a multitude of people suddenly appeared from within the walls and quickly surrounded her, bowing down before her then standing up to cheer.

"We must not attack," Andrea concluded upon awakening from the dream.  "These are not our enemies - but if we attack, they will be."  She hurried to her son's quarters to warn him.  She knocked and entered, finding Brad in bed, asleep, with Felicia beside him.  She approached and nudged him.  He awoke with a start and reached for his gun, which his mother had skillfully removed from beneath his pillow.  She handed it to him.

"You must call off the attack," she told him, "or we may all perish."

Brad looked up at her and shook his head from side to side.  "We will attack, and nothing can stop us," he said.

"There is something going on, something you have not taken account of," Andrea insisted.  "You must not order your people to attack or they'll all be killed.  The cities are better fortified than your scouts reported.  They saw only what they were meant to see.  Nothing on earth has ever been clearer to me.  Brad: don't do this!  It's a mistake.  Don't destroy your people!"

"If they're destroyed, it's because they didn't fight hard enough," Brad countered.  "If their hearts are not in it, they deserve to be destroyed."

"Not even the bravest heart can defeat the unexpected," said Andrea.  "Something is happening, even while we're speaking.  It's as if people are hiding within the very walls."

With this, Andrea left her son's room.  Brad arose the moment his mother was gone.  He got dressed and, under cover of darkness, went to rouse his lieutenants.

"Gather up as many men as you can, as quickly as you can!" he ordered.  "But do it in silence and in darkness.  Have them assembled by the back gate in half an hour - with as many weapons as they can carry!"

When the half hour was up, Brad appeared before his men.  "We move now," he told them.  "Under cover of night we will begin our mission.  We must go at full speed.  We must reach the walled city by sunup.  The army is smaller than I intended, but there's no time to assemble everyone.  They can be our back up."

Brad left instructions with three of his lieutenants to have the remainder of his army ready to move by sunup, as originally planned, and to be prepared to join in the fighting upon their arrival at the walled city.  Then he led his army through the back gate and started southward toward his objective when he heard something that made him halt his men in their tracks.  Without a word, he hastily regrouped, leading his men northward into Weymuth Woods instead.  He stopped only when they were deep within the woods.  In a low voice he explained the sudden shift in plans to his lieutenants.

"I heard the advance of the enemy," he said cryptically.  "There's no time to explain or to send scouts to verify my report.  I know the enemy is advancing on us.  We'll wait till they're in place - till they've surrounded the Fort, as I know they will.  Then, as the rest of our army readies to leave, and the enemy attacks, we'll attack their flank, and have them surrounded."

"But shouldn't we warn the others?" Brad's lieutenants asked.

"There isn't time," he answered.  "We'd give our position away if anyone tired to make it back to the Fort.  I know their casualties will be greater, but I can't risk losing the advantage.  I can only hope they'll realize what's waiting for them outside before it's too late."

The first ray of daylight across the eastern horizon beckoned the army within Fort Bragg to begin its march to the walled city.  The men gathered at the main gate; awaiting the signal to leave.  Suddenly a gunshot rang out from within their ranks.  They all drew their weapons and took aim in the direction of the report.  Then Andrea stepped forth, toting the gun that Brad normally carried, but had left behind in favor of heavier weaponry.  She waved it in the air, but did not fire it again.

"Brad has taken my warning and ran backwards with it," Andrea told her son's army.  "That's changed everything.  You must leave by the back gate if you're to help my son."

"Our orders are to leave by the main gate," Brad's lieutenants replied.

"If you do, the battle is lost before it begins," said Andrea.  "I don't even know why, but I know it's what'll happen if you go out this way."

"We'll lose time if we go around that way."

"The minutes you lose, you'll save in lives," Andrea insisted.

Brad's lieutenants still hesitated.  Then Darryl, who had not been chosen to accompany Brad on his pre-dawn raid, stepped forth.

"We must do as Brad's mother orders," he told the others.  "She sees things that we can't.  Each of us knows certain things from what our folks have told us, and from our own experience.  But she knows things from what her mind's eye sees.  And they're truer than what our real eyes see.  We've got to do as she says."

Finally, the lieutenants acceded to Andrea's demand.  Rounding up their troops, they moved to the back gate to begin their march southward.  They were met by a volley of gunfire the moment the gate opened.

"It's a trap!" one of the lieutenants cried.  "We should have followed our orders!"

"No!" said Darryl.  "We're surrounded!  They're at the front gate too!  We've got to make a stand for it here!"

Darryl aimed his weapon and leaped through the gate, firing as he fell to the ground to crawl closer to where the shots were coming from.  Others followed his lead, until most of the men were outside the Fort firing up at the enemy from the ground.                                            

Brad now gave the signal for his men to attack from the rear.  They moved to within range and began firing at the enemy soldiers firing upon their comrades crawling along the perimeter of the Fort.  The enemy regrouped, part turning toward the woods, part continuing to fire into the perimeter, while the rest of the soldiers - the ones stationed toward the front gate - moved closer to where the battle was centered.  But, not knowing what was happening, they made easier targets than those who had already been engaged, almost a quarter of them mowed down within the first few moments of their arrival.

The battle raged for over an hour, while the sun moved higher in the sky, deepening the shadow thrown by the Fort on its defenders lying on the ground, exposing the enemy in an ever brighter spotlight.  Hundreds had been killed, ten times as many of those surrounding the Fort as those defending it; yet still Brad's army was outnumbered ten to one, the sheer mass of the enemy more than equal to Brad's overwhelming tactical advantage.

Alice, watching, directing her army from the outskirts of a small town outside the Fort - Lobelia - just east of the battleground, realized almost from the first volley that the battle would end in a stalemate.  She knew she'd have to call a truce sooner or later; and she felt certain that whoever was directing the usurpers would come to the same realization: his strategic skill was too great for him not to be attuned to the rhythm and nuance of war. She could not imagine him giving up his advantage by letting his troops be slowly decimated until he had nothing left to bargain for position with; nor was she willing to lose half her army just to decimate his.  The problem, though, was finding some common ground on which to meet, a way to compromise their mutual objectives without abandoning them altogether or losing face in front of their soldiers.

Alice began moving among her troops closer to the thick of battle, which raged just outside the rear gate of Fort Bragg, trying as she made her way westward to devise a strategy for effecting a truce while anticipating what might induce her rival to follow suit.  She feared the traditional white flag had lost its significance over the years since civilization faded from the American landscape; yet she had nothing else even remotely resembling a request to halt hostilities.  So she had one of her lieutenants make a white flag and attach it to the butt of his rifle; then she took the gun and, holding it upright, began walking toward the front line, bullets continually whizzing past her on either side.

As she neared the line of heaviest fire, she spied the rear gate fling open and a woman's figure slowly emerge from the Fort.  Her eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open; her whole body grew numb, she barely managed to keep the gun positioned above her head.  She stood like a statue another full moment then burst through the front line, waving her flag wildly back and forth.  Every gun in Brad's army was trained on her, as every gun of her army was now trained on the woman coming forth from within the Fort.  Seeing the white flag waving in front of her, Andrea ripped her blouse off - it, too, was white - and began waving it back and forth over her head.

The battlefield became still all at once.  Every gun in the hands of every soldier still pointed at his enemy, but no shot rang out as the two women proceeded toward each other, each waving their flags of truce.  They stood face to face, staring at one another as if each had seen a ghost.  Several moments passed when Brad opened a line through the enemy ranks to see what had happened.  He was as stunned as either of the two women - not at seeing someone he never expected to see again but, rather, at seeing someone he never expected to see on a field of battle.  He walked up to his mother and tried to take the blouse from her, but she refused to relinquish it.

"We have not come this far to surrender!" he told her.

"Nor have we!" Alice answered his declaration.  "A truce is not a surrender," she added, "only a time to talk.  And now we have no choice but to talk."

Andrea turned to her son.  "This is Alice's army," she told him.  "And, I suspect, Alice's kingdom.  You have chosen to make an enemy where there was none," she said.

But Alice corrected her.  "Your son does well to attack us," she complimented her enemy commander.  "We do not assimilate usurpers - we destroy them.  I don't know if I could have made an exception for your son's people - even for your sake.  I rule these people - I am their queen; but no one has dominion over ideas.  My people will not tolerate usurpers - and all intruders are usurpers.  Only if we're forced will we accept others.  Only an equal might can bring outsiders into our ranks.  By attacking, your son has proven himself our equal.  And therein lie the seeds of accord.  It is time now to talk, while the guns are silent.  But before we do, I must share one piece of news: my consort did not live long enough to witness this reunion.  He died a month ago, neither his daughter nor his grandson by his side.  Only me.  Now we must talk, your son and I."

A sudden storm sprang up along the African coast.  Captain Clark had noticed the clouds building as far away as the harbor at Praia when his ship was docked.  A series of tropical waves, spawned deep in the interior, rushed westward from the continent, churning the sea for hundreds of miles.  This was hurricane season, and while hurricanes never formed this close to the land, fierce storms occasionally formed east of the Cape Verdes.

"This trip will be more dangerous than any we've taken so far," Clark told the ten men chosen to row ashore with him to help capture slaves.  Sandy was among the ten, as he had been every voyage since joining the crew of the Monterey Bay five years ago.  A rush of excitement flushed his whole body when he heard his Captain's words.  I will face death on my nineteenth birthday! he thought to himself.

As they lowered the five rowboats into the water, Captain Clark warned Sandy not to go too eagerly into the storm.  "There are no sails to manipulate," Clark reminded his unofficial First Mate.  "And no mass to counter the waves.  We will only get through whatever's out there by avoiding it, wave by wave, gust by gust.  Put all your skills at reading the skies and the seas to the task of keeping clear of danger.  This is not an adventure, nor a challenge to be subdued; but a beast you have no chance of surviving if it gets hold of you.  Keep up your guard.  And leave your bravery behind, because it will neither serve you nor save you.  This is coward's weather, it belongs to timid souls too fearful to encounter it full force.  Mark my words, Sandy: enter this sea a hero and you may never reach the shoreline."

The first fifty of the three hundred-odd miles to Dakar were relatively tranquil.  Though the waves were higher and the breeze stronger than normal, the oarsmen had little difficulty keeping their boats on course and in sight of one another.  But then the sea and air both began to change, gradually at first then more noticeably as the miles wore on; until, by the time the boats neared the halfway mark, they were swallowed up by a massive storm that had formed off the coast and drifted a hundred miles before stalling halfway to the Cape Verde Islands to gather strength.

The rowboats were swirled around and around, first one way by the wind then the other way by the waves.  The oarsmen gave up trying to guide their boats, pulling in their oars to let themselves be drawn between the waves, dropping their oars back into the water only long enough to steer clear of the most dangerous swells.  They all knew that for every foot they gained they lost five, their only aim to be swept in every direction rather than suffering their entire loss in only one direction, their only hope to end up as many miles north or south of their course as west of it.

Sandy could see the other boats being drawn away from the course his Captain had set - a course he needed neither stars nor compass to keep.  He knew he was still on course, but he could feel the pull of the storm starting to drag him off course.  He knew also that the five boats would never regroup when the storm passed; that each would arrive at Dakar at a different time, depending how far off course it was carried.  He resolved to remain on course, so that at least one boat would make the deadline before the other slavers set out for the target village, leaving the Monterey Bay with an empty hold for the first time in its history.

"I know the rules," he told himself as he struggled against the storm, his fellow oarsman trying to keep pace with his almost superhuman effort.  "I know no one goes ahead without the others.  But they won't wait more than a day - two at most.  And we stand to lose at least that if we let ourselves be driven by the storm.  One of us has to be there to make them wait!  I won't miss my turn at capturing slaves!  The people of California need them too badly.  I won't betray them - I swear I won't!"

Sandy managed to avoid being capsized by the massive waves as he maneuvered against the powerful winds to keep his boat on course.  He never once released his oars, or hauled them into the boat, using them as clubs to beat the sea into submission as much as to guide his path through the water.

But the storm never let up; it raged hour after hour, taking turns weakening and strengthening, as if taunting the boats trapped beneath it, giving them slack, like a giant cat playing with a mouse, then pulling them back into the vortex just as they thought they were at last free.  Sandy could sense what was happening, but his fellow oarsman could not; so that, when the storm seemed to let up, Sandy rowed that much harder to gain ground before it hit again but his partner rested, thinking the storm had passed.  Sandy noticed but said nothing, thinking he was doing the oarsman a favor by letting him rest when actually he was setting the man up for the disappointment of finding himself right back in the storm.  Each time this happened, the oarsman rowed less enthusiastically and with less energy than before he rested.  By the time Sandy realized his mistake, it was too late, his fellow crewman and oarsman putting so little effort into his end of the rowing that a sudden unexpected wave spun the boat around as fiercely as if it had fallen into a maelstrom.  Sandy managed to hold firm to his oars, but the other oarsman lost his.  They were wrenched from his hands and carried by the wind into the open sea, one of them grazing Sandy on the cheek as it flew past his head.  Sandy tried desperately to keep the boat from spinning out of control, but without the counterweight of his fellow oarsman, the task was too great even for him.

While the boat spun like a top in the wind, a wave rolled over it at just the right angle to capsize it, washing both oarsmen out before overturning it.  Sandy saw his crewmate bobbing up and down fifty feet away; he swam to him, still holding his oars as if they had morphed into fins.  He held one of them out when he drew close enough; his crewmate grabbed hold of it.  In tandem, they attempted to swim to where the upturned boat sat reeling as one after another wave rolled over it.  When they finally reached it, both of them grabbed for it, but only one caught hold of the ridge running like a spine down the middle.

A sudden shift in the rhythm of the waves pushed Sandy away.  He swam as hard as he could but the sea kept tugging at him, as the boat kept drifting farther out to sea.  In less than ten minutes the boat had completely disappeared, leaving Sandy all alone, surrounded by a sea full of waves.  Then something rammed him from behind.  He whirled about, half expecting to do battle with a shark.  Instead, he came face to face with one of the oars his crewmate had lost at sea.  He grabbed it and began paddling, this time using the oar as a fin in earnest.  For hours he paddled as the storm tossed him about, never losing sight of which way he needed to go; till, finally, he felt himself growing numb.  He knew his strength was nearly gone and that he had only a few minutes left to make one last stand against the sea.

He ceased paddling and pulled the oar close to his chest, wrapping his arms around it, hoping to use its buoyancy to keep himself afloat when he could no longer swim.  A moment later he felt his body go limp and he began to sink, until only his head broke the surface.  But his arms still held firm to the oar, which remained stationary just beneath the waterline.  He knew he could not stay afloat like this for very long; his only hope was to rest until he regained enough strength to continue paddling.  It was all he could do to keep his arms around the oar.  He realized he should have ceased paddling sooner, while there was still time to secure the oar to his clothes; but he could not bring himself to stop as long as one forward thrust remained.  Captain Clark's words came back to taunt him: "Enter this sea a hero and you may never reach the shoreline."

As he drifted helplessly in the sea, Sandy caught himself drifting far more perilously in and out of sleep.  He could survive the raging sea easier than a deep sleep, which could rend his arms from the oar more effectively than the waves that still rolled over him, though less frequently now as the storm began finally weakening or else simply moving beyond him.  He fought sleep as fiercely as he fought the sea, but his weapons were no match for the inexorable pull of oblivion on a body utterly exhausted floating rhythmically in a warm bath.  Finally the battle ended, sleep the inevitable victor.

Almost the instant he fell asleep he began dreaming, first of his ship, the Monterey Bay; then of California and the San Joaquin Valley; then of his home, within the walled city and within the caves overlooking the plain; then of the jungle, and the villages he had helped sack, and the slaves he had helped take.  He saw those dear to him: his mother; Queen Alice; Mount Everest; Captain Clark; the slave John toiling in the San Joaquin Valley; the dead boy covered with ants and the boy's father, who had vainly attempted to brush them from his face; and the image of the god's head he had given Alice.  Then, still asleep, still wrapped in his dreams, a figure appeared ahead of him, standing on the water, beckoning.  He felt himself floating toward it, but never reaching it.  It always moved farther from him just as he drew near it, this figure of a man with chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes.

"Who are you?" he tried to ask.

"I was sent to show you the way," was all the man would say.  He kept beckoning and Sandy kept following, wanting to reach him, to be taken up in his arms and carried with him on the water the rest of the way.  But he would only show the way; he made no attempt to lift the boy out of the water.  Then, just as the man disappeared and Sandy cried out to him not to leave, a jolt ran through his body and he stopped moving.  The water continued to flow over him, but it was different now: it flowed from behind him, not in front of him.  His eyes still half covered in sleep, Sandy imagined he had run against a boat.  He forced his eyes open, half expecting to see the Monterey Bay looming over him; but, in the pitch dark of a moonless night he saw nothing.  Then he looked to where he expected the harbor to be, but there were no lights.  Where is Praia? he wondered.  He attempted to grab hold of the boat and let its feel guide him to its bow, hoping to find a rope he could climb.  But when he reached out there was nothing there.  Then finally it hit him where he was.

It wasn't water beneath him, nor was it the oar keeping him afloat.  He was on solid ground, still holding fast to the oar tucked under his chest.  He let go of the oar and tried to stand up, but the ground started moving beneath him, and he felt himself being pulled back into the water.  He forced himself up and began running away from the undertow, farther onto the beach where the man in his vision had led him.

"I must be in Africa," he said to himself.  "I'll stay here till it's light, then I'll find Dakar.  Maybe I haven't missed my chance after all.  Maybe it's not too late to help capture slaves."                                                

Sandy laid down on the beach and fell asleep beneath the star filled sky, suddenly remembering that he had celebrated his nineteenth birthday all alone at sea, with no one but the man in his vision within a hundred miles of him.  When he awoke, at daybreak, he immediately began surveying his surroundings to try and determine how far from Dakar he had drifted.  Though he knew nothing of the coast of Africa except for the harbor where he and the others always docked, he had studied every map of West Africa he could find so as to be prepared in case he ever got blown off course and needed to find his way back to Dakar; and he wanted to investigate other areas where there might be slaves, for the day when there were no more villages in Senegal.

After exploring the region, filling in the shapes he remembered from his maps with the terrain surrounding him, he decided that this was the mouth of the Gambia to the south and west of him; across the channel was a promontory that had to be Cape St. Mary.  Farther south, along the Cape, he could just make out what appeared to be the shapes of buildings; this he took for Banjul, the capital of Gambia.  If he was right, Dakar would be about a hundred fifty miles to his northwest.

He set out immediately, following the shoreline as far as the mouth of another river, the Saloum, some forty miles to the north.  There, he was forced inland until he found a place narrow and shallow enough to safely cross the river.  He remembered, from his map and from his fellow slavers' tales, that there was a city upstream, Kaolack, so he cut deeper into the jungle surrounding the river to avoid it.  Finally, just east of Kaolack, he was able to cross the Saloum and continue his journey.  He had lost both time and distance going around Kaolack; but by concentrating on his maps he had not lost as much time as if he had heeded the slavers' warnings.

"Don't go within a hundred miles of Kaolack!" he had heard time and again since becoming a slaver.  "Avoid that place like the plague!  They're nothing but a pack of radicals, those people who live there!  And, above all, don't be taken alive!  They'll butcher you - cut you to pieces with their machetes and throw you to the crocs!  They're determined to put a stop to the slave trade - and they'll stop at nothing to do it!  So keep your distance, if you want to keep your head!"

Sandy took the warnings seriously, but could not obey the hundred mile directive without jeopardizing his mission.  He moved as deftly as a cat through the jungle, letting caution fill in the missing miles of his detour.  Nor did he relax his guard once he was past the point of greatest danger, because now he was entering territory even more dangerous than Kaolack.  Now he was within range of his own hunting ground, the region where the vast majority of slaves were captured.  A region filled with burned out villages and mass graves.

From Kaolack he moved north-northwest, passing between the towns of Fatick and Diourbel before heading almost due west.  He came to a clearing where the decaying remains of a village stood amidst a tangle of underbrush and trailing vines.  It was the first village he had helped sack - the village John had been taken from; now no one remained to keep the jungle from reclaiming it.  He stood a moment in the spot where he almost got shot for the first time; he tried to recall why he was so puzzled that someone would try to shoot him when his firepower was so clearly superior.  Then he moved on, deeper into the jungle encroaching upon this village.  He moved quickly, covering several miles in less than two hours, when suddenly he heard something stirring in the bushes, something unlike the rustling of animals or the stalking of predators.  Realizing what it was, he began running.  But it was too late.  He was surrounded.  Before he could escape, a net was thrown over him and he was hurled to the ground.  A moment later, as he struggled to free himself from the entanglement, a dozen hands reached down and, grabbing hold of him, raised him to his feet as the net was slowly lifted from him.

A man carrying a spear stepped forward.  "If you have business here," the man prompted in English, "tell us what it is."  But Sandy only shook his head.  "Then we know why you're here," the man said, nodding to the others, who began drawing their machetes as they approached the prisoner, raising them when they were upon him.

A second man with a spear stepped forward and raised his hand to the others, signaling them to halt.  They lowered their machetes.  Sandy looked up into the man's face.  "I have a better idea," the man said.  "I know this boy.  He helped enslave me.  He stopped a moment over my son's body as the ants were eating it."  He pulled the first man with the spear aside and spoke to him in private, the man nodding his agreement to what was being said.  Instructions were then given the others, who retrieved a sack from the bushes.  Removing a length of rope from it, they folded the net used to ensnare Sandy and put it inside the sack, then wrapped the rope around Sandy's body and again around his hands, leading him away, deeper into the jungle, his eyes the whole time on the man he had helped enslave.                  

Joey made his first voyage to the islands before the spring thaw.  He had not meant to go so soon, but he felt compelled to build his boat and set sail.  Each day, as he looked out his cabin window and watched the waves coming in, he yearned to go out with them; until, on the 6th of April, 2094 - a Tuesday - he gathered a few belongings and climbed down Donner's Summit, through three feet of snow, to the beach seven thousand feet below.  It was as if he had traveled a thousand miles, from a frozen tundra to a tropical island.  By the time he reached sea level he had shed all but his shirt and pants.

He had spent the winter reading about primitive boats and their construction.  He found everything he needed at Reno and Carson City, both of which were still occupied, still ruled by gangs, though not the same gangs Sanderson Spears had stalked almost forty years ago.  Before ascending Donner's Summit for the winter, he had hidden everything he would need for his boat in the underbrush at the base of the mountains.  He expected to be holed up in the cabin till the middle of May.  But the snows had tapered off and even turned to rain on occasion, so he decided to venture out the first week of April.

He worked three more weeks making his boat seaworthy.  On Friday, April 30th, he set sail.  It struck him as the undertow carried his boat beyond the shoreline that the greatest body of water he had ever crossed was the Mississippi - and that that was the only water he had ever crossed alone.  He asked God to help guide him to the islands.  Then an image came to him, of a dark skinned man leading a panther with blood dripping from its fangs, though he had no idea where the image came from or why it should have come to him all of a sudden.

"I never knew," he said out load, as if addressing the image.  "There were other boys who asked me how to pronounce a word written on a wall.  I said the word the way I thought it sounded.  I didn't know they already knew the word.  Out of shame, when I found out, I never said the word again, even to myself.  Why should I think of that now?  Is it because I finally realize how foolish it is to give any word magical powers?  As if saying a particular word makes you invincible - as if just having a word to say makes you closer to God?  I will never be your equal until I can look you in the face and call you 'Nigger.'  Until I can do that, I can never rise above the word.  It'll always be a secret chant I found by chance in a back alley.

He was ten days on the ocean.  As he neared California, he could see a series of islands forming an archipelago, half a dozen large islands flanked by dozens of smaller ones.  He instinctively made for one of the smallest, at the northern tip of the archipelago.  When he landed, and as he explored the island after hiding his boat, he found it to be uninhabited, as he expected to find it.  For all he knew, all the islands would be uninhabited; but he doubted that.  Whatever had ripped California apart and moved two thirds of it a thousand miles, cataclysmic as it must have been, did not appear to have destroyed the land's contours.  From what he could see, California was still intact.  And across the strait separating this island from a much bigger one to the south, he could just make out what appeared to be human structures.  If they were - if the buildings people made had survived - then almost certainly there were people still alive in California.  He resolved to visit the other islands in time, to seek out their inhabitants, perhaps even to live among them; but not before making a home for himself here. 

As he drew up plans for a shelter more substantial than the tent he had brought with him, it occurred to him that he might never return to his cabin in Donner's Pass.  The irony of coming three thousand miles - of leaving his wife and the only people he had ever been a part of - only to abandon the place he had come home to made him both smile and wince at the same time.  Yet he knew this was where he was supposed to be - not alone, on a mountain top, but here, on an island surrounded by thousands, perhaps millions, of fellow castaways.

He spent almost a month on the island, setting up camp, and securing the provisions he had brought from the mainland, before venturing to the other islands.  Almost from the moment he landed on the big island across the strait, he detected signs of human habitation.  He managed to keep out of sight as he worked his way closer to where he expected to find pockets of civilization, if any still existed, careful to avoid any large congregation of people.  The old injunction to stay clear of cities had become second nature to him; but, still, he could not quite believe that such a monumental change in the lay of the land had failed to affect the social order.  Because he did not see man as essentially flawed, he could not accept the rule of gangs as man's natural condition; it was an aberration which forty years of upheaval had laid bare.  And once men saw it for the useless thing it was, they would eventually abandon it.

He practically stumbled into Sacramento.  Seeing signs of large towns all around him once he moved inland from the forested highlands which had been the foothills of the Sierras before the land split apart, he veered first east then west then north then south through a large valley, trying to work his way around these towns.  He saw road signs indicating towns, but not having explored the state during the time he lived on Donner's Pass, the names were not familiar to him.  Otherwise, he would have read in names like Placerville, Folsom, Rancho Cordova and Fair Oaks a clear warning of what lay ahead.

It was night, the last day of May, and all he could see were a few candlelit windows on the outskirts of the city.  He sought out a small grove of trees just beyond the lights and lay down for a few hours rest before moving on.  When he awoke, it was as if he had been transported from a forest to the middle of a great city.

He had entered the northeast corridor of Sacramento, where McClellan Air Force Base stood abandoned and almost in ruins.  The lights he had seen the night before were burning in shacks sandwiched between Roseville Road, which traversed the southeastern corner of the base, and Interstate 80, bisecting Del Paso Park.  He stood beside a small stream trying to get his bearings, wondering how he had come so close to what was clearly a large city without realizing it - and how he could make a retreat without ending up perhaps deeper in the city.

"There's no electricity here," he tried to understand the separate pieces of his predicament.  "If I didn't see what lies before me, how much behind me did I miss?  If I knew what city this is, I might be able to tell what I'm likely to run into."

As he stood there mumbling to himself, he felt a tap on his shoulder.  He turned to see who or what it was.  Looking him squarely in the eye was a disheveled old man, an almost perfect replica of the stereotypical "old timer" who spent a lifetime roaming the hills looking for gold, silver or other treasures.

"You better get going Sonny," the man told him.  "If they catch you out here loitering they'll take you off to Folsom."

"Folsom?" Joey asked.

"That's where the vagrants end up - and I mean 'end up,'" the man said.

"Vagrants?"

"Anyone who ain't working," came the explanation of the term.  "In California, if you're just standing around, you ain't working.  And the workday's starting: the sun's up.  Folks can see, they can work.  Lots of rebuilding to do."

"What place is this?" Joey hesitated a moment before plunging ahead with the dead give-away that he was indeed a vagrant.

"You must have come from one of the other islands," the old man concluded.  "You ain't no runaway slave, that's for sure, lily white as you are.  This here's Sacramento, Sonny.  Used to be the capital of all the state, now just this big island."

The man shook his head, as if he still couldn't quite believe what had happened, and started to walk away.  Joey followed him.

"You said runaway slaves?" he asked.

"Some of them manage to escape on their own," the old man explained.  "Most of the runaways get helped by the Undergrounders.  You know," he added, perceiving Joey's puzzlement, "like the old Underground Railroad, back in Civil War days.  You read about that in school, didn't you?  The people who helped slaves escape from the plantations.  We got our own Underground Railroad, helps our slaves escape."

"Slaves?" Joey asked incredulously, as if he still had not heard right.

"Where you from, Sonny?" the man asked.  "Thought they had slaves on all these islands."

"I'm from the mainland," Joey said.  "I just got here."

"Then, Sonny, you got a lot to learn - and you better learn it fast.  But you ain't learning it from me, 'cause it's daylight and I'm getting gone while the gettin's good!"

The old man picked up his pace and, rounding a bend, disappeared into a thickly wooded area.  Joey decided not to follow him for fear of calling attention to him.  Instead, he moved off in the opposite direction, seeking as obscure a route around Sacramento as he could. 

What he had not counted on, and the old man's warning only vaguely hinted at, was that the streets - every street as far as he could see - filled almost instantly, and all at once as people poured from every conceivable building to begin their day's work.  Surrounded now in a sea of faces, Joey attempted to blend in, by following the flow wherever it went.  But, having no clear destination, he continued to stand out as others turned off, while others joined in the flow only to turn off too upon reaching their destination.  In less than half an hour he attracted the attention of the uniformed policemen patrolling these streets, two of whom came up beside him, asking where he worked.

"I'm new in town," Joey attempted to explain.  "I've come here hoping for a better job."  Joey had no way of know that, of all the things he might have said, this was the most telling.  The policemen grabbed him, cuffed him, and led him away.

He was taken first to a local precinct where he was processed, though he was asked neither for identification nor even his name.  He was simply processed as "Vagrant," then placed in a holding cell with three others.  By mid-morning, six more had joined him, making the ten the law required.  Only then did the authorities take the vagrants' names.  One of the men asked what his name was needed for, and was told simply "For the court record."

"Let's go!" the ten cell-mates were ordered.

"Got your quota early!" one of the newly arrived patrolmen quipped.

"Sure did," the arresting officer boasted.  "We're off to the big house!"

The ten prisoners were chained together and led out, then led along a series of streets to US Route 50 and headed northeast.  They were force-marched fifteen miles before veering from US 50 onto a state road which took them another couple miles to Folsom prison.  Fifteen minutes after passing through the main gate, all ten were locked inside their cells.

"What are you in here for?" one of Joey's new cell mates asked him.

"Vagrancy," he answered.  "But since there was no trial, I don't know how long I'm in for."

"Not long," came the reply.  "Couple weeks maybe.  By then the trial'll be history. They don't need you for the trial, just your name and date you got arrested."

"Then why bring us up here?" Joey asked.  "The jail in Sacramento didn't look overcrowded.  Why not keep us there?"

The man looked at Joey as if an alien from outer space had been put in with him, then he burst out laughing.  "You're not from around here, are you?"

"No," said Joey.  "I'm from the mainland.  I told them I was looking for work - and I was."

"You told them that?" Joey's cell mate asked.  "You poor dumb slob!  You might as well have just written 'Vagrant' across your forehead!  Nobody looks for work - they already have it!  Above all, nobody leaves their town to look somewhere else - how can you?  You work seven days a week, sunup to sundown!  Only ones who don't work are the sailors.  But if you'd have told them you were a sailor, they'd have asked what ship you were on; and if you didn't know, or guessed wrong, you'd have ended up here anyway!"

"Two weeks isn't bad," Joey observed.

"Understand something, mister," the man explained.  "You weren't brought here to serve time.  You were brought here to die.  They shoot vagrants, or hang 'em, or run 'em through with blades - just whatever's handy when their time comes."

"Why?" asked Joey, more out of incredulity than alarm.

"Because, in California, he who does not work does not live very long.  You gotta understand: they're rebuilding the state.  They don't go to all the trouble of importing slaves just so their own people can stay home and jerk off.  Everybody works so California can get rebuilt.  The only thing they don't do is grow food.  That's because the number one priority is rebuilding the technology.  You noticed maybe there's no light at night.  They have some electricity, but not yet enough to keep the state lit at night.  They will though, and soon."

"You mentioned slaves," Joey said, remembering what the old man had said - but still hoping he had simply heard wrong.

"All the way from Africa!" his cell mate exclaimed.  "That's why we love it when the sailors are in town!  It means they've just brought a new load of slaves to work the fields!"

"Why not have the vagrants work the fields?" Joey suggested.  "That way they won't need slaves."

"Vagrant: he who refuses to work.  That's a definition don't play at City Hall.  You can force a slave to work, but you ain't gonna get a good day's work out of a lazy man!  So you might as well take him out and shoot him and be done with it!"

"What are you in for?" Joey asked his cell mate.

"Rape, murder, a little thievery - you name it!  Everything but vagrancy!  That's why I'll go free one day while the rest of you are pushing up daisies!"

The thing about his captivity that made Joey the most uncomfortable was the food.  Not its quality or content but its manner of delivery.  Twice a day he stood in a long line; and when it came his turn, whatever was being served that day was thrown on his plate, then he moved along to let the next prisoner be served.  He would sit at a long table with twenty others and force himself to eat, one slow bite at a time, as if chewing were painful to him.

One of his fellow prisoners, who had noticed his obvious distaste for the food, sought him out one morning at recreation.  "The food here's not all that bad," the man struck up a conversation.

"But it is," Joey corrected the observation.  "Not the taste," he hastened to add, "but the way it gets to us."

"You mean, the way they slop it onto our plates?"

"That it's given to us - given to us," Joey stressed.  "For forty years I've had to work for every bite - literally work most of the time, just to find food.  It feels wrong, to just be handed sustenance.  It's like a slap in the face.  And when I think how it gets to us, it's all I can do to keep from gagging."

"You mean, how it's grown?" the man asked.  Joey nodded.        

"You act like you just found that out," the man observed.

"I did," Joey admitted.  "Just a couple weeks ago, when I got here."

"Where did you think it came from?"

"I'm from the mainland," Joey explained.  "I never knew till I got here, and got arrested, and talked to my cell mate. There are no slaves on the mainland."

"It bothers you?"

"Yes, of course it does.  How could it not?"

"It doesn't bother most people."

"Maybe they think because it frees them to rebuild the state that justifies it," Joey speculated.  "But it doesn't.  We rebuilt the Ohio Valley, but not with slave labor."

"What are you doing in California?"

"It's a long story," Joey smiled.  "With an abrupt ending," he added.  The man looked at him questioningly.  "I'm a vagrant," Joey told him.

"I didn't know," the man said.  "I'm sorry.  And you're not a vagrant, just a wanderer.  But you don't seem bitter.  I take it you're ready to meet your maker."

"Yes, I am."

"But not overly eager," the man prompted.

"If I could, I would choose to live," Joey said.  "I've never had a cause before - at least not one of my own choosing.  They've always been other people's causes, which I adopted as mine."

"And you have one now?"

"I do.  Helping free the slaves, and the vagrants."

"Don't assume they go together," the man said.

"But they do," Joey insisted.  "The one's fate is tied to the other's."

"Will you do me a favor?  Will you stick with me awhile?  I want to show you something."  Joey agreed.  The man led him among the other prisoners.

"I know pretty much which are the vagrants," he told Joey.  "Though I didn't have you pegged for one.  There's a simple test - I've used it before."  The man went up to several inmates, randomly chosen from among the vagrants, presenting each with the same scenario.

"Someone offered to bust me out of here if I'd agree to help free the slaves," the man told the vagrants.

"Who is he?" he vagrants responded.  "I'll turn him in, maybe get a reward."

"I don't know, it was dark.  All I know is he's trying to recruit.  He thought I was a vagrant.  He offered me life if I'd help him."

"I'd rather be dead than lift a finger to help a single nigger!" the vagrants insisted.  "'Cause they belong right where they are!  Besides, if they catch you trying to free slaves, they'll kill you you on the spot."

"But you're gonna die anyway."

"At least I'll die with a clear conscience, knowing I didn't help set no slaves free!"

When the conversations with the vagrants were over, and the inmates were being led back inside, the man leaned closer to Joey and said "Convinced yet?  They don't want any part of it.  You can't save a man who doesn't want to be saved."

The inmates always had a premonition when their time was at hand.  There was a sense of panic in the air, generated by those who had been arrested around the same time as Joey.  They could sense that the guards would be coming any day now to lead them, or drag them, away, as they had seen them do to countless others during their stay at Folsom.

At breakfast Joey sought out the man he had encountered a few days earlier.  "Ask them now if they'll help free the slaves," he half taunted.  "A couple days ago they felt safe, their own deaths were still distant.  Ask them now, now that it's upon them."

When the meal was over, and the prisoners were led to the courtyard for recreation, the same scene that played a couple days ago played out again, with the same result.  Joey was devastated by the vagrants' reactions; he felt somehow betrayed.

"You believed in them," the man said.  "But what about you?  If they won't trade dying for helping free the slaves, will you?"

"I've already said I wish I could help," Joey reminded his fellow inmate.

"Then do it," the man prompted.  "I can get you out of here, to safety - if you'll agree to it."

"But not them?" Joey asked.

"There's a lot at stake," the inmate explained.  "We risk our lives every time we free a slave - and every time we help a prisoner escape.  We have the right to be selective who we risk our lives for.  So, are you in, or not?"

"I'm in," Joey agreed.

"Then be prepared," the inmate told him.  "You'll be contacted sometime tonight.  You'll be given specific instructions.  Read them, memorize them, and follow them to the letter."

Joey looked at him questioningly.  "You wonder why I don't just give you the instructions now," the inmate observed.  "They're already suspicious of me," he explained.  "Whey they find you missing, I'll be questioned just because I'm standing here with you."

"Then it's too dangerous for you to help me," Joey concluded.

"My job isn't to help you but to recruit you.  After recreation, my job's done.  Others will take it from there."

Joey never saw the inmate again.  At supper, carrying his tray back to the table he usually ate at, he bumped into another inmate, who grabbed him threateningly and shouted in his face "Why don't you watch where you're going, vagrant!"  As the inmate released him and let his hands slide down from his collar, Joey felt a slight pressure against his chest.  Feigning to straighten his shirt after the altercation, he felt his pocket and, just as he suspected, there was a slight bulk where there had been none before. 

As he ate his supper, he tried to devise a strategy for reading the note that had been slipped to him.  He knew he could not wait till returning to his cell for the night; by the time his cellmate would fall asleep, there would be too little light to read by.  Nor could he risk reading it in the bathroom, since there were no stalls and always a guard standing watch.  His only chance was to feign illness and hope to be taken to the infirmary; he had heard how understaffed the prison hospital was, and that the sick were left unattended for hours at a time before they were treated.

The moment he finished eating, he let out a loud groan and fell to the floor, clutching his stomach while rolling back and forth.  A crowd gathered around him.  A guard came and ordered two of the inmates to help him to his feet.  He stood there, bent double, barely held upright by the inmates.

"Can you walk on your own?" the guard asked him.

"No...I don't know...oh God it hurts...help me...please help me...I can't make it alone...."

"You two," the guard ordered the inmates holding Joey, "help him to the infirmary.  And don't try anything.  I'll have a gun on you the whole time.  Now move it!"

Joey was taken to the infirmary and laid on a cot in a large room.  Then the guard marched the inmates who had brought him in back to their cells.  Joey managed to case the room as he was being led to the cot.  He rolled around a couple times, adjusting his body so he could only be seen from the back; then he carefully took out the note he had been slipped and read it, committing every word to memory.  Finally, he ripped it into small pieces and began eating them, a few at a time, until all the pieces were gone.  Two hours later he was examined and, the doctor finding no cause for his attack, released him to another guard, who escorted him back to his cell.

"Enjoyed your performance," Joey's cellmate congratulated him.  "A true Hollywood experience."

"They didn't find anything wrong," Joey responded, ignoring the accusation.

"What a surprise," his cellmate observed.  "Look, I know you can't say what's going on.  But don't worry, I'm not a snitch.  I just want to warn you: be careful.  Watch your back.  You're not the first they've recruited - but you might be the last.  The law's closing in on them.  Their days are numbered.  That's why they can only recruit do-gooders and out-of-towners - and you're a bit of both.  Even the vagrants - even the ones scheduled to get it tomorrow - would rather take their chances here than out there, helping to free slaves.  If they break you out tomorrow - and I'm thinking it's on for then - they'll have you out there tomorrow night standing watch for them.  'Standing watch' means you'll be shot first and they'll hear the shots and make their escape - with or without the slaves they came to rescue.  Trouble is, the law's wise to them.  Lately they don't shoot first and ask questions later - they slit your throat, so those you're 'Standing watch' for won't get any warning.  Recruits generally live three days, if they're lucky - and that's it.  So, like I say, watch your back."

The next morning, at six A.M., the inmates in Joey's wing were marched to the showers, as they were every morning at that hour.  They undressed and walked through the showers in single file.  Each inmate was given three minutes to lather up and two minutes to rinse off.  At the precise second Joey was finished, an altercation broke out up ahead, followed immediately by a second one toward the rear of the line.  Joey stepped into a small alcove between two rows of showers and grabbed hold of a rope hanging from an eight foot wall partitioning the rows; the partition was exactly two feet wide.  He quickly climbed to the top, pulled up the rope, then laid as flat as he could, holding his arms close to his body.  He laid there until the last inmate had showered and the last guard had gone.  Then he climbed back down and ran to a second alcove at the far end of the shower, where another rope was hanging from an air duct near the ceiling.  He climbed this rope, forced the vent open and climbed into the duct, pulling the rope behind him before closing the vent.  He crawled through the duct until coming to a second duct perpendicular to the first.  He turned to the left and continued crawling until coming to a third duct.  Just beyond the junction was a vent.  He opened it and, finding a third rope, began climbing down. 

The room was dark, except for a long sliver of light where a door stood slightly ajar at the far end of the room.  He walked to the door, opened it, and stepped into a long hallway interspersed with a series of windows, each covered in heavy steel grating.  He counted his way down the hall to the sixth window, where he jiggled the grate until it came loose.  He set the grate down, opened the window, climbed part of the way through, then reached down to retrieve the grate, carefully placing it back in the window frame before climbing the rest of the way down and shutting the window from the outside.  He stood with his back pressed hard against the wall, carefully working his way along its stone facing, which felt like ice against his skin in the early morning chill.  Finally, he came to the end.  He crouched down behind a bush, waiting for a signal.  Five minutes later, his legs beginning to grow numb from crouching and from his body's shivering, he saw a burst of light.  He arose and ran toward a small stand of trees where the light originated.  Passing quickly through the trees, he came to a small ravine.  He got down on his belly and crawled through an ice cold stream until he came to a ten foot high chain link fence topped with barbed wire.  There, the ravine dipped below the fence.  He crawled under and continued crawling through the ravine for another fifty yards.  Then he got up and ran another hundred yards through an open field, finally coming to a thick stand of trees.

He quickly disappeared into the woods and came to a halt; this was as far as his instructions could take him.  He waited several minutes before being approached by three men, who led him through the woods to a small cabin.  He was taken inside and given, first, a towel to dry off with, then a change of clothes.  When he was dressed, he was given breakfast, after which he was given new instructions.                                        

"We'll be leaving here in exactly thirty minutes," one of the three men told him.  "We head north - almost to the end of the island.  We're on our way to Sutter, to free as many slaves as we can.  You'll be given detailed instruction half an hour before we get there."

The town of Sutter lay approximately forty miles north-northwest of Folsom Prison.  At the rate of ten miles an hour, Joey and the three others arrived at their destination four hours after leaving the cabin.

"Here's our target," one of the men said after unfolding a map of the Sacramento Valley.  "There are fields throughout this valley.  It's this one we're after this time - right here, halfway between Sutter and Colusa.  It's on the banks of the Sacramento just below the Butte.  We're set up for five P.M. sharp.  You'll stand watch," Joey was told; "the three of us'll go on.  Just beyond the field's a shack where the slaves are kept.  Five o'clock's supper time.  They all return to their shack.  They get thirty minutes.  There are two guards, but the guards take turns eating, so there's only one on duty at five.  We'll have fifteen minutes till the second guard gets back from his supper.  That's when we make our move.  If you see or hear anything suspicious, you come warn us.  Got that?"

Joey nodded yes.  The four of them proceeded the rest of the way to the field.  When they reached the edge, they could see the slaves disappearing into the shack and one of the guards heading eastward across the field to another structure - a small stone tower shaped like a lighthouse.  When the guard entered the tower, the three men started across the field; they managed to slip behind the shack unnoticed, two of them going around to surprise the guard from the northern end while the third came at him from the southern end.

Suddenly there was gunfire.  Not realizing at first where it came from, Joey turned, just in time to see a man coming at him from behind with a knife in an outstretched hand.  The man was caught off guard, not expecting his victim to turn at the last minute.  Though he quickly regained his composure, the split second he faltered was enough to give Joey the advantage.  Joey grabbed his arm and managed to wrestle the knife from him.  He would have let the man escape had he not started across the field to the shack where, by now, Joey realized the gunfire had originated.

"I'm sorry," Joey said as he plunged the knife into the man's neck.  As the man fell, gagging blood, a gun dropped from under his jacket.  Joey picked it up and took off running toward the shack, leaving the man to die.

Rounding the shack, Joey fell to the ground and began firing at not one, or even two, but three guards standing over the bodies of the men who had brought him here to help free the slaves.  Before a single shot could be fired back, all three guards reeled from their wounds and began to stagger away.  Once again, Joey would have let them escape; instead, all three turned back to him and raised their guns.  He fired a second round, this time fatally wounding all three.  Joey went among them, retrieving their guns plus the keys to the shack.  He unlocked the door and held up his hand to halt the slaves from fleeing.

"There's another guard," he warned, pointing to the tower.  "I've got to get him somehow first.  Stay here."

One of the slaves took hold of Joey's shoulder and stopped him.  "You've got four guns," the slave pointed out; "and you're headed out by yourself.  We honor you - all of us - for what you've done.  But don't dishonor us by assuming we can't help you."

"Four of us become too easy a target," Joey answered.

"Then two of us will go," the slave, in turn, answered.

Joey nodded and handed the man two of his guns, then he began to size up the field to determine the best strategy.

"How long have you been in this field?" the man asked Joey, who looked at him incredulously.  "I'm not making small talk," the man explained.  "I'm pointing out the obvious: I've been here over four years.  Let me get us over to the tower."

The man led Joey to the opposite end of the field, to the very bank of the Sacramento.  Stepping down a few feet, the two made their way northward, until they came to an irrigation ditch which ran along the northern perimeter of the field.  Crouched inside the ditch, they now headed eastward, till they were on the far side of the tower.  There, they encountered a second irrigation ditch, shallower than the first.  This time they crawled until they came to within a few feet of the tower.  Springing from the ditch, they bolted to the tower and stood flat against it to avoid a sudden hail of bullets.

"He has to reach out and bend down to hit us at this angle," the man told Joey.  His words were barely out when a shadow appeared above, growing longer as the guard stretched to position himself for the kill.  When the shadow stopped moving, both men at the base of the tower whirled and fired up at it, each getting off three rounds before the shadow began moving again, growing longer again as the guard teetered perilously on the window ledge before plunging headlong to the ground.  The fall broke his neck.  Joey and the man who helped him rout the last of the guards started across the field, then Joey turned back.

"Let's see what's in the tower," Joey suggested.  "There might be something we can use."

"Unless there's ship in there," the man rejoined, "there's nothing any of us can use."

"But maybe something I can use to help free more slaves," Joey said.

The man accepted Joey's argument and accompanied him to the tower, where they collected a handful of weapons apiece before leaving.  On their way back across the field, Joey asked the man if he and the others needed any of the weapons - his question framed more as a statement of fact.

"We had weapons in Africa," he told Joey.  "They didn't save us.  We were taken anyway.  Some of us were killed.  My son among them.  No, we don't need weapons to get home with - only to get killed with.  We'll use cunning, and our newfound understanding of this land, to keep from being re-captured."

"You lost your son?" Joey couldn't help pursuing the man's admission.

"He was killed in the woods before the slavers even reached our village," the man said.  "I saw him lying there, covered with ants, as they led us from our homes.  I tried to brush them off his face, just to get a last look at him, but they pulled me along.  Then a boy came behind me and brushed the ants away.  One of the slavers.  No older than my son.  I could sense he was troubled by the ants.  He's still out there, taking slaves, I'm sure.  I want to return home to bury my son, though the ants have eaten him long ago."

"How will you get there?" Joey asked.

"I'll stow away on one of the slave ships.  They won't even know I'm there.  No one goes near the hold till it's time to fill it with their cargo."

"The ship that brought you?"

"No, not that one," the man said.  "The boy I told you about would know I was there."

Joey thought a moment.  "What would he do?" he asked.

"I don't know," the man admitted.  "He might report me, or he might feed me - only to capture me again some day.  I think with him it's the sport, not the commerce - that's what makes him so dangerous."

"Would you kill him if you had the chance?"

"I would kill him," the man answered.  "But with honor, not as if he were a monster without a soul."

"I shouldn't care," Joey confessed.  "I killed four men today - one in cold blood.  Yet I wish it were possible for this boy to live.  I lost my son too.  He was carried off and eaten by a lion -"

"Lion?" the man asked.

"We have lions too," Joey answered.  "Mountain lions.  You wouldn't see them on the plains or in the valleys.  My wife couldn't accept my acceptance of his fate.  It was God's will - just as it was God's will that your son should be eaten by ants.  And if it's God's will, then this boy you spoke of will die at your hands."

"Is that why you rescued us?  To do God's will?" the man asked.

"I didn't see it that way when I started out," Joey admitted.  "When I first heard about slaves a couple weeks ago, I wanted to do something.  Then when I was broken out of prison, I had no choice.  They broke me out so that I could help them.  I lived on the mainland.  I had a cabin in the mountains."

"Is that where your son died?"

"Not those mountains," said Joey.  "I came home to these mountains, to live out my life where I had been at peace once.  But I had an urge to see these islands - I couldn't resist it.  It was God calling me.  He brought me here to free you."

"Will He reward you?"

Joey thought a moment before answering.  "I hope not," he said.  "Because I don't want this to be for me."

"And yet," the man said as they reached the shack, "your God will reward you - like it or not.  Because He doesn't care if you wish to be rewarded - He only cares if you deserve to be."                                                    

Stone Creek knew he would have to rebuild his army from the ground up.  Even with the agreement he managed to forge with the outlaws, he saw at once that they were no longer an effective fighting force; that they had begun to fall back into their old ways; that their natural inclination toward factions had re-emerged as the dominant social dynamic, already threatening his plans to create a force capable of invading the Carolinas.  He was having great difficulty even motivating them - not because they had grown weary of war or because their numbers had dwindled to where they were reluctant to fight but simply because no threat strong enough to re-unite them existed.  They had no common enemy; even the Carolinians who still remained in Kentucky and still marauded their territories posed no real threat to them.

"I have to make them see that what happened once can happen again," Stone Creek told his grandson.  "Their only safety is in defeating the Carolinians before they begin migrating all over again - which they will, and probably soon."

"But they've agreed to do just that," Cade pointed out.

"Agreed in principle," Stone Creek noted.  "It still remains to dislodge their penchant for gangs with that principle.  But it won't be easy.  It's more than second nature to them, more than their chosen way of life.  It's as if God had personally handed them - and them alone - His eleventh commandment: Thou shalt sow the seeds of discord amongst thine own kind.  They see unity as the work of the devil; maybe it's a carryover from the 'Better dead than red' mentality that took root here a century ago.  The 'Commies' - and all the bad guys - want to unite you so they can enslave you; but as long as you're at each others' throats, you're safe.  Divide and stay free; unite and be enslaved.  I'm no Henry, Cade.  I have no illusions that people will do the right thing simply because it's in their interest to do so.  They must be coerced, or else tricked, into doing it.  The first works better, but I'll have to make do with the second."

Stone Creek worked for months trying to convince the outlaws to take the threat he presented seriously enough to set their petty squabbles and gang warfare aside and begin planning to invade Carolina.  They went through the motions, day after day training, side by side, for the campaign.  But at day's end they always stepped back into their old ways, each conscript returning to his own gang, all the day's efforts sliding from his back like a pair of overalls slipped on with torn straps.  Each new day's bivouac began with fewer recruits than the day before.  No one bothered asking where they were - least of all Stone Creek, who expected to stumble upon their remains during maneuvers.  It looked as if nothing would ever halt the outlaws' descent back into their old ways or transcend their growing fragmentation.

Then, as if in answer to his prayers, Stone Creek's maneuvers became increasingly difficult and dangerous.  Most of the maneuvers were training exercises, pure and simple; but some became actual battlefield experiences as pockets of Carolinians who had survived the natural disasters were attacked and captured, killed or routed.  In the early stages of training, these battles were as uneventful as they were rare, never more than a few casualties among the recruits.  But toward the end of summer, the equation began to change.  The foreigners offered greater resistance, claiming many more casualties, occasionally managing to beat back the attack.  At first, Stone Creek didn't know quite what to make of it.  He hesitated dismissing it as evidence of his army's lack of unity; yet he assumed it had to be the result of his soldiers' nightly forays.

Then something happened that put the whole thing in perspective.  On September 15th of 2093 - a Tuesday - a platoon on a routine training exercise at the old Perryville Battlefield near Danville in Boyle County, some sixty miles northeast of their base at Mammoth Cave, was attacked.  Every soldier in the platoon was killed and skinned, all fifty skins draped over headstones in Perryville National Cemetery.  When the platoon failed to return at the end of the three day exercise, Stone Creek personally led a scouting party to find them.

"If they're alive," he told the other scouts in his party, "they won't be when we get finished with them.  There can be no disregard of orders."

When the scouts arrived and saw the carnage, Stone Creek knew right away what had happened.  "This is the work of newcomers," he reported to his scouts, and to his entire army upon his return to Mammoth Cave.  "The Carolinians who remained after the war didn't do this.  They've lost their edge, otherwise we'd have more trouble rounding them up.  They've never once attacked our platoons, no matter how small.  The migration from Carolina has begun again.  We've got to stop it before it overruns our territory."

Stone Creek finally had the motivation he needed to unite all the outlaws into a single fighting machine.  He ordered the skins of the slain recruits to be left on the tombstones of Perryville Cemetery; and, to make sure his men never forgot who their enemy was or why, he scheduled periodic exercises at the Battlefield.  The mutilation of the Cemetery Platoon, as it came to be known, motivated the outlaws so successfully that they grew restless for the invasion to begin.  But as eager as his men now were to invade Carolina, Stone Creek kept postponing the invasion until he was satisfied they were ready for such a campaign.  Every day he was asked when the invasion would begin; every day he gave the same response.

"When we can capture a band of Carolinians without suffering a single casualty, then we're ready," he told anyone who asked.

The skirmishes grew more frequent and more violent as his men endeavored to prove themselves ready for battle, actively seeking out the Carolinians - especially the newcomers - where before they only engaged the enemy when they encountered him - during their training exercises.  As the months wore on, even though they still failed to effect a single rout without suffering casualties, the outlaws slaughtered so many Carolinians that Stone Creek began to wonder if there would be enough left to shield his men on their way to Carolina.  He dared not dissuade his men from fighting, since that's what they were training for, nor could he order them to jeopardize their own lives by taking more prisoners, since he himself had thrown down the gauntlet - yet neither could he allow the carnage to continue.  He had no choice but to countermand his own terms and let the battle began before his army had met the criteria he had set for them.  He was prepared to concede the point to his men when a sudden turn of events rendered concession irrelevant.        

Just as Mammoth Cave was the command center of Stone Creek's army, the outlying towns had become lookout points.  Beginning due north and working westward, southward then northward again, the towns of Wax, Anneta, Shrewsbury, Sweeden, Roundhill, Brownsville, Rhoda, Smiths Grove, Jays, Park City, Cave City, Horse Cave, Rowletts, Winesap and Cub Run extended like the spokes of a wheel around the perimeter of the cave, each town heavily fortified to fend off any attack on command central.  On the night of June 8, 2094, a heavily armed band floated silently down the Nolin River to the eastern end of Nolin River Lake, where they abandoned their rafts and crept westward the rest of the way to the town of Wax, arriving just after midnight.  They quickly subdued the two sentries posted at either end of town, slitting their throats then stripping their clothes so that two of their own men could take their place.  Then they hid in the bushes until, two hours later, two more sentries came to relieve the first two of their watch.  When this exchange took place in the dim light of the quarter moon, the replacements were killed the same way as the sentries they had come to replace and stripped of their clothes before their bodies were dumped in the woods.  Now the enemy had four of its men in uniform, able to circulate freely through the town in search of the platoon's quarters.

A sudden noise in the night awoke several soldiers; all but one looked out their windows before returning to bed, reassured by the sight of familiar uniforms patrolling the streets of Wax.  Only Cade remained awake, his eyes unable to silence the sound of foreign steps against the pavement.  He began awakening his fellow soldiers, alerting them to what he heard; but the others who had also heard the noise contradicted the insight of his ears with the deception of their eyes.

"It's our men," they assured their fellow soldier.  "They're wearing our uniforms."

"But not our boots," said Cade.  "Besides," he added, "there were four where there should only be two."

"Go back to sleep," the other soldiers dismissed Cade's report and returned to bed.

Cade ignored their advice and remained alert, listening for the sound of feet approaching the general store that served as his platoon's quarters - a sound only seconds away as the enemy silently massed behind the store.  The enemy's scouts, invisible in their uniforms, had seen faces at windows.  Now the enemy was upon the unsuspecting platoon.

Cade heard them and sounded the alarm, but it was to late.  The enemy burst in, guns blazing in every direction.  Half the platoon was killed in the first volley, half the survivors wounded.  Within five minutes the attack was over.  The men of Cade's platoon were rounded up and led outside; those unable to walk were killed where they lay.  Cade, the only one standing when the attack began, was untouched by enemy fire.

The thirteen surviving members of the outpost were herded into a circle and made to strip; each one's hands and feet were tied, then all thirteen were forced to lie down while their hands were then tied behind them.  They lay like that till sunup, unable to move.  When the sun arose, the enemy laid down their guns and pulled out their knives.  One by one they set upon the survivors, skinning them alive where they lay, the screams of each a harbinger to the next of what lay in store for him.  The survivors squirmed and struggled, trying desperately to roll themselves to safety, only to be pulled back into the circle when it came their turn.

Except for Cade.  Like the others, he tried to untie the ropes that bound him; like them also, he couldn't; and, finding himself unable to do that, resigned himself to his fate.  Had he been the only one there, even he would have tried to escape; but the screams of his fellow soldiers held him more tightly in the circle than his ropes ever could.  He wanted desperately to free himself so he could help them; but once he realized that all he could do was listen to their death cries, he grew numb with his own impotence, almost eagerly awaiting his turn, until, finally, all the screams ceased and the enemy came for him.

One of them took hold of his hair and pulled his head back.  "Thought we'd forgot you maybe?" the man asked with a shrill laugh.  All the others joined in the laughter.  "We were saving the prettiest hide for last!" the man said as he spat in Cade's face.  "We'll take it nice and slow so's we don't damage it.  Guess that means you'll be screamin' a lot longer'n the others!  Boys: shall we?"

Cade felt the first cut on his belly, down low, just above his groin.  He felt the blade begin leisurely slicing its way upward, on a slant, following the contour of his body.  He wanted to scream but didn't: they'll be plenty of time for that he told himself.  And because he didn't scream, all he heard was the deathly silent pull of the blade lifting his skin.  His ears were still open to the world around him for the few more seconds he still had before his screams finally filling the circle would drown everything else out.

Suddenly he caught an earful of something only he could hear - something familiar, something coming closer.  Now he did scream - as loudly as he could - so as to drown out the sounds he heard before his captors heard them too.  A few seconds later his screams were themselves drowned out, by a series of sharp cracks, coming from all directions: the report of gunfire.  One by one he heard his attackers drop to the ground, and felt their blood spurting against him, till, finally, he felt the last one - the one whose blade had begun his skinning - pulled away from him.

"Do whatever you want with them," he heard the voice of his Commander in Chief tell his rescuers.  "Use your imaginations."

"No," Cade called feebly to his grandfather.  "Not like that, please.  Let them just be executed for their crimes.  Put no more blood on your hands than you have to."

"Halt!" Stone Creek ordered his men.  "Take them and shoot them.  Don't do unto others as they did unto us."  Then he reached down and helped his grandson up, the blood of Cade's wounds washing over his loins and down his thighs.  Stone Creek led him back to the barracks, to dress his wounds.

"They didn't know our routine," Cade mumbled absently.

"No, they didn't," Stone Creek acknowledged.

Every morning, at sun-up, each outpost sent a runner back to command central to report on the night's activities.  The enemy had no way of knowing that; so they blindly sealed their own fate by waiting for sunup to skin their captives.

"It would have been wrong to butcher them," Cade told his grandfather as his wounds were being tended.

"No," Stone Creek disagreed, "not wrong, just inefficient.  I won't allow World War I all over again.  That was the most devastating war in human history.  It destroyed the quaint illusion that evolved during the Age of Enlightenment that man had finally become civilized, war less barbaric.  I never want to go into battle expecting anything but the most barbaric encounter imaginable.  That's another reason I wanted Henry dead: he was leading his people down that primrose path of lunacy, where everybody was good and kind and only wanted to live in peace."

"Not just his people," Cade countered, "but all people.  And he would have, eventually.  After everything I've seen, and felt, I accept that his way is the way of madness.  But if everyone goes mad, it can become our only reality."  Cade rested a moment as his grandfather wrapped the final layers of bandage around his belly and secured them.

"I know it troubles you that you found me screaming," Cade observed.  "I would have begun on my own in another moment anyway, I couldn't hold out any longer.  But it was for your sake I began when I did, not mine.  I heard your footsteps.  I knew the others would hear too, so I had to drown them out the only way I could.  I'm only sorry you had to find me like that.  They deliberately saved me for last," he went on to say.  "But I can't help thinking if they'd taken me first, you might have been able to save more than just one."

"Be glad they didn't take you first," Stone Creek told his grandson.  "Because if they had, there are no words to describe what I would have made them suffer."

It was another three months before the invasion began.  The attack on Wax had given Stone Creek the excuse he needed to abandon his pre-set conditions; but, even so, he put off giving his men the go-ahead as long as he possibly could in order to give Cade a chance to heal.  Finally, on the morning of Wednesday, September 15, 2094 - the anniversary of the Cemetery Platoon's massacre - he summoned his army and ordered them to gather their weapons and gear.

"We begin our march to Carolina in two hours," he told his men.  "We will take all our prisoners.  They will serve as our shields and our guides across the mountains of Virginia.  They will precede us, clearing the way for us.  It goes without saying they'll try to escape along the way.  All I ask is that you keep as many alive as you can without jeopardizing your lives or our mission.  And, no matter how difficult the mission becomes, or how perilous, always remember what they did to our men.  And if you have trouble keeping it in mind, just look at Cade and he'll remind you."

The army was halfway to the Virginia border before Cade finally identified something that had been haunting him ever since his mutilation at Wax.  It was the unfamiliar sound of the enemy's feet on the pavement outside his barracks.  Yet that wasn't quite it either.  It wasn't the sounds he had come to know over the course of time as his fellow soldiers' footsteps; but neither was it entirely alien sounds.  Then it hit him, as the army was passing through the town of Irvine, some thirty miles southeast of Lexington.

"It's us, not them," he muttered, as if awakening from a dream.  Stone Creek overheard him and, thinking he might be feverish or suffering a flashback, asked if he were alright.

"No," he said, shaking his head.  "I'll never be alright again."

"What do you mean?" Stone Creek asked.

"These prisoners - these Carolinians," he vaguely pointed as he spoke, "they're not who they seem to be.  Or who we think they are.  They may have all migrated from Carolina, but not all of them are Carolinians."

"How do you know?" Stone Creek asked.

"Their footsteps," Cade answered.  "They're not all the same.  Some are different.  Different because I know them.  I've heard them before."

"Then whose feet are they?"

"Ours," said Cade.  "They came from Indiana, not Carolina.  Now I understand why I was so horrified at the thought of your soldiers torturing them.  They were us.  Henry's people."

"Who watched him die and did nothing to save him," Stone Creek reminded his grandson.  "They must have fled to Kentucky, when Indiana drove them away, and joined forces with the Carolinians who migrated here."

"I don't think so," Cade speculated.  "We captured dozens who already lived here, and all of them were the same.  It was only when the last ones migrated here that these footsteps hit our streets.  Our people came here from Carolina, not Indiana.  And they came here recently, not when Henry's mountains drove them out."

"What you're suggesting," Stone Creek pointed out, "is that these same Carolinians who spent a decade fighting the outlaws made friends with our people almost overnight - even migrating to Kentucky with them.  I would sooner believe that the Carolinians killed our people and took their shoes."

Again Cade shook his head.  "It isn't the shoes that make the man, it's the man who makes the shoes," he said.  "I can't express the difference, but I know our people walked differently.  I know they did."

"I guess we'll find out soon enough," Stone Creek resolved.  "Of course we could simply ask them: 'Where are you from, sir?'  But I expect they'd say Carolina even if they were from Timbuktu!"

The closer they got to the mountains of southwestern Virginia, the more agitated the prisoners became - a dynamic not lost on Stone Creek, who had been observing their demeanor from the moment his march to Carolina began.  This was exactly what he expected, their apprehension confirming his suspicion that the trail had been booby trapped.  It was an old Carolina trick that he'd picked up on when he was a T-Man: whenever any of the gangs controlling border areas of Carolina ventured into Kentucky or Tennessee, they would booby trap their route to keep from being pursued back into their own territory.  The difference here, now, was that the traps were set by numerous gangs of migrants, at various times, so that none of them knew how to avoid all the traps.

By the time they reached the Clinch Mountains, with its limited passes, the prisoners began trying desperately to escape; and, failing at that, to slow down the army's pace any way they could - all to no avail.  A third of them were left lying in the mountain passes, either killed outright or maimed so badly they could not continue the march.

And when they saw the Iron Mountains looming on the horizon, with its even narrower passes and steeper inclines, they broke down and pleaded not to be sent ahead - again, to no avail.  They were herded like cattle up the slopes and through the passes, one after another blown to bits by land mines or mangled by steel traps or run through by pits full of stakes, until, by the time the army descended the mountains, only a dozen remained standing to lead the way into Carolina.

They had barely touched Carolina soil when Cade came to a dead halt.  Perceiving his grandson's inertia, when everyone around him was still moving, Stone Creek came up to him to ask what was wrong.  All Cade could do was turn to him and shrug his shoulders before rejoining the forward flow of men and arms.

Darryl was the spitting image of the dead queen.  Having no heirs she deemed worthy of succession, the old dowager took Alice under her wing and groomed her to become the Queen of the Universe.  When she felt Alice was ready to ascend the throne, she lay down one night and died in her sleep in the autumn of her hundredth year.

"He's got her eyes!" Alice exclaimed the moment she saw Darryl, as he was being led to the headsman's block.

"Wait!" she cried out as he was made to kneel and place his head on the block.  "I have a favor to return.  Bring him to my quarters."

Alice had been led to this same stone slab soon after her arrival.  She and Mount Everest were taken prisoners the moment they entered Hoke County, which shared Fort Bragg with neighboring Cumberland County.  They had been observed, along with the mountain lion carrying the child in its mouth, since they first entered Carolina from the west.  They seemed to be following the lion, though keeping their distance.  When the intrusion was reported to the Queen, she simply said "You know what to do."  Her scouts bowed and left, rounding up the intruders just outside Fort Bragg.

Alice and Mount Everest were taken to the walled city on the Lumberton Plain.  They were locked in the dungeon for three days, then taken to the city square, where a mass of spectators had already gathered.  In the center of the square was a three foot high block of solid granite with a shallow groove running through the center; it was stained a deep red, as though it had rusted.  Standing beside it was a burly man wearing a black hood over his face and holding an axe.  Without ceremony, Mount Everest was immediately led to the block.  But Alice stepped between him and the block.

"Ladies first!" she quipped, looking around with a gaze that pierced the crowd and caused the spectators to fall back a few steps.  Then her eyes met those of the old Dowager Queen.  She bowed to the Queen, as best she could with her hands tied behind her, then turned to Mount Everest.

