Alas Babylon: Chapters 9-10
It is vital that Porky Logan be buried immediately, along with his deadly watches and jewelry, in a lead-lined coffin to prevent contamination. Randy takes charge of the operation, brandishing a gun to secure volunteer help. He strongarms Bubba Offenhaus, the town undertaker and Deputy Director of Civil Defense, into providing the coffin and the gasoline required to transport it. That evening on the radio, Randy hears that Acting President Vanbruuker-Brown has declared martial law. This means that all Reserve officers (such as Randy) and National Guard officers are authorized to take action to preserve public safety. It is now official: Randy has legal authority in Fort Repose.
Two-Tone Henry, the Preacher’s elder son, comes up with a plan to make corn whisky from their corn and sugar cane. This will be a valuable item for trade. Bill plans to build a mill from the parts of their automobiles. After all, the only car they are currently using is the Henrys’ Model A, which requires the least amount of gasoline. Randy sacrifices his Bonneville for the project.
Helen Bragg has been forced to accept that her husband, Mark, is very likely dead. She doesn’t show her grief, but busies herself with running the household with remarkable efficiency. While cutting Randy’s hair, however, Helen loses her grip. Noting Randy’s leaner face and new gray hairs, which make him resemble his older brother, Helen begins kissing Randy wildly, telling him, “You’re Mark! You can’t deny it! You’re Mark!” Just then, Lib calls to Randy and he makes his escape. Lib, who majored in psychology in college, reassures Randy that Helen is not insane; she’s merely indulged in a momentary fantasy due to the strain. Soon after, Helen appears normal again.
When Dan Gunn does not return for dinner that evening, Randy and Lib go looking for him at Admiral Hazzard’s. Hazzard has not seen Dan Gunn, but he shares with Randy and Lib a new Air Force frequency on his short-wave radio. Together, they listen to a transmission between what sounds like an American fighter pilot and an airbase, and are encouraged by this evidence that the U.S. is still fighting the war. Moments later, a radio news broadcast reveals that starving refugees are gathered in France and Monaco. Smallpox is an epidemic in the Western coast of North America, while typhus has broken out in Russia. China, India, and Japan are the new “Big Three” world powers and are discussing how to distribute vaccines and antitoxins to cities in Europe, North America, and Australia. They are unable to establish communication with the acting leader of the Soviet Union, Dmitri Torgatz.
Lib marvels at how this all could happen. The Admiral compares the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as being like two children playing with toy soldiers: “It takes two to make a peace but only one to make a war. So all we could do, while vowing not to strike first, was line up our lead soldiers.” The way to make peace was to study history, but the political and military leaders had not done so.
On Lib and Randy’s walk home from the Admiral’s place, they discuss how much they love each other, but admit that it is a bad time for love. While concerned with survival, it is difficult for them to indulge in higher emotions. Just as they reach the house, they hear an alarm bell clang. Dan is home. He was beaten severely by highwaymen. The bandits took Dan’s doctor bag and left him for dead. Randy is consumed by rage. “I’m going to execute them,” he says, “As soon as I find out who.”
Earlier that evening, Randy had left Ben Franklin and Caleb to guard the chickens, Ben armed with his gun and Caleb with a spear. He’d warned the boys to stay perfectly still and quiet while waiting, and to shoot the animal on sight—even if the animal was a human. Later that night, Randy hears a shot. Ben Franklin has shot the chicken thief, a large and feral German shepherd. Ben cries; he’s killed someone’s pet. Randy comforts the boy: “It was a wolf…. It wasn’t a dog any longer. In times like these dogs can turn into wolves. You did just right, Ben.”
This chapter opens on the morning after Dan is attacked. He explains how it happened. He had made an emergency visit to a family suffering from typhoid, and administered an antibiotic that would save their lives. On the way back, he noticed a woman sitting on the edge of the road, holding her leg as if injured. When he stopped the car, he was ambushed by three men, one with a submachine gun. He was beaten with a baseball bat and left for dead, while the bandits made off with the Model A and his stock of medicine, along with the bourbon he used as an anesthetic. Badly hurt, Dan made his way back home somehow and it appears he will recover. His glasses were smashed in the beating, however, and one eye is completely swollen shut, so his eyesight is severely impaired.
Randy creates three orders to be posted in the town park. The first establishes himself, as designated under martial law, as the commander of the town of Fort Repose and calls for a meeting of all Army, Navy, and Air Force reservists and members of the National Guard. The second order announces the threat of typhoid and orders all residents to boil water before drinking or washing fruits or greens. The third order declares that the bandits who beat Dr. Gunn, as well as anyone harboring them, will be hanged.
With the help of Admiral Hazzard and Rita Hernandez, Randy formulates a plan. He and a few other men will drive a grocery truck, provided by Rita, around town until the criminals attempt to hijack it. When they do, the men hidden inside the grocery truck will shoot and kill the bandits.
Late at night, Randy and Lib decide they will marry that Sunday—Easter Sunday.
Analysis of Chapters 9–10
In Chapters 9–10, Randy begins to take a greater leadership role in the town of Fort Repose. When he posts orders up in Marines Park, he symbolically accepts the legacy of his ancestor and namesake Randolph Rowzee Peyton, who established the town in that very location over 100 years before. Randy’s determination to bring the bandits to justice recalls the plot of a Western movie. Randy is depicted as a modern-day sheriff in a post-nuclear Wild West—the archetypical hero on the side of righteousness. Again, as an educated man with a background in law and the military, Randy is ideally suited to this role.
The choice of Easter Sunday as a date for Lib and Randy’s marriage is significant. Easter Sunday is symbolic of resurrection and new life in the Christian religion. A new marriage and the prospect of babies to come signifies a new hope that humanity will continue.