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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Turtledove Harry
 

«Return engagement», Harry Turtledove

I

Flora Blackford woke from nightmare to nightmare. She'd dreamt she was trapped in a burning building, with fire alarms and sirens screaming all around her. When her eyes opened, she thought for a dreadful moment that she was still dreaming, for sirens were wailing outside. Then reason returned along with consciousness, and the Congresswoman from New York groaned. Those were air-raid sirens, which could only mean the war had started at last.

Or maybe it's a drill, Flora thought, snatching desperately at hope, though a drill at-she looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand-four in the morning struck her as madness. Of course, a new round of war between the United States and the Confederate States struck her as madness, too.

Antiaircraft guns in the defense ring around Philadelphia began to pound. That sound banished the last vestiges of doubt. Guns inside the de facto capital of the USA opened up a moment later. Through the gunfire and the sirens, she heard a deep, distant throbbing that rapidly grew louder. Those were Confederate bombers overhead.

She sprang out of bed and threw a housecoat on over the thin cotton nightgown she'd worn against the muggy heat of the first days of summer in Philadelphia. She had one arm in the quilted housecoat and one arm out when she suddenly stopped in outrage that seemed ridiculous only later. "That bastard!" she exclaimed. "He didn't even declare war!"

A new sound joined the cacophony outside: the thin whistle of falling bombs. As the first explosions made the windows of her flat rattle and shake, she realized President Jake Featherston of the CSA wouldn't have to send Al Smith, his U.S. counterpart, any formal messages now.

Fear joined outrage. She could die here. So could her son. She ran to his bedroom and threw open the door. "Joshua! Get up!" she shouted. "We've got to get down to the basement! The war is here!"

Only a snore answered her. At sixteen, Joshua could sleep through anything, and he'd proved it. Sirens? Antiaircraft guns? Droning bombers? Bombs? Probing searchlights? His mother yelling? They were all one to him, and likewise all nothing to him.

"Get up!" Flora shouted again. Still no response. She went over to the bed and shook him. "Get up!"

That did the job. Joshua Blackford sat up and muttered for a moment. He didn't doubt what was going on around him the way his mother had. "They really went and did it!" he said.

"Yes, they really did," Flora agreed grimly. Bombs were bursting closer now, underscoring her words. "Come on. Get moving. Put on a bathrobe or something and get downstairs with me. We don't have time to dawdle."

Later, she would discover that putting on a bathrobe when you were already wearing pajamas was dawdling, too. But that would be later. In the wee small hours of June 22, 1941, she was doing as well as she could.

Someone pounded on the door. "Get out! Get downstairs!" a hoarse male voice yelled.

"We're coming!" Flora shouted back. Joshua flew into a terry-cloth robe. Flora grabbed a key and locked the door behind her when she and her son left the apartment. Those niceties would also go by the board later on.

Down the stairs they scurried, along with the other members of Congress and bureaucrats and businessmen and their families who rented here. For the moment, everybody was equal: equal in fear and equal in fury. In the darkness of the stairwell, people said exactly what they thought of Jake Featherston, the Freedom Party, and the Confederate States of America. Flora heard some things she'd never heard before. No one cared if women were within earshot. Some of the most inflammatory things came from the mouths of women, as a matter of fact.

The basement was dark, too, dark and crowded and hot and stuffy. Someone lit a match to start a cigarette. The brief flare of light might have been a bomb itself. Flora wished she hadn't thought of that comparison. If a bomb did hit this building…

"Sh'ma yisroayl, adonai elohaynu, adonai ekhod," she murmured, just in case.

More bombs burst, some of them very close. The basement shook, as if at an earthquake. Plaster pattered down from the ceiling. A woman screamed. A man groaned. Beside Flora, Joshua whispered, "Wow!"


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