Chapter 1 This is Thomas. Thomas will be dead in forty-eight minutes, twenty-six seconds, but for now he’s just tired. His job’s stressful. Dr. Phillips couldn’t have felt like this all those decades; it was his job. It takes Thomas five minutes to get out of bed. No one likes being up at 5:45 on a Sunday morning. His wife’s probably with Benny downstairs. For some reason that kid is always up early on weekends; not weekdays when he should be, damn infants. Now 6:00 a.m., Thomas’ toiletries are finished. 6:10 he’s dressed for work. He smiles at his son’s baby talk as Kelly lifts her head from the refrigerator with a bottle but no smile or kiss. She’s been like that lately. “Come on, Kel,” he says, but she’s not acknowledging him. “Are you going to be like this every day?” She’s still ignoring him. “Goddammit, woman, what the fuck is your problem?” he asks, slamming the stovetop. The loud bang startles Benny. “See what you did?” says Kelley, lifting Benny. “It’s ok. Daddy didn’t mean it. He’d tell you himself, but he has to work today,” she adds spitefully. “That’s not fair,” says Thomas as she and Benny pass him on their way upstairs. Kelly doesn’t understand and Thomas can’t worry about her feelings. She should be happy he’s not on the front lines fighting the Coalition. Twelve years of war, and she’s living a comfortable life. Why the complaints? Thomas won’t bother with Kelley’s confusing ways now; he has responsibilities. At 6:19, he’s channel surfing with a bowl of cereal. There’s a re-airing of a political discussion. It’s election season after all. # “Because President Wallace lied,” says Cliff. “The Coalition will surrender by the end of my first term. We’re in the same place we were fifteen years ago and fifty before that.” Rob, Cliff’s colleague, is sighing at his friend’s clear misinterpretation of the facts. “First of all,” begins Rob. “He set conditions for how that would happen, but we have to deal in facts. The neutrals finally have to make a decision. And we have more of everything.” “What are you—what?” says Cliff. “Oh please just stop, Cliff. Please just stop with the It’s too hard; no end in sight. It’s a tired argument that never manages to answer anything.” “Classic Rob—change the subject when you’re losing. Ignore basic human behavior when it doesn’t fit your point. While in the throes of your nonsense, add a fact that completely misrepresents its origin. You know-” “Hold on, Cliff,” interrupts Claire, the show host. “Rob, does he have a point; times are tough everywhere, and by every economic standard we’re doing better than the Coalition. Isn’t that a strong argument?” “No,” says Cliff. Let’s state some facts. “Regular people don’t read economic reports and most don’t care. When you’re dying of starvation, you go to where the food is closest. More than likely that’ll be where the security is also. Is there anyone in the thirty-eight that’s found it to be different? Has that fact of human nature changed, or did you finally wake up Rob?” “Rob?” asks Claire. “This is crap,” says Rob. “Pardon my language, but let’s state the actual facts. There was just a survey put out by tretus.com showing we’ve taken 59.8 square miles since recommencing. None of those people seem terribly upset about that fact do they, Cliff? But oh wait, I know what’s coming, 4.65 billion people in the world, but of course, we must be inhaling too much oxygen. We literally make food for others to eat so of course our friends owe us nothing.” “I swear sometimes you sound like an accountant. The Coalition’s territory is 9,078 square miles, so who cares you pompous——. Why don’t you shove a rock up your ass so we can see a steam engine?” “Gentlemen, we’re getting off track here,” shouts Claire. # There is a knock at the door. Will is letting himself in as always. “Hey, we’re gonna miss the shuttle if you don’t hurry up,” says Will. Its 6:28 so Will is right again, the jerk, and Thomas just remembers he forgot his briefcase upstairs. He pauses at the sound of Benny. The little boy laid another bomb in his diapers, didn’t he? Kelley is changing him. What can Thomas say? A poop joke? No, those suck. I love you? No, too cheesy. “We’ll talk tonight, ok?” says Thomas. Kelly snaps her head around. “I want a divorce,” she says. Thomas feels as if an electric current is liquefying his bowels. Did he hear that right? Yes, he heard perfectly. Should he-what the fuck? He slams the door and storms outside before he does something he’ll regret as Kelly stands, holding in her emotions. If she cries Benny will and—and what is it with this boy’s stomach? Then the tears roll out. Will’s confused by Thomas’ sudden change in demeanor and leaving the TV on. Who does that? # “Just admit it,” says Rob. “I’ll admit you’re a chronic fear-monger,” says Cliff. “Everyone’s desperate. Show me a stat on crazy behavior algorithms.” “Now who sounds like an accountant?” # Thomas is flooring the pedal while Will takes in the majestic view of the smog-infused blue morning. “If you’re having trouble with Kelley maybe she should come to work with you, to see what you’re doing,” says Will. “No,” Thomas says flatly, veering onto the highway. “Hey, you were working last night right? Did you see anything weird?” Thomas shakes his head. “Someone added a new security program to the bottom level. The tech guys are trying to scrub it, cause you know new programs could have backdoors, but they keep getting locked out.” “Secretary’s going to be pissed; he’s been real excited lately.” “Yeah, he has. I bet you’re getting another promotion out of this,” says Will, nudging Thomas who shakes his head. “Well, he’s coming today. And so is Daniel.” Will air quotes the name in clear dislike. “Both via video conference.” “Really, this is a big day then. Try not to embarrass me.” “No promises,” says Will, catching something through the haze. “What is that?” A blackish object is streaking across the sky. Six 240-megaton nuclear warheads have just struck the greater Pennsylvania area.