THE NEXT DAY. RUINS OF LAFAYETTE, NEW STATE OF WABASH. 4:30 PM EASTERN TIME. MONDAY, MAY 4, 2026.

“Sir,” the major beside him said, “there’s a scout approaching; he just came out of that side street—”

Grayson looked up from the tattered paper street map of Lafayette, Indiana, on which he’d been trying to place the only standing street sign in sight. He did not need to raise his field glasses to see which scout it was; he could pick out Larry Mensche’s awkward seat on a horse clear to the horizon, or possibly from the moon. There’s a man with an incentive to see the bicycle redeveloped, he thought.

As soon as it was practical, Mensche dismounted and walked to them. “Sir, a party of about two hundred tribals is digging in at Battle Ground State Park; looks like they’re preparing a fortified camp for a much larger party. As of about three hours ago, they had some breastworks up along the edge of a rise, they were building some fires, and they were clearing junk out where the roof of the visitor center had fallen in, turning it into sort of a fort, I guess. There’s a creek—”

“On the west of the hill?” Grayson gave him that strange smile, the one that always made people uncomfortable.

“Exactly, sir.”

“I was kind of thinking this might be where they’d meet us. Maybe they have a sense of history, or maybe it’s just that it’s about the only defensible piece of ground near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and the Wabash, but either way, they are setting up camp exactly where William Henry Harrison defeated Tenskwatawa.”

“You think it’s on purpose?”

“Definitely. I just don’t know what purpose it’s on. It’s the only high, dry ground around here with covered access to water and there’s a ton of symbolism too.” Grayson scrawled on a sheet of paper. “Messenger, take this to Colonel Prewitt at the TexICs’ HQ, and bring me back word that he’s received it. Urgent.”

“Sir.” The messenger mounted and galloped away.

Goncalves said, “You’re sending the TexICs to raid them while they’re setting up?”

“Yes. That force of four thousand of them coming down the Tippecanoe that Nancy Teirson has been shadowing was well below Monticello at nine this morning; they’ll be down here at the Tippecanoe battlefield before dawn tomorrow. Half a day behind them there’s another horde that size, and when Quattro bombed them at Winamac he didn’t think he had slowed them up at all, so figure they’ll be here by noon tomorrow. Larry, did that force at the battleground park look like they were working hard?”

“They were digging trenches and throwing up breastworks like maniacs, sir.”

“Well, there you have it. By noon tomorrow, which is about the soonest our main force could get there, they’ll be dug in up there with eight thousand fighters. At logistics and maneuver, this guy Robert is at least a very gifted amateur: he put together two forces the size of back-before divisions, and moved them a long way into a position where they’re a serious threat. Just in case he also turns out to have a knack for combat command, we’re not going to spot him any more advantages. I think the TexICs can get there by six tonight, and sunset’s not till almost eight. Plenty of time to smash up whatever preparations Robert’s advance parties have made. But once they do, a short regiment of cavalry doesn’t have the firepower to hold it against what’s coming down the Tippecanoe.”

“Sir,” Goncalves said, “I hope this doesn’t look like I’m angling for glory—”

“You’re ahead of me, Goncalves, and you’re right. Whatever it looks like, I need the President’s Own Rangers to get there before those first four thousand Daybreakers do, dig in, and hold that hill. I’ll push a couple of reserve regiments to try to reinforce you by noon, but I think three is more realistic. You’ve seen the same things I have: soldiers staggering till they fall asleep wherever they lie down. We’ll be lucky to get the main body moving any time before noon tomorrow, and I doubt they’ll be able to maintain route step, let alone anything faster. So, if you have to do it alone, can your Rangers get there before the Daybreakers and hold that hill till the main army gets there?”

“I would feel honored—”

“Goncalves, I know you’ll say ‘yes, sir,’ if I order you to, and die trying if you have to. If I asked you to take four guys and conquer Asia you’d say ‘yes, sir,’ and offer to leave two behind for a reserve. But physical reality counts for something too. You started off from Pale Bluff with an official three battalions, but in numbers you’re more like two. And you were the avant garde coming in here, so your troops are tired, even if they show it a lot less than the regulars and the militia. So I don’t need the answer from your pride, which I already know. I need your judgment. If I send you to do this, will our side still be holding the hill when I get there with the main army tomorrow evening? And will I still have a functioning President’s Own Rangers once you do that?”

