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Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - Free BookNotes

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Randy sleeps in, catching up on some much-needed rest after the long and eventful evening the night before. When he awakens, he has Dan tell him about the attack. Dan had gone to check on a patient suffering from typhoid, “...the unwelcome, evil sister of any disaster in which the water supply was destroyed or polluted...” Dan had been expecting this evil sister to make her appearance, and she finally arrived. On his way back, he stopped to help what appeared to be an injured woman on the side of the road. She was, however, a decoy. Two men and a boy attacked him when he tried to get his medical bag out of the car. After beating him with a baseball bat, they leave him for dead on the side of the road. Summoning the last of his strength, he managed to crawl to the Bragg house. While the loss of the car, the remaining gasoline, and his medical instruments are a disastrous loss, the highwaymen break the doctor’s glasses in the attack - the loss of his glasses is critical as the doctor cannot see without them. It is possible to make replacement instruments - crude, perhaps, but effective - but replacing broken eyeglasses is impossible.

Randy realizes that banditry like this was inevitable. Highwaymen had killed off traffic on the major roads, and now they were, of necessity, haunting the smaller roads in the smaller towns. Randy also realizes that the highwaymen must be stopped before they attack others, and the only way to stop them is to capture them and publicly hang them.

Randy visits Sam Hazzard to talk about the need to stop the highwaymen. Sam also understands that they must be stopped. Randy tells Sam that he plans to use his newfound authority to form a provisional company to protect the town since civil authority has broken down. Sam suggests to Randy that he make a decoy truck, a Trojan Horse, which would tempt the highwaymen to attack it not knowing that it would be filled with armed men. Randy likes the idea, but it dawns on him that the only person who would have a truck and enough gasoline was Rita Hernandez. As much as he would like to put Rita behind him, he knows he has to visit her and convince her to help pull off the plan.

Before he leaves the admiral’s house, he uses Sam’s typewriter to type up a set of orders that he is issuing under martial law. His first order announces that he has taken command of the town and will be forming a provisional company to protect the town. His second order is to warn the townspeople to boil all water before drinking it to prevent the spread of typhoid. His third order announces that the penalty for robbery or pillage, or complicity in it, is death by hanging.

Randy walks to town and, from there, to Pistolville. Along the way, he sees an armadillo and vaguely remembers that they are edible. He finally reaches Rita’s house and tells her of his plan. She agrees to help him and provides him with a panel van from a grocery store and 17 gallons of gas. Randy drives the van home, planning to cut gun holes in the sides of the van.

Once home, he discusses marriage with Lib and she accepts his somewhat indirect proposal. The next day is Easter Sunday, and they plan to be married then.


Dan says that typhoid is the evil sister of any disaster. However, typhoid has a twin sister, more visible, but just as vicious. Typhoid’s sister is lawlessness and pillage, and she is often the first of the two sisters to show herself. In Fort Repose, both show up at about the same time. In modern America, typhoid has been largely eliminated, but any disaster, natural or man-made, provides an opportunity for lawlessness, robbery, rape, and pillage.

With the breakdown of civil authority and the absence of any police protection, someone needs to step in and fill the vacuum. With Mrs. Vanbruuker-Brown’s announcement, Randy, as an Air Force Reserve Officer, has the legal authority to take control of the town and issue decrees for the well-being and protection of the town. Randy makes it clear that he is not forming a vigilante group, but a provisional company. Ultimately, the provisional company would surrender power to a legally constituted civil authority once a functioning government is formed.

Rita’s responsiveness to Randy’s plan is unusual. The author does not say what motivates Rita, who has no reason to help, to provide Randy with a van and a large amount of gasoline. Nonetheless, she does, and she plays her role well, providing Randy with a good cover story that will doubtlessly find its way to the highwaymen. Her generosity is the first time in the novel when she considers something more than just herself, placing the town’s good ahead of her own.

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