Study Guide

Alas, Babylon Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

  • Helen Bragg—Mark's wife—feels "miserable and guilty" as Mark pushes her and their children, Peyton and Ben Franklin, towards their plane to Florida (4.1).
  • He comforts her, telling her that he'll be safe inside "the Hole," which seems to be a military bunker of some sort. As you can imagine, it's an emotional goodbye.
  • Down below the Mason-Dixon, Randy wakes up. It's 9:00 PM and he needs to be at the airport at in five hours.
  • He still has tons of supplies to buy, but decides to drop by the McGoverns instead. Lib might need backup.
  • Far away, Ensign James "Peewee" Cobb is loading into an F-11 in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. He's the lucky pilot tasked with taking down that annoying mosquito of an enemy plane.
  • After a bit of flying, he spots the baddie and goes into hot pursuit. The enemy craft heads straight towards "the Syrian port of Latakia" (4.44). If Peewee enters their territory, he could start a war.
  • Against his better judgment, Peewee hold the pursuit and launches a homing missile. Instead of shooting towards Peewee's flying foe, however, it heads straight for the dock.
  • There's a huge explosion. Hello, World War III.
  • At the same time, Randy arrives at the McGoverns' gaudy abode. Lib's parents have never been fond of him, but he thinks he can help her convince them of the seriousness of the situation.
  • Lavinia, Lib's mom, is trying to downplay the news, assuming it'll be no worse than World War II. Bill, her father, doesn't seem to buy it at all.
  • Randy hears about the disaster in the Mediterranean when he returns home at midnight. Bill calls him, having listened to the news too, but still refuses to believe.
  • Mark hears the same news from inside the Hole. He discusses it with the other SAC big-wigs, and they're all nervous about a potential Russian response.
  • What makes them worry most is that they're getting no communication from Moscow–"'not a whisper'" (4.130). If they're not talking, Mark explains, they're probably planning something.
  • Helen and the kids arrive in FL around 3:30 AM.
  • The kids figured out what's going on during the plane ride over, so they ask Uncle Randy all sorts of cute questions about nukes and war games in the Mediterranean.
  • Y'know—typical kid stuff.
  • Meanwhile, in the Hole, General Hawker arrives. He's the big boss man 'round these parts.
  • They discuss the situation briefly before Mark makes a big ask—he wants the General to request control of the nuclear arsenal. He's sure the big one is coming, and he wants to be ready when it does. The General agrees, and permission is granted.
  • Moments later, four unidentified objects appear on the radar. Their "speed and trajectory indicated they are ballistic missiles" (4.187).
  • Good timing, Mark.

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