November 17, 2004

Chapter 12

Jacob's radio started sputtering. "Jacob, the guard's back, at the hospital. Can you get over here now?"

As Jacob crossed the compound, the crowd was buzzing. The city was finally responding, and the mystery of its silence would dissipate soon. The elders were coming from their tent, interrupting their meeting at last.

Inside the hospital, the chaplain and the guard were catching up on the last few days. The guard's instructions were to talk only to the elders' council about anything substantial, so Abner was getting a bit frustrated when Jacob arrived.

"I need to talk with your council," said the guard as the elders came in. "I'd appreciate it if we could meet in the hospital." He pulled out his keys and the elders followed him. Leah waved to Jacob to come along as well. The guard opened a conference room, and everyone settled in to a seat. Leah pulled out a pad of paper, and the guard turned on several of the monitors in the back of the room.

"My name is Andrew," started the guard, "and you've known me for years as the city's gatekeeper. Today I come to apologize for not being here when you arrived, and to start the conversation which will hopefully let you return to your homes."

"We're delighted to see you," said Judith. "We've been looking forward to hearing from any of your community. Could you tell us why it's been so silent?"

"We were on retreat," said the guard. "Gregory, our leader, passed away, and we have elected a new leader, Matthew."

Jacob and the elders were intrigued. They'd met Matthew before, and worked with him. The farmers had never met any of the city's leaders before.

Andrew continued. "We close the surface city when we have to choose a new leader. Normally this isn't a problem. We didn't really expect many visitors this time of year anyway. We hope you've been comfortable."

The elders nodded.

"I'm up here to start the conversation, because you know me, but I'm really just the guard and gatekeeper."

"Will you be at the gate now?" asked Judith.

"I don't know yet. I'm supposed to return downstairs for further orders."

"Can you tell us anything about the raiders?" asked Jacob.

"A bit," said the guard. "There seem to be two groups of them. There's the group at the gate who have been shouting at you, and there's another group in wagons at the bottom of the hill. They're armed, as you know and seem to be violent. We're working on an extraction plan, and others will be here to talk with you about that."

The council nodded. "Do you know how long that will take?" asked Judith.

Andrew shook his head. "I don't know. I'll be here to manage the gate, but that's all I've heard so far."

He turned to the monitors and brought up some images. One monitor showed the encampment outside of the gate, where several men were gathered around a fire and Nathan was still reading through his megaphone. Another monitor showed the wagons at the bottom, while a third showed the road in between them, empty.

"I'll leave you with these running, so you can at least see what's happening outside. I know it's not much, but you'll be hearing more from us soon. We know it's hard to be patient, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon. I'll see you soon."

Andrew left the room, used his key to open the elevator, and descended.

***

Andrew walked into the council chamber, where the city council was watching its farming counterpart on the monitor.

"That seemed to go well, Andrew," said Matthew.

"They're a gloomy bunch," said Andrew. "Just want the facts as usual."

"Did they seem anxious?"

"I didn't think particularly, but you could see and hear them on the monitor. They were happy to see me, I think."

"Are you all right with going back to your post?"

"It's where I belong, isn't it?" said Andrew, smiling.

"You'll have God's Army on your outside window," said Catherine.

"That should be entertaining," said Andrew.

"I'd like you to keep that window darkened," said Matthew. "Don't talk to them, and preferably don't let them know you're there."

"I can work off the cameras," said Andrew. "I've practiced it for years."

"I think it's time to send the regular crew upstairs," said Matthew.

No one on the council objected. "Seems like a good idea to me," said Stephen. "I suspect the farmers will be more comfortable if things seem more normal, at least as normal as they can be under the circumstances."

"When do I go?" asked Andrew.

"Why don't we send all of you upstairs in an hour or so. Can you let everyone know?"

***

Jacob and the elders were relieved. They were still a long way from getting home again, but at least the city was returning to normal. He and the elders had studied the monitors for a while, finally able to see their opponents. Apart from Nathan's continued reading, everything seemed quiet. The men sat around a campfire eating. At the bottom of the hill, the wagons were quiet, except for a shepherd watching some sheep. The sheep looked healthier than the shepherd, and the elders suspected they were looking at some of their own sheep.

The guard had returned after an hour with the hospital staff, the librarian, and the trading staff. "We're here to make things normal again, as normal as they can be," said Andrew as he sauntered toward his post. He didn't have any news, but it was good to see the booth occupied again. There was some shouting outside as the guard's outside window darkened, and the raiders pounded against the gate for a little while, but they eventually returned to their campfire, sending a messenger down to the wagons.

Word spread quickly among the farmers, who welcomed the city people back. Abner was thrilled to turn his patients back over to the nurses in much the same shape they'd left them. The traders walked through the barn making sure everything was working well, and the librarian posted a schedule of classes for children and adults.

***

John's dreams were stranger and stranger. Old memories, new questions, all through a haze. He tossed and turned more and more, occasionally opening his eyes but unable to quite wake up.

Martha leaned over him and adjusted the delivery of his medicines. He'd been unconscious for a long time, and bringing him back out cleanly would be a challenge. Did the council know how difficult this was? His time asleep hadn't gone to waste, however - city medicines were helping his body rebuild itself, and once the grogginess passed, he'd feel many years younger.

The old records seemed reliable, though they reflected practices used on people centuries before. The medicines going in all made sense to Martha, as they were the same medicines the city dwellers used to extend their own lifetimes, but the dosages were much higher, and a whole set of dialysis and blood processing machines were needed to extract the many poisons the medicines produced in John's bloodstream, catching up with decades of slow decay. The doctors had been concerned that he might be too old to tolerate the process, but so far, he was doing well.

Posted by simonstl at November 17, 2004 09:48 AM
Comments
Post a comment









Remember personal info?






© 2004 Simon St.Laurent.
All Rights Reserved.