Shailesh lead us to a good spot where we could lean against one of the station's pillars. It was the best place to watch the speech, he said. I still had very little idea of what was going on. The lights dipped and the buzz of conversations around us dropped to a low murmur. We were seated looking at an empty patch of station floor. Above our heads we had a good view of the famous Roy Lichtenstein mural. In primary colors and thick comic book lines it showed a New York of the Future: finned subway trains blasting on rockets past a city of spires and air bridges. At the far right an earnest looking man in a radio helmet supervised the trains with glowing pride.

From underneath the mural a man appeared, smiling and waving at people in the crowd. Applause broke out and somewhere a violin started playing "Hail to the Chief."


The man was probably sixty years old. He had a scruffy gray beard and a few wisps of hair on his head. He wore a charcoal grey suit with a tear on one sleeve and a nametag that read HELLO MY NAME IS Mr. President. A discrete American flag pin gleamed on his lapel.

Marisol stood up from one side of the room and bellowed out an announcement. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the man of the hour, my beloved husband and your President of the United States of America: Montclair Wilson!"

The crowd went wild. Wilson clasped his hands above his head and beamed like a searchlight. "Thank you, thank you," he shouted over the roar of the crowd. When they finally calmed down he cleared his throat and crossed his arms behind his back. "My fellow Americans," he said, "it has been a hard month. Yet we must remember that spring has come and with it the promise of a new morning in America."

I grabbed Shailesh's arm. He had to forcibly break himself away from looking at Wilson. "Is this serious?" I asked.

He shook his head to try to shut me up but then he sighed and said, "Without strong leadership we'd be doomed."

"But who is this guy?"

"He was a professor of political economics at Columbia before the, the you-know. Now can I please listen? This is important!"

I let him go and turned back to hear the speech, some of which we'd missed.

" - kept or exceeded all my campaign promises. I am proud to say that we now have enough hot water for everyone to have a shower each week. You asked me for more working fluorescent tubes in the sleeping concourse and with Jack's help I brought a thousand points of light to our benighted country. In the last month we have also added five more volumes to the library, including a Tom Clancy novel I personally recommend."

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I looked at Ayaan, a sarcastic grin on my face but she was as rapt as the rest of them. She'd been raised by demagogues and political indoctrination counselors so I suppose it was no real surprise she was susceptible to this kind of rhetoric. I leaned back against the pillar and studied the zip-a-toned mural, sinking into a reverie for a future that would never be, now. I sat up again, though, when the President got to his round-up of current events.

"We have all heard the rumors. It would appear to be true - there is a boat in the harbor, I have learned it is a diesel-powered fishing trawler repurposed as a troop carrier. Now we don't want to start using the word 'rescue'. I know we're all tired and bored and we want to get out of here but our rescue is not something I'm going to talk about tonight. I will never promise you that you will be rescued until I can guarantee it. I will be leading a fact-finding committee myself to see what our chances of rescue really are. My results will be made public as soon as they are available. I can promise you one thing, though. When we are rescued, we will all go into that new and promised land. We will leave no child behind.

"Good night, America - and God bless!"

The crowd exploded in a roar of excitement as Wilson left the "stage", his fists pumping in the air as the violin broke into a raucous rendition of "It's a Grand Old Flag." Marisol ran to take her husband's place, her hands clapping in time. When the song ended she called up the violinist and had him play requests. He was a slender teenage boy no older than Ayaan with a bad case of acne and a t-shirt that read WEAPONIZED 2004 WORLD AUTOPSY TOUR. A blurrily menacing nu metal band looked out with scorn from the faded cotton. The requests he got were mostly for songs by Sinatra and Madonna, which he played with feeling.

It was the first music I'd heard since leaving Somalia and I have to admit it stirred me, even bitter, cynical, crusted old Dekalb. I sang along with a couple of the tunes, remembering my youth in the States - there were a lot of cars, as I remember, and a lot of hanging out in front of McDonald's hoping girls would walk by but it seemed like paradise compared to what was going on over our heads. When the kid broke into an arrangement of April Lavigne's hit "Complicated" for solo violin, however, I rose from my numbed haunches and headed to the back of the concourse where a set of card tables held refreshments. I helped myself to some punch (watered-down Kool-Aid mixed with bathtub vodka) and a cookie full of clumps of baking soda.

The survivors wouldn't talk to me. I tried various conversational gambits - complimenting the snacks, asking about the weather, even just introducing myself cold but I guess they didn't want to hear what their chances of getting out with us were. If they just stared at me they could maintain the illusion that I was a free ticket to safety.

Well, maybe I was. The Arawelo was still out there somewhere in the night. If we could reach it there was a chance. And I thought I might have an idea how to reach it.

I went looking for Jack and found myself in a deserted corridor. Up ahead it ended in a short flight of stairs. I could hear people down there so I went to investigate and found Jack. Marisol, too. He had one hand inside the drawstring of her pants and his mouth was nuzzling her neck.

She saw me and for a second the look in her eyes was one of simple defiance. Why not? She seemed to ask and in truth I could hardly fault her. Death was always near us. More to the point it was none of my business. She seemed to recall herself after a second, though, and she pushed Jack angrily away. "You fucking asshole, get off of me!" she screamed. "You know I'm married!"

She dashed past us. I watched Jack carefully, wondering if he would be angry at me for discovering them. Instead he merely turned around, very slowly, and opened his eyes. "What can I do for you, Dekalb?" he asked. Before I could answer we heard a squeal, maybe a scream - the white tiles of the station played hell with acoustics - and we raced back to the concourse.

The cat had returned. The mangy tabby that Shailesh had released as bait so that Ayaan and I could come inside. It must have found its way through the dead on its own and then returned via some hidden entrance too small to need to be guarded. It looked confused and very bedraggled as it walked across the open floor of the concourse, its tail cautiously flicking back and forth.

A girl with braces and thick glasses bent down and patted her knees. "Come here, baby," she cooed, and the cat turned to face her. In an instant it was on her, its vicious teeth sinking deep in her arms as she tried to protect herself. We could all see now the hole in the cat's side, a ragged wound through which its ribs were clearly visible.

Jack rushed for the girl as the rest of the crowd fell back in terror, nearly trampling each other as they tried to get away. Jack flicked a combat knife out of his boot and impaled the cat through the head. Then he turned to the girl. He grabbed one of her arms roughly and yanked it upward. It was covered in small bites, pinpricks of blood and cat saliva. "Come on," Jack said. His voice was neither cruel nor kind - just empty. He had nothing left in the way of emotions to give her. He lead her away via one of the concourse's many passages.

After that the air in the concourse felt like something solid and foul-tasting. Like the place had been poured full of rubber cement. Any of the feeling of festivity was gone - which was apparently Marisol's cue to take the stage once more.

"Famous movie scenes!" she shouted. The words had a brittle quality but they got the attention of the crowd. "Famous movie scenes! Who's got one?"

Perhaps numbed by horror the survivors just looked at one another, trying to think of something. Anything. Finally it was Ayaan who stood up. She looked like she might die of embarrassment and her command of English declined sharply but she managed to pipe out: "May we have the famous scene of Ms. Sandra Bullock and Mr. Keanu Reeves in the 'Speed'?"

Marisol nodded eagerly and called Ayaan up to act it out with her. "There's a bomb on the bus!" Ayaan shouted, smiling a little. "I need to know, Ma'am, if you can drive this bus!"

So that's what they needed Marisol for. I left them to it and turned to follow Jack out of the concourse.

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