October 04, 2004

Chapter 1

The raiders crept out of the woods near dawn, ten men. Ezra knew they weren't friends - no one in his community carried guns openly. He woke his wife and daughter, warned them of the danger, and went to meet his visitors.

The knock on the door came soon enough. Ezra pushed the share button and answered the door.

"Who is it?"

"God's Army, here for you and yours," a man answered.

"I don't believe God has an army," replied Ezra.

The door flew open, and three men came in, all carrying guns and knives. Ezra's wife stood beside him, pale but determined not to show fear.

"Of course God has an army, and we're the army. Our leaders listen to God nightly. We do God's will."

"And what would that will be?" asked Ezra.

"God plans to prosper us, that we might gather his army. You can join, or you can die."

"I'm not joining any army," said Ezra.

The man raised his pistol and shot Ezra in the head.

"That's what we do to heathens and infidels, right, Nathan?"

"So right, Uriah. Especially when there's a pretty woman nearby. What's your name, ma'am?"


"Read her God's will, Uriah."

Uriah hunted through his pockets for a piece of paper and read it to Ruth:

"When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldst have her to thy wife;

"Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

"And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

"And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her."

Nathan smiled. "I have humbled you, Ruth." Uriah kept a gun pointed at her while Nathan tied her hands and feet, then touched her cheek.

There was a shot from outside.

"What's going on out there?" bellowed Uriah.

"Someone got away," was the reply.

"Don't just let them get away - chase them!"

Clouds dimmed the sunrise as it started to snow.


John had heard the whole exchange - all of them did. The share button broadcast whatever happened in the room to the whole community, turning on their radios and alerting them to a problem.

John paused for a moment to remember Ezra, who he'd met briefly a few times, and pray for Ruth in her captivity and Keren in her flight.

There was a knock on his door, and his son Gideon entered the room.

"We're packing, father."

"Good. I don't know what to do."

"I thought we'd bring you, like we did last time. You can stay in the wagon."

"I don't suppose I have much choice. They don't want me there, but I don't suppose God's Army has much better to offer."

"No, they definitely don't. I wonder who they are this time?"

John just shook his head.


Jacob played back the recording, listening for any clues about "God's Army." He couldn't tell whether they really were an army, or whether it was just a small group of desperate men with religious pretensions. They did seem to know their Bible, if not parts he would have chosen, and appeared to work as a group.

Miriam came into the room, signaling for him to take off his headphones. "We're all ready to go. It sounds like everyone is moving quickly."

"I hate leaving the house to whoever wants to come by."

"I know, Jacob, but I think we'll have enough to do without worrying about the house."

"I hate leaving Ezra out there unburied and Ruth in the hands of this 'Army.'"

"That's a harder problem. But maybe we have a month to rescue Ruth?"

"Maybe. I don't trust these people to live up to the scripture they quote, though."

"All we can do is hope, and get people to safety."

"You're right as usual, Miriam. At least Keren got away."

"She did?"

"Yes, she's on a wagon heading in right now. Judah reported that just before you came in."

"Does she know?"

"He didn't tell me, but I suspect she does."

Jacob started packing up the radio to load it in the wagon. "We should get to the city quickly," he said. "We need sanctuary, but we also need their help."


Jacob and Miriam reached the bottom of the hill quickly. They lived close to the city, and didn't have much to pack. Wagons were coming on all three of the roads that met there, preparing to climb the hill to the city gates.

"I'll stay down here," said Miriam.

"Are you sure?" asked Jacob.

"Yes, I'm sure. They'll need you at the city, and I can keep people moving smoothly here."

"What about the raiders?"

"If they come, I know these woods well. And there'll be plenty of wagons here, so I doubt they'll be as eager."

"I think they've figured out that we don't fight back."

"Yes, probably. But we don't, and that's that."

"Are you certain you want to stay here?"

"Yes, I'm certain. I'll come up with the last wagon."

Jacob went into the wagon and pulled out some food for her and spare batteries for the radio. The snow swirled while Miriam talked to people, getting them ready to go up to the city.

"Jacob will lead you. It's not a market day, but he knows the way and the guard."

Jacob handed Miriam the supplies and batteries and headed back to the wagon as the horses pulled slowly up the frozen road.


Gideon drove the second wagon behind Jacob. John was in the back, well-wrapped in blankets, and Gideon's wife Sarah was tending him. The snow kept falling, but the road was clear enough, and the horses seemed content. The forests along the road were quiet, though he watched and listened for any signs of trouble.

They halted in front of the gates. Jacob was out of his wagon, pushing the entry button and looking for the guard. Gideon got out of his wagon and blocked the wheels, then walked over to Jacob.

"Is there anyone here?" Gideon asked.

"Not that I can find. The entry button is normally lit, but it's dark and nothing seems to happen."

"What about the hospital? Can you contact the chaplain?"

"Not until we get inside the gate, no."

Gideon remembered his father in the wagon, and pulled Jacob aside. "Can we talk?" he asked.

Jacob came with him. "What do you need?"

"I don't need anything, but thought you should know John is in my wagon. Could the city be closed because of that?"

Jacob thought for a minute. "I don't think so. He's been here before, and the city knew it then, though we didn't tell him."

Gideon looked relieved. "I don't think you told us, either."

"The city people... well, it wasn't quite a privilege they normally extend exiles, but under the circumstances, they felt it was better to let him in, so long as he stayed in the wagon. The guard knew John was here before I did."

"Maybe they've changed their minds?"

"If they changed their minds, I think they'd have told us. I don't think they'd turn off the lights and hide behind the walls. It's not like we're a threat to them, and I doubt very much that John's a threat to them."

"He's a threat to no one at this point."


Jacob tried the button again. Nothing happened - no sound, no light, no guard opening a hatch. He pulled out the radio.


"Yes, Jacob?"

"We have a problem."

"What kind of problem?"

"The gate's closed and no one's answering."

Miriam paused for a moment.

"Should I keep sending people up there?"

"I don't think we have any choice, and hopefully this is temporary."

"All right - there are lots of wagons on their way up, and I can see more coming."

"That's good, I think. And Miriam?"

"Yes, Jacob?"

"Could you ask the elders to come forward to the gate when they get here? We may have some decisions to make."

"I'll let them know. Five have gone up so far, and I suspect they'll come find you anyway."

"I hope so."


The raiders had made Ruth cook them dinner, then set a guard and gone to sleep. The guard made her clean up after them, then tied her hands again and faced her into the corner, kneeling. She wept until she fell asleep.


Jacob left the elders, walked over to Gideon's wagon, and knocked on the side. Sarah looked out.

"Is John awake? I need to talk with him."

Posted by simon at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 2

"It hurts to remember."

"I know it does, John, but we need your memories."

The old man sat back in the wagon, closed his eyes, and shuddered.


It had been fifty years since he'd left, fifty years since he'd come out of there completely lost and Rachel had found him. Rachel had known him before, but he hadn't known that either. He could speak, and get around, but he didn't know his own name, much less hers. Her family had taken him in when they'd heard he was wandering through the woods near the fence, letting him eat at their table and do chores for them while he figured out how their world worked.

He owed a lot to Rachel, probably everything. Her brothers taught him how to farm, but she showed him how to live. She took care of him when he knew nothing, introduced him to people, taught him how to act, helped him deal with the incredible confusion of arriving in this world at thirty-three with no idea who anyone was or what to do with his life.

He knew he'd been exiled, because they told him that. He could never go to the trading center or the hospital at the city. His family took care of the trading and the doctor came out to see him every few years. The city didn't want him around.

Still, he had to remember. The city's gates were closed and marauders were terrorizing farms. Everyone had piled what they could in their wagons and driven their cattle to the city gate, but now they were stuck. No one was there to answer, and no one was there to let them shelter inside.

He remembered the gates, playing around them as child. John and Matt had found themselves outside the gates one night while collecting rocks and chasing anything that moved. The guard had scolded them, but let them in anyway. He wasn't supposed to do that, but since they were just ten, this one time...

The face of the guard. He'd known him. Always telling jokes, jokes picking on the clothing and habits of the people coming from outside.

"They're too dark, you know. That's why we only let them in during the day. We need the sunshine to keep all those black clothes and serious faces from making us like them."

These were memories that had come back over the past few years. They were a start, but he needed to dig deeper.


While John was searching through his memories, the wagons were coming up the trail through the snow. Radios crackled with reports of where people were and questions about how best to get to the gate. The marauders, whoever they were, weren't moving very quickly. After taking Ezra's farm on the edge of the settled area, they'd stayed there overnight, sending out only a few scouts to find the next farms over. By then everyone was packing, preparing for evacuation and hoping that the snow would fall fast enough to hide the traces of their buried stores.

Jacob was coordinating the departures, making sure that people whose wagons broke down or who didn't have their own wagons were taken care of, brought to their traditional shelter in the city. Whether it would matter or not wasn't clear, though.

The gates of the city, their traditional sanctuary, remained firmly closed. No one was around, and no one was even responding. There were no signs of the guards, the traders, the hospital staff, or even the chaplain, the only one of their own people who stayed in the city. Everything was silent and dark, and the gathering crowd was wondering if the city-dwellers had abandoned them for some unknown insult.

Years had passed since the last raid, when they'd sought shelter in the city until the raiders had passed. Houses and barns needed rebuilding, but as usual the only people killed were those the raiders had first attacked, as the farmers spread warnings quickly. Rebuilding the mills was expensive and difficult, but the city-dwellers helped on those projects to restore the flow of goods quickly.

The radio crackled again, a young woman calling Jacob's name. "Jacob... Jacob... the raiders are moving again. Their scouts are on the next hill. Wait... they've turned their horses back, they're gone, but they saw us."

"Move as quickly as you can," said Jacob. "You're nearly here." He didn't tell her that the gates were closed.


John knew the guard was important. The guard was the only person he rememembered seeing as he left the city, but he didn't remember his name or much about him. He was older, suspicious somehow, though maybe that was just because the guard always suspected John of being up to something after spending too much time outside the city.

The guard had said something about John's exile - that it was for life, and that death awaited if he came back too early. What did that mean? If it was for life, what did "early" mean? He'd never approached the gates again, except in the last emergency, when he never left the wagon. Maybe they had noticed? Maybe they were closed because he was here? Maybe his presence was keeping them all locked out?

Or maybe something had happened to the city? Disease? Warfare? A reactor failure? There still seemed to be power, lights behind the gates. It didn't seem like anything was wrong, just that everything was silent.

Silent. Maybe they were in retreat? Why would they be in retreat, and why would everyone, including the guard be in retreat? Wait... what was retreat?

John shuddered again. The barriers weren't coming down far, but he was getting somewhere.


Jacob called Miriam on the radio. "How many people do we have in the clearing?"

"Three hundred wagons, with more in sight."

There were six hundred farmers, more or less, so the evacuation was going well. A few of the people further out, more isolated, would probably take the chance that traveling was more dangerous than staying home, but having half the people here already was a good sign. The snow was getting heavier, but hopefully that would slow the raiders down as much as the evacuees, and sunset was coming soon.

"Arrange the wagons so they're ready to go in the gate, Miriam."

"Are they open yet?"

"No, they're not, but we may need to get inside them quickly when when figure out how to open them."

The radio groaned back at him.


John was thinking about the guard again, remembering the time he'd been stuck out after hours. The guard had been furious with him, shouting at him and Matt about the dangers of being out after dark. He'd gotten a long lecture - from who? - later about how he was too young to be out after dark, and that the gate was the wrong way to come home.

That didn't make sense. The gate was always the right way to come home, and always staffed in case the farmers had an emergency. He'd always used the gate, and the farmers he knew always used the gate. How else could he have come home?

There must have been another way, one they never told the farmers about.

"Rachel? Rachel!"

She didn't answer.


"A light just came on inside the gate," crackled Jacob's radio.

"Is there anyone visible?"

"No, there isn't. The entry button hasn't lit up, either."

"All right, keep an eye out, and keep trying to get their attention."


John fell back into the blankets, trying to remember that long ago lecture. Something about a better way, a different way, that he'd know when he was older, soon. They still didn't want him out there after dark, but they didn't want him "banging on the gates like some crazy old farmer." He was a crazy old farmer now, that was certain.

He looked outside at the falling snow, blowing and swirling in the wind. John loved snow, much to everyone else's annoyance. There was something soothing about it, gently falling into growing drifts. The wind and sun could play with it. He'd snowshoe or ski from his house to the next farm over to say hello to neighbors who'd spent too much of the winter indoors. The parents rarely wanted to come out of their home's cocoon, but the children always seemed happy to go out in the snow.

There'd even been a winter when he'd had trouble finding the houses, getting lost in a blizzard. He'd gone in circles twice before he realized he was still on his own place, and called Rachel for help. He knew where he was going, so he hadn't brought anything more than the usual radio, counting on landmarks for guidance.

Landmarks. What landmarks showed the way to the other entrance?


More lights had come on inside the gates, but Jacob was fairly sure that they were automatic, coming on as the sun went down. No people were visible, even through the windows. Hope fading, he decided it was time to visit John's wagon again, and see if the old exile had remembered something helpful. He worried that the brainwashing they give exiles must be powerful stuff.


The blowing snow reminded John of another time he'd been outside, watching the snow fall along a cliff side. The snow wasn't blowing right - it would come almost down to the ground, then jump up again. After a while John realized that the snow wasn't doing this everywhere, just around one spot. He found a small hole in the ground, blowing warm air at high speed. Had he known it was there before, or was it something he'd found that day?

"John? Are you all right John?" It was Jacob, hoping that John had anything to suggest that might help them pass the gate.

"I'm here," said John. "I've been thinking about this gate and the snow."

Jacob wasn't sure what to think. "Is the gate closed because of the snow?"

"No, it's not. Something else has happened - they've retreated."

"Retreated from us? To where? Is there anyone in there?"

"I don't know why they've retreated," John whispered hoarsely. "It's strange that everyone's gone."

"Strange? It's dangerous! I know it's been years since we needed to come here, but they've always..."

"They have their own problems right now," said John.

"What problems? With us?"

"I'm not sure. I doubt it's with us. If it was with us, they'd tell us that and send us right back to the raiders."

"Are they abandoning us?"

"I don't think - I don't think deliberately. They're busy with something that needed everyone."

Jacob stared. "Why would they need the guard? He's told us for years they had him there since he was no good for anything else. And we've heard nothing at all from them on the radio."

"I think there's another way," said John.

"Another way in? I've never seen anyone go in or out except through the gates," said Jacob.

"Neither have I, that I remember. Let me try a bit more."

"All right," said Jacob, leaving the wagon.


"Miriam - are you there?"

The radio crackled, but there wasn't an answer.

Jacob walked down the hill, passing wagons full of people wondering why they hadn't gone in yet. Families were praying, inspecting their goods, keeping their animals calm.

"Jacob? Is there any movement?"

"No, Miriam, there isn't."

"We're backed up all the way to the road now. Four hundred wagons, but no place to put more."

"We're trying, Miriam. Any sign of scouts?"

"No, no sign. You heard the last sighting. I'm hoping they stay where they are for the night."

"I'm hoping that too, Miriam."


