and they have helicopters. Thanks to our mutual friend, Mongo, I was finally able to talk to some good guys… and our friend did a little of his mental nudging. He'd picked up the coordinates for this place from Stryder London, of course.'

The horizon was growing dark with smoke and ash, and there were no planes in sight.

'Uh, Lippitt…'

'Not to worry, Mongo. They'll be here. By the way, you two are looking considerably better than you were the last time I saw you. Garth, you seem to have lost a little hair.'

'Yeah,' Garth said, looking nervously up at the sky.

'Any hostiles around?'

'No,' I said tersely. 'There's just us chickens-and I don't have to tell you what kind of chickens we're going to be if your people don't get here fast. What are you doing here?'

'You mean before the others? I took that particular plane because it was the fastest one on the base. I figured you might need a little help. Of course, I was wrong. I'm glad I didn't get here any sooner; I'd probably only have gotten in your way.'


'How'd you know we were here?'

'You can't be serious. This is where the action is, right? This is where the evil wizard himself hangs out, right? Where else would Mongo and Garth Frederickson be?'

'You're fucking crazy, Lippitt,' Garth said as we stepped aside to avoid a thick stream of lava that flowed past us, to our right. It joined the stream that was flowing to our left, encircling us in a ring of fire. 'What if this place had been full of Warriors? Did you think you were going to shoot your way in, blow everybody away, and take us out all by yourself?'

Lippitt smiled thinly. 'Hanging around with the Fredericksons must have made me a little soft in the head.'


'Lippitt,' I said through lips that already felt half-cooked, 'you don't seem to be much worried about all this, but that was another volcano that just went.'

'Hell, I'm not worried because I'm with you. I've decided that you and your brother are indestructible; you wouldn't die if somebody threw you out of an airplane. As long as I'm with you two, I'm convinced everything is going to turn out just fine.' He paused, glanced at his watch, continued seriously: 'Don't worry, Mongo; they'll get here. Five minutes.'

'Damn it, Lippitt, I'm not worried about them getting here! I'm worried about us being here when they get here!'

'Mr. Lippitt,' Siegmund Loge said, speaking for the first time since the D.I.A. operative had arrived, 'we must be rescued. My work can be reconstructed if I'm alive, and that work must be done. When I explain, you'll see why this is so. You can't imagine the danger humanity faces.'

Lippitt took a,45-caliber automatic from the pocket of his parka, put the gun to Siegmund Loge's head and shot him through the brain.


RAFFERTY, on horseback, waved to us from the hilltop where Hugo and Golly were buried. We waved back.

'You still feel lousy?' Garth asked as he tugged at his fishing line, which had become tangled on an underwater log in the stream that ran through our parents' farm.

'Yeah.' Something was nibbling on my hook, but I didn't tug on the line. I didn't feel like killing anything.

'Me, too.'

'Well, we spent a lot of time with lousy people, so I guess it's going to take some time for us to stop feeling lousy.'

'That's not the reason we feel lousy, and you know it. What if he was right?'

'Shut up, Garth,' I said, meaning it.

'He may have been stone fucking crazy, but that doesn't mean he wasn't right. If he was right, and the Valhalla Project was the only way to save the human race, do you know what that makes us?'

'It doesn't make us anything. Even if he was right, he didn't have the right to do what he was doing. Our only responsibility is to live our own lives in the best, most honorable, way possible. Now, I don't want to talk about it anymore.'

'We have to talk about it sometime, Mongo.'

'Not today.'

'Okay. How long have we all been holed up here?'

'Going on four months.'

'When do you want to go back to New York?'

'Not today.'

'I'll drink to that.'

'You drink too much now, Garth. So do I.'

'As long as the government is willing to pay for a ring of guards around this place to keep people away from us, we may as well just sit here and wait until we get our heads straight.'

'Booze doesn't help.'

'So we'll start drying out. Today.'


'You talk to your people at the university?'

'Once a week. They want me back, but they're not pressing. What about the NYPD?'

'They want me back, but they're not pressing. There are one hell of a lot of people waiting to ask us questions, Mongo.'

'What are you going to tell them?'

'I'm not going to tell a damn, fucking thing to anybody. I'm not going to make up stories about where we've been, or what happened. I'm just not going to say anything.'

'Agreed. We'll let Lippitt take the responsibility for deciding who should be told what.'

'I wonder what the hell is happening in the outside world?'

'I don't know, and I don't give a shit.'

'Mongo, we should really start reading newspapers and watching television again.'

'Not today.'

Our parents and Lippitt, on their daily walk, emerged from the apple orchard across the stream. Their arms linked, they ambled slowly in our direction along the opposite bank. Garth and I might have felt a tad depressed, but our mother and father certainly didn't; they hadn't stopped grinning since the day, four months before, when Lippitt, driving a sleek government limousine, had pulled into their driveway. And they never seemed to tire of Lippitt's company, nor he of theirs. My mother looked radiant, my father looked ten years younger. Lippitt looked… like Lippitt.

'Mongo, just for the sake or argument, let's assume he was right. Maybe, if we told people, it could change the outcome.'

'Loge said no. Let Lippitt decide; he's the one with the direct phone lines to the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon. Maybe he's already told them.'

'No,' Garth said. 'He may have told them everything else, and he's probably directing the cleanup operation.. but he hasn't told them what the Valhalla Project was really all about. I'm certain of it. He's still mulling it over, trying to decide what to do next. The same with Rafferty. If either had made that decision, there'd be no reason for them to stay holed up here with us. Lippitt talks only on the telephone; he's no more ready to go back than we are.'

'Hey, you two fishermen!' my mother called, waving to us from across the stream. 'Come on back now and wash up. Lunch is in half an hour, and you're getting your favorite dessert.'

'Okay, Mom,' I said, starting to reel in my line.

'Xavier just never seems to run out of stories about the two of you.' She paused,

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