"I began my career having my throat slit," she told him.  "Now I end it having my whole bloody head chopped off!"

Then she turned back to the Queen one last time.  "The boy we followed, I trust his head will remain in the lion's den, wherever that may be.  There cannot be a future without him.  He brings life to a dead world.  Destroy him at your own peril."  Once more she bowed, and knelt before the headsman's block, placing her neck in the groove.  The headsman raised his axe high above his head and stood poised, ready to do his duty.

"Wait!" a voice cried out from amongst the crowd.  "Bring them to my quarters."  The Queen got up and left.  The crowd was dispersed.  The prisoners were led to the palace, to appear before the Queen in her chambers.

The Queen stared at Alice with steel gray eyes deeply set against her brow.  "What did you mean by your warning?" she demanded to know.

"This child was blessed with the gift of life," Alice told the Queen.  "he brings joy to all he meets.  His is neither a good nor an evil soul; it is simply filled with the wonder and the adventure of a knight in search of some unimaginable quest.  He is a warrior and an explorer.  He conquers the world around him that he might better know it.  He has already so captivated the great cat who stole him that she will not release him or let him out of her sight.  When she hunts her prey, she holds him in her jaw until she's ready to spring, then she gently sits him down, kills her prey and eats her fill, then takes him up again in her bloody jaws.  We have followed her from Tennessee.  If she chooses this plain as her home, you must not chase her out or let anyone harm her or her charge.  If you do, you will sentence the world to live out its days in the gray oblivion into which it has sunk.  You have in your power to re-kindle the sacred fire that went out half a century ago."

"No," the Queen replied, "you have it in your power."

Darryl was brought before Alice in chains.  "Release him," she ordered.  The guards who brought him in hesitated.  "Let me state it another way," Alice said; "he who does not move to undo his chains will end up in them himself before the day is out!"  Darryl's chains were taken off.  "Now leave us," Alice ordered.

"But your grace," the guards protested, "this is the leader of the rebellion!  Do not put yourself in jeopardy."

Alice brought forth a knife - the same blade she had carried for almost forty years - and set it on her lap.  "This has saved me from far greater peril than anything I'm ever likely to face again.  Now leave us!"

When the guards were gone, Alice turned to Darryl.  "You want so badly to rule that you would risk hundreds of lives?" she asked.

"I just wanted to go home," Darryl sheepishly replied.  "I didn't know leaving was treason - but I should have!  I should have learned your laws.  I'm willing to pay the price."

"Go home?" Alice repeated as if she had not heard correctly.

"Yes, ma'am," Darryl confirmed.  "A lot of us want to.  They asked me to lead them.  Even some of your own people asked to come with us - that's why we didn't think we were breaking the law."

"Why do you want to go home?"

"We don't belong here, ma'am," Darryl answered.  "Not inside a walled city.  We love Indiana -"

"Paris' town!" Alice exclaimed.

"Yes ma'am.  Only it turned out to be Henry's town.  He found its name: Henryville.  And who know what else, ma'am?  He discovered he was born there, and the whole town picked up and moved to Montana!  You knew him?"

"I knew him," Alice acknowledged.  "I haven't asked anyone about him yet.  I've been pretending I'd forgotten him.  I'm glad it was you I heard about him from.  Did you know him?"

"Only toward the end, ma'am.  He visited me when I was in jail.  He almost cried when he realized we'd grown up together yet he never met me till then."

"Tell me his fate," Alice demanded.

"I wish Cade was here to tell it right," Darryl said.  "Cade stayed behind when we all left.  He was standing guard over Henry's grave.  It was Cade who covered him and pulled the switch that hung him.  He loved Henry more than anyone on earth."

"Not more than everyone," said Alice.

"It's because of Cade I want to go home," Darryl explained.  "He made me leave, but I vowed in my heart to come back, even if it was just to bury him next to Henry.  Please understand, ma'am: I'm loyal to Brad, and I'll do whatever he tells me to.  But he's done things I can't understand how a man could do.  That's another reason I wanted to go home."

"You still can," said Alice.  "The others have been banished.  You could catch up to them."

"Thank you ma'am!" Darryl exclaimed.  "God bless you!  I'll go now if it's alright."

"It's not alright," Alice told him.

"But I thought -"

"I had to know," Alice said to the crestfallen young man.  "You were being duped by your followers.  They were not banished for wanting to go home but for plotting to overthrow our government."

"No, ma'am, that can't be," Darryl protested.  "I swear to God on my immortal soul - no: on Henry's immortal soul, and on Cade's - that they never said anything to me about anything like that!"

"Would you have gone along with it?"

"Of course not!"

"You shall go home," Alice promised.  "But not now - and most certainly not in the company of those cutthroats.  I may even go with you."

"No, ma'am," said Darryl.  "Indiana's buried under water now.  It isn't safe for a Queen to travel there."

Alice laughed.  "If you had only seen half the places I traveled through.  But tell me: where are you from originally?"

"Nebraska," Darryl answered.  "But I wasn't born there.  My folks are from right here.  They were among the first Carolinians who migrated after the great flood."

"Come, let me show you something," Alice led her guest to a smaller chamber, filled with royal mementos.  She picked up a small image, a portrait taken in the days when there were still cameras, and handed it to Darryl..

"That's my great grandma," Darryl announced.  "Mama had one just like it.  She said she couldn't get her grandma to come with us.  She wouldn't leave her home.  Mama always cried every time she talked about her; said she most likely drowned, or else died of some terrible pestilence from the swamp waters that filled the state.  How come you to have this?"

"This was the woman who saved me from the headsman's axe," Alice replied.

"So she didn't die of no plague!  God bless you, ma'am, for telling me that!  I just wish mama was alive to hear it.  She'd have been so happy."

"Why did you pardon him?" Brad asked the Queen of the Universe.  "He was plotting to depose you and take the throne for himself!"

"I have my reasons," was all Alice would say on the subject.

"I will not be so generous if he interferes with my authority," Brad promised.

"Darryl Conner enjoys the protection of the realm," Alice warned.  "Nothing had better happen to him.  Besides, he wishes to go home.  I plan to let him, in due time.  I would go with him if only I could carry my throne on my back.  Otherwise, heaven only knows who I might find seated on it when I returned."

Alice had spoken at length to Andrea and Carol, separately and together.  From them, she learned the details of their escape from Mount Guyot, their journey to Paris' city, their life in Indiana, and their exodus from it.  She managed to maneuver the conversation away from Paris whenever his name was brought up, however; until, finally, a few days after her conversation with Darryl, she was asked point blank why she was reluctant to talk about him.

"I sacrificed him for the sake of another," she told both Andrea and Carol in her chambers.  "I knew he could not succeed without me.  I knew he could only take his people so far.  He could rebuild the world - and did; but not the human heart.  I knew that by leaving him in Joey's care I was sentencing him to a premature death.  You both know what I mean.  The good teaching the good is like the blind leading the blind.  Perhaps I overestimate my own powers.  A soul as great as Paris' is destined for an early grave no matter who advises him."

"Who was this other, that you sacrificed Paris for?" Carol asked.

"I was hoping to wait until he returned," Alice explained.  "But since I brought him into the picture prematurely, I suppose I must now forego my little surprise.  I could not go with Paris because I thought another child needed me more.  As it turned out he didn't.  He was not stolen by she who raised him - he went freely.  He was never intended to be her dinner, but her cub.  I sacrificed Paris for Sandy."

Alice was more shocked in the moment of silence that followed her revelation than either Carol or Andrea - shocked precisely because the reaction she expected from Carol came from Andrea.  Carol remained calm, as if she already knew her son was still alive; but a strange, dazed look came over Andrea's face - even though it was Andrea who in actuality had an inkling that Sandy had survived his abduction by the mountain lion.  Slowly, as the circle of women retreated back from the infinite implications of Alice's revelation, Andrea's composure returned.

"It was him I saw," she said as if pointing out the highlights of a tour.  "Now I understand.  He's the one Brad will fight over Felicia.  Where is he now?" Andrea asked.

"On the ocean," Alice answered.  "He left here five years ago.  He's only been back once.  I don't know when he'll return again -"

"He'll return just in time to see Cade," Andrea said.  "And, when he does, he'll be changed," Andrea predicted.  "His course will reverse itself.  He'll see things he never even dreamed of."

"How was it he came to leave?" Carol asked.

"He needed to go to sea," Alice told Sandy's mother.  "I refused, but she - who cares no more for the Queen of the Universe than for a rag doll - vetoed my refusal.  He signed on board a slave ship."

"What?" Carol demanded.  "Slaves?  How can that be?"

"For California, for the fields."

"No," Andrea shook her head.  "He's never taken a slave in his life," she stated emphatically.  "He's incapable of seeing any human being as a slave.  Whatever he thought he was doing, it wasn't that."                    

The agreement worked out between Alice and Brad was satisfactory to neither of them.  Brad and his people were allowed to remain, though Alice made it clear they could not all stay in her capital city.  They would have to fan out to the other cities of the Lumberton Plain; but under no circumstance was there to be more than half as many of Brad's people as there was of Alice's in any one place.  Brad demanded to know what assurances he had that his people would not be slaughtered.  None, he was told.

"The word is already out that your people are here under my protection," Alice assured him.  "However, my people have worked long and hard to rebuild these cities the great storm unearthed; the slightest threat to them will, I'm afraid, override my authority.  We've taken in people before, in the beginning, and paid dearly for it.  That's why now we destroy anyone who enters our territory.  Your people are the first we've allowed on this plain in a decade.  Their fate is in their hands - and yours."

Brad had no intention of spending the rest of his days as a guest in another's land - and Alice knew it.  She knew that eventually this tenuous accord between them would be broken; but she was counting on his people's becoming comfortable enough with the arrangement, and with their life here, that only a handful would follow him.  This was why she distributed his people among all the cities of the plain rather than allowing them to remain together - a ploy Brad recognized and took steps to circumvent by spending as much time as he could with each separate pocket of his followers.  He knew that without a central figure in their lives they would slowly become absorbed into their separate communities and the link among them would be forever broken.

Brad and Felicia traveled constantly from one city to another, staying at least a day or two in each of the seven cities of the Lumberton Plain.  Brad quickly discovered that, in dispersing his people among her cities, Alice had unwittingly opened a rift that lay smoldering just beneath the surface; his only concern was how best to capitalize on it.

"She ain't one of us!" he heard over and over whenever he brought up Alice's name.  The people who voiced this concern felt comfortable enough with Brad - an outsider and an enemy of the Queen's in his own right - to say to him what they dared not say to anyone else for fear of being reported.  The more he heard it, the more a plan began to form in his mind.  He let it be known wherever he went that one of his most trusted lieutenants was a native Carolinian - leaving to the people to draw the right inference from his revelation.

He began making his rounds to his people barely a week after he agreed to disperse them; within a month, he had planted the idea of a messiah amongst the seeds of discontent he found scattered on the Lumberton Plain.  With each visit, Darryl's star grew brighter; before the winter was out, Alice's people were pleading with Brad to bring Darryl with him.  In the spring of 2094, he acceded to their wishes, explaining to Darryl that he needed his insight to help plan a way to better integrate his people into Carolina society. 

"If I can't get them to accept the ways of these people," he told Darryl, "they're going to leave, maybe move on, maybe return to Indiana."

"Maybe in time we can all go home," Darryl suggested.

"I can never go home," Brad confessed, "not now.  To do that would be to admit I failed my people.  I have to stay here, no matter what.  But you could lead them, they trust you.  Although, this is your home."

"No," said Darryl.  "Indiana's my home - and always will be."

Early in April, during an unusually warm spell, with the trees beginning to green, flowers starting to bud, birds chirping and frogs croaking constantly in the distance, Felicia decided not to accompany Brad and Darryl to the city they were visiting, a city only a couple miles from the Cape Fear River.  She explained that she wanted to explore the countryside and, especially, the river bank and would join them later that evening.  Brad was reluctant to leave her by herself.

"Then stay here and explore with me," she offered.  He looked around, but the only thing he saw worth exploring was the city up ahead, with his people holed up inside, slipping farther from his reach with each passing day.

"Just be careful," he said.  "We don't know enough about this place yet to know its hidden dangers."

Brad and Darryl set out for the city, leaving Felicia standing on the river bank.  She gradually walked her way upstream as far as White Oak, an abandoned town along State Road 53, which paralleled the river, and Suggs Mill Pond, a couple miles to the northeast.  It was beginning to grow dark when she started back toward the city.  The sky was cloudless, the light from the moon and stars guiding her way downstream.  She thought she heard something rustling in the woods around the Pond, something she had heard before; but the croaking of the frogs soon drowned it out.  She heard it again, the same rustling at Jones Lake, then again in a stand of trees a couple miles beyond.  She noticed that every time she heard it the birds ceased their chirping.  Whatever it was seemed to be following her. 

She came to a clearing, surrounded by woods on three sides but open along the river bank that bounded its western side.  She followed the bank until coming to a hill; and though she could easily have crossed it, something about it made her go around.  When she had cleared it, the city rose up before her, no more than a couple miles ahead.  She picked up her pace then suddenly came to a dead halt.  Thinking at first she had snagged her blouse on a hidden tree limb, she turned to try and free herself.  As she turned something reached out and grabbed hold of her, knocking her down then positioning itself on top of her so quickly and in such a way that she couldn't move her arms or legs.  The moon shone directly on her face, silhouetting whatever had pinned her to the ground.  The shadow covering her was large with a huge head accented by pointed ears.  It lowered its head as if to sink its teeth into her throat.  Before  it broke her skin, its shining green eyes met hers, and it froze, staring pointedly into her eyes; only then did it gently sink its teeth into her skin in the exact place it had already marked.  Then it slowly backed away.  Felicia arose from the ground.  She turned in time to see it bound away toward the hill she had gone around a few minutes earlier.  It stopped a moment beside what appeared to be an opening on the southern side of the hill, looking back at her once more before disappearing into the hillside.  She wrapped her blouse tightly about her throat, covering her wound, and slowly walked the rest of the way to the city.        

She told no one about the attack, partly because she knew Brad would never again let her explore the plain; but mostly because she didn't wish to share what happened with anyone else.  It was hers alone, a special gift given only to her, not to be passed around to others.  Whenever anyone asked about the marks on her throat, which she managed to conceal most of the time, she said that she had fallen in the woods and caught her neck somehow in a brier patch.  It was only when Alice happened to see the marks, which had nearly healed by then, that her secret was out.

"She's chosen you," Alice told her in private.

"How do you know?" Felicia asked.

"She's killed many of my people through the years," Alice related.  "She's never spared a single one she's caught - till now.  She knows you're the one.  She's given you to her son."

Neither Carol nor Andrea had told anyone about Sandy.  They saw no reason to, since he had no significance to anyone but them - not even Brad or Felicia.  And because they hadn't told anyone, Alice's words were a complete mystery to Felicia.  She could only ponder what they meant.  She had been given to a mountain lion's son - saved for that reason alone.  Yet who was he, where was he, and how did the lion know he would accept her, or she him?  Was that why the lion attacked her a second time? to remind her who she now belonged to?

Alice perceived Felicia's puzzlement, but chose not to unravel the mystery surrounding her words.  She said only that everything would be revealed in its own time.                                                    

"How will you find a ship that's not a slave ship?" the African asked Sandy.

"I'll find a commercial vessel," Sandy replied.

The men who had tied Sandy to a tree in the center of their village, only to find him untied and asleep the next morning, looked at one another in puzzlement.

"The only commerce I know of is the slave trade," the man who once watched Sandy brush ants off his dead son's face observed.

"There are other fleets sailing the ocean," Sandy insisted, but all the men shook their heads.

"There are only the cities of the west," the freed slave assured him.

"Cities of the west?" Sandy asked.

"The great boats that go to the western ocean, to the California islands," the man said.  "We call them cities: each boat carries an entire village of our people."

"Then I'll start my own fleet," Sandy told the men.  "The cities of the east, to fight those of the west.  I know where I can find them.  Alice will help me.  Their fleet captures slaves, mine will free them."

"So your calling is to be a pirate," the freed slave observed.

"A pirate?" asked Sandy.

"Someone who sails the sea in search of booty - like our Barbary Coast pirates from your nation's history books.  Sooner or later we all find our true calling.  The man who found me: he had no idea he would end up in the Sacramento Valley killing his own people to help free their slaves."

"Did you tell him about your son?" Sandy asked.

"And about you," the man replied.  "I promised him if I ever found you, I would see that you died a warrior's death.  That's why I couldn't let you be hacked to pieces.  There would have been pride in being killed by the panthers."

"I told them I would be honored to die at their feet," Sandy admitted.  Then he asked if anyone knew of the slave who called himself John.  "He was among the first I helped capture.  I intend to free him if he hasn't already been freed.  He was sent to the San Joaquin Valley to work the fields."

"Then be assured he has not been freed," said the man Joey helped free.  "We were told the security there was much greater than at Sacramento and that no one had ever tried to breach it."

"He will be freed," Sandy swore before his captors. 

From where they left him, on the coast between Joal-Fadiout and Nabour to its north, Sandy worked his way to Dakar.  He arrived the morning of Friday, August 27, 2094, three weeks after he was lost at sea and washed ashore.  He wandered through the streets, but not aimlessly; his sole purpose was to seek familiar ground.  By mid-afternoon he stood on the wharf where the lifeboats always docked and where the Monterey Bay loaded its cargo.  The wharf was empty, so was the warehouse where the trucks were unloaded.

Sandy was not looking for a ship to board, only for something to indicate whether his crewmates and Captain had survived the storm that shipwrecked him.  He found nothing.  He would have liked to have gone to Praia, to look there as well for signs of the Monterey Bay; but, even if he found a boat, and as good a sailor as he was, he cold not have navigated his way to the Cape Verdes.  So his only chance was to find someone with a ship and either stow away or sign on board as a sailor.

He remembered something his captors had said, about pirates, and a place they called the Barbary Coast.  He knew they were talking about history; but he reasoned that if the slave trade could return, perhaps piracy on the open seas could also.  He began asking around in the shops and businesses of Dakar; but no one had ever heard of such a place as the Barbary Coast.  Then, as he wandered deeper into the heart of the city, he spied a building that reminded him of a story Alice had told him, about his father being trapped in a library that collapsed around him.  He decided to go in and see if this, too, was a library.  It was.  He asked for history books and maps, finally finding what he was looking for.  Then he left without realizing that he had blindly stumbled upon one of the wonders of the new earth: a library still intact, still open, still being used.

He set out that same afternoon for the Barbary Coast, following the shoreline of West Africa from Dakar, Senegal, northward through Mauritania and Western Sahara into Morocco.  He had gone nine hundred miles on foot and calculated that he would have to go at least another five hundred before entering the region of the Barbary Coast.  His goal was to make Casablanca in the hope of finding ships and perhaps even pirates there; and, if not, to continue on to Tangier.  But, along the way, in the town of Tarfaya, just across the Moroccan border from West Sahara, he found what he was seeking.

Tarfaya was a tiny coastal town on the Atlantic coast.  Sandy had no intention of stopping, though it was late in the day.  His goal was to make Agadir, the largest city in southern Morocco, before the week was out; and only to stop along the way when he needed food or sleep - neither of which he expected to find in Tarfaya.  But he found himself being drawn to the town anyway - not by the town but by the sky.

He had seen magnificent sunsets and sunrises since joining the crew of the Monterey Bay, and always took a moment to look before returning to his duties.  But this particular sunset was more magnificent than any he had ever seen.  He moved as if in a trance toward the western sky, oblivious to everything around, passing like a ghost through the town and its little strip of beach until he came to a promontory jutting out into the ocean.  He climbed the steep cliff, barely able to retain his hold on the rough hewn rocks extending like a ladder from its base.  When he reached the summit, and could go no higher and no farther, he stood transfixed until the sky finally began to fade.

It was only then that he awoke from his reverie to find himself perched, not on a rock but on top of a building.  He looked all around, out upon the endless ocean, back at the town and the desert stretching as far as the eye could see, then at the strip of beach.  He started back down then turned, as if someone had called to him.  He climbed to the top again and crossed the rooftop, a perfectly flat surface, like a roadway, to look down first on one side, then at the front, and finally on the other side.  He saw something sitting in the water at the base of the building.  At first he thought his eyes were deceiving him, showing him what he wanted to see in place of whatever was actually there; but as he stood watching the object bob back and forth against the waves, he knew that what he saw was what was there.  He climbed down, leaping onto the deck of the ship.

Suddenly a man appeared, pointing a gun at him.  He asked the man if he were a Barbary Coast pirate.  The man nodded, noting Sandy's dejection.

"You're looking for pirates?" the man asked.

"To join the crew," Sandy answered.

"Aren't you a bit old for playing pirates?"

Sandy looked at the man oddly, unable to understand the combination of words he used.  "Playing pirates?" he repeated.

"You can't mean you're serious!" the man exclaimed.

"Yes," Sandy assured him.  "I need to get back to California, and a pirate ship is the only way I know of to get there."

"You're from California?" the man asked incredulously.  "But that's impossible," he said.  "We heard California was destroyed - broke off from the continent!"

"It's an island," Sandy told him.  "I sailed on a slave ship till I was washed overboard.  I have to return, to see if the others survived."

"So it's not a pirate ship but a slave ship you're after!" the man observed.

"No," said Sandy.  "I know now it's wrong to take slaves.  I've got to get to the Barbary Coast to see if they still have pirates."

"You're better off heading to the Canaries with us," the man said after a moment's reflection, as he eyed his visitor up and down.  "We're on holiday.  We came ashore to see the Castle - the Dar Mar."

"Is that what this place is?" Sandy asked, looking up at the wall.

"That's exactly what it is," the man said.  "The Castle by the Sea.  Then we thought about heading to Agadir before returning to La Palma.  But I think perhaps we found what we were looking for right here.  Come, let's get you cleaned up a bit and I'll introduce you to my other guests."

"What kind of ship is this?" Sandy asked as the man led him below deck.

"It's a yacht," the man explained.  "Not everything disappeared when the continent was overrun.  A few pockets of civilization held on."

"Overrun?" Sandy asked.

"We call it that," the man said.  "It's our name for everything geological that happened in the last fifty years.  Nature managed not quite to destroy the continent entirely."

Sandy was led to a tub, where water was drawn for him.  When he had bathed and been given a change of clothes, he was led to the dining room.  It was only then, as he stood in the doorway, that he realized the ship was no longer moored at the Castle but already on its way to the Canary Islands.  He turned to his host and asked if they needed help with the sails.

"Ah, that's right!" the man recalled.  "You're quite the sailor, aren't you?  But that's fine, we won't be needing you for that.  You're our guest; we want you to enjoy your stay with us.  Now, come, I'll introduce you to the others.  Listen up!" he called to the dozen people gathered about three round tables.  "This young man has agreed to join us at La Palma.  Do you agree that there's no sense in proceeding to Agadir when the gods have washed such a beauty onto our very deck?"

The twelve guests eyed Sandy up and down, exactly as their host had when the young man first appeared on the deck of his yacht.  Seven of the guests were men, five were women.  "Turn him around," one of the women suggested.

"Would you mind terribly," the yachtsman said as he took Sandy by the arm and gently turned him around.

"Pity he must wear those trousers," one of the men observed.

Sandy stooped down and removed the pants his host had given him after his bath, then walked over, naked from his waist down, and handed them to the man who had spoken.

"I'm sorry," Sandy apologized, "I didn't know these were yours."

"Oh, no!  Quite alright, really, it's quite alright!" the embarrassed guest insisted.  "I didn't mean for you to have to dine without trousers!  Please keep them, and don't mind my silly comments."

Sandy put the pants back on and was shown to a seat, his host explaining that dinner would be served presently.  While waiting for the food to be brought, the other guests attempted to draw Sandy into their conversation.

"You seem quite unabashed," the woman seated beside him noted.

"I don't know that word," Sandy confessed.

"Unashamed," the woman explained.

"About wearing another's trousers?" Sandy asked.

"That, too," the woman owned; "but I was thinking more about your nakedness.  You seemed quite un-self-conscious.  Are you used to standing naked before others?"

"On the ship, when we washed up, we were naked, all of us together," Sandy answered.

"But there were no women," his seatmate pointed out.  "Have you stood naked before women?"

Sandy thought it odd to make such a distinction between men and women, but acknowledged that he had stood naked before women.  Nothing further was said concerning his nudity until after the guests had dined.  Then he was invited up on deck with the other guests, where, once again, it was suggested that he remove his trousers - and his shirt as well.  He promptly obliged.

"You have a beautiful body," he was complimented, to which he replied in the affirmative.  "And very little modesty covering it!" someone else added.

"Do you mind terribly if we, too, remove our clothes?" the yachtsman asked.

"If you're uncomfortable," Sandy replied, "please don't feel you have to ask first."

"Excellent point!" the yachtsman exclaimed as he began getting undressed, all the other guests following his lead.  A moment later, everyone on deck was standing naked.  It was only then, looking around at the other guests, that Sandy finally realized what was so unnatural about this gathering.  He turned to his host, his voice filled with excitement.

"Who's running the ship?" he demanded to know.  "And how are we moving with your sails down?"

The yachtsman broke out in a raucous laughter, joined presently by his other guests.  Slapping Sandy good naturedly on the back, he motioned for him to follow as he led him aft.  He stretched out his arm and said in a booming voice "Behold our wake, lad!  We sail with steam!"

"Steam?" Sandy repeated incredulously, as if he had just been introduced to the most advanced technological innovation imaginable.  He reflected a long time before asking "What is your fuel?"

"We carry coals from Newcastle," the yachtsman said.

Again Sandy considered the statement.  "Coal," he mused.  "Then you have a working furnace: who stokes it?"

"We have a three man crew downstairs in the engine room," Sandy was told.  "You had no steam power?" he was asked.

"There's no coal in California," Sandy explained.

"Ah, but the Appalachians!" the yachtsman observed.  "There's coal aplenty in them thar hills, lad!"

"Then I have to find a way to get to it," Sandy resolved.  "Take me to your furnace!" he insisted.  "I've got to see it!"

"Oh, very well," his host reluctantly agreed.  "But come, let's get dressed first."

"We won't need clothes down there," Sandy speculated.

"Ah, we wouldn't want that beautiful pubic hair of yours singed, now would we?  Better get dressed first."

Hastily, Sandy donned his shirt and trousers, waiting impatiently for his host to do likewise.  Then they went below deck to the engine room.  Sandy was introduced to the three crewmen.  On a sudden impulse, he asked if he could remain in the engine room with the crewmen the rest of the trip.

"I have to learn how to do this, and how the engine works," he explained to his host.  Then, turning to the crewmen as if it was them he had to win over and not his host, he promised not to hinder their work in any way.  Before answering, however, the crewmen turned to their boss, who finally nodded his assent.

"Just for awhile," the yachtsman told Sandy.  "I didn't bring you aboard to stoke the furnace."

Sandy stayed almost three hours in the engine room watching the three crewmen work.  They chatted among themselves in a foreign tongue as they went about their business, every once in a while throwing Sandy a glance, as if to see if he knew what they were saying to each other.  He studied their every movement, paying particular attention to the way they handled the machinery involved in keeping the furnace going.  Then he abruptly left, as the crewmen were whispering among themselves and looking back at him, one of them opening the door to the furnace as if it needed coal when the flames were already shooting from it.

Sandy went in search of his host, finding him in an elegant sitting room beside the dining area.  The other guests were with him, sitting around looking bored until they saw Sandy enter the room.  He pulled his host aside.

"Do you have guns?" he asked.

"That's none of your concern," the yachtsman said.

"You'll need them," Sandy predicted, "and soon.  Your crew is plotting a mutiny."

"Of course they are," the yachtsman acknowledged.  "One gets crewmen where one can.  They're an unsavory lot, usually from the islands - the Canaries, the Azores, the Cape Verdes -"

"Praia?" Sandy demanded. "You get crewmen from Praia?"

"Sometimes," the yachtsman said.  "They're always plotting to take over the ship - that's why they're kept locked up in the engine room most of the time."

"I don't know their language," Sandy explained.  "But I know when men are plotting something.  If I'd stayed, they would have thrown me in the furnace.  I wouldn't have been able to subdue all three so I left.  But I didn't lock the door behind me!  You must get your weapons - now before it's too late!"

"It's already too late!" came from the doorway in a heavy broken accent.  Sandy and the yachtsman both turned to find the three crewmen poised a few feet away, holding their hands behind them.  On a signal from their leader, the three brought their hands around, brandishing machetes, and lunged at Sandy and the yachtsman, standing closest to them.

Both were able to leap aside in time to miss the first assault.  The women in the salon began screaming, the men backing into the corner as two of the crewmen approached them wielding their machetes while the third went after Sandy and the yachtsman, who had managed to escape the salon.  As they were being pursued, the others were being systematically hacked to pieces in the salon.

The yachtsman led Sandy into a small narrow room and slammed the door behind them.  Then, as the door was being kicked in, he reached into a cabinet and produced a couple of rifles.  Sandy grabbed one and swung the rifle butt with all his might just as the crewman was about to strike him from behind.  The crewman flew backwards; Sandy began beating his skull with the gun until he had crushed it.

The yachtsman continued fumbling in the cabinet for bullets.  "They're gone!" he called out to Sandy.  "They must have gotten in here and taken them!"

"Then we'll use our guns as clubs," said Sandy.

The screams coming from the salon were beginning to die down.  The yachtsman started back toward the engine room, but Sandy stopped him.  "We're not safe in there," he said.  "Our best chance is to go topside."    

The yachtsman nodded and led the way up the stairs.  They no sooner reached the deck than they heard the salon door slam, followed by footsteps below deck.  A moment later they heard cries of rage as the battered body of the third crewman was discovered.  Then angry, desperate steps filled the yacht as the two remaining crewmen began looking in every room.

Sandy motioned for the yachtsman to climb the mast with him, but he refused.  "I'll try and distract them," he whispered, going at once to the rear of the boat while Sandy climbed onto the masthead and flattened his body against the crossbeam, fidgeting with the sails.  Seconds later footsteps sounded on the staircase and the door leading from below deck flew open.

The two crewmen crept onto the deck and slowly looked around, one of them pointing aft with his machete.  They both charged the yachtsman, who began swinging his rifle wildly.

Sandy finally managed to untie the rope holding the sail to the crossbeam.  He grasped it firmly with one hand while clutching his rifle in his other hand.  Then, just as the yachtsman was overtaken by the crewmen, he leaped with all his might and swung from the crossbeam, his feet crashing into one of the crewmen, his gun ramming the other.  The yachtsman had just enough time to leap aside as the two bodies lunged forward against the railing.

The yachtsman recovered his balance just as Sandy landed on deck.  The two crewmen whirled around, brandishing their machetes.  As they came around, they were both smashed in the face with a gun barrel.  Stunned momentarily, they regained their momentum before the rifles could be repositioned for another strike.  Seeing that he had no time to swing his rifle as a club, Sandy charged with the gun butt as if it were a sword, ramming it into the crewman's eye.  The crewman screamed, clutched his eye and fell to the deck.  Following Sandy's lead, the yachtsman charged the other crewman, but his gun barrel was deflected by the raised machete, which was now poised to strike him on the back of the neck.  Just as the remaining crewman was beginning his attack, he stopped and began gagging, blood spurting from his mouth.  His eyes rolled sideways to catch Sandy's glistening green eyes then rolled down to Sandy's outstretched hand holding a machete at his throat - his fellow crewman's machete, wrest from the dying man's hand a second before he fell and plunged lengthwise into his throat.  He stood there a moment, staring down at his blood rolling along the blade; then he fell forward.

Sandy and the yachtsman stood looking down at the blood drenched bodies a moment before rolling them under the railing and into the water.  Then they went below deck to assess the slaughter.

All twelve guests had been hacked to death, parts of their bodies scattered throughout the salon.  One by one they were dragged up the stairs, across the deck and, like their killers, thrown overboard.  Finally, the crewman Sandy had bludgeoned to death was taken topside and also given to the sea.    

This done, the yachtsman led Sandy to the bridge, to try and determine where his yacht had ended up.  Checking his navigational equipment and charts, he found the boat only slightly off course.  He righted its direction then proceeded to the next order of business.

"We must either man the sails or stoke the furnace ourselves," he informed Sandy.

"How far are we from land?" Sandy asked.

"La Palma is the westernmost of the Canaries," the yachtsman replied.  "We have maybe two hundred miles."

"The sails should be kept for a longer trip," Sandy recommended.  "I can stoke the furnace," he offered.

"Then that's what we'll do," the yachtsman confirmed their course of action.

It took them a day and a half to reach La Palma as they skirted one after another of the islands comprising the Canaries.  To their north were Fuerteventura and Lanzarote; farther along, to the south, sat Gran Canaria; then Tenerife and Gomera, which they sailed between, with Hierro off to the southwest; until finally they arrived at their destination.  Sandy grew increasingly apprehensive the closer they got to La Palma.  He stoked the furnace ever more fitfully until, by the time they were beyond all the other islands, and even the twelve thousand foot Pico de Teido on Tenerife had faded into the mist, he was hurling so much coal into the furnace that the flames made it impossible for him to shut the door.

Sensing something wrong from the speed of his boat, the yachtsman came into the engine room to see what had happened.  Seeing Sandy take up yet another shovel full of coal, he ran to him, knocked the shovel from his hands and pulled his sweat drenched body from the room.

"Are you mad?" he cried.

Sandy was trembling.  He looked at the yachtsman as if in a daze.  "I don't know," he said.  "I just wanted to keep going," he explained.

"We bloody well would have if I hadn't stopped you!" the yachtsman exclaimed.  "What came over you?"

Again, all Sandy could say was "I don't know."

"Did you mean to pirate my yacht and sail it to California?  Was that it?"

"I don't know," Sandy said a third time.  Then, as he slowly began to unwind, everything started to come back into focus, as if he had had blinders over his eyes.  "I can't navigate," he told the yachtsman.  "Captain Clark was going to show me, but the sails always needed tending.  Was I headed for California?"

"We're still headed for La Palma," the yachtsman answered a little more calmly.

Several hours later, when the yacht pulled into the harbor on La Palma's southeastern tip, the yachtsman found Sandy on deck, staring out at the island, trembling as if caught in a chill breeze.  He put his arm around Sandy, expecting the skin of his back and arms to be cold, but it was almost as hot as when he had pulled him from the engine room.

"Do you have a fever?" he asked.

"No," Sandy replied.

"And you're not cold?"

"No."

"Then why are you trembling?"

"Because I'm scared," Sandy told him.  "I didn't know before that that's what it was.  But now that we're here, I feel it."

"Scared of what?" the yachtsman asked.

"Of this island."

"You mentioned Praia," the yachtsman recalled.  "Did you have a bad experience there?"

"Yes," Sandy admitted.  "I did something very bad.  But that's not why I'm afraid."

"Then why?"

"I'll know when I step ashore."

The yachtsman went and got Sandy a clean shirt then proceeded to secure his yacht against the pier.  After making sure the engine room, bridge and any valuables were under lock and key, he and Sandy disembarked.  The moment their feet touched land, Sandy ceased trembling.  He looked all around, his eyes finally settling on a ridge to the north.

"I'll die by this island's hand," he said in a perfectly calm voice.  "I was afraid because I didn't know why I was afraid.  Now that I know, I'm no longer afraid.  But I have work to do.  I must leave this island before it kills me.  If I ever return, it'll be to die here.  I must find a boat; if only a row boat.  I have to leave here."

"You can't do anything tonight," the yachtsman said.  "Tomorrow we'll find a means of getting you off this island - I promise you.  You'll have to take your chances - and, judging from the way you handled yourself, I'd say you can take care of yourself."

"Against people," Sandy qualified the statement.  "But not against an island."

The yachtsman took Sandy a few hundred feet inland, to a large villa on a hillside.  They went inside, up to a counter at the far end of a long narrow room.

"Ah, Mr. Wainwright!" the man behind the counter said with a heavy accent not unlike that of the three crewmen.  He managed to conceal his surprise at seeing his guest returning from his excursion to the mainland; but the forced smile on his face fooled neither the yachtsman nor Sandy - the one because it was this same concierge who secured his crew for him, the other because he recognized the same quality of deception he had seen on the faces of the cut throats he met at Praia.

"And your other guests?" the concierge prompted.

"They found an alternate route home," the yachtsman answered.  "I'll have to settle for them."

"And your crew - you found them satisfactory?"

"Not as seaworthy as I had hoped," the yachtsman complained.  "I won't be contracting their services anytime soon."

Taking his key from the concierge, the yachtsman led Sandy upstairs to a suite of rooms, offering him his choice of sleeping quarters.  Sandy leisurely strolled through the suite, looking into each room before settling on one.

"You won't insist I share your room?" Sandy asked pointedly.

"No," the yachtsman responded.  "The orgy has been postponed.  You were, of course, to be the main attraction."

"I would have disappointed all of you," Sandy told his host.  "I would not have been able to perform, not after what I did at Praia."

"What did you do?"

"I cut a part of a man off and stuffed it in his mouth," Sandy explained.  "I haven't been able to be with the whores in Praia since then."

"The ladies in my entourage were not whores," the yachtsman protested.  "Nor was it just the ladies who wished to become familiar with you.  Now our little outing is over - for good.  Every year at this season we would set sail for La Palma and either find boys - and sometimes girls - on the island or else on the mainland for our orgies."

"What will you do now?" asked Sandy.

"Get me to a nunnery, I suppose!" the yachtsman quipped.  "But tell me: do you not find our preying upon youths such as yourself wicked?"

"I'm nineteen," answered Sandy.  "I had women from the time I was twelve.  Until that time at Praia."

"So you haven't had sex since then?"

"Not in places like Praia," Sandy admitted.  "But in California, whenever we were docked at Monterey, I'd sometimes find a girl or an older woman I liked."

"But not whores," the yachtsman observed.

"There are no whores in California," said Sandy.  "Everyone either works or tills the fields.  Those who don't are executed."

"You can't mean that literally!"

'There are no idle hands in California.  No one but the sailors who bring slaves are allowed to wander around - and even then, only when they're on shore leave."

Early the next morning, as the yachtsman still slept, Sandy got dressed and went down to the yacht.  Just as he was boarding, the concierge from the villa emerged from below deck.  He had forced the door opened and gone through the boat, attempting to find some sign of the three crewmen.  When he saw Sandy he pulled out a switchblade and flashed it in front of him, then lunged at him.  But Sandy caught his wrist in mid-air and wrestled the knife away from him.  He broke free, leaped over the side of the yacht, and started running along the pier.  Sandy hurled the knife with all his might.  The blade struck him in the back of the neck; he cried out then fell headlong off the pier into the water, still struggling to reach the knife.  Sandy leaped onto the pier and ran to where he had fallen, arriving just as a bloodcurdling scream arose from the water.  He looked down to see the concierge being torn apart by three big sharks which were fighting over the carcass.  A moment later, an eddy of blood trailing behind three retreating fins was all that remained of him.

Sandy returned to his room just as the yachtsman was getting up.  "Been for a morning walk?" he asked.

"I went down to your yacht," Sandy told him.

"And?"

"Everything's secure," Sandy reported.

"Give me a few minutes to get ready and we'll check out," the yachtsman said, tossing Sandy his keys.  Sandy looked at him questioningly as he held the keys in his outstretched hand.  "I trust you," the yachtsman said.  "You didn't really need the keys: you could have easily broken in and stolen the boat if you'd wanted to."

When the yachtsman had gotten dressed and collected his clothes from the closet, he and Sandy came down to the front desk.  They waited a few minutes; when no one showed, Sandy concluded that there had been only one concierge.  "We won't need to check out," he said.

"Why? Did you kill the concierge?" quipped the yachtsman.

"The sharks did," Sandy replied.

"Did you have a hand in their getting him?"

"His hand alone brought him to them," said Sandy.

"So he joins his comrades at the bottom of the sea," the yachtsman observed.  "Pity.  He was a charming man -"

"Fit for an orgy?" Sandy asked.

"Oh, indeed," the yachtsman acknowledged.  "We brought him here a few seasons back, from the Azores.  The owner of this villa liked him so well he kept him on.  You see how he repaid us - by setting us up to be mincemeat.  Pity, though, he was charming, I'll give him that.  By the way, we won't be looking for a boat for you.  We'll take mine.  I've decided to visit the Antilles, perhaps even the states.  But you know: we're at the height of hurricane season.  My generosity may cost us both our lives."                    

The yachtsman's prediction came perilously close to being realized.  His yacht hitched a ride almost from the start of his journey on the northern fringe of a storm that blew up on the Tropic of Cancer then slowly strengthened, pushing his boat all the way across the Atlantic in record time.  He and Sandy both knew they were tempting fate to remain fixed in its grip; almost hourly they debated pulling free, even if it meant having to rely as much on the yacht's engine as its sails.  But they kept postponing their decision, more for the pure adventure of their recklessness than out of any impatience to get to the new world.  Until they reached the Windward Islands.

The storm sat stationary on the fourteenth parallel, two hundred miles due west of St. Lucia.  Realizing his ship was going nowhere, the yachtsman sent Sandy below to begin stoking the engine while he lowered the sails.  No sooner were the sails lashed to the mast than a tremendous gust caught the boat from behind and spun it completely around.  In the engine room, the shovel full of coal Sandy was preparing to throw into the barely smoldering furnace was hurled from his hands.  He quickly shut the furnace door so as not to allow any heat to escape, then ran topside.  He found the yachtsman clinging precariously to the railing at the rear of the boat.  He held fast to the railing and pulled the yachtsman back onto the deck, after which he ran to the sails and began untying them.

"Have you gone mad?" the yachtsman tried to stop him.

"It's too late to escape the storm!" Sandy shouted back.  "The engine's useless now.  All we can do is ride it out.  I know what to do with the sails to keep from being capsized."

The yachtsman thought a moment before agreeing to do it Sandy's way.  "First turn us around!" he demanded.

Sandy began working the sails, moving each higher an inch at a time while maneuvering all three first a hair to the left, then the right; then lowering one, then quickly raising it, while lowering another; then letting all three billow a few seconds before shifting them again, first seaward, then to the port; finally lowering all three at once.  When he was finished, the ship had been righted and was trailing westward again.  He paused a moment, looking around to make sure the yachtsman had not been washed overboard by the waves crashing over the deck; then he returned to his work - the real work, the work of riding out the storm instead of being swallowed up within it.

For the next six hours, virtually non-stop, Sandy kept the sails synchronized with the howling winds.  Then he heard a voice cry out to him "Land Ho!"  He left off his work long enough to look westward.  Straight ahead, half a mile off, was the island of St. Lucia.

Sandy veered the ship suddenly to the south.  The yachtsman, thinking he had lost control, rushed to his side to help him regain control before they were swept past the island and deeper into the storm.  But Sandy motioned the yachtsman away, maneuvering the sails one by one until he had brought the ship parallel to the coastline, after which he kept a course due south then south-southwest as the island tapered toward its southernmost point just beyond Vieux Fort.

In Sandy's mind was the island of Barbados, with its Kitridge Point jutting far out into the ocean.  He looked for some similar point along the shoreline of St. Lucia, taking valuable time away from securing the yacht to seek out something that would buffer it against the surge.  Though the winds were barely above hurricane strength, the way they were acting told Sandy the storm was shifting, undergoing not merely a change of direction but a change in intensity, so that when the surge hit, instead of being a couple feet, it would be a monstrous wave at least ten feet high.  He intended to find a place that would offer the surge as little resistance as possible.

Almost an hour later, sailing at a right angle to the wind and almost careening out of control every moment, the yacht came to within a few hundred yards of two small islands a quarter mile or so east of the mainland.  These were the Maria Islands.  Sandy made for the southernmost of the two, maneuvering the yacht into a small cove on the island's western side, where he managed to moor it.  When he felt it was as secure as he could make it, he announced to the yachtsman that they would ride out the storm there.

"Wouldn't it have been better to have gone to St. Lucia?" the yachtsman asked, adding that they were quite vulnerable backed against this tiny piece of rock.  "I've weathered stronger storms in the Channel," he noted.  "Why put ourselves needlessly at risk here when there's a whole island a stone's throw away just waiting to protect us?"

As if answering for Sandy, the wind picked up all at once and the thick gray clouds overhead grew black.  The yachtsman was almost blown overboard.

"The island would be our death trap," Sandy told him as he helped him regain his balance.  "The surge would wash us away, no matter how far inland we got.  Whereas this tiny reef will bend in the wind as the surge roars past.  My greatest concern is that we'll be washed away by the undertow - that's why I dared not land on the other side.  As it is, I know we'll run aground onto the reef.  If your boat is strong enough, it'll survive; if not, it'll collapse around us and we'll be washed out to sea."

"So we get a ringside seat to our own demise!" the yachtsman exclaimed.  "Should we lash ourselves to the mast for a better view?" he asked.  But there was no time for an answer.  The wind began blowing so fiercely that words could not have escaped either of their lips.  And the sea started tossing the yacht back and forth till it seemed as if it would split down the middle, all the while rising, inch by inch, as the storm surge was readying for the kill.

Sandy looked east, drawing the yachtsman's line of view with him.  They both saw it coming, a mountain of water piling up against the eyewall, headed straight for them.  They both dived to the deck and grabbed hold of the ship's mast, their bodies entwined to form a chain linking them both to the mast.  The wave broke over them as they held their breath, neither knowing how long he could continue holding his breath or how long he would have to.  A minute later a roar of wind signaled the water's passing and Sandy began breathing again.  But the yachtsman did not.

Sandy quickly rolled him over and began breathing into his mouth until a very shallow wheeze finally sprang from the yachtsman's mouth into his own.  He kept on a moment more till the yachtsman gave him a slight push.  Sandy withdrew a few inches.  The yachtsman looked up into Sandy's glistening green eyes.

"As much as I enjoyed the rescue," he said in a voice barely audible in the gushing wind, "you've come to the wrong pew to pray.  I'm not drowned.  I've had a heart attack.  You've done all the work and I've gone and suffered the heart attack: we made a jolly good team, don't you think?  But I doubt even your breath can save me now.  I bequeath all my worldly possessions to you - being of sound mined, et cetera.  Fear not though: there are words on paper below deck as well as on a dying man's lips.  This ship is yours.  May it take you wherever you need to go, just as it has me."  Then he closed his eyes and heaved his final breathing just as the undertow ripped the yacht from its mooring and hurled it onto the reef.  Sandy grabbed hold of the yachtsman to keep the body from washing away.

"This is your new home!" Sandy whispered to the dead man.  "You will spend eternity on this reef - not wondering the ocean!"

As he sat holding the yachtsman's body in his arms to keep it from being washed away, his legs spread eagled about the mast, Sandy looked up and saw a stand of rocks a few hundred feet away.  The yacht was being washed toward these rocks at the eastern end of the island by the undertow and would momentarily be dashed to pieces against them, leaving Sandy stranded on the reef.  His only chance was to release the corpse and try to somehow divert the yacht from its overland course.

He lifted his eyes heavenward and asked God to forgive him.  "I know it's wrong to sacrifice myself, but I can't let go or his soul will wander forever.  Let him live in peace, dear God, whether you're my people's God or the slaves' God."

For a split-second Sandy thought he saw someone step out of the cloud covering the reef and stand in front of the rocks.  It was the same image he had seen when he was drowning off the coast of Africa.  This man held out his arms; and, as he did, the ship came to a halt and the undertow retreated, gentling carrying the ship back to where it had been moored.  Then the image faded from the rocks; and Sandy set the yachtsman down so that he could moor the boat again.  Returning to sit beside the yachtsman when the boat was secure, he leaned back against the mast and fell asleep.

When he awoke, the sun was beaming down from clouds that were starting to break apart.  He got up and began searching the reef for a suitable burial mound.  Finding the perfect spot in front of the rocks where the man had appeared from out of the clouds, Sandy dug with his hands in the soft earth until he had cleared a space big enough to bury the yachtsman.  Then he carried the body to the grave and laid it down, covering it with the dirt he had dug.  He said a prayer over the grave before leaving.

"I could not bury the boy in the jungle," he prayed.  "I could not keep the ants from eating him.  I could not give him back his dreams.  But I kept this yachtsman, whose name I don't know either, from being carried across the ocean for all eternity.  I will not ask you to watch over him, God.  Only to remember this reef when you come someday to collect our souls."

Sandy waited another two days before setting sail again - partly to make sure the storm was over, but mostly to study the charts and instruments the yachtsman had used to set his course across the Atlantic.  Finally, on Thursday, October 21, 2094, satisfied that he could find his way home, Sandy untied his ship from the stand of trees that jutted out from the reef and set sail, his course taking him north-northwest, between Puerto Rico and Hispanõla; past the Bahamas into the open waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream, which carried him northward along the coast of America until he came to Cape Fear, where he dropped his sails and began stoking his engine, going between the engine room and the bridge until he had maneuvered the yacht up the Cape Fear River into the harbor at Wilmington.                    

The slave Joey freed was never seen again in California.  Joey looked for him whenever his activities took him to the enclaves where the freed slaves were kept hidden from the people of California; but he never found him there.  Even the slaves who had been freed along with him had no idea where he was; so Joey concluded that he had managed to return to Africa.

Joey was reminded by those he worked with that there was a much larger, more important focus than the fate of any one slave.  He accepted their perspective - the way he always accepted the rules laid down by those whose task it was to lead others toward a common goal; but he knew it was a false perspective.  He knew that no cause greater than the fate of one human being existed - because God, unlike man, had the ability to see each person's soul in the midst of however many people there were on earth; and that which God could see could only be ignored by man at his own peril.

Not that Joey doubted for a moment the worth of the cause he had taken as his own; only that it bothered him the way the transcendent view of that cause influenced the outcome.  The Sacramento Valley, as all the agricultural valleys of California, was home to a myriad of farms, most of them large, employing hundred of slaves over a vast acreage, but many of them were small, with a mere handful of slaves, some with no more than one or two.  These smaller farms, so much more vulnerable to attack, were never even considered when the raids were planned.  For a long time Joey had no idea such places even existed; he only learned of them when several of the slaves he helped free from a huge cooperative near the town of Colusa asked if he and his men could help free others who had been captured and transported to America along with them.

"It'll be much easier than freeing us was," Joey was assured.  "They're on small farms, with few guards.  You can see the farms from one of the fields we worked."

When Joey presented the slaves' request to the others in his rescue party, he was told that it went against their rules to risk men's lives and jeopardize the cause in order to free only a few slaves.  When he reported that those few slaves were poorly guarded and could be freed with a minimum of risk, he was reminded that there were thousands of slaves toiling throughout California and it was impossible to free them all - that their guiding principle was the greatest good of the greatest number.

That night, the slaves who had asked for help freeing their friends slipped away, unnoticed, and went, unarmed, to the farms where their friends worked.  Late in the night the distant sounds of gunfire crept into Joey's camp.  He and the others hastily assembled.

"They must have discovered the guards' bodies," the leader of the rescue party said.  "I thought we'd be safe till morning, but we've got to go now, before they form a search party.  Round up the slaves!"

"There are no slaves here," Joey reminded his leader.

"You know what I mean," he was told.

Joey knew what he meant - and was saddened by it.  In his leader's eyes these men were still slaves - freed slaves instead of shackled slaves, but slaves nonetheless.

When it was discovered that several of those freed were missing, the others were asked where they were.  Reluctantly, they revealed that the missing men had gone to try and rescue their friends.

"We've got to go help them!" Joey insisted.

"What we've got to do is leave this town now," he was told.  "I won't risk any of my men helping those who ignored my warnings!"

On the way from Colusa, Joey avoided the men and women he helped rescue.  He felt ashamed at not being able to help their friends or save those who had gone on their own to try and help them.

In the year Joey had helped free slaves, he had never met the leaders of the Movement or seen their headquarters.  He had been to many secret locations, where raids were planned and men were trained, but never to the command center.  He was told it was somewhere in the mountains west of the Sacramento Valley, but that only a few within the Movement knew its exact location, in order to minimize the risk of its discovery by the authorities.

Most of the training camps were small, manned by a dozen or so freedom fighters, as the rank and file within the Movement were called; and most were transient, set up for one or two missions before they were inevitably raided by the Highway Patrol - a name adapted from the vast freeway system of the past, which the people of California hoped to once again put into service, to identify those charged with destroying the Underground Railroad.  Most of these raids yielded nothing, the freedom fighters having already moved on to another camp; but occasionally the raid came before the camp could be abandoned.  Whenever this happened, the Highway Patrol's goal was to take as many captives as possible, to try and get information on the leadership; to this end, an array of tortures had been instituted, but always proved fruitless, the prisoners going to their graves in screaming agony for the sake of information they had never been given.

Joey had barely missed getting captured when a camp he was in was raided by the Patrol.  He had gone for a walk in the foothills surrounding the camp.  On his way back, he heard gunfire; by the time he arrived, his fellow freedom fighters were being led away, all eight of them roped together.  He followed them to a local jail in a nearby town.  He fixed the location on his map of the region and hurried off to another camp in the area, arriving just as it was being dismantled.  He told them what had happened.

"I know where they're being held!" he reported.  "We can get them out!"

"There is no getting out," Joey was told.  "Like all of us, they know nothing.  There's no danger of their jeopardizing the Movement."

"I'm not talking about the Movement!" Joey insisted.  "There are eight men and women being held.  If we strike when no one's expecting us, we can subdue the guards -"

"You're not listening," Joey was interrupted.  "There is no rescue of freedom fighters.  They know the risk - we all do.  We're here to free the slaves, not one another."

While the freedom fighters were gathering up their things to move on, Joey slipped away.  In the dead of night he made his way to the town, and its jail, to try and free his comrades himself.  But he arrived too late; the last screams of the last freedom fighters ended, and all eight bodies were carried out and thrown into a common grave behind the jail.  When the guards had returned to their jail, Joey went to the grave, bowed his head, and prayed over the corpses piled one on top of another.  Then he caught up to the freedom fighters, who had just abandoned their camp, and fell into place alongside them.

"You're absence was noted," the leader of this new group Joey had now become part of told him.  "Where were you?" he was asked.

"I went to see if I could do anything for the others, but it was too late," Joey answered.

"Your mission - your only mission - is to free slaves," his new leader reminded him.

For the next six months Joey worked tirelessly at his twin tasks: the one the Movement had set for him - freeing the slaves - and the one he set for himself - finding the Movement's headquarters.  He was determined to meet with the leaders of the Movement - something he requested over and over, only to be denied each time.  He tried to explain to everyone he could his reason for wanting to meet the leaders: to bring to their attention how wrong and how counter-productive their policy of only considering the well-being of the slaves was; but nothing he said brought him any closer to his goal.  Eventually, from dozens of seemingly innocent remarks he overheard - remarks made by those who, while they didn't know their leaders' whereabouts, had an idea where the headquarters might be - he was slowly able to piece together enough disparate information to home in on it.  He even drew himself a map, superimposed over an old road atlas of the region - the same region the Highway Patrol had long ago concluded the headquarters to be in.  But while they had spent years searching for it, Joey, drawing upon his experience with the T-Men, found it in a couple weeks.

The Highway Patrol, heir to the California State Police, sought the freedom fighters the way they had always tracked criminals, ignoring conspicuous places, easily reached, in favor of more remote places, barely accessible to ordinary traffic.  Consequently, they had bypassed the place they were looking for a hundred times in their sweep of the Mendocino National Forest at the western end of the Sacramento Valley.

Like them, Joey fixed the headquarters somewhere within the Coast Range that skirted the forest; but, unlike the Patrol, he put strategic advantage above inaccessibility in his search.  This allowed him to narrow his focus and avoid the kind of wild goose chase that had kept the Patrol at bay for years.  Before even venturing into the Forest, using only his homemade map, he fixed on the three most likely locations.  At the top of his list was an unnamed summit along Highway 20 in Lake County at the southeastern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, some sixty miles northwest of Sacramento; this summit, eighteen hundred forty-nine feet tall, commanded a panoramic view of the surrounding plain.  Next on his list was Island Mountain, forty-one hundred seventy feet tall, almost a hundred miles north of his first choice, at the southern boundary of Trinity County, also with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.  And third on his list was a point roughly halfway between the other two, Ridgewood Summit, nineteen hundred fifty-six feet high and beyond the Forest itself, almost in the center of Mendocino County, along US 101; this site, while also offering a strategic advantage, was much more vulnerable, being in closer proximity to peaks much higher than itself, which would draw greater attention from anyone searching the area.

Joey would have liked to have visited the closest summit first, particularly since this was first on his list.  But he reasoned that though the Patrol may not have been his equal at pinpointing the Movement's headquarters, they were vastly his superior at tracking someone - so that, while he was engaged in locating the headquarters, the Patrol could easily be trailing him without his even knowing it.  The longer he spent searching out the headquarters the better his chances of detecting anyone following him before it was too late - the logic of this strategy dictating the order of his visits.

From Yuba City, on the border of Sutter and Yuba Counties and barely fifty miles due east of the place all his training pointed to as the most likely site of the Movement's headquarters, he set out for Ridgewood Summit, some eighty miles to the northwest and the least likely site.  The closer he came to it, the more he allowed his range of awareness to expand, thereby increasing his chance of detecting anyone who might be following him.  At several points within the Forest and again at the town of Hullville, ten miles east of Ridgewood Summit, he had the distinct impression he was being watched; but no matter how carefully he maneuvered his way toward his goal, he could not flush anyone out into the open.  Yet the feeling persisted; so, as desperately as he wanted to make the summit at Highway 20 his next target, he knew that, unless someone revealed their hand shortly, he would have to go the nearly fifty miles farther north to Island Mountain before venturing south again.  He cursed himself for not having acquired greater stealth during his years spent wandering the country - cursed himself not because he could so easily be outmaneuvered but because of all the freedom fighters who might be captured and killed, all the slaves who might go unfreed while he carried their message along his tortuous route to the only ones with the power to save them.  But his years of wandering had been spent outrunning the earth, not outsmarting his fellow man.

Finally, he was standing at the base of Ridgewood Summit, barely more than a hillside covered in trees and shrub brushes overlooking Highway 106.  He spat on the ground, in contempt of this mound of earth that was causing him to lose so much valuable time.

"I've seen it, now let's move on!" he said as he started northward toward his next stop.  He had not gone half a mile when he turned back, asking God to forgive him - as if somehow he had blasphemed the Almighty in slighting this hillside.  Slowly, without even the pretense of enthusiasm, he walked back to ascend the hill - like a supplicant climbing the steps of a great cathedral on his knees.  But as he climbed, something within him began to stir, something he couldn't identify because the way he experienced it seemed so completely incongruous with his surroundings or his mission.  He was sexually aroused.  He could barely comprehend the almost overpowering need for release that had come upon him all at once - something he had experienced only once before in his life: the first time he made love to Carol inside Mount Guyot.

He began looking for a place to hide on the hillside - to hide perhaps from God, but more so from anyone who might have followed him and might at this very moment be watching him.  He meant to fight the urge that was driving him deeper into the underbrush, looking around at every twig, every leaf as if seeking a fortress where he could make his stand against his own body.  Then he stopped cold and fell to his knees, the arousal that had brought him to this small clearing just beyond the underbrush seeping from his body as surely as if he had expelled his seed upon the ground.  Just ahead was a building - a compound constructed and carefully hidden against the hillside.  He knew without further investigation that this was the place he was looking for - the headquarters of the Freedom Fighters, the hub of the California Underground Railroad.

He started for the compound then suddenly backed away and began looking all around as he remembered who else was looking for it.  He crouched down onto the ground and began crawling beneath the underbrush, away from the building, until finally reaching a point where he knew it would be no longer visible.  He made his way to another clearing and, there, out in the open, let his pants drop and did what he had crawled through the underbrush to keep from doing, the force guiding his hand now supplanting the shame that numbed it before.  He had wanted to hide then; he wanted to be seen now.  When he was done, and pulled his pants back up, he lay down, as if to sleep.  An hour later he got up, started down the hill, and headed north, going almost ten miles before circling back around.

This time, he was certain no one followed him when he ascended the hill and began crawling again through the underbrush until he came to the clearing where he had seen the compound.  Slowly, cautiously, he worked his way toward the wooden structure set against the hillside, then along its outer wall until finding a doorway.  It was almost night when he stepped inside the compound.

It seemed to be like an old west fort, only on a scale almost miniature - as if it were part of a children's amusement park.  Directly before him was a small courtyard, some fifty feet wide and half as deep; beyond that was a building, not much bigger than a bunk house, very low to the ground and windowless except for a narrow slit on either side of the door.  Through the slits appeared some sort of illumination, which presently began to flicker, as of a breeze stirring a candle.  Joey again had the feeling of being watched, only not from behind this time.  Calmly, and very slowly, he began walking toward the door with his arms raised as if an outlaw in an old west pageant surrendering to the sheriff.  He heard a door creak, but not the door directly ahead of him; then he heard footsteps along the far side of the building.  A moment later he was rushed by three men carrying rifles.  All three grabbed him and threw him to the ground, rapidly tying his hands behind his back before ordering him to get up.  Then he was taken around the side and pushed through the creaking door.

It took him a moment in the dim light to make out how many men there were.  Besides the three who had taken him prisoner, there were ten others standing about the low ceilinged room.  He was brought to the center of the room and stood before a man about his age and height.

"Who are you and why are you here?" the man demanded to know.

"I'm a Freedom Fighter -"

"Who sent you?"

"No one," Joey replied.  "I found this place on my own."

"Were you followed?" the man asked.

"No.  I made sure I lost anyone who might have tried to follow me.  I've come to ask you to reconsider your policy of only rescuing slaves who work on the big farms.  There are many out there waiting for help but no one ever offers it.  And your other policy - of abandoning Freedom Fighters once they're taken by the Patrol: it's led to the torture and death of many loyal, dedicated men and women.  You must change that - you can't afford to lose valuable resources.  Surely your mission can't be more important than the lives of those who carry it out!"

"The policy remains," the man said.  "Nothing can be allowed to jeopardize our mission."  Then he looked Joey in the eye and repeated the word "Nothing."  When he felt the word had sunk in, he explained to Joey that "slavery must be stopped at all costs.  Our ancestors only fought it, only freed the slaves, only outlawed it grudgingly - and history showed their legacy, the pain, the strife, the endless struggle by the descendants of those slaves who it took three hundred years to finally set free and another two hundred to make part of the populace.  We will not wait five hundred years to end this second coming of the slave holders - it must end now.  Everything we do is toward that end alone.  The lives of Freedom Fighters, the freedom of individual slaves: these are nothing compared to ridding our land of this evil once and for all.  I'm sorry," the man ended by saying, "but you cannot be allowed to live.  By finding this place, you run the risk of exposing it to our enemies.  Perhaps not deliberately, but they have ways to make a man talk.  You will not suffer the way our Fighters do - or you would - at the hands of the Highway Patrol; but you will die, as surely as they do."

Joey was saddened by his leader's decision, but not entirely surprised.  He understood the thinking behind the decision: it was Kirk's thinking, Stone Creek's thinking and Brad's thinking.  He understood.  Ideas, goals, missions, plans, territories have always been put above the lives of human beings, as if, of all things in existence, only people could easily be replaced.  And yet, as wrong as he knew that way of thinking to be, he knew as well that he, too, was guilty of it - that every time he accepted someone's death as God's will, he was diminishing the value of human life.  So it seemed fitting that he should finally become its victim.

Joey was taken out to the compound and made to kneel down.  A gun was placed against the back of his head.  The gun was cocked.  Joey bowed his head.  A shot rang out, followed by more shots, and the man holding the gun fell on top of Joey, pinning him to the ground.  Then a volley of shots filled the night air as men began trooping into the compound, all of them heading for the building.  They burst through the door, firing round after round, until, a few moments later, they emerged from the building and began emptying the compound. 

"They can't have gotten far!" Joey overheard one of the men insist.  "We'll get 'em!"

"What about these two?" he was asked.

"Leave 'em for the vultures!" the man said.

A moment later the men were gone.  Joey pushed his executioner off of him and got up.  He managed to loosen the rope that had bound his hands.  He went to the building and stepped inside, expecting to see at least a few bodies; but he found none.  He turned to go, grateful that the leaders had escaped.  Just as he was leaving, he heard a sound deep within the building, like the creaking of a door.  He heard the voice of the man who had sentenced him to death calling to someone that it was safe, the Patrol had gone; this was followed by the sound of footsteps climbing a stairway.

Joey hurried outside and around to the side of the building, where he crouched low until he was sure it was safe to scale the compound wall.  The leaders of the Movement came outside as well.

"He got away," one of them said.  "We'll have to abandon this place.  The Patrol'll be back.  They'll find our hideaway.  I don't believe he was working with them, whoever he was; but he has to die.  Get the word out.  Pass along his description.  He's to be shot on sight."

The leaders buried their fallen comrade right where he fell, then returned to their headquarters to pick up and move on.  While they packed, Joey scaled the wall and made his escape, retreating back down Ridgewood Summit and disappearing into the California wilderness.

Darryl set out for Indiana three months after Alice spared his life.  "You know," she often told him during that time, "you could just up and go.  I know you want to."

"Yes ma'am," Darryl acknowledged, "I do want to.  But no, I can't just up and go.  You spared me; to sneak off behind your back, without your blessing, I'd be putting a curse on my journey that might reach all the way to Indiana - all the way to Henry's grave.  And Cade's."

Alice shook her head.  "Don't go burying Cade before he's pronounced dead," she cautioned.  "It's a state I've been in many times."

"Ma'am, he couldn't still be alive," Darryl pointed out.  "It's been way over a year since I left him to stand guard over Henry's grave."

"And he stood guard until it was no longer necessary," Alice speculated.  "Besides," she added, "I don't fancy Stone Creek the sort to just lie down and die -"

"But it's like Miss Andrea said: Cade's his grandson!"

"And though blood is indeed thicker than water," Alice observed, "it isn't anywhere near as thick as purpose.  Mark my words: Stone Creek has more mischief to set in motion."                                

"I couldn't go against him, ma'am, any more than I could go against Brad," Darryl acknowledged.  "One was my captain, even if I didn't accompany him on any missions; and the other was my general.  I couldn't go against them.  Maybe that's more why I have to leave than just going home."

"Will you ever return?" Alice asked.

"I can't say," Darryl answered.  "When I see Henry's grave then I'll know what I have to do."

On the morning of Sunday, May 2, 2094, Alice stood on the northwestern rampart of her walled city watching Darryl take his leave of her kingdom.  She watched for over an hour, until he gradually disappeared into the darkened mists of the Cape Fear plain.  Then she heard footsteps.  Turning, she saw Felicia approaching.

"Do you think Brad set him up?" Felicia asked.

"Of course," Alice replied.  "Brad is a brilliant strategist.  He saw in that boy right from the first what it took me months to see."

"I don't understand," said Felicia.

"He picked up on how my people regarded Darryl," Alice explained.  "He read in their deference what I needed a portrait of my predecessor to see.  I'm sure he had no idea why my people treated Darryl as they did, but he cashed in on it in no time at all.  The truth is, I'm glad to see Darryl leave - not for my sake, but for my heir's.  The boy you've been promised to."

"I am not bound by others' promises made on my behalf," Felicia told Alice.  "If I find this lion's cub no more who I'm looking for than Brad, I'll simply walk away from this place and go to sea alone.

Alice nodded and smiled knowingly.  "His mother has chosen wisely," Alice noted.  "But if you take him to sea - or, rather, if he takes you to sea - because the sea has already taken him once from my kingdom - then I shall have no heir, so it won't matter if Darryl returns to claim his throne."

Felicia turned around to stare off into the eastern sky.  "Then he's already made a home for me," she mused.