John was looking into the snow, trying to remember where he'd been that the snow blew upward. There was a hole in the ground, small with metal edges. He'd known where he was then, perfectly comfortable as he watched the snow. He'd been next to a cliff face, and he wasn't alone. Matt was with him, maybe someone else. They'd walked up here through the forest, from the gate, and then they walked back down. He couldn't remember what they'd said.

He reached for the radio, and called Jacob back. News of a hole that blew snow near a cliff in the woods wasn't exactly what Jacob was hoping for, but it was at least an idea he could do something about.


Miriam was trying to keep new arrivals from panicking as they realized that everyone was locked out. People were milling around, talking about pushing further south, complaining that they were relying too much on the city people for sanctuary. No one wanted to wait and see what happened, but they didn't have much choice. They'd fled southward, and there wasn't much of a road going further south. A few riders had gone to see if the western road went anywhere promising, but wagons couldn't get across it in the best of times, and no one had come in sleighs.

People had been willing to wait further up the hill, thinking they'd at least arrived even if they weren't safe. Here, the wagons were exposed on the road and the surrounding fields, with none of the protective forest of the hill.

She tried the radio again - "Jacob, is there any news? People are restless, looking for a place to go."

"We have some ideas, but we haven't found anything yet. John's having a hard time, and he's all we've got."

"Anything I can tell people?"

"We're trying, we're really trying. We're moving wagons closer together up here to create more space down there, but the gates aren't open yet."

"That's something, I guess. Thanks."


John knew that there was a door under the snow, if they could find it. He didn't know if any of them could use it, or what would happen if they tried. He doubted any of the farmers would be allowed to use it. With the city in retreat, he suspected they'd treat trespassing, even when looking for help, as an attack.

He couldn't remember the city ever closing its doors before, except for the usual closing at night, and even then they'd respond to emergencies, letting the farmers in for medical emergencies or for sanctuary. Rachel had gone there weeks before and gotten in, even in the middle of the night. Was she still there?

John looked up to see Jacob coming into the wagon. "Any more ideas?"

John coughed. "Maybe, but I don't think you're going to like this. I don't think any of us can use that doorway even if we find it."

Jacob turned away. "That isn't good news. Can we still use it to call for help?"

"Maybe. I think if I go, they'll at least let me into the city and listen to me."

"They'll kill you, won't they?"

"I think so, but they'll probably let me in at least."

"What if one of us tries first?"

"I suspect they'd kill you, and seal the doorway."

"They might do the same to you."

"They might."

The radio crackled. "We think we found it."

Jacob finally smiled. "Well, that's a start. I'll gather the elders."


They set up the tent and carried John into it. The elders filed in, six men and six women. Jacob had them all sit down, and presented John to them. They'd all heard of John, the only exile in their community, but few of them knew him.

Jacob told John's story briefly - his brainwashing and exile, his joining the farmer community, his family, the memories he'd found for them, and the entryway they'd discovered as a result. The elders remained quiet, though they looked more hopeful over the course of the tale.

Judith stood at the end of Jacob's presentation and offered to go in the entrance herself. She was small, slight, and old, but still able to get around. "John has helped us greatly so far, but I'm not sure he'll even make it to the entrance, much less inside. I can go instead, and I doubt they'll see me as any kind of a threat."

John sat up and looked at them. "I know I'm fading, and I know I'm a risk. I worry that I'm the only one they'll let in that doorway, though."

Judith looked shocked. "They'll kill you, you know - those were the terms of your exile. For life."

"They might, yes. They might take a bit of time doing it, though - I don't think they rush to judgment very often."

"Neither do we, but we don't give our returnees time for a family reunion," said Daniel, another of the elders. "And we don't want to escape at the price of your execution. It's almost as bad as if we'd executed you ourselves."

"I don't think they will, though I don't know why," replied John. "I remember something strange about not returning too early, though maybe that was a joke. I don't have long to live anyway."

"Can you even make it to the entrance?" asked Leah, another of the elders.

"With your help, I think so."


Ten men climbed the hill, carrying John on a makeshift stretcher. The trail was steep and narrow, and the snow fell steadily. The elders had given their permission for John to try the door, seeing little other choice. Jacob and Judith followed them, trudging through the snow.

They reached a meadow by a cliff, and John knew he was back. A small hole in the ground was blowing warm air, pushing the snowflakes out of the way.

"How do we open this?"

"It's a cover you pry open, I think. There's a prybar somewhere nearby, or we can try a tree branch."

They found a tree branch that fit the hole and lifted off the cover. John looked down - a ladder descended to a chair, and there were lights.

"Put some ropes around my arms, and lower me into the chair. If I pull on the ropes, drop them."

They rolled John out of the stretcher and did as he asked. He could hold himself on the ladder, and the ropes kept him from falling. He climbed down slowly, standing at the bottom. John pulled the ropes, and they fell into the hole with him.

"Thank you," he said, looking up at them, and sat in the chair. A steel plate emerged from the side of the hole and blocked the entrance. John was gone, and snowflakes began filling the hole.

Posted by simon at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 3

The plate closed over his head, and John was alone, sitting in front of a small screen glowing white next to a red button marked "CALL". John settled back in the chair and pressed the CALL button.

"Please place your left hand against the screen."

John wiped his hands and put his left hand against the screen.

"It has been fifty-one years, two months, and twenty-three days since you were last in this facility."

The screen flickered, and John pulled his hand back. They still knew who he was, for better or worse. The screen went blue, flashing "notifiying" occasionally for a few minutes, then finally resolved to a picture. A youngish man in a red uniform sat in a chair looking out at him.

"This is the city center operator. My name is James. We will bring you in shortly. Please make yourself comfortable."

The picture flickered and went out. No chance to say anything, to suggest opening the gate. John listened for noise from above, but there was nothing.

He thought about James, wondering if that was anyone he'd known. Nothing had sounded like he was in trouble, but he really had no idea. Perhaps they were lulling him before throwing him back in the cell. Maybe they just weren't coming.

A click, a light, and then rough hands pulling him from behind, out of the seat and into a gurney. Strapped in, a band placed around his wrist, then rolled down a long hallway for what seemed like miles. The lights in the hallway seemed to brighten as they approached, and dimmed as they left. A man and a woman, both in red uniforms, were steering the gurney down the hallway.

"We need your help," John said, but there was no response. They weren't listening.

They turned the gurney into a dark room with a large window and departed. Lights came on and the same James who had been on the screen was looking at him through the window, seeming puzzled.

"You're back, John. Why would you come back?"

"We need your help... the gates... open the gates, please."

"I can't do that, John, but I'll ask people who might."

John collapsed, the exertion proving too much for his dwindling hope.


Jacob looked down the hole. Snow was falling on the steel plate and melting. Everyone was silent. After a few minutes, they heard a clicking noise and a thud. The plate stayed closed. They listened for a little longer, then most of them returned to the gate through the snow.


When John awoke, a nurse was working over him, trying to revive him.

"I'm Martha. Welcome, John."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm trying to get you ready to talk to our council. For such a young man, you're in very sad shape."

"Young? I'm eighty-four."

"Like I said, young. I'm one hundred and twenty-two."

John lay back, confused. He knew the city would be different, but this already didn't make sense. At eighty-four, he was nearly the oldest of the farmers. Young?

"Don't worry, we'll bring you back to your senses. You've been away a long time."

That he could agree with. He fell asleep.


"What's the latest, Miriam?"

"Just about everyone's here, Jacob, but no one's happy."

"Did the scouts find anything to the east?"

"They're back. The road stops in forest and swamp."

"All right. We have some chance here, but nothing's happened yet. Any sign of raiders?"

"No, nothing since sunset. I think the snow may be keeping them in."

"I hope that keeps up."


As John was waking up, he heard Martha whispering. "But you told me to treat him as a citizen!"

"I did, and I still think I was right. They tell me I'm wrong, though."

"So what do we do?"

"When he wakes up, let me know. We'll bring him to the council."

He waited a few minutes, then "woke up." Martha came right over.

"Good morning!"

"Is it morning?" John asked.

"It's 8am, so it's close enough. We've got to get you ready to speak to the council."

"Who's the council?"

"They're the people who run the city, at least for now. You told James you wanted to talk with them."

"I did?"

"That's what he told me."

She sat him up in the bed, shaping it more like a chair, put a water glass on the side tray, and rolled him down yet another hall to a steel wall. The wall opened, and they entered a small steel room. She pushed a screen, and they descended.

"Where are we going?" John asked.

"To the very bottom," replied Martha.

"My friends are at the top!"

"They might well be, but you need friends at the bottom right now."

The room stopped and the wall opened again. Martha rolled him forward into a room with a white floor and red walls.

"I'll hand you over to James, then," she said.

James came down the hall, waving to John. He thanked Martha, who went back into the steel room. James pushed John down the hall.

"You're looking better. I hope you're well enough to explain what you need to the council."

"I just need the gates open."

"That's a lot to ask," said James. "You'd better have a good reason for that right now."

"We need..."

"Tell the council, don't tell me. I'm just bringing you to them."

They went through a door and into a meeting room. The walls were blue, the light dim. James left John under a light, facing a table surrounded by people in blue.

"You are John, exiled fifty-one years ago, correct?" asked a deep voice from across the table.

"I think so, sir."

"Your term of exile is over. The leader who exiled you is no longer with us. Welcome back."

"Er, thank you."

"Is there anything else you would like to discuss?"

"The gates, if I could."

"The gates?"

"The gates are closed, and no one is there to open them."

"Is there a need to open the gates?"

"Yes, sir, there is. The farmers need to evacuate to the sanctuary of the city. There are raiders about."

"Raiders? It has been a decade since there have been raiders."

"Raiders, sir. They've attacked a farm, and there are many of them. They'll be attacking more."

The people at the table lowered their heads. They were no longer talking to John, but with each other.

"This is bad timing, to say the least."

"We can't open the gates. Only the leader can re-open the gates."

"I don't relish the thought of life here without the farmers."

"Can we open the gates and close the next level?"

"What if it's a trick?"

James came in and pulled John from the room. "They'll be a while deciding. It's difficult with twelve members. You've seen as much as they'll let you see."

John was crying, trying to sort out what happened. They weren't going to kill him - he wasn't an exile any longer - but it didn't sound like they'd open the gates. He might yet outlive Jacob, Miriam, and the rest.

James brought him back to the hospital level, and turned him back over to Martha. "He's a citizen again, Martha - no need to be careful."

John fell back asleep, lost in a strange world that he knew had once been his.


Jacob's frustration was all too obvious. He grew angrier as the snow piled on the unmoving gate. He wandered from wagon to wagon, looking in to see if everyone was all right, reassuring Gideon that his father was probably all right. The radio occasionally announced news of nothing happening - nothing at the road, nothing at the entrance John had used.

The elders were meeting again in the tent, discussing what to do if the gates remained closed, and how long to wait. They didn't have anywhere else to go, as the city had always been their refuge. Its betrayal of them at this crucial moment stung, though they weren't yet sure of the cause. They stopped, prayed for John, and went to their wagons for what little of the night remained.


James double-checked security inside and nearby the gates. From his operator's booth, he locked the guardhouse and all the entrances from the surface hospital to the city. He made sure the granaries and the water tanks were full. The cameras all worked, recording the falling snow and Jacob's frustration.

Posted by simon at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 4

Sunrise was near. Miriam was checking in wagons, counting people and animals. Scouts had gone out again to see if the raiders were near, but the swirling snow made that unlikely.

Finally, the radio crackled, Jacob's voice. "The gates have opened, Miriam. We're leading people in... Miriam?"

Miriam cheered, and took a moment to respond. "We hear you. I'll get people awake and ready."


James had received his orders. Let the farmers into the surface buildings of the city, but lock down all entrances to its deeper parts. Give them access to the buildings and supplies, but send no one up. Watch and listen, but don't respond. Close the gate once everyone was in, and electrify the fences.


The snow kept falling as the wagons entered the gate. Jacob went looking for the chaplain, seeking an explanation for the city's silence. He found him in the hospital, tending two patients and peering at a list.


"Jacob? How did you get in here?"

"They opened the gates," said Jacob. "How have you been?"

"I've been well, but haven't been able to leave the hospital. I went to bed the other night, and woke up to a note from the nursing staff." He fished in his pocket for the note and handed it to Jacob.

"The city is going on retreat for a short while. Please use the attached list of tasks to keep the patients well. We will be out of contact until we return. You'll find plenty of food in the kitchen, but the doors to the hospital will be locked and you and the patients will have to stay in the hospital. Thank you very much!"

Jacob looked up at the chaplain. "It's not a lot to go on, but I guess there's something happening below."

"I've never seen anything like it. The staff's had meetings before, but they were always in the hospital and left someone on duty. I'm glad I've been here long enough to know where things are."

"We'll get you some help, Abner. Has there been much to do?"

"Just tending these two women, and they're asleep most of the time. Mostly I'm writing down if there's any change, checking these numbers against the list, and bringing them water. And Jacob... why are you here?"


John woke up to find a different nurse tending him.

"How long have I been asleep?"

"About six hours."

"Has anything happened?"

"Well, you've been sleeping."

"On the surface, I mean! Have they opened the gates?"

"I wouldn't think so, but I haven't heard anything. Why don't you relax for now. You've been through a lot, and we're trying to make you feel better."

"Is James around?"

"James is on his shift. He told Martha he'd be by to see you later."


The wagons rumbled through the gate, horses pulling the families and what goods they could bring through the snow into the safety of the city walls. Jacob had the wagons come as far into the enclosure as possible before stopping, as he wasn't yet certain that all of the people and livestock would fit comfortably. The space was enormous, but there seemed to be many more wagons and especially cows than there had been the last time they'd had to do this.

Supplies were everywhere. Jacob smiled when he saw the granaries were full, making it easier to sustain both the people and their livestock as long as necessary before they could return to their homes. There were water, bathrooms, and a few heated buildings: the hospital, the library, the trading area, a barn, and a warehouse.

The residents of the city might have vanished, but their goodwill remained.

The radio brought him back to earth.

"Jacob - this is Miriam. All the wagons are past the crossing."

"Great. Any sign of the raiders?"

"Not yet. The snow's still heavy, so they might not be far."

"Any other problems?"

"The usual troublesome wheels and axles, but nothing impossible. I wish we'd been able to take sleighs."

"We'll make it. Let me know when you cross the gate."


On the road leading to the city, a wagon had pulled to the side. Miriam approached it, ready to call for help if necessary. Eli and his daughter were busy repairing it, battling a wheel whose rim was only loosely connected.

"I didn't think this wagon would make it, and I'm afraid I was right," Eli told Miriam.

"You're almost there - just a mile to safety."

"We're trying," said Eli, as his daughter handed him the wedges. Miriam looked up the hill, and saw two more wagons with similar problems.


John couldn't sleep, even though the nurse insisted. There were too many questions. Was his part here done? Had he conveyed the urgency he felt to the council? What had they decided to do?

He felt stronger than he had in years, but it wasn't helping him. He should be up there, calming people, fixing their wagons, easing their worries. Instead, he was here in bed, losing his own calm and worrying about problems he couldn't fix. James might tell him what was happening, or he might not. Everyone here seemed helpful, to a point, but couldn't or wouldn't tell him what he wanted to know. They weren't going to kill him, but for now he was dead to his family and friends.


