Chapter 8 a
Jon had simply looked at the capital letters, and after a little unscrambling had read the message, “Read the rhyme of Mother Shipton. Ask for Hellen.” The rest of the code was giving him a little trouble. Letter frequencies had been no help at all.
As James slowed down with
“Just joking. Like it was a crossword clue.”
“Abrade. Yes, it’s a braid. Three lines are braided together. Of course. It’s addressed to Ivan, but the letters are spread out on all three lines.”
After a few minutes working
out the pattern, he read: Ivan, the world’s birth rate is falling. Dat’s based on
numbers published by the UN. The world’s
sperm count is falling. You can check it
in the book Y by Steve Jones. Take
the date he gives for zero sperm count in the West. Subtract ten years roughly for zero birth
rate. Since no civilization has reported
a zero birth rate, the west must fall at least ten years before that. Subtract another ten years for the fact that
the most able people have the fewest babies.
Subtract probably ten more years since the process is accelerating. So how did
really now Terra,” said
“What’s that?” asked Hapgood.
“He’s tampered with one
message to make the other easier to fit it.”
“I thought we were going to
stay away from
“Yes, we should. But it’s a big place. They won’t be watching the book stores. Let’s pick up the book, get a bite to eat and put some more miles behind us before getting a motel.”
“Suits me,” said Hapgood.
The bookstore was one of a giant chain, tucked
among the skyscrapers of the heart of
On the way out Hapgood said, “It might be a nice night to visit Underground Atlanta.”
“Where’s that?” asked Ivan.
“Near here. It used to be the shed for the
It was in an up phase. The huge low cavernous expanse was bright
with commerce. Somewhere a loudspeaker
was playing a sentimental version of “
“Eat up,” said Jon. “
They were feeling far less
ambitious as they left and were wondering whether to take hotel rooms for the
night when two young men grabbed
Undeterred, Hapgood pulled himself up and planted a well intentioned
and well aimed punch at the man holding Jon.
But the attacker ducked it.
Ivan slammed the two men
holding him together without much effect, so he slammed them together
again. His eyes had gone flint hard, and
he fought with cold fury. James had his arms
pinned behind him by one, while the other tried to put him out of action with a
series of punches to the abdomen.
Failing to impress the muscular abdomen, the stranger aimed a punch at
the head, which
Jon got a knee up and into the abdomen of the man pinning him and shoved. It didn’t work. The man spun him around facing the wall and kicked his feet apart. Hapgood, hesitant to hit a man in the back even under such extreme circumstances shouted, “Turn around. Turn around.”
“I mean it,” said the man
The other fighting stopped. “Mexican standoff,” said Jon. “Nobody wins.”
In return, the man wrenched
“Look,” said Jon. “Just tell us what this is all about, and maybe we can work something out. What is it you want?”
“You’re coming with us.”
“I don’t think these fellows
would let us do that, even if I asked.”
At that moment there was a blast from a horn. The crowd parted and James drove the van up. He opened the door and stood half out of the truck leveling the shotgun.
“All right you bastards. I just might have enough shells in this baby for all of you. But I’m damn sure I have two or three for you holding the girl.” The man held her ahead of him like a shield, but James plunged forward and jammed the muzzle into his crotch. “Which is your favorite? Left or right? I’ll aim to please. But I’m a lousy shot.”
The man let go. “All right,” said James. I want some of you in the car and the rest of you up against that wall. Try to get it right… facing the wall, Bozo.”
The men lined up against the wall, while James’s friends piled into the van. James walked backward to the door. “They’re all yours, fellows. But I imagine the police will be on the way.”
James backed out, so as not
to risk showing the license tag, then put the van into
a howling reverse bootlegger turn and sped for the exit. Sirens were approaching as he pulled out onto
the street. He did another bootlegger
turn and drove back toward the entrance.
By the time the first police car careened into view, he had slowed down
and was signaling to enter the Underground.
Police crowded ahead of him, and one got out and waved him away. Only too pleased to comply,
The others indicated that
they would be guided by
Shortly after daybreak, they were rolling northward again.
“That’s true,” said Hapgood. “But
Charlemagne had been the first to conquer all of
“The Seminoles have never been conquered,” said Ivan.
“True,” said Hapgood. “Even during the Civil War, when they sided with the confederacy
and the Confederates were beaten.
The last Confederate holdout was in
“It was a matter of
principle,” Ivan said quietly. “The
Confederates claimed they had the right to be independent, and the Seminoles
felt we had to support them since we claimed the same right. It didn’t work out very well. Particularly for
“So you are a Seminole?”
“My father is part Seminole.”
“Well that’s quite
appropriate then. The last holdout
“What’s the curse?” asked Ivan.
“O nothing really. Everyone is supposed to be better off these days than ever before. But it is true that the whole world is one giant unit, one single empire so-to-speak. There are those in my congregation who see that as a sign of the antichrist. I don’t personally. I understand your father is kind of a leader of the Seminoles.”
“He would be chief of the whole tribe, but he married a white woman and thought it wasn’t quite right. The other Seminoles didn’t really have a problem with it.”
“So you would be chief yourself some day, maybe.”
“I’ve gone a different way. I tell you I feel the pull. But I don’t belong there. I don’t know where I belong.”
“I should say you belong right here, fighting one way or the other for the truth. Prince of the last free people.”
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