AN HOUR LATER. RUINS OF TERRE HAUTE, THE DOMAIN. 11:30 PM CENTRAL TIME. THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2026.

Terre Haute had grown into a sizable town, back before, because it was a good landing at the big bend of the Wabash; the same fact, plus the convergence of road and rail in the area, had been in Grayson’s mind when he had decided to make it the main supply base for his reconquest of the Lost Quarter.

The garrison, just a short battalion of militia, had had almost no warning before the first big flotilla of canoes and rafts had begun landing just upstream of them. The first human wave of tribals—mostly fanatical types that Lord Robert didn’t like much anyway—had torn through the waterfront side of the garrison’s camp, cutting them off from escape and enabling forces to land downstream of them. Within three hours, well before the full force arrived, Lord Robert’s personal guard had been hanging the last of the captured and wounded, while the tribals drummed and celebrated. It had been a good little party, Lord Robert thought. And these guys really needed to blow off some steam considering how hard they’re working and how much they’ve accomplished.

Terre Haute was a good place for the forces to get some rest and to reorganize for the next phase, and the heap of supplies was so large that it took a couple of days for Bernstein and his quartermasters to take inventory and divvy up.

“I still don’t get why this is a good idea,” Nathanson was saying to Lord Robert, who was stretched out on an antique couch that had apparently had no synthetic materials, in the main room of a big old mansion he’d made his headquarters.

“Why what is a good idea?” Lord Robert took another sip of the high-priced fancy-ass brandy they had found, and decided that it really did taste like cough syrup and he would switch back to bourbon when he wanted another drink, which need not be soon. Got this sweet life going, not going to lose it because I’m drunk when a guy shows up with a knife.

“This,” Nathanson said, waving vaguely around himself. He drank rarely but always to get drunk, with no interest in adjusting his mood but apparently an occasional desire to get stupid and helpless. He was well on his way right now, but this was about the safest situation for it. “This. The big house. The cognac. The jewelry for the house bitches, the fancy shit like eating caviar, all that stuff that says we’re rich and better than anyone else. Don’t you think that’s gonna be bad for morale, sooner or later?”

“Just the opposite. I mean my followers are not going to be impressed with just any old cheap ass junk. I need to keep a little awe going, you know, and the living-rich stuff helps with that.”

Nathanson made a face; maybe the cognac was catching up with him too. “Lord Robert, doesn’t that sound kind of like a reason you made up on the spot?”

“Well,” Robert said, “I did. But the truth is, if I tell’em they feel that way, they’ll feel that way. That’s one of the things that you gotta realize, that these Daybreaker types, the fundamental thing about Daybreakers, whether they came in from fundamentalist churches or whether they came in from environmental groups or wherever they came from, the one thing they really had in common was they sure did love to be told what to do. There’s lots of people like that, always been. Hell, I don’t think people have revolutions ’cause they want freedom, that’s bullshit they tell themselves afterward ’cause they’re proud of themselves, I think what makes revolutions, is, is, whenever people want to be told what to do more by the opposition than they want to be told what to do by the government.” He was pleased with having had the thought, though he wasn’t sure it was true.

“In fact,” Robert said, “I been setting aside some of the good stuff and I’m gonna make public presents of it to you guys, big ceremony and all, and you’re going to accept it in front of the crowd, and that’s an order.”

“An order?”

“Sure. If this crowd ever turns on me for having made myself comfortable, you are going to have your head as far into the trap as I do. That way I don’t have to worry about you being able to sell me out to them. So what’d you rather have, Nathanson? A couple nice rugs, pricey booze from back before, maybe some canned goods?”

“Whatever. I was gonna show you a surprise from me, too, but then you invited me in and we got to drinking. Can you stand to look at something that’s not purely personal?”

“What’s the funny grin about?”

Nathanson held a finger up, walked back to the front entryway, and came in carrying a gun with a short stock, short barrel, and enormous drum magazine. On the magazine it bore the stamp “Newberry Tech Works, Castle Newberry, South Carolina.”

Lord Robert realized at once what it was. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “You’re fucking kidding me, right? I mean I’m dreaming? They went upriver to the war and they left behind a fucking machine gun?”

“Ten crates of them, and a mountain of ammo. It’s a Newberry SMG Model 1.” Nathanson pronounced that with careful reverence. “And they left them behind ’cause they had some big problems with them. There was a letter in an envelope tacked onto the crate that had broken ones in it. They were returning all the rest of them unused. Seems they blow up around the tenth time you use them—really blow up, blow up, I mean, like a round’ll jam in the barrel, flash gets around someplace, and the whole mag goes off. And they’re complaining too that they ain’t all that accurate, you have to be almost on top of a mob of enemy packed pretty thick to do you any good.