Darryl knew he would feel lonely leaving his people behind, but he never imagined he would actually feel homesick for his new home.  Yet he missed it; he missed the Lumberton Plain, the Cape Fear River, the seven walled cities with their narrow earthen streets, their open bazaars, their mud brick houses.  He concluded it must be because his people were back there; yet something told him to look  little deeper, and a little farther back in time - back to when he lived here before.  This land was a part of him long before Henry's people were.  And just as Henry cherished his birthplace above his own name, perhaps he, too, cherished this land above the people he had helped bring to it.  He turned to look one last time upon the Plain before it faded into the morning mist brightened by the risen sun.

He followed the same route now that had brought him to Carolina.  He knew the risks - the same risks Brad's people had encountered along the Revenge Road a year ago; he knew also that the risks would be far greater this time.  The people who had been exiled, forced across the border into Virginia, forced to cross the Iron Mountain, the Clinch Mountains, and move northward into West Virginia or westward to Kentucky - the people whose failed rebellion he had been duped into leading - would have done exactly as their predecessors had done.  They would have booby trapped the Revenge Road, to prevent others from following.  He could have chosen another route; but he felt responsible for anything they left behind, since, as he discovered the day Alice spared him from the headman's axe, it was his being the old Queen's great grandson that sparked the rebellion in the first place.

So he made his way, slowly, carefully, across the mountains of Virginia, seeking out and discovering as many devices as he could, satisfied not only that he was performing a solemn duty that had fallen to him but that he was also acting in accordance with the principles Henry had lived and, ultimately, died for.  Darryl had no way of knowing if anyone would ever pass this way again, but at least he knew their path was safer if they chose to.

It took him almost a week to clear the mountains, the better part of another week to reach Huntington and cross the Ohio, almost two more weeks to reach Indiana.  Along the way he debated which route to take to Henry's grave - whether to work his way down the Ohio to Louisville and enter Indiana from the south; or go north along the Ohio-Indiana border then work his way southward; or to attempt crossing the lake filling eastern Indiana between the Ohio border and Henry's mountains, if the lake had not already shifted or dried up by now.  He finally settled on the third course, reasoning that once the waves that nearly drowned Brad's people had relented, the lake itself would be shallow enough to wade across.

But when he found the opening Joey had led Brad's people through, and stepped beneath  the escarpment into Indiana, he found himself overlooking a body of water three times as deep as the one he had crossed a year ago.  When Henry's mountains reached Lake Michigan, they stalled for nearly six months, then suddenly began moving northward again, opening a floodgate that sent the waters of Lake Michigan plunging southward through eastern Indiana.  By the time the flood stopped, Lake Michigan was fifteen feet lower, the waters siphoned from it raising Henry's Lake threefold.

Darryl sat on the narrow ledge along the opening, letting his feet dangle almost into the water.  He toyed with the idea of attempting to swim across the lake rather than going around; but as he sat there trying to calculate the energy such a feat required, he began to shiver.  At first he thought he must be coming down with something to feel so cold on such an unusually warm spring day; then he realized that what ended in his shivering all over actually began with his feet, and began almost the moment he sat down on the ledge.  He reached his hand down between his legs and let his fingers break the surface.  The water was frigid.  He stood up and stepped through the opening back into Ohio, resolving to set out at once for Louisville.

Before he had gotten a hundred yards, however, he stopped and began looking around.  Seeing nothing but scrub brush and stunted trees, he moved on, but not southward, along the border.  Instead, he headed due east, to the town of Harrison, just beyond the border, where he began searching for something he could use as a raft.  Finding nothing suitable, he started eastward again, coming to I-74, a couple miles beyond Harrison.  Crossing the Interstate, he saw something along the side of the road; he went to retrieve it, thinking it might be a piece of plywood.  But it wasn't; it was a road sign, the kind of large green sign used to denote interchanges, jarred loose somehow from the posts it had been fastened to and blown across the roadway.  Darryl lifted and examined it; detecting no damage, he began dragging it back toward Harrison.  He gathered some blankets and warm clothes and found something shaped like an oar; then returned with the road sign to the portal overlooking Henry's Lake.

Sliding the sign through the portal, he let it fall onto the water.  Using the oar, he pushed down as hard as he could to test the sign's buoyancy.  Satisfied with its resistance, he tossed his blankets and clothes as well as the oar onto the sign then lowered himself.  He landed on his hands and knees and started to get up but quickly returned to a kneeling position, the concentrated weight of his body nearly tipping the sign over.  Once his weight was distributed more evenly, he carefully spread the blankets beneath him, having already begun to feel the cold of the water being conducted along the thin sheet of metal.  Then he began putting on the extra layers of clothes he had gotten at a dry goods store in Harrison; and, finally, he picked up his oar and pushed it against the escarpment to set his raft in motion on Henry's Lake.

Though Darryl had traveled the distance from Henryville to Harrison once before, the route he had been forced to take then was not a direct route.  He estimated that a northeast to southeast diagonal would shorten the journey by at least twenty-five miles, leaving about sixty miles of frigid water ahead of him.

Before he began paddling, he waited to see if the current of the Lake was strong enough to move his raft, and, if so, which way it would carry it; but it stood essentially still on top of the water.  So he began paddling his makeshift oar, trying to steer his raft as he moved it forward.  He paddled for hours at a time then rested a couple hours, confident that his raft would drift very little if at all while he slept.  He maintained this routine for three days and three nights, until finally arriving at the base of Henry's Mountains in the early morning of June 8, 2094.  He waited there till sunrise to begin his search, his aim to climb the jagged peaks that rose like a castle wall in the half-light of pre-dawn and work his way among them until finding the spot where Henry was buried.  But the very first ray of sunlight opened a channel in the fortress of rock, a breach some three hundred feet to the north, where the mountains were several hundred feet lower.  Darryl paddled to the opening and climbed up to a flat plain lying between two jagged peaks.

He recognized Henry's grave but saw no sign of either Cade or Stone Creek.  Despite Alice's prediction, Darryl expected to find the bones of at least one of the two he left standing guard over Henry's grave; he heaved a sigh of relief that his expectation had not been met.  He knelt down and said a short prayer over the grave - mostly, thanking Henry for releasing Cade from his vigil.  Then he got up, went and pulled his raft and supplies onto a ledge he discovered climbing up to Henry's grave, and turned to the west, where there was no water.  He climbed down and followed what was left of Indiana Route 160 to Henryville, making his way through its ruins to the town hall, just as Cade and Stone Creek had done a year ago.  Standing in the doorway, he suddenly bent over as a stabbing pain gripped his abdomen.  He clutched his gut as if it were trying to burst through his skin.  He stepped back outside, into what used to be the town square and quickly removed his pants, thinking only food poisoning could have produced such a wrenching pain; but there was no diarrhea.  Then, as suddenly as the pain had come, it was gone.

He began to cry - neither from the pain nor its relief but from a feeling that came upon him in the wake of the pain.  A feeling that Cade was hurt, and a longing to go to him and help him, as he had at Shelbyville.

"I should have stayed with him," he said to himself.  "Or else come back sooner.  I know Stone Creek will take care of him; but nothing has ever felt so right as helping Cade find his brother's platoon.  I wish, just once more before I die, I could feel that useful to someone I love again."

He went inside the town hall and downstairs to Henry's office.  A few minutes later he left.  He wandered through the ruins of Henryville, gathering supplies, the way supplies had been gathered as far back as he could remember - except that it had always been an anonymous town, one the people had come upon by pure chance, one that had no significance for them.  No one had ever gathered supplies from the ruins of his own home before.  It felt almost sacrilegious to him, till he remembered all the faces he saw staring up at the gallows on a hot summer morning: the sacrilege had already been committed, and not by him.

He wondered now where he would go, what he would do.  He could go south, into Kentucky; or north, following Henry's Mountains as far as they went; or west, back to Nebraska; or he could go east, to see what had become of the great cities of the east coast - New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Washington - eventually working his way back to Carolina.

"I've always wondered what New York would look like," he told himself.

One last time he passed Henry's grave, then set his raft upon Henry's Lake again, and headed northeast to the escarpment and its portal into Ohio.  For the next three months he continued the same northeast course he had begun on the water, entering Pennsylvania just south of Pittsburgh, making his way across Pennsylvania, across the Appalachians, and through New Jersey until, finally, he stood on the western bank of the Hudson, looking across the river into New York.

He could see no movement, no people and no cars.  Incredibly, though the last fuel had been used up a quarter century ago, Darryl somehow imagined the traffic would continue flowing in and out of New York; but it wasn't.  Everything was perfectly still, except for the wind whistling between the buildings, blowing bits of litter through the deserted streets.

Darryl had taken a northeasterly route through Pennsylvania, entering New Jersey along the Kittatinny Mountains at the northwestern tip of Warren County.  He had kept the same trajectory through Warren into Sussex County before assuming an easterly direction, into Passaic County, then beginning the southeastern descent through Bergen County toward the Hudson, finally working his way down the Hudson along Palisades Parkway to the George Washington Bridge.

He walked across the bridge into New York City, moving deeper into the borough of Manhattan.  Though he still saw no signs of life anywhere - or signs of death either - he began to feel as if he were being watched.  The feeling grew stronger with each step he took.  He debated whether to keep going or turn around and leave the same way he entered.  He decided to stay the course he had set, reasoning that anyone watching him would take an about face as a sign he sensed their presence and was trying to escape.  

He leisurely made his way down Manhattan Island, gradually moving closer to the Hudson River as he went, his instinct telling him that, if he were attacked, his best chance of escape was diving into the river and out swimming his assailants.

After walking for over an hour, he finally reached the West Side Express Highway.  He was within reach of the river, strolling along Christopher Street with an eye to the docks, when a group of twenty men appeared as if from nowhere and quickly surrounded him.  He studied the circle of men to try and find its weakest point for when he made a break for it, all the while trying to look as natural as possible.  Presently, one of the men addressed him.

"Where you from?" the man asked.

"Indiana," Darryl answered.

"Oh,  Not Philadelphia?"

"No - I was headed there next."

"What's your hurry?"

"Till I saw you men I thought it was deserted," Darryl explained, adding "I don't like a place that's deserted.  Reminds me of home.  Where is everyone?" he asked.

"You think maybe we need to be asking you that?" the man remarked.

"I don't understand," said Darryl.

"You're from the corn belt, aren't you? the wheat belt? the fuckin' food belt, aren't you?  Everyone left when we ran out of food.  God only knows where they are now.  Can't eat ticker tapes.  Where the hell were you when we needed you? why'd you stop growing food?  You're from the God-damn food belt, aren't you?"

"Half the state's flooded," Darryl calmly told the men, who were growing more agitated as their leader posed his questions.  "Most everyone's dead.  I stuck it out as long as I could, eating whatever I could find -"

"But at least you found food!" the man screamed in Darryl's face.  "You didn't have to start eating corpses, did you?  You had enough corn for yourself didn't you?  None to spare for us though, did you?  Did you?"

"How was I supposed to get it to you?  Carry it on my back?" Darryl boldly asked as he poised to bolt between the men.  "One man, carrying food to ten million?  Is that it?  Just because I happened to live in the food belt I was obligated to feed the whole rest of the country - is that it?"

"That's about it," the man acknowledged.  "But don't worry, you're still going to feed us.  We're not going to cut you though.  From the looks of you, your muscles'd be tough to chew anyway.  We're very picky eaters.  Connoisseurs.  No, you're going to help feed us in other ways.  You say you're headed to Philly?  Mind if we join you?  The twenty of us - plus a thousand more just like us.  Well, not all of 'em like us - most of 'em like you.  Conscripts.  You see, boy, we're drafting you - here and now - to do our fighting.  You're in the army now, boy!  We're the big apple - you're going to be one of our apple seeds - we'll call you Johnny, boy.  Our very own Johnny Appleseed.  Like all the others we've drafted. Only difference is, you're from out of town.  Our first tourist.  Gives our little army a provincial flavor.  Don't try it!" the man cautioned.  "I see you looking to make your break - you're just waiting for the chance, aren't you?  You wouldn't get ten steps.  You see, you're in our cattle pen.  This is how we round up our next meal.  Surround him, or her.  Trust me, boy: they tried to get away.  Oh how they tried.  But we - all of us - got bellies and got families to feed.  And if that means eating someone else's family - well, we'll do what ever it takes to survive.  No, you're too valuable for stock.  Stock: it's what we used to do here in New York; now it's what we call our next meal.  You look like you'd make one hell of a fighting man.  Otherwise, we'd already be chowing down on you - tough or not!  I know what you're thinking: you think you'll play along and escape first chance you get.  Don't think it.  Take that thought right out of your head, boy.  By day, you'll be under armed guard.  By night, you'll be chained to fifty or a hundred other conscripts.  Your mission, boy, should you accept it - and if you don't we'll feed you to the drill sergeants - is to fight your way with us down the east coast, taking one after another city till we own the whole eastern seaboard.  We already got everything as far north as Maine.  Now we're ready to push south - all the way to Florida.  As God is our witness, boy, we'll never go hungry again!  What do you say?  Are you with us, boy?"

"You'd go south with or without me, wouldn't you?" Darryl asked, half in jest.

The twenty men burst out laughing.  "Yes, sir," the leader admitted, "we would.  So what's it going to be: Boca Raton or bust, or over easy?"

"I guess I'll learn how to fight on the way," Darryl told the New Yorker.  "Unless you're willing to put your mission on hold till my basic training's up."

"Oh, you'll do fine," the New Yorker said.  "My guess is, fighting'll come as natural to you as eating does to us!"

Darryl was led to the Holland Tunnel.  Before entering, the New Yorker advised him to hold his nose.  "This be where we throw leftovers - this and Lincoln Tunnel.  We don't always get back to 'em before they go bad.  Then we just leave 'em for the rats - or the conscripts!  Don't worry, boy, it's an acquired taste.  And you, too, are just about to acquire it.  Trust me, boy, by the time we take Philly, you'll be fighting the other conscripts for a toe or a finger - which is about all you'll be likely to get if you don't scramble for your supper.  I don't hear you protesting how you'd never eat human flesh, boy.  That's good.  That means you're already on your way to becoming a true blue appleseed."

The stench was overpowering.  Darryl vomited over and over till they finally reached the end of the tunnel, his mind focused the whole way through on the one thing it had focused on since the first moment the New Yorkers surrounded him - the thing that would be the sole focus of his time as a conscript in the army of the Big Apple: his home in the walled city of the Lumberton Plain.  And warning them about the advancing army, or else somehow sabotaging its advance.  He had no idea how he would escape, only that he would find a way.

He gasped for air the instant he was clear of the tunnel, taking one after another gulp until the stench had begun clearing from his lungs.  "We're impressed," the New Yorker congratulated him as they led him through the streets of Jersey City.  "Truth is, it took us longer to breathe again first time any of us went in.  You'll make a first class fighting man."

Every once in a while they came upon a corpse in the street.  "You see," said the New Yorker, "we're picky eaters.  Won't none of us touch a diseased body - at least not if we know its diseased."

Eventually, they cleared the cities of northeastern New Jersey and made their way through open country.  Darryl looked around and saw signs of abandoned gardens everywhere they went.

"It's the Garden State," he noted, as if hurling an accusation at his captors.

"Thing is," the New Yorker pointed out matter-of-factly, "we've gone through all the vegetables and we're still hungry."

"Then you grow more!" Darryl exclaimed.  "It's not too late.  There've got to be seeds.  Put your army to work tending the gardens!"

"Spoken like a true blue farm boy!" the New Yorker observed.  "Just one catch: we don't know how.  We're not farm boys, our dads weren't farm-hands, nor their dads before them."

"Someone somewhere had to know: they can teach you!"

"Trouble is, we got hungry, our kids got hungry.  Had to eat 'em.  No more farm boys left in the Garden State.  They're all right in here!" the New Yorker slapped his belly as he spoke.                            

Darryl was led southward almost parallel to the Garden State Parkway until they came to an abandoned army base - Fort Monmouth.  He was locked in a holding cell for a couple hours then taken to a much larger base - Earle Naval Ammunition Depot.  He was herded into a compound in the middle of the base and made to stand beside a group of fifty men, each wearing leg irons and handcuffs.  One of the men who brought him here stooped down to put leg irons around his ankles then slipped a chain through the irons - the same chain that passed through all the other men's leg irons; after fastening the chain to an iron post, he put handcuffs on Darryl.

"Boys," he addressed the other fifty men, "this here's a farm boy, came all the way from Indiana to help us conquer America.  Show him around - much as you can; take him under your wing.  Instruct him in the culinary arts.  Share and share alike: no man's so hungry he can't share a pinky with his brethren.  Tomorrow's the big day, boys: we head 'em up, move 'em out.  Fort Dix here we come!  First thing tomorrow morning.  Sweet dreams, boys - and bon appetite!"

When the man who chained him was gone, Darryl turned to his fellow conscripts and asked about Fort Dix.  He was told it was the enemy's camp.

"Philadelphia?" Darryl asked.

"Yeah, I guess," one of the conscripts conjectured.

"Have you fought other battles?"

The man lifted his shirt to reveal numerous scars on his chest and abdomen.  "At least I still got my balls," he said.  "Unlike little Dick over there - we used to call him Big Dick, now we call him Little Dick.  He got his balls shot off.  Surgeon came around with a torch and by the time Dick finished squealing his head off, the wound was all doctored up and he was ready to go fight again.  We've been fighting as long as I can remember.  They conscripted me when I was twelve.  They'd have eaten me but I was big for my age, so they made me a soldier instead.  Sometimes I think my buddies got the better of the bargain.  They were regular size, so they got their throats slit and I watched 'em being cooked and cut up and eaten.  I felt lucky then cause I was big; now I don't know who the lucky one was - me or them."

"We took Boston, we took Connecticut, Rhode Island, parts of upstate New York too," a second conscript added.  "Maybe more, I don't even keep track no more.  I just go where they send me, do what I'm told to do, and move on to the next battle.  You ever been in battle?"

Darryl nodded.  "Back home," he said.  "The outlaws attacked us, we fought back."

"Did you beat 'em?"

"No," said Darryl.  "We fought to a draw."

"So were you a big hero of that war?" one of the conscripts asked.

"No," Darryl answered.  "My lieutenant was.  A true hero.  He was blinded and almost killed."

"But you know how to fight?"

"I know how," Darryl acknowledged.  "I just do what I'm told.  I figure the commanders know what they're doing or they wouldn't be in charge."

"Well, you can count on our commanders," all the conscripts were forced to admit.  "I hate 'em, I'd kill 'em with my bare hands if I could.  But you gotta give it to 'em,' they know how to send an army into battle.  You gotta give 'em that."

Early the next morning, just before sunrise, the troops were released from their bondage and made to gear up.  Under heavy guard, they were herded from the base to begin their forced march south to Fort Dix, where Philadelphia's army was camped out.

They were driven relentlessly, making the fifteen mile trek in just under two hours.  Darryl commented to those of his fellow conscripts within earshot that perhaps their commanders were not so skilled after all, tiring their soldiers out right before engaging the enemy.  It was explained to him that this forced march always preceded their attack, in order to weed out the weaklings.  He was then reminded that conscripts were a dime a dozen, and that no matter how many fell in battle there would be more than enough left to rout the enemy.

The conversation was cut short when the enemy camp suddenly appeared on the horizon.  Only a couple miles away, the order to charge was given.  The men picked up their pace and began running toward the northeast corner of Fort Dix.

Darryl took something from his pocket and stuffed it into his mouth and began chewing on it as he charged into battle.  He knew he would have gotten sick on whatever piece of human flesh he had been given the night before had he tried to eat it sooner.  But now, there was no time to think about what he was eating; now there was only the battle to think about.  The piece of salted meat in his mouth disintegrated into the sounds of fighting then slid silently into his stomach as the first of his fellow conscripts began falling before enemy fire.

Darryl had no quarrel with the conscripts of Philadelphia, and no idea how to force himself to fight, let alone kill, them.  But in the heat of battle, every consideration vanished but one: staying alive.  They were firing upon him and his fellow conscripts; men he had spent the night chained to fell beside him, pieces of their bodies flying through the air, sometimes striking him in the face.  And he took dead aim at those who were killing his comrades, mowing one after another down as he moved through their camp.

The battle raged for nearly four hours, hundreds falling on both sides, the advantage see-sawing back and forth until finally the tide turned in favor of the New Yorkers and the Philadephians were routed.  Forced to throw down their arms, the prisoners were lined up and the commanders of the army of New York came forward, working their way among them, marking one to be taken, shooting another point blank in the face.  This selection process went on for an hour, leaving less than a third of the prisoners still standing.  When it was over, the commanders motioned their guards to come and collect the new conscripts, who were chained and taken to a secure area within the compound.  When they were secure, the guards motioned the conscripts to begin cleaning up.

Darryl had no idea what was expected of him now; all he could do was follow the lead of his fellow conscripts, who came forward with knives drawn and began cutting up the bodies of the prisoners, some of whom were still writhing on the ground with their faces blown away.  It was only then that Darryl realized why the prisoners had been shot in the face: to render them anonymous so that they would be easier for the conscripts to dissect.  He walked over to a prisoner still moving and plunged his knife into the man's heart before cutting him up, watching the others to see what pieces of his body to remove.  

Two hours later, a huge fire was built, sacks of salt were emptied onto the collected body parts, they were seared, set out to dry and finally gathered up and put in bags which were tightly sealed.  Then the conscripts were chained for the night.

"Is it always this way?" Darryl asked his fellow conscripts.

"Always," was the reply from somewhere in the darkness surrounding them.  "As long as I've been a conscript, that's what we've done."

"When the battle's over," began another conscript, "the prisoners are all lined up.  The strongest are conscripted into our army.  The others become food."

"We carry the remains of New England in our bellies," said another.  "Soon we'll add Philadelphia, then wherever we attack next."

"Has anyone ever tried to escape?" Darryl asked.

"Prisoners?  Sure - once they see what their fate is.  But it's too late then.  If you mean us - conscripts - I can't say as I recall anyone ever trying.  Any of you ever known a conscript to escape?" the question was posed to the others.

"No," several answered at once, "never happened - never going to happen.  How can it?  We're chained whenever we're not fighting or picking the bones of our next meal."

"Why?" someone asked Darryl.  "You thinking about escaping?"

"You always got to be thinking about it," Darryl replied.  "Even though you know you can't."

"You got that right soldier," said a passing guard who had stopped to listen to the conversation, "you can't.  Keep that in mind and you'll do fine.  Three squares a day and a length of chain at night.  Till you get blown away on some battlefield.  Happens to the best of 'em - and as you saw today, we only keep the best."

The next morning, the army crossed over into Philadelphia, meeting only pockets of resistance.  By mid-afternoon, the city was secured.  Any of the commanders who had managed to flee Fort Dix were rounded up and taken to the Walt Whitman Bridge in southeast Philadelphia, where they were hanged from the girders as a reminder to the people not to resist the army of New York.

The army was marched from the city southwesterly to Wilmington, Delaware, which was deserted, having already been sacked by the army of Philadelphia.  Only a few dozen decayed corpses hanging from overpasses remained.  The conscripts were bedded down for the night at the Newcastle County Airport just southwest of Wilmington.  The next morning, at the first light of day, they began their march to Baltimore.

At Philadelphia, Darryl was still too green to gain any insight into the workings of the army he had been drafted into; but as it worked its way toward Baltimore, he began shifting his focus from his own condition to the mechanics of its advancement.  He was determined to study every nuance of the interaction among commanders, guards and conscripts; every idiosyncrycy  of the routine of bedding the conscripts down for the night; every detail of the forced marches; every facet of the final assault on the enemy - to study, and find any point of weakness he could exploit in planning his escape.  He knew he would have to escape by the time the army reached Richmond - the next logical target after Baltimore and Washington; otherwise he would not have time to help Alice prepare for the inevitable assault on her kingdom.        

He fought harder at Baltimore than he had at Philadelphia.  He realized during the attack on Fort Dix that his military skills far outdistanced those of his fellow conscripts, who had only fought as captives compelled to do someone else's bidding, not as free men defending their homeland from an invader, as he had once done.  They were nothing more than cannon fodder, without the slightest incentive or imperative to bring their intelligence into play.  They fought with their hands alone, and would live or die according to nothing higher than pure chance.  Whereas Darryl carried an overriding purpose into battle that engaged his every skill, summoned every bit of his intelligence.

The march to Baltimore took two days.  The army proceeded slower and more cautiously than they had at Philadelphia.  When Darryl mentioned their pace to his fellow conscripts, he was told that it meant one thing only: the commanders were unsure where they would engage the enemy.  The same thing had happened at Boston, Darryl was told; only then it was because there were so few military bases where the enemy would most likely be headquartered - and none of them of any particular strategic value.  Whereas, in this part of the east, so close to the nation's capital, there were so many possible encampments that each one would have to be attacked along the way.

"Why don't they send scouts?" Darryl asked.

"They don't need scouts," he was told.  "They have us.  All the conscripts an army could ask for.  No need to concern themselves with casualties - they can lose half of us and still come out on top.  They just round up more conscripts as part of their victory celebration - and serve them us instead of us them."

"Besides," someone else pointed out, "scouts can get caught.  They can be made to talk.  This army attacks without warning."

Twenty miles northeast of Baltimore stood the first likely encampment - Aberdeen Proving Ground, a massive army base on a peninsula at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay.  It had once been the home of army ordinance; and though the army of New York anticipated no heavy artillery laying in wait, all stocks of fuel having been exhausted almost thirty years ago, its commanders did expect a barrage of fire unlike any they had yet encountered.  And given the physical layout of the base, allowing its armaments to be scattered throughout rather than concentrated in one area as at Fort Dix, a surprise attack was virtually impossible.

The army of New York entered the Proving Ground at its northwestern most point a couple miles southeast of US Route 40, where its main gate stood at the terminus of Maryland Route 22.  They met no resistance, nor did they see any sign of activity.  The conscripts were ordered to halt while the commanders assessed the situation.

Darryl had not been part of the early campaigns in Indiana; but he remembered stories of how Stone Creek rafted his men down the Ohio, attacking the enemy from behind, capturing several key towns with a minimum of resistance or casualties.  With this strategy in mind, he approached one of the guards and pleaded to speak to the commanders.

"Back in your place, conscript!" the guard ordered as he pointed his gun at Darryl.

Several of the commanders witnessed the incident and, mis-reading it, went up the the guard, demanding to know why the conscript had not been shot point blank in the face.  "You know how to handle anyone who tries to escape!" the guard was reminded.

"Sir," the guard answered truthfully, concerned now for his own safety, "the conscript did not attempt to escape.  He asked permission to speak to the commanders."

The commanders pondered his answer then summoned two more guards, who they instructed to confiscate the first guard's weapon.  Then they were instructed to bring the conscript and the guard who had failed to do his duty to the main gate, where the other commanders were gathered.  One of the commanders recognized Darryl.

"Ah, so Indiana has finally made his escape!" he observed.  "Why are we being interrupted for this?  Just shoot him and serve him up for dinner.  Or no - wait, I've a better idea.  Let's serve him up de jour - as we do all our very special dinners.  What that means, Indiana, is that you'll be cooked and eaten a little at a time - an arm here, seared to perfection, a leg there - all while you're still alive to oversee the cooking!  Take him away!"

"And the guard?"

"Cook his balls and stuff them in Indiana's mouth for garnish!"

As he was being led away, Darryl called back to the New Yorker "Sir, you need to go in behind them!  On the water!  That's your best strategy!"

"Hold up!" the New Yorker halted his men.

"That's what I wanted to tell you," Darryl explained.

"Is this true?" the guard was asked.

"All I know is he wanted to say something," the guard nervously replied.

"Did you imagine we hadn't already thought of that?" the New Yorker asked.

"If you had, you'd already have men out gathering material for rafts," Darryl answered.

"What makes you think it'd work?"

"It's what Stone Creek did," said Darryl.

"What do you know of Stone Creek?" the New Yorker demanded.

"He was my commander-in-chief in Indiana," Darryl explained.  "We fought off the outlaws of Kentucky.  That was his first campaign of the war, rafting down the Ohio."

"Stone Creek is not unknown to us," said the New Yorker.  "We had ties to the T-Men.  Unlike the militias of the mid-west, we beat the authorities when the time came.  We'll consider your strategy."

"Just don't execute it too literally," Darryl cautioned.  The commanders looked puzzled by his warning.  "What I mean is," he proceeded to explain, "you're bound to have been seen.  The element of surprise is gone.  If you try it now, it won't work.  Unless you move on, make them think you decided no one was here; then build your rafts downstream and work your way back up the Bay.  But even then," Darryl added, "you'll have to have men on hand to distract them - which means you need a reason for part of your army to return.  There's no good way to execute it, but it's your only chance of taking this base.  Maybe have the decoys move just enough undercover that they look like they're attempting a sneak attack."

The New Yorker considered the plan, musing to his fellow commanders that it might work.  Then he turned back to Darryl and motioned one of his guards to hand the conscript a gun.  Pointing to the guard who had denied Darryl's request to speak, he indicated for him to shoot the guard in the face.  Darryl handed the gun to the New Yorker..

"No," Darryl told the New Yorker.  "It's too soon.  I know I'd try to escape.  Wait till this campaign's over, and if you still want me for a guard, I'll be ready then.  Because I'll have a stake in it then."

The New Yorker nodded as he accepted the gun from Darryl.  Then he turned it on the guard and shot him in the face.  "We have an opening on our staff," he advised Darryl.  "Let us know when you're ready.  Oh, incidentally," he called to Darryl as he was being led back to the other conscripts, "you wouldn't have gotten far.  We keep even closer tabs on our guards than they keep on our conscripts - since most of our guards started out as conscripts.  Just a word to the wise."                                            

A couple hours later, the army packed up and moved on, heading west along US Route 40 until they came to the border between Harford County, to the northeast, and Baltimore County to the southwest.  They worked their way to the mouth of the Gunpowder Falls, which opened up a second peninsula, separated from the one where the Proving Ground sat by Bush River.  Here, they scavenged the remains of several small communities for anything they could use to build their rafts, a painstaking process that kept the army camped beside the Gunpowder for almost three days until, finally, the flotilla was ready to begin its upstream row.  Darryl was summoned by the commanders and asked if he had any last minute advice before the campaign began.

"Just make sure your men come ashore before daybreak," Darryl advised.  "Which means the rest of your troops need to engage the enemy while it's still dark.  You'll lose more troops, but it'll divert the enemy not only from the flotilla but from the plan itself.  Attacking under cover of night'll make it look like that's why you doubled back, so they won't be suspicious.  I'd give them at least a couple hours headstart before you land."

Darryl's strategy was followed to the letter.  At three A.M., the morning of Friday, September 10, 2094, the troops that had returned along US 40 to the main gate began their search and destroy mission, encountering one after another pocket of resistance, their number dwindling dramatically in the pre-dawn darkness.  It looked as if they had stumbled into an open ambush and would soon be hopelessly slaughtered by the enemy, when suddenly shots rang out from the far side of the peninsula and the advantage began shifting their way as the flotilla moved ashore and made its way up the peninsula toward those who had come by land, the enemy being slowly squeezed between the two forces.

The battle raged past sunup and well into the early morning before the enemy was completely surrounded and herded into an ever tightening circle until it was forced to surrender.  Then the process of selection began all over again.  By mid-afternoon, the new conscripts had been shackled, secured and set amidst the other conscripts; and the rapidly dwindling supplies of salted meat had been replenished.  The army was ready to move on to Baltimore.

Darryl was again brought before the commanders and asked if the army should float its way into Baltimore.  This time he recommended against it, citing Baltimore's harbor as too great an obstacle to a surprise attack.

"We don't expect much of a welcoming committee," the commanders pointed out.

"Don't be so sure," Darryl cautioned.  "The army we encountered at Aberdeen should have been the same size as the one at Fort Dix - otherwise Baltimore would have been taken already.  That means they only had part of their forces at Aberdeen.  They might have the rest at another base closer to Washington, to keep both cities from overrunning them.  Or they might be holed up in the city somewhere."

The commanders took Darryl's advice and entered Baltimore by land, from the northeast, working their way along US Route 40 as far as Interstate 95, where they then proceeded southward as far as the Fort McHenry Tunnel, which ran beneath the harbor, coming out just below old Fort McHenry.  Darryl pleaded once more to be taken to the commanders; this time his request was granted.

"Avoid the tunnels at all costs!" Darryl warned.  "It could be a death trap!"

"It's the quickest route into the city," he was told.

"Find another route!" he practically ordered.

There was an exit off I-95 - Keith Avenue, the last exit before the Tunnel, only a few hundred yards north of the Tunnel entrance.  The commanders diverted their army onto the exit ramp, which ran parallel to the Tunnel several hundred yards more before coming to an end at Keith Avenue.  As they made their way along Keith Avenue, rounding a sharp bend dotted on either side with warehouses, the army of New York ran headlong into the army of Baltimore.

The fighting began the instant the two forces collided; and though Baltimore's army was greatly outnumbered, they had the advantage of the warehouses, where they retreated to begin firing on the invaders, who had no place to hide.  Conscripts were mowed down a dozen at a time until they managed to retreat back beyond the line of fire.  Once they were out of range, Darryl made a run for it - not to try and escape but to work his way to the commanders before the guards could stop him.  He ran up to them screaming "Turn around!  Turn half your men around!  Cover your flank!"  Without question, his order was obeyed.  The word went out immediately to re-position the troops.  Within ten minutes half the conscripts had been regrouped facing southward along the ramp while the other half remained facing the warehouses.  In ten minutes more the rationale of Darryl's order was made manifest as a second force appeared on the ramp to Keith Avenue, having emerged from the Tunnel soon after the first shots were fired to begin closing in on the invaders.  They had been positioned inside the Tunnel, halfway through, waiting for the invaders, who would then be flanked at the Tunnel's entrance by the troops now holed up in the warehouses.  The army of New York would have been completely surrounded, with nowhere to go.

The troops that had retreated to the warehouses now came forward again to join their corresponding unit from the Tunnel in attacking the invaders on two fronts.  Both units kept closing in, but gradually, each trying to cover their movements as much as possible while firing upon the invaders in order not to lose the advantage and be swallowed up in a contest pitting their number against the invaders: a contest they would lose to a force greatly outnumbering them.  For the first couple hours of the battle the strategy worked; they were able to mow down the invaders at a rate of five to one.  But as the first lines of troops were decimated, they had to move ever closer to pick off the next line, until they had finally lost their initial advantage of cover.  That was when the commanders of the army of New York gave the signal to charge.

The conscripts rushed their attackers, half going toward the warehouse, half toward the Tunnel.  With their very first volley, they began turning the tide of battle, mowing down their attackers at the same rate they had been mowed down.  The battle continued another two hours before the army of Baltimore was vanquished.  They were marched at gunpoint to a park a couple miles north of the battlefield, where the selection process began.

More conscripts had been lost at the battle of Baltimore than at any other battle the army of New York had fought.  But most of those who died were the very ones most recently conscripted - the prisoners taken at Aberdeen Proving Ground, who had been purposely placed on the front lines so that, when the attack began, the army of Baltimore would mow down their own men - who, if they had lived, would have turned on their fellow conscripts and, in so doing, halted their invasion.  Instead, the army of Baltimore swelled the ranks of the invaders a second time as they moved on to their next objective.

Darryl agreed to become a guard in the wake of their victory over Baltimore.  No longer did he spend his nights in chains, watched over by a man carrying a gun.  Now he was the man carrying the gun, watching over others in chains.  He hated his new role, but he fulfilled it as conscientiously as any of the other guards, his objective of warning Alice neutralizing any reservation he might have against oppressing his fellow conscripts.  More importantly, he became a trusted advisor, consulted before, during and after every skirmish, however small - and there were numerous encounters with small pockets of resistance along the Baltimore-Washington corridor, each one brought to a quick resolution, leaving charred bones in its wake.

The irony of Darryl being more than once the instrument of his army's victory plagued him every step of its advance.  Over and over, like a relentless taunt, the thought kept tearing at him that, if not for him, perhaps the army of New York would have been defeated along the way, thereby removing the threat to Carolina - and that only because of him was the threat sustained and growing closer to Alice's kingdom every day.  Yet at the same time, and with the same ferocity, the belief that this army was invincible with or without his help kept his every thought actively engaged in helping precipitate an endless series of victories.  So while he knew he was helping strengthen the army, he knew also that as it inched its way toward the walled city, he was securing his escape route - and that only his escape could save Carolina from this army of cannibals.

Halfway to Washington, the army made a detour off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.  They headed east.  Their maps, and their commanders' memories, led them to the other major army base in central Maryland - Fort Meade, in Anne Arundel County near the town of Odenton.  Though by no means sure they would encounter troops there, since it was too strategic for either of the two cities to allow the other to secure, the army of New York nevertheless moved as cautiously as if they knew they were walking into an ambush, the two and a half mile march to the east taking almost as long as it had taken them to conquer Baltimore.

Along the way, consulted by the commanders concerning the best strategy for routing the enemy, if indeed he were camped at Fort Meade, Darryl brought up something which had puzzled him ever since the first battle.

"How will you control the territory you conquered?" he asked straight out.  "You've left no one to guard the claims you've staked."

"We carry our control with us," answered the New Yorker, "and you help insure its continued existence every night.  It isn't just out of whimsy that we call our conscripts our 'apple seeds," he explained.  "Nor is it simply to swell our ranks that we make conscripts of the prisoners we take.  By the time we finish our sweep down the coast, we'll have conscripts from every city we conquer.  By then, the heat of battle will have wiped their memories clean.  They'll be ours, and when we return them to the place we found them, they'll rule in our names - because our name will be all they'll have left."

Fort Meade was neither Washington nor Baltimore.   Nor was it a no-man's land keeping the two armies at bay.  It was what it always was - and the last of its kind in America.  It was an army base, manned by soldiers of the United States Army - the last of their kind left.  It had survived as an entity separate from everything else in the country, the skills of soldiering passed down from generation to generation ever since the world started crumbling half a century ago.  They never ventured beyond the perimeter of the base; and they had always managed to repel the attacks of everyone who sought to claim the base as their own territory.  They were the fiercest fighters left on earth.

The siege of Fort Meade lasted two months.  The initial volleys of gunfire convinced the commanders that their army stood no chance of capturing the base.  It was too well fortified and its troops too skilled to waste ammunition firing randomly.  Each shot fired from within the compound brought down a conscript; nearly a hundred were killed or wounded within seconds of the siege's commencement.  The commanders hastily withdrew their conscripts, regrouping behind the line of fire while they plotted their next move.

"We cannot leave this base in enemy hands," they all agreed.  "There can be no independent state within our empire."

While they were considering their options, Darryl was interrogating the newest conscripts - the ones taken at Baltimore.  From them, he found out who it was they were up against and, possibly, how to smoke them out.  He presented his findings to his commanders.

"So they're real soldiers," the New Yorker mused.  "That means they've stockpiled enough live ammo to hold up indefinitely.  Any ideas?"

"Just the one," Darryl was first to respond.

"Which one would that be?" the New Yorker demanded.

"An army travels on its stomach," Darryl answered.

"But they're not going anywhere," the New Yorker pointed out.

"Precisely," Darryl agreed.  "Which is why they'll run out of butter long before they run out of guns."

"How can you be sure of that?"

"The new conscripts say the soldiers were always raiding the nearby communities, stockpiling food.  But they had just about run out of communities to sack - which is why the army of Baltimore was in the process of moving to Aberdeen when we attacked.  They feared the soldiers more than they did any other army - and they knew they'd be coming after them next, for food."

"Ah," said the New Yorker, "so we just wait it out.  Slows us down, throws us off our timetable, puts a strain on our own resources - but it's the only way to smoke 'em out.  So tell the men to go easy on today's rations - unless they want to become tomorrow's"

For the first three weeks of the siege, nothing happened.  Then, all at once, as if someone had cued the soldiers to begin the final scene of a play, bonfires flared up throughout the compound, followed by a smell all too familiar to the conscripts, guards and commanders of New York - the smell of charred human flesh.

"They must be hungry, Indiana," the New Yorker quipped to Darryl.  "I've read of sieges lasting three times as long as this one."

"Ordinary citizens can hold out a lot longer than fighters," Darryl observed.  "Citizens can get very weak, but soldiers can't allow themselves that luxury."

For another three weeks the bonfires continued sporadically, followed by seven days of almost continual gunfire; till, finally, on Saturday, November 13th, all activity within came to a halt.  Neither smoke nor sounds arose from the compound.  Fearing it could be a trap, the commanders sent a small contingent of conscripts through the front gate.  Two hours later, the conscripts returned, reporting no resistance anywhere.  Then the rest of the army marched in, and claimed Fort Meade for the city of New York.

The commanders made haste to round up any salvageable corpses and had the meat prepared for the next leg of the campaign - the march on the nation's capital.

They continued down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway until US Route 50 branched off to become New York Avenue.  The army - all but its newest conscripts - sent up a cheer when they saw the road sign designating their point of entry as their namesake.  They were ready to take on the world.  But they had no idea where to begin looking for the army of Washington, so they remained on New York Avenue, heading deeper into the heart of the District.

They worked their way to the US Capitol, finding it not only deserted but heavily damaged, as if it had been the focus of a siege at some point in time.  From there, they made their way due south along South Capitol Street toward the military compounds in southeast D.C. - the Washington Navy Yard along the west bank of the Anacostia; Fort Lesley McNair, also on the west bank of the Anacostia, just above its junction with the Potomac; and the US Navel Station, together with Bolling Air Force Base, on the east bank of the Potomac.  But their eagerness to engage the enemy began to wane as one after another base proved to be deserted.  As everyone tried to make sense of the deserted bases, an idea came to Darryl, which he presented to his commanders.

"The battle of Okemos," he told them about the final battle of the war he fought in.  "I wasn't there, but the thing of it was," he explained, "the enemy was holed up in the University of Michigan campus.  It was a perfect fortress - better than any army base.  Maybe that's where the army of Washington is."

"But which one?" the commanders wondered.  "You've got Georgetown, George Washington University, Catholic University, American University, Howard University - which one?"

"My guess is none," Darryl speculated.  "None of them are strategically located.  But the University of Maryland is."

"We shouldn't have come the way we did," the commanders noted.

"We should have," Darryl disagreed.  "They'd be expecting an attack from the north, or the east - but they won't be expecting an attack from the District itself!"

The commanders considered Darryl's suggestion, then gave it the go-ahead.  He helped devise a strategy for attacking the University, based on the strategy Brad had used at Okemos, mapping out a series of parks surrounding the Campus and creating a time table for taking them, one by one, in a sequence calculated to avoid detection as long as possible.

Flanking the Campus were two large parks - Northwest Branch Park on the western side and Indian Creek Park to the east.  Each began well south of the Campus and ran parallel to it almost its entire length.  Under cover of darkness, the army of New York managed to work its way into both parks undetected, its conscripts evenly divided between the two.  From there, small bands were sent to occupy two parks sandwiched between the larger parks - Calvert Park and Town of University Park, both south of the Campus.  This, too, was accomplished without incident, prompting many of the conscripts and a few of the commanders to conclude the Campus to be another dead end in the Washington campaign.  But as more bands were sent northward to occupy parks much closer to Campus, their disappointment quickly turned to anticipation as the first signs of resistance appeared.

A band sent to Berwin Neighborhood Park, to the east of the Campus, seemed to go undetected; but a second band, sent to Paint Branch Park at the southeastern tip of the Campus, encountered heavy fire from within.  A third band, working its way northward along Northwest Branch Park to try and take Adelphi Park, at the northwestern tip of the Campus, met even heavier resistance.  And a fourth band, ordered to capture Acredale Community Park at the northeast corner, was all but wiped out, the few survivors forced to retreat to the east.

Eventually, each of the parks surrounding the campus were taken and held.  At a pre-arranged signal, all of the smaller bands charged the Campus at once in an effort to spread the enemy along the perimeter instead of letting him remain concentrated in the center, where he could better withstand the full brunt of the army's assault, which came with lightening swiftness on the heels of the first attack.  The strategy worked perfectly.  It brought the army of Washington to its knees; and it gave Darryl the opportunity he needed to make his escape.                                   

On the morning of October 27, 2094, Stone Creek touched Carolina soil, announcing to his army that they had reached the promised land.  Asked how he knew for sure this was where Virginia left off and Carolina began, he said only that knowing the lay of the land was God's gift to generals, and that if they couldn't tell one place from another just by standing on it, they'd better lay down their weapons and take up needlepoint.  Then he had the dozen Carolinians who had survived the march brought before him.  Placing the butt end of his gun to one's head, he quipped "Take me to your leader!"

The prisoner hesitated.  Stone Creek pulled the trigger.  The prisoner fell dead at his feet.  Then he called "Next!" and repeated his question.

"It's this way!" the prisoner nervously answered, pointing vaguely to the southeast.

"Charlotte?" Stone Creek asked.  "Is that it?"

"No," the prisoner replied.  "The walled cities," he tried to explain.

"Where are these walled cities?"

"Near Fort Bragg," Stone Creek was told.

"Then that's where we're headed," Stone Creek announced to his men, the last of whom had stepped across the border into North Carolina to await further orders.  "We'll camp here for another day, then we begin our campaign," he told his men, then worked his way back, through their ranks, to his grandson, who had ceased moving while the others were still pulling ahead.

"What is it?" Stone Creek asked.

"There's something out there," Cade told his grandfather.  "I sense a presence, but I can't identify it."

"Good," said Stone Creek.  "Maybe it's Brad.  Maybe he's already defeated the Carolinians and saved us the trouble."

"Or joined with them," Cade observed.  "Either way it isn't him I sense.  It's...it's like a ghost.  The dead returned.  More than one.  This campaign will not go as you planned."

"The general who expects his campaign to proceed as planned is a fool," Stone Creek replied as he re-joined his army.  He headed instinctively for the same place Brad had gone, and for the same reason.  To a general, there was only one real objective in any campaign to take a region - its military command centers.  In the Carolinas, there were only two: Camp LeJeune on the Atlantic Coast, and Fort Bragg, at the head of the Lumberton Plain.  He could not imagine anyone attempting to control an entire region from its coastline without having first established a network of outposts throughout the region; so he turned his full attention to Fort Bragg, which he would have done even without his prisoner's response to his question, constantly consulting his maps and re-designing his strategy, as the points on his maps assumed the contours of the land around him.

Like Brad before him, his sole aim was to avoid the major cities of west central North Carolina - Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro; but, unlike Brad, his desire to quickly reach his destination did not drive him off course.  His army never deviated so much as a foot from the route he had laid out for them.  Consequently, though his army followed a route a third again as long as the one taken by Brad's people, they arrived several days sooner, reaching Fort Bragg fifteen days after crossing the border.  It was Thursday, November 11, 2094 when Stone Creek first stood on a bluff several miles northwest of the base, attempting to assess its vulnerability.

"Do you still sense a presence?" he asked his grandson.

Cade acknowledged that he did.  "Any do you sense an army waiting for us at Fort Bragg?"

"I can't identify things unless I have some connection to them," Cade told his grandfather.  "If Brad, or Darryl, or someone else I know was there, I'd be able to tell.  But not strangers."                                

Stone Creek was not disappointed that Cade knew nothing of the enemy; his own instincts had alerted him almost a week ago that his movement had been detected and was being monitored.  Even so, he continued toward his objective, just as if the state were completely deserted.  Besides, he knew this area; his activities as a T-Man had taken him to virtually every part of the country.  There was very little opportunity here for an ambush, except under cover of darkness - but even then, the risk was minimal, no army large enough to subdue his likely to move into position without making a sound.  He felt confident that when the enemy struck, it would be out in the open, in broad daylight; and that the battle would be determined less by strategy than by the pure strength of the opposing forces - a battle of wills rather than wits.

The army of outlaws commanded by Stone Creek made its final push for Fort Bragg on the morning of November 11th, prepared to overcome any resistance, hidden or otherwise.  But when they stormed the base, they found it empty.  This disturbed Stone Creek more than if he had lost half his men in the assault.  It made him think that some far greater fortress stood somewhere else in the Carolinas - like these walled cities the prisoner mentioned; or else that this place was a death trap, perhaps booby trapped in a way his men could only discover by tripping the mechanism; or that the Fort was much easier to surround undetected than he realized.  Whatever the case, now that his men had taken Fort Bragg, Stone Creek refused to allow them to remain inside once they had made sure no one was there to defend it.  He ordered his men to set up camp around rather than within the Fort, the greatest part of the encampment at Weymouth Woods along its westernmost side.

When asked why the army was not allowed to enter the Fort, Stone Creek said simply that he needed a good night's sleep.  Cade alone understood what he meant.

"You expect them to come in the night?" he asked.

"They might have," Stone Creek answered.  "Now they won't. So we can all sleep a little easier tonight."  All except for a young soldier who had strayed into the woods to relieve himself and was attacked and dragged away to be devoured before he could even cry out.

Cade heard it, but had no way to identify what it was he heard.  He awoke his grandfather to tell him that something had happened in the woods.  A scouting party was hastily assembled and Cade led them to where the sounds he had heard came from.  All that remained was a trail of blood heading north through the woods, with a set of footprints trailing alongside it.  When the scene was described to Cade, he knelt down to run his fingers along the trail, his fingers stumbling in and out of the footprints.  Then he looked up and said "The big cat ate his bones."  A shudder ran through his body that almost knocked him over; but he managed to get up, then put his hands over his throat.

"What is it?" Stone Creek asked.

"He didn't suffer," was all Cade would say.

For more than a week Stone Creek kept his army bivouacked around Fort Bragg before finally deciding it was time to make his move.  He assembled his troops and ordered them to prepare for battle.  Everyone looked at him as if he were a madman playing out some bizarre fantasy.  Several of the outlaw leaders approached him.

"Have we left our homes to come fight a phantom army?" they asked him.

"Not to worry," he answered.  "There will be enough real armies to fight without engaging the supernatural.  I take it your trek has dulled your senses to where you can no longer smell - let alone see - enemy scouts."

"What do you mean?"

"We've been scouted every since we arrived."

"You didn't stop them?" the outlaw leaders asked in some alarm.

"Stop them?" Stone Creek repeated as if he had not heard correctly.  "It was all I could do to keep from giving them the grand tour!  I wanted our position known - and now it is.  But even more so, I wanted their position known - and I believe it is too.  The frequency of the scouting told me how close we are to them.  And now they know the only way to engage us is out in the open, face to face, like two armies straight out of a text book  It's up to us to make the first move.  Judging from the scouts' movements, I'd say the enemy is southeast of this fort, so that's where we're headed.  Right toward the mounds -"

"Mounds?"

"Not really hills," Stone Creek assured the outlaws, "just ancient burial mounds or something like that.  On the Lumberton Plain.  My guess is, it's on that plain we'll meet the enemy - and defeat him."

On Wednesday, November 24th of the year 2094, the army Stone Creek had forged from the remnants of the outlaws he had fought in Indiana began its march to the mounds of the Lumberton Plain to conquer the Carolinas.  It moved slowly, its commander-in-chief determined to give the enemy time to assemble along the plain.  For twenty miles, it proceeded southeastward between the Cape Fear River, to the south, and the South River to its north.  It had just passed Little Singletary Lake and was approaching Suggs Mill Pond when something appeared on the horizon.

Stone Creek had Cade by his side during the march.  When he abruptly halted his army's advance, Cade knew what it meant, and came to a halt too as the vibration of the army's advance dissipated into the plain.

"How far away are they?" Cade asked.

"Maybe three miles," Stone Creek answered.

"Can you tell how many there are?"

"No.  But it looks like as many as we have."

Evening was drawing near, and Stone Creek knew the battle would not begin till morning.  He moved his men a little farther down the plain, just beyond Suggs Mill Pond, then ordered them to camp for the night.  He sent out the word that no tents would be set up, and no more than a quarter of his troops would sleep at any one time.

Slowly, the night passed and the morning began rinsing the darkness from the sky.  But there was no sunrise; during the night, thick clouds had blown in from the west, depositing a late November chill on Lumberton Plain and a heavy gray swirl against the eastern horizon which blocked the sun.  Both armies were readying to meet each other, each waiting for the other to move first.  Finally, Stone Creek gave the word and his army began to advance.  Several minutes later, the Carolinians began their advance.  In less than an hour the two armies stood a mile apart - almost within firing range.  Once again, the two armies stopped, as if neither wanted to fire the first shot in a battle that could destroy both.

"I've never used binoculars," Stone Creek observed to Cade.  "I've always felt they were a general's worst enemy, that every time he looks through them he disarms one of his soldiers.  No general should see his enemy up close before he's ready to fire.  Yet now, I'd give anything for a pair of binoculars.  For all I know, Brad may be leading that army."

"Then call for a truce," Cade suggested.

"No," said Stone Creek.  "A truce before the battle begins is a surrender.  We don't know for sure that Brad led his people this way.  Or, if he did, that they weren't all killed.  The only thing for us to do is begin fighting."

With this, Stone Creek gave his army the signal to advance.  Just as he did, he caught sight of three people approaching the enemy line from behind.  He continued watching as the three closed ranks and were swallowed up in the sea of troops.  Within minutes, a scout was dispatched carrying a white flag.

Stone Creek halted his army and sent a scout of his own to meet the enemy scout on the intended battlefield.  Stone Creek's scout returned a few minutes later with a request that he meet with the enemy commander.  He turned to Cade.

"I won't ask you if it's a trick," he said.  "I'm not sure you'd know how to read deception.  I do know for sure something's not right.  They wouldn't be asking to meet otherwise."  Then he turned back to his scout and told him to accept the offer.

"Let me come with you," Cade asked.

Stone Creek considered his grandson's request a moment.  "If it is a trick," he said, "I don't want them getting you too.  On the other hand, if they get me, I'm afraid the battle is lost, so they'll get you anyway.  At least this way I'll be with you.  Let's go."

Together they started out, reaching the halfway point before anyone breached the enemy's line to come forward.  They waited several more minutes before detecting any sign of movement.  Then the line opened and three people passed through.  Two of them Stone Creek recognized immediately; the third one, unknown to him, Cade ran to and embraced, just as if he had been watching him for a long time, from a great distance, wondering when he would finally arrive.

"Who are you that you know me when I don't know you?" the young man with a bandage wrapped tightly about his chest asked.

"I believed in you right up to the end," answered Cade as he slowly released the young man.  "Then I lost faith."

"So you have taken Carolina?" Stone Creek asked Brad.

"Alice still rules!" Darryl answered for him.

"Of course," said Stone Creek, turning now to the third young man.  "And if Alice rules, Sandy lives," he noted, adding "just barely though."

"General!" Darryl took the lead in presenting the terms of the truce, "there's an army headed this way.  I escaped -"

"Escaped?" asked Stone Creek.

"They conscripted me," Darryl explained.  "The army of New York -"

"Ah!" quipped Stone Creek.  "Clarence is come!  I knew his militia would win out, unlike all the ones that were destroyed.  He was determined, and completely ruthless.  And now he's come for us.  On his sweep down the eastern seaboard - just as he always swore he'd do.  How many men?"

"At least a thousand," said Darryl.  "Every one of them ready to do battle.  We cannot fight your army and theirs.  So we propose a settlement."

"Or else maybe I'll just go back to the border and wait out Clarence's sweep, then return for the clean up," Stone Creek mused.

"I wouldn't count on that, general," Darryl objected.  "Clarence's ranks never thin.  His army absorbs its prisoners, turns them into new conscripts.  The ones it doesn't eat, that is.  They started out a thousand strong, they're still a thousand strong."

"In that case," Stone Creek softened his stand, "let's talk!"

Sandy was attacked by a gang of thugs on the docks of Wilmington.  He had just laid anchor and secured his yacht, then stepped onto the pier to begin his way back to the walled city when he saw a dozen men approaching from behind a warehouse; they were not the typical dock workers of this port.  He could tell they were carrying weapons and that they had spotted him at the same time he saw them.  He could also tell that they intended to attack him.  He knew he could easily outrun or outmaneuver them since clearly they were not from this area and probably had not discovered all its secret places; but in doing so he risked leaving his boat to be pillaged and possibly dismantled.  So he had to make a stand, here and now.

Except for his knife, which he always carried with him, he had no weapons, all the yachtsman's guns locked safely away on board.  Nor did he have time to get to the guns before the thugs reached him; he had time only to run - or to climb.  He looked up at the masthead, barely a third as high as that of the Monterey Bay, but high enough to keep the thugs from reaching him without having to one by one climb the masthead themselves.  He was banking on their weapons not being guns, since no one had fired on him once they were in range.

He made a flying leap and, catching hold of the mast, climbed to the top, positioning himself along a crossbeam.  He looked down at the thugs, who had boarded his boat and stood staring up at him a moment before they burst out laughing.

"How shall we get him down?" they began debating among themselves.  "Shall we throw rocks at him until we knock him off?  Shall we climb after him?  Or wait it out till he starves? or falls asleep?  Or shall we save us all a lot of time and simply build a bonfire?  Which shall it be?"

While they were debating how to get him, Sandy was busy loosening the main sail and the staysails - not enough to release the sails but just enough to have the ropes ready in case he needed to swing to safety.  Once the ropes were readied, he returned to the main mast to wait it out until he saw what course they would take.  He waited nearly an hour before several of them went to gather rocks, which they began hurling up at him - and which he managed to avoid no matter how many were hurled together. 

They went and got a second batch, which he avoided as skillfully as he had the first.  Then a third, and a fourth, hurling each rock with greater fury, each one farther off the mark than the last.  It maddened them to think that he had outmaneuvered them so easily; they cursed him and vowed to take him alive so they could hear his screams as he was being cut to pieces.  Suddenly it was no longer sport but vengeance that spurned them on.  And, just as suddenly, the advantage shifted to Sandy.  Now it was they who were vulnerable, made so by their desperation to repay him for humiliating them.

They began ascending the mast, first one, as if testing it for stability, then a second and a third.  The first one to reach him grabbed hold of his left arm then, seconds later, plunged to the deck, his throat slashed from ear to ear.  The second, fast on his heels, grabbed Sandy by the ankles to restrain him while the third climbed up to subdue him.  Sandy let himself be grabbed around his neck by the third man before plunging his knife into the man's side and pushing him from the mast; then he moved like lightening to stab the hands of the thug holding his ankles, sending that one also to his death.

Two more climbed after him, ignoring the demands of the others to wait until they had worked out a better strategy, both climbing together, incensed beyond reason, almost knocking each other from the mast as they struggled to get to him.  They both reached the crossbeam at the same instant, both raising themselves onto it with a force that sent a shock wave through the beam that nearly hurled Sandy from it.  He managed to steady himself with the rope he had loosened; then, taking a deep breath, leaped through the air in an almost horizontal line, straight for the two thugs, who readied themselves to grab hold of his ankles.  But his legs suddenly buckled, a couple feet away from them, then came flying out from under him with the force of two torpedoes, striking each man under his chin.  One was killed outright, his neck broken by the impact; the other was thrown off balance and fell from the crossbeam onto the deck, his head splitting open.

The others continued hurling curses at Sandy, but no one else attempted to climb the mast.  Instead, they began plotting ways to get him without exposing themselves to direct contact.  A dozen different plans were considered and dismissed before they settled on the one plan they had most hoped to avoid: torching the mast.  They wanted Sandy's ship - that was why they attacked him in the first place.  Burning him down from his perch risked destroying the entire ship along with him.  But it was a risk they finally accepted.

The sky was growing pale as the sun began slipping beneath the horizon; but their anger would not let them wait till morning to carry out their plan.  Three men were sent to gather kindling and to prepare a torch for lighting the bonfire.  By the time they returned, the whole eastern sky had darkened, and the west was rapidly fading.  The kindling was placed at the base of the mast, then the torch was brought and lit.  The man holding it approached once it was ablaze, readying to light the kindling.  Suddenly something struck him from behind, snapping his neck like a twig; the torch flew from his hand.  Before it even touched deck, the other thugs turned and ran; and as they did, Sandy slid down the mast, picked up the torch and hurled it into the harbor, then turned around.  Standing beside him in silhouette, watching the flame disappear in the water, was a mountain lion.

Sandy knelt down, as if it were a kitten come to be petted.  He stroked its head and scratched under its chin, then put his arms around its neck.  As he did, it licked his face.

"You saved my ship," he told the lion.  "I'll need it when I begin my life's work."

The lion turned to retreat, but Sandy put out his hand, beckoning it to stay.  "Come," he said.  "Sail up the Cape Fear with me.  I can't leave my boat here.  The docks aren't safe anymore.  Something's happened to distract Alice; otherwise the gangs would never have returned."

Sandy went below deck to stoke his engine.  Before long, he stood on the bridge, guiding his yacht into the pitch dark of night, the mountain lion standing beside him.

"I have so much to tell you," he said in a strange guttural language whose sounds conveyed his message.  "I saw the big cats of Africa.  Some were as black as night.  Yes - I swear it!  They were like the night.  They told me it was wrong to make slaves of the villagers.  They said the land would wither and die if any part of it was destroyed.  They made me promise to return those I had taken away.  For the rest of my life I must work to free those who were taken, and keep the slavers from taking more.  And I must find John - the first man I took as a slave.  When he returns to his home, the big cats will sit in judgment of me.  Only then will they decide if I'm to live or die.  They could have killed me when I was tied to the big tree; they could have torn me to pieces.  But they said they would wait until I had returned John.  Whatever they decide, I swore to them I would accept, even if it means my death."

They sailed up the Cape Fear as far as Elizabethtown.  When Sandy docked his boat, the lion leaped from the deck and disappeared into the night.  Moments later, Sandy came ashore, also disappearing into the darkness surrounding the town.  He made his way northeastward through the dark, until he came upon the greatest of the seven walled cities of the Lumberton Plain.  He stood before the gate looking up at the fortress that had once been his home but would never again be.  Tears filled his eyes as he saw the future he had always imagined for himself escaping from within those walls.  As much as he loved the sea, he loved his home more; but his path was laid out before him, its first stone set in place by the first man he enslaved, each successive stone laid beside it by every other.  It was a path he could neither step away from nor move beyond.  He had come home only to say goodbye forever.  He rapped on the gate, using the code known only to those who lived here, and was admitted to the walled city.

He went straight to Alice's throne room, ignoring the people thronged within the city square - more people than he had ever seen here before, at any hour of the day, especially so late into the evening, when only the lights of candles within the houses and shops illuminated the streets.  He made note of their unfamiliarity, but did not stop to inquire who they were or how they had come to be here.  Neither did he respond to the stares directed at him as if it were he who trespassed on their land.  He did stop once along the way, though, when, from the corner of one eye, he caught sight of a young couple traversing the square.  He barely noticed the dark haired young man; but the woman walking beside him caused his heart to pound, and made him wish for a moment he were thirteen again and had not yet discovered right from wrong.  Had he been thirteen, he would have pulled his knife and taken the woman from her companion or else died trying.  His eyes caught hers; she casually removed the scarf she wore around her neck to show him the mark that still had not completely healed.  He acknowledged the gesture with a slight bow of his head then turned to resume his walk.  The young woman watched him disappear into the Queen's palace, muttering to herself "She has chosen wisely."

"Who?" asked Brad.

"The boy's mother," Felicia replied.  Thinking she referred to something she had witnessed in the square, Brad said nothing further.

"You have seen her," Alice observed upon looking into her visitor's eyes.

"Who?" asked Sandy.

"The mate chosen for you," Alice answered.  Sandy looked at Alice as if she were staring at his naked body.  "She has a place on her neck where the lion attacked her.  It marks her as yours."

"She showed it to me," Sandy acknowledged somewhat sheepishly, as if they were talking about some private part of the woman's anatomy.

"Be forewarned," Alice predicted, "you will have to fight for her.  Brad will not willingly release her, no matter if she surrenders herself to you or not."

"Then he will die," said Sandy.

"Do not underestimate him," Alice cautioned.  "He will maneuver you into accepting the weapon of his choice."

"Let him.  There is no weapon I have not mastered."

A silence ensued, after which Sandy told Alice why he had come home.  The Queen of the Universe listened carefully to everything that was said, hearing as well what could only have been said by an old man looking back on the events of his life.

"You must be careful," Alice told Sandy.  "For all their wisdom, the big cats are no more omniscient than we are.  If you rely on them alone for moral advice, you'll leave yourself defenseless against things you could not have foreseen.  I could have told you it was wrong to make slaves of your fellow man; but you wouldn't have listened; nor would you have listened to any human - not even this John, who means so much to you.  Had the big cats never stalked you, you would still be beside Captain Clark on his slave ship.  You might never have seen that taking slaves is an adventure unworthy of a hero -"

"I'm not a hero," Sandy pointed out.

"You are as close to it as this world may ever see again," Alice insisted.  "You were blessed with the gift of life.  That's why you cannot see anything you do as anything other than adventure.  And because you carry life in your heart, life will reward you.  You were orphaned from your first parents, and circumstances conspired to keep you from ever seeing them again.  Yet you will.  Your mother is already here.  And your father is in California.  So, in coming home to say goodbye you get to see your mother; and in going to free John, you will see your father.  Were you less of a hero, you would never have seen either - and, even worse, you would never have know that it mattered.  But tell me: where will you get a boat seaworthy enough to take you halfway around the world?"

"First you must tell me something," Sandy responded to Alice's question.  "What has happened at Wilmington?  I met up with a band of cutthroats - it was as if I had strayed onto Praia's docks at midnight.  There were never such men in our harbors."

"I have been in exile from my kingdom," Alice admitted gravely.  "Since Brad brought his people to my cities, I have not dared set foot beyond my capital for fear of a coup."

"More than ever, then, I must kill him," Sandy resolved.  "And when he's no longer a threat, together we'll clear the harbors of cutthroats.  And make them safe again for the great ships of the Caribbean."

"So you can commandeer them?" Alice quipped.

"I need only one," Sandy promised, adding "for now."

The house Brad had taken stood directly across from the palace, his aim in getting it to keep an eye on Alice's comings and goings, as well as monitoring her visitors.  Just as she feared a coup, Brad feared a plot to have him eliminated, leaving his people without a leader - and, without a leader, they would be quickly assimilated into the kingdom to become loyal subjects of the Queen.

"I intend for our son to rule some day," Brad told Felicia, who reminded him that they had no child.  "In time we will," he assured her.

On the night of Sandy's return, Felicia stood at the window watching the palace to see if he would emerge into the street.  Brad called to her, asking why she was still at the window.

"It's my night to watch Alice!" she quipped.  "I'll come to bed soon," she said a moment later, when it became clear that Sandy would not appear.  Just as she started to turn away, she caught sight of something moving in one of the palace windows.  She extinguished the candle beside her window, trying to get a clearer image of what stood across the square from her.  It was Sandy, who had been looking out at her as she watched the palace door.  He put his hand to the window; Felicia did likewise.  Then he turned and walked back to his bed and went to sleep.

The next morning, Sandy arose before daybreak and came into the square.  Some of the vendors were setting up their stands for the day; Sandy went among them, helping them with their chores, his glance directed toward the door to Brad's house as he worked.

"The Czar's woman pleases you," a couple of the vendors remarked.

"Czar?" Sandy repeated questioningly.

"We call him that," they explained.  "He who would be King, but cannot - and, God willing, never will.  He will never give her up," they advised.

Soon the sun cut open the eastern sky, though it remained hidden behind the high walls of Alice's capital awhile longer.  Just as the tiniest ray was beginning to peep over the wall, the door to Brad's house opened and Felicia stepped out into the square.  She had gotten up early and told Brad she was going for a walk through the city.  She had not looked out before leaving, and had not expected Sandy to be the first sight she saw.  Sandy walked to her.

"Alice said she has chosen you," he said.  "It wouldn't have mattered," he added.  "The choice is mine, not hers."

"It does matter," Felicia told him.  "Had she not chosen me she would have eaten me."

"Everyone says you're spoken for," he observed matter-of-factly.

"I'm free to speak for myself," Felicia replied.                        

