3 DAYS LATER. PUEBLO. 6:30 AM MOUNTAIN TIME. MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2026.

In Pueblo, the lockdown against the impending EMP had begun at 8:00 Sunday night and would continue until 2:00 this afternoon. For most people in the still-civilized parts of the Earth a lockdown was a chance to sleep in, with nothing to do but wait to hear that the EMP had fallen somewhere else before disconnecting all the protective grounds, taking the precious surviving gear out of its metal boxes, and resuming work. For a few people the lockdown meant a tense fire watch, but probably their concern was unnecessary: Pueblo went on and off the air briefly, at low power, much less than had ever been known to draw the moon gun’s fire before.

So this should have been sort of a nuclear-electronic snow day, Heather thought. Too bad Leo’s not verbal yet, so he missed the memo, and still expects his feeding on time.

Heather poked up the fire, and her little room underneath her office was cozy as she dragged her rocking chair over to the west window, perfect for watching the sunlight creep down the Wet Mountains.

She had been rocking for a few minutes, humming something silly to Leo, watching the stars fade and the sky creep from black to indigo, when the snow on the far-off mountains turned for an instant to burning silver, and the twilight-muted red, yellow, and brown bricks of Pueblo flashed in a second of full color.

Heather was already on her feet before she realized she’d heard crackling and smelled ozone. She set Leo down in his crib, grabbed the bucket, and poured sand over the glowing-red ground wire that connected her old metal filing cabinet to a water pipe. Watching to see that the wire didn’t smolder or flare, standing well back in case of a residual charge, she pulled her sweater down and picked up the wailing Leo. “Brekkers is interrupted, buddy, we gotta—”

A knock. “Ms. O’Grainne, sorry, but we’re evacuating—”

“On my way.”

She pulled on her boots, coat, and hat, put another blanket around Leo. In the stairwell, the ozone odor was strong, but without much smoke—yet, anyway.

Outside, the sun was still not quite above the horizon; the last upper edge of the crescent moon was a parenthesis enclosing the mountains. The first whispers of the east dawn wind were crisply chilly. She squeezed her tube of documents under her arm, freeing a hand to tuck Leo’s blanket.

“This is really bad news.” Ruth Odawa, her Chief of Cryptography, was standing beside her. “They’ve never targeted Pueblo before; they always just aimed at radio sources, and we were careful to stay fairly quiet. So now the moon gun knows we’re important.”

Lyndon Phat joined them. “Wow, it’s cold out here this—”

“People, listen up!” Kendall, the area’s Emergency Action Coordinator, was a stocky African-American woman who had been an MP at Fort Carson back before. “Mister Mendoza from the railroad says they’ve got a locomotive spot-welded into place on the main narrow gauge track, and they need a lot of hands on ropes and levers—”

Gunshot.

Phat said, “Down,” and guided Heather onto the hard-packed snow, her body sheltering Leo.

Two more shots. A man shouted, “Mother Earth! Mother Earth! Mother—”

Another shot.

Yells and shrieks. She clutched Leo close and stayed down, trying to look around, but seeing only hurrying feet and huddled backs.

An eternity later, Phat helped her to her feet. “Captain Kendall wants us to go to a safe house under guard,” General Phat said. “She is perturbed because I tackled the shooter.”

Heather smothered her exasperated scream into a croak. “Has it occurred to you that that was probably an assassin, and you are the most assassinatable person here, and you ran toward him?”

“I thought of that just after I took him down.”

“May I quote you on that?”

They turned and saw Cassie Cartland, the editor of the Pueblo Post-Times. Her brown hair had grown out from a practical pixie to an expedient shag in the last year, so that now she looked her actual age—seventeen—rather than several years younger. When Chris Manckiewicz had gone with Mensche on the long traverse of the Lost Quarter last fall, she’d taken over and run the Post-Times well enough so that on his return, he’d just left Cassie in charge. “Any tips for your fans about how to take down terrorists bare-handed, General Phat?”

“It was an act of complete irresponsible idiocy.”

She grinned. “Just let me get that down and read it back.”

Heather said, “Wow, the world has changed. Back before, nobody running for president would have dared to say anything like that.”

“Also,” Phat said, “an ugly runt, to quote my ex-wife, has a chance of winning a presidential election. You can quote that too, Cassie—on one condition. I want a news story that says ‘General urges common sense in walling city,’ and run it alongside a map I’ll lay out for you. It’s a disgrace we don’t have a city wall yet, and City Council is a bunch of whistleheads who need to get their job done. Quote me on that too, or the deal is off. Clear?”

“Clear.” She shook her head and brought her pencil back to her pad. “Now, what do you all see as the role of Pueblo under the Restored Republic, and do you think there will be more job opportunities locally?”

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