It took less than a month for every United Seven States of America and international government agency to concede that Los Angeles was not fixable. Initially the various heads and undersecretaries pointed at each other, insisting that one or another must act first before their own experts could wade in. As the foliage withered and services—particularly medical—shut down for lack of water in any form, eventually everyone reluctantly pulled out.

It was hard for the public to imagine life without water. Nothing to drink. Hardly anything to eat. Toilets wouldn’t flush. People couldn’t bathe. Anything and everything that in any way relied upon H2O became worthless. Thousands died. The rest, reluctantly but fast losing hope, slowly migrated elsewhere. The largest city in the world, by landmass, became a barren ghost town.

Except for people of faith. The underground became the sparse populace that had the run of the place. The endless miles of freeway pavement, once the crippled cars of the judged were moves aside, became a playground for the formerly oppressed. They had running water. Their bottles were full. Their machines had fluids and lubrication. And when they assumed control of the dead vehicle of a banished victim, it sprang back to life.

Unable to explain such a catastrophe to the populace, the government resorted to threatening to obliterate life in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. This was met with a furious outcry. What about the landmarks, the homes, the office buildings? If a cure were ever found, what would there be to return to? Was this not admitting that the majority had lost to the minority?

Worse, there were those who—given the poverty of the government’s ability to explain, let alone rectify, the situation—suggested that the claim of the rebels must be true: God had sent this plague on Los Angeles because of the slaughter of innocents. And should the government compound its culpability by attempting to wipe out the rest of them, what would stop Him from expanding the scope of the disaster?

This proved the greatest nightmare for the government since religion had been banned internationally more than three and a half decades prior. The year 38 P.3. [which would have been known as 2047] was shaping up to become the year of the underground, of the rebels, of the resistance. All across the USSA, underground factions seemed to take heart from what had transpired in L.A. It was as if God had had enough of the carnage, the persecution. Secret believers came to hope that He would not abandon them, that they might grow bolder and be able to count on His protection, even His vengeance against their pursuers.

In Columbia—formerly the nation’s capital—people found bearing the flat, smooth, white stone that identified them as believers were suddenly feared. While the NPO had a mandate to round them up and prosecute them—the sentence, death—private citizens suddenly quit turning them in. Rather, the populace looked the other way when they happened upon a rebel planting literature in a public place. Some even risked stealing a glance at the printed material, though none dared being caught with it on their person.

In Atlantica, where the underground carried ailanthus leaves that marked them, some in the office buildings of New York City were bold enough to establish hybrid groups made of some from one cell and the rest from others.

In Gulfland, medallions depicting the Bible were left at scenes of what otherwise might have appeared industrial sabotage. Yet officials refused to follow leads that might have pointed them to the resistance.

In Heartland, particularly in Chicago, bold rebels were actually seen wearing crown-shaped pins on their lapels in public. Yet not one was followed to a gathering place of believers.