In the city's lowest level, the council was still meeting, uncertain what to make of John's appearance and the news of raiders.

"I think it's too large a coincidence that a man we exiled fifty years ago would dare to come back, and be lucky enough that his exile had ended the day before," said Catherine. "I was on the council when we exiled him and I can't say I expected to see him back."

"If it's not a coincidence, what do you think happened?" asked Stephen.

"I don't know what happened. I'm just uneasy that an old exile can break into our city the day after our leader is murdered, and that we've opened the gates at his request," replied Catherine.

"We don't know that Gregory was murdered," said Stephen.

"You don't accept that, but I do," said Catherine.

"None of us know that for certain, Catherine," said Donald. "Many of us share your suspicions of the worst, but the doctors haven't told us anything yet."

"This city has thrived because its council hasn't taken foolish chances with its safety," replied Catherine. "I worry that we've taken our first and maybe our last foolish chance."

Donald nodded, and looked at the other council members. Most were staring at the table or the ceiling, avoiding the discussion. "So what can we do? Should we do anything different?"

The council members all looked at Catherine. She coughed, and turned to Donald. "I think we should keep John unconscious until we've sorted this out."

Stephen was outraged. "He's a citizen, and in frail health. He hardly seems likely to cause trouble, and he's passed all of our scans for disease."

Donald nodded. "I agree it's outrageous, but it seems like the least outrageous course of action we have. If his arrival isn't a coincidence, we can buy some time while we sort things out. The farmers can stay above, locked inside the gates and locked out of the city. John can stay here, improving and healing but immobile."

Margaret stood up. "Do we have agreement?" she asked.

Stephen looked around at his fellow councillors' nodding heads. "I disagree, but won't block the council's decision."

"I'll notify the hospital," said Margaret.

Posted by simon at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 5

After a few rounds of repairs, the last wagon came through the gate, and Jacob welcomed Miriam to the city. The snow was letting up and darkness was setting in, though campfires lit up the walls and buildings of the sanctuary.

"I don't know where they went," said Miriam.

"Don't know where who went? Are we missing people?" asked Jacob.

"The raiders. We'd heard reports of their scouts, but they never came close."

"Maybe the snow's held them back?"

"Or maybe they're too busy looting," said Miriam. "We brought a lot with us, but there are still a lot of animals and plenty of food down there."

They looked out the gate and down the road. A flickering light was moving in the darkness.


James had been watching the wagons come up the road and the farmers setting up their encampments. His orders were strict: close the gate when the farmers are in. He didn't want to risk locking out farmers, but he didn't want to leave the gate open to marauders, either.

The farmers were in, and it was time to close the gate. He looked at the hillside monitors one last time and saw a wagon straggling up the road. The latecomers had torches out, blurring the detail from the cameras. They were in a hurry, all too aware of the dangers in the valley.

He left the gate open for a few more minutes.


"Do we have everyone in, Miriam?" asked Jacob.

"Almost. We had a wagon break down, and put them aboard two other wagons. Three houses called in to say they'd take their chances out there. And Ezra's family, of course..."

"Keren's here, on another wagon."

"Yes, I saw her. Otherwise, I think everyone's accounted for."

"So how do we close the gate?"


James looked back at the doorway camera. Jacob and Miriam were talking to farmers, searching the walls. One man was pulling frantically on the guardhouse doorknob. A line of farmers formed across the gate opening, arms locked.

James closed the gate. The wagon kept coming up the hill.


"Someone's watching us," said Jacob. The line of farmers dispersed, heading back to their fires and families. "I need to go report this to the elders. Can you stay here and let me know anything that happens?"

"I can," said Miriam. "Where are we camping?"

"I think right here would be a good place for us."


The elders were sitting silently when Jacob arrived at their tent. He sat with them, waiting for one of them to speak. It stayed quiet a long time before Leah finally spoke. "Is everyone in the sanctuary?" she asked.

"Everyone is accounted for. They have a prisoner, and three houses chose to remain outside."

"Is the gate closed?"


"Have you heard from the guard, then?"

"No. Another wagon was coming. We linked arms across the entry, and the gate closed."


"Yes, very strange. We can't contact anyone from the city."

"And the wagon?"

"We don't know. They haven't contacted us by radio."

The elders returned to their silence. Jacob headed back to the gate.


"We have to choose a leader. All we're doing is talking."

"We still don't know what happened to Gregory."

"We're running out of time."

"Is Gregory's death an issue for this council, or an issue for the next leader and the next council?"

"His death is an issue for all of us," said Stephen.

"And what if we reward his murderer?" asked Catherine.

Margaret stood up. She told the council "By law this council dissolves tomorrow afternoon. We are required to choose a leader who is not of our number. That leader will then conduct an election for a new council."

"I'm not ready to look at candidates," said Catherine.

"When will you be ready?" asked Donald.

"When I've seen the medical report on Gregory."

"You should have that tonight. Why not review the list and hope that the candidates we find aren't implicated?"

Margaret handed Catherine a stack of lists. She took one and passed the pile around.


A light was growing on the other side of the gate. Jacob and Miriam couldn't see over the gate, but it looked like someone had built a fire. Every few minutes they heard shouting, and the dogs the farmers had brought barked back angrily.


From the control booth, James watched the wagon pull up to the gate. A man had gotten out. He tried the entry button as well, but nothing happened. James wasn't sure he should open the gate. After some shouting and pushing the button repeatedly, the man grew frustrated and called to the wagon. More men had come out, carrying a bound woman, a bound man, and guns. James electrified the outer fences.

While one group built a fire, the other men emptied the wagon. When they had finished, one of the men picked a coal out of the fire, walked up to the wagon and set it alight. When the wagon was completely engulfed, he held a cone to his mouth and started shouting over the wall.


"You shall perish in flames," shouted Nathan, "unless you join us now. Accept God's will, give up the evils of the city, burn it down, and join our army."

Inside the gate, Jacob and Miriam looked at each other and laughed. Many of the farmers had gathered near the gate to listen, though most were more solemn.

"Join us now, and your lives will be spared. Join us forever, and your souls will be spared. The men will fight for God, and the women will support the men. We shall rebuild the kingdom and the temple and live in God's covenant once more."

The farmers were silent.

"Join us or we will destroy you," said the voice, as a torch came flying over the wall, landing in the snow. The farmers backed up quickly, as more torches came over the wall.

"You are cowards, all of you, hiding behind a gate, unwilling to defend your neighbors, unwilling to join an army that fights for truth. You can hide behind that wall but you cannot hide from God."

More torches came over the wall.

"You won't come out to join us. Will you come out to save her?"

The farmers shrank back as Ruth screamed. Jacob was furious, but trapped behind the gate. They could do nothing but listen.

"Nothing? You do nothing? Neither the city nor the farm is willing to challenge us?"

The farmers heard a man's loud scream and then shouting among the raiders.

"You hide behind a violent fence, afraid to inflict harm yourselves. You are cowards and villains, afraid of the voice of the Lord. Give them what they deserve."

Another set of torches came over the wall. A shadow appeared at the top of the wall, supported at both ends. The ends shook, and the shadow fell. Ezra's body toppled over the gate and collapsed at its bottom. A girl, Keren, ran over to it weeping.

Nathan's voice spoke again. "So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded."


James had watched while Nathan was talking, but his orders were strict: close the gate, electrify the fence, do nothing else but watch. The raiders had attempted to scale the gate, but the shock from the fence quickly ended that plan. They'd used the ladders to push a body over the wall instead, and settled in for the night.

He could do no more. The raiders remained camped on the city's doorstep, tending their fire, guarding their hostage, and praying.

Posted by simon at 09:05 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 6

The council was busy reading biographies of city residents when James arrived. Margaret looked up to the door as he entered.

"Come in, James. What do you have to report?"

"So far, we have ten raiders, all men, and a female hostage. They hurled a corpse over our gate tonight."

"What motivates them?" asked Stephen.

"Religion, apparently. They call themselves God's Army, and appear intent on conquering the world and converting it."

"Ten people don't seem likely to conquer us."

"No, but they're enough to disrupt the farmers. I'm not convinced there are only ten of them in any case."

"What makes you say that?" asked Catherine.

"They're traveling awfully light for this time of winter. On the surface, they shouldn't be able to live very long given the few things they have with them."

"Where are they now?"

"Camped in front of the gate. They burned a wagon," said James.


"I've seen guns and knives. The guns look homemade, probably single-shot."

"And how are the farmers responding?"

James paused for a moment. He'd spent a lot more time watching the raiders on the outside cameras than the farmers on the inside cameras. "I think they're holding up as well as can be expected. A girl ran to the corpse, and people were comforting her."

"Have there been any attempts by the farmers to enter the city?" asked Catherine.

"Apart from John's coming in yesterday and the chaplain's pushing buttons on the hospital door when he found himself alone, I'd say no. They did try to get in the guardhouse, I think to close the gate, but that was all."

"How are they settling in?" asked Stephen.

"Fine, I think. They have far too many animals with them for the barn, but they're managing to keep them in the yard despite the snow. There's food, they can warm up in the buildings, and they seem to have brought enough firewood for a few days. Their elders have been meeting continuously near the library."

"Thank you," said Margaret. "Is Helena monitoring them now?"

"Yes," said James. "I left her a full report."

"Thank you, James. You may go now. And please don't discuss this with anyone else."


The hospital was quiet, as John was the only patient, and very much asleep. Martha stopped James as he entered the room.

"He's sleeping now. You should come back tomorrow."

"He looks a lot better."

"I think he's getting a lot better. We can't fix fifty years of neglect, but we can improve on it a lot."

"I don't think he'd call it neglect."

"I doubt he would, but he'll be a lot happier after a few days of care. You should unwind and get some sleep yourself."

James thanked Martha and headed back to his quarters.


The gate was quiet. It was clear that there was a fire on the other side, and the farmers could hear occasional shouting, but God's Army was apparently disgusted enough with them to stop talking to them.

The farmers were quiet, gathered around campfires and sleeping in tents and wagons. A group of them had collected Ezra's broken body and buried it temporarily in a mound of snow as far from the gate as they could get. Keren sat staring at the mound, uninterested in the condolences people came to give.

Jacob and Miriam made their way through the impromptu village to the elders' tent. The elders hadn't been to the gate, but they'd heard what had happened. They were sitting quietly on benches when Jacob and Miriam arrived, most praying for Ezra.

"He died bravely," said Judith as Jacob and Miriam sat on an empty bench. "What a horrible way for him to be reunited with his daughter."

"Yes," said Jacob, "we seem to have something horrible on our doorstep."

"It's not our doorstep," said Leah.

"For the moment, it might as well be ours," said Jacob. "The city has remained completely quiet since the closing of the gate."

"God's Army can't get in, but can we get out?"

"I don't think so," said Miriam. "At least not until we hear from the city."

Judith shook her head. "Do we have any idea when that will be?"

"No," replied Jacob. "We may need to plan for a long stay."

"We've been starting to do that," said Daniel, "planning a daily routine. But I have a question before we do that. What's keeping this army from climbing into the hills and shooting us from above?"

"Nothing that I've seen," said Jacob, "but I asked the guard a similar question a few years ago. He said that we're smart to stay out of the woods that belong to the city, and that they know we're smart because they haven't seen us going in. He looked pretty grim. I was glad we didn't have unexpected adventures finding John's door."

The elders were silent.

"We'll be at the gate if you need us," said Jacob, as he and Miriam stepped out of the tent.

The campfires were dwindling as people went to sleep in their tents and wagons. The stars sparkled clearly overhead through the diminishing clouds. Exhausted from the sudden trip through the snow and the conflict at the gate, the farmers slept. Keren kept a vigil by her father's mound, watching the stars until she too fell asleep.


The council was still meeting. Its members had been reviewing files of the forty-five eligible candidates for leader, and had narrowed it down to three: Matthew, Alice, and William.

In addition to the basics of being older than fifty and younger than one hundred and fifty, each of them had excelled in their particular field. Matthew had managed relations with the farmers for several decades, Alice had overseen solar panel manufacturing for years and was now in charge of all manufacturing, and William controlled the reactor and electrical distribution.

The council members were tired, falling asleep at the table. They had been meeting for two days without much rest. "I'd like to suggest that we recess for the night," said Stephen. "We can choose among these three tomorrow, when our heads are clearer."

Margaret agreed. "That's a good idea, Stephen, though we'll still need to be here early."

A man and a woman in pink stood at the door. "I see the doctors are here," said Margaret. "We'll take their report and then adjourn, if we can."

The man and woman entered the room and passed reports to the council members. Some members flipped through them, others left them on the table.

"We found that Gregory died of a sudden stroke," said the woman.

"A stroke?" asked Catherine. "Are you sure that it wasn't caused by some outside influence, Rose?"

"We believe it was caused by elevated blood pressure, perhaps aggravated by a sudden stress. There are no signs of poisons in his body or his food, and no sign of injury or injection."

"Do all of the doctors agree with this conclusion?" asked Margaret.

"They do," said Rose. "I brought Michael with me, because he was the doctor who accepted it last."

"The stroke seemed out of proportion to the causes we could find," said Michael. "Despite my best efforts, however, I couldn't find another cause, and the area where the stroke occurred showed signs of earlier problems."

Catherine was studying the report, looking for any other signs of foul play. "How certain of this judgment are you?" she asked.

"Very certain," said Rose. "I think even Michael will agree."

"I do agree, having tested other possibilities extensively."

"Thank you," said Margaret, and the doctors left the room.

After the doctors were gone, Catherine proposed adjourning the meeting until morning. The council headed to bed, their difficult task made slightly easier by the news.

Posted by simon at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 7

The farmers woke up at dawn to the sound of Nathan reading scripture at them from the other side of the gate.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.

"And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the Lord spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

"Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty..."

Jacob shook himself awake while Nathan read on. Waking up in a tent in the snow was already less pleasant than waking up in his house on a winter morning, and this reading wasn't helping. Nathan seemed intent on reading the entire book of Numbers to the farmers, though only those near the gate could hear.

A few looked curious, and sat to listen, but most were looking for friends, catching up on old news, and investigating their strange new camp.


The council reconvened that morning, bleary-eyed members coming back to their meeting room to continue the seemingly interminable process of selecting a leader. The council, as frequently happened, was divided into roughly equal factions, and conversation wasn't changing many opinions. That persistent division was much of why they relied on a single leader to listen to the council and choose a path of action.

Exhaustion wasn't helping them reach a compromise, and choosing a leader was a decision that would reverberate for a century or more. Margaret finally gave up on the discussion and called for a vote.

"We are running out of time," she said, "and we appear to have no hope of consensus. We need to reach a decision, even if some of us are made unhappy by it."

She passed out slips of paper. "Please write the name of your preferred candidate, followed by the name of your second-place candidate. If we don't have a winner in the first choices, we'll add the second choice votes and see if that helps."

The council members wrote their choices and passed the ballots back to Margaret, who counted the first choices.

"We have a 4-4-4 split on the first choices."

