3 DAYS LATER. PUEBLO. 12:15 PM MOUNTAIN TIME. THURSDAY, JANUARY 22, 2026.

Back before, Johanna Schrenck had run a diner in downtown Pueblo for twenty years, sold it when her husband retired, and spent ten years working on a fresh-game cookbook by cooking all the things her husband caught or shot. But when the modern world had stopped working, so had Kurt Schrenck’s pacemaker.

Johanna had come home from the funeral, hauled up the old hand tools from the basement, paid orphaned kids with food and worked harder than any of them, and in a few weeks had converted her big old house back to a wood-fired kitchen, gravity coal furnace, and candle sconces. Just after the first EMP had destroyed the tech center at Pittsburgh, she had opened Johanna’s What There Is.

Since the Reconstruction Research Center had opened half a mile away, “this old frame house has hosted a lot of history,” Heather remarked as she sat down to dinner with James Hendrix and Lyndon Phat. “Today what there is, is elk stroganoff and trout cakes on polenta.”

James beamed. “History and current events in one convenient lunch—”

“Oh, god, you brought the critic,” Johanna said, stopping at their table; she generally waited the exclusive upstairs back room herself.

James protested. “I’ve never said—”

“You think loudly. When I finally give you what you deserve, your last thoughts will be ‘needs more coriander to balance the strychnine.’ First course today is raccoon bisque, coming up.” She hurried away.

“Listen.” Phat held up a palm. Rumble and clatter in the distance. “They started knocking down old buildings for the wall this morning. In a few weeks, I’ll be able to go to bed knowing ten guys on horses can’t ride in, shoot the watch, and throw a bomb through my window.”

“Except the Daybreakers don’t like horses or guns,” Heather said.

“It’s not just Daybreakers. Grayson might send someone; he assassinated poor old Cam Nguyen-Peters. I certainly would not put it past Allie Sok Banh. And there are rich men here in Pueblo angry about where I put the wall.”

“But they’re inside the wall—”

“Once the wall is built, it’ll be obvious if it’s an inside job. And a rich man without a fall guy is a cowardly thing indeed, as Thucydides could tell you.”

Heather laughed. “You and Graham Weisbrod would have understood each other. He wanted all us policy wonks to be able to debate the tax code by teasing out the wisdom in something Marcus Aurelius said to Socrates—”

“Ouch,” James said.

“What?”

“Marcus Aurelius lived about as long after Socrates as we do after Columbus.”

“Whatever. I’m still thinking about what you guys said about the ancient rhythm coming back. I liked it better when the past was history.”

Phat seemed to be listening to a faint, far away voice, perhaps from the distant mountains. “Maybe the past still is history, but the great joke on all of us is that it is, maybe, not the history it was before.”

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