"But I'm not free," Sandy pointed out.  "I'm sentenced to spend the rest of my life undoing what I've done.  When I leave here, I might never come home again.  For all I know, I may never set foot on land again.  I have no say in my fate.  You'll come with me when I leave.  You'll sail the great oceans with me.  And if we make landfall, it'll be in California.  If I die, you'll deliver my body to the sea - it isn't yours to bury.  It's only yours to have while it lives.  But even if I were ready this very moment to begin my journey, I wouldn't.  I won't steal you away while he sleeps.  I'll face him, in any way he chooses.  He deserves a chance to keep from losing you."

"He's already lost me," Felicia said.  "Even before you arrived, I would have gone to sea alone if no one had ever come for me."

Sandy looked at the mark on her neck and said "I will endure waiting till he is no more."  Then he turned and walked away.

It was three days before Felicia saw him again.  She had already told Brad of her decision, expecting him either to argue against it or to express his displeasure more openly.  Instead, he said nothing, one way or the other; nor did he react physically.  He merely shrugged and went about his business with a calm more menacing than the most violent outburst. 

Felicia had already intended to consult Alice, who was first to grasp the inevitability of her leaving Brad for Sandy; but Brad's stoic acceptance made the visit more urgent.   She went almost immediately to the palace, seeking an audience with the Queen, who knew before she uttered a single word why she had come.

"I told Brad about Sandy," Felicia said.

"And he acted as if it were no more than a household chore you were proposing," Alice surmised.  Felicia nodded.  "It's a measure of his arrogance that he offered you nothing in exchange for the knowledge.  It's hard to imagine that Andrea bore him and raised him; no other women I've ever known is more like me.  And from what she and Carol tell me, he didn't come under the influence of Stone Creek till he was almost a man.  And yet there he is, as oblivious to women as if he were a eunuch.  In Brad's scheme of things, your love is a matter between him and his rival; it doesn't concern you.  Only the outcome concerns you.  The victor will take you, and that's the end of it."

"And Sandy?" Felicia asked.  "He, too, seems to think it's between him and Brad."

"Sandy is still learning about life," Alice observed.  "Whereas learning is irrelevant to Brad.  In time, Sandy will come to accept that it was your will that gave you to him, not his that took you.  Brad will never see that.  It's inconceivable for Brad to strike out at you; in his eyes, this is beyond your control."

"I may still end up going to sea alone," Felicia informed Alice.  "Whether the lion chose me or not.  If Sandy and Brad fight over me, I'm not sure I can ever go to either.  I don't know what it would take to overcome my distaste at being hunted and captured."

"The lion didn't choose you simply to be his mate," Alice told her visitor, "but to be his teacher as well.  He's learned all he could from his mother, now he must turn to his wife to finish his education.

Brad saw him first.  He and Felicia were walking outside the walled city, on their way to meet his lieutenants, whom he had stationed at each of the other six cities.  Once a week he rendezvoused with them to get an update on his people.  Brad knew they were slowly being assimilated into the culture of the Carolinas; he knew the day would come when they would cease trying to preserve the way of life they had carried with them from Indiana; and, when their way of life left them, so too would their old loyalties.  Then they would no longer be his people.  So he knew he would have to make his move while his people were still his - an end toward which he had been working ever since he arrived.

He had managed to drive Darryl from the kingdom, the biggest threat to his dreams of power - only to have an even bigger threat appear.  He could banish Sandy as well, but only by relinquishing the woman he intended to bear him an heir.  No power on earth could bring him to do that; so he couldn't simply stand aside and watch Sandy walk away, no matter how perfect a solution it was.  His only course was to destroy this rival for both the woman he loved and the throne he coveted.

By now Felicia, too, had seen Sandy approaching from the caves at the northern end of the Plain.  Despite what he told her, she hoped he would come for her in the middle of the night when Brad was asleep.  But now the thing she feared most was inevitable, perhaps imminent, both rivals for her hand poised to do battle, at least one, if not both, destined to lose her forever.

When they came face to face, Brad stood a moment staring at Sandy, hoping the sight of his rival would help him devise his strategy.  But all the encounter accomplished was the reinforcement of his initial impression that they were too evenly matched for either to triumph over the other.  The victor would be whomever fortune was with at the exact moment of victory.  Brad could only gain the upper hand by outsmarting Sandy, the way he had outsmarted Henry; but he dared not try and keep Felicia the way he had won her.  In destroying Sandy, he would also destroy Felicia's dream of spending the rest of her life at sea; to do so underhandedly was to risk losing her completely.  Finally, every possible strategy retreating before him, Brad simply challenged his rival to a duel.

"We cannot both live," he told Sandy.  "It isn't enough to fight; we must fight to the death.  I don't care how we choose to fight.  I prefer guns, but I'll leave the choice to you."

Sandy accepted Brad's choice of weapon.  They agreed to meet at noon the following day, just outside the walled city, beside the main gate.  Sandy went to tell Alice; Brad met with his lieutenants.  Then both spent the rest of the afternoon sharpening their skills.  Later that evening, an assassin was paid to fire a single shot from one of the turrets guarding the main gate.

"He will die, you know," Brad predicted.  "There is no better marksman on this planet than me.  I almost wish he had chosen knives instead: if he had, I would have agreed to it.  We would have been more evenly matched.  And I would have been able to right a great wrong.  My father was killed in a knife fight with his leader, Kirk."

"How would killing Sandy right that?" Felicia asked.

Brad hesitated, as if trying to recall what made him conclude that Sandy's death would avenge his father's.  Finally, he shrugged and said "It just would."

Sandy spent the night in a small graveyard hidden away in a corner of the palace grounds; Mount Everest was buried there.

"You knew Brad before you knew me," Sandy addressed the headstone marking Mount Everest's grave.  "Of all the people in the kingdom, you alone would have tried to talk us out of this.  Maybe Brad was more to you than just a name from the past.  Maybe I was more to you than someone you happened to raise.  If you had told me not to do this, I would have gone away; and Brad would have lived another day."

Sandy sat down next to the headstone and leaned up against it, slipping into a dream like state, half asleep, half awake.  When his eyes closed, he imagined he saw the Monterey Bay sailing into the harbor at Dakar, nestling close to the wharf to take on its cargo.  He saw John being led in chains; he saw himself come up to John and ask if he was wrong to jeopardize his mission for the sake of this woman he loved.  He saw John's hand strike out, felt the sting of it against his cheek.  "If you abandon her, you'll never complete your mission," he heard John's voice telling him.  Then John faded and Sandy fell into a deep sleep.  Toward sunrise, he saw the same figure he had seen twice before - in the storm off Africa and on the rocks at St. Lucia.  The figure beckoned to a young man to come to him, putting his arms out as if offering shelter.  The young man turned toward him.  It was Brad.  Sandy tried to go to the figure, but it disappeared into the morning sun.

When Sandy awoke, he muttered to himself "Brad will live."  Then he arose and left the graveyard, making his way from the palace grounds into the street.  Once again, he met Felicia walking through the square.  She pleaded with him to call off the duel.  He shook his head no.

"I'm not doing this to make him release you," Sandy told her.  "You're already mine.  I'm doing it so he can release himself from you."  Then he turned and walked away.                                        

Neither Carol nor Andrea knew anything about the duel until a few minutes before it was to take place.  They were walking together in the square when a flurry of activity caught their attention.  They stopped someone to ask what was happening and were told that two men were preparing to fight a duel at noon.  Carol merely shrugged and continued on, not realizing until several steps later that Andrea had remained behind.  She stopped and turned back, expecting to find her friend at one of the merchant's stands.  Instead, Andrea was standing where she left her, as still as a statue, her face as pale as if she were about to faint.  Going to her, Carol asked what was wrong.

Andrea looked up at her and muttered "We have to stop it!" then took hold of Carol's arm and led her in the same direction everyone else seemed to be moving.  She began pushing her way through the crowd toward the gate, letting go of Carol's arm as she grew more frantic.  Just as she reached the gate, a shot rang out.  She froze momentarily then stepped beyond the gate in time to see Felicia kneeling down to lift someone into her arms, cradling his head against her breast.                                            

He held up his hand.  "One of the slaver's cut it off," the leader of the rebellion told Joey.  "He said he always wanted a black finger for a good luck charm.  I learned later, as we were being led ashore at Monterey, that the Captain hanged him for it.  I would have pleaded for him if I had known.  A man's life is more valuable than another man's finger.  The irony is, the finger he took proved a good luck charm for me instead.  Because of it, I was freed.  The Captain thought no one would pay for a slave missing a finger.  I was fourteen then.  For ten years I've lived in California as a free man.  That's proven to be the other side of the irony.  My freedom has been far more difficult than the others' captivity.  They were forced to work, yes; but I was forced to exist as a curiosity.  The papers I carried allowed me to go among the people of this land; but they could not give me work.  I had to beg in the streets, or else steal, or sell myself for the night, or live as an animal foraging in the woods."

"Why didn't you return to Africa?" Joey asked.  "I know it's possible to stow away aboard the slave ships.  Others have done it."

"Something held me back," Joey was told.  "Eventually I came to understand that the day would come when I could free my people.  And that day will soon be at hand.  I welcome your help, but you must be warned: when the revolution reaches its zenith, your life may be in as much jeopardy as that of any other Californian.  I cannot guarantee the safety of any man with a white skin."

Joey smiled up at his new leader, who stood almost a foot taller.  "It isn't your protection but God's that I rely on," he said.  "If God chooses to withhold His protection, nothing you do can save me.  And if I die at your people's hands, I'll still have died doing God's work."

"I must ask you this," the leader said.  "In your deepest heart, do you see yourself as our equal or our superior?  The day may come when I have to sacrifice myself to save you.  How you answer now may determine my decision."

"Whatever I feel resides in my faith - not in my heart," Joey answered.  "If God should order me to look down on you, I would obey Him.  I would betray everything I believe, everything I feel.  I would look you in the eye and call myself your superior."

"And you would pray for me to strike you dead," the leader stated with absolute certainty.  "I have my answer," he told Joey.  "I was taken from my gods before I fully understood them," he said.  "I never sought your god, so it must sound blasphemous to you that I hope your god is worthy of your devotion."

Joey nodded his head.  "There's no blasphemy in questioning God - or even in cursing Him," he assured his leader.  "Only in lying to Him."

"You can't lie to the gods," the leader replied.

"But you can lie to yourself.  You can tell yourself you love God when you don't."

After his escape from the Movement's headquarters on Ridgewood Summit, Joey debated whether to return to the Sierras.  He knew he could never return to the life he had started on Donner's Pass; but neither could he hope to free more slaves with the authorities on the lookout for anyone trying to free them and the Movement on the lookout for him specifically.  Then he thought perhaps he could leave this largest of the California islands to settle on one of the smaller islands.  He had no way of knowing if they, too, had slaves working the fields, or if the Movement was active there; but it seemed to be the only course open to him other than returning to the Sierras.  He found himself wishing for a moment that he was back in prison: not daring to approach anyone to ask about the other islands, he thought of his cellmate at Folsom, who seemed to know the ways of California better than anyone else he had encountered.

He knelt down in the forest where he was hiding and prayed for guidance, leaning against a giant tree.  Slowly, he began falling asleep; and in this twilight state he imagined he was boarding a very large boat whose sails were being raised and whose Captain was standing on the bridge charting a course.  He abruptly awoke and, under cover of night, began moving southward, toward the San Francisco Bay, where he expected to find the boat he dreamt about.

There were numerous boats docked in the harbors surrounding the Bay, but none was the boat God had showed him.  So he moved on down the coast, toward Monterey Bay, arriving first at Santa Cruz then working his way along the shoreline, checking one after another marina, until coming to Monterey, where he caught sight of a ship's sails being raised.  He ran along the wharf to where the ship was docked.  He looked up and saw its Captain on the bridge, bent down, as if plotting his course.  He leaped aboard and hurried along the deck until he stood before the bridge.  The Captain lifted his head from his charts and caught Joey's eyes; and, though he had never seen Joey before in his life, his face turned as white as if he had seen a ghost.

By now the First Mate and two deck hands had come on deck and ran to Joey, grabbing him from behind.  The Captain raised his hand to his men and cried out "Wait!"  Then he stepped from the bridge onto the deck and asked Joey why he had come aboard.

"If he says he's a sailor, I'll slit his throat for lying to you!" the First Mate said.

"I'm not a sailor," said Joey.  "I haven't come to help you take slaves.  I only wanted to know if there are slaves on the smaller islands."

"Release him," the Captain ordered.

"I don't trust him," the First Mate insisted.

"But I do," said the Captain.  "Something about him makes me think of the First Mate I lost off Africa.  He was a boy," he told Joey.  "The finest sailor I've ever known.  To my dying day I'll believe he made it to safety - it's inconceivable the sea could so easily claim him, when all the rest of us survived the storm.  You wish to know if there are slaves on the lesser islands - so you can free them -"

The First Mate brought his knife to Joey's throat; but, once again, the Captain motioned his release.  "It's not our concern what happens once we've sold our cargo," the Captain pointed out.  "If he frees every slave in California - so much the better for us.  In fact, stay aboard, as my personal guest.  I'll make an unscheduled stop on any island of your choosing.  Agreed?"

Joey nodded, bewildered by the Captain's offer.  Perceiving his guest's quandary, the Captain smiled broadly and removed his hat.  "Observe," he said.  "No devil's horns.  Yet I trade in slaves.  You cannot imagine anyone but a thoroughly depraved monster selling his fellow man for profit.  And yet, I'm offering sanctuary to a man who would put me out of business in a heartbeat.  Make of it what you will, but leave morality out of it.  Morality, I'm afraid, is simply not up to the task of explaining human events."

"Captain Clark, sir," the First Mate interrupted as he looked around to his men gathering on deck, "we're ready to set sail."

"Then let's do it," the Captain ordered.

The Archipelago extended a thousand miles north to south, between the thirtieth and fiftieth parallel; it consisted of sixty-six islands, the six largest sandwiched among the smaller islands.  Sacramento was still the state capital, its island the largest, richest, most populous, reaching from Mendocino County southward to the middle of Monterey County.  Across a channel was a smaller island, sparsely populated though still one of the largest of the islands, separated by a narrow strait from a slightly larger island containing the city of Santa Barbara on its western shore and Bakersfield on its eastern shore.  A hundred miles farther south was the second largest of the islands; it held the entire Los Angeles basin and reached almost two hundred miles eastward, the only one of the big islands wider from east to west than from north to south.  The other two big islands lay north of Sacramento, one surrounded by half a dozen smaller islands, the other two hundred miles east of the Archipelago, a mountainous fortress virtually uninhabited.

"I've been to every one of them," Captain Clark told his guest as he laid a map of the Archipelago before him.  "If I were a man on the run, as you seem to be, I'd choose someplace that's sparsely populated.  Here, for instance," he pointed to the island of mountains to the northeast.  "Of course, you won't find any slaves to free there.  So I suppose that's not for you."  He pointed out another island, a small one almost as far east as the fortress, but at the southern end of the Archipelago.  "This one's not for you either," he acknowledged, "but some day you must visit it," he insisted.  "There's a village there called Mecca, so close to the shoreline it would disappear in the first storm that hit.  Yet it's never been struck by a storm.  No matter how close they come, they always veer away.  It's the home of a god; they keep his head in a chapel in the center of town.  The natives say it's he that protects them from the storms.  But maybe you think that's blasphemous," the Captain prompted.

"The God I believe in would sooner His children worship a head - or a rock, or a tree - they truly believe in than to worship the one true God halfheartedly," Joey answered.

"You don't know this to be true though," Clark pointed out.

Joey thought a moment but did not respond to Clark's observation.  Instead, he set his finger down on one of the islands and said "This is where I'd like to go."

"We'll dock at Santa Barbara," Clark agreed, "and you can be on your way.  I think I should warn you though: the authorities are in constant communication.  They'll be alerted in Santa Barbara to be on the lookout for you."

Joey smiled at his host.  "The irony is," he told him, "it's not the authorities I'm running from.  It's the Movement - the freedom fighters.  They're the ones after me."

"The ones who free the slaves?" Clark prompted.  Joey nodded yes.  "Why are they after you?"

"I wanted to help those who work the small farms," Joey explained.  "But that's not on their agenda."

"Like I said," Clark noted, "morality is useless.  The good guys are out to get you; the bad guys come charging to your rescue.  There's no more black and white, it looks like.  We all put our guns on one buckle at a time.  That's life, my friend.  Take it or leave it."

The Monterey Bay made Santa Barbara in less than a day.  As Joey disembarked, Captain Clark whimsically asked him if he was sure he didn't want to joint them aboard his slave ship.

"Pay's good," Clark assured Joey.  "You're guaranteed a job.  Lots of adventure."  Then he grew reflective.  "That's what the boy was after.  Adventure.  The truth is, I don't know how much longer I could have let him sail with me.  In my mind it's neither right nor wrong what I do; but the boy wasn't after money.  As long as I kept feeding his lust for adventure, I don't think he'd have ever thought to ask if it's right or wrong.  I couldn't hold him back forever from something he has a right to decide for himself."

"Maybe God decided for him," Joey offered.

This time Captain Clark smiled ironically.  "You said 'maybe,'" he pointed out.  "First time I heard you say 'maybe' about your God."

"I have a feeling this boy's not ready to hear God just yet," Joey said.  Then Joey looked off into the distance and told Captain Clark that he knew the boy survived.  "Someone guided him to safety - not God, but someone God chose to use.  You'll meet the boy again," Joey predicted.  A cold chill ran down his spine the instant his prediction left his lips.

Joey already knew from his visit to Sacramento that, in California, he who does not work does not live long.  From the moment the Monterey Bay pulled away from the dock, Joey began integrating himself into one after another group of workers as he made his way through Santa Barbara.  Only when he was beyond the city limits and reasonably sure the authorities were not policing the area for vagrants did he lessen his pace and begin considering where he wanted to go and what he intended to do.

His goal was still to help free slaves, but he knew he would have to work alone and could only target small farms with no more than a dozen workers.  He had no idea if the Movement was active on this island; and, if it was, whether or not it kept in touch with the big island.  For all he knew, he might be a marked man here as well as there, so he made sure he avoided every place he was likely to encounter anyone connected with the Movement.

He arrived at Santa Barbara on a Thursday, the 17th of February of the year 2095.  For the next three weeks he scoured the island, noting the location of every farm and every town.  He avoided every farm big enough to interest the Movement, if they were active on this island, which he still had not determined; and every town big enough to have state authorities stationed among the local police.  He was anxious to begin freeing the slaves; but, at the same time, conscious of the need to move slowly and cautiously so as to avoid capture or, worse still, becoming the instrument of their destruction.  Finally, at the beginning of his fourth week on the island, he felt he was ready.  He fixed a small farm southwest of Bakersfield just north of the town of Tupman as his target.

He watched it over the course of three days, noting any traffic in and out of the farm, the number of workers in its fields, and the location of its guard posts.  He made his move late afternoon of the third day, as the two guards left their stations to escort the seven workers back to their quarters.

He had already observed that when the workers entered the bunk house one of the guards went in with them while the other stood watch at the door.  Having no weapons, he had to rely entirely on his stealth and on the element of surprise.  He had worked his way undetected behind the bunk house while the guards were still watching the workers in the fields.  The moment he heard the door open he began creeping around to the front, where he could see the guard standing in the door frame, his full attention focused on the interior.  He crept to within a few yards of the guard; then, in a sudden burst, ran to him and pushed him with all his might into the door jamb, letting his hands slide down the guard's body to where his gun was poised limply by his side.  He grabbed the gun and stepped back as the guard fell unconscious to the floor.  Before the second guard could react, he pointed the gun at him and ordered him to throw down his weapon.  The guard hesitated.  As he and Joey stood facing each other, the first guard began to stir, then suddenly leaped from the doorway to try and reclaim his weapon.  Joey stepped back and fired just as the guard inside aimed his gun at him; his bullet struck the guard in the chest.  As the wounded guard fell, he pulled the trigger of his gun, but his line of fire had shifted; instead of hitting Joey, he shot his fellow guard in the back.  A moment later both guards lay dead, one inside the bunkhouse, the other in the doorway. 

Joey stepped inside and retrieved the other gun, then turned to the workers, who had been poised to attack the guard who tried to shoot him.  At first Joey said nothing, it having suddenly occurred to him that he had nothing to offer them beyond the moment of regaining their freedom - no plan, no underground railroad, as the Movement had, for getting them to a place of safety.  It hit him all at once that in all likelihood they would be recaptured in a couple days, their plight possibly made worse by his actions.  All he could think to do was ask them where they would go now; but before he could get the question out, one of the workers addressed him.

"Did he send you?" the man asked.

"Who?" Joey, in turn, asked.

"Lumumba," the man answered.  "Did he send you to free us?"

Joey shook his head.  "No, I don't know this man," he told the men.

"Then who sent you?"

"No one," Joey admitted, almost with a sense of shame.  "I took it upon myself to do this, without stopping to think what might come of it."

The man put his hand on Joey's shoulder.  "We're grateful for what you did.  Now we can go and join him.  You can come with us if you wish, although he may not allow you to join his rebellion.  He doesn't trust the white man -"

"Neither do I," Joey was forced to admit.  "On the big island, white men decide who's worthy of being free and who isn't.  A man who works a small field is just as much a slave as one who works a large field.  But they couldn't see that."

"Because they never felt the whip on their own backs," the man observed.

"Neither did I," Joey protested.

"You've felt it," the man told him.  "The scars are in your eyes.  You're welcome to come with us.  You may be turned away, but you have my word you won't be harmed."

Joey declined their offer, content to work alone trying to free the slaves, secure now in the knowledge that those he helped had someplace to go.

He planned and carried out three more raids - at McKittrick, a few miles northwest of Tupman; at New Cuyama. halfway between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara; and at Sisquoc, on the western fringe of Los Padres National Forest, forty miles north of Santa Barbara.  All three raids were successful, allowing thirty more men and women to escape their captivity.  But on his next attempt he was captured by the authorities and taken to the local jail to be executed.                                                                

"We'd shoot you here and now," one of the state policemen told him, "except we want the locals to watch you die.  And, believe me, it won't be pretty to watch.  But they'll enjoy it.  And so will we."                

Joey had staked out the town of Santa Maria in northwestern Santa Barbara County for almost a week.  Several times during the week he decided against it, something odd about the place warning him to go elsewhere; but each time he came back before he had gotten more than a few miles, resolving to plan more carefully and study the terrain more closely.  A feeling of being watched remained with him throughout the week; but when it came time, he went ahead with his raid in spite of the feeling, moving into place within a deep trench extending along the eastern edge of a farm just outside Santa Maria.  It was a large farm, with at least fifty workers; but, incredibly, it appeared to be guarded by no more than four guards, two of whom left each evening when the workers were bunked down for the night.  That was when Joey made his move.  It was also when the dozen state policemen trained on him made their move.  Emerging from a forested hillside, they captured him almost the moment he entered the trench.

They had not come here to capture or to spy on Joey.  Having been warned of a possible raid in the area, the state police convinced the owner to cut back his guards to less than half their usual complement, hoping to entice the rebels into raiding his farm.  But all they had to show for their trouble was one middle aged white vagrant wielding a gun and a knife.

In the distance, a tall black man pointed with the thumb of his right hand to the troopers leading their prisoner away; then he motioned the men behind him forward.  He and a band of his followers watched for a week as Joey first cased the farm, then left and returned several times before making his move.  They had come here to carry out the raid he pre-empted; they were the ones the police had set their trap for.  Now they were free to finish what Joey began.

The moment the troopers disappeared into the landscape, the band of rebels moved to the trench and worked their way through it to the same point Joey had earlier fixed upon as offering the best chance for a surprise attack.  Outnumbering the guards five to one, and with the guards no longer expecting an attack, they could just as easily have rushed the bunk house, firing their weapons as they went; but even so clear an advantage could not eliminate the danger of workers getting caught in the crossfire, as happened during some of their earlier raids, or the even greater danger of the guards turning their weapons on the workers in a last ditch effort to prevent their escape.  So they attempted to ambush the guards while they were herding the workers into the bunk house.  Raising themselves from the trench, the rebels crept toward the bunk house as the last worker was being ushered inside, sprinting the final hundred yards, first taking out the guard stationed at the bunk house door with a knife hurled between his shoulder blades then killing the second guard with a single shot to the forehead as he turned to see what had happened to his partner.

Stepping over the guards, the workers came back outside and stood at attention before the rebels, transforming themselves in the blink of an eye from slaves to warriors.  The leader came forward and addressed his new rebels.

"No man or woman among you is compelled to join the rebellion," he told them.  "All are invited, but any who choose not to join will be escorted to places of safety.  Our aim is to return all our people to their homes.  First, we must free them - all of them - before we can go home.  I won't ask for a show of hands here and now; but soon you must all make your wishes known."

The workers all looked at one another and nodded in unison before turning again to the rebel leader.  "We are yours to command," their spokesman reported.

"Then come with us to our camp," they were told.

"What of him?" one of the rebels asked.

"The white man?" the leader, in turn, asked.

"He made our job easier," the rebel pointed out.  "And he intended to free these workers.  Is it right to abandon him to the fate that might have been ours except for him?"

"Is it right to jeopardize our rebellion for the sake of one foolish white man?" the leader asked.

"We watched him for a week as he planned his attack," it was pointed out.  "He showed great skill, and courage.  Who knows?  He may be the same white man who's already freed many of our brothers."

"Let me think about it," was all the rebel leader would promise.

By the time he led the freed workers to a place of safety amidst the Sierra Madre Mountains to the east, he had made up his mind to rescue the captured white man.  He chose five of his men to accompany him back to Santa Maria, instructing the rest to wait no longer than twenty-four hours before returning to their main camp.

The rescue party arrived on the outskirts of Santa Maria just before sunrise, and made their way to the jail house.  Knowing the ways of the island, the rebel leader knew the prisoner would be executed, and that the execution would be a public event, held in the middle of town in the middle of the day - not a clandestine activity carried out behind the jail under cover of darkness as it would have been on the big island.  He led his men through the deserted streets until coming to an abandoned air park in the west central part of town.  He scoured the area surrounding the park in the dim early light of dawn, fixing on an old track of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, which had a spur leading almost to Skyway Drive, the air park's eastern boundary.  He motioned his men to follow him as he walked along the track seeking a place they could lay in wait until the execution.  When he found what he was looking for - a small way station beside a bend in the track, strategically situated relative to the park - he and his men settled in, as the day began drawing the townspeople from their homes into the streets.

Hours passed yet nothing happened, no great gathering of citizens seemed imminent.  The men began to wonder if they had chosen the wrong site for the execution, but their leader held firm in his belief that it would take place here, at the air park.  Finally, just as the afternoon sun was beginning to drop toward the western horizon, people began trooping along the streets, surrounding the park and quietly crowding inside.  From the direction of the jail came a procession of policemen, leading a naked man whose hands and feet were shackled.  The crowd started cheering as the policemen entered the park with their prisoner and took him to a platform which had been hastily erected at the northeastern corner of the park, where Skyway Drive intersected Fairway Avenue - a few hundred feet beyond the way station where the rebels lay in wait.

The chief of police motioned for the people to cease their cheering, then addressed the assembly.  "We'd sooner hang a black skin from the flag post outside city hall," he informed his audience.  "But we'll make do with what we've been given.  This miserable wretch had the misfortune to try and free some of our slaves.  He'll not only regret that - he'll regret the day he was born!  Before we skin him, we'll castrate him and stuff his testicles in his eye sockets after we gouge his eyes out!  So, are you ready for the sentence to be carried out?"

A great cheer arose from the crowd.

"Then let us begin!" the chief of police announced as he motioned his men to their posts.

Four policemen took hold of Joey, two grabbing his arms, the other two his legs.  Then a fifth officer came forward, carrying a knife.  The crowd began cheering wildly.  The officer reached down with one hand, and grabbed Joey's testicles, pulling as hard as he could, while bringing his knife to the scrotum.  Then he toppled over, blood spurting from the back of his head.  A collective gasp arose from the audience, as everyone on the platform began looking all around frantically.  Four more shots rang out, this time audible, unlike the first, which had been drowned out by the roar of the crowd.  The four policemen who had been holding Joey fell to the platform, pools of blood forming beneath them.  Screams arose from the audience, then the crowd began running blindly, wildly trying to flee the line of fire.  The policemen attempted to regroup and return fire, but couldn't get a fix on where the shots had come from; so they were unsure which way to turn.

By now the rebels had left the way station to work their way into the crowd, moving virtually unnoticed among the panic-stricken citizens, who seemed oblivious to the sudden appearance in their midst of six black men carrying rifles.  The rebels quickly positioned themselves for the final assault before the crowd dissipated entirely, so that when the last bodies cleared from in front of them, they were ready to open fire.

One after another the policemen were felled before they had time to get off a single round, until, less than two minutes later, only the prisoner remained standing on the platform, surrounded by a dozen dead bodies.  He slowly moved to the front of the platform, his bare feet tracking the blood of his captives.  Two of the rebels helped him down while a third rifled among the fallen policemen for the keys to unlock his shackles, and for a pair of shoes.  The instant his hands and feet were free, he slipped on the shoes and was hustled away from the park before reinforcements could arrive.

Several hours later the rebels arrived back at the Sierra Madre Mountains to find their camp deserted.  They had been gone twenty-six hours, two hours beyond the limit their leader had set.

"We can still catch them," he was told by his men.

"No," he objected.  "We'll follow when he's rested."  Then he turned to Joey, who stood shivering in the mountain pass in the twilight.  He removed his shirt and threw it around Joey's shoulders.

"I'm sorry you had to cover this terrain naked," he said to Joey, "but we couldn't stop till we reached the safety of these mountains.  We'll remain here till you're ready to continue.  We'll share what clothes we can with you."

The rebels stripped naked, each offering Joey his underclothes, which Joey managed to layer over his body for warmth.  By the time the rebels had gotten dressed, Joey said he was ready to continue; so they moved on, following the path the others had taken two hours earlier.

A day and a half after leaving Santa Maria they arrived at the Tehachapi Mountains on the southeastern-most part of the island, a forbidding wilderness rising several thousand feet above the ocean, culminating in a single peak at the tip of the island, Tehachapi Pass, elevation 3988 feet.  Hidden within a valley of Tehachapi Pass was the rebels' command center.  It was here that new rebels were trained, targets chosen and plans of attack drawn up.  It was here that the rebellion began, two years ago, when its leader stumbled through the mountains into the Pass after robbing and killing a farmer outside the town of Wheeler Ridge.

He had never killed before, though he had often robbed the small isolated farms of southern Kern County - the farms too small, too poor to have slaves.  He had not meant to kill the farmer, only to keep him from crying out to his family.  He had been watching the farm all day, taking note of how many people came and went; then, just after supper, the entire family went out to relax in the evening shade.  That was when he made his move.  Entering through the back door, he began searching the house; but the old farmer came back inside for something.  Seeing an intruder in his house, the farmer ran to the door and attempted to cry out, but was grabbed from behind and a hand thrust across his mouth, gradually relaxing its grip as the pressure of his attempt to cry out lessened.  All of a sudden the farmer opened his mouth wide, to try and catch his breath; thinking he meant to scream, the intruder thrust his hand over his mouth again, with such sudden force that his neck was broken.  The farmer fell to the floor, gasping a moment before growing still.  The intruder reached to feel his pulse, but the sound of steps on the front porch sent him out the same way he had entered, quickly disappearing into the twilight before he could be identified.  He headed for the mountains due east of the farm, a place he had used as a hideout before, eventually reaching a dead end at Tehachapi Pass.

As he stood looking down into the surf pounding against the cliff and tried to follow the undertow as far out into the ocean as he could, he realized that he could no longer live like an outlaw; and with this realization came a vision of his future.  He knew then and there that he had to free his people and return them to their home.

For the next six months he staked out and attacked one after another farm, killing its guards and freeing its slaves, his purpose obscuring the growing trail of those he had freed, until, all at once, as if waking from a dream, he discovered himself surrounded by dozens of outcasts with no place to go and nothing to do, all looking to him for guidance.  Instinctively, he led them to the mountains, thinking they could exist among the valleys and forests and caves until he found a way to get them back to West Africa.  But they didn't want what he offered them; they didn't want to retreat behind a barrier of rock until someone came along to transport them home.  They wanted, instead, to follow him, to help him free the rest of the slaves.  They wanted to become soldiers in his army of rebellion.  He reluctantly acceded to their wishes, and set about to train them, acquainting them with the strategies he had devised, teaching them the skills they would need, then forming them into small bands to accompany him on his missions when he felt they were ready.  The entire time he struggled to build his army, however, he was troubled by the sense that some part of the process was out of sync, throwing the whole thrust of his purpose out of balance; but he was unable to identify it until one of his soldiers, wishing to speak with him, stood at attention before him, waiting for permission to speak.

"That's what's wrong," he said to himself when the soldier had been dismissed.  "In making them soldiers, all I've done is exchange one set of chains for another.  They see me as their general, from whom they must seek permission even to speak."

He called his followers together that same evening to disband his army.  They were stunned.  For a long while no one said anything, until gradually they came out of their stupor and began asking him what had happened to make him turn his back on his people.  He explained that he had not abandoned those still held captive, only that he could no longer command an army.

"You are warriors," he told his followers.  "My job is to train you, lead you into battle, return with the treasure you have taken back from your captors - not to rule over you as your lord and master.  I cannot be your commander, nor allow you to be my soldiers merely doing my bidding."

"Then what?" they asked him.

"I don't know," he admitted.

"Then the rebellion is over," one of his followers concluded with great disappointment.

He studied the statement a moment, struggling with its meaning, but could still find no answer.  Yet he felt that an answer lay somewhere in those words.  Then a light came into his eyes as he repeated the words of the question, instead of looking for their hidden meaning.

"Rebellion," he said several more times, the light growing brighter each time he repeated the word.

"This is not a war," he then told his followers.  "It's a rebellion.  We are not soldiers but rebels.  All of us, rebels.  Not soldiers being led by a commander but rebels working together to free our brothers.  All of us equal in rank as we are in battle.  Rebels, serving no man.  Serving only the rebellion."

"I remember a story told by my grandfather, who came from Central Africa," the rebel leader told Joey in response to a question about his name.  "More than a hundred years ago, a rebel leader of that land was betrayed by his own people.  He was murdered and his body desecrated.  I don't know if he was a good man or an evil man; I only know that no man deserves to die at the hand of treachery.  In taking his name, I'm not seeking to honor the man but to disavow the treachery."

"But you had no part in it," Joey reminded his leader.

"Hearing his tale made me a party to his fate.  No man should hear of another's desecration.  It's to cleanse my spirit that I took his name."

"Be careful, in taking his name, you don't share his fate," Joey warned.

They fought side by side for the next two years, Joey adding his experience and training to Lumumba's to create an elite force superior to any other in California.  They had freed two-thirds of the slaves on the island by the end of the second year, most joining the rebellion; they expected to free the rest before another month was out.  Lumumba's followers repeatedly asked him what he planned to do when all the slaves were freed; but he refused to consider the future until the present was secured.

"What will you do?" Joey also asked pointedly.

"I will be expected to seize the island," Lumumba conjectured.  "And it is a great temptation to transform its slaves into its masters.  But this is not our home.  As fast as we free the slaves, more are taken to replace them.  Even if we stop them from being brought here they'll still be slaves somewhere.  Our only hope of stopping the trade is to stop it at its source.  We must return to Africa, to help the villagers drive the slavers out once and for all."

"For that you need a ship - or a fleet!" Joey pointed out.

"Then we'll get one," Lumumba swore.  "And set sail for home."

"What of the others, on the other islands?" Joey asked.

"We can't free all the slaves," Lumumba answered.  "It's taken two years just to free this island."

"When the day comes that you have a ship - or a fleet - promise me you'll consider one last time which direction to sail," Joey asked his leader.

"I will not pretend the other islands are barren," Lumumba answered.  "If I decide to leave California, I will only do so knowing how many I leave behind."

Joey was pulled from the rebellion before it was over.  The only white man among them, the only one who could move freely throughout the island, he was sent on a mission to locate a ship.  Joey scoured the harbors along both coasts, just as he had done on the big island two years earlier, only this time no image came to him as it had then.  He vaguely hoped to encounter the ship he had been drawn to at Monterey, thinking it might to possible to convince its Captain to turn his slave ship into a rescue ship; but he never saw it again.  What he learned along the docks was that the slavers never docked at this island any more - that the island was off-limits - that the rebellion had blockaded the harbors more effectively than if they had been mined.

He was about to end his mission and report back to Lumumba that they would have to somehow get to the big island if they wished to secure a vessel when he spotted something offshore.  Just visible on the endless blue horizon was a mass of white flapping in the sea breeze, neither cloud nor surf but the unmistakable shape and sway of sails catching the ebb and flow of the west wind as they slowly lifted the bow of a skipjack onto the horizon, the perspective one of wings on which a great bird soared above the sea line, slowly, gracefully gliding its way toward the shore.  As it drew near, Joey began to tremble, without knowing why; and by the time it reached the harbor, he had turned a ghostly white.

The Queen Alice sailed into Santa Barbara on Thursday, March 21, 2097.  Its Captain stood on the bridge watching a solitary figure standing like a statue on the dock as it watched his ship approach.  When he got close enough to make out the features, he too grew pale and began trembling.

"What is it you see?" his wife, who had come on the bridge to join him, asked.

The Captain of the Queen Alice pointed to the figure on the dock.  "It's him," he said.  "The one who came to me when I was lost at sea and when I was stranded on the atoll.  He showed me the way to safety both times.  Only he looked alive then; now he looks like a ghost.  I'm afraid if I step ashore he'll vanish and I'll never see him again."

The Captain's wife took his hand.  "I know this man," she told him.  "From my childhood.  He's the one who saved me.  He tried to save Henry, but couldn't.  The rest - you must find out for yourself."                    

Sandy had heard tales on the big island about a slave rebellion on one of the lesser islands.  Nearly all the slaves had been freed.  He had vowed to go see for himself.

It had been almost a year and a half since he faced Brad outside the main gate of the walled city.  They had both taken ten paces, stopped, and turned toward one another when a sudden flash of light from the turret atop the wall caught his eye; he looked up for a split second.  And, as he did, he heard a loud crack and felt his legs go weak.  A searing pain in his chest, followed by a sudden gush of wetness, made him think he must have caught fire and someone was trying to extinguish the blaze.  He kept sniffing the air, but smelled no smoke.  He shut his eyes a moment.  When he opened them again, he looked up and saw Felicia's face looking down at his.  Then he rolled his eyes back and went blank.

Brad was immediately apprehended by the Queen's guards.  His gun was taken and he was led away to the Tower, a high stone building deep within the city, where all prisoners were held while they awaited execution.  He was locked in a cell on the highest level, with only a small slit facing west for a window.

Andrea stood in the gateway as if watching something she had already witnessed but was powerless to prevent or change.  She knew the gunfire she heard was not directed at her son.  And as she watched him being led away, she knew also who had pulled the trigger.  She turned and headed directly for the palace.

"Why did you have him shot?" she asked when she had finally made her way through the crowd.

The Queen of the Universe sat on her throne in absolute stillness and replied in a calm voice "He will survive his wound.  If you know who shot the boy then you must also know why."

"Do you plan to execute Brad for your crime?" Andrea asked.

"I will have my kingdom back," Alice answered.  "If that can be done without further bloodshed, so be it."

"It wasn't just to get rid of Brad," Andrea observed.

"No," Alice admitted.  "I could have maneuvered him to the Tower some other way.  It was to keep Sandy from losing the woman who was chosen for him.  Had he completed the duel - whether he won or lost - he would have lost her.  I could not allow that to happen."

"How long will you keep Brad a prisoner?"

"Until I re-establish order within my kingdom," Alice told her accuser.  Then she remembered something from one of her meetings with Andrea and Carol.  "You saw this the moment I told you and Carol asked about Sandy, didn't you?"

Andrea acknowledged that she had seen it.  "You have chosen my successor," Alice mused.  "I had always thought it would be Sandy - even after I learned who Darryl was.  But it will be you."

"Not if I have a say in it," Andrea replied.

Alice burst out laughing.  "My God," she exclaimed, "is it possible such an optimist still exists, who can imagine after all we've seen and been through that any of us have any say in anything that happens?  You are not of this world!"

"I have never been," Andrea noted.  "I have no more interest in its ways than that lion who raised Sandy."

"Ah! but she takes a great interest in us, don't forget.  We are her main prey now that we've stolen all her other prey to feed ourselves," Alice pointed out.

Carol had not yet made it to the gate when the shot rang out.  When she arrived, and saw Andrea standing in the gateway as if frozen in time, she thought something must have happened to Brad.  But when she pushed her way through and saw him standing at a distance, she turned to reassure her friend that Brad was not hurt, thinking that somehow Andrea had failed to see him.  Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Felicia kneeling down, holding someone in her arms.  Before she even saw the face of the young man leaning against Felicia's breast, she realized who he was and why he and Brad had come here.

As she ran to her son, the guards were surrounding Brad.  Tears were streaming down his face and he was mumbling to himself "You tricked me.  I would have beaten you.  I would have won her from you," he said in a droning voice.  "You betrayed me.  You stole my triumph.  I'll find you - I'll find you.  I'll hunt you to the ends of the earth - I swear I will.  I'll win her back.  I swear I will."  Over and over he muttered his vow as he was being led to the Tower and thrown into his cell.  And when he heard the final click of the door being locked behind him, he ran to the tiny slit of a window and screamed out across the city toward the gate where his rival was being lifted onto a stretcher.

"You will die for this treachery!  I fought fair, God damn you!  I fought fair!  You will die!  I swear it!" he screamed.  "You will die!"  Then he slowly slumped down against the cold barren rock of the Tower wall and began sobbing.

Carol knelt beside Felicia and tried to stop the bleeding from her son's wound.  Felicia looked into her eyes.  "They were here because of me," Felicia acknowledged the question in Carol's eyes.  "But neither fired a shot."

"Then why?" Carol asked.  "I can't believe Brad would do something like this.  He would never relinquish control to someone else.  Sandy must have enemies here."

"Or friends in high places," Felicia remarked.

Sandy was taken to a place no one outside the walled city knew about, a place that had ceased to exist in the rest of the country.  He was taken to a hospital - a real, working hospital staffed with physicians and nurses and filled with surgical instruments, anesthetics and medicines - the last of its kind in America.  All because their Queen was once a nurse, whose very first edict was to secure everything needed to build a medical facility.  For months every abandoned hospital, clinic, doctor's office and pharmacy from Virginia to Georgia was ransacked, all their supplies carefully inventoried and locked within the only building in Alice's kingdom more secure than the Tower.  In the sixteen years of her reign, the Queen of the Universe had kept the hospital her top priority - and kept its existence a secret from the rest of the country.

"The sick and dying are everywhere," Mount Everest once observed to her.  "Many would make a pilgrimage cross country to get help for their loved ones if only they knew."

"Yes," Alice acknowledged.  "But many more would come to plunder our hospital if only they could."

Mount Everest never broached the subject again; but when he was dying he refused to be taken to the hospital.  "They won't pry death loose," he assured his consort.  "It's fixed itself too tightly to my bones for any surgeon to remove."

"You wouldn't go anyway," Alice concluded.  "I haven't forgotten your petition on behalf of humanity.  Honorable men are the damnation of our species!  It isn't necessary that everybody else be treated first before you have a right to it!"

Alice looked into Andrea's eyes and said "It's time.  Let us go to the hospital.  I have something to reveal.  Mount Everest waited till he knew the time was right; so have I.  And now the time has come."

Not even the Queen of the Universe was allowed inside the walls of the hospital without good cause.  She and Andrea were detained at the front gate until they had stated their business to the guard's satisfaction.

"We are here to deliver a message of the utmost urgency," Alice responded to the guard's questions.

"Does it concern a medical matter?" the guard prompted.

"Yes," Alice insisted.

The guard considered Alice's response then asked if she had anything further to add.  She said she did not.

"Then I must refuse you admittance," the guard said.

"This concerns the boy who was shot.  He must know who his grandfather is."  It was not Queen Alice but Andrea who had spoken.  Alice turned to her in awe.

"In the space of a brief walk you discerned what it took me half a lifetime to learn," Alice said.

Andrea shook her head.  "I had you to read," she countered.  "Whereas you had only Mount Everest.  Perhaps it wasn't just for his height he took his name.  Stone Creek once said not even Paris Commune could read him.  He said secrets were safer with him than with any man alive - not because he wouldn't reveal them but because he hid them so well no one would ever think to ask."

Alice and Andrea both turned to the guard.  "For the boy to know that the man who raised him was his grandfather will go a long way toward his recovery," Alice told the guard, who, after considering the proposition, finally agreed to admit the two women.

They were shown to Sandy's room.  Carol and Felicia were seated beside his bed; they looked up when the two visitors entered.  Suddenly it dawned on Carol what Felicia had meant when she suggested Sandy had friends in high places.  Sensing that now everyone knew, Alice said simply "He will live."

"What was to be gained?" Carol asker her Queen.

"Your son's future," Alice replied.  "The wound he would have suffered had I not interceded would have extinguished the sun that burns in his soul.  He would have gone through the rest of his days merely acting out his life.  I would murder him with my bare hands before I'd let that happen.  You must tell him when he awakens that Mount Everest was his grandfather.  As well as Kirk's grandfather.  Everyone thought that Brad and Kirk were brothers, when all along it was Kirk and Sandy.  It appears that of all the players in our lives, only Joey was who he seemed to be."

"How did I get where I was?" Carol asked.

"You were switched with a child who died at birth," Alice told her.  "No one was more surprised than Mount Everest to learn that he had given up his daughter to one of the first families of St. Louis."

"And yet he and you alone stayed away when Sandy was born," Carol reminded Alice.  "Did you know then?"

"Only with his last breath did I know," said Alice.

"Why didn't he reveal himself when he was free to?" Carol asked.

"His reason died with him," was all Alice could say before turning to leave.

"None of this really surprises you," Andrea remarked to Carol when Alice was gone.

"Nothing has surprised me since the day I first lost Kirk," Carol told her.  "It was my husband's reaction that opened me to anything that might ever happen.  Of all things in the universe, his refusal to hunt for his son was the most unexpected.  I knew he wanted a son more than anything else; I know he adored his son.  Yet when Brad - our son's given name - when he was kidnapped, and no ransom ever demanded, my husband gave up.  He wouldn't pursue it, he simply accepted that his son was gone and he'd never see him again.  I tried to search for him, but I didn't have the resources or the skills at my husband's disposal.  All I did was go in circles.  Then when the foundling showed up - Stone Creek's son - my husband took to him as if he had somehow been waiting for him all along.  It was as if he had traded his real son for this other son.  After that, there were no more surprises possible in life."

Sandy's body began healing itself almost the moment the bullet was removed.  Within a day he had regained consciousness; three days after that he was up and walking about; in less than a week he left the hospital, a bandage around his chest the only indication that he had ever been wounded.  And by the time Darryl appeared before the gate of the walled city on Friday, November 25 of the year 2095 - eight days after the duel - Sandy was ready to defend his home against the enemy.  Both enemies: the one massing along the Lumberton Plain and the one sweeping southward from the great cities of the northeast.

Sandy was first to see Darryl approaching.  He had been standing outside the main gate, with the rest of Alice's army, waiting for the signal to advance, when he saw two figures in the distance.  One was silhouetted on a knoll along US Route 421, crouching low and set to spring as the second figure approached at a brisk pace from the northeast.  Suddenly, as the figure neared the knoll, it stopped and turned toward the silhouette, drawing something from its pocket before proceeding southward.  Sandy knew it was a knife and that it would have been used had the lion sprung.  A few minutes later Darryl arrived at the main gate.  He had seen the troops stationed outside the gate even before Sandy saw him, and he dimly wondered if somehow the army of New York had beaten him to Carolina.  As he neared the gate, looking amidst the troops for some sign of Alice, his eyes met Sandy's and a cold chill ran down his spine.  He wanted to go to Sandy and ask what he had done to warrant so much hostility from someone he had never seen before; but his mission was too urgent to let anything personal interfere.  He was about to ask where Alice was when he caught sight of Brad coming through the gate; he ran up to Brad to relay his message.

Brad had been freed after barely a week in captivity.  But his freedom was a truce, not an exoneration.  Alice knew that with an army on her doorstep, she needed Brad's military prowess far more than she needed to reassert her authority in the outlying areas of her kingdom.  She made a bargain with him: his release in exchange for his command of her army - a dangerous trade in light of Brad's ambition but the only option available to her.  Even before she knew who led the army her scouts had tracked from the Iron Mountain, she sensed that it would prove more difficult to rout than any other invading force she had encountered since being crowned - that it was a force only two generals working in tandem could hope to drive out of her kingdom.  For this, she was willing to risk being deposed in a coup.  Brad agreed to the terms of Alice's truce; and though in the back of his mind a scheme to unseat Alice and destroy Sandy was forming, it remained buried behind his sense of honor.  He was a soldier, first and foremost; and neither his ambition nor his love could interfere with his duty to his troops.

He received Darryl's message with an almost supernatural calm.  He considered it only a moment before beckoning Darryl to accompany him to his army's line of first defense several miles to the northwest.

They had gone no more than a mile when Alice appeared on the wall, saw them, and hurriedly climbed down to find out where they were headed and what their purpose was.

"What is Brad up to?" she asked everyone she encountered, but got only shrugs and blank stares.  Then Sandy came to her and explained what had happened, though he was unable to relate the message that had taken Brad from his command post.

"And who was the messenger - where did he come from?" Alice asked.

"It was the one you banished," one of the bystanders answered.  "The one you saved from the headsman's axe."

"Darryl!" Alice exclaimed.  "Darryl has returned with such urgency that my general heads directly into battle?"  She turned again to Sandy.   "Is your strength returned enough to go after them?" she asked.  He nodded that it had.  "Then go!" she commanded.  "I must have someone present to represent my interest so that Brad doesn't sell my kingdom down the river!  I'll assemble a battalion and join you as soon as I can."                            

Sandy caught up to Brad and Darryl before they were halfway there.  Brad did not ask why Sandy had joined them - he already knew whose orders his rival was following; neither did he slow his pace to accommodate him.  He continued on as if he had not even noticed his new companions, the three arriving just as the army was beginning to push.  Brad quickly worked his way through the ranks of his troops to his lieutenants, who, along with Alice's most trusted lieutenants, had been put in charge of this expeditionary force.  He ordered them to halt their attack and send a scout bearing a white flag to arrange a truce.  When the scout returned, Brad, Darryl and Sandy broke ranks to meet the enemy commander halfway between the two armies.

Darryl's eyes filled with tears when he saw Stone Creek and Cade approaching, but he offered no greeting, only the same urgent message he had delivered to Brad.

"How soon can we expect Clarence?" Stone Creek asked once he had agreed to talk.

"His pace depends on the strategy needed to secure his target," Darryl answered.  "He moves quickly to reach his target, but takes as long as he needs to win it.  I was conscripted in early September.  I escaped two weeks ago while he battled to take Washington.  Then he meant to head for Richmond.  Though I can't say for certain, from what I know of his army, I would expect to see them on the horizon by Christmas at the latest - if they come this way."

"Oh they will," Stone Creek assured the others.  "Fort Bragg has come to be the center of the known universe - a necessary stop on anyone's itinerary.  Since Clarence is a city-slicker, doubtless he'll go for Raleigh first then Charlotte before heading on to Atlanta.  Make no mistake: they'll pass this way.  But this is not where you want to meet them.  If I know Alice, it's where she'll insist on making her stand - foolishly imagining her soldiers'll fight harder in their own back yards.  But you and I know better, Brad.  It's up to us to keep her from losing the war before the first shot is fired.  We have time to find the perfect battlefield.  Let's get to it before another day is out."

Stone Creek left his army bivouacked along the Lumberton Plain, still facing Alice's army, while he and Cade accompanied Brad, Darryl and Sandy to the walled city, where they were taken at once to the palace for an audience with the Queen.

"I'm told you fought alongside Brad in Paris' army," Alice remarked to Stone Creek when she had seated herself on her throne.

"If you mean Henry," Stone Creek answered back, "I'm afraid your information is inaccurate.  Henry had no army, which is why our land was invaded.  But it is true that Brad and I fought together."

"Had it not been for Darryl, you would have fought each other," Alice observed.  "The lesson to be learned is that it's not always the wisest course to attack without first learning who your enemy is.  Now I'm faced with a dilemma.  Brad has taken it upon himself to effect a truce; he's invited you to fight alongside us.  That presents a problem.  By joining forces, you and Brad greatly outnumber me.  I can't allow that great an advantage to those who came here to overthrow me.  Yet if what Darryl says is true, this army advancing from New York also outnumbers mine.  I need reinforcements to defeat it.  And reinforcements are at the gate - standing in line to attack.  My only course - the only way I can afford to accept your help - is to keep yours and Brad's armies separate.  There must at all times during the campaign be two armies - your army, with half of my troops, and Brad's, with the other half.  That's the only way I can keep my eyes on the two of you to make sure you don't join forces against me."

Alice waited to see how her proposition was received.  She studied the faces of everyone before her - those who had no say in what happened as well as the two whose decision would determine her next move.  It was clear to her that Sandy, Darryl and Cade understood and accepted her need to keep Brad's and Stone Creek's troops separate; it was equally clear to her that the two key players had no intention of honoring her request, no matter what their response might be.  So when they both, predictably, accepted her ultimatum and left to plan their defense against Clarence, she immediately set about initiating counter measures.                                        

She began by interviewing Darryl at great length - not just about the invaders from New York but about those from Indiana as well.  From everything he told her, she discerned a fundamental weakness in the alliance between Stone Creek and Brad - a weakness she intended to exploit if it became necessary.  While Brad's people were the remnants of Henry's followers, who had settled in Indiana, Stone Creek's army almost certainly consisted of the outlaws of Kentucky, whose invasion of Indiana cost Henry his life.  The animosity generated by that war could not have dissipated in two years' time.  The key to exploiting it was convincing Brad's people that the outlaws had not come just to conquer Carolina but to extract vengeance on Indiana as well.

Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, as the three armies planned for Clarence's attack, Alice worked to spread fear among Brad's people.  She began by convincing Darryl that his friend Cade had been duped into helping lead the outlaws to the walled city, and that Stone Creek would not be able to restrain them once their mutual enemy was defeated.  She cautioned him, however, to say nothing to anyone; to keep his eyes and ears open, and to be ready when the outlaws tipped their hand.

Next she tried planting seeds of doubt among Felicia, Carol and Andrea, knowing they would be more resistant to her attempts - but knowing also that winning them to her side was crucial to her success.  Felicia seemed indifferent to the outlaws' motives; Carol and Andrea remained skeptical, both pointing out that no one knew for sure which way Brad would lead his people when he left Indiana.

"And yet," Alice speculated, "Cade knew he would find his brother here.  He's sure to have conveyed that to Stone Creek.  But I suspect Stone Creek needed no one to direct him to Brad.  Doubtless he knows Brad like a book.  I trust Stone Creek - in a perverse sort of way.  I believe he means no harm to Brad's people.  But I also believe he will fail to keep his followers from revenging themselves on them.  Frankly, none of this concerns me - except I do not wish to get caught in the middle of old feuds from the Ohio Valley.  I've made my peace with Brad and his people.  As such, I'm duty bound to come to their aid if they're attacked.  I would rather keep the two armies apart, however.  I intend to work as much toward that end as possible without jeopardizing our chance of destroying the invaders when they sweep into our territory."

Darryl and Cade walked along the Cape Fear late in the evening.  Besides the simple pleasure of being with his old Commander after almost two years absence, Darryl wanted to ask Cade about the things Alice had told him.  Not wanting to seem like he was merely pumping Cade for information, he told him straight out what he and Alice suspected.  Cade acknowledged the possibility of the outlaws having an ulterior motive, but cautioned Darryl against underestimating Stone Creek's influence over them.

"It seems more likely his army would join Brad's in trying to take control of this region," Cade offered.

"Undoubtedly so," Darryl agreed.  "But once Alice is out of the picture, there's nothing to stop the outlaws from taking everything."

They walked along in silence a while longer.  Then Cade took hold of Darryl's arm and brought them both to a halt.

"What is it?" Darryl asked.

Cade shook his head.  "It's for me to ask that," he answered.  "You're not the same as you were.  Something has happened to you.  In your captivity.  Something that's caused your soul to go numb."

"I've seen things - and done things - I never believed could ever happen," Darryl admitted.  "I've cut men's flesh from their bones, cooked it, eaten it.  I lent all the skills I learned from you and our fallen comrades to the task of defeating one after another army as we swept down the coast.  In two months time I became one of their elite guard.  All of it, so I could save our home here - except it isn't my home.  My home is back there, with Henry, in his fallen town.  I visited the town.  I visited the grave, half expecting to find your bones.  When all this is over I'm leaving this place forever.  I'm returning to Henry's town, to live out my days there, alone, with nothing but my nightmares for company.  Oh God, Cade.  Oh God."

Darryl broke into sobs, holding onto Cade as he slowly sank to his knees and buried his face against Cade's belly, sobbing uncontrollably for almost an hour before abruptly stopping.  His anguish had not been spent, but he felt something wet and smelled something so faint he thought at first this was all another nightmare.  He knelt dumbfounded before Cade, mystified by his own senses.  Then he slowly lifted Cade's shirt, and the scent grew stronger.  The scent of blood, which he had grown used to.  He felt Cade's abdomen, but it was dry.  He looked up at Cade and said "I thought you were bleeding."  He started to get up then realized that Cade's pants, where his chest and neck had pressed against them, were seeping blood.  He felt of his own body, to see if he had been the one bleeding, hoping it had been him, but it wasn't.  Then he loosened Cade's belt to let his pants slide down to his hips, and saw the blood soaked bandage covering Cade's lower abdomen.

"Oh God," he moaned.  "Haven't you suffered enough wounds for one lifetime!"

Cade put his hands on Darryl's arms and lifted him to his feet.  "It hasn't healed completely," Cade told him.

"I've opened it with my crying," Darryl said.  "I'm sorry.'

"It's a small price for helping you reclaim your soul," Cade replied.

"No," Darryl said as he shook his head from side to side, "reclaiming my soul is too great a price for making you suffer.  How did this happen?  Who did this to you?  Tell me and I swear I'll hunt them down and cut them to pieces!"

"There's no one left who did it," Cade answered.  "But don't concern yourself with my suffering.  They saved me for last.  I was rescued.  But the others in my squad were skinned alive - all of them.  All but me.  I didn't have anyone to survive with this time as I had you at Shelbyville.  If only just one other had survived, I could forgive myself for being spared.  Darryl: I feel about them as you felt about those whose flesh you lived on.  I feel as if I had skinned them.  I have no nightmares because I never saw them die so I have no eyes to recreate their deaths.  But I hear their screams when I'm alone at night."

"Then you'll never be alone at night - I swear it!" Darryl promised.  "If you choose to stay here, I'll stay with you; I won't return to Henry's town.  I swear I'll never leave your side!"

Cade shook his head.  "I've grown used to their cries," he told Darryl.  "It keeps at least something of them alive.  I don't seek to silence them, only to preserve the part of them I still retain.  Nor do I seek their forgiveness, only their understanding.  I don't know where I'll live out my days.  I know only that I'll die alone."

Darryl began sobbing again, only this time it wasn't driven by anguish but by shame.  "I'd forgotten what it means to be a hero," he said through his sobs.  "I feel only the selfish pain of guilt for what I did and what I suffered; while you feel the selfless remorse of not having been allowed to perish alongside your fellow soldiers.  Once again, God has sent me you to show me the way past my own misfortune."

Slowly, they walked away from the Cape Fear, back to the walled city.  They stopped once along the way, to listen to a muffled roar in the distance, both shuddering at the sound, both seeing an image of the other lying in a pool of blood beside that roar.

"Who is Sandy?" Darryl asked.

"Sandy in the lion's den," Cade replied, as if reciting a nursery rhyme.

"He despises me," said Darryl.  "Not me for who I am but for what I might do.  Yet I would never do anything to harm him.  You love him very much, don't you?"

"I knew I would never have a son," Cade explained.  "And even though only three years separated us, when I first saw him I thought of him as a son and wanted him for a son, not a little brother.  I loved him as close to how a father loves his son as I will ever feel."

Darryl stopped and took hold of Cade, pulling him face to face.  "I only looked for blood," he said.  "When they cut you, they didn't -"

No," Cade answered before the question was formed.  "They didn't.  I'm still able to have a son.  But I know I won't."

"Do you wish you could be with a woman?" Darryl asked.

"Since I always knew I would never have a child, I never grew to think much about it," Cade admitted.  "And you?"

"I used to dream about Felicia," Darryl replied.  "I started out pretending other women I was with were her.  Then I grew tired of pretending, so I made up my mind not to be with another woman unless I could be only with her.  Then so much happened that everything got thrown together.  Some of the conscripts used the soldiers they killed before they began cutting them up for food.  The guards encouraged it, so I did it too.  They made a game of it, seeing if they could pick out the rump they had thrust themselves on from among the ones cooking over the spit - the 'rump roasts,' they called them.  The guards always kept track of their inventory and always knew who had picked the right one.  I was the champion.  I always picked the right one.  Now I can never be with a woman again, not after using my body to desecrate others.  I can't go back even to pretending.  People imagine that if those they're with sanction what they do, they won't be troubled with guilt.  How foolish people are.  No one has dominion over another's conscience.  Not even God can stand between a man and his conscience.  Not even God."

When they arrived back at the walled city, Darryl accompanied Cade to his room to dress his wounds then returned to his own quarters to try and block out the faceless images of those he climbed upon before cutting their flesh from their bones.

Every plan Stone Creek and Brad put forth, Alice rejected.  Each time she exercised her veto, she carefully considered both their arguments for their plan and their objections to her veto.  But her primary aim was not to evaluate their ideas; it was to detect a pattern in their plans and their objections to her veto.  She acknowledged that all their plans were good, and made it clear she would accept the best of them very shortly; but she had reservations about each - reservations based on her years of experience defending the Carolinas from one after another invader.

She knew that if she persisted in her obstinacy, Stone Creek and Brad would begin to see her real motive, so she informed them that she was prepared to make concessions.  She knew from the first that their plans, all put forward ostensibly for their strategic importance alone, always, one way or another, joined their two armies, leaving hers isolated and vulnerable despite her expressed fear of that very thing.  Even so, she was unable to determine exactly how they read her rejections of those plans until Brad casually suggested that perhaps she should stay at home, since she seemed so reluctant to stray from her city, and leave the fighting to those unafraid to strike out for new ground.  This finally gave her the key she was looking for - the means to keeping the two armies apart without tipping her hand.  From that point on, every reservation she expressed was couched in the belief that the farther from the Lumberton Plain they engaged the invaders the less their chance of victory.  She remained adamant on that point until, finally, she succeeded in masterminding a strategy that offered as good a chance of victory as any other put forth yet did not leave her army vulnerable to her two partners' ambitions.

They would not meet the enemy on the Virginia border, as Stone Creek and Brad wanted, but neither would they meet him on the Lumberton Plain, as Alice wanted.  Instead, they would meet him halfway, in the Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro megaplex area - a compromise at first rejected by all three but, after closer consideration, accepted by them as the perfect strategy.

Brad had waged his most successful campaigns in urban areas - most notably Lansing, Michigan; Stone Creek had begun his career as an urban guerilla in Louisville; Alice had led a successful underground movement against the Tungs in St. Louis; and, best of all, Darryl had first hand knowledge of how the invaders battled in an urban environment.  Even beyond their collective experience, though, the single greatest advantage here was the condition of the urban area chosen as their battleground: it was theirs free and clear.  It did not have to be won - except perhaps for some roving gangs that had cropped up during Alice's virtual house arrest; it was already an integral part of Alice's kingdom, all of its resources at her disposal.

For the next week and a half, maps of the cities were studied; teams were sent out to scout the area; streets, buildings and parks were evaluated for their strategic value; and, ultimately, a plan of attack was drawn up.  Then came the part that, for Alice, was the most crucial: how the troops of the three armies were to be deployed.  Having skillfully established her primary motive as her resistance to moving the field of battle from the Lumberton Plain, she felt she could more openly oppose the covert attempt to divide and thereby conquer her army without calling undue attention to her true motive.  And, in the end, she prevailed: the final draft of the war plan spaced the three forces evenly along the perimeter and at key backup points.  Alice had won the war before the first battle was fought.

Brad remained under house arrest during the entire campaign.  He was free to move about during the day, as long as he remained in sight of the palace guards; but at night he was confined to his quarters.  Felicia had already moved out, but not to be with Sandy; she moved into the palace as the Queen's guest for as long as she remained in Carolina.  She took great pains to assure Brad that she had not left him to become Sandy's wife but rather to abstain from all wifely affairs until the enemy had been defeated and she was free to decide what she would do.

"If you haven't chosen him why have you left me?" Brad demanded to know.

"Your duel was never consummated," Felicia reminded him.  "Sandy did not win me.  It was by default that I haven't already turned my back on him."

"By default?" Brad puzzled.  "My God, you've barely moved in with that crazy woman and you're already speaking in riddles!"

"By being shot," Felicia explained, "Sandy was denied the opportunity to fight for my hand.  Otherwise he would have, and he would have lost me forever.  He may still choose to fight for me, once this is over, instead of going in search of a ship.  If he does, I will never join him on his ship."

Felicia had not spoken to Cade since his arrival.  She had wanted to, but the time had not been right until one evening, a few nights after his encounter with Darryl, he ventured out alone on the Plain.  She saw him go out the gate and followed him.  When she came along side him, she advised him that it was not safe to be walking beyond the gate, especially alone.

"The big cat," Cade mused.  "If you like, we can go back."

"No," said Felicia, "we're safe now.  She's chosen me.  I bear her mark on my throat.  She's given me to Sandy."

"Sandy will never find what he's looking for," Cade prophesized.  "But he'll find more than he ever dreamed of."

"And you?" Felicia asked.

"I'll come closer to finding what I seek," Cade answered.  "Out here I'll find something.  Although everyone else will see it as having found me."

"Will you fight in the great war?"

"Yes.  I don't need eyes to join ranks with other soldiers on the front line.  Nor do I need them to spot the enemy."

"Who is the enemy?" Felicia asked.

"We all take turns in his shoes," Cade replied.

"You speak in riddles - as your brother accused me of doing," Felicia observed.

"I don't mean to," Cade assured her.  "But even things I know absolutely to be true are clouded and indistinct.  They don't come clear enough to fit precise depictions; they remain vague, captured only in vague expressions.  Maybe I'm blind inside as well as out.  Maybe if I could give the contents of my mind to another, he would see it far more clearly than I do, and say it far more succinctly.  I don't know though.  There's something missing from every equation I've ever encountered - the same something but I don't know where to find it.  Something that would tie the pieces of each separate idea together - then perhaps tie all the ideas together.  But I don't know what it would even look like."

"But you'll keep looking, just the same," Felicia observed.

The war began slowly, cautiously.  The land below the Mason-Dixon Line was a mystery to Clarence.  He intended to take it, all of it, clear down to the tip of Florida; but it remained an enigma for him.  Unlike the land above the line of the old Confederacy - the north, which he understood in its every manifestation.  It was all one big city, from Maryland to Maine; and Clarence knew cities - their people, their strategies, the very dynamic of their existence.  He knew where to find them, how to defeat them, what to do with their remains.  But the south was not a land given over to urbanization; it was an uneasy amalgam of various ways of life, loosely organized and often at odds, impossible to conquer with a single strategy.  It had to be taken piecemeal - not in the sense that one after another of the great cities of the northeast had fallen before Clarence's army, taking the entire state with them; but in the almost literal sense of having to be taken one county, one city, one town, even one farm at a time, until the entire state had been conquered.  And then the next, and the next, until finally the last had fallen.