The council members groaned, and Margaret counted second-place votes.

"We have a 8-8-8 split if we include the second choices. There is no clear pattern to the voting, either."

"How much time do we have left?" asked Catherine.

"Two hours and twenty minutes," said Margaret. "Does anyone have any suggestions?"

"What happens if we don't make a decision?" asked Catherine.

"Nothing specific is provided in the law," said Margaret, raising the council's hopes, "except that we as the council will have failed in our prescribed duty. Given the situation at the surface, I would suggest this is a bad time to fail in our duty."

The council members' faces fell.

"Are there any further candidates we haven't properly considered?" asked Stephen.

His idea was unpopular. No one wanted to return to the biographies, and no additional strong candidates immediately sprang to mind.

"Should we interview the candidates?" asked Donald. "I understand that we don't normally let people know they're candidates, and there may not be time, or probably need, but something might come up in the conversation that would change minds..."

Stephen cut him off. "Maybe we should let the candidates decide."

"The candidates?" asked several members at the same time.


James arrived for the start of his shift. Helena was clearly fascinated by the strange drama around the gate.

"What's been going on up there?" asked James.

"The raiders seem to be reading something to our farmers about lepers, involving laws, barley, and oil."

"Reading? Lepers? That's odd."

"Some of the farmers are listening - it seems to be something they're familiar with. Here, listen."

Nathan's voice came over the speaker. "And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day."

James turned it down. "I'm not sure what it means. I wonder if the auto-transcriber can cope with people speaking so strangely."

Helena reassured him that it was working so far, and handed him a pile of reports. Not much had happened over the night. The raiders had stayed by the gate, close to the fire. At sunrise two of them had gone down to the road, then returned, while Nathan read through a megaphone to the farmers.

"Still only ten of them?"

"So far as I've seen, yes, just ten."

"I hope it stays that way. Any sign of more weapons?"

"Just the ones they had last night."

"Sounds like we may be able to take care of them easily. Much ado about not very much. I do wish I knew where they came from."

The red light started flashing. Someone else had reached the bottom of the road to the city. Three more wagons.


The elders' tent was busy. Jacob arrived as the hospital chaplain was leaving, having shared with the elders every detail he could remember of the past few days. After greeting the chaplain, Jacob stepped into the tent.

"Any news, Jacob?" asked Leah.

"God's Army is reading the book of Numbers at us this morning instead of the book of Joshua. I'm not sure that's an improvement."

"Has there been any more violence?"

"Not that I've heard. No more torches coming over the wall, or gunfire. They're close to the gate, though - we could hear them talking all night, but couldn't make out what they were saying."

"Any news from the city?"

"None. Still quiet. No sign of John, no news from them. All of their videoscreens have stayed dark, even the ones in the guardroom. Since everything else up here seems to work, I think John's suggestion that they're on some kind of retreat makes sense."

"We hope it's a brief retreat," said Leah.


The wagons stayed at the bottom of the hill while a messenger came up to the gate. James and Helena watched his progress up the road while the wagons at the bottom formed a small circle, prickling with gun barrels. The messenger walked up the road, peering into the woods as he went. Another man came down from the camp at the gate, met him, and brought him up to the camp. When he got there, he ducked into a tent. Nathan kept reading, but the rest of the raiders went into the tent.

Posted by simon at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 8

Margaret led Alice, William, and Matthew into the council room.

"Sit down," she said.

The three looked surprised, but sat.

"We have been unable to choose a leader," she began, "but we agree that the leader is to be one of the three of you. This is not an interview, however - we are turning the decision-making over to the three of you.

"The three of you must choose a leader for the city from among yourselves in the next two hours. The other two of you must consent to serve on the council under that leader. When you have chosen, knock at the door. This council will reconvene one last time to ratify your choice, and announce it. We will then dissolve this council and hold elections for a new council."

The council members stood and filed out of the room. Margaret remained. "Good luck," she said. "Don't be too surprised - it was easy to choose the three of you. Choosing among the three of you was very difficult."

As Margaret departed, the three candidates turned to each other, all stunned by her announcement.

William was the first to speak. "I thought I was coming here to make a report," he said. "I don't know what to say about this."

"I thought the same," said Alice.

"And I did as well," said Matthew. "Gregory used to call at odd hours to ask questions, and this seemed like more of that."

"He was calling me constantly over the last few years," said Alice. "Always concerned that our factories were slowing, that we'd have to incinerate another production unit sooner than expected."

William nodded. "He wanted to know as much about our reactor as I did. I thought it was because he'd worked there long ago, but I guess I wasn't alone in answering unexpected questions."

"They were mostly good questions," said Matthew.

Alice agreed. "They were good questions, but so many, at odd times, and in such depth. I've spent as much of the last year reporting to him as working on projects."

"So who wants to be the next Gregory?" asked William.

They all looked down.

"Does either of you want to be the leader?" asked Matthew.

William and Alice shook their heads.

"That makes three of us then," said Matthew.

"I have a lot of projects in the reactor and the distribution network that we need to get done. I don't think that work would get done as effectively if I was trying to run the city," said William.

"And I have similar problems," said Alice. "We have two solar panel manufacturing units that need to be torn down and rebuilt in the next six months, and five other units that need similar work. The foundry is having more and more quality problems, and glassmaking is consuming far more energy than it should."

Matthew nodded. "There's a lot I'd like to do coordinating the farmers to work more smoothly with us, things that Gregory never permitted. We need to build some kind of a relationship with the lake-dwellers as well, and our coordination with other cities has been neglected for years. We've been lucky for a long time, though I think that luck may unfortunately be coming to an end."

"It sounds like all of us could do with less leading in general," said Alice.

William nodded. Matthew thought for a moment. "Gregory did a lot of good for me, though. I think he might have restrained me too much, but he also taught me a lot about how most of the city sees the farmers."

"They're okay with me," said Alice. "So long as they stay up there."

"That's a nice way of putting it," said Matthew. "A lot of the older citizens still think of them as dangerous, and some even wanted us to break contact completely."

"Really?" asked William. "Didn't we more or less create the farmers in the first place?"

"Sort of," said Matthew. "There were a few farmers in the area when we returned to the surface. We reshaped them from pretty good raw material, and were lucky that there wasn't a lot of pressure here from other communities. They accepted our lead on a lot of things, and we were able to help them find a more stable life. They didn't even have electricity then."

"I know we rejected the idea of letting them tap into our power," said William. "We have a hard enough time sustaining our own city."

"So how long exactly is our fuel supply good for?" asked Alice.

"That's confidential to the council," replied William, looking around. "But I guess we sort of are the council now. At current rates of consumption, we have thirty years of fuel."

Matthew and Alice gasped. "That's all?" asked Matthew.

"That's all," said William. "Gregory was talking with other cities about additional supplies for years, but always felt the price was too high."

"And here I thought he was selling our solar panels too cheaply!" said Alice.

"There are things we can do - lots of things, actually. We only have a few panels on the surface, and could increase that a lot. We've barely tapped potential hydropower both in our underground supplies and on the surface. We took down a wind turbine out of fears for its security, but we could put that back up. There are a lot of inefficiencies we could fix, though they take effort and cost supplies."

"How much could we get out of that with our existing fuel?" asked Matthew.

"If we did everything we could, probably fifty years," said William.

"We have real problems," said Alice. "I'd like to solve problems in my own space, but I don't think I'm up for these."

"Nor am I," said Matthew.

"Nor am I," said William. "It may seem like an energy problem, but those I can solve. This is a diplomatic problem, something that requires us to work with other cities."

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Is anyone looking forward to being on the council?" Matthew asked.

"Sort of," said Alice. "I've wanted to present some possibilities to the council for years, though that was largely to get around Gregory."

"I'm in the same position," said William.

"And I am too," said Matthew.

"It'll be a new council," said Alice. "Half of them are too old to stand in new elections."

"It sounds like the three of us in this room will be sharing power with ten other people, one way or another," said William.

They paused again.

"Do any of us object to having any of the others as leader?" asked Alice.

"I don't," said Matthew.

"I don't either," said William. "You?"

"No, you've both done a good job from everything I've heard. It doesn't sound like either of you is planning radical change," said Alice.

Matthew smiled. "We haven't had much time to think about it!"

"It seems like there are fewer possibilities than I'd thought," said William. "Gregory was always talking about how the city could leap forward, and I wondered why we hadn't done it already."

"Me too," said Alice. "Though with only fifty years of power, max - maybe you should lead, William, if it's that big a problem."

"I'm not sure I could fix it as effectively if I was leader," said William. "Too much of it is in the details, and I don't want to do to my successor what Gregory did to me."

"It sounds like whoever is the next leader needs to have a lighter touch," said Matthew. "Let the different divisions do what they need to do and make sure none of them get too far out of line."

"Maybe we can agree on that. Whoever we choose as leader needs to manage, but give the divisions more freedom," said Alice.

"Given our experiences, that seems likely to happen anyway," said Matthew.

"Yes and no," said William. "I heard Gregory started out that way, and got more controlling later."

"That's what I heard too," said Alice.

"Will it help having the other two of us on the council?" asked William.

"Probably," said Alice, as Matthew nodded yes.

"If we make agreements now, do they hold after this meeting?" asked William.

"Yes," said Alice and Matthew at the same time.

"Okay," said William. "Then let's work out a deal."

Posted by simon at 09:09 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 9

Jacob had returned to the gate, and was listening with a group of farmers to the reading from the other side. Some of the farmers were discussing Numbers, a book they rarely read, debating the strength of its connection to their preferred New Testament books.

Meanwhile, Nathan's voice, growing hoarser with every verse, continued.

"And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah."

Jacob shook his head. Waiting to get into the city had been difficult enough, but waiting to get out now seemed worse. The city had removed the last group of raiders, sending them far away, but this time there was little sign the city was interested in their plight. They had let them in and closed the gate without any of the usual consultation, leaving Jacob to stew. They seemed to be watching, but their silence was troubling.


Helena left James well past the usual end of her shift. It was difficult to leave when there was so much going on, but for the moment it seemed quiet. The messenger had returned to the wagons at the bottom of the hill, and the wagons stayed there. Nathan's reading droned on, while the other raiders stood guard duty.

Inside the city, the farmers were using all the facilities available. Children were playing in the snow and visiting the library in small, apparently organized groups. People were visiting the hospital, both to see the patients there and to use some of its more approachable facilities. The barn was busy with farmers tending their animals, and the corrals were overfull. People were visiting the meeting tent and departing regularly. The farmers at the front gate were listening and talking among themselves. The elders continued their meeting.


Matthew knocked on the door and the council returned to the room.

"Have you made a decision?" Margaret asked. "We're down to fifteen minutes."

Matthew, Alice, and William all nodded their heads. "We've decided to do things a little differently," said Alice.

Margaret frowned. "How differently?"

"Not that differently," said William. "We'd like the new leader to start with a declaration of principles at the beginning, and be bound by them afterward."

"We've never run by rules beyond the basic law," said Margaret.

"The council and the leader together are the rules," said Catherine.

"We don't want to change how that system works," said Matthew. "We'd just like to ensure that the leader listens to the departments as well as the council. Starting out with a pronouncement and agreeing to be bound by it seems to fix problems we have now."

"Future leaders could change the principles if they wanted," said William. "The council and leader will still be the rules."

Alice held up a small set of notes. "The principles are pretty simple. Department heads can appeal beyond the leader to the council directly, and departments can coordinate separately from the leader when given permission to do so."

Margaret looked relieved, though several members of the council looked upset. Catherine was annoyed, Cornelius was frowning, and Denis was staring at the table, but Stephen was smiling.

"I think this will be a matter for the next council to take up," said Catherine.

"We've agreed to these rules now, and they're the only terms by which any of us will become leader," said Alice.

"Have you even picked a leader?" asked Catherine.

"Yes, we have," said William.

"Ten minutes," said Margaret. "I think we can accept these rules with the new leader."

"Does the council have to formally approve them, or should they be a decree of the new leader?" asked Stephen.

"I think the new leader should set the rules," said Catherine. "These can be announced at the investiture. The next council can decide how they want to handle this."


Keren was still sitting by her father's resting place, covered with blankets and praying, and accepting condolences as people stopped by to wish her well. Over the course of the morning, more people gathered. The elders left their meeting tent and stood by the grave, and then nearly the entire community came to the grave, standing silently in the snow.

"He loved that farm and the woods near it," said Leah. "He was glad to watch the edges of the community, and kept a sharp eye out for anything unusual."

"Ezra made visitors feel welcome," said Daniel. "I used to visit that farm regularly, and he and Ruth were always ready for visitors. They'd chosen to be on the edge, but they were always happy to see people stopping by."

Keren cried again as people praised her father and regretted his early end. Her friends gathered around her to comfort her, while others continued to remember Ezra.

"Ezra was among the bravest of us, and Ruth too. He knew the situation didn't look good, and he showed us just how bad it was, broadcasting that horrible scene to all of us," said Judith. "We miss him and we thank him, for his sacrifice that drove us to safety."

The crowd kept commenting on Ezra's skills and how they'd known him.

"He was a fine woodsman, a master of trees. He knew how to manage the forest for a steady stream of firewood and lumber, never taking more than he needed. I was still learning from him."

"I remember his smile and Ruth's smile on their wedding day. It was obvious that they'd found the right people to spend the rest of their lives with."

"When Ezra worked at the saw mill, we counted on him to manage the power. He managed the millrace, the dam, the wheel, and all the belts inside. If we were going to be low on power or stopped for repairs, he'd let us know. We never had to worry about surprises."

"Ezra helped out at the grist mill too. After the ice had broken our wheel, he was right over to help fix it."

"When Keren was born, we went over to visit Ezra and Ruth. Ezra was gracious with his visitors, kind to his wife and child, and accepted help when we offered it."

Light snow was falling on the crowd, clinging to their blankets and coats, but they stood and talked of Ezra, talking until the tributes reached a natural end.


In the city, flashing green lights summoned everyone to the central meeting room. The investiture of a leader was the only event where the entire population of the city gathered, their machinery stopped or slowed for the event. Even the hospital patients were usually wheeled into the auditorium.

James picked up the mobile monitor, watching it while he walked down the hall. The auditorium was getting crowded, but he and Helena had reserved seats, near the front with a bank of monitors for keeping an eye on the surface. The raiders seemed quiet and the funeral had absorbed the farmers, so he might get to see the ceremony.

As he looked around, he saw all the uniform colors at once. Red for those who dealt with the outside, green for the reactor and energy crews, brown for manufacturing, orange for food production, pink for doctors, silver for archivists, gold for child-rearing. Everyone had a steaming mug in front of them, and the smell of chocolate permeated the room. There were as yet no council blue or leader purple uniforms in sight.

Posted by simon at 09:10 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 10

When everyone was in the auditorium, the house lights went down and everyone quieted. The curtains opened a bit, and Margaret walked out to the podium on the stage.

"Welcome everyone," she began. "After a long and difficult decision-making process, the council has chosen a new leader to succeed Gregory. An investiture is more than just the installation of a new leader; it is an opportunity for us to revisit our shared commitments and examine how we reached our current position."

