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Alas, Babylon

Pat Frank

Chapters 7–8

Chapters 5–6

Chapters 9–10

Summary

With the destruction of Orlando, Fort Repose loses power. In order to ensure a supply of clean water, Randy decides to run a pipe out to a nearby grove, where an artesian pump draws water up from the ground. He lays the pipe with the help of Malachai and Two-Tone Henry, and Helen begin to salt their meat, to prevent it from spoiling. Randy drives into town, in the hopes of finding some jars for Helen to use. The town is largely empty, with dangerous- looking young men lounging on street corners. In the grocery store, the clerk, Pete Hernandez, carries a gun. Pete reluctantly agrees to sell Randy two ten-pound bags of salt for two hundred dollars.

At the clinic, Randy finds Dan amid a pile of ruined medicine bottles, with the local chief of police lying dead in a hallway. Dan tells him that a gang of drug addicts broke in, stole his morphine, and shot people at random. Randy convinces him to move in with them on River Road, and Dan reluctantly agrees. That night, while the Hanry family is over for dinner, a radio announcer reports the numerous parts of the United States that have been declared "Contaminated Zones." They include Omaha, where Mark was stationed (Helen still hopes that he is alive) and the entire state of Florida, meaning that Fort Repose is now completely isolated.

On the sixth day after the attack, the local hotel burns to the ground. Three days after that, Lib McGovern's mother, Lavinia McGovern, dies of diabetes. Her supply of insulin is cut off by the war. Randy helps Lib and Bill McGovern bury her, and insists on inviting them to move into the house at River Road. Bill, feeling useless and old, reluctantly agrees.

Four months pass. Coffee has vanished, tobacco can't be found, and a mild, gnawing hunger is a fact of life. Randy clumsily shaves with a hunting knife. The Henrys have been having trouble with predators stealing their animals, and Ben Franklin is appointed to carry a gun and serve as a guard for the barn and henhouse. Dan and Randy drive into town—they are down to the dregs of their gas. They use the Henrys' ancient Model-A Ford, because it is more fuel- efficient. Randy carries a pistol. Dan tells Randy that he has encountered several cases of radiation poisoning, and he cannot figure out why, since there isn't enough radiation in the Fort Repose air to cause it.

While Dan visits the radiation victims, Randy goes to the park, which has become a gathering place for men trying to barter, and spends several fruitless hours trying to trade a bottle of Scotch for two pounds of coffee. Dan picks him up, and they drive out to the slum, known as Pistolville, where Pete Hernandez has radiation poisoning. His sister, Rita, still has feelings for Randy, and she tries to flirt with him, but to no avail. Then Dan notices a ring on her finger that has left a dark circle on the skin. He orders her to take it off — all her jewelry, it turns out, is radioactive, including the watches that Pete is wearing. Porky Logan, the local representative to the state legislature picked it up outside the ruins of Miami as he drove back to Fort Repose on the day of the attack. They hurry over to Porky's home, and find him dead on his bed. After making sure that the other radiation victims get rid of their jewelry, Dan and Rusty go home, resolving to bury Porky's corpse the next day.

Analysis

The disorder in the town of Fort Repose contrasts the order that Randy and his friends manage to instill on the River Road. Cooperation, it becomes clear, is the key to survival. As the Henrys and Braggs work together, they are able to insure a supply of clean drinking water and food, taken from the Henry farm and the nearby river. Even as this is going on, the weeding out of the weak continues: just as Edgar Quisenberry was psychologically incapable of surviving after the disaster, Lib McGovern's insulin-dependent mother is physically incapable of surviving. In a way, her death, like the addicts' rampage through Dan Gunn's clinic, is a blessing in disguise for the other survivors, since it encourages everyone to move in together on River Road. This closeness improves the group's overall chances of survival.

The primitive market on the town green illustrates how, in the post-war world, new customs develop. The demise of the cash economy means that the town of Fort Repose returns to the barter system that characterized human societies in primitive eras. Luxuries, like tobacco, coffee, and alcohol, become tremendously valuable, since there is no prospect of any of these items becoming available again. The discovery of the radioactive jewelry is at once a reminder of the continuing danger from nuclear fallout, and a miniature morality play. Instead of focusing on cooperation and survival, Porky Logan and the people to whom he gives jewelry are trying to profit off the disaster by accumulating riches. The radiation poisoning is their punishment for the sin of greed, as the beautiful objects are tainted.

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