This is your future. Just as you thought it couldn't get much worse.
About eight in the morning we rounded Maryland Point, and headed north for the final thirty miles to Washington. Daylight revealed that the river was just as red and mucky as the sea. It was an overcast day, the 19th of April. We had caught up some of our delay and were one day behind schedule. Chuck wasn’t happy: he had missed an event he had wanted to attend, but he was an experienced sailor and didn’t complain.
Without warning, there was a blinding flash of light ahead. “Wha...” Chuck began, but I didn’t give him a chance to finish. My Army Reserve training turned out to have the intended effect.
“Don’t look! Get down!” I yelled, covering my face and throwing myself to the cockpit sole.
In the process, I caught a glimpse of my watch. It was 9:02 AM.
The intense light continued for several seconds; then it began to fade away. I had found my sunglasses and got up again. A quick check confirmed my guess: a fireball was still expanding ahead, turning from yellow to orange and then to red; then a mushroom cloud broke out of the top of the ball and rose rapidly upwards. A hole had formed in the cloud layer above the fireball, and the mushroom cloud now spread out in and above the hole.
“A nuclear bomb,” I said. “Let’s lower the sails, quick!”
We had them down in less than a minute. At 9:04:25 we heard the explosion, a rather sharp “crack” followed by a long, thundering growl. The delay of two and a half minutes put the blast at 30 miles away, in Washington. We didn’t feel any wind or shock wave, which indicated that the charge had been relatively small, in the 10 to 20 kiloton range. Had it been a 20 megaton hydrogen bomb, we’d not only have been severely burned, but we probably would have been sunk by 100 mph winds.
Chuck and I looked at each other. Neither of us needed to say it—had we kept to our schedule, we’d have been there now. But we had to decide what to do. This wasn’t the right time to arrive as tourists in the area.
“We can’t go back to Britain: our stores are finished,” Chuck said. “But we could turn around and go to Annapolis or Virginia Beach, to be out of the way. What do you think?”
“There’ll be martial law all over the country, or at least in the eastern half,” I speculated. “They might not let us in. We may have to go to Cuba or Bermuda on the rations we have left. I’d like to keep going: I’m on my way west. Perhaps, after all, we’re less likely to be turned away here than in an undamaged area, where the authorities aren’t overloaded with emergency management. The wind’s from the northwest: if the target was Washington, we should be able to get to Alexandria without passing under the fallout cloud. Let’s go on and see what happens!”
So we set sail again and continued. There was little traffic on the river, as could be expected. At Quantico Marine Base, we saw frantic activity everywhere, but nobody challenged us. We sailed on, listening to local radio stations that confirmed ground zero as Washington DC. A commentator found the time to bemoan the timing of the attack: Washington had barely finished digging itself out of the mud from the tsunami generated by the Atlantic comet impact, and now this! Toward two in the afternoon, we passed Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, and a little later we turned the last bend in the river and had an unhindered view of the scene of destruction in front of us.
Washington was still burning. A pall of smoke was trailing off to the right. The trees on the shores we passed by had been hit by gale force w