"Members of our past council will read from the official history, and then we will introduce the leader. The leader will then conduct an election for the new council."

The twelve members of the council sat in a row of seats across the stage. Catherine was carrying a large book. She placed the book on her lap and flipped it open to a marked page near the beginning. A screen behind her showed pictures of what she described.

"The twelve libraries were created in the year 2040, amid signs that we had damaged our planet. All twelve had similar plans and identical contents, providing a home for the knowledge gained over the previous centuries. Books, records, music, film, tools, raw materials, and a precious collection of plant, animal, and human genomic stock were surrounded by the technology needed to keep them viable for centuries. Excavations and construction lasted until 2143, when this, the last of the libraries, was completed."

Catherine passed the book to the next member. Every member read a passage to the audience before passing it to the next reader.

"For six years, the library thrived, full of people with a strong sense of mission, preserving knowledge for the rest of the world. The concerns that had motivated the creation of the libraries were being realized, as the ever-increasing costs of energy led to new wars for the remainder and the damage done to the environment flooded the coasts, dried out the interior, and battered the country with storms. The library was a haven from the problems of the world."

"In 2149, there was a reactor failure and the entire library was evacuated. Its residents fled, and the contents were feared destroyed. Radioactive material spewed from the entrance."

"A year later, a team of thirteen investigators entered the library. The surface never heard from us again, presuming us lost, as we sealed the entrance behind us and locked down all the security systems. The earlier reactor problems had been an elaborate performance, necessary to allow the library to last through the centuries of chaos that now looked certain. As planned, our team became the new residents of the library, a much smaller core group that could keep the library going for centuries on minimal power. Outside, the area was marked as hazardous - which in fact it was, for a long time."

"This original team of thirteen and their descendants monitored the steady decline of the world outside. There were fewer and fewer satellite signals and then they stopped over the next century. Broadcast radio and television disappeared, though signals from smaller radios continued. Radiation levels increased for a while and then dissipated, while weather patterns on the surface reached new extremes of hot and cold, dry and wet."

"Inside the library, we maintained the systems, managing their cache of stored materials, life, and knowledge. Twenty-six children were born during the lives of the original thirteen, carefully chosen to succeed their predecessors. We had the materials of the library itself to entertain them, the warning of the world above to keep them focused on their mission."

"None of the original thirteen or the twenty-six would see the surface again. We spent our years underground, marveling at old pictures of life on the surface and the many joys available to those who had once lived there. We lived on generated food, using the materials stockpiled for just such an emergency. Our monitoring found ever bleaker news on the surface, and we experienced the joy and pain of having escaped that fate."

"Other libraries shared their stories occasionally, though they broadcast infrequently. We heard of success at some libraries, and failure at others. We heard of the rise of new cities emerging as the survivors of the great decline banded together in salvageable spots."

"Three centuries after shutting ourselves from the world, we decided it was time to revisit the surface. Radiation levels were safe, the weather less drastic, and there were no signs of other people in the area. We had been preparing for the ascent for years, looking forward to life in a forest as well as in a cave."

"The first group that went to the surface stayed there for a month before returning to the city and the hospital. After a year of quarantine, they were released and the surface declared inhabitable. Work crews went to the surface to clear the trees that had grown inside the gates, rebuild the ruined walls, and reconnect the old surface defenses with the power of the city."

"During this rebuilding, a group decided that they wanted to stay on the surface. They explored and remapped the area, searching for miles around, and discovered a small village with fields in the valley. The villagers were barely surviving, eking out a living with poor seeds and stock. The villagers were uncertain, not having seen other humans for decades, but they were fortunately peaceful and willing to learn."

"The past three centuries have been years of growth. Buildings on the surface provide services for the farmers and allow them to supply us with food and energy. Re-establishing contact and trade with other cities, none of them close, has taken years, but we now enjoy stable relations with other communities."

The last council member, Margaret, closed the book, leaving it at the podium, and they all stood up, walking off the side of the stage and into seats in the audience.

All of the lights went dark for a moment, and a spotlight illuminated the podium. Matthew was standing there, in a suit of purple. Everyone raised their mugs in his direction and drank their chocolate deeply.

"Fellow citizens," Matthew began, "the council has chosen me to succeed Gregory. We face new challenges today, and we must face them together."

"We have faced choices between conservation and expansion, between trade and self-sufficiency. After a few centuries of peace, we face new conflicts and new challenges. The revival of the world, slow though it may be, demands that we take a more active role in it, both to help ensure the creation of a stable civilization and to ensure that our own home survives."

"We must build on what we have and improve what we know. We were given tremendous gifts by the builders of this city, and we must make good use of those gifts. Our mission remains as critical now as it ever has been, even as the outside world begins its long recovery."

Matthew paused for a moment, enjoying the applause.

"To achieve that mission, the leader must work closely with the council, the council must work closely with the leader, and the entire leadership must work closely with those of us overseeing the departments of our city."

"Today, we must elect that council. I ask you to vote for council members who will work together, for council members that you trust."

Margaret was staring at him, waiting for him to recommend council members, the last component of their agreement.

"I ask in particular that you elect Alice and William to the council, as we face special challenges in both of their areas of expertise."

The old council members stood up, gathered pieces of paper, and passed them to the citizens while Matthew continued.

"As is traditional, you have twelve votes: six for men and six for women. Write a list of the people you would like to see on the council, in the order of importance you attach to their service. When you are finished, hand them to the past council members."

"After the votes are counted, I will return and announce the new council."

Posted by simon at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)

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!" Matthew 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 that strange book 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 simon at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

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 leaned forward, 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 council members 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. 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 community's 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 simon at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

Chapter 13

"How much time do we need?" asked Matthew.

"At least two days, and good weather at night," said James. "We have the benefit of being close to a new moon, so our night vision should give us a huge advantage, but we're still working on training. We've never had to deal with this many people at once before."

"How will we deal with the two groups?"

"We'll have to use the emergency tunnels for both of them. The group at the top is easily accessible, but the group at the bottom is a substantial distance from our nearest exit. It seems wise to perform both operations at the same time. They don't seem to have radio communications, but we're not certain of that. If the group at the bottom retreated into the farmers' houses, we could be looking at a long process."

Catherine interrupted. "Do we know if there are more of them?"

James looked over his notes for a minute before replying. "We don't know for certain. The only messengers we've seen have gone between the wagons and the group at the gate, so our assumption is that there aren't any more. However,"

"However?" Catherine looked annoyed.

"The wagons are on the edge of our security perimeter. We haven't seen any signs that they're trying to sneak out of sight of our cameras - or even that they know the cameras are there - but we don't have perfect coverage of all sides of their wagons."

"It's very strange that they would act so openly, and that they've split into two groups like this," said Matthew.

"Perhaps the farmers' immediate flight made them overconfident. Their readings make me wonder if they think they have supernatural powers," said James. "In any event, nearly all of the weapons we've seen have been with the group near the gate. It seems like the warriors are up here to challenge us, while the families are at the bottom."

"We should talk with the farmers about the raid they suffered," suggested Stephen.

"Our scanning system recorded the broadcast from the farmers, though we weren't actively monitoring their traffic at the time because of the retreat. I can play it for you, if like," said James.

"Please do," said Matthew.

James went to a cabinet on the wall of the meeting room, turned up the volume, and played the recording. Council members shook their heads at the claims of God's Army, and cringed at the gunshot. When it was over, James returned to the table.

"They're insane," said Catherine.

"For once I agree with you," said Stephen.

Alice was shaking her head. William was scowling. The whole council looked shocked, faced with a problem that seemed much darker than the occasional raids for food they had faced before.

"There's not a lot here to go by," said James, "but they do seem organized if not always effective. They clearly have a shared belief system, and appear to have a sense of mission."

"Are their weapons any good?" asked Matthew.

"They appear to work," said James, "but all of the ones we've seen have been homemade, single-shot. They plainly have gunpowder, and could potentially use explosives against us. We've also seen lots of knives and some bows. They couldn't withstand an extended assault by us, but as we'd prefer to take no casualties, they're certainly dangerous despite their primitive weapons."

"Do we need to coordinate with the farmers?" asked Stephen.

Matthew replied. "In the past, they've sent unarmed observers along when we've removed raiders. It's usually their hunters, who are as good or better than we are at moving quietly and keeping out of sight. They insist that we not kill anyone on their behalf, in keeping with their own refusal to kill others. They do accept - well, tolerate - our use of force to remove them, provided that everyone comes out unharmed."

"And what will it cost us to remove these people?" asked Catherine.

"It looks like it will take two flights, assuming that all of the raiders are in these two groups," said James. "It's possible that some parts of the group would want to stay here and join the farmers, if perhaps they're prisoners, but I'm still guessing two flights."

"And how far do we need to transport them?" asked Stephen.

"The nearest area we can send them is about 400 kilometers away," said James, "in the hills southwest of here. There's no city within 250 kilometers of that, no major radiation or toxic sites, and no known community already there. We'd still have to alert all cities within 500 kilometers, but there wouldn't be any veto rights, as no one else is within the 200 kilometer limit."

"Does everyone find this plan acceptable?" asked Matthew.

"It's far more expensive than I would have wanted, because of the transport, but we have no choice," replied Catherine. Everyone nodded.

"I agree," said Matthew. "I worry that this will be a recurring cost. I've talked with other cities about it in the past, and only the ones who use executions have a cheaper option. We've never done that to outsiders, and I'd prefer not to be the first."

"Nor would I," said Catherine.

"It's time to talk with the farmers. I'd like to go up," said Matthew.

Several council members looked alarmed. Catherine spoke. "We'd prefer that you didn't. We don't see any reason that this requires the leader to speak to the farmers directly."

"I'm afraid they're right, Matthew," said Stephen. "If something happens where you really need to be the one to go up, I'll support you, but I don't see that now."

"Does everyone agree?" asked Matthew. They did.

"I'm supposed to respect the will of the council, so I will. James and Helena will coordinate with the farmers."


The elders were still in the hospital meeting room when Helena came up the elevator. She knocked at the door. Jacob answered and invited her in.

"I am Helena. The city has sent me to discuss our plans for getting you home."

One of the elders, Daniel, invited her to sit beside the monitors.

"Where do we begin with the plans?" asked Leah.

"There is relatively little that you have to do. We have another two days of preparation before we can collect the raiders, and the operation depends on the weather. We need two things of you: observers and and a place to bring the raiders, about thirty-five of them, once we have collected and disarmed them."

"How many observers?" asked Daniel.

"Four. We'll have forty people on the expedition, divided into two groups. One observer for every ten people seems appropriate given past experience," said Helena.

"Our observers will be unarmed," said Daniel.

"We understand that. As usual, the observers will be there at their own risk. We will certainly try to ensure their safety, but we can't be responsible for them."

Jacob nodded. "When and where will you meet the observers?"

"If the weather cooperates, we'll have the observers enter the city after dark two nights from now. The observers will need to come into the city and go back out, so we'll blindfold the observers while they travel into the city and out of the city. We will have a briefing in the city before the expedition, and we'll certainly let the observers see that," said Helena.

"We have two hunters who will be observers, and myself," said Jacob. "The elders will need to choose a fourth."

Helena nodded. "As long as it's someone who can take care of themselves, we'll be happy."

"And John? Can you tell us anything of John, who went into the city to ask for your help?"

"He's in the hospital in the city, resting comfortably. His exile ended when Gregory died, so he's a citizen again."

The elders and Jacob didn't know what to say. John was alive, but a citizen again? Helena got up to leave. "We'll let you know as we have more."

Posted by simon at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 14

Margaret led Matthew down the hall to his new quarters as leader.

"Everything's been cleaned up in here," she said. "Gregory's personal possessions have been boxed for reuse and the library, and yours brought in."

She opened the doors, and they stepped in. The entry area held the same table and chairs Matthew remembered from Gregory's late-night summons, cleared of their usual papers.

Margaret handed Matthew a key. Matthew looked at it for a moment, then opened the second set of doors.

"May I enter with you?" asked Margaret.

"Of course," said Matthew. "I don't know my way around."

"I hardly know my way around it myself. He was very private. I've only been in here once a year, to ensure that Gregory kept up his notes for his successor."

They stepped through the doors into a small hallway that opened into a library. Printed books and handwritten books, diaries of all the previous leaders, shared the shelves. Margaret turned on the desk lamp.

"It sounded like Gregory spent most of his time in his quarters in this room. I understand that chair is well slept in," said Margaret.

Matthew was examining the books on the shelves. History, correspondence, even religion.

"This is only part of it," said Margaret. "The chief archivist can get you much more, even the sealed books. We certainly hope you don't take up religion, but..."

"No worry," said Matthew. "I'd rather be inside defending these walls than with those raiders attacking them."

Margaret laughed politely. "There's more to see, but I think you can figure it out. There's one additional key I have to give you," she said, and handed him a small black square.

"What do I do with this?" asked Matthew.

"Over here." Margaret led Matthew to a painting of the city under construction. "Put that here, and..."

The painting lifted, exposing a cavity stuffed with notebooks and paper. Matthew reached in and collected it all, putting it on the table.

"That's probably your reading for the next year," Margaret said. "Those are Gregory's notes about the things he felt his successor needed to know immediately. He was supposed to reorganize it next month - it gets cleaned up once a year - but I'm afraid your timing wasn't so good. Or his."

"It's going to be a long night," Matthew said.

"Start with the red pages tonight, and read the rest later," Margaret replied. "Your alarm is set to give you time to be ready for the morning council meeting. Make sure you rest a little."

Matthew sat down. "Thank you," he said.

Margaret left him reading.

It wasn't long before Matthew's face was nearly as purple as his uniform, as he stormed around the room with the red notebook. Skipping ahead to what Gregory had to say about him had proven to be a huge mistake.

"Matthew is smart, but dangerous. I never believed his denials that he had grown involved with the farmers' religion, and frequently wish he had been exiled with his friend John when we had the chance. While he is capable, his very skill creates new dangers. You must watch him carefully, ensure that he only receives information that is appropriate to his mindset, and be prepared to overrule him in any matter where he seeks to give too much to the farmers or give too much credence to their nonsense religion."

Matthew muttered. "I need to watch myself carefully, and only let myself have information appropriate to my..."

He snapped the book shut and turned to the papers. There, among complaints from other cities about goods that were never delivered and offers of assistance in return for fuel, was a four-month-old notice from [name], a tiny city well to the north:

"We have removed a group of religious fanatics, the 'Army of God', providing them with boats to cross the lake. They will probably not survive the 100km crossing, but you should know that in the event that they do, they will likely be landing within 200km of your city. We have removed their weapons and left their band of 30 with only basic provisions."

Gregory had scrawled "Why didn't they just kill them? Keep from Matthew" across the bottom.

Matthew shook his head. He hadn't particularly liked Gregory, but he'd had no idea that Gregory was this hateful, or that Gregory seemed to really dislike him. The unexpected problem of this "Army of God" appearing without warning wasn't unexpected. Gregory had had plenty of warning, but refused to pass it on to anyone else because he didn't trust them. The late night calls, the stories that didn't quite add up, and the years where it was impossible to talk to the council directly began to make sense.

