Despite overwhelming tiredness, and several stops for nausea, Irene Strait made good time on her drive north from where she had left the other pilgrims in North Dakota. She drove straight through the night, arriving at the border just before noon on Saturday.

 

Canadian authorities were taking details from refugees as they crossed into the country, and directing them to appropriate holding camps. Tom, Betty, and their grandchildren were deemed to be in greater need of medical attention than were Irene and Raymie, so they were put on a bus and taken to Regina, where they could be given better care.

 

 

Cross-country travel was being restricted throughout Canada. Irene was totally broke, and her pleas for official help in getting to Toronto were turned down. Toronto, according to the authorities, had more than it could handle already. Irene and Raymie were, however, taken to a holding camp on the highway between Regina and Winnipeg. (They had to abandon the Lincoln at the border.) The camp was one of many being set up on farmland all over southern Canada.

 

Irene and Raymie would have to wait there until the situation eased in Toronto, or until they could get airlifted directly out of Saskatchewan. They were both losing hair and suffering from dehydration from so much vomiting, but they were not as sick as some others in the camp.

 

The refugee camp consisted of thousands of twelve foot by twelve foot tents, housing eight people apiece. Every four tents had one porta-potty and a small portable shower between them. Buckets inside the tents were used when the queues were too long at the toilets, or when the weather was bad. The farmland where the camp had been set up was a quagmire from recent rains and from so much pedestrian traffic.

 

Refugees were told to stay inside the tents to minimise further contact with fallout. Food, water, and medication for nausea, diarrhoea, and infections were brought around twice a day by untrained volunteers. Only the worst cases were referred to the understaffed medical centre on the perimeter of the camp. Two doctors supervised a small team of nurses there. Life at the camp was rough, but it was rumoured that conditions there were better than they were at many other camps.

 

Pan-Continental Airlines was notified by the authorities about Irene and Raymie's location and condition, and Pan-Con passed the word on to Rayford. The family had little choice but to wait on official clearance for a reunion.

 

For the time being, Irene and Raymie took comfort in the fact that they had safe food and water, and a tent with bunks, in which to sleep and rest, and hope. There was no way for Rayford to contact them directly, and only the most urgent outgoing calls were allowed at the camp.

 

Any other time, Raymie might have been whining about the conditions. They were worse than any jail in North America. But for the first two weeks he was too sick to do much more than groan as he tossed on his bunk. Only when his strength began to return did he start to complain, and even then, it was nothing compared to his old self. Irene sat pretty heavily on his complaints, reminding him again and again of how lucky they were to be alive. But Raymie was genuinely trying to break old habits too. It was like his spirit had simply been waiting for Irene to get the courage to exercise authority over it. Of, course world events were such that everyone had been sobered about much that they had previously taken for granted. All in all, Raymie had been forced to do a lot of growing up in a very short period of time, and he was quickly warming to his new self-image as a disciplined and responsible adult.

 

The eight residents in each tent passed their time lounging on the bunks, talking, and doing various chores and calisthenics if they were strong enough. Much of the talk centred around each person's interpretation of what had transpired, and where it was all to lead, for them and for their loved ones. Virtually everyone was grieving over the loss of immediate friends and relatives, though most could only guess as to whether people outside their immediate household had survived the attack.

 

Normal communication links within the U.S. had totally broken down shortly after the bombings. Although there were no newspapers at the camp, some volunteers had access to news at home and they passed on what they knew when they arrived at the camp. From there, news would spread quickly, just by word of mouth.

 

The residents learned that the United Nations had taken over coordinating relief operations. In just a few weeks much of the surviving population of America was to be dispersed around the globe from the many holding camps in Canada and Mexico, and from airlifts within the United States... airlifts, that is, from those few places where aircraft could still come and go.

 

Weather patterns had been favourable, blowing most of the fallout out over the Atlantic. An Arctic cold front three days after the attack pushed air southward and kept most of the fallout away from Canada. Even so, radiation levels in southern Canada were still far above normal. Canadians had been cautioned to stay inside as much as possible. The rest of the world, apart from islands in the Caribbean, and some parts of Mexico, was assured that the radiation threat to them was minimal.

 

Russia's attitude toward the war was to act as though it had never happened. As soon as her bombers had completed their missions, blowing up military installations and other key centres of transportation, power, and communication, they had returned to their bases. From that point on, Russia had offered as much aid to the survivors as anyone else.

 

The U.S. and England had both been officially expelled from the U.N. just days after the attack. America was dropped because it ceased to exist; but almost no explanation was given for dumping England. Despite protests from the British, there was hardly any objection from other member nations. U.N. Secretary General Xu Dangchao, with strong backing from Russia and China, was able to push things through with the ease that world leaders always have in the face of disasters. The expulsion had not been accompanied by any sanctions against Britain, and the Brits themselves were so preoccupied with assisting Americans that they did not have the necessary heart to take on the U.N. in the face of inexplicable indifference from the rest of the world.

 

Loss of American trade was a threat to the economy of many smaller nations, but the U.N. started to work immediately on programs to reclaim land owned by American interests, and to re-cultivate it so that it could carry products which would better meet the needs of the local populations. The same thing was being done with American industrial interests. Secretary General Dangchao promised to actually increase wealth for the Third World; and the World Bank was surprisingly co-operative with his proposals. An economic summit was being planned to consider various proposals for stabilising the world economy. Talk of a single currency was a key issue on the agenda.

 

One U.N. project that was not getting as much media coverage as the economic and political changes, was a plan for a world religious summit. The masses of the world longed for reassurance that the U.S. disaster was not going to be repeated; and religious leaders had been shocked into overlooking differences that had previously divided them. They too wanted to play their part in promoting worldwide co-operation... co-operation with one another, as well as co-operation with the quickly evolving world government. In times of crisis people turn to religion for comfort and direction; so it was important for the government and the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to provide a unified (and unifying) image of hope and peace.

 

No word had been received at all from President Fitzhugh, who, with his family and aides, had been trapped under the White House when it was bombed. Hopes were fading that they had survived the blast, even though a series of tunnels existed under the building, and it was believed that he had been rushed there several minutes before the bomb hit. Under normal circumstances there would have been a system for appointing a replacement for the President, but the Vice-President and several other potential successors were dead or missing, along with a sizeable proportion of the Senators and Congressmen who would have to oversee such a decision. Most of those who were alive, were little more than refugees themselves. Truly, America had ceased to exist as an independent nation.

 

The U.S.'s unwavering support for Israel had been that country's mainstay for many years. The tiny Jewish state, surrounded as it was by Arab nations, was understandably nervous about the shift in power. But Dangchao surprised the world and gained respect for his sense of fair play by putting peace talks between Israel and the Arab states high on his priorities. It was rumoured that Jewish influences in the World Bank were what really won Dangchao over. He was getting many billions of dollars in support from the World Bank for his Third World plans. In exchange, the U.N. was taking a decidedly pro-Israeli position in the peace talks.

 

But, sadly, for the millions of Americans still struggling to escape the death and destruction that had ravaged that country, developments in world politics were incidental to their daily quest for survival. Tens of thousands were continuing to die each day from injuries received in the initial blasts, some of them dying without any medical aid at all. Many had been left where they fell, to suffer for days before finally succumbing. A few had been carried away, only to die on the road, in refugee camps, or in hospitals. Burials were rare. Cremations were faster. But, in most cases, bodies were left to rot, and disease was left to spread, as survivors had fled the scene.

 

For people like Chloe, still waiting for help to reach her, the threat of catching cholera or typhoid was now the biggest worry.