"The end of the world required less time, and far fewer megatons than any expert had predicted."
The castaways were assembled now to face the urgency of their circumstances. Dark days of mourning had gone by before the Skipper rallied them. The sky was black, and the Professor's face was grim.
"America's invasion of Hong Kong triggered the massive Chinese nuclear response administration strategists counted on. As anticipated, immediate destruction was almost entirely one-sided. Washington's super-secret particle weapon defense grid performed nearly flawlessly: the only American targets destroyed were the university campuses at Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Cambridge and Madison. Following the Communist government's refusal to surrender power to Taipei, China was devastated as surgical counterforce strikes devolved into spasmodic city-busting. Immediate megadeaths seem to have been around one thousand."
"O, what a mah-velous explanation," said Mrs. Howell sadly, "whatever it means."
"Massive environmental damage was of graver consequence. The planet's ecosystem, ravaged by two centuries of irresponsible industrial pollution, collapsed under a black blanket of ash and radioactivity which engulfed the atmosphere. Corporate agriculture - the First World's artificial, industrialized food supply - failed with the economy. As billions starved, radiation storms like hurricanes of fire devastated the survivors."
"Owe!," cried Mary Ann. "I know what it means. It means they've killed everybody in the whole world, and we're all that's left. O boo hoo hoo hoo!"
"The end was audible via shortwave radio. One by one the world's newscasts fell silent. Ship-to-shore, aviation and military communication ceased. SOS transmissions on citizen's band dwindled and, finally, ended. Mankind's final words were broadcast almost a month ago: the Rush Limbaugh program, pre-recorded. Since then, nothing but broadband static from all directions, indicating, I believe, that residual radiation is enormous."
"O, but this is dreadful, just dreadful," Mrs. Howell said.
The Professor paced the clearing, once, twice, rapt in thought. There was a long pause.
"But professor," Gilligan asked hesitantly. "If the radiation is everywhere, why are we still alive?"
The Professor stopped and turned toward the others, worry lines etched around his eyes.
"I don't know, Gilligan. It's possible that the same mysterious natural forces which have preserved us here without aging have also prevented the radiation storms from reaching us. But, somehow, I doubt that. I've never seen storm clouds like the ones gathering now" — the Professor looked toward the ominous sky. "I fear we must prepare for the worst."
"Wuh — Professor — w-what can we do to prepare for r-r-radiation storms?" The Skipper's face was care-worn and confused.
Naturally the castaways' little village was designed to weather tropical storms. Like the dwellings of indigenous peoples, their buildings were simple thatched huts that could withstand moderate winds. Hurricanes of fire were altogether different. The Skipper's eyes grew large. Their little world would spark and burn like match heads and tinder.
A flash of red lighting lit the coal-gray sky.
"We can build a shelter in the caves!" Mary Ann looked up with newfound hope.
"Sure Mary Ann! Just like we did when the volcano blew up!" Gilligan's face brightened.
The Professor nodded. "Exactly." This was the plan he'd been thinking of himself. "We can provision the deepest caves for weeks or even months of life underground. This," he said, "is the easy part. But there is a problem I'm not sure we can solve." He looked into each of their faces with grave seriousness. "The caves will shelter us from fire and wind. But, they'll do nothing to shield us from radiation. For that we must use the right insulating material. Lead," he said, "or concrete, or even paper."
"Wuh - b-but Professor, we have no lead or concrete." The Skipper looked hopeless.
"But Skipper, we do have paper! Lots of it!" Mary Ann jumped to her feet and turned toward the Howells, who at that moment were making their way quietly away.
"Come along Lovey," said Mr. Howell. "That certainly was a lovely meeting ..."
Mary Ann stood with hands on hips, blocking their way. "Hand it over, Howell!," she said sternly.
"Lovey! Lovey!" Mr. Howell held his hand to his heart, and trembled weakly. "We're on an island of... of Bolsheviks!" Mary Ann did not look amused.
Gilligan was thoughtful. "It's alright Mr. Howell," he said helpfully. "We don't need to keep it. We can just borrow it for a while."
"Ah!," said Mr. Howell, cheering to the thought. "That's different! I'm sure we can work out equitable, er, terms... "
"O poo!," said Mary Ann decisively. "We all know where it is. We'll line the caves with Mr. Howell's trunks of cash, and we'll give it back to him when we're safe. All in favor?"
Five hands went up. Mrs. Howell looked confused. Mr. Howell looked dejected and hurt.
"The ayes have it!," Mary Ann said firmly. "Let's get to work, everybody!"
A strange sound stopped them. A dull thunder without echo, sustained, growing louder and closer, falling from the eastern sky. It was a jet airplane — a very large jet airplane. With a roar of massive engines a huge airliner circled the island once, twice, descending in white-painted spirals toward the lagoon.