Alice and William had reported similar problems, and sure enough, Gregory didn't trust them either. Alice had been a "disrepectful child, who thinks she knows much more than she does" while William "answers questions so slowly that I know he must be hiding things."

They weren't alone, either - most of the notebook seemed to be a long rant about everyone Gregory worked with directly, except possibly for Catherine. Catherine was "wise and understanding, sharing my concerns," but "has lately refused to go to the trysting rooms with me, and I fear she is keeping her distance for reasons of her own."

Maybe, Matthew thought, Catherine was starting to realize that Gregory was getting strange and dangerous, self-absorbed to the point where he was endangering the city. Or maybe not - she hadn't exactly welcomed Matthew either. It was going to be a long night's reading indeed.

Posted by simon at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 31, 2005

Chapter 15

The next morning was bright and cold. The compound was bustling with activity. People were cooking, cleaning tents, visiting friends, sending their children to the library, tending their livestock, and generally looking much more hopeful than they had the morning before.

The Bible reading from the other side of the wall seemed to have halted. Perhaps the reader had finally worn out. The farmers took it as a promising sign that things might return to normal sooner rather than later.

The elders were back in their usual tent, leaving Jacob and Miriam to watch God's Army on the hospital monitors. Gideon and Sarah were visiting Rachel, pleased to hear that John was still alive but wondering what it meant that he was a citizen again. Rachel was still asleep, murmuring occasionally but not clearly aware that Gideon and Sarah were in the room.


Helena's report on preparations for the removal of the raiders had gone smoothly, though Matthew had yawned a few more times than he would have liked. Gregory's notebooks and files had proven far too interesting, and he'd only had an hour of sleep, collapsed in the chair. When the alarm rang, he'd started reading again, and Margaret had had to call him to come to the meeting.

William was reporting on the current state of the reactor, which was mostly fine. Matthew kept drifting off, finding himself staring at Catherine when he came back to. She looked more and more flustered as the meeting went on, and started asking William obscure questions about repair cycles and testing.

When they finally broke for food, Margaret came over to Matthew. "I told you not to spend too long reading," she said.

"I couldn't help it," said Matthew. "I learned more last night about why things have been the way they are than I'd ever known before."

Margaret stepped back a bit. "Does this mean you're planning major changes?"

"No, no, not right away, anyway. But once I've finished reading and had a chance to process all of this, I'll have a lot of questions for the council and the citizens."

"Is it really that troubling?" asked Margaret, brows knitted tightly.

"Well - yes, probably," replied Matthew. "I only got through a small part of what Gregory had left, though, and I need to spend a lot more time before causing trouble."

Margaret shook her head. "It already seemed challenging enough, with raiders on our doorstep. If you have any questions I can answer, I'll be happy to try, though -"

Catherine walked toward them, and Margaret stopped talking, filling her plate with food instead.


Isaac came to relieve Jacob and Miriam at the monitor. "The elders want to see you," he said. "Something to do with observers."

Jacob and Miriam left the hospital and headed for the elders' tent.

"It's the two of us plus the hunters, right?" asked Miriam.

"That makes the most sense to me," said Jacob.

When they reached the elders' tent, it was silent. They went inside, and found the elders sitting quietly, eyes closed. Jacob coughed quietly, and they awoke.

"We have been discussing who should go with the city residents as observers," said Leah. "We're concerned about your choices, Jacob."

"Well," began Jacob. "The hunters are the usual observers. We need two more, and Miriam and I are the only others who regularly deal with situations like these."

"Yes," said Leah. "But you're also brother and sister, and the situations you've dealt with together haven't been this, well, hazardous."

Miriam shook her head. "But..." she began.

"It's not about your capabilities," said Daniel. "We know you're both capable. It's just that -"

"What?" said Jacob. "That we're orphans?"

"Well, yes," said Leah. "Orphans whose parents were killed by raiders themselves, and the only ones left in a line that's been critical to every phase of our community's existence."

"If we lose both of you," said Judith, "the impact on morale will be horrible."

"Morale?" asked Miriam. "We - we're not here to be idols. We're here to get things done."

"Yes," said Judith. "Your family always has."

"We think it would be better if only one of you went, and then someone else," said Leah.

"Who else?" asked Miriam.

"Isaac," said Daniel. "We thought his willingness to look for another road in the face of the raiders was impressive, and he's been showing signs of, well, needing to do something different."

"And which of us would you have go?" asked Jacob.

"Isaac's inexperience points us toward wanting someone with more experience in these things, and that means you, Jacob," replied Leah. The other elders nodded.

Miriam's face was red. "Isaac? Instead of me?" She left the tent.


The council stopped suddenly when there was a knock on the door. Matthew's eyes flew from Catherine to the door. Margaret answered it, and Helena stepped in.

"I'm sorry to bother you again," she started, "but the Army of God is behaving very strangely."

"How strangely?" asked Matthew.

"Well, they seem, well, they are killing one of the farmers' bulls in front of their tent."

"Killing a bull?"

"Yes. They slit its throat, collected the blood, and brought it into their tent."

"Animals," said Catherine. "Maybe they're drinking the blood."

"They seem to be butchering the animal now," said Helena, "but they're ignoring all of the good meat and just gathering the fat."

"What a waste," said William, shaking his head.


Miriam stormed into the hospital's monitoring room, startling Isaac, who'd been focused on the monitor.

"You've got to see this, Miriam," he started.

"I don't care," said Miriam. "The elders want to see you."

"They do?" asked Isaac. "Do they know that the Army of God is sacrificing animals?"

"What?" asked Miriam. "Sacrificing? Sacrificing what?"

"I think it's one of our bulls," said Isaac, as Miriam looked into the monitor to see. "How much of a sacrifice is it if they sacrifice our stock?"

"This is definitely odd," she said. "You should, uh, tell the elders about this."

"Shouldn't you tell them?" asked Isaac.

"No, they asked for you," said Miriam.

Issac took a last look at the monitor, and headed toward the elders' tent. Miriam kept her eyes on the scene outside, and started taking notes.

Posted by simon at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

Chapter 16

"I don't understand what they're doing now," said Helena. She was watching the monitors with James and Matthew. Matthew had adjourned the council meeting when Helena arrived, seeing an opportunity to close early and get back to Gregory's papers.

"They seem to have stripped the fat out of the carcass," said Andrew's voice over the speaker from his guard booth. "I've never seen anything this strange."

"Do we have any idea why they're doing this?" asked Matthew.

"It seems to go along with the rest of their insanity," replied James. "I don't have any idea about the details, though."

"Would the famers know?" asked Helena. "They're probably watching this on their monitor upstairs." She switched one screen to the hospital meeting room camera, bringing up the elders, who had reconvened in the hospital to watch this mystery.

"Could one of you go speak with them, since I'm apparently not allowed to?" asked Matthew. Helena and James looked at him questioningly.

"I'll go up," said Helena. "Will you be here, or should I call you after we've talked?"

"I think I'll retire to my strange new quarters," said Matthew. "Let me know what you find out."


Matthew opened the doors to his chamber and walked right back to the chair at the desk. The papers were all still there, some crumpled where he had slept on them.

Gregory hadn't been very organized. Apart from the notebook, which he seemed to have written in one mostly coherent burst the previous year, the papers were a strange mix of notes, messages, receipts, and the occasional picture. The many sheets of red paper warned mostly of people Gregory didn't trust, along with occasional notes about the reactor that Matthew didn't understand.

It would take days to sort all this out, Matthew decided, so it was probably best to read the notebook straight through.


Everyone in the conference room turned as they heard the knock on the door. Helena entered, her red uniform and youthful appearance contrasting sharply with the elders' grays and blacks.

"Do you have any idea what this strange killing is about?" asked Helena.

"We do," said Leah, "and we're very concerned that the Army of God has been reading its Bible too closely."

Helena paused. "I don't know anything about the Bible," she said.

"We don't expect you would, being city folk and all," said Daniel. "We can explain it, though, at least partly."

Daniel opened his Bible. "Leviticus four-one", he said. Helena looked blank.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:

"If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering. And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the Lord.

"And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the vail of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which [is at] the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

"And he shall take off from it all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards, And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away,

"As it was taken off from the bullock of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering. And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung, even the whole bullock shall he carry forth without the camp unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire: where the ashes are poured out shall he be burnt."

Helena looked mystified. "So some priest is trying to purify himself?"

"Yes," said Leah.

"Do you do this too?" asked Helena.

"No, we don't," said Daniel. "The age for this kind of sacrifice has passed, we believe."

"So what... why are they doing this?"

Daniel shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

"I think they're planning to attack," said Miriam. "But they know they can't win with their guns alone, so they need God."

Leah nodded. "They've been reading the book of Numbers at us for days, leading up to the conquest of the promised land," she said. "I'm afraid they think this is their promised land."

"I guess we knew they weren't our average raiders," said Helena. "Any ideas about what we could do to stop them?"

"I doubt whatever they're planning will have much effect on your walls," said Leah. "Maybe it's better to let them distract themselves for a while. You still need another day or two to prepare, right?"

"Yes," said Helena. "The training is going well, but we've never had to do deal with so many people before. We haven't been as distracted by their antics either."


Gregory's notes grew weirder and more fascinating with every page. The opening was a recital of statistics, pointing out how much energy efficiency and power generation had improved since the start of Gregory's leadership, demonstrating the ways in which their manufacturing systems were now better, showing the expansion of trade with the farmers and other cities in that period, and emphasizing his personal involvement in everything.

After the history, Gregory had penned a warning to his successor:

"A strong leader is all that stands between this city and disaster. You must be vigilant, strong, and occasionally ruthless. The thirteen founders realized what an impossible task they were attempting, surrounded by greed and violence. Their example must inspire all of your decisions. Remove those who block the way, those who are too caught up in themselves to contribute to the group.

"Sadly, our people have weakened since the days of the thirteen. You cannot remove all of the poison without halting activity. You may need to balance the poisoned against each other, placing department against department and the council against itself to preserve your freedom to act as is best for the city."

Matthew shook his head. No wonder the last few years had been so complicated. Combining these ideas with Gregory's obvious distrust of nearly everyone else in the city must have driven Gregory mad. The whole burden on his shoulders, with no one he felt he could count on, while the rest of the city looked up at Gregory and wondered why he made everything so difficult.

Matthew's conversations with William and Alice as they chose a leader echoed in his head. They'd all had the same problems, but never realized that anyone else had them as well. Maybe Gregory wanted it that way.

A bell rang. Matthew reached for the intercom.

"Matthew?" It was Helena.

"I think we need to have a meeting," she said. "You're never going to believe what the raiders seem to be doing."

Posted by simon at 10:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2005

Chapter 17

After hearing Helena's story, Matthew called the full council back together. The story seemed ridiculous, but it fit with the Army of God's strange behavior so far. Matthew wasn't looking forward to explaining this to the council or figuring out how to react, but it seemed wiser to include the council in those decisions.

The council reconvened, most of its members looking worn from too many meetings running for too many hours. They took their seats, and Matthew introduced the problem.

"We know they're mad, but there seems to be a logic to their madness," he began. "Their behavior doesn't correspond to the practices of the farmers, but the farmers seem at least to know where it's coming from."

Helena showed the council the footage of the sacrifice, and then played back the recording of the meeting she'd had with the farmers in the hospital.

"What are the raiders doing now?" asked Stephen.

Helena switched the monitor back to the surveillance, showing a quiet camp at dusk, with campfires at both the top of the hill and the bottom. The bull was gone.

"Resting, perhaps," said Matthew. "But we can't be sure what they're planning in their tents and wagons."

"This story from the farmers is ridiculous," said Catherine. "Why should we believe their nonsense?"

"I can't imagine they'd make this up," replied Helena. "I asked them for an answer and they pulled one out of that Bible of their pretty quickly."

"Maybe they had discussed it previously," said Catherine. "Maybe they are trying to control our actions."

"For what purpose?" asked Stephen.

"I wish I knew," replied Catherine.

Everyone's eyes came to Matthew. "Even if this story is true - and I think it probably is - I'm not sure it means we need to change our usual plans. If this leads to further clues about their behavior, we may be able to choose our timing more carefully, or be slightly more prepared for an attack, but it doesn't seem likely that they can actually do anything to us."

"Maybe their God will help them," sneered Catherine.

"If their God helps them, there's probably not much we can do anyway," replied Matthew. "All right. Everyone can retire for the night, and we'll talk again tomorrow. Think about this latest madness, as we'll be laying our final plans tomorrow. Helena, can you stay a minute?"

The council members filed out, some laughing nervously, some bewildered.

When they'd all left, Matthew asked Helena, "What did they read to you again?"

"Levitican four-one, I think."


Back in his chambers - which he kept thinking of as Gregory's chambers - Matthew looked over the bookshelf, hunting for a Bible. He hadn't looked at one in years, not since he'd been promoted to coordinator, further away from the farmers. Gregory had a set - apparently different versions. Hoping it wouldn't matter which he chose, Matthew picked one off the shelf and took it to the table.

The paper was finer than he was used to, and there was an incredible number of pages packed into the binding. "Levitican, Levitican." He flipped to the front, looking for a table of contents, finally finding one amid the explanations and introductions. "Leviticus. Here we are."

He turned to Leviticus 4, and it read mostly like the farmer had said. Hoping for more, Matthew kept reading, but found himself lost in many more directions for repairing sins and trespasses. There were no signs of instructions for an attack, but Matthew suspected that he didn't really know how to read this book anyway.


Miriam rubbed her eyes. The monitors were mostly still. The Army of God was having a quiet night, their campfires burning down to embers, with only the occasional guard walking keeping vigil and lights in the central tent.

There was a knock on the door, and Jacob walked into the room. "I'm here to relieve you," he said. "You should rest."

"I should rest?" asked Miriam. "You're the one who's going to be out there facing the raiders. I'll just be sitting here quietly like a good little girl."

"Miriam -" Jacob started.

"It's true, isn't it? You and Isaac of all people, Isaac who's followed us for years, asking if he could join in, like it would somehow be fun."

"Miriam, it's not my choice."

"I know it's not your choice, but why? Did I do something wrong?"

"The council -"

"You've talked with them more than I have lately, Jacob. Have I made some horrible mistake? Don't they trust me?"

"They trust you, Miriam. They just - well, I think they meant what they said."

"I don't understand why that matters. I didn't choose -"

"But we are, Miriam. We're the people who handle these situations. No one else has, well, the skills."

"Except apparently Isaac. And if his skills are enough -"

"He took some initiative for once. It didn't work out, but I think it was enough for the council. I thought you liked him."

"I guess I should have gone riding instead of directing traffic."

Jacob looked at his sister and shook his head. "There's nothing we can do about this right now, Miriam. And if anything happens to me, they'll be relying on you all the time."

Miriam sat down again. "I suppose," she said. "I just don't know what to do with myself now. Watching the monitors and speculating about the Army of God just isn't very exciting."

"I think you're on to something with your thinking they're preparing to attack."

"It sort of makes sense," said Miriam, "but I can't figure out quite what they think they're doing. Reading Numbers at us, citing Deuteronomy when they captured Ruth. They have crosses on their wagons and on their tents. Don't they know that time of conquest passed long ago?"