"We slow our pace to the pace around us," Clarence told his army.  "We're not rushing from one stronghold to another.  We capture the south one meal at a time.  So, gentlemen, tighten your belts.  We're leaving no man's land and entering everyman's land."

Clarence would have made Raleigh by Christmas, even with the slower pace he adopted for the south; but his army got trapped in the Dismal Swamp.  He had taken Richmond, as well as everything along the old Interstate 95 corridor south of Washington.  He then took Petersburg, where he expected no resistance but encountered almost as much as at Richmond - which made him shift his original plan to proceed down I-95 to Raleigh.  If Petersburg proved so resistant, he could not afford to by-pass Norfolk and Virginia Beach.  So on December 17th of 2094, a Friday, he headed due east from Petersburg, already knowing that Norfolk's strategic location precluded a surprise attack.  He led his army across the James River Bridge in Hampton, captured both Hampton and Newport News, then brought his army across Hampton Roads, sending a small contingent into Portsmouth by way of I-664 while taking the main body along I-64 - the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel - directly to Norfolk.

The fighting was fierce, claiming a quarter of Clarence's army before he finally forced the army of Norfolk to surrender, placing them under guard at the Norfolk Naval Air Station while he proceeded to claim Virginia Beach as well.  By noon of Sunday, the 19th, the cleanup had been completed and his army pushed on, southwestward toward the route he originally set for his sweep into Carolina.  It had started raining early Sunday morning, a light rain that flickered the flames of his open pits and sizzled the meat cooking over the pits.  As his cooks began salting the meat to be stored in burlap sacks, the rain quickened its pace until, by the time his army was packed and ready to move, it was pouring down on them in a deluge.  They headed out of Virginia Beach with their backs turned to the blackening clouds coming in from the east.

They had not gone five miles when the air grew cold, all at once, without warning, as a fierce wind swept down from the northwest, in an instant turning the pouring rain to a blinding snow.  Before they had gone another five miles, the blizzard surrounding them had laid two feet of snow at their feet.  By the time they reached the northernmost fringes of the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina border, the snow was up to their knees, drifting waist high in places.  By nightfall, the army of New York had come to a complete halt in the middle of the Dismal Swamp, where they were forced to remain, unable to move north or south, for almost a week without shelter and very little heavy clothing before continuing their sweep down the eastern seaboard on Christmas Eve of 2094.  Over a hundred conscripts had frozen to death in the Swamp, leaving Clarence's army for the first time in its history short of its thousand man complement.

"Don't worry," Clarence told his commanders and elite guards, "we'll recoup our losses at Raleigh."

As often as Darryl had been consulted by Stone Creek and Brad about Clarence's army, as extensively as he had been questioned to try and determine its weaknesses, never once had they invited him to sit in on one of their strategy sessions.  Besides not having an army of his own, he was regarded as merely a soldier, someone to carry out orders given by those with the expertise to plan a military campaign.  Yet he knew his input was desperately needed - precisely because the others were so good at military strategy.  During every interview, he tried to bring up the matter of strategy but was always sidetracked back to his assigned task of dispensing trivial anecdotes aimed at exposing Clarence's shortcomings.  Finally, with barely a week remaining before the armies would be deployed, he stormed into Alice's throne room, where the campaign was being planned.  Without a word of apology, he went over to the table where the maps and graphs and charts were laid out, standing between the table and the three commanders.  Pointing to the plans, so carefully, so expertly drawn up, he pleaded with his commanders to abandon them.

"Do everything wrong!" he insisted.  "You will not win with this strategy - I promise you!  It's exactly what Clarence and his commanders will be looking for.  I taught them every strategy I saw used in Indiana, and every strategy I heard about from the campaigns in Michigan and Ohio.  As efficient as Clarence was, he had no real strategy for outflanking his opponents; he won by sheer brute force by virtue of the boldness of his attack.  But from Baltimore on, he carefully planned his attacks, and executed them with precision.  You won't defeat him with strategies that he himself employs.  Do everything wrong!  He won't be expecting something outside the parameters of his strategy.  You've got to abandon this plan - or at least modify it."

The whole time Darryl spoke, Brad was eyeing a gun that Alice had placed on the table beside the battle plan.  Alice calmly walked over and picked it up.  When Darryl finished speaking, Alice turned to Brad and echoed something she had told him almost a year ago.

"He enjoys the protection of the realm," she reminded her guests.

"We don't abandon sound military strategy simply because our enemy understands it also," Stone Creek pointed out.

"It's more than that," Darryl replied.  "His army lacks the flexibility to adapt to unexpected circumstances.  It moves as one unit, no matter how many fronts it faces.  The commands are given and the orders followed to the letter till the battle's over.  There is no deviation.  As long as what they encounter is what they expect to encounter, they're invincible.  No force on earth stands a chance against them.  If you proceed with this plan, you'll play right into their hands.  You must do everything wrong.  You must throw Clarence off balance."

"And how can you be so sure he'll expect a brilliant strategy from a bunch of country bumpkins?" Alice asked.

"Because his view of the south embraces all strategies," Darryl answered.  "He said all along that taking the northeast was a piece of cake - he could have taken it blindfolded, because all the cities were essentially the same.  But the south had as many ways of defending itself as it had people.  That's why he'll use greater strategy here - because he has so much more strategic ground to cover.  You have to start thinking like a bunch of country bumpkins.  You must do everything wrong.  Avoid the parks and wooded areas and, above all else, avoid the universities like the plague!"

"That's absurd!" Brad haughtily replied.  "You may as well tell us to stand right out in the open and throw our weapons down when we see the enemy coming as to tell us to avoid the universities!  Campuses afford even better shelter than military bases."

"We routed armies at Aberdeen Proving Ground, at Fort Meade and at College Park.  It was at College Park I was able to make my escape, but I could tell we were winning," Darryl attempted to clarify his position.  "As for standing out in the open - that's exactly what you need to do.  At least, give the appearance of it."

"So," Stone Creek observed, "we're to use mirrors now, I take it."

"There are places that can make it seem like we're vulnerable without actually putting ourselves in jeopardy," Darryl ignored the reference to mirrors.  "We wouldn't have all our troops out in the open," he explained, "just enough to make them think it's our entire army.  Just enough to lead them into the trap."

"Why would they fall for it," asked Alice, "when any army would do exactly as you propose to do?"

"Any army that had enough warning to plan a strategy," Darryl acknowledged.  "But not an army caught off guard and hastily fielded at the last minute.  Such an army would be right out in the open, because their only chance would be to stand strong as a single force and repel the invasion."

"It's a crazy plan!" Brad insisted.

"Perhaps only half crazy," Alice interjected.  "It draws on something that's been a constant as long as I've been on the throne.  We've repelled one after another invasion, but they've all come from the south or the west.  Had Darryl not returned with word of this Clarence, we would have been caught off guard exactly as he suggests.  We've never been attacked from the north - the northwest, but never from the north.  I rarely bother sending scouts that way.  Not to say Clarence knows that; but we would have had to hastily field an army to meet him head on - except it would have been right here, not at Raleigh.  The truth is, the more I think of it, the better I like Darryl's plan.  It has the great virtue of mimicking - of mirroring - what would have happened in the normal course of events.  It has the look and feel of reality, an army thrown together at the last minute to make an all or nothing stand.  I say we at least consider it and draw up plans, if only as a contingency."        

Though neither Brad nor Stone Creek accepted the idea, they begrudgingly agreed to construct a plan of action based on it - neither of them suspecting that Alice had already made up her mind to override their plan with Darryl's.  The plan they worked out - as a purely theoretical contingency, constructed to humor Alice - set the bulk of the combined army along US Route 70 halfway between Raleigh and Durham, with Sycamore Creek and the northernmost tip of William Ulmstead State Park to the east of them, Mt. Herman Road and Aviation Parkway to the west, Raleigh Durham airport behind them to the south, and, straight ahead, the Durham-Wake County line.  The rest of the army was evenly split between the Raleigh-Durham axis, half in the town of Leesville, just outside Raleigh, half in Bethesda, outside Durham.  Since the two were not equidistant from the main body of the army, the plan called for the troops at Bethesda to start out as soon as the first volley was sounded, those at Leesville to wait fifteen minutes longer before making their move - the entire strategy predicated upon Darryl's assurance that once Clarence spotted the enemy, he would send his entire army charging, so that the first volley would signal not only that the battle had begun but that it was already half over.  By the time the contingents stationed in Leesville and Bethesda arrived, the enemy would be fully engaged on the main front, virtually oblivious to any movement on their rear flank.

The next, and final, phase of Alice's strategy, save for the actual execution of the battle, was creating enough of a break in the line of communication to enable Darryl's plan to be substituted for the official plan once the troops were assembled and ready to move out.  The timing had to be perfect, and rested on the troops being deceived into mis-interpreting their orders.  But it seemed an almost impossible task - one that could prove too much even for the Queen of the Universe.

"She'll let me know when they cross the border," Sandy casually told Alice one evening as she pondered this last obstacle facing her.  Alice burst out laughing at the idea of a mountain lion serving as a carrier pigeon.  Then she grew serious again and a light came into her eyes.

"Of course!" she exclaimed.  "That's it!  I don't have to disrupt their line of communication!  I only have to sabotage their scouts!  If the message fails to get to them before the enemy does, they can't deploy their troops until I'm ready.  I can have my troops already stationed at Leesville and Bethesda.  There won't be time to send theirs anyplace but right where I want them to be.  They'll have no choice but to go with Darryl's plan."

"I may have to kill him one day," Sandy remarked.

"I'll repeat for your benefit what I've already made clear to everyone else in my kingdom," Alice replied gravely.  "Darryl enjoys the protection of the realm.  His grandmother was our first Queen.  She spared my head.  I spared Darryl's."

"If I kill him, it won't be by choice," Sandy explained.  "It'll be from necessity."

"Then I pray you go to sea very soon," Alice told him.  "My realm - and my life - will seem empty without you.  You're all that was ever given to me to raise.  And, though I didn't know it till his death, your being Mount Everest's grandson, and he my consort, legitimized my claim to a part of your life.  Even so, I would sooner never see you again than have to one day sit in judgment of you."

"Darryl means this much to you?" Sandy asked.

"He will be my heir now that you've given your life to the sea," Alice explained.  "I can think of no one else my people would accept.  There is one in whose hands I would willingly place my kingdom - precisely because she would never want it.  I can't think of anyone who would want it less - nor of anyone better suited to rule.  But being an outsider works against her -"

"You were the same," Sandy reminded his Queen.

"Yes, but I was hand picked by their chosen Queen," Alice pointed out.  "To be hand picked by an outsider - who some still regard as a usurper - affords her very little support among my people.  But we shall see."

When Sandy left Alice's quarters, he intended to return to the lion's den, to wait out the night.  But he stopped along the way, beside a door deep within the palace.  He knew where the door led.  He knew Felicia had accepted Alice's invitation to come live in her palace.  He opened the door and walked in, shutting it behind him.  A single candle burned on a stand in the corner of the room.  It threw a dim spray of light across the bed, and an eerie glow around everything else.  He took his clothes off and threw them in a heap at the foot of the bed.  Then he walked to the bed and looked down.  Though her eyes were shut, he knew she was not asleep.

"The wound I suffered for the sake of Brad threatens to sever my body from yours," he said.  "I will have what's mine.  You're free to participate or not, as you see fit."

A hand reached out and brushed softly against his thigh.  He grabbed the hand that touched him and knelt to kiss it.  Then he tensed his crouched body and leaped onto the bed.  An hour later he stood once more at the foot of the bed, watching the candle flickering in the corner while he slowly got dressed.  It was almost dark when he returned to the lion's den.  From the palace, he went to stand outside Brad's window.  Looking up, he said in a low voice "You have not lost her.  She was never yours.  Nor is she mine.  I'll take her with me as my wife, but she will never belong to me.  Alice was wrong.  It wasn't because the lion chose her for me that she was spared, but because the lion recognized a kindred soul in her.  Lions need no companion, only a source of food.  Once Felicia goes to sea, I too will have lost her - though I, too, never really had her.  I would have liked to have fought you, but not to win her from you - only to make you see she was never yours or mine.  We might have been friends - you and I are more alike than any others.  Instead, we'll spend the rest of our lives hunting one another, each pulling the other away from his mission.  Until one of us dies."

Sandy finally moved on, unaware that through an open window the keenest ears in the kingdom had heard every word he spoke - words whose irony stung like the jagged metal balls of a cat-o-nine-tails.  Cade had devoted his entire life to finding Sandy, only to be told that it was his brother who was Sandy's only peer - his brother, who, all his life, gave Sandy no more than a passing thought.  Not that it changed in any way the love he had carried with him through his captivity into his manhood and his blindness.  The little babbling tot he had fallen in love with nineteen years ago still teetered along a narrow opening in his heart as it had along a narrow slit in the wall of the cavern they were both born in and both stolen away from.  Cade pressed his face against the window pane, as if there were something outside for him to see.

Little by little Alice began stationing her troops in Leesville and Bethesda.  She started with supplies and ammunition, under guise of conducting the normal business of her kingdom.  Then, almost literally one by one, under cover of policing the Carolinas, she siphoned her troops from their garrisons within the seven walled cities, making their disappearance so routine and trivial that not even Stone Creek deciphered her strategy in time to counter it.  By the time he figured out that almost her entire army had been positioned elsewhere, leaving only her palace guards to thwart any attempted coup, it was too late.  The new year rang in with a bang.  Clarence at last had come - and, in arriving, stopped a coup dead in its tracks.                                                            

The Queen Alice was brought to a halt in the harbor, its anchor dropped, its crew summoned to the bridge.  "I will row ashore," the Captain told his crew.   "I will meet with this man who comes to welcome us.  Then I'll decide if we dock here or move on."

Sandy lowered a boat, then climbed down to it and began rowing ashore, his eyes catching those of the man on the dock and holding fast to them until he ceased rowing and stepped ashore.  He walked up to the man and said to him "Twice you saved me."

"I have no reason to know you," Joey answered.  "Yet it's as if we parted company only yesterday."

"Tell me of the slaves," Sandy demanded.

The man withdrew, as if touched by a serpent.  "My God!" he exclaimed, "You're him!  The boy who wiped ants from his son's face.  He told me of you.  He was the first man I helped free.  And now you've come to try and re-claim him - or, if not him, others in his place.  I prayed that nothing happened to you.  I prayed also that God would change your heart."

"God has not changed my heart," the sea Captain said.

"At least one of my prayers was answered."

"It was my brothers who made me see it was wrong to take slaves.  Now my life is devoted to fighting those who destroy the villages, leaving the old to be stalked at night.  I came here to see if it's true that all the slaves on this island have won their freedom."

"Then come with me and see," Joey invited.

"First come with me," Sandy, in turn, invited Joey to return to his ship.  Joey nodded his agreement and they got into the rowboat.  A few minutes later, Joey stood on the deck of the Queen Alice.  Just as he was starting to ask how the ship came to have such a name, Felicia stepped from the bridge.  He took her in his arms and held her for a long time before releasing her.

"Brad, and the rest?" he asked.

"We survived the journey east," Felicia told him.  "Darryl lives, as does Brad's mother and your wife.  Even Cade and Stone Creek."

"And this ship?" Joey asked.  "What is its home port?"

"Kingston," said Sandy.

"How did you come by it?"

"The Queen of the Universe has ties to the Caribbean Islands," Sandy explained.  "At one time she traded extensively with the Islands.  She's a shrewd trader.  Over time, she acquired an interest in a number of ships - enough to be called a fleet.  Some - like this - she owns outright."

Joey looked completely mystified.  "I don't understand," he confessed.

"Wilmington at one time was the greatest port on the east coast.  Until I became a slaver and saw Dakar, I thought the greatest in the world.  Alice trades with others in the east - or used to," Sandy corrected himself.

"You keep speaking in the past tense," Joey observed.  "Is this Queen of yours dead?"

"No," answered Sandy.  "She's a prisoner in her own kingdom.  Ever since Brad arrived, and especially when Stone Creek brought an army of outlaws from Kentucky, all her effort has gone to protecting her throne from usurpers.  The port of Wilmington came to be infected with gangs of thieves that would rob any ship docked in its harbor.  All commerce ceased.  Alice has given me title to all her ships.  Her cities on the sea.  The Queen Alice is her flagship."

Joey began shaking his head, as if in conversation with someone else besides Sandy.  "It can't be," he muttered, looking up into Felicia's eyes.  "It can't be," he repeated.  "It can't be her.  Yet who else could have ended up ruling the Universe?"

Now it was Sandy who looked puzzled.  He, too, turned to Felicia for reassurance.  She nodded first at Sandy then at Joey.

"You both speak of the same woman," she told them.

"But she was killed when the cave collapsed!" Joey reminded Felicia.  "And if she had escaped, why would she not have re-joined us?  She knew the area as well as any of us.  She could have caught up to us."

"If she escaped -" Felicia started to say, but was cut short by Joey, who reached out and grabbed hold of Sandy's shoulders, his hands gripping so tightly that Sandy could not pull away.

For a moment Joey could say nothing.  He just stood there staring into Sandy's face until, finally, he released his grip and muttered "What a fool.  Dear God, what a fool.  If only I'd listened to Carol, we could have raised you as our son.  And kept you from bringing so much pain to others.  Oh dear God."  As he stared, Joey saw the faces of all the men and women he helped free, each contained in his son's features.  Then he saw the face of the first man he freed, and a light came into his eyes.

"But then, no one on earth would have brushed away the ants," he said.

"The ants returned," Sandy replied.

"But not their meaning," Joey told his son.  "In stopping to brush them away, you prepared his son's body for burial.  That's why it meant so much to him.  I didn't understand it till now.  If not for you, his son would have been left, unattended.  You gave his father a chance to put his son to rest.  My loss is nothing compared to that.  It may take a lifetime of waiting for the chance to complete the one task God put us here for, even if the task itself takes only a second."

Sandy smiled ironically.  "So you think I was put here for no other purpose than to bury that boy?" he asked.

"No," Joey replied.  "I was put here for no other purpose.  God did not want that boy abandoned so he brought me to your mother.  Whatever else I do, however much longer I live, I've fulfilled my mission in life."

"Don't forget," Sandy told his father, "you saved Felicia too.  And you brought good to a whole race of people."

"We're free to do as much good as we can," Joey agreed.  "But nothing we do is of any value if we fail to do what God put us here to do."

"So even if I free all the slaves - even if I undo everything I've done - even if I succeed in freeing John, the first man I turned into a slave - I still may not have done what I'm supposed to do?" Sandy asked.

"God will let you know," Joey assured his son.

"My mission then - my one true mission in life - may be no more than simply holding up a trinket!" Sandy observed wryly.

Joey nodded.  "God doesn't see the world through our eyes," he said.  "I'm sorry.  But holding up that trinket may accomplish something God has waited an eternity for.  God doesn't see our good side any clearer than He sees our bad side.  I didn't always know that.  I spent half my life doing what I thought God wanted me to do.  How arrogant.  To presume to know what God wants.  You were not raised with God - I know that without you even saying it.  Yet if I'd gone after you, you would have been - and God's plan would have been thwarted.  One of His beloved children would not have had a burial.  But you came here to see the rebellion, not to hear about God.  So come, see the rebellion."

Joey offered to lead his son across the island to the rebel stronghold, but Sandy insisted on sailing around to the other side.  Joey accepted his son's decision; but cautioned against appearing out of nowhere.  Even though he had been sent to secure a ship, he knew that the sight of one in the lagoon sheltering Tehachapi Pass would elicit a violent response from the rebels.  They would see it as having come from the big island, stationed offshore as part of the inevitable attack on the rebel camp; and they would open fire.  Joey persuaded Sandy to drop anchor farther down along the coast; from there to row ashore and make the last leg of the journey overland - though he acknowledged considerable risk even with this plan, since he would be expected to return the same way he had left.  He would have preferred to have Sandy sail around the northern coast and dock at Bakersfield, then finish the journey from there; but Sandy refused even to consider it, citing Bakersfield as the most likely place on the island to encounter the authorities.

"From the very first slave ship I sailed, I knew Bakersfield was the hub of the slave trade on this island," he told Joey.  "My ship's Captain warned me to stay away from Bakersfield, no matter how adventurous I got.  He said the Captains who docked there had no honor, they didn't respect another ship's crew, they'd impress anyone they got hold of, no matter if he had papers or not - and we all had papers, so we wouldn't get arrested as vagrants."

Joey winced at the mention of vagrancy.  "You were arrested?" Sandy asked.  Joey nodded yes.  "How did you escape?"

"The Movement helped me," said Joey.  He then explained his involvement with the Movement and his departure from the big island.  "I rode a slave ship to freedom," he told his son.  Then a strange look came over his face.

"What is it?" asked Sandy.

"Irony has stalked me all my life," Joey observed.  "Now it seems its on the prowl again.  It's brought us together on yet another level."

"How?"

"The Captain who brought me here spoke of losing his First Mate at sea -"

"That's a common occurrence," Sandy assured his father.

"This was different," said Joey.  "His First Mate was a boy, lost in a storm off the coast of Africa.  He refused to accept that his First Mate was gone; he's sure the boy survived.  And so he has.  Answer one question: was your Captain's name Clark?"

Sandy nodded.  A look of relief came into his eyes.  "I shouldn't care," he acknowledged.  "It would be one less slaver.  But even though I may one day attack and destroy his ship, I'm thankful he, too, survived the storm."  Then Sandy smiled ironically.  "Perhaps bringing you here was God's one task for him," he said playfully.  "And, for that, God overlooked all the evil he helped bring about."

"Do you think he's an evil man?" Joey asked.

"No," Sandy replied.  "I know he isn't."

"Why does he trade in slaves?"

"He always said the pay was good," Sandy explained.  "And after all the things he's seen, I guess he doesn't see much difference how people are treated.  He told me about a place he passed, a deep trench filled with round metal houses - like eggs.  He watched the houses twist and bend until they were no more than stove pipes sticking out of the ground.  And he heard the people inside screaming, and saw what was left of them after they stopped screaming oozing from the rips in the metal."

Joey just stood there, shaking his head slowly from side to side as the minutes piled one on top of the other.  Finally, he muttered that he prayed it had been otherwise - prayed that the people had already perished before their bodies were crushed and twisted inside the pods.

"It was called Pod City," Joey told his son.  "It was built to save the leaders and their families when everything else was destroyed.  The plan was evil, I know; and good people were killed in its construction - so many; but the ones who lived there didn't deserve their fate.  It may have been a just fate, but it was wrong.  I don't know if Captain Clark knew its history; but, whether he did or not, he couldn't have watched that without concluding justice to be irrelevant to human existence.  And if it's irrelevant, then enslaving a man is no different from setting him free."

Sandy dropped anchor along the northeastern coast, where the town of Mojave once stood before it tumbled into the sea halfway across the Pacific.  He and Joey rowed ashore and worked their way toward Tehachapi Pass, five miles to the north.  When they were within sight of the rebel camp, Joey and Sandy both became aware of a flurry of activity spreading beyond the Pass to the west and south, cutting off any escape route except the way they came.  They pressed on, neither knowing what to expect.

"Stay here," Joey ordered when they reached a clearing in the thick forest.  "I'll go ahead and try to get their attention.  They won't attack you as long as you remain where they can see you.  Once they recognize me, they'll know you're here as a friend."

Sandy grabbed his father's arm.  "Do you take me for a fool?" he asked.  "You're risking your life - knowing that even if they kill you first they'll still recognize you!  I came here of my own free will.  We go together or we both stay here and wait for them to come to us."

"As long as we're here, where they can see us, they'll keep their distance," Joey explained.  "They can keep us in their sights for as long as it takes, but they won't know it's me.  I have to keep going."

"We have to keep going," Sandy resolved.

Joey reluctantly motioned for Sandy to follow as he led the way deeper into the forest, both of them aware that the closer they approached the Pass, the greater the activity surrounding them.  But none of the rebels revealed themselves until the father and son reached the base of Tehachapi Pass and stood in another clearing.  Then a dozen men stepped out of the forest, with knives drawn.  One of the men nodded - one who Joey had never seen before - and the twelve rebels lunged at them.

"I've captured more slaves than any of you have ever seen!" Sandy arrogantly exclaimed.  His words halted the rebels in their tracks.  "Nothing you do here can untie a single rope or loosen a single chain!" he proceeded to taunt the rebels now that he had their attention.  "Your knives are useless to free the slaves I took.  Not a single one of you would be standing here if you'd been on the ship I sailed."

The rebel who had ordered the attack now motioned his men to take Sandy and Joey prisoner, marching them along one of the trails that wound about the mountain.  When they reached the summit, they were led to a wooden shack.  The rebel went inside.  A moment later, he emerged, along with a tall man whose face was covered in rage.

"Who is this slaver who dares boast of his sins!" Lumumba cried out, then stopped cold as he saw Joey standing before him.

The young man standing beside Joey looked up into Lumumba's face and said "I am Sandy.  I sailed on the Monterey Bay with Captain Clark for six years.  I helped wipe out your villages and make slaves of your people for the adventure of it.  Now I have my own ship.  I now sail to free your people.  But it's easier to take slaves than to free them."

Lumumba turned to Joey, as if seeking some explanation.  "He's my son," Joey told his leader.  "He sailed into Santa Barbara.  We sailed around the island and rowed ashore."

"I was prepared to kill you both with my bare hands," Lumumba told Joey.  "That's all that saved you from being killed back there - they knew I'd want to do it personally.  I warned you how dangerous your white skin was in our camp.  It almost cost you your life - and your son's.  Why didn't you come in from the other side?" he asked.

"My Captain warned me against Bakersfield," Sandy answered.

"That was then," said Lumumba.  "They don't bring slaves here anymore.  Although not all the slaves left the island.  Gangs roam the docks.  You're probably wise to avoid it.  Where is your ship?"

"At Mojave," Sandy answered.

"You said you use it to free slaves," Lumumba remarked.  "Is that why you came to this island?"

"No," said Sandy.  "I came to see the slave uprising for myself.  And to offer my ship if you need one."

"I need one," said Lumumba.

"It may be too soon to take your rebellion to the big island," Sandy pointed out.  "But I have work to do there."

Lumumba shook his head.  "When we set sail," he told Sandy, "it'll be for Africa.  The skills we've learned here will be used against the slavers - not against the slave owners of California.  We must stop the trade at its source.  Otherwise, it'll never end.  We have one last piece of work to do here - to free the last remaining slaves on this island.  The ones around Bakersfield.  Like you, we avoided it.  It's the most heavily guarded part of the island.  We'll lose a lot of men.  But now it's time to attack."

"In that case," Sandy concluded, "I will sail to Bakersfield.  As the Captain of a slave ship.  With an empty ship looking for a crew - or a ship with slaves in its hold.  Either way, as many men as can, should be on board.  Ready to attack."

"I like the plan," said Lumumba.  "I like the irony.  I'll send a contingent overland, but the main force will be aboard your ship.  We'll attack by land and by sea."

The attack was planned for the first week in April, but a fierce storm developed at the end of March along the eastern coast of California - an almost unheard of spring typhoon.  Lumumba feared they may have to postpone the attack; but Sandy insisted they not only proceed as planned but move the attack ahead a couple days.

"We'll be at the mercy of the storm!" Lumumba insisted.

"The perfect cover," Sandy countered.  "I won't have to try and convince them I stopped on this island by mistake or despite the rebellion.  I stopped here because this is where the storm blew me!"

"The plan is good, yes," Lumumba agreed.  "But I don't know if I'm willing to risk my men for it.  I don't know these waters - I suspect you don't either.  You may be a first rate seaman, but that's no guarantee your ship can't be dashed apart on rocks no one knew were there."

"I trust my ship as I do my own skills," Sandy assured Lumumba.  "It wasn't named for the Queen of the Universe for nothing!"

Lumumba turned to Joey.  He said nothing, but his eyes sought an answer from Joey, who nodded his assent to the plan.  "I trust your judgment above anyone else's," Lumumba told him.  "It's ironic I should place greater faith in a white man's judgment than that of my own people.  But that's another legacy of their enslavement.  If we were in Africa, living as free men, our senses would still be attuned to the world around us; we'd know what was best for us.  But here, living as slaves, we've lost touch with the world.  We have to turn to outsiders to guide us.  We will set sail whenever your son wishes."

On Monday, April 1st, 2097, all but a handful of Lumumba's rebels boarded the Queen Alice and settled into the hold.  Those who did not set sail were sent over the Tehachapi Mountains to Bakersfield, and ordered to keep hidden until the signal was given.

Sandy and Joey returned to Mojave to bring the boat around the bend.  Sandy dropped anchor in the lagoon and signaled Lumumba to bring his men down Tehachapi Pass to begin loading.  It was only when the rebels had all boarded and began filling the hold and felt the ship rocking in the turbulent waters of the lagoon that their memories of their journeys across two oceans returned to them.  They looked to their leader, who, like them, trembled as he neared the hold, but reassured them that this was the best hope of freeing the rest of the slaves on the island.  Then he ducked down and stepped inside the hold, moving to the farthest corner to stand as a reminder to the others that, though the past lived once again within this confined space, it would soon disappear forever with the last piece of chain binding them to this island.    

Sandy knew this storm long before it turned its full fury toward the island.  He knew it because he read the signs as if opening a page in a diary.  This was the storm from his second voyage, come all the way from Baja to the center of the Pacific this time.  He knew it would be fiercer than almost any storm he'd seen - his first storm as Captain of his first ship, a harbinger of things to come in his career as a crusader.  And, just as he read the signs within the clouds, and on the wind and, especially, atop the waters, Joey read the signs within his face and knew also what to expect.

"Is there anything I can do to help us through what's coming?" Joey asked his Captain.  "If not, I'll go below with Felicia."

"Have you sailed?" asked Sandy.

"A rowboat, on a calm sea, and a raft, through ice," Joey answered.

"Then you know water, and you know danger," Sandy observed.  "Remain on deck.  No one will tell you what to do, but you'll know."

Sandy then ordered the anchor hoisted; and, as it released its hold, the Queen Alice darted forward as if it were a truck whose brake had just been released careening down a hill at full speed.  Sandy and his First Mate ran to the masthead, both climbing to the crossbeam to adjust the sails against the wind until the ship ceased its forward lurch to begin turning away from the shoreline out to sea.

Once the wind had pushed them far enough toward the open sea, Sandy and his First Mate again adjusted the sails - this time to bring the boat parallel to the coast.  Only when he was satisfied that the wind was holding steady enough for his sails to keep the course he'd set did Sandy descend the masthead to begin the task of steering the Queen Alice, sending one of his crewmen up in his place.  He went to the bridge to better assess the sea around him, looking for signs of shoals and rocks and reefs, his eyes attempting to cut through the growing maelstrom for anything that even remotely impeded the rushing waters.

Fifty miles of waves, threatening every second to dash the ship against the rocky coastline, lay between Tehachapi and Bakersfield, their ferocity increasing with each hazard Sandy averted, as if to show their anger at being outwitted.  All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, Sandy bolted from the bridge and climbed the masthead, nearly ripping one of the sails down from its mooring.  He rolled it almost into a ball and threw his body over it, his arms barely clinging to the crossbeam.  No sooner was the sail secured than a monstrous gust hit from the southwest, nearly blowing Sandy from the crossbeam.  Instead of releasing the sail when the wind died down, Sandy attempted to reestablish his hold.

In a flash, Joey had read in his son's actions the approach of yet another gust.  He took as deep a breath as he could and began climbing the masthead, following the same technique he'd watched the others use.  He reached the crossbeam and lunged through midair, a fierce wind carrying him the rest of the way to where his son struggled to hold the sail in place.  Had he misread his son's actions, or if Sandy has misread the storm, Joey would have plunged to his death.  Instead, he grabbed hold of Sandy's legs just as the wind was ripping the sail from beneath him, the impact of his body enough to pin his son to the crossbeam until they both regained a foothold. 

The sail had unfurled, and flapped horizontally in the wind.  Joey held fast to Sandy's legs as the Captain of the Queen Alice reeled his mainsail in; then he let go of his son to reach up and take hold of the sail.  Together, they managed to secure it before a third gust hit from the southwest.  Then Sandy detected yet another shift in the wind; and, as he did, he looked to the other sail still left unfurled, only to see his First Mate suddenly flung from the beam by a gust from the north and become tangled in the rope holding the sail to the crossbeam.  Sandy quickly crawled along the crossbeam, but it was too late to save his First Mate, who was flung forward with such force that his body rebounded back against the mast, cracking his skull open and leaving him dangling lifelessly from the rope as his Captain lowered the sail and tied it with the remaining length of rope.

Before he could move on to the next sail, this time to unfurl it in the shifting wind, he felt something tugging at his trousers.  Thinking it was Joey coming to assist him, he turned to motion him away; but it wasn't his father, it was a rogue strand of rope which had worked itself loose and was flapping in the wind.  A second later the sail he had meant to unfurl sprang at him like a mountain lion coiled for the kill, knocking him from the crossbeam.  Grabbing hold of the sail, his body started twisting and flapping in time with the wind blowing over the canvas, coming closer to the mast with each gust.  Knowing that any second he, too, would be dashed against the mast, he let go of the sail long enough to reposition himself farther along its trajectory, repeating the motion several more times in rapid succession until he had moved almost to the end of the sail, where his own weight now countered the wind's thrust to maintain an equilibrium until the wind again shifted and the sail gently lowered him to the deck.

Still holding fast to the sail, he quickly ascended the mast again, folding and tying the sail to be crossbeam before returning to where his father was.  He motioned Joey to follow him as he retraced his movements along the crossbeam and back down the mast.

"There's nothing more the sails can do!" he told Joey.  "It's up to the hull now to follow the course the storm has set for us.  All we can do is watch."

By working the sails, Sandy had managed to maneuver his ship into a westerly course, which would carry him to Bakersfield, but which his sails were now powerless to hold.  So long as the storm skirted the coast, his course would remain steady; but if it turned and came ashore before he reached his port of call, the surge would smash the Queen Alice into the jagged coastline.  For the next nine hours the ship floated the turbulent channel the constant interplay of surf and undertow created.  Then the storm began changing its course as the eye wall neared land.  Little by little Sandy felt his ship leering toward the coast, even as it neared the harbor at Bakersfield, forcing him to gauge the storm's growing intensity against the distance remaining to the relative safety of a sheltered haven, when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge wave struck, flooding the deck and nearly capsizing the Queen Alice.

Sandy hurriedly ascended the mast once more, working his way along the crossbeam to one particular sail, which he hastily unfurled.  It immediately caught the wind at the right angle to begin carrying the ship farther out to sea.  When he had gotten far enough offshore, he lowered the sail to let the ship glide into the waves that were ramming its bow.  And as the ship glided, the fierce winds of the eye wall swirled around it, buffeting it from side to side as it rode up and down upon the waves, until it finally broke through the eye wall into the calm of the storm's eye.

Slowly the ship drifted on a tranquil sea whose ripples Sandy studied to determine where wind and wave would attack when the backside of the storm hit.  Again, Sandy climbed the masthead, again crossing the beam to his sails, his twin goal this time to get his ship turned around and to have it pushed toward the shore by the winds reaching out from the eye wall.  His plan was to remain just ahead of the eye wall until he reached Bakersfield; his hope was to keep from being smashed into the docks along with the storm surge.

He no sooner positioned his sails than powerful arms of wind stole from the approaching mass of gray, taking hold of his sails to whirl his ship ninety degrees from the northeasterly direction it had taken.  He quickly lowered one of his sails, only to replace it with another, which caught these same bands of wind that had turned his ship, his aim to help the other sails he had lowered propel his ship due west toward the harbor at Bakersfield, the fully exposed sheaves of canvas keeping it ahead of the eye wall until Sandy determined it was time for his sails to cease their work.

Barely a split second after the sails relaxed, the eye wall sprang upon the Queen Alice in its mad race to the shoreline.  The ship groaned and creaked and felt as if it would burst at the seams.  Then it was lifted onto a great pylon of water and carried toward the shore, only to be dropped a few hundred yards out, sitting for hours just offshore as the wind tore past it and the waves rocked it back and forth, up and down, and side to side before it finally returned to its normal position.

The dock was a shamble of splinters, planks and pylons.  The warehouses that had been built through the years of the slave trade to accommodate incoming cargo had been reduced to heaps of rubble, their roofs blown off, their sides gouged out, even their foundations shifted to where they could no longer support the buildings' weight.  Farther inland, streets had been ripped apart, trees uprooted, houses torn to pieces.  Bodies began to appear in the swollen inlets created by the surge, floating face down into the harbor.

Sandy let his ship drift slowly toward what remained of the docks.  He had stayed on deck the whole time; but, once the worst of the storm had passed, Joey went below, announcing to the rebels in the hold that they had arrived at Bakersfield.  Joey hung his head as if in shame.

"My son is still too much of an adventurer," he apologized to the rebels.  "It was unwise of him to jeopardize your lives like that."

Lumumba stepped through the ranks of his people to address Joey, putting his hand on Joey's shoulder.  "You will go to your grave defining everything in terms of the ideal," he noted.  "For us, no explanation is necessary.  Your son fulfilled his promise to bring us to Bakersfield.  He didn't promise smooth sailing, only that we would get here.  And we have.  Yes, I was scared - we all were.  But what of it?  Don't keep troubling yourself with what might have been, or should have been: they're irrelevant."

Lumumba and his men began readying themselves for what was to come next - except that the next move depended entirely on the reception Sandy's ship received.  No one doubted that Sandy's story would be believed - the severity of the storm left no room for doubt.  The unknown variable, on which everything hinged, was the treatment accorded Sandy's cargo by the people of Bakersfield.  The plan was for Sandy to bring his slaves ashore, in chains, and secure them while he made repairs to his ship; then, at the opportune moment, release them from their bondage, having managed to bring their weapons ashore while they waited.  But if the citizens of Bakersfield balked at allowing the slaves in their midst, they would remain in the hold until they could slip ashore under cover of darkness to begin their attack.  No one even remotely considered any other scenario.                        

When Joey returned topside, he found Sandy kneeling down, holding his First Mate in his arms, cradling the young man's crushed skull against his chest.  Joey went to him.  "I should have stayed here with you instead of going below," he said.

"No," answered Sandy.  "The living should be attended to first.  I should have gone below with you."

"Was he a good friend?" Joey asked.

Sandy looked up into his father's face, tears filling his eyes.  "I never saw him before in my life until a week ago, when I took him on.  I took him away from the trade.  He was there looking to sign on board a slave ship.  I convinced him to join my crew instead.  Just like the boy in the forest covered with ants, he'd be alive now if not for me."

"I'm sorry he's dead," Joey knelt down to brush his hand lightly against the First Mate's mangled brow, "but I'd sooner see him like this than to know he's helping enslave others.  Will you bury him here?" Joey asked.

"I'm always laying others to rest," Sandy observed, "or else killing them," he added.  "Like the man in Praia I butchered - but didn't know how wrong it was till my Captain told me.  I loved Captain Clark," Sandy admitted to his father.  "His words meant everything to me.  Now I must bury a boy who wanted nothing more than to sail with him on the Monterey Bay, or with one like him.  If we were farther out, I'd cast him overboard, to be eaten by the sharks.  They're honorable creatures; a man's body is not desecrated by them.  But if I throw him overboard here, he'll wash ashore to be devoured by the crabs.  If I could, I'd take him home, to the big island.  But I can't leave him to rot here in the sun; so I'll bury him in this town."

"We'll buy your cargo!" the city fathers of Bakersfield told the Captain of the Queen Alice when he presented his situation to them.

"Have you been so long away from the trade that you've forgotten?" Sandy asked.  "These slaves are on consignment, spoken for."

"We'll pay you double!" the citizens insisted.

"I cannot return empty handed," Sandy pointed out.  "I'll be black balled if the farmers feel they can't trust me to deliver the goods.  So unless you're prepared to purchase every cargo I bring, I must refuse your offer."

"You were brought to us in a storm that nearly destroyed our city," Sandy was reminded.  "Tell them you lost your cargo at sea, along with your First Mate."

"Why do you want them so badly?" Sandy asked as he feigned considering their offer.

"Sell them to us and we'll show you as you march them ashore," came the answer - a response that sent a chill down Sandy's spine.

"Let me think about it," Sandy finally agreed.  "If I can invent a plausible story to account for the loss of my entire cargo while my ship itself remained intact, then they're yours, to do with as you please."

"Oh, we shall," said their spokesman.

Lumumba burst out laughing when Sandy reported to him what the townspeople proposed.  But Joey, like Sandy, was chilled by it.

"You can't agree to this," Joey pleaded.

"Of course he can - and will!" Lumumba insisted.  "It's perfect!  Let them open their doors to us - what could be more ironic than purchasing those who have come to destroy you?  It's poetic justice in its purest form."

"I don't trust them," Sandy cautioned.  "There's something they're not telling.  Some hidden motive.  I will not accept their offer."

"You forget: this is our fight," Lumumba reminded him.  "We're grateful to you for bringing us here, but the decision has to be ours.  After all, we're not your cargo - not yours to sell or trade or keep.  You must agree to this.  You must do as we say.  It's our chance to complete our mission with the least possible casualties.  You must accept their offer."

Reluctantly, against both his and Joey's judgment, Sandy agreed to accept the terms the city fathers proposed.  The rebels were put in chains, Lumumba given the keys; and the Queen Alice was brought alongside what remained of the docks at Bakersfield.  The rebels were brought from the hold and, in a solemn procession, led single file from the ship onto the ramshackle stretch of dock.  From there, they were taken along Bakersfield-Tehachapi Highway toward the heart of the city.  The Highway was lined with the citizens of Bakersfield, who watched in great anticipation as the slaves they had just bought slowly marched past them.  Then, at a signal from the mayor, they brought out their guns and began firing into the procession.            

Clarence came unstuck with a vengeance.  Though neither his plan for conquest nor his strategy for realizing it was far from his thoughts, for the moment his rage at being almost undone by nature took center stage.  He had captured New England - as far as Caribou, Maine - and done so in the dead of winter, with barely half the losses he suffered in one blizzard in the south.  He was incensed at losing so much ground at so incongruous a place as the Dismal Swamp.  His supplies were dwindling fast - the freezing temperatures had reduced his conscripts to ravenous beasts who ate double their daily rations just to keep up the strength it took to stand waist deep in snow hour after hour for nearly a week.  He dared not deny them the food they needed to stay alive.  But when the blizzard let up, and the air warmed, and the snow began melting, he was obsessed with replenishing his supplies as quickly as possible.

"The south has robbed us," he told his commanders.  "Now we will ravage it as fiercely as we must until our army can again travel on its stomach!"

This part of North Carolina was sparsely populated.  Clarence could see right away that he would not be able to replenish his conscripts until his first real battle - which he expected to be Raleigh.  The few stragglers clustered about the border his army came upon - farmers, shopkeepers and various other townspeople - were taken entirely for food.  Most were cooked whole - captured, bound, thrown on the spit while still alive - Clarence's sole concern to conserve his conscripts' energies for battle.  The cries coming from the spits only added to the feast, increasing the conscripts' eagerness to meet the next army, fight the next battle, butcher the next prisoners.  By the time their supplies were replenished, Clarence's conscripts were practically begging their commanders to take them to their enemy.  Clarence had never seen them so impatient to kill or be killed.  It pleased him to think his conscripts had finally become soldiers; but, at the same time, he recognized in their enthusiasm a double edged sword.  A soldier eager to kill is the fiercest warrior an army can have; but also the most likely to be routed - especially by a soldier as eager to survive.  The wish to survive will outwit the urge to kill every time.  Clarence took great pains to tread carefully along the ground his army covered.

Alice saw him long before the bones of her subjects had been picked clean.  Her scouts reported back to her while the army of New York was still pillaging the northeastern most counties of her realm.  Her only concern was that it might descend first upon Greenville before taking Raleigh: this would give Stone Creek and Brad a chance to set their plans in motion, and in the process discover and thwart her own plan.  She summoned Darryl.

"Where will Clarence go first?" she asked.

"Any other time, I'd say Greenville," Darryl answered.

"What's different this time?"

"He's late," said Darryl.  "Something has held him up.  I think he'll go directly for the jugular: first Raleigh, then Fort Bragg.  Clarence is an impatient man.  It was all I could do to keep him at Fort Meade.  He wanted to send his army over the walls; I just barely managed to convince him to surround the walls instead.  Why do you ask?  Has he been sighted?"

"Brad and Stone Creek must not find out before I'm ready," Alice cautioned.  "Otherwise, we're in danger of beating our weapons into military textbooks.  They must not know he's crossed the border!"

Darryl was right.  Clarence didn't even consider Greenville.  The moment his conscripts' bellies were full, he set out directly for Raleigh-Durham, even though he could just as easily have continued almost due south to Greenville first then headed west to Raleigh.  He wanted blood, he knew his conscripts wanted it too; but he feared Greenville would blunt their bloodlust, leaving it half spent on a battle barely worth the trouble.  So he plotted a course south-southwest to Raleigh, making his way undetected as far as Rocky Mount, in neighboring Nash County - undetected by Brad and Stone Creek, whose scouts' silence Alice succeeded in buying until the time was right.

Stone Creek and Brad both knew that with the enemy less than thirty miles away, and given the speed at which it traveled, their elaborate plans were useless.  They had no choice but to accept the plan Darryl had drawn up.  They gathered up their respective armies and led them from the Lumberton Plain northward to Raleigh to meet the enemy face to face at the border of Wake and Durham Counties.  Alice gathered her palace guards and trailed them at a distance.

Clarence's army had half the distance to travel, yet Alice was not concerned that they might arrive too soon and rout her forces, leaving her entirely at Brad and Stone Creek's mercy.  Knowing Clarence would take the quickest, most direct route from Rocky Mount to Raleigh - Interstate 64 - she had had her troops do what they did best: she had them booby trap the route.  The army of New York, barely halfway to its target, found itself mired in a field of explosives, animal traps, hidden ropes and pits filled with jagged stakes, which no matter how far they moved to the east or west they could not seem to get around.  They were forced to slow their march to a snail's pace - something Clarence would never have allowed up north, no matter how many of his conscripts were wounded or killed; but, down south, he had no way of knowing how many new conscripts he could assimilate from the enemy's ranks, so he had no choice but to do Alice's bidding and slow his pace long enough for her plan to take effect.

Clarence lost over a hundred conscripts, a number of guards and even a few of his commanders before reaching his target.  Even so, he leaned his head back and laughed when he saw his enemy standing full strength in an open field a couple miles outside the city.  Not that he ruled out this being a trap, or totally abandoned any of the strategies he had gleaned from his weeks with Darryl; but he was too good a general, and had fought too many armies in much more heavily populated areas not to recognize in the rag-tag army facing him the bulk of the enemy's force.  Clearly, the only strategy here was pure brute force, which he could meet head on, pound for pound, bone for bone - meet, and defeat.

"We won't go hungry tonight!" he exclaimed as he ordered his men to attack.

The air was warm and muggy.  The sky was clear.  The Piedmont cast in a purple haze, which mimicked Indian Summer in January.  Thick patches of clouds crouched low along the eastern horizon.  The ground was damp, in places mushy, from the recent slush that had covered the Plateau.

Alice carried a small cage into battle.  In it were two pigeons.  She positioned herself along Globe Road, just west of Raleigh Durham airport and parallel US 70 - the Raleigh-Durham Highway - where Stone Creek and Brad had stationed their armies.  She no sooner arrived than the army of New York appeared from the northeast, following the Wake-Durham border.  The moment they crossed Leesville Road, the shooting began.

The first volley was followed by a rapid charge.  But it wasn't until the first soldier fell before the advancing army that Stone Creek and Brad signaled their men to return fire.  At almost point blank range, the two armies began depleting each other's ranks, the army of New York's advance stalled by the wall of men compressed along US 70, a wall slowly fanning out to keep the enemy from getting behind them, both armies virtually locked in hand to hand combat, each trying to shoot the other yet barely able to raise their weapons, eventually using their guns as much to club their enemy as to attempt taking aim.

For an hour this carnage continued, hundreds dropping on both sides as heads were cracked open, eyes gouged out, blood and gore spilling everywhere, shots ringing out in every direction, some wildly off the mark, some right on target.  One moment it looked like the New Yorkers were winning; the next moment, the Carolinians had gained the upper hand; then the invaders again, then the home front - back and forth, like a tug of war, both sides taking turns tasting of victory only to have it snatched away again.  Finally, from the midst of these two armies rapidly exterminating each other, two little white specks rose above the battlefield, like wishes blown on the wind.  One went east, one went west.

Alice had released her birds, the first heading directly east, to Leesville, the other going west to Bethesda.  Within half an hour the two cordons of Alice's army appeared on either horizon.  Minutes later, they stole up the rear to engage the enemy from behind, vanquishing the invaders completely in twenty minutes time.

Less than three hundred conscripts remained standing to surrender.  They did not wait for word from their commanders; they simply threw down their weapons and tried to raise their hands.  In each conscripts' mind was the specter of his own body being sliced into slabs of meat to be cooked over the spit.  They would have chosen to fight to the death rather than suffer the fate they inflicted on those they conquered; but they couldn't - literally, they couldn't.  They had no strength left even to put up a show of resistance long enough to be killed then and there; every last ounce of their strength had been sapped.  They could no longer even lift their guns to strike out, or to shoot themselves, as some wanted to; so they simply dropped them.  Half the conscripts fell in a heap where they stood, their bodies wedged too tightly within the throng to slump forward, backward or sideways; until the victors broke ranks to begin securing them.  Then they tumbled flat onto the battlefield, barely able to breathe.  When ordered to get up, they just stared, lifelessly, in whatever direction the order seemed to be coming from.  Get up? they tried to comprehend the words, to put them in some perspective that bore some semblance to reality; but they couldn't.  They might as well have been ordered to sprout wings and fly to the moon as to get up.

Brad and his lieutenants began moving among the conscripts, ordering them again to get up, this time holding a gun to their heads.  But all they got was the same blank stare.  One last time they were ordered off the ground, then Brad nodded and his lieutenants began firing the guns pressed against the conscripts' heads.

Seeing this same scene he'd witnessed over and over being played out here, in his own backyard, Darryl rushed forward, ordering Brad and his lieutenants to halt.  Brad turned, calmly pointed his gun, and fired.  But as he did, his gun flew from his hand.  He turned to see who had dared interfere with his commander's prerogative.  His mouth nearly dropped open.

Standing beside him was Stone Creek, who simply told Brad to order a halt to his lieutenants' actions.  He complied without question, motioning his men to cease shooting the conscripts.  Then he turned back to Stone Creek.

"He enjoys the protection of the realm," Brad was reminded.

"They don't!" Brad replied.

"They'll be dealt with in due time," Stone Creek promised.

The moment Alice's troops routed the conscripts, they turned their attention to the commanders and guards, who attempted to flee the battlefield when they saw their army disintegrating.  They quickly subdued those taking flight and returned them to the battlefield.

Stone Creek approached the supreme commander, who had only that moment caught sight of Darryl.  Instead of anger or contempt, Clarence's face showed only the exasperation of someone confronting the obvious.

"I should have known," he muttered.  Then he recognized Stone Creek.  "And you too," he observed, considering the irony a moment before adding "Of course: how could it be otherwise?  No other man alive could have outmaneuvered me."

Alice had come forward to meet her enemy face to face.  She laughed out loud when she heard Stone Creek given credit for her achievement, but said nothing.  She started to walk away then turned back to Clarence.

"In our world, it seems everyone is unexpectedly connected to someone else," she told him.  "We've all been drawn here - as if for a family picnic.  Not that we intend placing you and yours on our menu.  You won't receive the fate you deserve.  But I'm sure we can come up with something you'll approve of."

Then she walked away.  Her troops secured the prisoners and brought them to Raleigh Durham airport, where they were locked inside a hangar until they could be transported to Fort Bragg to be properly executed.  A week later, all the conscripts, all the guards, all the commanders stood before firing squads.  Only Clarence remained alive.

He had been put in Brad's old cell inside the Tower, remaining there until the last of his army had been laid in a common grave and covered over.  Then, at the appointed hour, he was taken to the town square.  All the townspeople had gathered around.  Alice was seated on a raised platform at one end of the square.  Clarence was brought before her.  She stood and addressed him.

"We find you guilty as charged," she pronounced.  Then she motioned the guards to take the prisoner to the center of the square.  He was made to kneel before a stone slab.  His head was lowered onto the slab.  The axeman stepped forth, raised his axe, and brought it down in one swift blow.  Clarence's head teetered a second on the edge of the slab then dropped into a wicker basket lined with burlap.                                

Over half of Brad's army from Indiana and almost two-thirds of Stone Creek's from Kentucky perished outside Raleigh the afternoon of Thursday, January 6th of the new year, 2095.  What Stone Creek knew on the battlefield when he knocked the gun from his grandson's hand, Brad only realized as he watched Clarence's head roll off the slab and disappear into the basket.  Their followers - separately or combined - no longer outnumbered Alice's.  She had regained the upper hand; her kingdom was once again hers.  And, as if to underscore her restoration, Alice had her guards arrest Brad and return him to his cell.  When Stone Creek confronted her about the arrest, asking why only Brad and not him, she informed him that, unlike Brad, he did not stand accused of attempted murder.

"It was you, I suspect, who sabotaged his duel with Sandy," Stone Creek observed.  "We both know Brad would never stoop to treachery.  Do you mean to use this to sever his head?"

"I think we both realize Brad's far too valuable alive," said Alice.  "I'm hoping he'll be foolish enough to step outside his own element into one he stands a good chance of drowning in.  Not that I want him to perish; but I think coming face to face with his own vulnerability might turn him from a ruthless autocrat into a compassionate aristocrat.  We both know he was born to rule - I saw it the moment I first set eyes on him.  But I will destroy him - as treacherously as I have to - before I'll see him rule my people as ruthlessly as he rules his.  He must learn compassion."

"Or die trying?" Stone Creek asked.

Alice acknowledged his supposition with a nod.

"You mean to have him chase Sandy, don't you?" Stone Creek observed.

"I'll even give him one of my own ships to do it in!" Alice confirmed.  "Though he doesn't know that yet."

"He's no seaman," said Stone Creek.

"The sea will make him one.  Or kill him trying."

Sandy made four stops before leaving the walled city.  The first was Carol, who asked if she would ever see him again.  He answered yes, he planned to return, when his work was done if not sooner.

"Your work may never be done," Carol pointed out.  "Not if the slave trade's as extensive as you say it is.  But I have no hold on you.  I've never had a hold on anyone I loved.  I don't even know what it would feel like.  I wish I'd gotten to know Mount Everest better.  I already saw so much of myself in him it's a wonder I didn't realize who he really was.  I may be the only person on earth who understands why he didn't reveal himself to me.  Some people can only see from a distance.  I'll look for you when you return, but I won't be alarmed if you don't."

After Carol, he visited Alice, who gave him the details of her fleet - its exact location, the size and seaworthiness of each ship, the names of the people he would have to contact to secure passage.  She then gave him several signed notes authorizing him to take possession of her fleet. 

Next he visited Cade.  "I'm sorry I didn't grow into your image of me," he told him.

Cade shook his head.  "I'm sorry my image of you wasn't allowed to become a real person.  All those years, growing up alone, away from everything I knew, all I had was who I imagined you to be.  Even when I finally let go of that image, it remained, like a negative of your real image.  I don't know if it's my blindness that makes me unable to see the real world, or if not seeing it makes blindness seem so natural to me."

When they parted, Sandy told Cade he had one last stop to make before leaving.  Cade nodded in acknowledgement, even though Sandy did not reveal who he meant to visit.  "He needs to see you, even if he thinks he hates you," he said.

Sandy proceeded to the Tower, asking the guards to be taken to Brad's cell.  Brad had been looking out the narrow window; he turned when he heard the guards.  Sandy walked up to the bars, taking hold of them.

"I wouldn't have taken her if she had been yours," he told Brad.

"If not for you, she would have been," Brad said as he came over to stand with only the bars separating him from Sandy.  "And when you're gone, she will be."

"It will not be by your hand," Sandy assured his rival.

"You're wrong," said Brad.  "It'll only be by my hand.  I know that as surely as I know my own name.  When you die, you will find my hand upon you.  I swear it.  Even if I should stop hating you, nothing can change that."

Sandy led Felicia to the lion's den, to spend their last night on land with his mother.  He knew this wasn't the same lioness who had carried him off in the snow nineteen years ago; he remembered a succession of lions over the years, as the task of raising him was passed from one to another, his original mother wandering off into the snow after she had chosen her successor.  He remembered running after her, only to be pulled back to the cave by his new mother.  He cried when his mother finally disappeared into the night; the lion his mother had chosen licked away his tears and made him understand that he would outlive all his mothers.  He asked why but was only told that that was the way it was.  He never again questioned when he saw his mother bring a new lioness to their cave then, a few days later, wander off alone into the night.

The next morning, Sandy and Felicia sailed down the Cape Fear in his yacht, which had sat idle at Elizabethtown for over two months.  Felicia watched his every movement, wishing to learn as much about sailing as she could, to be able to help Sandy if he needed it; but also in the event it became necessary for her to continue alone some day.

They reached Wilmington by mid-afternoon.  Sandy would have liked to dock there; but, instead, sailed past the harbor and its hidden dangers, down the Cape Fear River to Smith Island and Cape Fear itself, where he made one last stop before entering the Atlantic.  He had already charted his course south-southeast past the Bahamas and through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti into the Caribbean Sea to his port of call at Kingston.  But he did not want to begin his voyage in the dark, so he and Felicia spent the night anchored off Cape Fear.  At the first light of day on Tuesday, January 11, 2095, Sandy's yacht burst into the Atlantic on a brisk northwest wind that carried him a hundred miles out to sea before giving way to the prevailing winds of the North Atlantic.  Then, while his boat drifted, he stoked his engine to carry him the next hundred miles, until he again caught a westerly, coaxing it with his sails to lead him southwest and eventually due south through the Windward Passage, where he again stoked his engine for the remaining journey to Jamaica.

He navigated the Jamaica Channel around Morant Point, the easternmost part of the island, then headed westward, circling the Palisadoes to enter Kingston harbor five days after setting sail.  He steered his yacht to one of the many docks along the harbor, bringing it finally to a halt beside a windjammer.  Securing his boat and gathering up his letters of introduction and bills of sale from Alice as well as certain documents the yachtsman had instructed him to hand over to the authorities, Sandy escorted his young bride along the docks to the Port Authority, to authenticate the transfer of Alice's fleet and put the yachtsman's house in order.  The building was packed with sea captains, merchants, visiting dignitaries and port officials.  Sandy asked one of the receptionists in the main lobby where he needed to go and was directed to an office on the fourth floor.  He signed a register and took a seat to await his turn.

Kingston, by virtue of its unbroken line of commerce in a world that had come to the very brink of extinction, had become over the past few decades the trading capital of the world.  It was the richest and most influential city on earth.  Every commercial vessel that sailed the seven seas made its way eventually into its harbor.  All were welcomed - except those that carried slaves.  And even they were welcome, so long as they emptied their hold to continue their journey without a cargo.  Kingston's harbor, sheltered by the Palisadoes, offered a safe haven to ships caught in the seasonal storms that swept through the Caribbean.  Dozens of slave ships over the years had been driven to its shores, knowing full well the price of its protection.  The Kingston Port Authority had freed more slaves than all the slave rebellions and abolitionist movements combined; it had even contracted with merchants to return the freed slaves to their homes.

All of this was well known to Alice, who had allowed her ships to be used gratis by the Port Authority over the years to re-patriate the Africans it freed from the slavers - the irony of her returning citizens to Africa as fast as Sandy could take them a source both of amusement and recrimination.  It was this partnership between Alice and the Port Authority, coupled with the most scrupulously observed rule of law anywhere on earth, that guaranteed Sandy access to her fleet with nothing more than a simple signature on a piece of paper.  Neither Alice nor any other merchant feared for the safety of their ships or the sanctity of their registry.  In half a century, not one piece of cargo had been pilfered or one ship commandeered, no matter how long they sat unattended.  The Port Authority at Kingston was the most highly respected governmental entity on the planet.

"Everything appears in order," the official reported after comparing Alice's signatures to those on file with the Authority.  "How many of her majesty's ships will you be taking?" the official asked.

"Only one," replied Sandy.  "The rest will continue on consignment to the Port Authority, to be used at its discretion."

"We graciously accept your generosity," the official responded.  "And will you be needing a crew?" the official asked.

"I will."

"We can assist you if you like.  We will of course waive our finder's fee."

"I would accept your offer if I could," said Sandy.  "You see, I mean to be a pirate.  My prey will be slave ships.  My only mission is to help free their captives.  I cannot ask you to help me secure men for so dangerous a mission - nor can I ask you to sanction piracy."

"You should not have told me this," said the official.  "As much as I commend your mission and wish you success at it, I am duty bound to report anything I believe to be in violation of the world's shipping agreements or anything that jeopardizes shipping channels.  I am not bound to report it immediately, however, so I won't.  You'll have time to secure whatever supplies you need and however many men you can.  And to take care of the matter of your inheritance.  But by this time next week you and your ship will be officially registered as a threat to international commerce.  I regret having to do this, but nothing can allow us to ignore the very rules we ourselves formulated and enforce.  To do so is to destroy everything we built."

"I understand," Sandy acknowledged.  "I'll be gone before the week is out."

When Sandy and Felicia left the Port Authority, they proceeded to the docks, to try and secure a crew.  Sandy had already made up his mind to get his crew from California - his greatest hope to have former slavers help man his ship.  But he needed a crew, if only a skeleton crew, just to get to California, so he went in search of anyone he could convince to accept his terms.    

"How much like Brad you are," Felicia noted as they walked the docks.  "He, too, would have compromised his mission rather than deceive someone into helping him.  Yet he would think nothing of shooting a man point blank who disobeyed him.  So much of him was given over to honor there was too little left for humanity.  I suspect you, too, would shoot first and ask questions later."

"Honor has killed more men than any other weapon," Sandy observed.  "I have no interest in it.  All that matters is completing what I set out to accomplish.  Deception only obscures my goal."

Each man Sandy interviewed was told two things: what the ship would be used for and the expected duration of his apprenticeship.  Neither wages nor rewards was promised, only hard work and danger - the same two elements that first drew Sandy to the sea.  By the end of the third day of his search, Sandy had his crew.  Two days later, the ship he chose from among his fleet docked at Kingston - the Queen Alice - sailed out of Kingston harbor, rounded the Palisadoes, and set sail for the Panama Canal. 

Sandy had no master plan, no idea how, when or where he would begin attacking slave ships.  He had a vague idea of following the ships that set sail from California, trailing them all the way to Africa then intercepting them once they had loaded their cargo.  He meant to remain close to the African coast during the height of the slave season, when the seas afforded easier passage and greater numbers of ships sailed the trade route from West Africa to the Canal.  He had some romantic notion of making the Barbary Coast his base of operations - or possibly the castle at Tarfaya, where he met the yachtsman.  First, though, he was determined to get to California and reestablish his connections among the sailors, then take on a permanent crew.

"But you have a crew," Felicia reminded him.  "What makes you think they won't stay on?"

"They're a different breed," Sandy tried to explain.  "They're merchant seamen, they're settled, they have families, ties to the land; sailing is their job, not their life.  The men I sailed with on the Monterey Bay were drifters and wanderers, they had no roots and wanted none, they lived for the sea, they belonged to it.  In a way they hated the sea because they knew it kept them from everything people need to be happy; yet for all its hold on them, the sea did not make them happy.  So they fought it - every minute aboard their ship they were at war with the sea, as if they were struggling to free themselves from its pull, knowing they could never be free.  That's why they could carry slaves: they had no earthly experience of freedom, so they couldn't imagine it in others.  They're the only people I've ever truly loved.  I can give them the sea without the slave trade.  Not that they care; but I do.  It won't bring them any closer to freedom to free slaves instead of taking them; but if they see enough others set free they'll at last come to understand what it means, even if they can never experience it themselves."

The Queen Alice enjoyed smooth sailing to Panama.  The waters of the Caribbean were calm for this time of year, the clouds unthreatening, the wind strong without howling a constant threat.  But, to Sandy's great disappointment, no other ship was sighted the entire voyage.  He was hoping to encounter his first slave ship, even though he was not yet equipped to do battle.  More than anything else, he wanted a sign that chance was working with him rather than against him, since he would have to rely on chance as much as his knowledge of the trade routes and the slavers' schedules to bring him along side the slave ships.  Finally, at Colon, at the Atlantic end of the Canal, he found what he was looking for, but not in the form he was seeking.

A small flotilla was fast approaching from the west, hugging the coast of Panama.  Too small and too numerous to be carrying slaves, and too close to land to be commercial vessels, the seven ships were not merely plying the same waters as the Queen Alice, they were closing in on it.

Sandy had encountered them before, as First Mate on the Monterey Bay.  They were pirates, though before his capture in West Africa he had never heard the word.  They preyed upon ships that used the Canal, demanding payment before they would let the ships enter or leave.  Captain Clark - as all the Captains of all the slave ships - had paid the ransom and proceeded on his journey, the payment simply a business expense.  Sandy had seen a ship refuse - a fishing trawler.  The flotilla opened fire, sinking the trawler in a matter of minutes.  He had been told of much larger ships being attacked and sunk - some as large as his windjammer.  No one had ever been known to get by them without paying or being fired upon.

In a flash, Sandy ascended the masthead and began working his sails to maximize his speed.  He knew he was far enough ahead that if he could get the Queen Alice turned in time, putting the wind behind her, he could outrun the flotilla.  He knew also that they would not chase him into open waters, where the waves and current of even a tranquil sea posed a greater risk than they were willing to take.  By the time he was within range of their weapons, his sails opened their full width before a trailing wind and the Queen Alice shot full speed ahead until it was once again out of range.  The flotilla followed a few hundred yards more before it returned to the coast, to sit in hiding until the next ship appeared.

"The next time we meet, we'll have weapons," Sandy told Felicia.

"But I thought you meant to get weapons at California?" Felicia, in turn, asked.

"I do," Sandy replied, adding "when we get there."

"Will you wait and try again?  Is that it?"

"I could - and hope my timing is better," said Sandy.  "They're not always there.  Or I could go the other route.  Either way poses a grave threat to my ship and crew.  I can't ask my ship what it wishes me to do; and, even though I have no right to subject my crew to this kind of peril, I can't ask them either.  But I can - and will - ask you."

"I'm here to sail the seas," Felicia let Sandy know.  "I'm not afraid of the sea, only the land.  If there's another passage, let's take it."

Sandy nodded his acceptance.  "At least its summer down there," he noted.  "The Cape may not be as fierce this time of year."

A course was hastily charted - not that there was any chance of getting there too soon; but there was a danger of running aground off the coast of Columbia if the ship took an easterly turn on reaching the open waters of the North Atlantic if it continued too long on its northeasterly course.  Sandy set a course that would carry him almost to the easternmost reaches of the Caribbean before he began a gradual southeasterly descent along the coast of South America until the easternmost tip of Brazil signaled a gradual southwesterly descent to the tip of the continent.  

Sandy had not made up his mind yet whether to go for the Drake Passage, around Cape Horn, or attempt the Strait of Magellan, between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland.  His only knowledge of the area came from Captain Clark, who had recounted his sole voyage there and whose experience suggested that the few hundred miles saved by sailing the Strait might prove a poor trade for the more treacherous passage.  Still, there was at least the city of Punta Arenas along the Strait - if cities in the Southern Hemisphere had not suffered the same fate as those in the north; whereas, around the Cape was nothing but desolate rock and an open sea that could offer smooth sailing or throw some of the most turbulent waters on earth in his path.  He resolved to decide which course to take by the time he reached the Rio de la Plata.

In the meantime, he would need supplies long before he reached the Uruguay-Argentine border; so, while he charted his course, he also charted his stops along the way.  He had meant to try and make it to California with the supplies he had; he estimated that these same supplies would take him at least to the eastern tip of Brazil; he chose the port of Natal just beyond the tip as his first stop.  Then, if all went well at Natal, he planned making a second stop in Brazil, either at Rio de Janeiro or Santos, before proceeding the rest of the way to Tierra del Fuego.

