November 17, 2004

Chapter 11

Jacob stopped in at the hospital to check in with Abner, the chaplain. Abner was at the front, sorting through his notes while eating a sandwich. He hadn't noticed Jacob.

"Everything going all right, Abner?" asked Jacob.

"Yes, so far, so good. Gideon and Sarah are in there now with Rachel, and I'm taking a break. Keziah is in charge for the moment." said Abner.

Jacob took a deep breath. Gideon and Sarah would probably want to know how John was. It seemed likely that John had saved the community, but no one on the surface knew if John had saved or sacrificed himself.

"Thanks, Abner. Enjoy your break," said Jacob as he walked toward the rooms. The scent of alcohol grew stronger as he walked further into the hospital. Gideon and Sarah were sitting in the first room he encountered, with Rachel lying on the bed asleep. He knocked on the open door and entered.

"Hello, Jacob," said Sarah and Gideon at about the same time, standing to greet him.

"Hello, folks," replied Jacob. "How's Rachel?"

"She seems to know we're here," said Sarah, "but she doesn't talk or respond very much."

"She seems comfortable, at least," said Gideon. "Any word from John?"

Jacob thought for a moment before replying. "No, not yet. I think he gets the credit for our being here within these walls instead of out there with God's Army, but the city's been completely silent since he went in. We haven't had word, but I'm hoping for the best."

"That's about what I expected," said Sarah, looking at the floor.

"We can only wait, I suppose," said Gideon.

Jacob looked at Rachel and shook his head. "It's the best we can do for now. I'm hopeful, though. I think they'll recognize why he took the risk he took in going back."

***

Matthew's first council meeting was making him wonder if he should retire immediately. Members of the old council were walking all over newcomers, he couldn't figure out what anyone's priorities were, and the initial briefing hadn't brought them any closer to talking about their immediate problem, the raiders on the surface.

Catherine was telling William that the energy problem wasn't really as dire as he claimed, that Gregory had been working on a plan to get more fuel. Margaret had started out with an overview of the last few years, but everyone's efforts to make a contribution had largely derailed it, and energy became the primary subject.

"Enough!" William shouted over the several conversations in the room. Everyone turned to look at him. "We're going to need to go through all of these issues eventually, and we're all going to have to learn how to work together. That will be a task for another day, however. We have immediate problems, problems that need to be solved within the next few days rather than decades."

"That would be a change from the traditional approach to forming a new council," said Margaret.

"Perhaps it would," replied Matthew. "I'm afraid our outside world isn't behaving the way we traditionally expect it to behave. While this crisis hasn't reached us directly yet, it will start affecting us soon enough. Now, what do we know about what's happening up there, and do we have a plan yet for returning things to normal?"

***

The hunters were feeding their dogs in a corner of the barn. Miriam was already talking with them when Jacob arrived.

"Good morning," said Jacob. Everyone nodded and the dogs climbed up on the bars of the pen to say hello. "It looks like you managed to bring all of your friends."

"We did," said Abigail, the younger hunter. "Fortunately we were at home when the call came over the radio. We'd been planning a three-day hunt, and might have been pretty far away if this had happened differently."

"All we really had to do was lock up the guns and ammunition and pack up the dogs," said Lemuel. "The dogs didn't seem to mind going for a ride."

"I'm worried about your weapons," said Jacob. "We don't know what God's Army is doing out there, and I certainly don't want to provide them with weapons and ammunition."

"I think everything should be fine," said Abigail. "We had time to put everything into full lockdown. The guns are disassembled and the parts scrambled together, the ammunition is hidden separately, and they're both locked up and hidden."

"Did you bring any of them with you?" asked Jacob. Everyone looked surprised.

"No, we didn't. We only take them on hunting trips," replied Lemuel, emphasizing only.

"Good," said Jacob. "I'd rather not have the temptation to use them."

"Any news from the city?" asked Abigail.

Jacob shook his head. "It's frustrating, but no. They're still silent. I think we're fine here for a week or more, with all the food they left, but I'd like to get home sooner than that."

"Should we be ready for anything?" asked Lemuel.

"When we hear from them, I'm guessing they'll handle this the same way they handled the last intrusion, with the dart guns and deportation. We'll need you as observers," said Jacob.

"It's strange to watch them hunting, in a way," said Lemuel.

"Unless God's Army gets a lot more friendly, I'm not sure there's any other way. They also have Ruth, which will make things a lot more complicated."

"I wish we knew the terrain here better," said Abigail. "I know they don't want us poking around their hillside, but it would be awfully helpful to know our way around now."

Jacob nodded. "They don't even have maps of this hill in the library. We're going to have to depend on them for a lot."

***

James and Helena's presentation was going well. They had chosen key pictures and transcripts, along with a few bits of video showing the state of God's Army. The council remained silent during while James and Helena were speaking, occasionally looking at the mobile monitor they had brought with them to see what was happening right now.

Helena was wrapping up. "We're estimating that there are thirty-five people out there. The men are much more active, while the women and children stay in the wagons at the bottom of the hill. They've moved Ruth down to the wagons, and appear to have shaved her head. They also have a group of animals with the wagons. Apart from reading the Bible at the wall, their only current activity appears to be some scouting, and eating a lot."

Matthew stood up at the end. "Do you have any recommendations for how to deal with this?" he asked.

"We've discussed the prospect of collecting this group and transporting them," said Helena. "It's a larger group than the last one we dealt with, but it should still be within our range if we plan the raid carefully."

"The last council asked that we begin the process of training more of our people in outdoor skills and shooting," said James. "I suspect it will take a few more days before the force is ready. The sharpshooters have been training continuously, but we need extra people for this mission who haven't been training on a regular basis."

Matthew nodded, and turned to the council. "Does anyone know more about where these people came from? I never heard of them through the city to city channels that I was following."

Everyone shook their heads. "Gregory was concerned about cities deporting people to our area, but he seemed to think the notification system worked well," said Catherine.

"I did too, until this," said Matthew. "I guess we'll have to ask them when we have them in custody."

Matthew thanked Helena and James for their work, and they returned to their monitoring room.

"I think it's time to talk with the farmers," said Matthew. "I've spoken with them before in my prior position, and I think it would be simpler to talk with them directly now."

"The farmers have never seen our leaders," protested Catherine. "It could be dangerous."

"Dangerous? Have the farmers ever done anything violent to the city?" asked Matthew.

"I don't trust them," said Catherine. Several other council members nodded in assent.

"I trust them well enough to talk with them," said Matthew.

"But is it necessary?" asked Margaret. "I'd rather not set that precedent." Most of the council members seemed to agree with her.

"I used to coordinate these things myself," said Matthew. "We don't really have anyone else to do it at the moment."

"How about the guard?" asked Catherine. "He could at least make initial contact." The whole council seemed to be agreeing with her.

"Fine," said Matthew. "We'll send the guard back to his booth as a first step. If everything seems all right, we'll send the hospital and trading staff back up next. And after that, we'll see."

Posted by simonstl at November 17, 2004 09:19 AM
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