"Maybe they only have a few books from the front of the Bible?" asked Jacob.

"Maybe they do," said Miriam. "But why the crosses then? Coincidence?"

"I don't know," replied Jacob. "They're bizarre, to say the least."

"So, what's next?"

"We have at least another day of waiting. Then I suppose we'll have to deal with prisoners."

"Wonderful. The Army of God as our guests."

"Disarmed, at least."

"Have the elders discussed how we're going to handle all of these people?"

"Yes, though it's a problem. We don't have much room right now, so we'll have to empty out part of the barn quickly once the raiders are captured. They're also concerned about talking with them."

"What, that we'll be too tempted to violence against them?"

"Well, yes, that, but also - they worry that their ideas might also be contagious."

"That's ridiculous," said Miriam. "They're crazy, and everyone can see that."

"Apparently there have been similar problems in the past. They said we've had to exile a few people because of it."

Miriam shook her head. "It's hard to imagine anyone listening to them, and hopefully the city will remove them quickly."

"A few days, probably. I think their first priority is capturing them, removing the problem in front of their gates. They want us to hold the prisoners after that."

"So they can minimize their own contact with them?"

"Probably. I don't think they want them in the city at all, but with the snow, we're not going anywhere for a while."

Miriam shook her head. The monitor still showed a dying campfire and a sleepy-looking sentry.

"You should rest, Miriam."

Miriam stood up, brushed herself off, and left the room. Jacob turned his attention to the monitor, watching for any clues the raiders might provide.

Posted by simon at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2005

Chapter 18

Matthew couldn't sleep. Gregory's notebook grew stranger and more compelling the more he read. First he praised himself, then he blasted everyone else, and then he ranted about the dangers of his least favorite subject: religion.

Religion nearly destroyed this city at the outset. The first six years were a disaster. The city was founded without religion, but the people brought it with them. A mix of this and that, without coherence. News of the battles in the outside world created tensions, even violence among the staff, whenever religion was involved.

The thirteen knew this couldn't continue. When they created their team they excluded everyone with religious beliefs. When they rebuilt the city, they barred religion. Recognizing that they might need an understanding of these matters to deal with other cities, they locked religious texts in a restricted section of the archive. Only the chief archivist and the leader were allowed access to anything more than the most general materials. Interest in religion was immediate grounds for exile, and, if necessary, execution. There have been three outbreaks of religion since, though only one has led to an execution.

Chief Archivist Luke was found distributing the Bible to other citizens 350 years ago. He was immediately exiled along with two others he had contaminated, but returned claiming that converting the city was his task. He was executed before he had a chance to complete that task.

The second outbreak came during the creation of the farm community. Citizens encountered the village and its residents' religious fervor. After intensive debate and communications with other cities about how best to set up farming communities, the city decided - very wrongly I believe now - to let the villagers keep their religion. Some of the citizens involved in creating the farm community fell prey to religion. They were exiled, but simply joined the farm community, an acceptable answer at the time.

The third outbreak occurred early during my rule, and is no doubt the worst stain on my record. We weren't paying close enough attention to our staff dealing with the farmers, and one of them became too friendly, absorbing their doctrine and changing sides.

Matthew shook his head. John hadn't known anything about religion - he'd fallen in love with Rachel. Fallen hard, probably hard enough that he'd listen to her talk about anything, but Matthew doubted that John's original interest was ever really about religion. John had changed dramatically, though - a new bounce in his step, more smiles every time he saw her, until he was arrested and exiled, that change attributed to religion rather than Rachel.

In a routine audit of the department, Catherine discovered John's treachery, and worse, that others were covering for John's error. Time he spent away from his proper duties trading wasn't cataloged, and only the recordings told the true story. At his trial, we convicted him easily and exiled him immediately, but his accomplices remained in the city despite my best efforts to remove them. They have kept their heads down since, but this cancer may linger, ready to strike again. Stephen, Matthew, and Helena - all bear watching.

"I guess I know why I need to watch myself," Matthew muttered. "Poor Gregory never did understand love." Matthew had heard that the love survived the memory purge the city had performed on John at Gregory's insistence, and wondered what Gregory had thought of John's becoming a farmer with Rachel as his wife. Matthew would now have to sort out what to do with John returned as a citizen - no doubt Gregory would have loathed that situation.

He sat back in the chair. Catherine's deep mistrust at least made sense now, and Gregory's doubts in him might even have been grounded, at least if Matthew had ever thought of himself as an accomplice. No one had ever told him of these suspicions, though. Apparently Gregory's doubts weren't enough to begin a formal inquiry.

There was more, of course.

Developing the farmers was a popular move, substantially improving our food, energy, and trading situations, but their community exposes us to more and more risk over time. Their religion binds them together, for now, and keeps them from violence, but if the history of other cities bound by religion is any guide this cannot remain stable forever. Even though we've taught them our model of exile, eventually disagreements will arise and the city will no longer be able to count on a unified outide community.

The farmers' religion also exposes us to religious contamination, as was proven so dreadfully in John's case. While the leader may need access to religious materials for dealing with other cities, having an entire religious community next door perpetually endangers the strict secularism the wise thirteen chose to safeguard our world.

It is too late to change the farmers, unless they discover the dangers themselves through strife. While I would prefer to see the farmers living according to the expectations and values of the city, that change would no doubt take generations, and cause major disruption along the way.

I have chosen to keep a core set of religious texts in my office chamber, thereby minimizing the number of interactions the chief archivist must have with this dangerous material. You may wish to continue this practice. Do not, however, read the texts unless there is clear need. A leader with a religious vision for this city may yet prove to be our undoing.

Given the fruitlessness of Matthew's exploration of Leviticus, that didn't seem like much of a risk, even if Gregory would probably have been furious to see Matthew leader. Matthew turned the page, coming to Gregory's thoughts on another disruptive force: love.

When the thirteen rebuilt the city, they also chose to subdue another force which had caused tremendous difficulties during the first six years. Love, romantic attachments of all kinds, had created difficult problems among the original crew. Strong bonds of love united pairs against everyone else, while unrequited affection created resentment, anger, and sorrow.

On their return, the thirteen vowed that love would never again be so disruptive. While recognizing that it cannot be entirely stamped out, they set about creating a culture that would focus on the survival of the group, not the temporary needs of amorous citizens or family bonds.

They shifted reproduction from direct parenting to artificial means, with children raised by specialists. They set up the trysting rooms in order that citizens could gratify their needs, but taught that the overuse of these rooms, especially with the same partner repeatedly, was dangerous both physically and emotionally.

Matthew was stunned. He'd thought John's rapture over Rachel was silly, and that the farmers' accepting treatment of such matters was strange. It had never occurred to him that the city's approach had been created deliberately, or represented a change from the way things had always been. They'd always been that way here for 700 years or so. He read on.

While love has continued to be an occasionally disruptive force, it has little potential to unite a large group of people. Informal pairing of citizens has been tolerated for centuries, provided it didn't interfere with the operation of the city, and the medical staff provide counseling when such pairs come to an end.

There have, however, been four cases where intense bonds between citizens created problems. In every case, the threat of exile for the pair unless both renounce their love has been effective. One wavers and the other becomes disgusted, and eventually the bond is broken. Much to the leaders' relief, fellow citizens have shown little sympathy for these pairs, except to welcome them back when the ordeal was over. Teaching citizens early that love is dangerous and survival is paramount seems to make it easier to break bonds when necessary.

None of these incidents took place under my leadership, I am happy to report. Love may resurface, but I am proud of our ability to contain and weaken it.

Gregory didn't seem to have counted John's case as one of love, but maybe it was just too difficult for Gregory to conceive of the farmers as anything more than dangerous trading partners.

Matthew fell back in the chair exhausted, and fell asleep.

Posted by simon at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2005

Chapter 19

Dawn was breaking, and the Army of God was stirring. On the monitor, Jacob watched the men gathering in the tent while a messenger ran down the hill to the wagons below. A few flakes of snow were falling again, swirling in the early morning breezes.

Miriam knocked on the door and entered.

"Anything exciting?" she asked.

"Mostly peaceful," said Jacob. "A messenger just went down from the top to the wagons, but that's all so far. Otherwise, just the same camp fire and sentry."

"Are you going to be able to go out as an observer after spending all night watching here?"

"I figure I'll be up all night tonight anyway, if the city's ready, or tomorrow night probably. So as long as I sleep today, it's probably better."

Miriam shook her head. "You can head off to sleep if you want now. Just let me get some juice and toast from the cafeteria. Want any?"

Jacob nodded.


Matthew woke up in the chair again. Gregory's visions were insane but infectious. Matthew couldn't decide if he'd been right or wrong not to tell Gregory when John came back into the city during the last raid. He'd been convinced it was right at the time, but now he wondered. Of course, if John hadn't been around, the farmers would still be outside the walls and probably slaughtered, so John had definitely redeemed himself.

But maybe - Matthew was definitely going to have to keep an eye on himself, as Gregory had warned.


Miriam came back with food and drink, and sat down with Jacob.

"Anything new?"

"It's still awfully quiet. Wait - there goes the messenger back up the hill."

The raiders' camp was stirring, its ten occupants moving toward the central tent carrying bags while two of them carried a box into the tent.

"Something's up. Miriam, could you get the elders?"

She'd already left the room, on her way. The elders filed in a few minutes later, some still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

"What's going on, Jacob?" asked Leah.

"All of the men in the top camp went into the central tent. They were carrying a lot of stuff."

A few minutes later, the tent flap opened and a procession stepped out. Leading the procession was a man carrying a horn, in robes with a golden square hanging on his chest. The next six men also carried horns and were similarly dressed in robes, with colorful layers and a blue sash holding the outfit together. Behind them another two men dressed normally, carrying a large wooden box, largely covered with furs, followed by one man in the raiders' usual clothing, brandishing a gun.

"Jericho," said several people at once.

Leah stood up, saying "Call the guard. Let him know the city faces an enemy who thinks God is on their side."


Andrew and Helena had seen the same strange scene, and Andrew made certain Helena knew how important the farmers thought the situation was before she called on Matthew.

She found Matthew alone in the hallway on his way to the council meeting, pulling him aside before anyone else had realized he was there.

"We have something very strange," she began.

"Strange with us, or with the raiders, or with the farmers?"

"The raiders mostly, and I hope it stays that way, but the farmers are very concerned." She explained the situation briefly.

"Utter nonsense. All right, go up and ask the farmers why the raiders are acting so strange, and what we need to do about it. Preferably nothing."


Helena stepped out of the hospital elevator, nearly crashing into Abner. "This way," he said, escorting her to the conference room.

"We're glad you're here," began Judith. "The raiders mean to use God to tear the city walls down."

"The raiders are doing what?"

"We know why they had that ceremony yesterday. They needed to purify someone so that they would be able to carry the ark around the city."

"Carry what? An ark? Why?"

Daniel stood up and opened his Bible. "This might help," he said, cleared his throat, and began reading.

"Joshua, six-three. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him."

"Compass the city? What does that -"

"It means they plan to walk around the city with this ark of theirs, probably today."

"But they can't - they'd just get electrocuted. The forest's right up against the wall in places too."

"Maybe," started Miriam. Everyone's eyes turned to her.

"Well, it'll take seven days for them to complete the cycle. The city's planning to go out tonight or tomorrow night. Maybe they should let the raiders go around the city today."

Jacob was looking at her very strangely. "Why?" he asked.

"So that they'll be overconfident. If they think their plan is working, and they're following their Bible closely, they'll probably let down their guard."

"I'll ask," said Helena with a grim look on her face.


Catherine scowled as Helena explained Miriam's plan. The raiders would expect their project to take seven days, so there might be an advantage to letting them start it. The defenses were hard to destroy anyway, and many of them were concealed in the walls, so even letting them walk around the wall wouldn't provide them with much information.

"This is some kind of trick," said Catherine. "The farmers want the defenses down, when the defenses help us defend against them. And how do we even know the 'Army of God' isn't a group of their friends?"

"This is all stranger than I imagined possible," said Matthew. "I know it isn't comfortable to take the farmers' word for it, but I have two reasons why we should." He looked at Catherine.

"First, I checked on that quote the farmers gave about the sacrifice. It checks out perfectly with the Bible in Gregory's study. I'll check this one too, but suspect the farmers can read."

"You've read the Bible?" asked Catherine, her face glowing red. "Don't you know -"

"Yes, yes, I know Catherine. It's forbidden. Except, according to Gregory's notes, to the leader. And I think even Gregory would have opened it to check a quote."

Catherine folded her arms across her chest and sat back.

"Second, I found a notice from [name] that they had exiled the Army of God, and that it might be coming our direction."

Catherine was on her feet. "But Gregory never said anything - "

"Sit down, Catherine," said Matthew. "Sit down." She sat.

"I have the message in my chambers, and I'm perfectly happy to share this with you, even though Gregory apparently didn't see fit to share it with me, whose department had responsibility for these issues, or with any of you."

Matthew turned to Helena. "Which farmer came up with this?"

"Miriam did."

"Tell Miriam she had a good idea, and we'll turn off the outer defenses immediately unless they try to come over the wall. When you get back, check in on the targetshooting training and see if we can get them out tonight. I don't feel like waiting seven days to test the Army of God's latest theory."

Posted by simon at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

Chapter 20

Matthew returned to the council room from his quarters, where he had gone to fetch the notice about the Army of God. He wasn't looking forward to showing off the "Keep from Matthew" scrawl, but hoped it would quiet Catherine's complaints about Miriam's perverse but brilliant idea. With luck, the Army would be so impressed with their own spiritual vigor and the lack of response from the city that they'd let their guard down completely at night.

The council was regrouping, preparing for a report from James on the readiness of the removal squad. Matthew handed the notice to Margaret, who passed it around the table. Council members grimaced as they read the message and the scrawl. It finally reached Catherine, who shook her head.

"I see he didn't manage to keep it from you," she said.

Matthew smiled and took it back. "Let's hear what James has to say before we decide what to do."

James handed each of the council members a folder containing maps and a list of participants.

"We believe the training is complete," he said. "While we've added a few new citizens to the squad, they still seem to remember their earlier training, and they continue to practice as we speak."

"When do we strike?" asked Stephen.

"Our current plan is to leave the tunnels around 2:00am. That gives the team dealing with the lower wagons time to get into position before we both strike at 2:30am."

"Are there any unusual difficulties to worry about?" asked Matthew.

"Just the number of them," said James. "We've never dealt with this many before. Half of them appear to be unarmed, but we'd rather not take that for granted."

"And the farmers?" asked Stephen.

"Their observers are ready. We'll bring two of them through the city blindfolded" - Catherine scowled - "and under guard, so that they can join the team at the bottom of the hill. Three of their observers have done this before, and one is new."

"Is there really no alternative to bringing the farmers through the city?" asked Catherine.

"Unless you want to fly them out and make a tremendous amount of noise, no," replied James. "They don't seem exactly thrilled about it either. The farmers are also preparing the holding area for the prisoners."

"I'd like us to have an armed citizen there at all times as well," said Catherine. "I don't trust -"

"That's a reasonable suggestion," said Matthew. "In fact, we're already planning to have two there at all times."