The Caribbean offered no resistance.  The crew of the Queen Alice sailed almost effortlessly to the Windward Islands as its Captain charted his course to California.  By the time the ship cleared Grenada, southernmost of the Windwards, on its way past Trinidad toward the open waters of the Atlantic, Sandy's course was set and he rejoined his crew in manning the sails.

Felicia noticed how labored Sandy's attempts to plot his course had become - growing increasingly more so the closer his ship got to the islands.  It didn't bother her that he might be hesitant doing this kind of work - if anything, she would have been surprised had someone so adept at physical tasks possessed a corresponding navigational skill.  What did bother her was a certain incongruity in the way he worked.  He seemed to be merely going through the motions of navigation - as if he were deliberately trying to avoid fixing his course.

"Have you had second thoughts about going around the continent?" Felicia asked him.

"No," Sandy replied.  "It's the only way to get to California.  I just want to hurry and be past the Antilles.  I can't look at these charts without seeing how close we'll be to Saint Lucia.  That's where I buried him - the Captain of the yacht.  It's all I can do to keep from going there."

"What's stopping you?" Felicia asked.

"My crew," said Sandy.  "I can't jeopardize them going even one mile farther than I have to.  One day I'll return to Saint Lucia, but not now.  That's why I've stayed on the bridge.  It's only when I'm on deck, and have my hands on the sails, that I know exactly where I am and where I'm going.  From in here, seeing, touching only paper, the ocean might as easily be a sand dune for all I know.  If I could, I'd turn the ship over to someone else to steer, and I'd spend the rest of the voyage up there, on the masthead, guiding her along the winds."

"But only you know how to steer it," Felicia reminded him.  "No one else knows where it has to go to accomplish its mission."

Sandy reached Natal three weeks after leaving Kingston.  He found it a thriving port, its harbor thronged with boats, a few ocean going like his, but most smaller, local boats, for navigating the inland waterways of northeastern Brazil.  Before he even reached the docks, he could tell from the flurry of activity along the wharves and piers that he would be welcomed here and would have no trouble taking on supplies.

The Queen Alice remained docked at Natal two days.  The night before setting sail, Sandy and Felicia stood on deck looking up at the sky.  Sandy pointed to where the moon shone down on the water; it seemed to light a path stretching across the Atlantic.

"We're so close to Dakar," he said, "it's almost as if I could throw a rope and reel us in.  It's barely half as far to Africa as we've already come since leaving Alice's city.  The irony is, it's my final destination; only I can't reach it without first going halfway around the world.   It isn't the sea that stands between us, it's everything I did at sea.  I have much to do before I can return to my brothers to stand trial.  So, as long as it takes me, and as far as I have to travel, California is still the shortest route to Africa.  There is no direct route."

The sea spread itself into vast open channels once past this final barrier of land, as if it had been damned between Brazil and the Ivory Coast and could at last resume its normal flow.  Sandy and Felicia both felt an urge to continue with it, no matter how far off course it took them.  But neither the Queen Alice nor her crew took aim where the Atlantic pointed.  Sandy's ship continued to hug the coast as it rounded the tip of Brazil and began drifting ever so slightly westward until the chance to fling itself full face into the South Atlantic had passed and the everyday reality of sustaining a course already set once again took control of the helm.

The waters off Brazil continued their calm southwesterly flow, past Aracaju, past Salvador, Vitoria and dozens of small fishing villages, before jutting sharply westward to gently deliver the Queen Alice to the mouth of Guanabara Bay, with its great stone monolith, Sugar Loaf, rising from its southern shore.  Sandy had reached Rio de Janeiro, his last scheduled stop before braving the Horn, on Sunday morning, February 13th of the year 2095.

He brought his ship into Guanabara Bay, which seemed to be drifting toward a huge statue perched on a mountaintop overlooking the city; then it began to veer to the northeast, away from the statue.  Neither Sandy nor Felicia had ever seen anything like this before.  They both stared, transfixed, until the Queen Alice moved deeper into the Bay, changing the statue's perspective.

"It must be their King," Sandy concluded.  "Maybe they'll grant us an audience with him."

Eventually they reached the harbor and Sandy docked at a remote pier.  He summoned his crew on deck and told them he would go ashore first to determine what kind of reception they could expect; then, if all went well, he would grant them shore leave for the rest of the day.  He took one of his crewman who spoke the language of Brazil with him, as he had at Natal.  Sandy had the crewman ask the very first person they encountered if it was possible to meet with their King.  The person laughed and explained that Brazil had not had a King in more than two hundred years.  Sandy looked up at the statue, which rose above the line of buildings.

"He must have been a very great King," he observed.  His interpreter did not translate this remark; instead, when the person had moved on, he explained to Sandy that the statue on the mountain was not a King but the son of God - and that there was another, but smaller, statue of him high in the mountains to the west.

"Can it be?" Sandy wondered.  "I gave Alice a tiny head believed to be that of God.  Yet for God's son they built two giant statues?  How can it be?"

"God's son became one of us," the crewman answered.  "He suffered and died for our sins.  So we honor him beyond all others."

"He died for our sins? why?" asked Sandy.

"To save us from being destroyed by his Father."

Sandy recalled the stern expression on the head he gave Alice and nodded in understanding of his crewman's explanation.  "I can believe that of God," he said.  "They, too, spoke of God," he continued after a moment's reflection; "those who tied me to the tree in the village.  And of many gods.  Yet my mother said nothing about Him - or them.  Neither did Alice or Mount Everest.  When we reach California, I will find the place where God's living head is housed.  I'll ask Him why no one ever told me of Him till I saw His likeness one day in the market at Berkeley.  If not for that vendor, who I went to looking for a girl to lie with, I might never have found God."

"Did you find the girl as well?" Sandy's crewman asked.

"No," Sandy answered.  "My First Mate sent me to the wrong stand.  But I found another in her place.  She used her mouth instead of her loins.  It's as if it had all been planned.  In the same day, I discovered God and learned a new way to lie with a girl."

"You are truly blessed!" observed Sandy's interpreter.

When they returned to the Queen Alice, Sandy gave his crew permission to go ashore till dusk.  He and Felicia remained on board until the crew returned.  Sandy told her who the statue was built to honor, and why he had been honored.

"I should have recognized the likeness," Felicia remarked.  "I've seen drawings of how people pictured him, and they were all the same as this statue.  They called him Jesus.  He was nailed to a cross -"

"For our sins," Sandy noted.

The next day was spent securing supplies.  Sandy and his crew managed to find someone who spoke English, so he was able to deal with the supplier directly.  He had already determined what he needed and in what quantities; and, because of his stopover in Natal, how much he could expect to pay.  He had no money of his own, but Alice had given him a strong box full of gold coins, enough to last at least a couple years.  In his possession were enough coins to buy everything he needed.

"Your buying habits are strange," the supplier observed during the course of the transaction.

"How so?" asked Sandy.

"You buy too little to be a merchant, yet more than you need to reach any port on the Atlantic," the supplier explained.

"I'm bound for the Pacific," Sandy, in turn, explained.

"Ah, of course!" the paradox was resolved.  "Then I trust you've left yourself enough gold to pass safely through the Canal," the supplier cautioned.

Sandy shook his head.  "I won't pay their extortion," he said.

"Then be prepared to fight," Sandy was warned.

Again he shook his head.  "We're not headed for the Canal," he explained.  "We've come from there.  We're going around the Cape."

A strange look came over the supplier's face, and he stepped back, as if the very words spoken to him were threatening.  He crossed himself then began shaking his head from side to side.

"You cannot!" he warned.  "You must not go near there.  It is the edge of the world.  Make one false move and you'll fall off.  Believe what I say; others have gone there before you.  Some came back - driven back the way they came before it was too late.  Most were never heard of again."

"My Captain told me the waters were treacherous," Sandy acknowledged.

"They were treacherous - for thousands of years," the supplier said in an ominous voice, "till one day they ceased their treachery and simply disappeared altogether.  It is the edge of the universe.  Do not go near it.  If need be, head east - go around Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, and from there make your way to the Pacific.  I'll even give you the supplies you need - if you have no more coins, I will not charge you for them.  But, in the name of God, do not go near Cape Horn!  Not if you wish to reach your destination."

Sandy thanked the supplier and promised to let him know by the end of the day what he would do.  Then he returned to his ship to consult his maps and charts, in order to determine how far it was to go around Africa and how long it would take.  On his way back through the market, he stopped dead in his tracks before a small booth.  There, standing before him on a shelf of the booth was a small statue - a miniature replica of the great statue overlooking the city.  He took a gold piece from his pocket, placed it in the vendor's hand, and grabbed the statue.  The vendor called to him, in Portuguese.  Sandy's interpreter stepped back to the booth to hear what the vendor had to say, then reported to Sandy that he had no way to make change for so large a piece of money.  Sandy walked back to the booth, took hold of the vendor's open hand and gently closed it around the coin before continuing on.

In the evening Sandy again sought out the supplier, buying extra stores of food and fresh water, which he assured the supplier would be enough if he took the long route around Africa.  He haggled with the man, whose name was Mr. Henry, for almost an hour before they settled on a price - Mr. Henry, right up to the final handshake, insisting upon throwing in extra supplies gratis, Sandy assuring him over and over that everything he could afford would be sufficient.  When they parted, Mr. Henry swore he would say a prayer in the cathedral for the safe journey of the Queen Alice.  Sandy made only one request of him: to say his prayer before the son of God - the statue atop Corcovado - instead of inside the cathedral.  Mr. Henry agreed, though he secretly said a prayer to God in the cathedral as well.

"He will need it, dear Lord," Mr. Henry whispered alone before a lighted candle at the altar.  "As surely as I know you are the almighty God, I know he will not heed my advice.  He will try to go around Cape Horn.  Please be with him.  He thinks with his heart and ignores the reasoning of his head.  Do not let him roll off the end of the earth, I pray you."                            

Sandy began to feel the pull of the current as far north as the Rio de La Plata - the point he had chosen to finalize his course around the continent.  Except, now, he had a second, even greater, decision to make than whether to sail the Strait of Magellan or the Drake Passage.  Now he had to decide whether to continue south - toward the edge of the universe - or head east, for the safety of Africa.  This would be his last chance to decide before descending too far south to consider going east.  He weighed the factors again and again, finding there to be only two after they were all reduced to their common ground.  On one hand was the welfare of his ship, his crew and his wife; on the other, his right to be sheltered by a continent he had pillaged.

Felicia found him in tears on the bridge of his ship off the coast of Uruguay, under a full moon in February.  "What is it?" she asked as she gently wiped the tears from his cheek.

"I must once again sacrifice others to my own sense of what matters most," he told her.  "I would give my life if I could choose otherwise; but I can't.  Though you, who I love above all else except the son of God: you and I and all my crew may perish for my decision, but I cannot go east.  I cannot seek shelter along the shore of Africa.  I can't.  Perhaps one day I'll earn that right, but not now.  It isn't because we may die that I'm crying; it's because of what I must choose.  I know we won't die.  The son of God will protect us.  He won't let the Queen Alice go over the edge.  But I would, rather than desecrate the land I took John and the others from."

Felicia smiled at her husband's innocence.  "You couldn't desecrate anything if you tried.  But some part of you more precious even than your innocence would have been lost if you had placed our welfare above what you know to be right.  If the son of God protects us, that's good.  But even without him, we have you to keep us afloat."

Fifty years ago the Larsen Ice Shelf sank all at once into the Weddell Sea, creating a giant wave that swept across Patagonia as far north as the Rio Negro before returning in a torrent to the Antarctic Peninsula, which jutted deep into the Drake Passage.  Over the next three decades the relentless flow of water back and forth between the polar currents eroded the rapidly thawing Peninsula until a great chasm opened between the Passage and the sunken Shelf.  Into this chasm poured the waters of Cape Horn, as though it were a waterfall they were destined to cascade down.  But only so much water could slide beneath the Shelf before the Pacific current drew it back up to begin the cycle all over again, continually siphoning water from the Drake Passage to spill beneath the Larsen then re-emerge as part of the Pacific current.  For twenty years the cycle had played itself out, carrying anything adrift into the chasm as if it had dropped off the world altogether and disappeared forever.

Dozens of ships had been sucked beneath the Shelf, to be splintered into pieces too small to be recognized as anything man made, the driftwood eventually emerging within the Current to be carried to a thousand ports of call all over the world.  Tales of lost ships had spread throughout the Americas, growing more mysterious, more ominous with each rendering, until the bizarre phenomenon at the tip of Antarctica devolved into the ancient belief that the world had an end in space and that anything which came too close was doomed to fall into the endless void beneath the earth.            

Sandy felt its pull growing stronger day by day as he slowly drew closer to Cape Horn.  He had felt it first at the Rio de La Plata, as a slight tug on the bow of the Queen Alice.  By the time he reached the Rio Negro, the pull had grown as strong as if his ship were being towed into port.  When he reached the Falkland Islands, his sails had been rendered almost useless against the water flowing inexorably southeastward toward the Weddell Sea.  He had already decided to take the Strait of Magellan rather than attempt navigating around Cape Horn; but now the chance to execute his plan seemed to be slipping away.  The Strait was almost on the same plane as the Falklands, yet he continued to drift southward, barely managing to catch enough wind to maintain even a course due south between the Falklands and the mainland, let alone a course perpendicular to the one he was stuck in.  Sandy realized, too late, that he could not have picked a worse season than summer to make this journey - that the very storms he had hoped to avoid in winter offered the best and perhaps only hope of navigating his ship away from the edge of the universe.

Once he saw the southernmost tip of the Falklands disappear off his stern, he knew he had missed his chance at the Strait and had no choice now but to head for the Cape.  He summoned his crew and spoke one last time before beginning his final attempt to free himself from the pull of the sea.  He took out the statue of Corcovado he had bought at Rio and held it up to his crew.

"Our ship is safe now!" he swore to the men.  "It carries the son of God.  He will guide us through the waters our own skills cannot - but only those waters!  He will not step in to Captain our ship or to rig its sails.  He expects us to do that, and to only call upon him when we can do no more.  Come!  Every man to his station!  Show the son of God we are worthy of his protection."

Without a word, each sailor proceeded to his assigned task, lifting, pulling, tugging and in every conceivable way manning the sails to maximize even the faintest trace of wind.  The Queen Alice crept almost imperceptibly along a southwesterly arc toward Tierra del Fuego until it reached Isle de Los Estados off the southeastern most tip of the Land of Fire.  Then everything stopped.  Not one flap of one sail stirred along the ship's spine.  The Queen Alice was dead in the water but the water still lived.  The ship began drifting southeastward again.

Sandy ascended the masthead and, standing poised on the crossbeam, lifted the son of God high above his head into the thick moist air surrounding the ship.  From somewhere in the east a loud bang burst open a distant patch of gray, then another, and yet another, until the sky was filled with the sounds and, shortly, the streaks of an approaching storm.  The sail nearest Sandy caught the faintest whiff of a breeze and began to billow.  Sandy kissed Corcovado, slipped it back into his pocket and began moving amongst his sails to help guide his crew and his ship along the path the son of God had opened.  

The storm never reached the waters off Tierra del Fuego.  After a few short bursts, the wind grew calm.  The doldrums returned - but not before the Queen Alice caught the current rushing westward from the icy waters of the Antarctic and began drifting away from the end of the world toward Cape Horn.

The waters themselves, finally free of the sunken Ice Shelf, quickly resumed their normal turbulence, carrying the Queen Alice along at a fierce pace toward the islands and estuaries that dotted the northern fringes of the Drake Passage.  The ship was buffeted about like a piece of driftwood in a sea growing increasingly fierce as the winds of the South Pacific and South Atlantic fought the winds the Antarctic at last released from deep within its interior, all joining to do battle where a six hundred foot rock stood watch like a black lighthouse pulling everything to it.  Cape Horn stood beneath a sky without a horizon, east and west seeming to have come together in a seamless pall that stretched endlessly in every direction.  Sandy's ship headed straight for the massive rock.

He and his crew rigged and unrigged, furled and unfurled, raised and lowered every sail, dozens of times, in a desperate race to turn westward, away from the Cape, which loomed larger and more ominous with each wave lashing the hull of the Queen Alice.  No one wind dominated; no one sail became the lynchpin against which all the others could be calibrated.  Just as every sailor was on his own manning the sails, every sail stood alone from the others, unable to coordinate its billow with the rest.  When one sail tried to lead the ship, another suddenly resisted, momentarily taking the lead itself until another gained the advantage, only to lose it to still another, the play of winds highlighting one sail, marking one direction, one minute, another sail, another direction the next, as, all the while the water carried the ship closer and closer to Cape Horn.

A sailor was washed overboard by a wave that rose from the sea like a behemoth and crashed against the portside.  Sandy left his sail and climbed down the mast, gathering a strong piece of rope as he went, hastily tying it to the rail, then leaping over the starboard side of his ship to try and rescue his sailor.  Sandy bobbed up and down in the frigid water until grabbing hold of something floating by.  It could as easily have been driftwood from a sunken ship; but, instead, it was his sailor's arm.  He held firm to it while the rest of the sailor's body lifted itself to wrap around him, both of them dangling from the rope, neither able to get his bearings long enough to begin climbing the rope.  For close to an hour they remained locked in each other's embrace, rising and falling through the waves as their tether brought them closer to the hull, then took them farther from it, then close again then away again.  At first Sandy cursed the rope; then he started to realize what was happening and blessed it for what its motion meant.

The ship was beginning to turn away from the rock that stood waiting to smash it.  Something had weighted the sails in a southerly direction; they were slowly, painfully, but irrevocably carrying the Queen Alice away from her imminent crackup along the Cape.  A few minutes later, Sandy felt himself rising out of the water; patches of his ship's hull streamed past his head; and his clothes steadily dripped the icy waters of the Drake Passage down his legs. Momentarily, he and his crewman were being lifted onto the deck, where a fresh, dry suit of clothes awaited them.  Quickly, they undressed and put on the dry clothes, Sandy taking time only to kiss his statue before transferring it to his new clothes and hurrying back up the masthead to resume tending his sails.

The wind, too, was turning, as if being towed by the Queen Alice toward its true path.  All the sails now pointed due west, all billowing as one while Cape Horn slowly disappeared into the eastern horizon, and an endless vista of water opened before them.

Sandy knew he would soon have to change course again and begin coaxing his ship northward; but he chose to wait until he was well beyond the tip of South America, well within the South Pacific, before making his ascent up the western coast of the continent.  Even so, he dared not continue this course a moment longer than necessary since, even without the threat of being sucked into the vortex, he still remained in the most treacherous seas on earth, even in this season of fewer storms, and could be attacked without warning by gales churned up by Antarctic winds.

He maintained his course until the skies grew pitch dark and hid the moon, telling him that he was sailing into a gathering storm.  He came down from his sails and made his way to the bridge, to let his charts and instruments become his sails, devising a scheme to release the Queen Alice from the easterly  that had taken her beyond the Cape, yet continue using the wind to turn her northward.  Satisfied with his plan, he returned to the mast, this time to remain on deck while flashing a beam of light before his crew to indicate which sails they were to lower, which to leave intact.

Before long, he could feel his ship turning again.  He let it turn to the northeast, to remain on that course through the night.  By morning, he was ready to change course again.  Orchestrating the winds with his sails, he brought the Queen Alice due north and had his men hold her there as she began the long climb up the coast of Chile.

Sandy made two stops along the western coast of South America, the first at Valparaiso, Chile; the second at Guayaquil, Ecuador.  Then he set a course west northwest, for California, arriving in the port of Monterey on Friday, June 10, 2095.

He cautioned his crew against going ashore until he secured sailor's permits for them.  "This is not like any place you've ever been," he assured his men.  "No one in California is allowed to remain idle for even one day except the sailors.  If they catch a vagrant, they execute him."

Sandy was asked why sailors were exempt from the vagrancy laws.  He explained it was because of the cargo they carried - cargo more valuable than any possible career a man could pursue.  Without sailors, the economy of California would crumble overnight.

"What is their cargo?" Sandy was asked.

"Slaves," Sandy answered.

"What kind?" he was asked, but all he could do was stare dumbfounded before the question.

"Are they black, white or yellow?" the sailors explained their question with another.

"Black," Sandy replied as if it were self evident, but his men all shook their heads.

"There are slaves from all over the world," one of his sailors explained.  "From Asia, from Europe, from the Middle East as well as Africa.  Not all are black.  Maybe here they are, but not everywhere.  Most of the pirates who carry slaves take them wherever they can find them.  Most of whose who buy them aren't particular where they're from or what they look like.  We've all seen blue-eyed blonde-haired Scandinavians being led in chains to the auction block, and Chinese, and Hindus and every other nationality.  California might be the only place on earth that only uses black slaves."

Sandy went ashore pondering the great paradox his sailors had presented him.  In all his experience, only whites traded in slaves, only whites owned slaves, and only blacks were ever captured and sold.  Yet here was first hand evidence that contradicted his own first hand evidence.  Anyone could become a slave, anyone a slave owner; the suddenly egalitarian nature of the trade made it far more difficult to defeat.  Before today, the dynamic was clear and simple: free the blacks and the slave trade would end.  Now there was no way of knowing if or when it would end because there was no way to know when the last slave had been freed.  Nor was there even a clear cut way to distinguish slave from slave trader.

"No!" Sandy resolved.  "I can't free all the slaves.  I can only help free those I helped take.  Only the Africans.  I'm sorry for the Scandinavians and the Hindus and the Chinese, but I did not take their freedom, so it isn't mine to return it.  In my heart I mourn for their plight, but I won't jeopardize my mission for their sakes.  Let someone else free them, I can't."

When he returned to his ship, with papers for his crew, he was asked one question by his men: would he be keeping them on as sailors.  He assured them that he would get them safely back to their home port, but that he could not ask them to continue risking their lives for the sake of his mission.

"Eventually," he told them, "if you stayed with me, you would be called upon to attack the slave ships and to fight to the death to free the slaves.  All of you are first rate seamen, but none of you are cut-throats - and I need at least as many cut-throats on my crew as seamen.  At least, until I can get a crew made up of freed slaves.  I fear for your lives from the kind of men I must take on.  They're not evil, but they brawl and fight among themselves.  Captain Clark kept them from killing one another - as I will in time.  But I still have much to learn to be as good a Captain as he was.  I may have to learn all at once, though, because my first voyage - through the Canal this time - I'll have both you and the other crew on board together.  I mean to destroy the pirates who prey on ships; so I'll need fighters as well as sailors.  And the skill to keep my fighters from killing my sailors."                    

Over the next several days, Sandy managed to find a dozen sailors who had failed to report for duty when their ships set sail, and whose shore passes had expired.  He found them exactly where he expected to find them - where all the lost sailors who were too drunk or too sick to make their scheduled departure ended up.  He found them hiding along the wharves, sometimes under the piers, in tiny recesses they had dug in the sand.  When he offered them a way off the big island, they eagerly accepted his offer without even trying to negotiate for their services.  They were desperate, and they knew that he knew it - and that sailors were a dime a dozen in California.

Once he had his fighters, he proceeded to secure the weapons he needed to fight the pirates.  Though California was still in the early stages of re-industrialization, most of its energies went to producing weapons, in the name of keeping California safe.  No one ever questioned the need for so many or such a variety of weapons, nor did anyone ever spell out exactly who or what was threatening the islands.  All they knew or cared to know was that they needed weapons, so the armaments kept rolling off the assembly lines, stockpiling in huge warehouses where, for the right price, anyone could walk away with whatever he wanted.  For ten pieces of pure gold, Sandy purchased a cache of guns, rifles and ammunition; and for six more pieces he came away with a cannon - one of the first to be manufactured in almost two centuries.

When his ship was fully equipped and his crew all reported for duty, Sandy raised anchor and left the harbor at Monterey, his destination Kingston harbor, by way of the Panama Canal.  His first order of business sent a chill down Felicia's spine.  He summoned his entire crew and spoke before them from the bridge of his ship, calmly taking a pistol from behind his back and raising it high above his head for all to see. 

"This will never leave my side," he announced.  "Nor will I leave the bridge until we're safely at Kingston.  My one and only task will be to watch each and every one of you.  The first rule of this ship is no brawling.  No man on this ship attacks a fellow crewman.  If he does, and I catch him at hit, I'll shoot him dead.  There will be no questions asked, no explanations, no plea for mercy.  Your obedience must be absolute, or else I'll be short a crewmember.  If we're hit by a storm, I'll direct your movements from the bridge, but I will not at any time ascend the mast.  When we reach the Canal and come in range of the pirates, I'll issue each of you the weapons you need to defend this ship.  Then the weapons will be returned to their lockup.  Are there any questions?"

One of the cut-throats Sandy recruited at Monterey spoke up.  "If you think we're such scum," he asked, "why did you bring us on board?"

"I've been a sailor half my life," Sandy answered.  "I know the slave trade, its routes, the places it takes sailors.  I know what it can do to a man's sense of right and wrong.  I've killed villagers who were only trying to defend their families.  I've butchered men in back alleyways at Praia.  I know how vicious men who earn their keep enslaving others can become.  That's why I sought you out; and, in time, if you stay on, I hope to win your trust and your respect so that I don't have to bully you into accepting the rules I set.  But, for now, until I prove myself worthy to command this ship, I have to force your obedience with the barrel of a gun.  These sailors who you joined at California were merchant seamen - not killers or fighters.  They've built their careers carrying goods, not their fellow men in chains.  They're no match for any of you.  I've sworn to return them to their home port unharmed.  And so help me God I will, even if I have to kill every one of you to keep my promise."

When the crew was dismissed, Sandy returned to the bridge, where he intended to make his home for the next few weeks.  Felicia was waiting for him.  He tucked his pistol into his belt and went to her.

"What's wrong?" he asked, looking into her eyes.

"There's so much of Brad in you," she said.  "He carried his gun at all times, and never thought twice about shooting a man dead who dared disobey his orders."

"And he was right to do so," Sandy agreed.  "Rules must be made only when absolutely necessary and only as a last resort.  But once they're made, they must be enforced absolutely and as ruthlessly as necessary.  There can be no other way.  God help me if I ever have to shoot one of my men, because a part of me will die with him; but I won't hesitate one second to kill him if I have to."

Felicia shook her head.  "It's not the same," she told him.  "You may both believe the same, and do the same, but it's from different sources.  I can't put a name to it exactly, bit his stems from power, yours from purpose."

Sandy considered the dichotomy Felicia presented, trying to grasp their points of difference.  "No," he finally concluded.  "They're the same thing.  Each is an expression of the other."

One after another storm threatened to explode into a hurricane as the Queen Alice raced southeastward toward the western coast of North America; but each storm failed to ignite.  Whatever spark was needed to set the storm spinning long enough to draw hurricane strength from the water was missing from the Eastern Pacific.  Sandy's ship pushed her way through the thick dark clouds and churning waves as if her bow were a succubus draining the life force of each storm she encountered; until, within a couple days of leaving Monterey, she began hugging the Mexican Coast on her way to the Isthmus of Panama.

It wasn't until the Queen Alice rounded the Peninsula de Azuero to enter the Gulf of Panama that Sandy began readying his weapons.  He already had his cannon on deck, positioned along her portside, near the stern.  He had his sailors bring the rifles and pistols topside, while his fighters remained at their posts, under his watchful eye.  When the island of San Miguel came into view off the starboard, signaling the final approach to the Canal, he ordered his sailors below to begin bringing up ammunition for the guns, which still set on the bridge, where he had his sailors put them.  Only when the Canal itself rose up before them did he finally motion his fighters to come collect their weapons and begin loading them.

"Aren't you afraid we'll mutiny now that we're armed?" one of the cutthroats from California asked as he brandished his weapon.  Sandy took his gun out and set it down, showing his empty palms to the cutthroat.

"You're sailors," he said in answer, then turned his back to the cutthroat to monitor his approach to the Canal.  He suspected there wound be pirates on the Pacific as well as the Atlantic side of the Canal, possibly the same ones but more likely different from those who chased him almost a year ago.

As he steered the Queen Alice into the Bay of Panama, a sudden flurry of motion portside, at the mouth of a small stream, the Caimito, caught his eye.  He signaled his men to ready themselves, then he left the bridge and made for his canon near the rear of the ship, as the small flotilla began emerging from its cover of vines and bushes.  He had allotted himself one cannonball, to be used only if the Queen Alice was about to be overrun; otherwise, it was up to his men to drive the pirates back.

He knew they would overtake him before he reached the entrance to the Canal - which was precisely what he wanted.  He did not wish to battle them inside the Canal itself, where their boats, once disabled, would block the shipping lanes.  Particularly, he didn't want to fire his cannon where the splintered and half submerged aftermath could pose an even greater threat to other ships.  He intended the battle to be over before coming to La Boca, the town closest to the entrance.

Within minutes, the first boat pulled alongside the Queen Alice, followed closely by a second boat, while the other three kept their distance.  In a broken English, one of the pirates called up to whomever was within earshot, demanding to speak to the ship's Captain.  Sandy stepped away from the cannon to the railing.  Looking down at the pirate, he acknowledged being the Captain.

'Then it's you we make a trade with," the pirate called back.

"What kind of trade?" Sandy asked.

"Your safe passage through the Canal for thirty pieces of gold!" came the reply.

"I have no gold to give you," Sandy informed the pirate.  "But I have other precious metal."

"Then we take sixty pieces of silver!"

"Nor silver to give."

"Then what?  What other metal is precious?"

Sandy raised his pistol and answered "Lead.  I give you lead!"  Then he fired into the air, stepping quickly back before a volley of shots from the pirate ship could reach him.  He signaled his men.  They came portside along the railing and began firing their rifles down at the pirates, who took cover to begin firing back, the shots a signal to the other three boats to join the first two alongside the Queen Alice.

Within fifteen minutes all thirty pirates, six on each boat, were doing battle with the dozen cutthroats Sandy had brought from California.  As Sandy watched from the stern, several of his sailors approached and asked him for rifles that they, too, could join the fight.  Sandy agreed to arm his sailors, positioning them just beyond range of the pirates, then ordered them to wait for his signal before moving to the railing to begin firing.

Just as Sandy expected, two of the pirate ships broke rank to come around to the starboard.  He led his sailors to the other side of the ship, where, crouching down behind a rowboat, he watched the pirates readying explosives to hurl onto his deck.  A split-second before the explosives were ignited, Sandy ordered his sailors to the starboard railing to begin firing.  One by one the pirates fell before the volley of gunfire, some of the explosives detonating in their hands.  Then the firing ceased and the sailors made for the portside railing, arriving just as the firing there ceased also.

Sandy waited several minutes more before motioning five of his men to follow him, as he threw a rope ladder against the side of his ship and climbed down to the deck of the nearest boat.  After making sure all six pirates were dead, he had his men throw their bodies overboard, then led them to the next boat, emptying it too of its corpses; and, finally, the third boat, steering it around the Queen Alice to the last two pirate ships, disposing of their crews the same way as the others.

Thirty bodies floated leeward in the Bay of Panama for the better part of an hour before a flurry of activity just beneath the surface disturbed their tranquility.  The bodies began flailing in the water as their flesh was ripped away from below, great slicks of blood forming around them until, finally, one after another either sank or was carried out to sea.  As his men watched the feeding frenzy, Sandy studied the pirate ships from the deck of the Queen Alice, debating what he should do with them.  He presented the various options to Felicia, not so much to ask her advice as to listen carefully as he said each aloud.

"I should destroy them," he acknowledged.  "But I have a respect for ships so I don't feel it would be right.  Yet if I don't, especially if I just leave them here to run aground, there's a good chance they'll be taken and used for piracy all over again.  If I could somehow rig them so that I could get through the Canal and to Kingston; I'm just not sure if that would work though.  Or if I knew for sure they wouldn't fall into the hands of pirates, I'd give them to the people who live along this coast."

"Why not have your sailors take them through the Canal," Felicia suggested.  "And maybe even on to Kingston.  They can sail with you, under your protection.  And when we arrive, give them to your crew."

"Your idea is good," Sandy agreed.  "But it may not work in an ideal world.  Of all places on earth, Kingston is the last where a man can simply claim a boat as his own.  Titles and registries are as much a way of life there as the sea itself.  I could never have taken the boat the yachtsman left me to Kingston had he not written something down.  He said he left it to me; but I didn't really believe him.  I don't know when he would have written it, but it had to have been before he knew he was going to die.  No, I can't simply give the boats to my crew.  If they go to Kingston, they must be turned in as contraband."

"No matter how they're regarded," Felicia reminded her husband, "they must go to Kingston.  Because you can't.  You're now branded as a pirate yourself.  This way, you can go as far as the harbor, and let your men go the rest of the way on their own."

"You're right," Sandy nodded his assent to Felicia's plan.  Then he assembled his crew to let them know his decision.

"We're taking the pirate ships with us," he informed his men.  "But I won't attempt to tie them to our ship.  They've got to be sailed, first through the Canal, then the rest of the way to Kingston.  Since they won't be used for piracy, they won't need a six-man crew.  Three on each should do it.  The greatest difficulty will be leaving the Canal.  That's when we're likely to be attacked again by pirates.  I don't expect them to appear until we've cleared the Canal.  I'm hoping you'll have time to bring your ships alongside this one and climb aboard, to fight the pirates from this deck.  But, if not, each boat will be carrying its own weapons; you'll have to fight from there."

"What happens to the pirate ships when we reach Kingston?" it was asked.

"They'll be turned over to the Port Authority as contraband confiscated at sea," Sandy explained.

"We can't keep them?"

"The Port Authority won't let you."

"Then let's go somewhere else - where they will let us keep them!"

"These sailors are from Kingston," Sandy pointed out.  "It's their home port."

One of the sailors from Jamaica spoke up.  "We could go to Haiti," he said.  "And any of us who wishes to return to Kingston can work his way on one of the cargo ships out of Port-au-Prince."

"When we're safely through the Canal, I'll consider this," Sandy promised.

When the pirate ships were divvied up, and the sailors were preparing to go to their stations, one last suggestion was put before Sandy.  "Why don't we chase you," one of the men from California asked; but Sandy could not quite grasp his meaning.

"Chase?" he repeated the question.

"Like we're pirates, chasing you through the Canal," the sailor elaborated.  "That way we don't have to keep all five ships so close to yours."

Sandy considered the suggestion but rejected it.  "We have no way of knowing what the sight of pirate ships from the Pacific entering the Atlantic will do to the pirates on that side.  They may come after you for trespassing in their territory."

"So much the better!" came the rebuttal.  "Let them come after us - and when they do, you attack.  They won't be expecting it - it's perfect!"        

The entire crew agreed that the plan seemed foolproof, but Sandy remained skeptical.  "There are Canal police," he told his men.  "They don't try to stop the pirates, but I've never seen pirates try to come through the Canal.  It may be that as long as they keep their distance, they're free to do whatever they wish.  It is a good plan, though.  If it's carried out with an eye to the police the whole way through, it may be our best chance.  I'll agree to it only if you stay close to the Queen Alice; that way, if we encounter the police, we can show them that we're together - and that you're not pirates.  And if they recognize the boats, we'll say we found them floating in the Bay.  They may choose to confiscate them; if they do, no one challenges their authority.  Otherwise, all of us are in jeopardy.  Is that understood?"

The men acknowledged their acceptance of Sandy's ultimatum then made for their stations.  An hour later, the Queen Alice, together with the five pirate ships, entered the Pacific end of the Canal to begin the fifty mile journey to the Atlantic.  There were no fees to be paid, though; for nearly three decades the Canal was operated by a consortium of shipping interests which willingly maintained it in order to safeguard their trade routes, supplying both the capital and manpower needed to keep it operational.  Only the Canal police were locals, loyal to the Panamanian authority; all the engineers, administrators and maintenance men were Europeans, Asians, Africans or Caribbean Islanders brought in by the consortium.

The locks - the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel at the Pacific end and the Gatun at the Atlantic - were operated, as was almost everything else in the civilized world, by steam power, generated by coal or wood burning turbines.  The world had not yet returned to petroleum, though California and parts of Europe and Asia worked day and night to restore the technology, nearly obliterated half a century ago, needed to reestablish the industrial age.  It had once been estimated that the world's supply of crude oil would run out by the end of the twenty-first century; instead, because the world itself had stood on the brink of extinction, the resource had sat, untouched, for half a century, waiting to be gathered and put to use once more.

As Sandy suspected, he was accosted by the Canal police, who demanded to know what these five boats were doing inside the Canal.  He gave the explanation he had decided on; the police considered his explanation.  They had recognized these boats as belonging to pirates who forage the Bay of Panama; they could tell those manning the boats were not pirates, however.  So even though they did not believe that Sandy had simply found the boats adrift, they allowed him to continue, content to be rid of at least that many pirate ships. 

Six hours and sixteen minutes after entering the canal at Balboa, the Queen Alice pushed past the city of Colon into the Caribbean, all five pirate ships trailing in her wake.  Off the port bow Sandy could see a gathering motion coalescing into the size and shape of a small flotilla, pointed directly at his fleet, and fast approaching.                                                

Brad refused Alice's offer of a boat.  Three days after Sandy and Felicia left the walled city, Alice ordered him brought before her.  "You have never been tried yet for the crime that prompted your arrest," Alice reminded him.

"I don't know what happened," Brad admitted.  "All I know is that neither Sandy nor I had any part in it."

"He told you that?" asked Alice.

"I don't take my truths from what I'm told," Brad answered.  "But from what I know.  I know Sandy had no more to do with it than I did."

"The rest of us may not be so sure you had no part in it," Alice speculated.

"None of which concerns me," Brand countered.  "If you wish to try me, go ahead.  If you wish to execute me, do so.  My guilt or innocence is mine alone to deal with.  What the rest of you decide is irrelevant."

"What is it you want?"

"I want his blood on my hands - on my hands! mine alone! not through another's intervention!  If I can't have that, then I have nothing.  No other purpose has any meaning until I've taken his life, fairly, honestly, and for all the world to see!"

"And if I had him right here, tied to my throne," Alice conjured up an image for her prisoner.  "And if I stepped aside and handed you my knife - what would happen?"

"I would slit your throat and cut him loose," Brad answered straight out.

"I'm an old woman," Alice pointed out.  "You would hardly need to slit my throat before you could release him - I couldn't stop you."

"I would do it because you defiled the honor of our hatred by handing him over to me!"

Alice smiled.  "Good things come in ugly packages," she observed.  "There will be no trial.  You're free to go - or to remain in my kingdom.  But I suspect you'll choose to go after Sandy.  He's gone to sea, though.  If you would catch him, you too must go down to the sea in ships.  I'll give you a ship - if you'll promise not to slit my throat for my kindness!"

Brad shook his head.  "I would only slit your throat if I were here to take your place," he assured her.  "Without me, they need you.  There's no one else capable of ruling them."

"What about Stone Creek?"

"He's as great a general as I can imagine.  But he's not a ruler.  He's a wanderer and a loner, at heart.  An outlaw.  Not a man to subject himself to the unrelenting weight of his own rules.  To be a true ruler is to be your own first subject, completely at the mercy of the rules you make.  He would be content to stand above his rules while forcing every one else's obedience - when, in truth, he should continue obeying them even if all his subjects reject them."

"There was a time when Darryl was considered the perfect candidate," Alice taunted her visitor.

"The hardest thing I've ever had to do was think about killing him," Brad revealed as tears collected in his eyes.  "His heart is as pure as anyone I've ever known - and because it is, he'll always be the greatest threat to your kingdom.  A man like that lives every day in peril, because it's only a matter of time till circumstances conspire to destroy him.  I love Darryl, and would give almost anything if he and I could have been friends.  But I would shoot him in a heartbeat if he stood in the way."

"In the way of what?" Alice softly asked.

Brad wiped the tears from his eyes.  "I don't know," he said.

"So will you accept my ship?" Alice repeated her offer.

"No," he answered.  "I'll find my own."

One week, to the day, after Sandy and Felicia set sail, Brad set out on foot.  He had only the vaguest idea where he was headed or how he would reach his destination.  His mother begged him to postpone his journey till spring instead of starting out in the dead of winter, but he refused.

"I'm not afraid of winter," he told her.

"Neither am I," Andrea agreed.  "It isn't really winter that I want you to avoid, but the present.  Put some time between these events that are driving you away and whatever it is you think you have to do to set things right.  Your judgment is being guided by your anger.  Everything you do along your way is likely to be exactly the opposite of what you should do.  But if you must go now, at least don't go alone.  Take someone with you."

"Nothing's going to happen to me," Brad assured his mother.  "I can handle anything out there."

"It isn't what's out there," Andrea insisted.  "You don't need a companion to point out the dangers along your route; but you do need one to point out when your eagerness to destroy Sandy is leading you astray."

"There's no one to take even if I wanted company," Brad observed.

"There's Stone Creek," said Andrea.  "And even Cade.  You've never gotten to know your brother."

Brad shook his head.  "They would only slow me down," he answered.  "I know you want me to slow down, but with either one I'd have to spend too much time looking after someone else's safety."

"Then take Darryl - he would go, I know he would.  He might even welcome the chance to lose himself in your journey."

Again Brad shook his head.  "He's the last person on earth I want with me."

"Why?" asked Andrea.

"I've come to respect him too much," Brad explained.  "Being with him, day and night, I'm afraid I'll start to lose some of the purpose I started out with.  I'll start seeing my mission as less important than it is.  I may even start believing that another approach is possible, when I know it isn't.  Someone like Darryl can weaken even the most righteous ambition.  No, I'll go alone."

"But you can't stop someone from following you," Andrea noted.

"Not as long as they keep their distance," Brad acknowledged.

Tuesday, January 18, 2095, Brad began his journey of three thousand miles by stepping over the bones of someone who had been carried off and eaten by the mountain lion.  The carcass had been found along the Cape Fear and brought back for a proper burial.  It was sitting just outside the main gate of Alice's city.  A cold chill ran down Brad's spine as he stepped over the remains; he felt as if he had desecrated the grave of someone he should have honored.  Then he moved on.

Neither Cade nor Stone Creek offered to accompany him, yet both wanted to - both for the same reason.  They knew Brad could take care of himself; they also knew that if he found Sandy, one would live, the other would die - and nothing they did could change that.  What concerned them was what would become of Brad if he never found Sandy.  He had never known defeat; he had no way to gauge it, to understand when it was upon him, and no way to determine when it was time to accept it and turn away from the path that had brought him to it.  He would continue pursuing Sandy for the rest of his life, letting every opportunity to fulfill his destiny slip away until he found himself alone at the end of his life without a single thing to show for it.

"He must turn back before it's too late," Cade remarked to his grandfather the day Brad left the walled city.

"He won't - not on his own," Stone Creek replied.

"Then I have to follow him," Cade concluded.

"We both do," Stone Creek agreed.

"He won't want us with him," said Cade.

"No, he won't.  So we'll keep our distance."

That evening, Andrea visited her son and Stone Creek to try and convince them to accompany Brad.  The moment she entered their home, she realized they had already decided to follow him.  She breathed a sigh of relief.

"He wasn't created to pursue personal goals," Andrea said.

"No, he wasn't," Stone Creek agreed.  "I should have known you would see that.  You alone never condemned him for engineering Henry's death."

"I knew it wasn't ambition any more than it was envy that brought him to the realization that Henry had to die.  He believed Henry was destroying the world he'd built.  And he was, though as far as I was concerned it was his to destroy.  Brad belongs here.  No one else can take over when Alice no longer rules.  Only him."

The next day Cade and Stone Creek visited Alice to advise her of their decision to follow Brad.  She thought about it a long while before concluding it was unwise - but said nothing either for or against it.  She did make one recommendation.

"Take Darryl," she half ordered, half pleaded.  "I fear he'll try to retrace his steps to New York - and he mustn't."

Stone Creek and Cade readily agreed to take Darryl along, but had some difficulty convincing him.  "I have a mission of my own," he insisted.  "I have to see what was left in the wake of Clarence's army, if anything."

"If you go north, you'll never return," Cade told him.  "You'll spend the rest of your life wandering from city to city.  You'll find answers to your questions - only to realize they were the wrong questions.  But it'll be too late."

Finally, if reluctantly, Darryl agreed to accompany them on their westward trek.  "I will only go as far as Henry's city," he told them.  "That's where I'll stay."

Three days after Brad left the walled city, Stone Creek, Cade and Darryl set out.  They had no trouble following his trail as far as Fort Bragg; then they lost it completely.  It hadn't snowed, or rained; his trail from Fort Bragg should have been as clearly marked as his trail to it.  But when they set out for the Virginia Border, the same way they had all three come, the same way Brad had come, there was nothing to indicate his passing.

"Why would he take a detour?" Stone Creek wondered.  "He's not one to let anything sidetrack him."

"Maybe he went to see the place he was born," Cade speculated.

"Or the place his father died," Darryl offered.

It was agreed that they would take a more westerly course, but only so far and only till they either saw signs of Brad's passing, in which case they would continue westward, or saw nothing, and resume the northern course they originally mapped.  None of the major routes heading due west went through Fort Bragg, most cutting their way farther north or farther south across Carolina.  US Route 74 was the closest main route, so they followed Route 1 to its junction with 74 at the town of Rockingham in Richmond County, twenty miles southwest of Fort Bragg.  Still, they saw no sign.  They decided to continue as far as Charlotte, sixty miles northwest along US 74, before abandoning their trek to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Charlotte, what was left of it after the little ice age of twenty years ago, was known to be a hotbed of sedition, its people looking for any chance to somehow undo the treaty Alice had imposed on them after their years of intermittent conflict finally brought them under her rule.  These were the Carolinians whose migration into Kentucky had prompted the outlaws' raids on Henry's people for slave labor.  Not knowing that the three travelers would head this way, Alice hadn't warned them to stay clear of Charlotte - or, at any rate, not to let on they were in any way connected with her.

They meant to go around Charlotte, following the age-old injunction to avoid cities; but somehow ended up in the very heart of it.  Suddenly they were surrounded by a crowd of people who had just come from the crumbling ruins of the Charlotte Coliseum, along 74, Independence Boulevard.

"Where you from?" someone in the crowd asked.

Darryl began to panic the instant he perceived the crowd surrounding them.  Something told him these were not allies but enemies.  He spoke up before either of his traveling companions could answer.

"We barely got away with our lives!" he exclaimed.  "If we'd stayed one more day she'd have had our heads!"

Laughter began spreading through the crowd.  "We could use a few more hands," several agreed.

"So you hate her too?" Darryl asked.

"Oh, you could say that!" came the reply.

"Fact is," another voice added, "we just caught us one of her boys.  One of her own.  All alone out here, no royal troops to help him."

"Where is he?" Stone Creek asked.

"Oh, we got him under wraps - for now.  Till we're ready to hang his hide on the barn door!"

"Take us to him!" Stone Creek demanded.

"Say that again?" a menacing reply shot back.

"If it's who I think," said Stone Creek, "he's the one who turned us in.  We'd have had that old woman's head on a platter if he hadn't betrayed us.  So take us to him!  I want to make sure you saved us some hide!"

Laughter again sprang from the crowd.  "Alright," several of the people mutually agreed, "you can see him.  Another day, and you wouldn't have wanted to see him!"

"Don't underestimate me!" Stone Creek snapped, to another peal of laughter, followed this time by a round of applause.

The crowd led the three visitors across town to Revolution Park, on the western side of I-77.  In a small pavilion in the center of the park, a figure stood silhouetted against the setting sun, its arms reaching upward, its legs spread apart.  The figure was Brad; his hands and feet were tied.  When the crowd grew near enough, Brad looked up, saw the three newcomers and started to speak.  Before he could pronounce the first word, Darryl ran up to him and spat in his face.

"You thought you could get away with it, huh?" Darryl angrily screamed in Brad's face.  "We'd have had her if you hadn't betrayed us!"  He beckoned the other two over.  "Come say 'Hi!' to the traitor!"

"What's wrong with him?" someone asked Stone Creek, indicating Cade.  "Acts like he's drunk or something."

"She did this to him," Stone Creek answered.  "Blinded him when he was just a kid - for helping his old man try and overthrow her.  You don't want to know what she did to his old man!"

"Don't underestimate us!" a voice from the crowd echoed Stone Creek's earlier quip, to raucous laughter.

"I won't tell you," Stone Creek grew stubborn.  "But give me the chance tomorrow and I'll show you!"

"Long as it don't kill him," came the reply.  "'Cause he's got to be alive when we take his hide!"

"Oh he will - you got my word on that," Stone Creek assured the crowd.  "He'll wish he was dead.  But he'll still be alive for you."

With this, Stone Creek walked over to Brad.  He grabbed his grandson by the hair and pulled his head back.  "Remember Wilson?" he asked.  Brad tried to shake his head that he didn't.  Stone Creek slowly released his hold of Brad's hair.  "Well you think about it - think about Wilson!  You got all night long to think about what happened and how it all got started.  Come morning, I expect you to remember everything there is to know about Wilson.  Who knows?" he turned to the crowd and winked then turned back to Brad.  "Your life may depend on it!"  The crowd burst out laughing, then began dispersing.

The three visitors, after determining the time and place of execution, were given carte blanche to stay anyplace in Charlotte they wanted.  Stone Creek steered his companions as far south as he dared without drawing suspicion.  From Revolution Park, they followed I-77 to Arrowood Road, where they found a deserted house to stay the night.

"Do you think he knew what you meant by Wilson?" Cade asked when they had settled in.

"If not, he'll come to it before the night's over," Stone Creek answered confidently.  "But he knew it before the rest of you came there to train for battle.  Long before it was our command center, it was our secret storehouse for armaments.  That's what I want him to remember - so he'll be ready when we are.  I'm going ten miles south of here, to a town called Fort Mill.  I'm banking none of the locals ever found it out.  It was one of our hideouts from the old days when the T-Men helped the state militias fight the gangs that ruled these cities.  We stored explosives at Fort Mill.  We stored them well: if they're still there, even after all these years, the charges'll go off when they're set.  I'll bring back what I can carry.  I'd ask you to go along to help bring more," he told Darryl, "but I don't want to risk two of us leaving.  I'll be back by sunup.  I'll either have a sack full of explosives or an alternate plan for rescuing Brad."                                                

The new moon left no trail behind Stone Creek as he moved swiftly southward along I-77 from North into South Carolina.  Two and a half hours after leaving Charlotte he arrived at Fort Mill, a couple miles beyond the Carolina border in the northeastern corner of York County where it met the exquisite panhandle of Lancaster County.  Even in the near total darkness, and after more than three decades, Stone Creek made his way unencumbered to the hideout he had told Cade and Darryl about.  Using his torchlight for the first time since setting out, he rifled through the contents of the old T-Men storeroom until he found everything he had come here looking for.  He gathered up what he needed and, under cover of the same moonless sky, retraced his steps back to Charlotte, arriving some six hours after beginning his quest.

Cade and Darryl were awake when Stone Creek returned.  He immediately began mapping out his plan, letting them both know that the only hope of saving Brad lay in risking his life.

"I need explosives to go off almost under his nose," Stone Creek elaborated.  "Cade, I want you to hurl a stick of dynamite at him.  When it hits, that's when I'll set the charges around the perimeter."

As Stone Creek spoke, Darryl stared in disbelief at what he was hearing.  "You want Cade to throw the dynamite?"

Stone Creek nodded.  "It has to be precise to within an inch," he explained, to even greater amazement.  Seeing the look on Darryl's face, he laughed and handed Cade a rolled up piece of cloth from one of the chairs in the room.

"Face away from my voice," he directed his grandson.  "Now toss what I just gave you fourteen feet."  Cade hurled the cloth; it landed just inches from the wall.  Then he gave Cade a vase from an end table.  "Move three feet beyond my voice," he directed this time.  "Now throw what I gave you sixteen feet."  Cade threw the vase; it landed on a small scatter rug.  Stone Creek retrieved it and returned it to the end table.

"Only a blind man can be trusted to hit the target I'll be setting," Stone Creek advised Darryl.  "The only margin for error will be my - our - estimate of how far away the target is.  If we're accurate, so will Cade be."

Stone Creek then laid out the rest of the plan, after which all three turned in for a couple hours sleep.  Before falling asleep, Darryl apologized to Cade for thinking him less of a soldier because of his handicap.

"Like I said before," Cade answered, "blindness comes much too easy to me."

They were up before dawn.  They got everything ready and set out for Ericsson Stadium, a few city blocks northeast of Revolution Park, where Brad was being held.  They gave the Park a wide berth to avoid detection by the guards posted at its perimeter.  It took nearly an hour to reach the Stadium, home of Charlotte's Carolina Panthers football team, where, at ten A.M., Brad was to be executed beside the home team's goal post.  Stone Creek would have preferred setting the charges in the dead of night, but he needed the light of day to place them precisely where he wanted them.  It wasn't enough simply to create a diversion with a series of blasts; he needed to virtually bring the Stadium crashing down around the crowd - for that, he needed to assess its architecture, not merely plant his explosives throughout the stadium.

He had two choices.  He could place the charges in such a way as to make it seem as if the Stadium was under attack; or he could endeavor to effect the illusion of an earthquake.  He chose the latter, reasoning that since the people of Charlotte bitterly and actively opposed Alice's rule, they would not gather in one spot - especially one so vulnerable - without posting sentries at critical points throughout the city, enabling them to quickly determine that there was no attack, at least not from without.  This meant placing the charges deep enough to muffle the initial blast yet close enough to the surface to impact the structure, the way an earthquake would.

Stone Creek had been the best weapons expert in the T-Men's hundred year history.  Whenever a building was targeted for demolition, he was the one sent to complete the mission.  His record was filled only with successes.  In less than two hours, he had all the charges strategically positioned and wired, ready to go at the appointed moment.  He set the detonation for ten-seventeen A.M., then secured it within the stands.  The time was eight fifty-seven.  He instructed Darryl and Cade on what was expected of them.  Finally, everything ready, he took them to the main gate to await Brad's entrance.

At nine forty-two, the procession up I-77 from Revolution Park reached the junction of I-277 - John Belk Freeway - and headed east the final few blocks to Ericsson Stadium, coming into view three minutes later.  When they reached the main gate and saw the three visitors waiting, one of the men in the crowd quipped that they thought maybe Stone Creek and his companions had "Turned chicken and run off!"

"Chicken...is kind of what he's going to look like pretty soon!" Stone Creek, in turn, quipped.

"A plucked chicken!"

"Plucked, diced and cooked!" Stone Creek elaborated.  Then he turned to the prisoner as he was being led into the Stadium and asked if he had remembered Wilson yet.  Brad ignored him and continued on, but the men leading him stopped and one of them thrust a knife against his throat.

"He asked you a question!" he exclaimed.

"And if I don't answer, you'll slit my throat instead of skinning me?" Brad arrogantly replied.  The man withdrew his blade and kept going, Stone Creek, Darryl and Cade falling into place within the procession.

Fifteen minutes later, as the prisoner stood awaiting execution in the end zone, the last of the spectators filed into the stands.  The time was twelve minutes after ten.  Stone Creek came forward, carrying a small satchel, from which he took an odd looking instrument, a knife almost as slender as an awl.  He held it up and addressed the crowd.

"We wouldn't want out guest of honor to see no evil, or speak no evil, or hear no evil - now would we?  We'll start with hearing, then move on to seeing.  Speaking will have to wait: our guest has some noise to make for us first!"  The crowd began cheering.  Stone Creek slowly brought the blade up to Brad's left ear.  "Be prepared to meet Wilson," he said ominously.  The time was ten sixteen and fifty-nine seconds.

As the blade touched Brad's earlobe, a rumbling began beneath the bleachers, spreading through the stands.  All the spectators stood up and looked around.  Suddenly, the whole stadium shook; its walls began collapsing.  The crowd panicked, running blindly every which way; but, no matter where they turned or how fast they ran, they could not escape the stands crumbling beneath and all around them.  In the midst of the shrieking steel and cement and the screaming spectators, Stone Creek turned toward Cade and cried "Thirty-two!"  Cade turned toward the call and heaved a live stick of dynamite which Darryl had lit before it left his raised hand.  The dynamite landed ten feet in front of Brad and exploded just as Stone Creek pulled the prisoner back from the impact.

Darryl and Cade were already headed for the rear entrance when Stone Creek and Brad caught up to them, all four making for the one safe spot within the stadium, where no charges had been placed.  Virtually unnoticed, they exited the Stadium and ran northward along Freedom Drive, across I-85 and out of the city, eventually picking up US 74 going west.  No one followed them.

Though they slowed their pace beyond the city limits, they didn't come to a rest until reaching the town of Lowell, ten miles west of Charlotte.  Brad at first said nothing, so the others followed suit until finally he collected his thoughts enough to speak.

"It was stupid of me to take their bait!" he offered his assessment of the situation he had found himself in - and, by implication, his apology for the danger he had placed the others in.  "I should have read the signs and seen at once they were enemies of Alice."

"How could you have known?" Cade asked.

"Because I know there was dissension within her kingdom - I tried using it for my own advantage not long after we arrived," Brad explained.  "What made you come this way?" he asked.

"We lost your trail," Stone Creek answered.  "We were headed toward Virginia.  What brought you this way instead?"

"I wanted to visit my father's grave," said Brad.

"There won't be a grave," Stone Creek pointed out.  "The earth was still frozen when he died.  Our leader stayed behind with him."

Brad shook his head wearily.  "Not much of a leader, to abandon his people for the sake of one man - even if he had killed him, like everyone said.  Did he kill my father?"

"He did - in a fight," Stone Creek told him.

"They fought over my mother?" Brad asked.

"They fought over a tree," came Stone Creek's reply.

"I don't understand."

"Brad wanted to cut it down, for firewood and building material.  Kirk considered it sacred.  I remember following Kirk up the mountain when he was a boy.  This was after Paris Commune had already shown it to him and told him nothing must ever happen to it.  Kirk stood before the tree.  He took a pocket knife and cut his thumb, then let his blood drip down onto its roots.  Then he carved a splinter of wood from the tree and put it in his pocket.  'We're brothers from this day on!' I heard him tell the tree.  'I will defend you to the death.'  A shudder ran through me when he said that.  I already knew that Kirk would do anything to keep from violating an oath.  I knew someday something terrible would happen because of that blood oath.  I just didn't know it would be the death of my son."

After they had rested, the four continued their journey westward to the Great Smoky Mountains, the border of Tennessee, and Clingman's Dome.  The farther west they went, the closer they came to winter; and the higher they traveled, the nearer their approach to the snow line.  Already, by the time they passed just south of Asheville - once again, scrupulously avoiding cities - they were ankle deep in snow.  They managed to find provisions in the towns on the northern fringes of the Pisgah National Forest in Henderson and Jackson Counties.  They skirted the Cherokee Indian Reservation in the northwestern corner of Jackson County, going through Swain County to the Tennessee border.

A winter storm had dumped two feet of snow in the Smokys; there was no avoiding it without a change in plan.  So they trudged their way through snow up to their knees until finally reaching Clingman's Dome, where another foot had fallen.  They made their way up the southern face to a deep plateau where the remains of the old T-Men compound stood surrounded by snow and leaves and fallen branches.

No one had been here since Joey led Kirk's people from the plateau twenty-three years ago.  The frame of the old, burned out compound still stood like a grove of spindly trees half buried in the snow; but most of the repairs made during Kirk's brief stay as commandant had long ago crumbled into ruin, leaving only a few isolated rooms protected from the elements.  The four travelers sought out the most substantial of these rooms and took cover there from a second storm that followed close on the heels of the first.  For another day and a half the storm raged, dumping two more feet of snow and ice on top of the three feet already fallen.  Almost hourly until the storm finally ended, the roof had to be cleared of snow to keep it from collapsing, as the roofs of the other remaining rooms had done.  Then the sky cleared and the afternoon sun shone through cracks in the walls too small for the driving snow to have entered.

Darryl and Brad went out first, to asses the situation.  They could barely walk in the waist high snow, clearing a small pathway a foot at a time as they worked their way to the edge of the plateau.  The moment they reached the edge, they retraced their steps along the path back to their shelter, both shivering from head to toe as they stepped inside.  The air outside had grown frigid once the storm clouds moved on; each gust of wind felt like a bucket full of ice hurled at them.  They stripped their clothes off and set them to dry beside the fire that had been built in a makeshift fireplace.

"We can't leave till we've cleared a path," Brad told the others.  "We can't try and walk through this with the air as cold as it is."

"We may not have to," Stone Creek observed.  "Just pray it stays cold - gets even colder.  There's enough ice mixed in with the snow to freeze solid enough for us to walk on.  If it just stays cold a couple more days."

Stone Creek's prediction came true.  The air grew more frigid by the hour, dipping down well below zero their third night on Clingman's Dome.  The next day, they set out for higher ground, determined to see what they had come here to see.  They managed to scale the mountain by walking on top of the snow.  They reached the plateau near the summit where the huge old oak, named for an even older oak on Maryland's eastern shore that had fallen on Thursday, June 6th of the year 2002, stood extending its arms eastward over the ledge of the mountain and westward over the place where two bodies lay buried beneath six feet of snow.  Stone Creek, Brad and Darryl stood staring at the unmarked grave, transfixed by the silhouette of the tree as it cast its shadow toward them.  Only Cade, who could not see but feel, faced the other way.

"Over here!" Darryl called.  "This is where your father's buried!"

Cade called back "Come look!  This is where the earth was reborn!"

The other three left the oak to join Cade at the opposite end of the plateau, facing west.  They stopped dead and gasped at what they saw.  Before them, highlighted by the same risen sun that silhouetted the tree, was the highest mountain range on the North American continent.  The Appalachians, forged anew twenty years ago when the ground shifted from Alabama to Kentucky, making the oldest mountains in the western hemisphere almost overnight the newest.                                        

Not the entire mountain chain was changed; nor was the entire range raised to the same staggering heights.  Most of the mountains were reshaped to a height of less than ten thousand feet - as the Bald Mountains that grew around Henry's people in their trek to Indiana had been.  Some, like Clingman's Dome, had remained unchanged, towered over now by peeks it once dwarfed.  But others, farther west and north, closer to the Cumberland Plateau, had been forged by the sudden movement within the earth twenty years ago into a range of peaks rising twenty thousand feet from the floor of the Cumberland Plain.  These were the mountains Cade felt surrounding him, the mountains Stone Creek, Brad and Darryl stared at in awe from the summit of Clingman's Dome - mountains hidden from them by the driving snow when they approached two days earlier. 

"We saw them being born," Darryl noted.

"But these came after," Cade added.  "The mountains born around us were not this high."

"How can you tell their height?" asked Brad.

"I feel the heat of the sun reflected off their peaks," Cade answered.  "The angle tells me how tall they are."

"We must go to them," Brad concluded, then stopped almost in mid-sentence.

"What is it?" asked Darryl, perceiving Brad's bewilderment.

Brad stumbled for words to explain what he meant.  "A week ago I would never have said that," he admitted.  "Nature existed only to be conquered.  It wasn't there to compel but to be compelled.  And that's still the way it should be.  But I don't know if I can still do it.  Maybe I lost something being captured.  I have to work to regain it.  And I will regain it.  I swear I will."

"But in the meantime?" asked Darryl.

"I have to obey the mountains."

They visited the gravesite beneath the tree one last time then started back down the mountain, the congealed ice and snow carrying them on its back all the way to the valley floor.  They headed north, descending deeper into the gorge which had become the new Cumberland Plateau.  By the time they reached the mountains, they had sunk ten thousand feet below ground and stood at the base of the mountains looking twenty thousand feet into the sky.  All the towns of Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson, Greene, Hamblen and Hawkins Counties had disappeared, swallowed up within the mountains or buried beneath them - the same towns Henry's people had scavenged over and over during their three years at Mount Guyot.

"Shall we go around, or cross over?" Stone Creek asked Brad.

"If we can find a trail, we'll go around," Brad replied.  "If not, we'll find a way up."

The mountain faces were mostly smooth, their ascent sheer.  Neither soil nor foliage had settled anywhere; nor did any cuts in the rock appear that could serve as a path to the summit.  To climb these peaks would have been to ascend twenty thousand feet straight up with nothing to attach a rope to but overhanging sheaves of snow stuck precariously to occasional plateaus jutting out from the rock.

As they studied the situation, Cade suddenly cried out "Get back!"  The others looked up and saw what Cade had felt an instant earlier as a wave of cold brushed against his face.  All four began running in tandem from the base of the mountain as an avalanche roared down the mountainside, gaining momentum with each foot of descent.  By the time it crashed, they had escaped the worst of its fury, though they were still buried almost shoulder deep in its aftermath.

They quickly dug themselves out and retreated farther from the mountains as one after another avalanche followed in rapid succession, as though someone had carefully synchronized their creation.  For the next hour, avalanches continuously roared down the mountains, then abruptly stopped as the supply of snow was exhausted.

"Another mountain would have taken days or even weeks in this cold to reach the point of avalanche," Stone Creek noted.  "These could only hold the snow a couple days.  On the other hand," he also noted, "another mountain's snow would have swallowed us completely.  The slope would have kept the avalanche moving half a dozen miles more.  We're lucky the angle of descent was straight down."

Their clothes were wet, but not soaked through; they decided to keep going rather than head back to the compound on Clingman's Dome to dry out.  They followed the mountains northward for miles before coming to a deep terraced gorge running between two peaks, one eighteen thousand feet, the other nineteen.  The gorge itself was higher than any mountain on the east coast before the earth reshaped the Appalachians; but the four travelers were able to climb its eight thousand feet of terraces and cross the mountains, coming out just east of Thorn Hill in north central Grainger County.  The sight of a town still standing on the Cumberland Plain was almost as incredible to the travelers as the mountains themselves.  They moved cautiously through its deserted streets, finally stopping at an inn on the edge of town.

When they had rested, gotten warm and replenished their supplies, they continued north, paralleling the western slopes of the mountain range.  Half a day later, they came to Middlesboro.  Stone Creek found it exactly as he left it two years earlier.  The entire city had been reduced to a scrap heap of cinders; not one building remained standing, and only a few of the stone structures left any residue behind.

On their way through, Stone Creek steered the others toward the churchyard where his family had been buried.  He expected to find it charred by the same explosions that had destroyed everything else; but it was untouched, almost the only thing in Middlesboro unscathed by the conflagration.

He led the others to the graves of his wife and son.  "This is where your grandmother's buried," he told Brad and Cade.  "And your father's brother.  Everything that happened in the last half century had its roots right here.  It's fitting that it survived."

"How did they die?" asked Brad.

"They were killed because I was a T-Man," Stone Creek answered.  "We all lost at least part of our families before Paris Commune got the idea of using pseudonyms.  Actually, it was Mount Everest's idea - but, as always, Paris took credit for it.  He was a true leader though: he didn't steal from others for his own gain but for his people's gain.  They needed complete confidence in him; he gave it to them, no matter what the cost.  No leader is truly larger than life; he simply knows how to make himself appear that way.  All that matters is why he does it, not how.  The false leader does it to embellish his own image - and ends up sacrificing his people to that image.  The true leader is willing to destroy the image he's created if that's what his people need.  Brad: you must never settle for being a false leader.  Too many have died along the way; you must never dishonor them."

"What of Henry?" asked Darryl.  "You can't mean he was a false leader."

"No, he wasn't," Stone Creek acknowledged.  "But not a true leader either.  He would - and did - sacrifice himself completely for his people.  But it was for a false image of his people - to which he was equally willing to sacrifice them also.  He would have destroyed his people for no better reason than that he could see no evil in them.  If he had lived in another place and time, he would have been revered as a saint."

"He was - for that one moment when he turned twenty-one!" Darryl reminded the others.