Goncalves stroked down his belly-length beard slowly; Grayson had learned to respect it as the Don’t interrupt, I’m thinking hard gesture. “Candidly, sir, yes. If it’s not any later than sundown tomorrow. Just don’t be any later.”

“It’s a deal. I’ll make sure that whenever the TexICs send a report back it goes straight to you. Get going.”

Goncalves saluted and thundered away.

Grayson turned back to Mensche. “All right, I’ll send you after Goncalves in a minute, to give him the details, but while he’s kicking things into motion, you’ll have time to tell me the rest. So is anything else unusual about the Daybreaker force?”

“Looked well fed and healthy. No obvious slaves—everyone was armed, looked like they were carrying roughly equal loads, no whipping post. And the few that I got a close look at didn’t have that whacked-out expression most Daybreakers do.”

“Castle Earthstoners?”

“Roger Jackson’s heading over to investigate that right now, since he’s seen so many Earthstoners, but yes, sir, it looks like it. We’re not the only ones who are sending their best to that field.”

• • •

At their main encampment, in the old County Fairgrounds, Larry briefed Colonel Goncalves—though Larry privately thought of it as anything but brief. He was just glad that his memory for roads and terrain in general had become pretty good after more than a year of full-time scouting, because Goncalves and his majors and captains were a demanding audience. In between describing seemingly every tree and wall between here and the Tippecanoe battlefield, and answering even more questions when he failed to be detailed enough, he swallowed about a dozen pancakes and several venison sausages, the rations the cooks were able to put together quickly. “At least we’re missing the split peas with corn they’re going to lay out for breakfast tomorrow,” one of the officers said, cheerfully.

After two hours of interrogatory dinner, Goncalves said, “All right, make sure everyone’s ready. Plans to the lieutenants and sergeants. Nap till eleven. Moon’ll be up at quarter after eleven, we go as soon as we can see, or as soon as Larry can see and we can see Larry. Kit has to be together by then but make sure they use as much time as they can to sleep. We’re going to want to make most of the trip at double time.”

At loose ends, Larry drifted toward the “auxiliaries area,” which was the polite expression for “where we store all the not-quite military people who have nowhere else to bunk.”

Tonight, in the corner of the former dairy barn, the auxiliaries were the Reverend Whilmire, perched with his back to a window to cast the last light of the setting sun on his Bible, and Freddie Pranger, stretched on his back with his arms folded over his chest and his hat pulled over his face.

Larry nodded and lay down near Freddie; Whilmire asked, “Can I ask you something? I’ll try to be brief, I know you need to sleep.”

“It’ll have to be brief.”

“A great deal of what my son-in-law was saying to Goncalves went right over my head. I was just wondering what happened at the Battle of Tippecanoe, since it seems Jeff is basing so much of his thinking—”

Freddie Pranger said, “I spent years on all that frontier-history stuff, and I can tell you, so Larry can sleep. I’m not going out till close to dawn but he’s only got to moonrise.”

“Thank you,” Whilmire and Mensche said, simultaneously.

Decades as an FBI agent and more than a year as a scout had taught Larry to fall asleep instantly whenever he could, but he wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid hearing Freddie explain, “Well, back in 1811, the Army under Harrison won and the tribes under Tenskwatawa lost, so it’s a good site if you’re thinking American army and militia versus tribes. But the way Harrison won was, the Americans occupied that hill the tribals are on right now, which made them such a big threat that the Indians had to do something right away. So some of the Indians rushed to take back the hill, and when they got in trouble Tenskwatawa sent more in after them, and the Americans on the hill just kept beating the bigger and bigger forces the Indians brought in, and at the end of the day, the Indiana Militia had taken a lot more casualties than the Indians, but they still had the hill and the Shawnee Confederacy was wrecked forever. So that little hill is also a good place to break an army that’s trying to take it away from you. Precedents both ways, I guess you’d say.”

Larry firmly told himself the world was no different than it was before he’d heard that, and went to sleep.

• • •

“Am I going to be scared tonight?” Jenny asked.

