George Paxton, an engraver of tombstones and a contented family man, is persuaded to buy a scopas (Self-Contained Post-Attack Survival) suit for his daughter but soon is forced by financial hardship to cancel the contract. Later, he meets Nadine Covington, an odd woman with black blood who offers him a “free” scopas suit as part of a commission. To collect it, Paxton must visit a surreal MAD Hatter’s tea party (MAD signifying Mutually Assured Destruction, an idea associated with arms races) and sign a document stating that his purchase of the suit is an admission of complicity in the nuclear arms race.
A nuclear attack begins while Paxton is trying to get the suit home. He is shot by a neighbor intent on stealing it and sees a giant vulture flying overhead. He awakes aboard a fully armed nuclear submarine bound for Antarctica to learn that he is one of six individuals who are signatories to the McMurdo Sound Agreement. The other people aboard the submarine include a beautiful psychotherapist named Morning Valcourt. Paxton is asked to decide whether the submarine should launch its missiles by way of reprisal. He opts instead to ditch their payloads. He is visited again by Covington, who shows him a series of prophetic lantern slides painted by Leonardo da Vinci (according to the instructions of Nostradamus), one of which shows Paxton with his daughter Holly and Valcourt, all wearing scopas suits.
As the bizarre voyage continues, it...
(The entire section is 468 words.)