"And for that other moment, a year later," Brad reverently noted.  "I hated what he was doing to his people too much then to see him as he really was.  I wanted his people freed from his tyranny - because it was a kind of tyranny, letting them decide everything.  Letting them is the same as forcing them.  I regret that he had to die, but not that he did die.  It was him or his people.  We chose his people.  And moved on."                            

Lumumba was struck in the chest by the first round of fire.  He fell but quickly got back up again as, one by one, his followers were systematically mowed down by the people lining the Bakersfield-Tehachapi Highway.  His mind went blank a moment - not from his wound but from the sheer unreality of what was happening.  His people were being ambushed - but in a setting where none was needed.  The citizens of Bakersfield could not have known what the real purpose of their coming here was; in their minds they were purchasing slaves, and nothing more.  So why were they shooting?

Then he looked away from his people long enough to see into the faces behind the rifles and pistols.  And to hear their laughter.  Then it all came clear, in a blinding flash: they had bought the slaves, not to work them in the fields, but to shoot them.  To extract revenge on innocent, unarmed men and women they believed were brought directly from Africa, for the revolution that he - Lumumba - had created.  He raised his hands, letting his chains fall away, and he cried out to the marksmen.

"I am Lumumba!" he exclaimed.  "I am the leader of the revolution!  We came here to attack you from within!"

His cry had the desired effect.  The shooting stopped.  His words slowly sank in, and a great cry was returned from amidst the crowd lining the street.

"Get him!" the cry went up.  A handful of men came forward from the crowd, but stopped dead in their tracks.

An explosion brought Bakersfield to a halt.  The townspeople, the rebels, even the crew of the Queen Alice all turned toward the harbor, where the explosion originated.

Felicia had watched the cannon being demonstrated at the time Sandy bought it; she knew how to fire it.  But not how to aim it.  When she saw the rebels falling before the gunfire, she ran to the cannon.   Not wanting to risk hitting them, though, she turned it away from the highway, letting the cannonball strike a warehouse farther along the wharf - a warehouse filled with manufactured fertilizers and pesticides.  The stored goods exploded in a chain reaction that shattered the warehouse and sent debris flying in every direction.

There had been no pre-arranged signal, so Lumumba's men stationed on the city's periphery took this for their signal to launch the attack.  In a matter of minutes - before the townspeople had regained their composure - the streets of Bakersfield were overrun with Lumumba's rebels, who quickly focused their aim on the highway thronged with people.  Lumumba, almost unnoticed, unlocked the chains that had held his men in the line of fire.  A third of his people lay dead or dying; the others, released, ran headlong into the citizens lining the southern side of the highway - the same side the rest of the rebels were approaching from, trapping them not only between two enemy fronts but between enemy fire from behind and friendly fire from across the street, aimed at the rebels - in effect, making shields of half the citizens against bullets of the other half.

By this time Sandy, Joey and the crew of the Queen Alice had joined the fray, firing on the crowd from the eastern end of the highway.  In a matter of minutes, the tide had turned in favor of Lumumba and his rebels, shielded as they were by the enemy line as, one after another, the citizens on both sides of the street fell victim to their strategy.

The battle ended as suddenly as the slaughter had begun barely half an hour earlier.  The citizens of Bakersfield were forced to surrender, forced to throw down their weapons, then rounded up and bound by the same chain the slaves they thought they had bought and meant to murder had been led into their ambush with.  They all looked to the mayor, whose signal had initiated the carnage.  Lumumba came to him, with a dagger poised to plunge into his heart.  Right behind Lumumba was Joey, poised to thwart the attack.  Lumumba turned; lowered his knife; handed it to Joey.

"This is because I sensed your presence," Lumumba said to him.  "That told me you were more than just an ally: you were a guardian sent to keep me from turning my rebellion into an act of plunder.  You were right to stop me."

"They deserve to die," Joey replied.  "But not by your hand.  Yours is too noble a hand.  Let God take care of them His way."

"So be it," Lumumba agreed.  "We will leave them chained, however, while we finish what we came here for."

The dead were buried and the wounded were taken to the Queen Alice.  When the last body had been laid in the ship's hold and the rebels returned topside, Lumumba collapsed on the main deck.  Joey rushed to him, only then discovering the gunshot wound to his chest.  He removed Lumumba's shirt, which was soaked with blood that everyone who saw him mistook for the splattered blood of the enemy.  A bullet lay deeply embedded in the right side of his chest.  Seeing what was happening, Sandy came over, took out his knife, and dug the bullet out as skillfully as if he were a surgeon.  Joey then proceeded to dress the wound.  Lumumba was carried to the Captain's cabin and laid on a mattress.  A moment later he roused and tried to get up; but before he could raise himself from the mattress, Sandy came to him and held his knife to his throat.

"This is my ship," Sandy reminded Lumumba.  "If I order a man to quarters, he stays there till I give him permission to leave.  You will not leave this room till I decide you're up to it."

"I have unfinished business here," Lumumba insisted.

"My father and I will finish it for you," Sandy replied.  "These will be the first slaves I set free," he explained.  "For two years I've waited.  Now is the time."

Lumumba acknowledged Sandy's authority and reluctantly agreed to remain behind while Sandy and Joey led his rebels on their final raids.

For the next week and a half, Lumumba's rebels systematically attacked one after another farm, setting its slaves free.  When they were finished, and returned to Bakersfield, their ranks were swelled by almost three hundred.  In the time they were gone, half the wounded on the Queen Alice had died, half had begun their recovery.  Lumumba was standing at the door of the Captain's cabin, ready to be released from his confinement, when he heard his men returning.  Sandy went at once to his cabin, lifted Lumumba's shirt, removed the bandage long enough to look at the wound, and nodded.

"You're fit for duty," he pronounced.  Lumumba acknowledged Sandy's assessment and left his cabin for the first time in almost two weeks.

"What will you do now?" Joey asked Lumumba later that evening.  "Return to Africa, as you planned; or stay and help free those on the big island?"

"I have no choice," Lumumba explained.  "I must return to my home.  Whoever of my fellow rebels wishes to stay may do so.  If they choose to, will you lead them?"

"I will fight with them," Joey answered.

"But not lead them?" Lumumba asked.

"No," replied Joey.  "Even if they could accept a white man as their leader, I can't.  Whatever decisions need to be made can only be made by someone who knows what it is to exist as another man's slave.  I won't usurp that right."

"Even if your God tells you to?" Lumumba persisted.

"I've disobeyed Him before," Joey admitted.  "I'm ashamed to put anything human above His wishes, but I will if I must."

"Is this the Joey I've come to know and love as a brother?"

"I lived half my life refusing to accept who I am," Joey answered.  "I've always accepted God, now it's time to accept man.  The older I get, the less I care what God wants and the more I care what man needs.  It's wrong - I swear on all I hold dear that it's wrong to feel that way.  But I won't turn away from it, no matter how wrong it is.  I owe humanity for all the years I denied them."

Sandy had entered the dining hall, unnoticed, and worked his way to the table where his father and Lumumba were seated.  He had overheard the last part of their conversation.

"When I return next," he told Joey, "we'll visit God at His home in Mecca.  If He's as stern as His image, you may turn away from Him completely."

"If He wears a frown," Joey responded to his son, "it's because of prodigals like me who were shown the way then chose to abandon it, for no good reason."

The citizens of Bakersfield were released from their bondage, but only after all their weapons were confiscated.  They watched as the rebels left the same way they came: by land and by sea.  They vowed vengeance; vowed to reclaim their island from the usurpers; vowed, above all else, to return their slaves to their fields.  As soon as they could, they sent a delegation to the big island, to ask for help.

Lumumba knew that was exactly what they would do; he asked Sandy to delay his departure until the citizens made their move.  The Queen Alice had barely reached Tehachapi Pass when Lumumba's scouts reported a ship leaving Bakersfield.

Sandy agreed to give chase, but pointed out that even if they stopped this ship, there would be others.  "We both have greater work than watching what these people do," Sandy reminded Lumumba.

"I don't want to stop them," Lumumba told Sandy.  "I just want to go after them a ways, then turn around."

"Why?" asked Sandy.

"Something in my bones tells me to," Lumumba answered.

The two ships sailed due north parallel to the eastern coast of the island.  The aim of the lead ship, which knew it was being pursued, was to swing west around the northern end of the island and follow the western coast of the two smaller islands between them and the big island.  But as the Queen Alice gained speed and narrowed the distance between the two ships, they decided to continue due north, making Fresno, at the southeastern tip of the big island, their port of call instead of Monterey on the west coast, as they originally intended.

The farther north they sailed, the more overcast the sky became, the choppier the seas, the higher the waves.  Buckets of rain pummeled their deck, great swirls of wind tore at their sails, whirlpools spun them off course.  They struggled to maintain their course; then, failing at that, they struggled just to stay afloat.

Sandy alone realized what had happened.  The storm that raged two weeks earlier, the same storm that carried the Queen Alice into Bakersfield's harbor, had neither dissipated nor flown north.  It had stalled, its traditional path disrupted by the presence of a land mass where for eons had been only open sea.  It sat in the middle of the Pacific, gaining strength from water made warmer in the decades since California drifted away from the continent.  A storm that should have died a week ago remained on life support off the California coast.

The ship from Bakersfield had already sailed into the storm without realizing it; now it found itself being drawn deeper into the vortex, toward the churning eye wall.  From the Queen Alice, Sandy was still able to make out the ship's passage into the swirling gray mass.  He saw the insufficiency of its rigging, the complete lack of seaworthiness of its crew's configuration.

"They will be torn to pieces in a few more hours," Sandy told Lumumba.  "They don't understand you can't just leave your ship at the storm's mercy.  You have to use your sails to keep from being turned sideways into the waves."

"Is this what you came for?" Joey, who had come aboard at the last minute, asked Lumumba.

"No," Lumumba replied.  "And yet, this is not my ship - and if it were, all I could do would be to watch.  I'm no sailor.  I wouldn't know how to rescue them.  Nor can I ask you son to risk his ship and its crew for their sakes."

"Why would you save them?" asked Sandy.

"Because I murdered a man at the start of my rebellion," Lumumba replied.

"Many have died," Joey reminded his leader.  "I too have killed -"

"In battle!  To free people from their bondage.  But I killed a harmless old man to keep from being discovered robbing a farmhouse.  This is my chance to put that behind me."

Sandy nodded and went to his crew to begin maneuvering the Queen Alice as close to the other ship as possible.  Half an hour later they, too, were being buffeted by the storm, their deck pummeled by rain, their sails ravaged by wind, their course diverted by the waves and whirlpools.  But, unlike the other ship, which stood helplessly before the forces of the storm, they used the raging waters and winds to keep true to their course.  An hour after they entered the maelstrom they glided alongside the ship from Bakersfield.  But no one could board it or beckon the passengers to safety: the ship was still careening out of control, completely at the mercy of the storm, threatening every minute to ram the Queen Alice.  In a desperate attempt to end the stalemate, Sandy extended a rope from the yardarm and, at the nearest approach of the two ships, swung to the deck of the other ship.  He immediately began ordering its crew to use their rigging to help stabilize the ship.  But as he did, he noticed his own ship starting to succumb to the storm.  Sensing the opportunity to save these passengers slipping away, he maneuvered their ship alongside his and ordered them all to abandon ship.  One by one, they caught hold of ropes thrown across to them and were hauled on board the Queen Alice.  When the last had been rescued, Sandy hastily lowered the sail he had been using to maintain the ship's equilibrium; immediately, the two ships began drifting apart.  When they had separated sufficiently, Sandy leaped overboard and began swimming toward the Queen Alice.

But the Queen Alice had begun drifting away.  Realizing what was happening, Joey had himself lowered into the water with a rope tied around his waist, letting the rope unfurl to its full length.  His only hope of rescuing Sandy lay in the size of the rope.  As it stretched out, he reached out to his son, who had seen him and was swimming toward him, but being pulled back almost as fast as he could approach.  In one final burst of energy, Sandy managed to reach his father, who grabbed hold of the belt around his waist.  Together, they began swimming toward the Queen Alice, as the crew reeled in the rope.

The rescued passengers were secured in the hold for the return voyage.  They were not returned to their island, however; instead, they were taken to one of the smaller islands.  The Queen Alice sailed into the harbor at Coalinga at the northeastern tip of the island closest to theirs.  There was almost no commerce at this harbor; only one other ship was docked along the wharf.  Before he released the passengers, Lumumba addressed them.

"The world is not the same as the one most of you grew up in," he reminded them.  "The storm you encountered would have been impossible twenty-five years ago.  California will never return to where it was, or how it was, when you first knew it.  Yet you persist in looking for the same solutions to the problems facing you that were tried and abandoned generations ago.  You cannot have slaves without having a slave rebellion.  Nor can you obliterate that reality by murdering a handful of token slaves.  Nothing that happened in the past two weeks - including your rescue - will change your ways.  I realize this.  I don't expect you to be moved by our rescuing you when we could easily have let you perish.  But, mark my words, you will be affected by it, whether you choose to or not.  Because when your sworn enemy risks his life to save yours, the world can never be the same as it was.  Something's forever changed.  And, sooner or later, that change will make its way around the whole world, like a great wave that stretches across every ocean and every sea on earth.  You will be changed, no matter how you resist."

By the time the last passenger had set foot on Coalinga's tiny pier, the first to disembark was already attempting to alert the local authorities to the pirates and rebels who had sailed into their midst.  But it was much too little much too late; the Queen Alice's sails arose like sea foam billowing against the crystal blue sky, taking her out of Coalinga's harbor and into the open waters of the Pacific.  Lumumba and Joey stood on deck watching the harbor, the city and the island slowly descending into the widening western horizon, until it all disappeared.

"People used to do all the time what we just did," Lumumba observed, as if passing along the most outrageous rumor he'd ever heard.  "Sail for no other reason than to stand watching the world go by.  Man hasn't seen anything like that since before most of us were even born.  I should be the last person on earth to note the passing of so unnatural a way of life.  But I swear before God it felt so right, to just be there, watching as the motion of the sea changed everything right before my eyes."

"You think it's decadent?" Joey prompted.

"No - not at all," Lumumba replied.  "It's just unnatural - in the sense that the world is harsh, life demands every ounce of energy a man has just to stay alive.  We cheated life by giving ourselves the leisure and the resources to enjoy living.  Now life has regained the upper hand.  The truth is, I understand their wanting to use slaves to try and recapture what life took away from them.  But it can't be done.  Slaves create wealth, but at a price that eventually uses up everything that was gained.  Look what happened the first time your people decided to build a world of leisure on the backs of my people.  Your nation is still torn apart by it.  Beneath all the scars the earth inflicted on your land, those scars are still visible - and will remain visible for as long as your nation exists.  You think - and I know you do because I can see into your soul - you honestly believe that to stand face to face and call me 'Nigger' will raise you above those scars.  But it won't.  Because the scars are not the letters of the word.  'Words can never hurt me' - or heal me - or raise me out of the pit our fathers laid us in, thinking it was a cradle of swaddling.  I've never been called a nigger.  When I lost my finger, I lost not only the curse of slavery but the right to be called what my brothers in bondage were called.  'Nigger' was reserved for slaves; knowing I was not a slave, no one thought the name appropriate.  They simply forgot to call me that.  But if you still need to call me that to learn that it won't change anything, be my guest."

"No," Joey decided, "I won't.  Just on the chance you might be wrong.  Because I realize that I don't want to be raised above the scars.  Let them continue to be a part of me.  Tell me, though: do you honestly believe the people we rescued will change their ways?"

"Their ways will change them," Lumumba predicted.            

A smile played at the corners of Joey's mouth.  "I've only know one other person to speak like that," he said.  "I won't say in riddles, because it's not a riddle.  I'm not sure what to call it."

"It's a paradox," Lumumba suggested.  "But call it the inevitable.  Whether your ways are good or bad, the result is always the same: they eventually force you to change to accommodate the changes they've wrought in your world.  It's not easy for westerners - especially Americans - to see that.  Even with all that's happened, you still think you can determine the course of the next thousand years with the mere touch of a button - as if your will holds dominion over everything.  Their ways will change them.  No other outcome is possible."                                                

The rebels were waiting for their leader's return, waiting for his word on what to do next.  He ascended Tehachapi Pass to let them know that he was returning to Africa, Joey remaining behind with them.  They asked if Joey would be their new leader but were told that he would not assume a place rightfully belonging to a black man.

"He's a good fighter and a skillful organizer," they expressed their respect for him.  "But he's wise not to mistake his commitment to our cause for his own cause.  We need a leader whose skin covers the same heritage as ours."

"Those of you who wish, may come with me," Lumumba told his followers.  "Those who wish to stay, do so with my blessing."

"Will you ever return?" they asked.

Lumumba thought a moment before answering - not to consider the pros and cons of his chances of returning but simply to look out over the waves rippling against the rocks then trailing back out to sea.

"My soul will stop here on its way beyond," was his only answer.

Three days later, Lumumba took his leave.  Together with a third of his fellow rebels, he boarded the Queen Alice.  Sandy motioned his crew to set sail for Africa.  Joey stood on the rocks at the base of Tehachapi Pass watching until his son's ship folded into the horizon and disappeared; then he returned to the rebel camp to await his orders.

Carol and Andrea, on one of their frequent visits to Alice, were confronted with the matter of succession.  "Which one of you will succeed me?" she threw down the gauntlet.  But neither returned it, each insisting that she must look elsewhere for a successor.

"Have you ruled out Brad already?" Andrea inquired.

"Not at all," said Alice.  "he may very well end up ruling.  But not as my immediate successor.  I want a buffer between him and his ambitions.  I know whichever of you I choose will almost certainly abdicate in his favor.  You both understand, I trust, that Sandy will never remain on land long enough to establish his rule even if I were to give it to him - even if he were to accept it."

For a moment neither of Alice's guests responded to her proposition; then Carol spoke up.  "I don't wish ever to be as involved with others as I would have to be if I ruled them," she told Alice.

"Ah!" exclaimed Alice.  "Spoken as a true daughter of Mount Everest.  He, too, refused even to consider ruling as my co-regent."  Alice then turned to Andrea.  "That only leaves you," she said, as if issuing a proclamation.

"Aren't you afraid I'll turn the kingdom over to Brad before he's ready?" Andrea asked.

Alice shook her head.  "The moment he returns, he'll be ready.  He won't return at all otherwise."

"What of Stone Creek?" asked Carol.

"He'll stand aside for Brad," Alice stated categorically.

"Then what of Darryl?"

"I don't believe he'll ever see his first gray hair," Alice conjectured. "I think too much has befallen him for his life to turn about completely.  When I think of him, I see Henry.  There's a kinship between them."

"You think they're actually brothers?" Andrea asked.

"No.  Henry could never have had a brother," Alice replied.  "The earth would have murdered any other child born of his parents.  I think Darryl truly is all alone in this world.  There will be no sudden revelation linking his heritage with anyone else's.  I didn't think that until the day Brad told me he cared very deeply for Darryl.  Somehow, that innocent remark became the kiss of death."

"I hope not," said Andrea.  "I don't know anyone else who'll take care of Cade when he can no longer care for himself."

Alice smiled.  "Your second son," she told Andrea, "is tougher and better equipped to care for himself than all of us put together.  He has something no one else alive has: he understands.  The rest of us learn; he knows.  It's so much a part of him he's not even aware of it."

"Then maybe he should rule," Carol pointed out the logical conclusion of Alice's argument.

But Alice shook her head and said "No.  No one so self-possessed should ever rule others.  Only those with feet of clay need apply for the job."

The earthquake of February 27, 2095 devastated Alice's southern provinces.  The fault at Charleston, South Carolina slipped seven meters.  The earth shook for a thousand miles before the fault slipped back into place, never to move again.  Hundreds of Alice's citizens were killed, hundreds more injured.  Nearly all lines of communication were cut; consequently, the reports coming to the walled city were jumbled, incomplete, and frequently contradictory.  Alice summoned Carol and Andrea to her palace.

"If it costs me my throne - or my life," she informed them, "I must leave the protection of this city this time.  I've avoided going among my people for too long.  I must go now.  To ignore what's happened is to become unfit to rule.  I leave tomorrow for Charleston."

"We thought - all of us," Carol noted, "that the earth was finished rebuilding itself."

"It is," Alice assured her guest.  "This was neither more nor less than the normal course of events.  There's always been a fault line under Charleston; it's always quaked from time to time.  Even so, I must go, inspect the damage, promise help in rebuilding.  South Carolina was never a stronghold of my supporters.  They did not come quietly under my power.  Perhaps this twist of fate can help reverse my popularity.  Andrea: I want to appoint you acting regent during my absence.  There must be someone here in my place I can trust absolutely until my return."

"What's to keep your enemies from overthrowing me while you're away?" Andrea asked.

"You," Alice answered.

"I know nothing of governing," Andrea reminded her Queen.

"At the risk of sounding yet another riddle: it knows of you," Alice said.  "Once government begins, it carries forward of its own impetus.  And because you now sit at its helm, it will carry you with it.  At least, until I can get back."

"And if you don't?" asked Carol.

"Then my acting regent will have to decide impromptu if she wishes to remain on the throne.  If so, instinct will guide her.  If not - then I'm the poorest judge of character left alive."

Alice assembled her subjects in the city square.  Instead of addressing them from her dais at the far end of the square, she went and climbed upon the chopping block, summoning them to surround her.

"I must go south," she told them.  "I must help Charleston recover from its earthquake.  While I'm away, Andrea will rule in my stead.  If you wonder why I've chosen an outsider, it's because I know my throne will still be there when I return.  She'll keep it warm for me, but won't try to make it into her own.  And if my southern citizens succeed in eliminating me, as I suspect they'll try, I've asked Andrea to remain my regent for the rest of my reign.  But that's her decision, not mine, to make.  I will be taking as large a contingent of troops as I dare, without jeopardizing your security.  If my western citizens get wind of my absence, they may decide to attack.  If they do, rest assured they will be beaten back."

Alice climbed down from the chopping block and made her way to the dais, where she took the crown from her head and placed it on Andrea's head.  "Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown," she observed in quote.  "Uneasy, too, the head that those I go to help wish to sever from its body."

The next morning Alice set out for Charleston, accompanied by two hundred of her best troops and a dozen palace guards.  Together, they traveled the hundred and fifty miles to Charleston, noting the increasing devastation along the way.  They stopped in every town large enough to have been gravely affected, promising help with rebuilding.  But it wasn't till they crossed the Santee River into Berkeley County that they encountered the worst of the devastation - entire towns leveled the closer they approached the epicenter.

By the time they reached Charleston, it was as if they had strayed onto the far side of the moon, where nothing but pulverized rock dotted the landscape.  Nothing was left of the city once honored as the most elegant, most beautiful spot on the continent.  Not even the landscape remained.  In the span of a few minutes the Stono, the Ashley, the Cooper and the Wando Rivers had conspired with Lighthouse Creek, Wappoo Creek, Hobcaw Creek, the Intra-coastal Waterway and Clark Sound to reduce Charleston peninsula to a fetid swamp into which four hundred years of history had sunk.

There was no way of knowing if anyone survived, or where any survivors might be hold up.  Alice spat into the brackish water as she and her retinue made their way around the swamp.

"This is the kind of fate everyone wishes on their enemies," Alice observed.  "But not mine.  I prefer to deal with them in my own way.  They're my subjects as well as my enemies.  Give a man a chain, you subject him for a day; teach him to forge his own chain, he's yours forever.  Let's hope not everyone perished."

They made their way along Stono River from Charleston County toward Coleton County, the half submerged James Island glistening like an open treasure chest beneath the shallow waters of the Atlantic.  They saw no signs of life, no indication humans had ever been in this part of the world until they reached Coleton County.  A few buildings in the little town of Ashepoo along US Route 17 were still standing.  As the soldiers approached, figures began scattering, coming out of hiding to make their escape from something appearing more threatening and ominous to them than the quaking ground beneath them.  They were ordered to stop; shots were fired into the air.

Forty men, women and children came to a halt where they stood, and raised their hands into the air.  Some pleaded with the soldiers to spare their children's lives as they turned to face their firing squad.  Alice came forward once they had ceased moving.

"Lower your hands," she told them.  "We're not here to hurt you.  We're here to help you rebuild.  We're not invaders, we're your fellow Carolinians.  We've come to assess the damage."

"Come with guns!" someone made bold to point out.

Alice nodded.  "We don't come bearing tranquilizers," she said.  "But guns are just as effective in calming people down.  You're the first people we've seen since arriving in Charleston.  Are you from this town?"

"We've always lived in Ashepoo," one of the children answered.  "There ain't no place else for us to live."

"What about the people of Charleston?" Alice asked.  "Where are they?"

"The ones that got out: they just kept going," one woman explained.

"They're probably still running," one man added.

"Unless they broke their legs running so hard," one of the children speculated.  "Will you shoot 'em if their legs are broke too bad to fix?"

"Most likely," Alice answered.

"Ain't none of our legs broke!" the child boasted.

"I can see that," Alice acknowledged.  "So there'll be no shooting in Ashepoo today.  Unless you all try so hard to get away you manage to break your legs."

"We don't want to get away, ma'am," one of the town fathers assured Queen Alice.  "This is our home, ma'am.  We just hope what's left of it don't come crashing down on our heads."

"If it does, you'll cut our heads off, won't you?" another child asked.

"I've been known to," Alice admitted.

"Are you a witch?"

"Far worse," said Alice.  "I'm a bureaucrat - from the capital city of all the Carolinas."

"There's only two of 'em, ma'am," someone pointed out.

"I wish life were that simple," Alice mused.  "But there are at least as many Carolinas as there are Carolinians.  It makes it nearly impossible to govern people."

"Then don't," one of the children suggested.  "Let 'em all just run around crazy till they all break their legs!"

"That's exactly what would happen, I'm afraid," Alice agreed.  "Then I'd have to shoot 'em all.  And there wouldn't be anyone left to bury them."

"We'll help you," several of the children offered.  "It's easy to dig around here, the ground's real soft."

"I'll bear that in mind," Alice promised.  "In the meantime, we'll help inspect your town to see if your homes are sound.  Once we've done that, we move on.  There's bound to be more people who need our help too.  Then we've still got to find the refugees from Charleston.  But I promise: we'll stop by here on our way home."                                        

For the next day and a half, Alice's troops inspected every building in Ashepoo that had not been visibly damaged, boarding up any whose structural integrity could not be vouchsafed.  Then they continued their sweep of southeastern South Carolina, town by town, inspecting the damage, reassuring the citizens, helping rebuild where manpower alone was needed, and, most of all, hunting for the survivors of ground zero.  By the time they reached the Georgia border, they concluded either there really had been no survivors or else the people who fled Charleston had crossed the state line; either way, no trace remained.  So Alice turned her troops northward, through Jasper and Hamilton then into Allendale County as far as Fairfax before starting back again.

As they swung through the northernmost tip of Hampton County, heading into Coleton County, Alice grew uneasy.  She put her troops on alert, telling them she sensed they were being watched, even though nothing in the landscape offered a clear vantage point.  And when they crossed US 601 at a point halfway between the towns of Miley, on the border of Hampton and Coleton Counties, and Crocketville, to the southwest, Alice brought her troops to a complete halt and ordered them into combat readiness before continuing on to the border.

Though her orders were obeyed without question, her troops half suspected her of being delusional, or deranged, or possibly senile.  No one said anything, however, not even among themselves, as they headed southeast through Coleton County, on their way back to Ashepoo.  By the time they neared the town of Islandton, along State Road 63, however, some three miles into Coleton County, all the troops sensed what Alice had sensed almost ten miles back.  They knew, without reference to anything around them, neither motion nor sound nor even sight, that an attack was imminent.  To a man, they cocked their weapons as they moved along 63, one deliberate step after another, until they sighted Islandton.

The soldiers knew that whoever was out there was hold up in Islandton.  They looked to their commander for their best approach - but there she was, a hundred yards ahead of them, marching gingerly into town as if suddenly oblivious to the awaiting ambush.  They dared not call to her, or try to stop here; yet neither did they dare follow her lead, or else they would all be slaughtered.

Suddenly a shot rang out - but not from within the town.  From behind.  The troops turned to find at least a hundred ragged men brandishing guns descending upon them from out of nowhere.  They hastily re-grouped, their flank now becoming their front line.  In the meantime, Alice had turned and, not finding her men fast on her heels, ran to them.

"You're supposed to take your commander's lead!" she chided her palace guards.  "When his pace picks up, so does yours.  Bear that in mind the next time you engage the enemy."

Because Alice's troops were prepared for ambush - even if the ambush came from behind, not in front of them -they quickly routed their attackers, suffering only a minimum of casualties.  When the attackers were rounded up and brought to Alice, she immediately identified them as survivors from Charleston.

"You don't know that!" they defiantly resisted her identification.

"On the contrary," she retorted, "I make it my business to know all my subjects - if not by name at least by region.  I know the people of Columbia, of Greenville and Spartanburg, even of Myrtle Beach - and, most of all, the people of Charleston.  Why did you attack us?"

"Why did you come among us?" Alice, in turn, was asked.

"To help you rebuild," Alice answered.  "But not to get killed by our own kindness along the way.  How many other survivors are there?"

"We don't know - honest, we don't.  When the quake hit, everyone who could get out did - in whatever direction they were facing.  We just happened to be facing this way.  Then we saw you when we were getting ready to go back to our homes."

"There are no homes," Alice informed the survivors.  "Charleston is buried beneath a layer of swamp water.  You can't go home, I'm afraid.  But we'll help you rebuild somewhere else."

"Charleston's our home.  We don't want nowhere else."

"Then come with us, back to our home," Alice offered.  "perhaps together we can figure out a way to drain the swamp, then you can return, and we'll help you rebuild."

"And if we don't?"

"We'll let you go - once we're safely past this part of Carolina."

"We'll think about it."

While the survivors considered Alice's offer, her palace guards were cautioning her against the plan.  They reminded her of the Trojan Horse, begging her not to bring her enemies into her walled city.  But she, in turn, reminded them that her city was already filled with enemies and that a few more wouldn't tip the scales against her.  "If anything," she told them, "they may help more than they hurt since they won't be aligned with any other faction.  Their presence may help dilute whatever coup is brewing."  And when the survivors accepted Alice's offer, as she knew they would, she merely quipped to her guards that breaking in a wooden horse was like riding a bike: once you mastered it, you never forgot it.  

They found no more survivors from Charleston as they retraced their steps, nor any stragglers wishing to come with them.  Like the citizens of Ashepoo, who they invited a second time to accompany them, all the people they encountered declined to leave their homes and travel north, no matter how badly those homes were damaged.  So when they returned to the walled city, three months after setting out, all they had to show for their excursion was a hundred refugees from Charleston and a host of promises to help rebuild South Carolina.

The refugees resisted being assimilated into the culture of Alice's city or any of its sub-cultures, managing to stay together and to keep their distance from all other groups - which was exactly what Alice was counting on.  Far from being a threat to her, because of their aloofness they became her greatest ally, so completely alienated from everyone else that they served as a wedge she could drive between her other enemies at will.  Until a chance conversation with a visitor from halfway around the world changed all that.                    

Sandy knew that the battle he had just fought on the Pacific side of the Canal would pale in comparison to the one awaiting him at the Atlantic end.  He knew as well that at least part of his booty - the five pirate ships - would be destroyed or rendered un-seaworthy.  He hoped to come away with one or two in tow; but his main concern was preserving the Queen Alice.  To this end, he intended using the five ships to shield her from the pirates fast approaching along the Golfo de los Mosquitos.

There were eight ships, three of them gunboats, from the days of fuel powered vessels, re-engineered to accept the rigging needed for sailing.  Even from the distance Sandy first saw them, he could tell the guns were no match for his cannon in sheer firepower; but they made up for the disparity in maneuverability.  He could not hope to target the guns with his cannon - only the boats carrying the guns, and only one at a time.  But he knew they would all three attack in unison, probably after the other five ships had rendered the Queen Alice and her crew vulnerable to annihilation; so his only hope was in keeping the three gunboats from ganging up on him. 

In the minutes before the pirate ships were within range, Sandy decided on a plan of action.  He summoned his crew and let them know what steps he was about to take, then sent them to their posts while he went below to assemble the remaining few items he needed to set his plan in motion.

When he returned topside, he left his First Mate in charge and lowered a lifeboat, then climbed down and began rowing toward the pirate ships.  Fifty rifles were trained on him when a shot rang out from behind and he fell to the floor of his lifeboat.  He never moved again as his boat bobbed up and down and back and forth in the water, drifting aimless at the mercy of the sea yet at the same time keeping its course toward the pirate ships.  First one then another ship sailed past, its crew glancing momentarily at the motionless body lying face down, one arm dangling over the side, being worked by the action of the waves as if it were an oar.

Several potshots were readied from on board the ships, but each was stymied by the ships' Captains, who ordered their men to save their ammunition for the living.  Another few minutes took the five lead ships past the lifeboat, toward their rendezvous with the Queen Alice.  Then the gunfire began in earnest as the crew of the Queen Alice attempted to fend off the attack.                                    

The crews of the three gunboats watched the lifeboat go by, then turned their attention once again to the battle, on alert for the signal to move in for the kill.

Sandy's rowboat scraped the side of one of the gunboats and followed its contour around to the stern, where it ceased its aimless drift.  The hand that had lain lifelessly in the water suddenly reached up to take hold of one of the joists running along the outer hull.  It groped about until it found a breach in the hull, a pipe used to vent the hold.  Into the breach it slipped a charge, explosives from the store of ammunition gotten at California.  When the charge was set, the lifeboat slipped silently away from the gunboat and was carefully maneuvered by the same hand to the rear of the second gunboat, where a second charge was set.  Then the lifeboat drifted on by, leaving the third gunboat in peace.

Sandy would have set a third charge but he recognized, in a particular cacophony of gunfire, a probable signal from the five lead boats to the three gunboats to join the battle.  Moments later, the three ships pulled ahead, straight for the Queen Alice.  Sandy roused himself only far enough to verify their departure, then crouched back down to make sure he didn't tip his hand too soon.

It was torture to him to lay silent, feigning death, until the sound of the explosions freed him to rejoin his crew.  But, until then, all he could do was leave the battle to them and hope it progressed according to plan.  He had given the charges a long lead time - not to ensure his own safety but to allow the gunboats to get as near to the other pirate ships as possible, without endangering the Queen Alice.  He calculated their distance, estimated their speed, and set the timer for ten minutes.  Then he counted down, silently, as he lay sprawled on the floor of his lifeboat.  When he got to what he thought was ten minutes he began to stir, so lightly that anyone watching would have taken it merely for the motion of the wind against his white cotton shirt or his flaming red hair.  When the time came and went, he let another couple minutes pass, then another, before he concluded that either the explosives or the timers were defective.  He roused himself and began rowing as fast as he could, without a clue what actions he could now take to assist his crew.

He had barely gone fifty yards when a lookout on one of the gunboats spied him and trained one of the ship's guns on him.  This time, the ship's Captain gave his go-ahead, presuming that what before had appeared harmless suddenly post a grave threat, even if it were impossible to determine what that threat might be.  Just as the pirate released the trigger, a sudden explosion rocked the boat.  The gun spun out of his hands and began firing wildly, indiscriminately, spinning around on its turret as its store of ammunition was rapidly spent.  A third of the crew fell before the rampaging piece of artillery.  Then, a hundred yards off the starboard, a second explosion blasted a hole the size of a raft in the hull of the other gunboat.  It took on water so rapidly that all hands had to abandon ship to keep from going down with it.  The crew swam to the third gunboat, the only one still able to harbor them from whatever had attacked the other two.

By now, the gunboats were within range of their prey.  The remaining guns of the damaged boat plus all those of the other were trained on the Queen Alice, whose crew was still battling the first five shiploads of pirates..  But before the first shot could be fired, a flame and a puff of black smoke shot from the deck of the Queen Alice.  Seconds later, a cannonball smashed into the bow of the undamaged gunboat, making it lurch so violently that two of its guns were wrenched from their turrets, one exploding from the force, the other landing in the water.  Then a second cannonball came flying over the tranquil waters of the Gulf, straight toward the second gunboat.  This one found its mark higher than the first, striking the bridge of the ship with an impact that splintered it into shards of shrapnel sent bombarding every pirate on board.  Torn and bleeding, those who could, tried to get to their guns to return the fire; but the effort was useless.  The tide had turned, the battle was lost, and the pirates in the five lead ships knew it.  They turned tail and attempted to flee.  But the Queen Alice gave chase, its Captain's orders not merely to repel the pirates but to destroy them as completely as those across the Canal had been destroyed.

The five lead ships drew alongside the damaged gunboats.  Anyone who could, leaped onto one of the five as they sailed past; anyone unable to make the jump was left behind.  Then all five veered ten degrees to their starboard and held their course.  Directly ahead of them was a single rowboat, manned by a single sailor.  They meant to ram the boat, or crush it and its occupant between them.

Sandy saw them coming straight for him.  Fast on their heels was the Queen Alice.  He calculated how long it would take them to reach him and how long for his ship to overtake them.  He felt himself drifting to the northeast, being slowly pulled out into deep waters.  He decided to do nothing, to wait it out, his decision circumscribed by the same notion that kept him lifelessly still as his boat glided past the gunboats: the notion that no matter how much they wanted to fire upon him, they dared not waste a single shot once they engaged the enemy.

As they came within firing range, the Queen Alice began firing, forcing them to turn their full attention to their stern.  Even as they exchanged fire with Sandy's crew, they leaned into the wind to try and outdistance their pursuer.  The more they picked up speed, the faster they bore down on Sandy's lifeboat, the drift of the outgoing tide propelling him perfectly in sync with the driving wind billowing their sails.  There was no way now to avoid being rammed head on by the escaping flotilla. Sandy waited until they reached the point of no return - the point at which they could not have avoided a collision no matter what; then, turning away from the pirates as if preparing to row for his life, he set the final charge he had brought with him, and began counting down.  He could feel the hot breath of pursuit on his back as he went through the motions of trying to outrun the pirate ships, every foot he put between them narrowed a hundredfold by their sails.  Until, all at once, he leaped from the boat and dove as deep beneath the surface as he could.  Seconds later, the lead ship rammed his rowboat; and, as it did, the rowboat exploded into a live missile which shot through the ship's bow, sending a torrent of water surging through it.  The other ships, unable to come to a dead halt, rammed the lead ship, first one, which spun it into the path of the second ship, then the third and fourth, following too closely to avoid a collision.  Amidst the ensuing confusion, Sandy surfaced and, unnoticed by the pirates, began swimming past their ships toward his.

He detected movement in the water the moment his lifeboat left the Queen Alice - a slow, deliberate circling beneath and around him.  He knew the sea well enough to know what it was.  He knew also that he now stood as much chance of being killed from below as from the ships towering above him; and that once he was in the water there was no escape and possibly no rescue.  Still, he kept swimming, knowing the inevitable attack would come any second, the faster he swam the more imminent the attack.

In the confusion of battle, he failed to see a second lifeboat lowered into the water just before he dove from his.  This boat remained tethered to the mother ship until his boat exploded; then it was cut loose and its sole occupant began rowing past the Queen Alice toward the spot where Sandy surfaced.

He didn't see the boat until it was a few hundred feet away and his eye caught a sudden flash of light just above the water line.  He veered toward it; and, as he did, he heard the crack of a gunshot and felt a rush of air past his ear.  Out of the corner of one eye he saw the sea change color around him.  Then he heard a second gunshot, and the sea grew redder still, until finally he felt himself being pulled from the water into the lifeboat.

Felicia handed him the rifle; and, sitting back down, began rowing toward the Queen Alice.  Sandy focused the gun on the sharks trailing Felicia's boat through a reddened path, firing twice into the water to keep them at bay.  Moments later the boat was again alongside the Queen Alice.  A rope was thrown down.  Sandy and Felicia took it and were hauled up.

From the deck of his ship, Sandy surveyed the damage inflicted on the pirates.  All three gunboats were perched precariously in the water, slowly sinking; those of their crews who could escape had been picked up by the other boats, two of which suffered extensive enough damage during the mass collision with the last gunboat that they too were being abandoned.  The remaining three, though also damaged, were able to navigate their way through the open waters as they attempted to shift course toward the mainland.  Sandy kept pace with them, determined to finish them off once and for all.  He prepared his cannon for another round, and brought more explosives from below.  By the time the pirates neared the Mosquito Coast, with its extensive system of channels, the Queen Alice had caught up to their ships.  On Sandy's signal, his crew began firing almost point blank at the pirates.  Then he began readying the charges, tossing the first one onto the deck of the pirate ship nearest his.  It exploded on contact, sending a ball of fire careening through the deck.  Those of the pirates not killed by the blast leaped overboard, trying to reach the other two ships.

As the Queen Alice drew closer to the second ship, Sandy's men began firing; and, as he had done before, he hurled the second charge onto the deck of the second ship.  Its crew, like the crew of the first ship, was forced to abandon ship.  Finally, Sandy went to his cannon, aimed it, and fired at the last of the pirate ships.  The cannonball ripped through the bridge, killing the ship's Captain and causing the ship to lurch sideways, sending it aground on a shoal along the coast.  Its crew leaped overboard and began running toward the thick jungle lining the shore.  A few made it to safety, but most became trapped in the muck and quicksand filling the shoal and slowly sank beneath the surface.  And as they were struggling to free themselves, sinking all the faster for their struggle, the pirates who had leaped into the water from the first two ships were being torn to pieces by the sharks that had followed Sandy from the Queen Alice to the gunboats and back.            

The entire armada had been destroyed.  Sandy turned the Queen Alice and headed back to open waters, and what was left of his booty from the Pacific pirates.  All five ships had been positioned to take the brunt of the attack; all five had been damaged; all five were drifting with the current.  Sandy brought the Queen Alice alongside each.  One by one, they were inspected, three of them deemed seaworthy, two unsalvageable.  The two that could not continue were left drifting, as they slowly filled with water and began sinking; the others were manned by the same sailors who had brought them through the Canal.  Together with the Queen Alice, they set a northwesterly course for the island of Hispanõla, to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where Sandy planned to let his sailors register their ships.

On their way through the Caribbean, as they looked out at the night sky, Sandy and Felicia both reflected on their life together, each aware that it was the sea, more than each other, more even than God, that had pronounced them man and wife.  If Felicia had not chosen to abandon the land, or if Sandy's mission had kept him landlocked, they would never have come together, no matter how great their love for one another.

"Neither of us would have placed the other above the things we chose to do in life," Sandy observed with a touch of regret.  "We would both have been with someone we loved less, or not at all, rather than renounce our calling."

"But it's our calling - our choices - that created our love," Felicia pointed out.  "I didn't love you and only then find out you belonged to the sea.  I loved you because you belonged to it."

"I didn't know that you, too, belonged to the sea until after I fell in love," Sandy noted the flaw in her logic.  "I would have had to leave you, yes; but I would still have loved you.  I could never love another as much.  I would have spent my life looking for girls in the bazaars to be with for awhile.  I would have regretted for the rest of my life that you didn't come with me; but I wouldn't have regretted for one second that I didn't stay behind with you."

"You know," Felicia said after a long silence as she watched a few thin clouds sail across the moon, "the way you went after those pirates: that's how the authorities will one day go after us.  We, too, will be pirates - not in our definition perhaps, but in everyone else's.  I know you did the right thing destroying them so they could no longer prey on other ships; but soon we, too, will be seen as preying on other ships."

"Only those that carry slaves," Sandy reminded Felicia.

"It isn't the cargo that determines a ship's registry," Felicia countered.  "Those ships, like it or not, are as fully protected under the law as yours was when the pirates attacked."

"It's true," Sandy acknowledged the logic of Felicia's argument.  "I know the day will come when the authorities will attack - or else someone like me, thinking he's ridding the seas of a menace.  I know.  And I don't bear them any ill feeling.  But I will fight them to the death.  I just hope that day won't come too soon.  I hope to do some good before I'm forced to do evil."

The influence of Kingston touched the Caribbean from the Greater to the Lesser Antilles: Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Windward and Leeward Islands, all the way to Trinidad and Tobago.  The  entire Basin fell under its spell.  It exercised no dominion over any other sovereign nation, however.  What it offered, instead, was the protection and the shining example of a state at perfect peace with every other nation on earth.  The glow of its absolute commitment to international law reflected throughout the region, offering a path out of the turmoil and strife that plagued so much of the Caribbean for so long.  No other nation basked so proudly in it focused light than Haiti, whose Port Authority and whose ships' registry was second only to Jamaica's.

Sandy knew it would be almost as difficult getting his sailors' ships registered at Port-au-Prince as at Kingston; but this was where they had asked to be brought, so this was where he docked.  He warned them of the difficulty; but the sailors from Kingston, the ones who had laid claim to the boats, already knew and were already half resigned to have their boats confiscated.  When they explained how they had come by the boats, the Port Authority conducted a thorough investigation, eventually determining who the rightful owner was.  Out of regard for his sailors, Sandy remained in Port-au-Prince until the investigation was complete - even though he and his other sailors were growing restless, almost desperate, to set sail.

"Why is your crew in such a hurry to leave?" the investigator demanded to know.

"For the same reason they claimed no share of the boats: they live for the sea.  It isn't the commerce, or even the wages, that drives them, but the sea itself," Sandy answered.

Two days later, Sandy and his sailors from Kingston were summoned to the Port Authority, where the findings of its investigation were presented.  "We have determined that those three ships belong to one Alistair Wainwright, of Great Britain.  They were reported high jacked on their way to Barranquilla, Columbia.  We suspect they were either carrying or on their way to receive contraband.  But we have no proof, so we must confiscate your ships and hold them for their rightful owner."

Sandy begged to be excused, promising to return within the hour with relevant information.  When he returned, he handed the Port inspector the last will and testament the owner of the yacht had drawn up before his death, a document bearing the name and signature of Alistair Wainwright and the authentication of the Port Authority at Kingston.  While the signature was compared with the signature in their registry, and the document itself authenticated, Sandy explained the circumstances of his having come to be Wainwright's sole heir.

"So, it would appear that you are indeed the rightful owner of these ships after all," the inspector finally concluded after the will was authenticated.  "And, I might add, a very wealthy man.  Though the wealth has come at a very high price.  Mr. Wainwright is believed to have been a very important part of the Columbian drug trade - a trade which, unfortunately, managed to survive the perils of the last half century.  So be careful your inheritance does not come back to haunt you."

Sandy then proceeded to sign the three ships over to his Jamaican sailors.  Once the ships were properly registered, he had the Port Authority draw up drafts against his holdings, which he gave the Jamaicans in payment for their services.  The next thing he did with his newfound wealth was to offer his sailors each a bonus - which, to a man, they refused.

"Sailors and money don't mix," they reminded their Captain.  "We don't have families to leave anything to, and none of us'll live long enough to need the kind of security money gives you.  Besides, even if we survived out seafaring days they'd just put us to work back in California no matter how much we had.  And we'd rather be dead and buried than forced to work rebuilding California.  Maybe that's why we signed on with you - so's to keep the Africans from having to do what we'd rather die than do."

Sandy completed one final business transaction before setting sail from Port-au-Prince.  He purchased a fleet of five schooners plus the private pier where they were docked.  Then he summoned his crew.  Together, they began the journey back to California, making one fateful detour first.    

They didn't pass through Henryville.  Darryl would have liked to, but he had already been there; and, though he meant to return some day, perhaps even live out his days beside Henry's grave, he left it to the others to determine their route across the country.

It was decided to trek across Kentucky, following essentially the same route Stone Creek had led the outlaws along three months earlier, entering Missouri where Cairo, Illinois marked the tri-state border.  Crossing the Mississippi proved far less of a task than any of the four travelers anticipated - less even than it had been for Joey two years earlier upstream, notwithstanding the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi at Cairo.  They got across the same way Joey did: using rafts made of the debris that abounded along the Mississippi's eastern banks.  They made no attempt to strike out for St. Louis, a city now lost in the recesses of other people's memories, having no meaning at all for Brad, Cade or Darryl, and very little for Stone Creek.  Instead, they kept to the south, almost along the Missouri-Arkansas border, entering Oklahoma at the border of Ottawa and Delaware Counties in the northeast corner, a route they followed through the state and into the Texas panhandle, where they dipped to the southwest toward Amarillo, one of the few large cities in the country where the T-Men had always found a safe haven. 

On Monday, March 21, 2095, they came to a strange tar pit running along the border of Roberts and Hemphill Counties a few miles west of the town of Canadian.  The three youngest travelers had no idea what to make of it; they simply took it for a natural phenomenon which they proposed getting around by heading either north or south.  Stone Creek, however, knew that it was not a creation of eons of evolution like a normal tar pit but rather the evolution of a human creation.  Though he had never seen Pod City first hand, he had heard numerous stories of it and of its fate.

"We may not be able to go around it," he began his explanation of the pit.  "I know for sure we can't go north - it extends clear up into Wyoming.  But I don't know how far south it goes.  Let's see first if there's any way of getting across before we head south."

The lava from Yellowstone had covered the entire trench Pod City was built in; but here, in Texas, where a string of pods along a twenty mile stretch had exploded as a stream of flaming gasoline ignited them one by one, it never hardened completely.  The ruptured vein of natural gas running beneath the pods kept stoking the lava for years, keeping it from hardening, while the charred remains of the pods settled on its surface like an oil slick, slowly churning over the years until making the lava itself look like a stream of tar.

The travelers examined the surrounding terrain for any means of breaching the pit.  The kinds of things which littered the entire mid-west lay everywhere: toppled trees, dismembered houses and barns, broken roadways.  They tried one after another, but found nothing long enough to straddle the pit or strong enough to support their weight without sinking into the tar.  Reluctantly, they began following the tar pit south, halfway expecting to have to make it to the Mexican border before the pit finally dried up.

Besides the border of Roberts and Hemphill, they followed the borders of two more sets of counties: Gray and Wheeler, Donley and Collingsworth; passed through Hall County; and skirted the border of Motley and Cottle Counties before veering eastward along the trench into King County.  A hundred and fifty miles after beginning their detour, they saw in the distance, near the center of King County, just outside the town of Guthrie, a huge twisted pile of scrap iron, which they were drawn irresistibly toward even though the pit had finally come to an end and they could continue westward. 

Cade saw nothing of what drew his companions beyond their destination, but he felt the presence of something almost monstrous in its malevolence.  It was the remains of the giant tower built to hold the country's last store of gasoline.  It had been built to keep the citizens of Pod City perpetually supplied with fuel should anything interrupt the flow of natural gas through their underground conduits.  Sanderson Spears, in siphoning gasoline for his helicopter, had breached the tank, spilling a stream of fuel which ignited when it reached the lava advancing through Pod City.  The tower exploded in a huge fireball which rocked the sky for miles around; then toppled to the ground in a burning heap to slowly re-cast itself into the form of a grotesque sculpture.

They stood before it, transfixed by its hideous shape, testament to a work of art created, not by a living intelligence, but by the very material out of which it sprang.  Finally, they turned away from it and resumed their journey to California.  Stone Creek decided to abandon his plan to visit Amarillo, settling, instead, on Albuquerque, New Mexico - another city that had sheltered the T-Men.

From the moment they reached Kirtland Air Force Base, in Albuquerque's southeastern corner, they knew the city was deserted.  Stone Creek led his traveling companions to the sites he remembered from when he was here almost half a century ago, gathering supplies and replenishing their store of ammunition.  They remained two days in Albuquerque, staying in a hotel in the center of town.  The day they arrived the sky was overcast, but toward evening a cold wind from the west began blowing the clouds eastward, revealing a magnificent sunset.  All four travelers stood on a balcony facing the western horizon, Cade sensing what the others were seeing.  Then Cade and Stone Creek went inside.

"I don't care one way or the other about sunsets," Brad remarked

"Why not?" asked Darryl.

"There's no substance to them," Brad explained.  "They're only an apparition, then it gets dark again."

"Some people treasure things like that because they're like that," Darryl objected.

"Do you?"

"No," Darryl admitted.  "I did once, but I've seen too much."

"Did you eat human flesh?" Brad asked, recalling something he had overheard some of Clarence's conscripts say.

"Yes," Darryl answered.

"Would you do it again?"

"If it was the only way to save something or someone I cared about, I would.  Otherwise, I'd starve first.  The same is true for the other things I did."

"What other things?" asked Brad.

"I climbed on top of the captives I'd just killed and used them as whores," Darryl replied.  "I didn't need to, but it was expected of us, so I did it, to make sure nothing jeopardized my mission."

Darryl shed no tears, as he had when he revealed the things he did in Clarence's army to Cade.  Instead, he spoke defiantly, almost boastfully - as if he were trying to impress Brad with his exploits.  As he related the incidents, he could sense Brad's growing envy that he had been forced to exercise so great a discipline over himself for the sake of his mission - not that Brad would have demonstrated less self-discipline, but he had never been put to the test, and he hated Darryl for having been given an opportunity that would never be given to him.  Thinking about it - not the hatred or the envy but his commander's lost opportunity - sent a stream of tears down Darryl's face.  He turned away from Brad, ashamed to be seen crying, but more ashamed that his boasting had opened so deep a wound in his commander's heart.

"So if I had been one of your captives, you would have climbed on top of me too - for the sake of your mission," Brad speculated.

Darryl acknowledged with a nod.  "Then what?" Brad demanded.

"You would have been cut up and cooked and I would have been given a piece of your rump for dinner," Darryl answered.  "A rump roast."

"Does it please you that you're a better soldier than I could ever be?" Brad asked.

"It shames me," Darryl told him.  "Because it's nothing more than chance that caused it."

"I'm beginning to see that chance causes everything," Brad acknowledged after a long pause.  "It was chance that made me fall in love with Felicia, and chance that gave her to Sandy and made us enemies to the death.  Chance could just as easily have pushed me down another path altogether, and it would have been you, and not Felicia, I lusted after.  But chance made us fellow soldiers instead.  Those who would say 'As it should be' are blind, because chance doesn't care who climbs on top of whom.  If I could, I would gladly give up Felicia for you - because then I wouldn't have to pursue Sandy for the rest of my life.  But chance would sooner castrate me than free me from the path it's chosen for me.  It isn't just because he took her that I want her so badly.  I can't conceive of someone I love so much not being mine - and all because of pure chance."

"Perhaps not so much chance as you think," Darryl reminded Brad.  "She said all along she needed the sea - but you weren't listening.  And now you really have stumbled into chance's clutches - because now you'll spend the rest of your life at sea.  If only you had accepted that from the start, none of this would have happened."

The sky slowly faded into the encroaching dusk.  Brad and Darryl finally left the hotel balcony, each returning to his own room to lie awake long into the night thinking about the other's confession.

Stone Creek took his traveling companions to the Grand Canyon - not for the scenic splendors but to show them the second largest system of hideouts in the world.  The T-Men, even as they were constructing their system of tunnels beneath the western plains, needed a safe haven from the Federal authorities.  For that, they came here, to the largest isolated region left in America.  They spent years scouting the Canyon for the perfect focal point, finally settling on the Havasupai Indian Reservation along the South Rim.  They made overtures to the inhabitants of the reservation, taking great pains to portray themselves as a people set upon and driven from their homes by the government - every word of it true, the story they attempted to build out of those words false; and the Indians knew it.  They refused to accept the T-Men's plight as a present day repeat of their own; they would not relinquish their reservation to the outlaws.  So the outlaws began a systematic effort to drive them away, sabotaging their food and their water; and, when that didn't work, staging an open assault on their reservation.

"We've waited long enough!" vowed Paris Commune, who had just been chosen to lead the T-Men.  "We attack tomorrow.  We need their land."

Mount Everest, Paris' second-in-command, knew nothing of the assault.  He was away at the time, laying his family to rest.  Had he known, he would have staged a coup against his commander.  Stone Creek had not yet entered the T-men's inner circle; he was still on the fringes of the militia.  Even so, he would have opposed the assault on an innocent population had he not also been away at the time, sent on a mission to gather intelligence.

There was no one to oppose the attack; it was carried out as planned.  The entire population was either killed or driven from their homes.  The Havasupai Indian Reservation became an enclave of the nation's largest private militia, the focal point of a monumental hideout.  Then it was abruptly abandoned when the tunnels were finally completed farther to the north and east.

In time, the Indians returned to their reservation, vowing vengeance on those who had stolen their homes.  But the apocalyptic events of the mid-century had virtually wiped out the entire population of the Canyon.  So there was no one left to avenge themselves on, except an occasional straggler who wandered into the Canyon seeking shelter from the fire, rain, ice and snow ravaging the Plains.  Once captured, these vagrants were killed with a savagery unknown on the American continent since the days of the Aztecs.

Stone Creek sensed something wrong almost from the moment he left Flagstaff.  He asked Cade if he, too, felt it but was told no.  Nevertheless, he presented his fears to Brad and Darryl, both of whom insisted on staying their course.  The intensity of their insistence sent a chill down his spine.  It was as if they, too, sensed danger - and relished the prospect of risking their lives for the sake of this, their mission.

"I'm more scared of them than of what's out there," Cade told his grandfather.

"Don't be," Stone Creek cautioned.  "Their bravado may very well entrap us in someone's snare - but it may also point the way out.  Just be on our guard, and keep to the agenda: we may need the old hideouts for more than show and tell."

By the time they reached the Kaibab National Forest, all four felt what Stone Creek had sensed fifty miles back.  They began searching out the hiding places known only to the T-Men - places Stone Creek had helped map.  They holed up in one of the hideouts the night of their arrival, setting out early the next morning in search of more hideouts.

Darryl and Brad had gotten ahead of the others, wanting to explore on their own so as to hone their skills.  They managed to discover three of the old hideouts without Stone Creek's guidance.  Elated, and anxious to find more, they failed to notice signs far more ominous than the ones they were eagerly pursuing.

Cade sensed their capture before Stone Creek saw signs of the struggle.  "Something's wrong," he stopped abruptly to inform his grandfather.  "Something's got them.  That way," he pointed, and the two hurried along the rim toward the place he pointed to, Stone Creek taking note of every twig, every tumbleweed, every tree trunk along the way.

"Here!" Stone Creek called out finally.  "Here's where it happened!"  He began systematically examining the ground.  "At least a dozen.  No signs of bloodshed.  They were carried off - led away.  We've got to take it slow, to make sure we aren't taken too.  I think I know where we'll find them; but I'm not sure how - or if - we can rescue them!"

They made their way westward, following the trail Brad and Darryl's captors had taken.  They moved cautiously, taking their time to avoid detection.  Stone Creek had already concluded, and Cade could sense, that whatever had prompted the captors to take Brad and Darryl alive precluded haste - that whatever fate was intended for them would play itself out slowly, giving their rescuers time for stealth.

Eventually the trail led to the Havasupai Indian Reservation - as Stone Creek knew it would.  He had only learned of the massacre at Paris Commune's hands after the fact; but from that moment on, he knew that if the Indians ever returned, they would extract a terrible vengeance on any white man who strayed into their territory.

"Deceit will not work this time," Stone Creek informed his grandson.  "If we're to save them, we'll have to kill as many Indians as possible."

Though Cade acknowledged there was no other way, the thought of inflicting yet more death and destruction on these people sickened him.  He halfway believed they were justified in whatever they planned to do to Brad and Darryl, no matter how horrible it was; but he could not turn his back on his brother and his dearest friend, so he would try his best to murder as many Indians as he could, right or wrong.

Slowly, carefully, they worked their way through the reservation until coming to a clearing surrounded by thick woods.  There, in the center of the clearing, was the remains of the Indian village nearly destroyed by the T-Men fifty years ago.  It had never been rebuilt, suggesting to Stone Creek either that the Indians only recently returned or, more likely, that they had abandoned once and for all the trappings of the white man's civilization and returned to their old ways.  Whichever the case, they were milling about the few remaining buildings as if visitors to a strange land, fearful of what might lie in wait inside these seemingly deserted structures.

At first, there was no sign of Brad and Darryl.  Then, all of a sudden, a group of men shifted their positions and a momentary opening in their ranks revealed two naked bodies lying straddled on the ground, their hands and feet strapped to stakes.  There were no signs of blood on either body.  Stone Creek began assessing the situation, planning his strategy, readying his armaments.  As he prepared for the attack, two men carrying long knives knelt down, one beside Brad, the other beside Darryl, and began slowly running their knives head to toe along the bodies.  When the two men arose, Brad and Darryl glanced over at each other, holding their gaze momentarily.  A line so thin it barely broke the skin ran down Brad's right side and Darryl's left side.  A moment later two different men, with two different knives, knelt down and cut a path on the other side of each body, parallel the first, slightly deeper but still drawing no blood.  Then a third set of men repeated the ritual, and a fourth, and a fifth, each line deeper than the last by a hair, until, finally, a thin trail of blood oozed along the pathway.  Each time, Brad and Darryl cocked their heads toward one another, their faces now covered in sweat and beginning to contort into images of agony.

By the fifth cut, Stone Creek had everything he needed.  He gave Cade their one and only repeating rifle, aimed it for him, told him to count to ten before firing and to keep firing until the magazine was empty - or until he was ordered to cease fire.  As Cade counted, Stone Creek slipped from the cover of the woods into the clearing, lighting charges as he went.  A second before Cade reached ten and began firing, the Indians spotted Stone Creek and rushed him.  Just as Cade began firing, he hurled his first explosive, directly at the charging enemy.  The explosion felled all but two, who were maneuvered by Stone Creek into the line of gunfire.

By now the entire village was gearing for battle.  Stone Creek hurled two more charges in rapid succession - not so much to kill the enemy as to create a diversion so he could move closer to Brad and Darryl.  Then he hurled two more, this time straight at the advancing Indians, moving even closer to Brad and Darryl as the explosions slowed the advance.  By the time his third round of explosives was hurled, he was kneeling beside Brad and Darryl, cutting them loose.  When Brad was free, Stone Creek gave him the knife to cut Darryl's ropes while he hurled a fourth round of explosives.  Then the three of them began retreating toward the woods, Stone Creek cautioning the other two to stay low, out of the line of fire.  As they headed toward the woods, Stone Creek handed each an explosive, motioning where each was to throw his.  In unison, all three hurled their charges as they made their final run for cover, entering the woods right where Cade stood firing his final round of bullets, each taking up a rifle to fire alongside Cade.

When the smoke of battle cleared, all the Indians were either dead or wounded.  Stone Creek advanced to the clearing while Brad and Darryl covered him.  Finally satisfied it was safe, he beckoned them to follow, the three going among the villagers to collect any weapons.  Brad and Darryl found their clothes and began getting dressed, but Stone Creek stopped them.

"Not till your wounds have been cleaned," he told them.  By now they were both shivering, so he allowed them to throw their shirts over their shoulders, but no more until, returning to his supplies in the woods, he had them clean each other's wounds.

As soon as Brad and Darryl were dressed, and the supplies and ammunition divvied up, the four headed west again, first going south to give the Hualapai Indian Reservation - five times as large as the Havasupai - as wide a berth as possible.  Stone Creek had no idea if it was still inhabited, or if the Indians knew what was happening in the area; but he had no intention of finding out, so he trekked southward to the town of Williams, along Interstate 40 in Coconino County.  Finding shelter there, he holed up in Williams with his traveling companions for the next two weeks, until the fever he knew Brad and Darryl would get from their exposed wounds finally broke and they were able to travel again.  On Saturday, June 11, 2095, two weeks after setting out from Williams, they stood on the coast of Southern California looking out over the calm blue waters of the Pacific.            

Lumumba stood on deck watching the continent where he was born grow larger with each wave.  It felt to him as if it were Africa sailing to him rather than he to it.  At first he puzzled why he should feel more fixed in time and space than a whole continent; then he realized it was because he was being brought home - not coming home.  He went to the bridge, to ask something of the ship's Captain.

"I would like a small boat lowered," he told Sandy.  "It would mean everything to me to row ashore, alone.  Coming home like this feels wrong.  On the deck of your ship, I stand taller than the land.  No man should stand above his home, looking down on it.  He should cower before it, looking up at it."

Sandy nodded and had a lifeboat lowered.  He said his good-bye then watched as Lumumba descended to the boat and began rowing ashore, toward a stretch of land where the Queen Alice could neither dock nor lay anchor.  As Sandy maintained the course taking him northeastward to the harbor at Dakar, he lost sight of Lumumba.  He knew he would never see his father's leader again; Joey's life was to free the slaves taken from Africa, Lumumba's to keep them from being taken.  He knew also that if the day ever came when there were no more slaves to free, it would mean Lumumba had finally put an end to the trade.  And he could return to the African village to submit to his brothers' judgment.

Lumumba landed at the same spot Sandy was washed ashore three years earlier.  The day was a Monday, the tenth of June of the year 2097, ten years after Lumumba had been taken from his home in a raid by Captain Clark's traders.  He knelt down on the shore line and prayed to his people's Gods for allowing him to come home.  Then he found kindling, started a fire inside the rowboat, and set it adrift until the rip tide caught it and began carrying it out to sea.  He watched it burn until it disappeared in a whiff of smoke; then he started inland.                                                    

Sandy's business in Dakar was the very soul of simplicity: this was where the slave trade began, or at least its primary port of call, so this was where he would begin his life's work as a pirate.  He meant to sit in the harbor as long as necessary, waiting and watching until the ships began docking at the same pier where the Monterey Bay collected its cargo.  Then he would select one of the ships and follow it into international waters, where he would attack and free its cargo of slaves.  As chance would have it, he arrived at Dakar just as one of the runs of slavers was commencing.

Five schooners nestled against the pier.  He maneuvered the Queen Alice into a berth a few hundred feet farther along the docks.  He granted his crew shore leave for the afternoon, ordering them to return before dusk.  Then he began his vigil, studying the activity of each ship to try and determine the size of its crew.  He knew from his own experience that the slave traders never granted their crews shore leave at Dakar; all the sailors not involved in the actual transfer of cargo would be on board, restless, milling about on deck anxiously awaiting embarkation.  The more sailors he detected, the greater the resistance when he attacked.  For three hours he watched, until finally fixing on his target.  It was the largest of the five ships; this meant that more of its sailors would be actively engaged in keeping the ship on course.  But it didn't appear to have the largest crew, so proportionately fewer would be free for combat.  He noted the ship's name - Roman Candle.  He had no idea what its nation of origin was or which direction it would take when it left port.  Neither did he have a definite idea when and where he would attack.  He took out the statue of Corcovado.  He kissed it and asked it to give him a sign when the time was right.

"Captain Clark said we were helping to save the slaves' souls by taking them from their pagan ways and showing them the path to salvation," Sandy told Corcovado.  "And it is true that God lives in California - at least His head.  But how could anything bring them any closer to God than being free men tending their own fields in their own land?  If God isn't to be found in a man's own home then He must not exist.  And you and I know He exists, so we both know Captain Clark was leading them away from God, not to Him, in taking them to California.  So what if they see God through pagan eyes?  He's still the same God, He doesn't disappear just because they see Him in another form."

Sandy returned the statue to his pocket as he continued his vigil.  Two hours later, the doors of the warehouse began opening and the first slaves were led across the short expanse of pier to the awaiting ships, where they were quickly herded on deck and taken below.  Within an hour, the five ships were on their way.  A couple hours later, the last of Sandy's crew returned to duty and the Queen Alice set sail, her Captain setting a course along the same route his target ship had taken.

The Roman Candle had put enough miles between itself and its pursuer that the pursuit would not be apparent and, possibly, would not even be noted till Sandy was ready to make his move; yet not enough miles for Sandy to lose sight of it.  The course it set skirted the Cape Verde Islands, as Sandy knew it would.  His plan was to gain speed once beyond the islands and attack before they reached the 30th meridian; but as he neared that point of longitude, he spied something that altered his plan.                

The signs were all around him, but visible only to someone who, like him, had years of experience sailing the tropics.  He and his target ship had entered a nursery.  A storm was forming from what at first seemed to be little more than a squall.  The turbulence could easily have dissipated over the course of the next several hours, but Sandy knew it wouldn't.  Instead, it would grow in intensity, surrounding both ships in the afterbirth of an early season storm.  The only question in Sandy's mind was how strong it would become and how rapidly it would intensify.