“So we test-fired one, and, yeah, it makes a mess of itself and probably jams like an old dog farts. The auto mechanism kind of looks like it was copied from a cuckoo clock, too, bet it breaks pretty often, and it doesn’t fire very fast when you hold the trigger down. Maybe two rounds a second. And you have to hand-load both the drum magazine and the little chain of caps. So they were getting rid of it before it got some of their guys killed, and it’s a lousy weapon for them because they want something that’ll work every time and be reliable and some guy can carry it through a whole war.”

“But for a weapon that you throw away… because you’re gonna throw the guy carrying it away…” Robert said. “And if you have slaves to do the loading… Yeah. Yeah.”

Nathanson beamed. “Just what I thought. Especially if we can trick or force some people we don’t want to take back with us into using it. Then it would be one of those win-all-around Daybreak situations.”

Bernstein came in from the foyer, and said, “Inventory’s coming along.”

“Grab some cognac, it tastes like shit but it’s good for Nathanson to get drunk on.”

“Naw, I need to be sober. So do you, Lord Robert.”

“I am. It’s General Drunk-ass here who has to worry, I’m just buzzed. So what’s up that I need to be sober for?”

“Guess who’s back and wanting to talk.”

“Did they send us anybody hot this time?”

Bernstein shrugged. “No, but they sent four people that are real whiny and polite and trying not to piss us off.”

“We ought to make them suck up to Little Joey,” Lord Robert mused, thinking of the terrified little man they had sent him before, who was now his devoted personal valet. “That would be entertaining. But I guess we should hear what they have to say, just in case it’s something nice.”

The three gray, tired-looking middle-aged men came in literally with hats in their hands. Those hats were functional, without feathers, jewels, or machine parts. Their shirts, sweaters, and pants were plain cheap cotton or wool, and they wore the lumpy semi-moccasins that many tribals made by sewing deerhide to old canvas sneakers to replace the rotted rubber soles. “Lord Robert, in the name of all the tribes and their Councils, and on behalf of the Guardian on the Moon, we would like to ask you for a favor.”

“Well, then,” Lord Robert said. “You must know there is not a whole lot of love between us, and I don’t see any reason why I should be doing you any favors.”

The man in the center of the delegation bowed very low and said, “We understand that. Some of us did not want to ask a favor at all. Some of us wanted to propose it to you as something with possible mutual benefit.”

“Mutual benefit is always of interest,” Lord Robert said. “Nathanson, Bernstein, let’s meet with our guests around the big table upstairs, where everyone can sit down.”

Lord Robert extended the small hospitality of offering water, and then added, “The cook might be able to find us all something, should we do that?”

The leader of the delegation visibly swallowed hard. “Um, yes, that would be good.”

Bernstein said, “I think the cook’s got fresh squirrel and rabbit, some wild carrots, and maybe some spring greens and he’s doing something up. Be right back.”

While he was gone, Lord Robert said, “I trust all is well with you? I have been very pleased with the people you sent me. In particular those ones from Lake Erie knew a lot about boats and rafts and stuff and we couldn’t’ve done this without them. I should probably warn you they mostly say they’re going to stay with me at Castle Earthstone afterward. That isn’t the issue you want to talk about, is it? Because I have told everyone you’ve sent me that they are free to join me, and even we have been surprised how many of them take us up on it.”

The quiet man on the left said, “Of course the Council will be displeased when we report that, but that’s not what we came here about.”

“Well, good then.”

Bernstein returned with two of the kitchen workers, bearing wild-game-and-vegetable stew. Someone must have found an unlooted stock of spices, as well, for it had a rich, tongue-stinging blend of pepper and mustard. Lord Robert ate his casually, watching his guests; after a couple of bites had not resulted in any of them falling over choking, they dove into the stew, eating as if starving. Which they probably are, Lord Robert thought. So even high-ranking people with important missions aren’t getting enough to eat out there in the tribal boons. Even with so many people dead, and the way Daybreak arranged for looting and hoarding right after Daybreak day, they must have finally run out of canned and dried stuff, and most of them probably never really learned how to hunt, fish, or grow much of anything. Too busy doing oogie-boogie ceremonies and robbing their neighbors.

He offered them seconds, and was amused that they accepted so quickly.

When he judged that they were finally more afraid than hungry, he smiled nicely. “Well, at least now we’re all more comfortable. This proposition you were thinking of making? Proposition me.”

Their leader said, “We will not contest your possession of your territory; in fact we will concede you all the lands east of the Wabash and the Tippecanoe, south of the Maumee, west of the Miami, and north of the Ohio. All tribes with claims in those areas will renounce them forever. Furthermore we will not try to create new tribes in the lands between Lake Michigan, the Ohio, the Wabash, and the Mississippi; if you conquer any of that land in this summer’s war, it is yours, as far as we are concerned.”

“But since you don’t hold it now it ain’t hardly yours to give away,” Lord Robert drawled. Beside him, Nathanson chuckled, and Bernstein smiled at them.

