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Alas, Babylon Study Guide
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Alas, Babylon By Pat Frank
Randy Bragg is a loser. His family was once a prominent political force, but Bragg was just an officer in the Korean War whose major political aspiration failed horribly because of his support for racial de-segregation. Randy receives a telegram from his older brother, Mark, that has some family news but says that he wants to meet Randy at McCoy Air Force Base near Orlando, FL. The telegram ends with an ominous code: "Alas, Babylon", which the brothers have used to warn one another of danger.
Randy meets with his brother, who explains that the Soviets saw a weakness in the Allied defenses and planned to take advantage of the situation by engaging in a nuclear war. A defecting Soviet officer brought the plans to the West with him. Mark believes that the Russian plan isn't going to work, but even failure means huge losses in a nuclear war. Randy goes home, and warns his friends of the impending war.
At about the same time that Randy is picking up his brother's family for safekeeping, a solider flying off the coast of Syria (an ally of the Soviets), fires a missile at a reconnaissance drone, but misses and hits an ammo depot, causing a massive explosion that may have included nuclear elements. In response, the Soviet Union prepares to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.
The next morning, Mark suspects an attack is imminent and recommends that his superior, General Hawker, ask Washington to transfer authority to activate nuclear weaponry over to their location. Because the weapons-release process takes about 95 seconds, and the expected warning time for a Soviet attack was only fifteen minutes, Mark's request is granted. Just minutes later, the reports of incoming Soviet missiles come in, and Hawker thanks Mark for the 95-second head start.
As the first bombs hit Miami, Randy and his houseguests are awakened by the impacts. They look at the glow that was once Miami, and as they do, a nuke hits Tampa. The flash blinds Randy's niece Peyton, but everyone else witnesses the mushroom cloud first-hand. The residents of Randy's home - Fort Repose - begin to panic.
Tourists are trapped in their hotels, sublets of businesses are left without any command chain above store level as major cities are vaporized, and the local deejay spends the day nervously reading military instructions to the citizens. Criminals escape from prison, retirement homes are taken over by the elderly, and banks and stores run out of money and supplies. The only news source is a shortwave radio owned by one of Randy's neighbors.
A local banker commits suicide, one of Randy's former political rivals gets radiation sickness, and Randy himself steps up to the plate, organizing his neighbors to provide themselves with the necessities: food, water, shelter, and self-defense. He fights rioters, looters, and highwaymen. Finally, Randy invokes his right as an active-duty reservist to institute martial law, and does so.
Finally, Fort Repose receives outside contact in the form of the Air Force, who offer to relocate families in need - but they learn that the country is demolished. The President today was the Secretary of Education yesterday, and most major cities are gone. The US has won the war, but is now receiving aid from countries like Brazil and Venezuela, and will likely never be a primary power in the world. The residents of Fort Repose listen to the news, and decide that they would rather stay, believing that the lives they have built themselves are better than any they would find 'out there'.