He alerted his crew to what was happening, telling them to take note of any shift in the wind pattern and adjust the rigging to accommodate it.  Then he pressed them to gain speed on the slave ship.  In the time he had been following it, he formed an opinion that its crew, perhaps even its Captain, was inexperienced.  If so, and if the storm strengthened, they would find themselves in serious trouble trying to maneuver so large a ship through stormy seas.

The Roman Candle picked up speed in time with Sandy's increase, marking the point at which the pursued realized its pursuer was not merely another vessel following a well traveled route but a ship intent on overtaking it.  Though piracy had never been reported on the open sea, the Captain of the Roman Candle could find no other explanation for this ship he had been aware of ever since leaving Dakar.  He put half his crew on alert, leaving the other half to man the vessel - still oblivious to the far greater threat gradually surrounding him.

By the time the Queen Alice was within battle range, the wind and waves were lashing the hulls of both ships.  Sandy ordered his men to refrain from firing, even if fired upon, instructing them instead to give some slack to their pursuit and tend to their sails.  With half the crew on battle alert and the whole crew inexperienced, the wind began its inexorable assault upon the Roman Candle's sails long before it reach hurricane strength, so that by the time it did, the assault was virtually at an end.  Sandy could sense the inevitable outcome of the storm's assault, so he once again ordered his crew to push ahead.

When the Queen Alice closed in, Sandy had his men throw a rope to the deck of the Roman Candle.  They took the rope, steadied it, and Sandy crossed it, hand over hand, dangling above the churning sea, until reaching their deck, a dozen rifles trained on him the whole time.  He approached the Captain of the Roman Candle.

"I only closed in when I saw you were in trouble," he told the Captain.  "If you had let me on board then, I could have saved your ship.  Now, it's too late.  The storm has hold of your rigging.  You must abandon ship - you and your cargo.  I'll expect a share when you settle.  Till then, you may store your cargo with mine in the hold.  Tag yours if you wish to mark them from mine.  But I will expect a share."

Even as Sandy spoke, another sail was being ripped open by the howling wind.  Reluctantly, the Captain of the Roman Candle agreed to Sandy's terms, turning his attention away from his battle with the storm, away from his anticipated battle with Sandy's ship, and toward the task of transferring his crew and his cargo to the Queen Alice.

Several schemes were discussed - lowering lifeboats, making ladders of rope, even attempting to swim across; but finally the two Captains settled on the riskiest: bringing the two boats together and holding them in tandem while the transfer was made.  Sandy crossed back over to his ship, instructed his crew to hold the Queen Alice steady no matter what, then returned to the Roman Candle to begin maneuvering it alongside his ship.  As Sandy instructed the crew of the Roman Candle how to position what remained of their rigging, the slaves were brought on deck.  All the while, the storm kept growing in strength.  Sandy knew they could not keep the two ships in alignment longer than a few minutes.  The instant they were as close as he dare bring them, he ordered the evacuation to begin. 

First the slaves were led across the shallow chasm separating the Roman Candle from the Queen Alice.  Then the crew followed; and, finally, the two Captains.  Sandy immediately signaled his men to release the Queen Alice and let her lurch back from the Roman Candle.  Just as she did, the Roman Candle lurched forward, as if trying to synchronize its movements to hers.  Then it spun around a half turn, its bow now pointed directly at her starboard.  Sandy knew his ship could not turn away quickly enough to avoid being rammed without jeopardizing her stability.  He knew as well that the next lurch of the Roman Candle would split his ship's hull.

In a flash, he leaped across to the Roman Candle and ran for its one remaining sail.  He managed to reposition the sail in time to catch a great gust of wind which spun the ship so violently it capsized.  He grabbed hold of the rigging long enough to gauge his position; then he released it and began swimming toward one of the lifeboats that had been wrenched from its mooring.  The boat lay upside down in the water.  When he reached it, all he could do was fling himself across it and try to float toward the Queen Alice using his hands as paddles.  He could see his ship looming larger in the water.  When he felt the upturned lifeboat touching against her, he climbed to a kneeling position, looked briefly around, then took hold of the rope his men had lowered and began climbing as the rope was being hoisted.

Once back on board, he set his plan to free the slaves in motion.  He and those of his men he could spare accompanied the Captain and crew of the Roman Candle below as they led their captives to the hold.  When the hold was opened, Sandy gave his men the signal.  Each of his men took out his gun and, in unison, trained them on the Captain and crew of the Roman Candle.  Then Sandy addressed them.

"It is your turn to travel in the ship's hold," he informed them.  "You will be released at the nearest port of call; your captives will not."

With this explanation, the crew was forced into the hold and locked there until the Queen Alice reached a place where they could safely be released.

The captives, still topside, were brought below deck once their captors were locked in the hold.  Sandy explained to them that they were his guests, not his prisoners - promising to say more once they were out of the storm.  He then returned topside to help his men battle the hurricane.

For the next six hours the Queen Alice was buffeted by hundred mile an hour winds and twenty foot waves, until the storm finally pushed away from her.  It had literally formed around the two ships, trapping them both in its southeastern quadrant.  Once the Queen Alice was free of its pull, Sandy set a course for the African continent.  Had he been farther out in the Atlantic, he would have risked going to Kingston, where he knew for certain the captives would be returned safely to Africa by the Port Authority.  But since he was only a few hundred miles from the Cape Verde Islands, he headed east, his plan to release the crew of the Roman Candle at Praia then continue on to Dakar.

"I have no accommodations other than this corridor and the upper deck," Sandy told the captives when he again spoke to them.  "As I said before, you are my guests.  This is not a slave ship but a rescue ship.  Those who took you are locked in the hold.  I don't want them to know you've been freed.  They think I've stolen their cargo and mean to sell you into slavery.  When I release you, they must not suspect you're being returned to Dakar or they may come after you.  We are only a couple days from the Cape Verde Islands, where I mean to let them go."

"Let us have them!" several of the captives insisted.

"No," replied Sandy.  "I could only save you by first saving them.  As much as you may hate them for what they did, you owe your lives to them.  Had they fought us, all of you would have perished."

"They deserve to die!" a few of the captives still insisted.

"It doesn't matter what they deserve," Sandy countered.  "What matters is that you've been rescued.  I too was once a slaver.  If I had gotten what I deserved, there would have been no one here to rescue you.  They will live, for now.  They're under my protection, the same as you."

When they reached Praia, Sandy took the crew of the Roman Candle ashore, releasing them only when his men had returned to the Queen Alice.  He warned them not to come after him.  "Your cargo is the price of your salvation," he told them.  "A fair trade, considering I could just as easily have watched you and your cargo sink beneath the sea with your ship and did nothing."

"If not to me," the Captain of the Roman Candle replied, "then you'll answer to another someday.  You don't take what belongs to another without paying for it sooner or later.  Those slaves were mine to sell - not yours!"

"They believe they're no one's to sell," Sandy reminded his fellow Captain.

"When they have the strength to back up their claim, then perhaps I'll listen!"

Sandy headed west when he sailed the Queen Alice out of Praia's harbor, skirting the southern tip of São Tiago Island, continuing past Fogo Island and Brava Island before turning north then eastward again to skirt the northern tips of these the southernmost of the Cape Verdes, clearing the last of the islands, Maio, a day after leaving Praia.  A day and a half later, the Queen Alice pulled into Dakar's harbor and docked as far from the slavers' pier as possible.  Sandy offered to accompany the captives to the Port Authority to expose what was going on right under its nose.  They looked at Sandy as if they had not heard him correctly.

"Our only concern is returning to our home," he was told.  "We can't trust the officials here.  Some - if not all - have to know what goes on.  We can't take the chance of exposing ourselves to those who would turn us over to the slavers."

Sandy thought about what they said long after they had disappeared into the crowded streets of Dakar, long after he had left the harbor to lie in wait until another fleet of slave ships appeared.  He had never considered the possibility of Dakar's officials being in collusion with the slavers.  It troubled him to think that they would turn on their own people; it made the slave trade even more abominable than it already was.  He pictured John, his first captive, who hated the white man for what he did.  He wondered what John would think if he knew his own people had a hand in his capture.  Then he shook his head resolutely and vowed to make sure John never found out.

"I will die before I let him learn his own people betrayed him!" Sandy swore before the sky and the sea and before the son of God.  "Let my tongue be cut out first!"

The years that passed so rapidly for Sandy went by slowly for John.  Each morning he awoke planning his escape anew; each night he looked out at the same forlorn patch of sky as the night before, falling asleep wondering where his plan went wrong.  He knew perfectly well where and why his plans failed: they failed because nothing any slave could try had not been tried before.  The owners of the farm where he worked and lived had anticipated any and every conceivable escape scheme, and had counter measures already in place and set to go.  No one had ever escaped from this farm, or any of the farms of the San Joaquin Valley.  Hundreds had tried; some, like John, tried again and again.  No one had ever been killed attempting to escape, because no one's attempt ever got far enough to require it; nor had anyone ever been punished for trying: workers were far too valuable to let anything hamper their productivity.  There was simply no way out.  Everyone brought to the San Joaquin Valley to work the fields would work till they could no longer work.  No one had yet reached that stage of their life; California had only become a slave state within the past twenty years.  None of the workers had any idea what was in store for them when they became too old or too feeble to work the fields.  Nor did the owners have a strategy for that ultimate escape; they simply had not thought that far ahead.

What kept John going day in and day out despite his endless series of failures was Sandy.  Not the boy he knew, the boy who had helped capture him; but the boy's actions.  Somehow, Sandy had gotten in, that night he stood before John's bunk: somehow, he had made it past all the sentries, through all the fences, across all the open fields to the bunkhouse where John lay sleeping.  Somewhere there was a breach in the vast system of security; and John was determined to find it.  Each night, as he looked up into the patch of sky beyond the window, just before he closed his eyes, he rolled them toward the door where Sandy had crept into the bunkhouse almost ten years ago, half expecting the boy to reappear.

"John, they destroyed everything we had when they took us," his fellow workers often reminded him.  "What we do here is the same as we'd be doing there if nothing had happened.  If we were freed tomorrow and sent home, we wouldn't recognize our home - because it isn't our home anymore."

John never attempted to answer them - because the answers were not in his words but in his soul.  He couldn't tell them what it was he wanted to go home for; he would have to take them home with him to let them know.  It was in their souls too, this thing that pined for a place that had been destroyed.  They had buried it so deeply it could not speak to them any longer, in the early morning, when the mist of daylight scattered the stars as if they were handfuls of grain hurled at the heavens disappearing into furrows of sky.  But if they ever returned to their homes, this thing buried within them would unearth itself to again speak their names; and they would remember the wonder of daybreak.

What John hated most about his captivity - more even than its permanence - was the soul numbing efficiency of his captors' security.  Not only could he find no way out, he could never get far enough that they'd have to kill him to stop him from escaping.  Even death would be an escape, the final testament of his wish to be free.  He never told this to the others, because he knew they would misunderstand; they would conclude he had grown weary of life after a decade of captivity, when in truth he yearned to live, more so now than even before he was made a slave.  He longed to feel and to taste of life with a passion he had never known in his lifetime.  To die in pursuit of life was not an act of self-immolation but the highest expression of that longing.  But he kept it to himself.

He even kept it from the woman he had taken for a wife.  He had met her two years ago and asked permission of his captors to marry her.  The custom among the farming communities was to allow the slaves as much freedom within their captivity as could safely be accommodated.  There were no forced matings, no attempts to keep the men and women separate; and no children born of the unions were taken to be sold off - they were allowed to be nurtured and raised by their natural parents.

John's wife understood and accepted his need to escape.  He continued planning for it with her blessing, but his plans had become more cautious since his marriage, more carefully thought out, allowing for the passage of two instead of one.  And while the possibility of his own death was still an acceptable risk, that of his wife was not.  Because of this, his actual attempts to escape had all but come to a halt in the last two years - which was exactly what his captors knew would happen once the responsibilities of a family were upon him.

"Wait till he has his first child," the owners of the farm speculated.  "His wandering days will be gone for good."

John knew this as well as they did; and though he wanted a child, to replace the son who was left behind, too small to be taken captive when the slavers raided his village, he secretly hoped his wife was barren, or that the years had dried up his seed.  There could be no escape, ever, once he became a father.  The system they had set up in the San Joaquin Valley allowed for everything.

While John kept vigil, hoping to discover the breach in their wall of security Sandy had found ten years earlier, shipload after shipload of slaves was being freed on the high seas.  Sandy attacked and subdued five slave ships in less than a year, each attack boldly executed but devastating to his crew.  Of the twenty sailors who signed on in California his first voyage, only nine remained, the other eleven lost at sea during the raids.  The Queen Alice was forced to set a course for California, to replenish its crew.

"Your eyes are so sad anymore," Felicia told him one evening as they stood on deck watching the sky grow dark.  "Those men knew the danger, and they accepted it."

"I'm not sad for them," Sandy replied.  "Their lives are as fragile as the sea foam.  There's not a man among them who would have stepped back ashore a year ago even if he knew what was waiting for him.  It isn't for them.  Every slave I've helped free reminds me of the man I want most to set free.  I don't know if I can bear to look another captive in the eye till I've helped John escape.  When we reach California, I plan to dock the Queen Alice someplace safe and go to San Joaquin."

"Will you ask your father to help you?" Felicia asked.

"Yes," Sandy answered without hesitation.  "He knows the land as I know the sea.  I can find my way to John, through all the barriers.  But I don't know if I can lead him back out.  My father can though, if anyone can."

The seas that carried the Queen Alice back to California were as calm as any Sandy had ever traveled.  He and the remainder of his crew hated every minute of the voyage.  No one spoke of it, but each time Sandy passed any of his sailors, the furtive glances they exchanged cried out the same half crazed anguish.  In their hearts, they longed for the fierce winds, driving rains and churning waves that had nearly sent them to their graves a hundred times over the course of their careers.  Sailing a calm sea, to them, was like trying to walk in leg irons, or breathe in a steam bath.  They would sooner have seen their ship wrecked and carried to the bottom of the sea or felt themselves ripped limb from limb by the fiercest typhoon of all time than glide effortlessly through an endless expanse of bathwater which gave way like cotton before the hull of the Queen Alice.  Each day was a torment to them; they could almost sense their ship's torment as well.  They had never once prayed to be released from any storm's grip; but now found themselves praying day and night for this journey to end.

Even Felicia felt it.  She had not sought the sea for adventure, as the others had; she had come to it simply to escape the land - and would just as willingly have soared through the air for the rest of her life if that had been the only avenue of escape.  She neither loved nor hated the sea.  Not even the most powerful storms frightened her the way the land did.  She could not imagine the sea opening to swallow her whole the way the land had tried to; when she stood on the deck of her ship, she felt solid ground beneath her, ground that would not give way, even in the midst of twenty foot waves and hundred mile an hour winds.  She felt safe - until now.  The sea, in growing quiet, suddenly seemed almost like the land.  She still felt safer than if she were standing on bedrock; but no longer absolutely safe, the way she felt even at the end of the world, where the sea was trying to suck the Queen Alice beneath the South Pole.  She, too, hated the calm, tranquil water carrying her westward to California.  Like everyone else on board, if for a different reason, she longed for a storm to cast itself about the bow of her ship - or at least for pirates to attack from out of nowhere.  But there was no storm, and no pirates; the journey was picture perfect.                                

Finally, on a Sunday, the 8th of June in the year 2098, the Queen Alice dropped anchor beside Tehachapi Pass.  Sandy lowered a lifeboat and rowed ashore, leaving his wife and crew on board till he returned, hopefully with his father.  Even before he started out, he had the feeling that something was wrong.  When he arrived and ascended the promontory, no one was there to greet him; nor did he feel anyone's eyes watching as he moved through the thick forest toward Lumumba's camp.  When he arrived, the sight that greeted him verified his feeling of doom.  Before him, then all around him as he walked slowly through it, was the burned out remains of Lumumba's camp.  As he made his way through the camp, he began to see the charred remains of human bodies buried within the rubble.  The bodies were impossible to identify, so he resisted the impulse to scavenge through the rubble for some sign of his father.  He knew that if his father were here, among the dead, he would never know it.

He brought out his statue of Corcovado and waved it back and forth over the burned out camp, invoking the son of God to accept the souls of all those who died here.  He vowed to visit Mecca, where the head of God lay in state on an altar, once he had freed John.  Then he asked the son of God to help him find his way back out once he had gotten inside the farm where John worked.

"If you only have time to save one of us," he prayed, "let it be John.  I made him a slave; it's right that my death should free him.  Amen."

Sandy returned to his ship to report his findings.  Within the hour, he pulled anchor and set sail for the big island.  Everyone asked if he knew what had happened, but he had no explanation for the camp's complete destruction.  Nor did he have any idea if anyone had escaped.

"Was there any sign of your father?" Felicia asked him.

"None," he answered.  "All the bodies were as one.  No man alive would be able to say which were black, which were white.  We have to burn ourselves up to see each other as God sees us."

"Shouldn't we try to find out what happened?" Felicia suggested.  "Some of us could go to Bakersfield."

"No," Sandy concluded.  "If we learn some day, then we'll know.  If not, then we won't.  It doesn't change what we're here for, or what we have to do."

When they arrived at the big island, Sandy steered the Queen Alice to a small, private pier along an inlet of the Monterey Bay.  It was a pier the yachtsman had told him of when he learned Sandy had sailed out of Monterey; the yachtsman had been a member of the club that owned the pier - as he was a member of private clubs with docking facilities all over the world.  Sandy docked the Queen Alice and presented both his registry of her and the letters he obtained, first at Kingston then at Port Au Prince, authenticating his inheritance of the Wainwright fortune.  He told his men that he would remain in port one month, then he would set sail no later than 10 A.M., July 9th.  He gave his men enough money to keep them till he sailed.  Then he turned to Felicia.

"What about you?" he asked.

"You'll need a base of operations while you're planning your raid," Felicia answered.  "I'll stay there."

Together, they worked their way southeastward through Monterey and San Benito into Fresno County, the southern boundary of the big island.  At the southernmost tip of the island stood the city of Coalinga, which had split in two when California broke apart, half of it stolen by one of the smaller islands, the other half remaining on the big island.  Almost every building in town had either crumbled completely or been rendered uninhabitable.  Still perched on the edge of the island, Coalinga had never been rebuilt.  Sandy decided to set up camp there, at the western fringe of the San Joaquin Valley, ten miles west of Interstate 5 and twenty miles from Cantua Creek, the closest town to the farm where John worked.

Sandy had been through Coalinga before, when, still a boy, he visited John.  He had explored its ruins then, so he knew which buildings had remained structurally sound and which were in danger of collapsing.  He led Felicia to San Simeon Lane, at the northeastern end of town, where a house he remembered staying in before and after visiting John still stood.  They had no more than settled in when they heard a noise along the street.  At first Felicia thought it was the ground giving way, but Sandy kept her from bolting.  He knew it was man, not nature, making the noise.  He went to the window and looked out.  As he did, he saw someone point toward the house.  He knew from the angle of his view that he had not been seen at the window; but he likewise knew that his presence had been somehow detected. 

A group of men raced toward the house.  Sandy readied his weapon.  Then, glancing again from the window, he threw down his gun, opened the door and stepped onto the porch.

Seven black men ascended the front steps to the porch.  They stopped in their tracks the instant they recognized Sandy.  One of the men approached.  "You can't have recognized us," he said.

"I didn't," Sandy replied.  "But you're black."

"That doesn't mean we couldn't have killed you!"

"No," Sandy agreed.  "But it means being white was my only crime in your eyes.  Hate is easier to deal with than the law.  You're Lumumba's rebels," Sandy finally realized.

"What's left of us," the men noted.

"I saw your camp," Sandy acknowledged.  "Is my father, Joey, among the dead?" he asked.

"Yes," the man answered.  He studied the anguish in Sandy's face a moment before speaking again.  "I'm sorry," he said as he reached to lay his hand on Sandy's shoulder.

"It isn't your doing," Sandy reminded him.

Again the man said "Yes."  He paused to study Sandy's face again.  "It is my doing," he elaborated.  "Entirely my doing.  I'm sorry for having to mislead you.  I didn't lie: your father is among the dead.  Not his body, but his soul.  I needed the pain in your eyes to help bring him out of our camp - our graveyard.  There's nothing you could say to him to give him what I can give him by showing him what I saw in your eyes.  His death would have killed something in you - which even you wouldn't have known till the end of your life.  But I saw it die.  Now it can live again.  And he can return to the living."

"My father didn't want to leave," Sandy observed.

"We had to kidnap him to save him," the man explained.  "He refused to abandon those we could not save, those we had to leave inside their burning houses.  He believed he was guilty simply by being the same color as those who raided our camp.  I wanted to spit in his eye that he should think himself one of them.  Instead, I roped him and dragged him to safety.  The moment we were under cover of the forest, I let him loose; I knew he would never jeopardize the rest of us by running back to our brothers and sisters left burning in the fire.  I honor your father's courage; but, like all white men, his ideas are crazy.  He places greater value in principles than he does in life itself.  It's no mystery to me that white men can so easily justify enslaving a whole race of people.  To them, ideas come before anything else."

"Where is he now?" Sandy asked.

"He's obsessed with finding this slave you told him about," the man answered.

"John," said Sandy.

"From the moment we escaped, all he talked about was finding him.  Most of those who survived stayed on our island, to try and regain what we lost in the raid.  A few of us followed Joey to this island.  We found this place, and made it our home until Joey's quest comes to an end.  Is that why you're here: to help rescue John?" the man asked.

"Yes," Sandy told him.

As anxious as he was to begin putting his plan together, Sandy resolved to wait at Coalinga until Joey returned.  Two days had passed since he and Felicia arrived, and still there was no sign of his father.  On the third day, he decided he could wait no longer.  He set out for Cantua Creek, letting the rebels know where he was headed and asking them to tell Joey when he returned.

He had barely reached Coalinga's outer limits when he spotted a figure approaching from the northeast along State Route 33.  Though the figure was still too far to see clearly, he knew it was his father.  And though it made more sense to remain where he was until the figure reached him, since they would need to return to town before starting out, he ran ahead to meet his father.  When they were eye to eye, and preparing to greet other, Sandy reached out and hugged his father, burying his face against Joey's chest.

For the first time in his life, Joey realized that what mattered to him was as important as what mattered to others.  He embraced his son, clinging to him in a desperation born of what he had almost abandoned a second time for the sake of others.

"I would have sacrificed myself, never knowing how much my love matters to you," he told Sandy.

They slowly released each other and started back.  Joey turned to his son as they walked, aware all at once that what brought Sandy here was not his father but his friend.

"We'll free John," Joey assured his son.  "Now that you're here I can stop looking for him.  Do you have a plan for getting him out yet?"

"No," said Sandy.  "Only a plan for getting in to him.  I need you to show us the way out."

"The Movement taught me well," Joey acknowledged.  "Though even they avoided the San Joaquin Valley.  Success mattered more to them than the people they were helping.  And success was measured by the number of slaves they freed."

"How did the raid on Lumumba's camp happen?" Sandy asked.

"The authorities on the big island finally listened to the farmers," Joey explained.  "There was no warning.  They swooped down on us all at once.  I panicked.  I couldn't bear the thought of still more people I cared about dying around me.  I started back to the burning houses.  Lumumba's successor dragged me to safety.  I can still hear the screams of those who were trapped.   It was only when I saw you today that I understood how wrong it would have been to give my life just because I couldn't save the others."

"After we rescue John," Sandy told his father, "we have to visit Mecca, to see the head of God.  Then all our questions will be answered."

For the next two weeks Sandy and Joey cased the farm where John worked.  It wasn't one of the largest farms in the San Joaquin Valley, but it was one of the most heavily fortified.  In the time Joey had spent looking for it before his son arrived, he had come to understand why the Movement avoided this Valley, concentrating their efforts almost entirely within the Sacramento Valley.  The farms of San Joaquin were generally much smaller than those of the Sacramento, and much easier to defend, a far greater proportion of their acreage given over to surveillance.  Two guards could do at San Joaquin what it would have taken at least ten to accomplish at Sacramento.  And, conversely, it would have taken a much larger force to penetrate the defenses here than at the farms farther to the north.

"I'm not sure I can adapt any of the strategies I learned at Sacramento," Joey admitted.  "Everything we did depended on gaps in security, and changing the guards at regular intervals.  These farms have no routine.  Everything's organized to minimize the threat of escape.  Unless..." Joey paused a moment to let an idea finish forming before expressing it.

"We could play one farm against another," he continued.  "Tell the guards there's been an escape in the Valley.  That someone's been attacking the farms.  They'll be watching what's happening outside and less vigilant about what's inside.  The problem then becomes, not getting out, but getting away once we're out.  You got out, the night you visited John."

Sandy acknowledged that he had, but reminded Joey that not everyone was raised by a mountain lion. "But if the guards are distracted," he said, "then the way in can be our way out.  And I know I can get us in.  It's our best hope of freeing John."                                    

Sandy planted weapons along an old irrigation ditch that had dried up when the river that fed it changed course.  This was the same way he had gotten in ten years ago, and gotten back out again without being detected, even though the ditch ran directly beneath one of the guard towers.  But he was a boy then and moved like a cat through the darkness.  Even so, he would not have been able to rescue John, had he wanted to, the stretch of open ground between the bunkhouse and the ditch too exposed, the ditch itself too shallow and narrow to provide cover for two bodies.  If the guards were focused away from the bunkhouse, though, there was a chance of getting two, even three men far enough along to take out the sentry and make their escape.

The plan was set for the following day just before dusk.  Since the greatest difficulty would now be getting inside the farm, it was decided for Joey to work his way along the ditch before Sandy delivered the bogus message to the guards.  Then, once the guards were alerted, and Sandy had retreated, ostensibly to deliver his message to the next farm, he would back track to move under cover of twilight through the ditch to where Joey and the weapons were stationed.

"You should take two of us with you," the rebel leader offered.  "We hide easily in the dark."

"Even the two of us is almost too risky," Sandy explained as he shook his head.  "But there's got to be a backup to stand guard or I'd go alone.  I'm sorry.  It has to be our plan - and it has to be me who frees John."

The rebels accepted Sandy's decision.  Only Felicia had reservations about the rescue.  "Be careful of the land," she cautioned.  "It's treacherous.  I wish there were a river running through the farm.  Then I'd know you plan will succeed."

"It will succeed," Sandy promised.  "Remember: my father'll be there - and he knows the land."

Felicia shook her head.  "Only Henry knew the land.  And Alice - your queen.  No one else."

"And John: he knows the land!" Sandy added.

Again Felicia shook her head.  "Not this land.  It's held him captive too long.  No one held captive ever comes to know the land of their captivity."

"We will free John - I swear it!" Sandy assured his wife.

"Yes," Felicia finally agreed.  "I know you'll free him.  Cherish every second of his freedom.  It comes at a high price."

At the appointed hour, Joey made for the old irrigation ditch and, as his son diverted the sentry with his message, crawled along the ditch, under the guard tower and up to where the weapons were stored.  Sandy made sure the sentry was turned away from the ditch before delivering the news he was carrying.

"There's been an escape!" he excitedly cried out to the guard while he was still running toward the tower.  "Two farms at the northern end of the Valley - at Dos Palos and Firebaugh - were raided this morning!  All the slaves were set free!  They think it was the Movement!"

"They've never come here," the guard expressed skepticism.  "Why all of a sudden?" he asked.

"I'm just telling you what I was told," Sandy answered.

"Why you just now getting here?" the guard asked.

"No one knew till later on," Sandy explained.  "Not till the relief sentries came on duty.  Then they found all the guards with their throats slit.  And all the slaves gone."

"Who told you all this?"

"I can't waste no more time here, mister!" Sandy insisted.  "I still got other farms to warn!  Just keep your eyes open - that's all the more I got time to say!"

With this, Sandy hurried off, in the direction of the next farm.  When he was out of sight, he doubled back and waited until the last sheaves of light drained from the western horizon.  Then he followed his father's trail through the ditch and under the guard tower.  When he reached the place where his father was waiting, he distributed the guns and knives.  Together, Sandy and Joey crawled the rest of the way through the ditch and, under cover of darkness and diversion, glided across the open field to the bunkhouse.

Sandy crept up behind the sentry posted outside the bunkhouse door and knocked him unconscious with the butt of his gun.  He took out his knife to finish the guard off, but Joey stopped him.

"He'll be out long enough," Joey told his son.  "Don't put any more blood on your hands than you have to."

They entered the bunkhouse.  The first person either of them saw was John.  He had gotten up from his bed when he sensed activity outside the door.  He stood, naked, staring into Sandy's eyes, which were just barely visible in the dim light of a single lantern.  Sandy walked to him and told him to get dressed, but he refused.

"We're here to free you!" Sandy explained.

"Not in my slave clothes," John answered.

"Then we'll take the guard's clothes!" Joey suggested.

"Nor in my captor's clothes," John dismissed the suggestion.

Sandy shrugged and started for the door, but John blocked his way.  "My wife comes with his," he said, then went over to his bunk to take the woman who had been lying beside him by the hand.  She took a moment to get dressed.

"And all my brothers and sisters," John delivered his final ultimatum.

"You can't all go," Sandy warned him.  "Otherwise no one will make it."

The others appealed to John to take his wife and go before it was too late.  He, in turn, appealed to them to join him in freedom.  A few - but only a few - accepted his offer.

When the door opened a second time, twelve figures stole from the bunkhouse out into the night.  The twelve silhouettes crossed the field to the old irrigation ditch, Sandy leading the way, Joey trailing behind everyone.  Once inside the ditch, they all crouched down and began crawling along its dried up bed, pausing beneath the guard tower as Sandy attempted to gauge the guards' positions.  The guards were all turned toward the north, toward the direction Sandy indicated the attacks had taken place.  Sandy readied to resume his progress through the ditch when a variation of his plan suddenly occurred to him.  He managed to shift his position enough to signal the others, by way of the man directly behind him, to remain where they were until he gave them the sign to continue.  He resumed crawling until he was beyond the guard tower and out of view.  He climbed out of the ditch and ran a few hundred feet due north before stopping and firing several rounds from each of the guns he carried, finally doubling back to the irrigation ditch.

Soundlessly, he moved back through the ditch to where the others awaited, taking note of the increased vigilance among the guards.  Satisfied that their full attention was riveted to the direction of the gunfire, he motioned for the others to follow as he crawled past the guard tower to the point where he had left the ditch to continue upright.  One by one, the others climbed out of the ditch and assembled beside Sandy.  When the last man - Joey - had emerged, the twelve began running away from the farm, toward the southwest.  Stopping for a rest before crossing Interstate 5 - the halfway mark - Sandy promised to return John, his wife and the others to their homes in Africa.

"Our homes are gone," John reminded his rescuer.

"The land is your home," Sandy, in turn, reminded John.

"The land is no one's home," said John.  "Only the little piece we stole from the land - and you stole from us.  I don't hold that against you, because all you did was return it to its rightful owner.  And soon you'll return me to my rightful owner."

The air was growing cold, but still John refused everyone's offer to share their clothing with him.  When they finally reached Coalinga, twenty miles from the farm at Cantua Creek, John was shivering in the damp night air of the coastline.  He and his wife were shown to a spare bedroom in the house Sandy and Felicia shared.  John at first refused to get into bed, saying he would rather sleep outside on the ground than under a slave owner's covers.

"Whoever lived here owned no slaves," Joey assured John.  "This town was abandoned when California split from the continent and drifted out to sea - long before the first slave set foot on this island."

John accepted Joey's explanation; he and his wife bedded down for the night in the house on San Simeon Lane.  Only then did he stop shivering and fall asleep.

In the morning, clothes were found for John that he was willing to wear.  When he rejoined the others, he stared contemptuously at the rebels.  They had exchanged clothes with the eight freed slaves.

"Why would you put on slaves' clothes?" he demanded to know.  "You found clothes for me, surely you could have found clothes for these others without having to trade yours for theirs!"

The rebel leader smiled ironically at John's question.  "We freed every slave on our island," he said.  "We abandoned our slave clothes, just as you have.  But we let our guard down, thinking we had finally won our freedom.  When they attacked our camp, we were not able to resist.  Most of our people were killed.  Those of us who escaped came to the big island to try and reorganize.  We didn't come here looking for slaves' clothes to put on; but now that they've come to us, we'll wear them - and scavenge until we find enough for all of us.  What you cast off as unworthy, we'll wear as our badge of honor - as our reminder that none of us are free so long as one of our brothers remains a slave anyplace on earth."

John acknowledged the logic of the rebels' argument, but remained adamant about not wearing the uniform of subservience.  "Whether you intend it or not," he told the rebel leader, "you pay homage to those who imagine themselves our masters whenever you wear the clothes they fashioned to mark our subservience to them.  These clothes are not a badge but a stigma."

"In a just and honorable world," the rebel replied, "what you say would be true.  But it has no meaning in a world where some take the lives of others for their own personal use."

"No man can change the world he lives in," John observed.  "All he can change is how he lives in it.  I choose to live as if the world were just, even if that means looking like a beggar in a stolen prince's outfit.  I can't bother with who others perceive me to be, only with who I know myself to be."

Sandy searched the coastline around Coalinga for a place to anchor his ship.  When he found a cove, a couple miles west of town, suitable for docking, he presented John and the others he helped with an alternative.  They could attempt the journey overland to where he had left the Queen Alice; or they could wait here, with the rebels at Coalinga, until he returned with his ship.  Either way, their departure would be delayed until the time set for his crew's return to duty.

"We'll remain here," John answered for all of them.  "I'd like to leave this island through the same port I came in," he admitted; "but the lives of my wife and brothers are too important to risk on a whim."

The next morning, early, Sandy and Joey set off for the Monterey Bay.  Felicia remained behind with the rebels and the freed slaves.  John's wife asked her why she would choose to stay with strangers rather than accompany her husband.

"I've always been afraid of the land," Felicia explained.  "Now that I've lived so long on the sea, I'm more frightened of it than ever."

"But you're no safer here than on the road to Monterey," John's wife pointed out.  "This town could slide into the sea if the ground shook even a little."

"There'd be something left to float on till Sandy returned," Felicia assured John's wife.  "There's always something in the sea to keep you from being swallowed up."

"Most people would say it's the other way around: that the land always gives you a second chance, not the sea."

"Then where are they?" Felicia asked.  "All those who believed the land would save them at the last minute?  Where have they all gone?  Why must you go for miles on end before seeing another human face if the land they walked on protected them?  I traveled hundreds of miles overland without seeing any living thing but the ones I traveled with.  Maybe your home is different, but mine swallowed everyone alive, or else spewed poison over them where they stood.  If you can read the winds and the currents, you can travel the sea forever.  But no one can read the signs the land gives out, because they mean something different every day.  The waves always tell the same story.  The rumbles in the ground re-write their history daily; they reinvent their own mechanics every time they display them.  Let everyone else think their feet rests on solid ground; I know better."                    

The journey back to Monterey Bay was a leisurely jaunt through a scenic park for Sandy; a perilous trek through a treacherous wilderness for Joey.  Sandy, the pirate, who sailed the oceans in search of slave ships to prey upon, was merely a rich tourist on vacation the moment he stepped ashore; Joey, the rebel, had a bounty on his head, and had been marked for death by those who, like him, struggled to free the slaves.  The open country, between Coalinga and King City, afforded Joey his only respite from the danger that lurked throughout the big island.  From King City northward, along US 101, sparsely populated as it was compared to the rest of the island, every step taken could be Joey's last, every bend in the road could spring a trap door, every human face encountered could mask a bounty hunter.  Yet Joey proceeded, alongside his son, as if this were nothing more than a walk through the woods.  He had already warned Sandy what being in his company meant; he had even suggested they split up so as not to be seen together.  Sandy took out his statue of Christ and held it up a moment, pointing the way to the Queen Alice; then he assured his father that nothing would happen to either of them.

At Soledad, at Gonzales, and, again, outside Salinas, Sandy's assurance was put to the test.  In all those places, Joey was recognized - by a private citizen at Soledad, who rushed to inform the sheriff who he'd seen; by a state trooper at Gonzales, who went for back-up and lost his prey; and by a bounty hunter at Salinas, who caught sight of Joey from a distance and began tracking he and Sandy as they moved westward to the marina where the Queen Alice was docked.

The bounty hunter kept his distance, kept out of sight, kept his prey squarely in his field of vision the entire way to the marina.  He did everything his years of experience and his instinct for hunting had taught him.  No one he set his sights on ever suspected he was being followed - no one had ever given him the slip.  Yet he sensed something different this time, something he couldn't quite put his finger on, but something that would make this catch the most difficult one of his career.  And he knew it was the young man accompanying his prey that prompted this feeling.  Then it occurred to him where he had experienced this before: as a boy, his father took him hunting in the Sierras, where they tracked a mountain lion for days before it suddenly turned and sprang on them and tore his father's throat open then came after him.  He calmly pointed his rifle and killed the lion.

Sandy knew from the moment the bounty hunter spotted his father that they were being followed.  But he said nothing.  He waited, and listened, all the while leading his pursuer deeper into the trap he was forging in his mind as they went.  He could easily have given this bounty hunter the slip; but something kept him from it, something that made him want to attack and destroy his pursuer completely, something outside any possible reason for the pursuit.

As they followed the shoreline of Monterey Bay around to the marina, an image was trying to form in Sandy's mind, rising up before him only when the Queen Alice suddenly appeared through a thick morning mist like some great mythical creature preparing to take flight.  The single word "murderer" spilled silently from Sandy's lips as the door to his trap sprang open.  A second later he disappeared into the fog, leaving Joey standing alone beside the Queen Alice.  That was when the bounty hunter made his move.

Joey was wanted dead or alive; but the reward doubled for anyone who could bring him in alive to stand trial.  The bounty hunter moved soundlessly along the dock until he came to within a few feet of Joey.  Then he lunged the remaining distance between he and his prey, the barrel of his cocked gun coming to rest against the back of Joey's neck.

"Move a muscle and you're dead!" the bounty hunter warned.  "I'm taking you in.  Where's your friend?" he demanded to know.

"He's done his job - he got me here," Joey replied.  "That's all he was paid to do.  He's moved on."

"And now we're moving on," the bounty hunter informed Joey as he looked around for some sign of the other man he had been stalking.  "Just so there'll be no misunderstanding, I collect my reward whether you're alive or dead.  I get more if you're alive - otherwise I'd already be dragging your corpse through the streets in a shroud.  If you try anything, I'll make do with a smaller reward.  Now move it!"

The moment they stepped from the mist into the full light of day, the bounty hunter was hit from behind with a crashing blow that sent him sprawling onto the dock and his gun flying from his hand.  Before he could react, Sandy grabbed a tuft of his hair and, lifting his head high, slit his throat with a strike so savage that his head bobbed in Sandy's hand a moment before being released to slump back down onto the ground.

When Sandy stood up, Joey looked at him as if seeing him for the first time.  "You had no right to do that," he told his son.

"He's a murderer," was all Sandy said in his own defense.

"It isn't for you or me to judge him," Joey replied.

"He's already been judged.  All I did was carry out the sentence," Sandy informed his father.  Then he took out his statue of Corcovado and kissed it.

A cold chill ran down Joey's back as he watched his son return the statue to his pocket.  You have sentenced someone very dear to you to die, Joey thought to himself as he and Sandy stepped back into the fog.

A few days later, Sandy's crew returned from shore leave.  He had already signed on replacements for those lost at sea.  When the Queen Alice raised anchor on Wednesday, July 9, 2098, she sailed once again with a full crew.  A day later, she dropped anchor along the coastline of Coalinga.

Before he even reached the small cove he had found a month earlier, Sandy could tell something was wrong.  He summoned his crew the moment his ship was secured.  He gave them the option of remaining on board or accompanying he and Joey to Coalinga.

"You signed on as much to fight as to sail," he reminded them.  "I didn't foresee you fighting on land - but you may, if you go with us."

To a man, the crew accepted their Captain's challenge.  Fifteen minutes after dropping anchor, everyone abandoned ship and started overland to Coalinga, covering the half dozen miles in less than an hour.  The sailors were aghast at what they saw when they arrived and started through the city; but Sandy prodded them on, letting Joey alone fall behind to make the pronouncements of death.

On almost every street corner hung a body.  Some were hanging by their necks from street lamps, others nailed to the sides of buildings.  Some had been skinned, some burned, some bodies left intact.  Joey stopped at each body, taking time to feel the pulse even of those barely recognizable as human.

Sandy, no longer aware of his crew, hurried past one after another body, until coming to a standstill beside an old wooden church in the center of town.  He lifted his head and cried out, as if wailing.  He walked the rest of the way to the church wall.  He leaned over and licked the still moist blood.

Impaled to the wall with a stake through his chest was John.  Sandy reached up to pull the stake out; but a faint voice said "Leave it."  Sandy looked up into John's half closed eyes, which beckoned him still closer.

"If not for me you'd still be alive," Sandy confessed as he drew near.

John kissed Sandy's forehead, so faintly the pressure was barely more than a sigh.  "That's for risking your life to free me," he whispered.  Then he spat in Sandy's eye.  "That's for thinking I'd rather live as a slave than die as a free man."  A moment later John's eyes shut for good and Sandy completed the task of freeing his body from the wall.

There was no sign of either Felicia or John's wife.  Everyone assumed they had been carried off by whoever did this.  Sandy was asked by his crew if they should go after the women now or bury the dead first.  Before he could answer, Joey drew his attention southeastward, where two figures loomed on the horizon.

As these figures approached, their identities slowly evolved from indistinct blurs against the endless backdrop of sea and sky to fully realized human forms.  Sandy took off running in their direction, as much to halt their advances as to greet them.  When he reached them, he grabbed Felicia and held her in his arms a moment.  Then he released Felicia and turned to John's wife, blocking her way.

"You shouldn't see what's back there," he told her.

"I already know something terrible happened," she answered.  "When the attack began, John sent us away.  I wouldn't have gone if I hadn't been carrying his child.  Felicia found a way out of town."

"The day you left," Felicia told her husband, "I marked a path to the water, so I could escape if the land gave way.  I never thought it would be people I had to escape."

"We waited till we were sure they had gone before starting back," John's wife added.  "I know John must be dead, or he'd have come looking for us."

"I'm sorry," Sandy told her.

"Either way, his fate was sealed," she said of her husband.  "If you had never come for us, mine would have been the hand that killed him.  Every rock of the cradle would have driven him farther from his home.  I prayed I wouldn't conceive, so that John could keep his plans of escape alive.  I knew a child would bind him to the farm forever.  And, little by little, the life would seep out of him.  Other men adapted to their captivity, and even grew stronger when their children were born.  The rule here is that any child born on this island, no matter what his color or who his parents are, is free by right of birth.  He can choose to work the fields alongside his parents, but he'll be paid for his labor.  And if he earns enough, he can buy his parents' freedom.  But no matter how benevolent the face they put on it, it's still slavery - and John would have no part of it.  I want to see him now."

Sandy reluctantly stepped aside to let John's wife continue toward the center of town.  He and Felicia trailed a few feet behind her.  When she reached the church where John had been left hanging, and saw him lying on the ground with a hole in his chest and a spear beside him, she neither cried out nor fell to her knees.  She merely stood looking down at him then turned and walked away.

When Sandy reached John's body, he began trembling and his knees grew so weak he could barely bend down to brush away the ants that had crawled onto John's body and seemed to be headed for the wound in his chest.  When he had gotten them off, he stood up and crushed every last one of them into the ground.

By day's end, all the dead had been buried - all the rebels who had escaped with Joey from Tehachapi Pass and all the slaves who had been freed from the San Joaquin Valley.  Sandy would have given anything to be able to take John back to Africa for burial; but he had no way to preserve the body, and couldn't bring himself to return John to his home a decomposed corpse no longer recognizable as the man he had been.  So he would spend his eternity in foreign soil - the soil of his captivity.

Sandy dug John's grave by himself, laid the body within it, covered it over again.  He then took out his statue of Christ and held it over the grave while he gave the eulogy.

"Though I hold the son of God in my hand," he said, as if speaking directly to John, "I will not pray over you in his name.  He will pray for you in his own way.  I will only ask your Gods, though they're half a world away, to watch over you and avenge your death, and at the end of time, just before the world ends, to carry you back with them to your home one last time.  I brought you here, but I cannot take you back.  Only your Gods can do that."

He assumed, in John's prayers, there would be no "Amen," so he ended his eulogy simply by speaking no more.  He stood a moment longer with his head bowed before quitting the burial mound.  John's wife had come to watch the burial ceremony, keeping her distance till it was over.

"You look down, as if expecting him to still be there," she observed.  "But he isn't - not anymore.  Neither is he up, or sideways, or anyplace else marked by a direction."

"Do you expect ever to see him again?" Sandy asked.

"No, I don't," John's wife answered.  "But some part of me will experience some part of him some day.  Only they won't know they're parts of who we once were.  Life keeps moving past you over and over, but it will never draw everything that was you into its flow again; only pieces of you, to be combined with pieces of other things.  Do you expect to see him?"

Sandy thought a moment.  "My father says God will raise all of us from the dead at the end of time," he answered.  "Then we'll see everyone we knew.  He said that's the meaning of the son of God - that he came into the world to raise us from the dead.  I believe in the son of God; but I don't know if that's why he came into our world.  I think maybe it was to show God how hard it is for us to do good.  I wish I could be buried here, near your husband, when I die, but I know I won't."

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure," Sandy admitted.  "But I know I can't be buried here."        

The Queen Alice set sail for the smallest, southernmost island in the archipelago on Saturday, July 12, 2098.  On board were two passengers: John's wife, bound for Africa with her unborn child; and Joey, bound for Mecca.  Sandy kept his ship close to the coastline as he worked his way down the chain of islands so that he and Joey could see Tehachapi Pass one last time.

"You lost far more than me on the big island, I know," Sandy said as the two of them stood on deck looking up at Tehachapi.  "I lost one man, who I saw three times in the past ten years.  You lost those you lived with every day since the last time we met.  But it wasn't your sin that brought them before their executioners.  I need to see this God as much as I want you to see Him.  Not to ask forgiveness: it isn't His to forgive, only John can do that.  But to try and understand why I thought it would be an adventure for John to be carried across two oceans to a new home."

"You were a boy then," Joey reminded his son.  "Everything's an adventure to a boy - even a man being taken from his home in chains.  I don't think God can add anything more to it than that."

Two days after leaving the big island, Sandy finally sighted a small island in the eastern Pacific, hundreds of miles from any other landfall.  The prominence cutting through the horizon that signaled the island's presence was its only mountains, the Santa Rosa.  He sailed the Queen Alice along the island's eastern coast into a small harbor, at Coachella, ten miles north of Mecca.  He and Joey lowered a lifeboat and rowed ashore, promising the crew they would return within two days, neither of them knowing what to expect from the island's inhabitants.

They each carried a knife and a handgun - not so much because they expected trouble as simply from habit.  Weapons were a way of life in the California archipelago; carrying them wherever one went was second nature.  Almost from the moment they stepped ashore, though, they realized their weapons were not only unnecessary but out of place entirely.

The shoreline was packed with onlookers anxious to greet the new arrivals.  Sandy and Joey were welcomed by everyone.  Even the mayor of Coachella and the governor of the island came to pay their respects, inviting the visitors to be their personal guests for as long as they chose to stay.

"You'll want a guide to take you to Mecca," the governor stated matter-of-factly, adding that although the island was small, and mostly barren, it was still possible to get lost, even to encounter danger.

"Mostly it's the snakes and lizards - some are poisonous," the mayor of Coachella added.

"We'd be honored if you'd dine with the council," both officials proclaimed.

"We weren't sure what kind of welcome we'd receive," Joey admitted.

"Other parts of California aren't so hospitable," Sandy added.

"We kind of seceded from the rest of the state when they adopted slavery," the governor explained.  "Being so far off the beaten path, we could pretty easily do that."

"Half our population's Hispanic," the mayor informed his guests.  "We felt it would be an insult to them to go along with the idea of slavery."

"Are Hispanics being used as slaves too?" Sandy asked.

"Not in California," said the mayor.  "But, we're told, in the Orient they are.  Some sailors who've been to China told us that.  Maybe they just made it up to try and scare us.  It didn't scare us; it only made us determined never to have anything to do with the trade.  After we seceded, the tourists stopped coming to our island to see our little church at Mecca.  Doesn't look like they'll ever return; you two are the first we've seen in years."

"Used to be hundreds - thousands - every year," the governor added.  "All making their pilgrimage to Mecca - I guess just like the Muslims made theirs to the other Mecca.  But no more, not since we refused to be part of the slave trade."

"Some day I'd like you to be my guest," Sandy told the officials.  "You and whoever else would like to be.  I'd like to take you on a pilgrimage - to Kingston, on the island of Jamaica.  You'd like it there.  It's a place you should see - and anyone else who's turned their backs on the trade."

"Maybe some day we'll take you up on that," the governor and mayor both promised.

The moment it was announced that a guide was needed to take the visitors to Mecca, a hundred men, women and children eagerly volunteered.  Joey and Sandy were asked to select one of the volunteers - a task that seemed impossible until Sandy got the idea to bring out his statue of Corcovado.  Holding it up, he asked if anyone knew who it was in his outstretched hand.  At first there was no response; then an elderly man stepped forward and kissed the image Sandy held.

"He's the son of God," the man said.  "I saw him high on a mountain top when I was a boy."  Sandy nodded.

Everyone acknowledged the fairness of letting the man who identified Christ be their guide.  The three set out almost at once, arriving three hours later at the little town of Mecca on the southeast tip of the island.  Just as Sandy had been told, the mighty Pacific rolled almost to the doorsteps of the houses and small businesses nearest the coastline.  The guide led his two traveling companions through the narrow streets to a prominence in the center of town where a small adobe church stood.

"Lots of our early visitors were disappointed when they saw our church," the guide said.  "They expected a great cathedral.  Some of us tried telling them that God feels more at home here, in our humble place of worship, than in the greatest cathedral ever built.  I don't think they believed us.  I'll wait outside while you two pay your respects."

He held the door for Sandy and Joey then quietly closed it behind them.  The light shining through the windows seemed to focus onto a small altar at the far end of the church.  A single beam shone on a glass case sitting atop the altar.  Joey stopped cold in his tracks, as Sandy continued down the central aisle toward the altar.  Then Sandy stopped and looked around.  Without really knowing why, he retreated to the back of the church.  Slowly, Joey came forward, as if in a solemn procession.  When he reached the altar, he sank to his knees and pressed his body against the altar, as if hugging it.  He looked up into the glass case then let his head rest against the altar,  For almost an hour he huddled against the altar, then finally arose, turned and walked away, never once looking back.

As if taking his cue from his father, Sandy now came forward again, this time all the way to the altar.  He stood a moment, staring at the head in the glass case; at its stern expression; its fierce gray eyes; it tufts of grayish-blonde hair; and at its one lone ear.  Then he, too, walked away from the altar.

Outside the church, Joey turned to his son and said "You were named for him."

"I was named for a God?" Sandy asked.  "You knew him?"

"I knew him," Joey answered.  "I went to live in his house when I was a boy.  He raised me.  Then a cloud carried him from his mountaintop to this island.  But it must have severed his head along the way."

"It was a miracle," said Sandy.

Joey nodded in agreement.

"Was he as stern when he raised you as he is now?" Sandy asked.

"He was always stern," Joey answered.  "Except when he was flying his helicopter."

"What's that?"

"Like an airplane.  There are no more.  You've never seen anything flying through the sky like a huge bird."

"That was how this God Sandy traveled?"

"When he could get fuel.  That's the last piece of the equation.  Until man renews his fuel supply, he can't return to the way things were."

"But you're not sure he should, are you?" Sandy asked.

Joey thought a moment,  "He should," he concluded.  "It's where God allowed him to be."

"But God took his fuel from him," Sandy reminded his father.

"Maybe He didn't like the way man was using it.  Maybe He felt man was wasting His resources, making things for no other reason than just to keep making them.  Maybe He wanted there to be some purpose to what man makes.  There were child's toys - play houses - almost as big as the houses some people lived in.  I remember seeing one.  Maybe God felt His resources should be put to better use."

"Or maybe He was flying so high in the clouds He didn't even know what was happening down here," Sandy conjectured.

"He knew," Joey assured his son.  "God always knows what's happening down here, even if we don't."                                                        

"She carries coals to Newcastle," Stone Creek mused watching the surf rise and fall along the Pacific rim of the Mojave Desert.  His traveling companions asked what he meant.  "It's a very old expression of redundancy," he explained.  "The Desert has all the sand it'll ever need, yet now that it borders the ocean every tide brings it more.  I don't think Henry ever understood the essential folly of the earth.  It has no master plan, as he imagined.  It reacts endlessly to whatever happens just as if it were the most sensible thing that ever could have happened.  A thousand years from now they'll marvel that all this sand was carried here by the tide.  They'll conclude that at one time this whole area must have been the bed of a vast inland sea.  And speculate if perhaps it's where Atlantis sat."

"You don't much care for science, I take it," Darryl conjectured.

"Only military science - the kind you can put to the test the day after you formulate your theories," Stone Creek answered.  "The rest, you can keep in a jar, like a pickled brain."

"How will we get to California?" Brad asked.

"The real California," Stone Creek added.  'The one where Sandy's busy freeing the slaves he helped capture.  We'll have to find, or make, a boat.  That is, if we all go."

The others looked at him oddly, as if he were questioning something taken for granted.  "Don't forget," he reminded them, "we didn't all set out for California.  This is Brad's mission; the rest of us just came along for the ride.  In my book - and I'm sure in Cade's - Sandy's better off alive than dead."

"He has to die," Brad reiterated the goal of his mission.  "And it has to be at my hands.  The rest of you are free to come with me; but Stone Creek is right: it's my mission.  If I'd been more careful along the way, I wouldn't have needed rescuing.  You could have returned before coming this far."

"I didn't come to rescue you," Cade told his brother.  "I came to try and talk you out of this vendetta.  But I see it's useless.  It's no longer a question of my choosing to finish the journey or not - but whether you want someone along who's aim is to save your enemy."

"And the rest of you?" Brad asked.

"I don't like Sandy," said Darryl.  "There's something almost alien about him.  He's the only man I've ever known who frightens me."

"So he should die?" asked Cade.

"I don't know," Darryl admitted.

"For the moment," Stone creek interjected, "it's not about Sandy.  It's about the logistics of the mission.  The truth is, that's what brought me along, and kept me along.  The beauty of carrying out a plan of action.  And until we get to California, we haven't completed our mission.  The goal has always been irrelevant to me; it's getting there that matters.  If I had my way, a campaign's goal would be so elusive that there's no hope of ever realizing it; the campaign would go on till the end of time.  There's no question about my wanting to finish the journey.  The question is whether we've become a liability to Brad.  It's true we don't know what lies in wait across the sea.  But it's also true that four strangers are more conspicuous than one.  And from what Sandy told us, the society over there is very rigid and brooks no infraction of the rules.  One man - especially one determined to pursue his goal - can find a way to blend in until he sees his chance to make his move.  We can help find, or build, a boat.  But it's up to Brad whether or not we ever set sail in it."

The four travelers gradually made their way up the coast, in search of materials they could use to build a boat.  Though the geography of California had changed dramatically when half the state was wrenched from the continent, and the climate had been modified when the Pacific current, in effect, came ashore, the topography remained essentially the same.  The desert was still desert, the mountains still mountains; and if a man wished to go to the sea in ships, he first had to scale the Sierra Nevadas to find the means of realizing his dream.

They reached the southern tip of the Sierras a week after their first sight of the Pacific.  They could have crossed the hundred or so miles much sooner had they not been searching for something they could not possibly find in the Mojave Desert; or if they had not taken a detour to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in hopes of finding some kind of boat.  From China Lake, they headed southwest rather than due west, their aim to enter the Sierras as near to the coastline as possible.  It wasn't until they rounded the tip of Sequoia National Forest at the Piute Mountains and stood staring straight out onto the Pacific that they realized the Sierras now were the coastline of the continental United States.

They worked their way up the coast, following the western boundary of the Sierras.  When it became clear that the region was uninhabited and that no boats were to be found, Brad assumed they would pick a spot, set up camp and begin selecting their materials.  Yet Stone Creek pushed on, past acres and then miles of thick forest filled with every kind of tree.  Finally Brad openly questioned his grandfather's leadership.

"We're wasting valuable time continuing on like this," he said when the second full day of travel brought them no closer to their objective.  "Where are we headed?"

Stone Creek stopped and looked up at the tree line ascending the foothills of the Sierras.  "Gentlemen," he said, as if a tour guide pointing out the significance of some natural wonder, "we shall never see a poem lovely as a tree - nor a tree useful as a tool.  We're surrounded by boats - but can't get to them for want of the proper equipment.  This was timber country once.  Even if it was abandoned, there has to be some residue of that trade.  It isn't wood my eyes are peeled for but something we can use to shape the wood to our purpose.  We'll continue a ways more then we'll either have to find a pass and cross the mountains in hopes of finding the remnant of a town or else keep going until we come to a point where the original contour of the west coast resumes.  I know of no alternative."

Reluctantly, Brad agreed to continue up the coast.  As they pursued Stone Creek's goal of finding tools along the way, Darryl asked him why he spoke so often in riddles like Alice always did.

"I was educated as a boy," he explained.  "I now know for certain what I suspected then: that the only thing education's good for is whimsy.  Kid's education anyway - what the old timers in my day called 'normal school.'  College, the same.  Teach a man to defend his home, and when to attack his enemy - and you've done your job.  Teach him what Plato thought, or what Shakespeare wrote, or what ET said when he called home and you've given him grist galore for making whimsy.  Might as well get some use out of all those sleepless nights studying for finals.  Because you can't hold the fort with any of that there book learning."

Two days later they came to a small clearing that looked like a hundred other ripples in the endless line of forest covering the coast of California.  Stone Creek stopped cold, stood staring at the barely noticeable break in the woods for several minutes, then threw down his backpack and rifle.

His traveling companions turned to him with puzzled looks on their faces.  "Years of tracking," he explained.  "This is no ordinary clearing.  It's man made.  It may mean nothing, or it may hold the key to all our futures."

Stone Creek studied the clearing, inside and out, forward and back.  Then he began studying the terrain around the clearing.  "Over here!" he called to the others.  "There's been a trail here at one time," he indicated what looked to Brad and Darryl to be as overgrown as the rest of the woods.  "I'm betting there's a pass up there.  Let's try and work our way up.  This could be what we're looking for."

Slowly, painfully, they made their way up the slope through a thick tangle of underbrush and fallen tree limbs, finally coming to a clearing carved from the pinnacle of a mountain pass.  In the middle of the clearing, nestled against a stand of Ponderosa Pines, was a small cabin, weathered and battered by years of unrelenting snow, but still standing intact and inhabitable.  They had come to Donner's Pass.

"It doesn't look like a logging camp," Stone Creek observed as he and the others stood staring at the cabin.  Then they walked the rest of the way to the cabin and went in through the front door, finding the inside also weathered and in a state of disrepair, though far less so than outside.  Small, otherwise insignificant, touches throughout the cabin told of occupancy much more recent than the breakup of California.

"He was here," Cade, standing in the middle of the central room, told his companions.  "This must have been where he grew up.  And he came back.  But now he's gone again."

"Who?" asked Brad and Darryl, almost in unison.

"Of course," Stone Creek interjected before Cade could respond.  "Three thousand miles, and all we were doing was tracking him."

"Who?" Brad repeated.

"Joey," Cade and Stone Creek both answered barely a second apart, the one like an echo of the other.

"He said he was coming west," Darryl added.

"So this is the weather station," Stone Creek mused.  "This is where Joey spent half the year, the other half with us at Recluse, teaching Kirk.  The weatherman - Joey's mentor: Spears: he's the only one who ever made Paris Commune - or Kirk - flinch.  Looking into his eyes: it was something almost supernatural, like looking into God's face."

"Why?" asked Darryl.

"I've never seen anyone with such a single-minded purpose - not before or since," Stone Creek answered.  "I don't know what that purpose was - maybe nothing more than the weather.  But I do know beyond a doubt that his entire being was consumed by that one overriding passion."

"It wasn't the weather," said Cade.  "It was Joey."

"Joey was like a son to him," Stone Creek noted.

"No," Cade replied.  "Joey was like his own self, and he was like his own father.  Through himself and Joey he was reliving his own boyhood."

"You can't know that," Brad remarked.  "No one can."

"It's all around here," Cade pointed out.  "The walls, the floor, the ceiling: they're all touched by it, the cabin's filled with it."

"So where is Joey?" Darryl asked.

Stone Creek, who had been searching the room's contents while they were talking, glanced up from a table in the center of the room and quipped "Down to the sea in ships!  He built him a boat, and sailed off into the sunset.  Toward California, I'm sure."

"Something told him his son was there," Cade offered.

"And now that same something's telling his son's executioner how to get to him!" Brad exclaimed as he, too, saw the blueprint Joey had drawn: the blueprint of his boat.  "Not that we need this," he said of the blueprint.  "But the fact of its existence confirms the existence of the tools we need to build our own boat!"

The necessary tools, the same ones Joey had used a year earlier to build his boat, were neatly stored in a small shed behind the cabin.  With the tools, making modifications to Joey's blueprint and using the same stand of trees Joey had used, they built a small sailboat, minus the sails.  Brad wanted to use bed linens for sails, but Stone Creek knew they would be ripped to shreds in no time at all.  He knew also that there was no hope of securing canvas, so he proposed a compromise.

"If we can strip the bark from a tree thin enough to reinforce these linens without losing its cohesion," Stone Creek told the others, "then they might do for sails. Short of something like that, the boat'll have to be rowed to California."

"It needs at least two of us to man it, either way," Darryl insisted.  "Unless we all go, I'll go with Brad.  One of us has to."

"You're right," Stone Creek agreed; "but it's Brad's call."

"I go alone," Brad made his decision as he stood inspecting the boat.  "I leave as soon as we make the sails."

"I shouldn't have told you about my life as one of Clarence's conscripts," Darryl said to Brad under a moonlit sky before they went back inside for the night.  "That's why you have to do this alone, isn't it?  So you won't be outdone."

"Yes," Brad admitted.  "This is my mission.  And though I've never manned a boat alone in my life, I have to.  If I make it to California, I'll consider we're even.  I will have done as much for my mission as you did for yours."

"Once you set sail, I'll never see you again," Darryl realized.

"When my mission's completed, I'll return," Brad promised.  "I'll always cherish your skills as a soldier.  By the time I'm finished, though, mine will outshine yours."

"Your mission may outlive all the rest of us," Darryl reminded Brad.

"Sandy will die with my hands at his throat," Brad swore.

The bark stripped from a pine reinforced the linen perfectly.  Cade stripped it, guided by his memory of having been skinned by the renegades at Wax.  The makeshift sail was secured to the mast; Brad took a couple hours to get the feel of the ropes positioned to maneuver it.  Then he said his farewells and pushed off the Pacific coast of the United States on Monday, July 4th, 2095 at 9:35 A.M., his point of embarkation the same as Joey's fourteen months earlier.                                

Though his boat was sturdier, faster than Joey's, and his skills better, Brad's journey was longer by over a week, his course by several hundred miles.  Stone Creek saw it coming too late to warn his grandson.  He saw it in the sky far to the northwest - far from where tropical storms were born in the Eastern Pacific this time of year.  Had it been winter, it would have been a typical Pacific storm from the Gulf of Alaska headed for the coastline.  But it wasn't winter, so it was something outside its own time and place - something with the strength to form and move against the prevailing weather pattern.  Something that could only strengthen in the warm waters of the Pacific.

Brad, too, saw the steel gray mass swirling southward.  Unlike his grandfather, though, he saw it as something that would dampen the coast but leave him unaffected.  It was only when it was almost upon him that its true course became apparent to him.

The winds were shy of hurricane force, but growing stronger as they surrounded Brad's sailboat.  Instinctively, he lowered his makeshift sail, partly to protect it from wind shear but mostly to keep his boat from being blown off course.  Even so, he could feel himself being carried away from his plotted course.  He tried his best to maintain a right angle to the wind, knowing that for every mile he managed to bring his boat westward he slipped as much as a quarter mile southward.

Perpendicular to the storm's thrust, with his eyes firmly planted on the bow of his boat as if they and not his hands guided it through the water, Brad was as blind to the waves coming at him from the north as he was to the wind.  Every other wave rolled over the side of his boat, flooding the deck then disappearing over the other side; though he couldn't see the waves, he began to sense them rising up on his starboard.  As the storm intensified, and his ability to monitor its effect on the surrounding waters weakened, his instincts grew stronger until, all of a sudden, he let go of the rudder and hit the deck with a flying leap, grabbing hold of the ship's mast.  The second his hands clasped around the mast, a huge wave that had risen up unseen off the starboard struck with a force that capsized the boat, sending the rudder reeling like a spinning top.

For the next six hours the boat remained capsized as one after another wave broke over it while, beneath the upended starboard, his head barely above the water line, Brad held fast to the ship's mast until, finally, the storm began to let up and he dared loosen his hold.  His hands and arms had grown numb from their vise-like grip of the mast; he knew he could not maintain his grip much longer, so he let up just enough to keep from being torn loose by the relentless waters bobbing his boat up and down with him attached to its mast.  A couple hours later the sea had quieted down to the turbulence of a squall.

Brad slowly released his hold and, as the water carried him from under his boat, leaped onto the hull, stretching out across it.  He let himself remain motionless and effortless, his body now held to the hull by gravity, for almost an hour, until he felt his strength returning to his limbs.  Then he crawled along the hull until he found the best position for attempting to right the boat.  He had no idea how to accomplish this other than simply rocking the boat while gradually shifting his weight along the hull closer to the bottom, hoping that his body would serve as a lever for reestablishing the boat's natural posture.

He worked at this for an hour until he felt the boat starting to shift its polarity.  Then he took hold of the side and leaped to the starboard, letting the natural tendency of a body in motion to remain in motion finish righting the boat for him.  A moment later, he crawled into the boat and lay, utterly exhausted and gasping for breath, on the deck, remaining there for nearly an hour before getting back up to resume his journey.

He knew he was off course, but had no way of telling how far off, so he had no way of determining how much he needed to adjust his course.  He knew he needed to assume a northwesterly route, but had no idea how long to hold it.  He began searching through his pockets - an act whose relevance to his boat's direction lay in the object of his search.  He found what he was looking for, half fearing it had been lost at sea.  It was a key, to a padlock Cade had happened upon at Joey's cabin.  While the boat was being built, Cade, entirely on his own, using nothing but his sense of touch to guide him, had made a wooden box, something like a strongbox, which he managed to attach to one of the floorboards.  Into it, he placed Brad's supplies and a small compass he had carried cross country; then he closed the lid, sealed it with a string of braided bark, locked it with the padlock, and gave his brother the key.  Now Brad unlocked it and rummaged through his waterlogged supplies until coming to the compass, which he removed and set at once to the task of directing his movement across the ocean to California.

He made landfall Friday, July 22, 2095, on the smallest, most remote island in the archipelago.  At high noon, his boat landed on the beach at Mecca.  The townspeople, who had seen him offshore and gathered along the beachfront, ran to greet him as if they had waited half their lives for his arrival, welcoming him into their community like a long lost brother.  The mayor of Mecca stepped from amidst the throng to personally welcome the visitor.

"We are honored by your visit," the mayor announced as officially as his excitement would permit.

"Thank you," Brad acknowledged the welcome with a courteous incline of his head.  "Please don't think me ungrateful if I ask where am I."

The mayor, and most of the townspeople, chuckled at this.  "We pretty much figure you were brought here by chance rather than choice," he said good-naturedly.  "This town is called Mecca.  It was once part of Riverside County.  Now this whole island is such a small part of that county we don't ca