“Have you ever been?” Grayson was sliding her robe off. “I’m sorry about having to rush, if you’d rather not—”

“It’s the night before a battle, baby, I want you, too, what if it’s the last chance or something terrible happens? And I don’t mind hurrying, I need my sleep too.” She turned and caught his hands in hers, moving them down away from her breasts. “But sometimes when you’re emotionally wound up, like you’re angry or sad or something big just happened, you hurt me, and if you’re really wound up, you don’t always stop when I say so. The night after you killed Cameron, remember? I had bruises for weeks.” She could feel the tension in his forearms, and perhaps he was just wrought up, or did he want to start hurting her? Was her fear making him worse? “I just don’t want to be scared tonight,” she said. “It was sexy back when I didn’t know you or love you yet, but now, I don’t want my demon lover anymore. I want Jeff.”

Something in his eyes looked so far away and sad that she felt safe letting go of his arms, and stroking his cheek. She felt a tear, and rubbed it gently, and was going in for a soft kiss when he shoved her down onto the pavilion floor, yanking up her nightie.

His eyes were as blank as a Greek statue’s or a store mannequin’s. He clasped her hair in one fist, forced her head back, and pried her legs apart with his thighs. He pushed in; he was very hard and she wasn’t ready yet. She grunted with pain. “Jeff, slow down, that hurts.”

He smiled that weird smile, and kept going; the twisted mouth and the flat expressionless eyes seemed like a mask together. The hand clutching her hair pulled her head back farther as he reared up on that arm. He’s watching himself hurt me, she thought.

With his free hand, he pinched and slapped her all over. She was crying and couldn’t breathe, snot running down her throat, making her choke and gasp.

She had no idea how long it took him to finish. As he did, he slapped her in all the sensitive spots, finishing with one on her face that made her head ring.

He pulled out and sat up beside her. She rolled over, curled up, trying to protect her sore body with her hands. “Don’t try to tell me you’re sorry, this time I’m not buying it, you meant to hurt me.”

“All right.” His voice sounded mechanical. “I love doing that to you. If you have any sense you’ll get rid of me. I will miss you terribly. You’re about the only real friend I’ve ever had. But if we stay together someday I will do something worse, and I think it would be better if you got rid of me.”

She shuddered with the force of her sobbing, but she also heard her own voice in her head, calm but desperately urgent. Jenny, be careful, get away. She checked to make sure she could move everything, and inside her fetal self-hug, she probed for sore ribs or abdominal pain, and found her cheek bruised but nothing broken. She forced her breathing to calm and began to gather her clothes.

“A long time ago,” he said, “I lost control of myself, and almost beat a girl to death. She was a little piece of shit whore, the kind of thing Mama told me I should use for my needs—”

Jenny finished yanking her sweatshirt over her head, afraid for the moment that her head was covered. “And I’m the kind you use for your career. Except when you use me for a piece of shit whore too.”

He turned to look at her, and even through her fury, she thought, Oh, shit, he’s Jeff again, now, and if I stay here he’ll get to me—and if he gets to me, I’ll stay.

“I really do love you, it scares me and… makes me angry, I get angry when I’m scared. I’m sorry.”

She thought, You are a dangerous nut job, and you are in charge of the army that is supposed to save civilization. And you are very likely to be the next President of the United States. And I’m not used to not being in love with you, at least not yet. “Jeff, I’m not saying I’ll stay, but I know you’re not dangerous after you have one of these… things. Not for a while. Usually. So tonight I’ll stay beside you, because I know you won’t sleep if I don’t, and the whole world is counting on you, and I care what happens to you. I might not ever sleep beside you again, though, are we clear on that?”

He was crying, but nodding. “Whatever you say.”

“After the battle, or as soon as there’s a spare minute, find a psychiatrist, tell them everything, do whatever they tell you to.”

“I promise. I want.” He stopped. “I don’t want.” Stopped again. “I don’t know.”

“Jeff, all of civilization is depending on you. I might be divorcing you next week, but you’ve got to win tomorrow. So get up in the morning and just do your duty. Do your best at it. I’ll stick around at least till the end of the battle, and I won’t go without saying goodbye. Now undress, and lie down here beside me.”

She lay fully clothed on top of the covers, holding his hand while he slept. After a while, she slept too.

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