ABOUT THE SAME TIME. RUINS OF PALE BLUFF. 3:00 PM CENTRAL TIME. MONDAY, MAY 11, 2026.

“It’s a good thing you’re not worried about sanitation,” Bernstein said, gesturing at the corpse of General Phat, which lay on its back, stripped naked, with flies crawling in a dense black wad like a shower cap covering the missing top of the general’s head.

“Oh, I am worried about sanitation. Worried as can be. I want to make sure it’s bad, so bad that this little tight-ass all-American pull-together-and-bring-back-the-old-world town, this little boil on God’s ass, ain’t coming back, ever. Reminds me too much of where I came from, you know? Places like this are the seeds of that whole plaztatic thing, and even if I’m not a dirty hippie asshole like some Daybreak people”—he looked pointedly at Glad Ocean, but she had her eyes closed and was humming, hands folded in the prayer position in front of her—“I don’t want that old world back either. That’s why we had to make sure the orchards burned, and before we go we’ll get every house going good, that’s why we’ve been stuffing bodies down the wells, and leaving them out arranged to upset their dumbass soldiers when they get here.”

“Did Nathanson tell you about their old Town Hall? Rows and rows of heads on the tables in their meeting hall, bodies in a pile leaned up against the door, and then they climbed out the window to leave it that way. First soldier to open that door, avalanche of bodies without heads, and when they get through that, all the heads are facing the door.”

“Nice work.”

Glad Ocean opened her eyes and nodded enthusiastically. The slim, older woman was a senior shaman. Her eight-foot spirit stick was encrusted with so many decorations that she had a slave carry it for her most of the time. She was supposed to be Robert’s liaison to the Daybreaker leadership, to the tribes who had come with him, and to the moon gun, which she insisted on calling the Guardian on the Moon and referring to as “he.” “Absolutely right,” she said. “We can’t let the plaztatic world have places to grow back. I’m so glad you’re being thorough here, Lord Robert.”

He nodded slightly, just a slight dip of the head, which, as usual, she took for agreement. Even though Glad Ocean was old and scrawny, nothing like the hot chick that Daybreak had sent him to play with before, he thought about that one every time Glad Ocean favored him with her smug little tight-ass morally-correct smile. You have something in common with Pale Bluff, he thought at her. You are completely in my power. The only difference is, Pale Bluff has already found out what that means. But I’m still looking forward to you finding out.

He turned back to Nathanson and Bernstein and said, “Don’t call anyone away from the party right now. I know they’re still finding stuff and still finding dumbshits who are trying to hide or sneak away, and they’ll want to have time to play with all the new toys and pull out all the good parts before they burn it all. But around sundown, we’re having a little bit of… oh, I guess you’d call it a bonfire here tonight.” He pointed down at the corpse at his feet. “Tar the general here the way we did Ecco’s body last year, and nail it to a nice tall post. We’ll start with a little ceremony raising it up. You realized this was the last guy that really might have been the president? They are so fucked.”

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