“That is true, but it also carries our pledge that we will not go to war for it or seek to gain it for tribes in the future.”

“Did any of you ever promise the plaztatic world—isn’t that what you call it—that you wouldn’t kill most of the people on Earth and send us all back to the Stone Age? It’s worth something to hear you say you’ll pull whatever is left of the tribes out of the Domain, which is what you can call my territory from now on. Promising that if I conquer more you won’t try to steal it—that’s pretty fuckin’ abstract, you know? So… you got any more for me or are you about to tell me what you want?”

The leader seemed to be trying to control his temper. Don’t suppose he liked being told that to his face. Don’t suppose I care what he likes, either. “We ask that this summer, you raid as deeply into the remainder of the plaztatic world as you can, destroy everything you can, especially anything that will be hard for them to replace, smash them down so that there is less chance that they will come back up. We would like you to take as many of our warriors with you as you can.”

Robert shrugged. “If I decide to do that, I will take along as many as you send me. And I will use them first; no reason to kill my own people, if you’re giving me people to kill in place of them.”

“We expected an answer somewhat in this kind. We’re prepared to send you much larger forces, and to call up the tribes from other areas like the Ouachitas and the southern mountains, to support your effort. But we are giving them to you so that you can conduct this great raid.”

“And because you’re out of resources and you need to get rid of them before they get too hungry. This way they can either eat by raiding all summer, or die raiding, but either way they’re not at home to be disillusioned with Daybreak, the way my people got to be, before I gave them the version that works.”

“As you wish to say it, let it be said. We will not argue about words.”

“So the real offer is, you’ll send me a lot of people, and you’ll make me a couple real vague promises, and coordinate some other attacks in other parts of the country, and in return, I tear the holy fuck out of everything between the Mississippi and the Rockies that I can get my hands on?”

“We would… that is close enough for us to agree with.”

“All right, three ways you have to sweeten the deal. One, that moon gun thing of yours drops a big old EMP over Pale Bluff sometime in the next few days, and you tell me exactly when it’s coming. Two, after that your moon gun just keeps dropping’em, steady as rain, on Pueblo, till I tell them to stop—but when I tell them to stop, they stop. Three, any of your troops that want to join my True Daybreak, and break away from you, they’re mine, no arguments, no take backs. Do me all those three and we got us a deal.”

The leader nodded, apparently taking no offense at Lord Robert’s tone, and said, “As for the Guardian on the Moon, we will do what we can but we don’t like to make promises on which we cannot deliver. We will say to those who communicate with the Guardian on the Moon that if the Guardian does these things, our agreement will take effect, and that if it does not, we do not have an agreement, and hope that the Guardian on the Moon thinks that reaching an agreement is as important as we do.”

Ha. Now I’m learning things. Robert asked, “You don’t really know who or what is running the moon gun, yourselves, do you?”

“We only know that the Guardian on the Moon is a force for good and helps us in ending the plaztatic world. None of us has ever met anyone who knows anything about the Guardian on the Moon. But though we all know nothing, we are teaching our children, so that when we are all dead, our children will know the Guardian on the Moon for what it really is: the Servant of Mister Atom, visible proof that The Play of Daybreak is true and the world is the way we taught them that it is.

“As for your use of our tribes—of course. Do whatever you like, so long as you carry your Great Raid deep and far. In fact, we will send some of the tribes from the Tennessee Valley, the Ouachitas, and Texas—and from the Ozarks too if you get that far—to join you; use them freely as well. We did not want any of them back in any case; strew their bones from Cairo to Seattle, or take them home and feed them yourself, it’s all one to us.”

“You don’t seem to mind our heresy much.”

“We don’t. Your so-called True Daybreak may offend us personally, just as the computers and technical knowledge we used to bring about Daybreak, back before, offended us. But we used them.

“Like everything else that must pass eventually, for the moment, you are a means. We have not compromised on the end. Whatever you may wrongly believe, you are going to help us kill plaztatic civilization. We can tolerate a small empire based on military conquest, the same sort of thing that the world has had many times before, if it hastens the final end of plaztatic civilization. Do as you like; ultimately you work for Gaia. We accept your offer completely, and let me add, personally, all hail Lord Robert of the Domain, for the services he shall perform for Mother Gaia.”

After an enthusiastic round of handshaking, the tribals went on their way.

Bernstein said, “Well, someone skunked someone, there, but I’ll be damned if I know who.”

“That’s ’cause we haven’t made sure that we are the skunkers and not the skunkees,” Robert said, cheerfully. “But we will. I know in my bones we will. Did Nathanson show you those fun toys he found?”

They each took one turn firing a Model 1, which was fun. After that, they sent for a tribal who had rudely refused True Daybreak and talked back to Nathanson. They made him practice fire the SMG a few more times, to see what Grayson’s letter to Duquesne had meant by “blow up.” It burned his face badly and tore off two fingers. Lord Robert and his advisors all had a good laugh.

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