"What about this marching around the city?" asked Stephen.

"Helena briefed me," said James. "It sounds very strange, but I don't think it will actually do any harm. We have camera coverage and some microphone coverage over the entire perimeter, so we can keep an eye on them and turn on the defenses if they try anything."

"We could let them get part way around and then turn the defenses on to trap them," said Catherine.

"Yes, but that would probably kill them," said Matthew. "The farmers aren't very fond of our killing people on their behalf. If, however, the raiders start chopping into the defenses, I think we can let them have it."


The raiders had finished their prayers, and returned to their box. The elders had stayed in the conference room watching. James knocked on the door, then entered.

"We've decided to let them process around the city today," he said. "And then the removal team will head out tonight. They're ready, and the weather seems promising."

Miriam smiled. "So we get a strange show now and then get to meet them all later?"

"That would be the plan," replied James. "I need to head back down to monitor and manage their progress around the city."

The elders sat back as the procession formed again, led by the priest with the square on his chest. The priests all carried horns, of different sizes and shapes. Two men followed them carrying the box between them, and a final guard followed behind them, carrying his gun.

"I never thought I'd feel like a Canaanite," muttered Daniel.


"The camp looks unguarded," said Stephen. "Should we just strike now?"

"We're not ready," said Matthew.

"We think there are two more armed guards in their camp," said James. "It's difficult to be certain."

Andrew's voice came in over the speaker. "I've turned off the defenses for the southwest corner," he said. "Unless they get really spread out I'd rather do it in parts."

"Excellent, Andrew," replied Matthew.

The priests started into the woods along the wall. The snow and the trees made it difficult, but the priests seemed to realize quickly that they weren't going to be electrocuted, and they smiled broadly, clutching their horns to their chests while stumbling through the snow.

Catherine was gritting her teeth as she watched. "I can't believe we're letting them do this," she said. "It makes a mockery of our defenses."

"It's enhancing our defenses," said Matthew. "It may seem strange, but the happier we can make them today the better off I think we'll be tonight."


The elders retreated to their tent after the procession disappeared into the forest. Their monitor only showed the empty camp, and they knew it would take the raiders a long while to walk around the city. Miriam stayed on duty, watching for any signs of activity. A group of women at the bottom of the hill appeared to be praying, but that was about it.

There was a knock on the door, and Isaac stepped in.

"Aren't you supposed to be asleep?" asked Miriam.

"I couldn't," said Isaac. "I heard there was something strange on the monitor."

"You missed the beginning, but right now the Army of God is marching around the city. They think it's Jericho, and the city's letting them pretend by turning off their defenses."

"Is that good or bad for tonight?"

"I hope it's good, since I don't want any of you hurt," replied Miriam.

"You didn't - well, it sounds like you weren't very happy I'm going."

"I just wanted to go myself."

"You think I'm too young?"

"No, not exactly -"

"Not exactly what?"

"I just thought that since I'd gone before I should go again."

"You think I'm too young."

"I - I don't think this is helping anything," said Miriam. "Why don't you get some rest and we can talk about it if you get back." She'd slipped.

Isaac's face was red. "I'll be back, I can promise you that. But maybe I'll find other friends." He stormed out, while Miriam held her head in her hands.


"They're moving awfully slowly," said Andrew over the intercom. "Even I could do better than that."

"So could I, Andrew, but it looks like that box is slowing them down a lot," replied Matthew. The two men carrying the box looked miserable, as every thicket of branches was a major challenge for them.

Much to his relief, none of the raiders were spending time looking for the city's defenses. They avoided fences and didn't seem to notice when they walked across some usually electrified plates. None of the explosions went off, nor did any of the drop traps.

After two hours, the raiders were nearly around the city, looking both happier than they had started and much much colder. A woman had emerged from a tent at the front gate and rebuilt the fire to welcome the procession back as it stumbled into the city. The procession carried the box back into the largest tent, and then came out to celebrate their first sign of impending victory.

Posted by simon at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2005

Chapter 21

As the elders were contemplating what to make of the raiders' successful trip around the city, there was a knock on the door, and Jacob entered the conference room.

"Did they make it?" he asked.

Everyone nodded, and Miriam moved away from the monitor so he could take a look at the raiders' celebrations. Both the camp by the gate and the wagons at the bottom of the hill had bright fires going, with food roasting and people talking animatedly.

"Are we on for tonight?"

"Last we heard, yes," said Miriam.


The council meeting was calmer than usual, as James went over the plans for the evening's expedition. Even Catherine seemed to accept that the raiders might now be easier to handle, though she still bristled any time the farmers were mentioned in the plan, and objected to having Matthew monitoring the situation directly while James and Helena each led a group out to deal with the raiders.

"I'll be in a better position to issue orders if anything comes up," said Matthew.

"Yes, and you'll be further away from the council's wisdom," replied Catherine.

"There's room there for four people, easily. You can be there, along with Margaret and Stephen. If we need more wisdom, we can reconvene here."

Catherine nodded, and they returned to the planning.


"It's time," said James, entering the conference room. Jacob, Isaac, Abigail, and Lemuel stood up. "We need to go over the plan first, and then we'll blindfold you to take you through the city to the lower encampment. Which two are going to the lower group?"

Abigail and Lemuel nodded.


Jacob's night vision goggles were heavy, as was the armor the city had provided in case things didn't go as planned. He and Isaac were sitting on a bench watching the citizens, for once all dressed in black, preparing their weapons and communications.

"It's just a sentry at the top, now," James reported. "Everyone else appears to be asleep."

He looked at his watched, then tried the radio. "Helena, are you in position yet?"

"Yes," the radio crackled back. "We'll be moving out on schedule. I'll beep you when we've reached our position."


Helena's beep came late - perhaps the snow had slowed their progress.

"All right," said James. "It's time to go."

He came over to Isaac and Jacob with blindfolds. "I'm sorry," he said, but we can't let you know exactly where our exit is. If we need to retreat, you can just follow us, but I think we'll be using the main gate for our return."

He tied the blindfolds on the two of them, and citizens took their arms to guide them. They heard a door opening, and walked down a long corridor, everyone moving as quietly as possible. At its end the group paused, and a quiet cranking sound was followed by a rush of cold air. Jacob found his hands guided to a metal ladder, and began climbing. Citizens helped him get off the ladder, and guided him for a long walk through snow.

Eventually they stopped, and the blindfolds were removed. The Army of God was between them and the city, and they were facing the backs of the raiders' tents. James pressed a button on his communicator, and signaled two citizens to head up the hill, in order to knock out the sentry before he could raise a warning or catch on that the city had responded.

"Ten minutes," said James. Half the group crossed the road quietly to the woods on the other side, taking Isaac with them. Once the time had passed, James signaled for everyone to put on their goggles, and move up the hill. Jacob followed at the rear of the group, watching the tents at the top of the hill carefully.

The group divided again at the raiders' two rows of tents, hoping to knock out every tent simultaneously. Jacob positioned himself on the edge of the woods so he could watch both groups.

James stood next to Jacob and raised his hand. The groups moved out. Each tent had two citizens at its door. James lowered his hand, and the citizens dove into the tents, a quiet pop from their guns indicating that they were anesthetizing the raiders.

"Didn't expect that, did they, Jacob?" asked James. Jacob shook his head. There hadn't been any shots or screams. They moved forward into the camp, and Jacob saw Isaac coming across to meet them.

Jacob looked into a tent. Two raiders were asleep, turned on their fronts while citizens bound their hands and legs. It was the same in the next two tents, and the citizens were pulling the raiders from the tents and stacking them in front.


Even Catherine was grinning in the control room. The city had never faced this many raiders before, but both camps were now secured. All of the raiders were unconscious except for a few children, who were bound except for the tiniest of them. The expedition was gathering and stacking the raiders' weapons, wrapping them in tents.


Upstairs, the elders could see that the two camps had been taken, and were praying mostly in thanks, partly asking for forgiveness for their community's participation in the mild violence.

Miriam, checking one last time to make sure that Jacob and Isaac were all right, left for the barns to finalize the preparations for the prisoners' holding area.


"Pretty clean, eh, Isaac?"

"Yes, Jacob - surprisingly quick."

James was on the radio again, asking that the front gate be opened.

Isaac wandered toward the campfire to look at the raiders more closely, and Jacob turned to follow him when he felt a knife at his throat and a hand reaching from behind to pull him backward.

"Quiet," hissed the raider. Jacob stayed silent. The raider pulled him back into a tent and took Jacob's night-vision goggles, putting them on himself. He took Jacob's radio and locked it in a trunk. He pointed a gun at Jacob and put his knife point at Jacob's back.

"We're going out the back of the tent," he said.

Jacob nodded, pulled up the back edge of the tent, and climbed through. The raider stayed right behind him. "Woods, there, fast" he said, pointing with the gun. Jacob moved quickly into the woods, the raider following close behind.

"Deeper in," said the raider. Jacob walked forward through the snow, stumbling on the brush occasionally as he went. "Deeper... stop."

Jacob stopped, and the raider pulled his arms behind him, then tied them tightly with a bit of rope.

"Thought you'd take on the Army of God?" asked the raider, who pushed Jacob hard to the ground. Jacob spat snow out of his mouth and tried to get up.

Posted by simon at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2005

Chapter 22

"Stand up," said the raider.

Jacob struggled first to his knees and then to his feet. Finding his balance in the snow with his hands tied behind him was difficult.

"March," ordered the raider, "that way."

They headed deeper into the woods, on a mostly downhill course. Every now and then Jacob felt the raider's gun barrel prod him.

After a few minutes of walking Jacob heard water, and eventually he saw a small stream below them, running down the hill.

"That stream is our guide," said the raider. "Keep it to your left."

Did the raider know that the camp at the bottom of the hill was also captured? Was he assuming that he could use Jacob as a hostage to get him safely to the bottom and away? There was no point in asking, or telling the raider - Jacob's value as a hostage might suddenly diminish.

Jacob stumbled over a rock, landing face first on the ground, looking down at the stream below.

"Trying to kill yourself?" asked the raider. "I'm afraid that's my privilege. Get up." The raider's knife was out again.

Jacob eased back from the edge, kneeled, and stood.

"Don't try anything," said the raider. "Anything at all."


The front gate had opened, and the raiders' camp was halfway dismantled already. A group of farmers was preparing to leave for the nearest farmstead with a herd of cattle, clearing space for the prisoners in the barn. Citizens were hauling prisoners in on stretchers, walking them to the barn and turning them over to Miriam and her many helpers.

Isaac went into the city carrying some of the raiders' gear, which also was to go to Miriam. Prisoners were placed in individual stalls, given hay, blankets, and some food and water for when they woke up.

Miriam broke away from the work when she saw Isaac.

"Did it go as smoothly as it sounded?" she asked.

"It was amazing," said Isaac. "Jacob and I just watched for a few minutes and it was over."

"He hasn't been by - is he working with the citizens?"

"I haven't seen him since we took over the camp."

Miriam looked concerned.

"I'll go back and find him. Give me a radio, and let me know if he comes by here so I can stop looking if he does."

Miriam handed him a radio. "I've got to get back to work. If you see him, have him call me or come here immediately, all right?"


Jacob guessed they walked halfway down the hill. His captor was staying further behind, keeping an eye on Jacob's stumbling through the dark while watching carefully for pursuers. His gun was cocked, his knife out and ready for action.

"Stop," called the raider. Jacob halted. He could hear some noise on the trail, perhaps the citizens hauling prisoners and their wagons toward the top. The raider inched closer to the trail, then came back.

"Dead quiet," he said. "No falling and shouting, no breaking branches. Move."

Jacob trudged forward, moving even more slowly while trying to stay quiet.


Miriam's radio crackled. "I don't see him, Miriam," called Isaac's voice. "No one's seen him for fifteen minutes or more."

"Have you talked to James?"

"Yes, I'm here with him now. He's talking to the group at the bottom, which is on their way up."

"Was there any reason for him to go down there?"

"No, nothing we know of," replied Isaac. "We're just guessing. James is sending out a search party. He couldn't have gone far."

Miriam started walking toward the gate.


Jacob had fallen a few more times, and was getting cold rapidly. The raider was getting less careful with his knife, and had poked Jacob in the back once already. It wasn't deep, but it stung. The raider was staying back now, watching the forest more carefully for signs of movement from the trail. Every crackle of a branch or breeze through the trees made him turn around and search carefully with the night vision goggles.

"Stop," said the raider. "We're going to stay here for a few minutes." He walked up to Jacob. "You, stand here," said the raider, leaning Jacob against a tree. With the stream bed, now a small ravine behind him, and Jacob between him and the road, he paused to listen carefully to whatever was on the other side of woods, whatever was making light past the trees.


"We need an observer," said James. "Right now, that's you, Isaac. Go with this squad, and do whatever they tell you."

Five fully armed citizens headed down the hill with Isaac, looking along the edges of the trail for signs people had entered the woods. One of them raised his hand, and the others followed.


"Tell me," said the raider. "Did you and your friends go down the hill already?"

"I didn't," said Jacob. He felt a knifepoint at his back again.

"I can tell that," said the raider. "But what about your friends?"

Jacob thought for a moment, then felt the knifepoint harder.

"They raided the lower camp too."

"And how did they know about the lower camp?"

"You kept sending messengers," Jacob said. Why tell him about the cameras along the trail?

The raider shook his head and stood silent for a moment. "It looks like it's just you, me, and God out here then. I guess I'll try for a miracle."


Isaac followed the search team into the woods, following the trail that Jacob and his captor had left. Even at the end of the line Isaac could see areas flattened where Jacob had fallen, but at least he hadn't seen any blood.

Then the team stopped suddenly, as the lead tracker knelt.

"Blood," he said. "Not much, but it's not good."


Jacob's captor was cleaning and reloading his gun.

"Have to be ready," he said.

He still had Jacob leaning against the tree, facing uphill the way they'd come. Jacob couldn't see much in the woods, but could feel the raider's gun on his shoulder as the raider tested different angles. The wound on Jacob's back hurt and his feet were getting colder and colder and the snow melted into his shoes. He shifted his weight against the tree and felt the raider's knife once more.

"Don't you move," said the raider. "You move and you'll feel this knife quickly."

Jacob looked out for any signs of help. All he saw was snow and trees in the dark, a gentle breeze blowing through the forest.

The raider steadied his gun on Jacob's shoulder, tensing suddenly when he heard a sharp crack further up the hill. There were a few more cracks, and Jacob felt his captor pressing the rifle into his shoulder as he took aim.

"One more step and you and this guy both die," shouted the raider. The cracks stopped.

"Put down those guns. All of you. Now!" shouted the raider, his gun barrel pressing deeper into Jacob's shoulder. He heard the muffled clatter of guns dropping into the snow, and thought he could see the first of the citizens.

"You're all my prisoners now," said the raider. "You're going to get me off this hillside. Tie each other's hands - tie your hands with whatever you were using up there. That's it - good. No sudden moves. Take off those goggles. Now come down here, slowly."

The knife pressed shakily into Jacob's back, the gun pushing into his shoulder. Jacob felt the raiders' breath as he panted nervously.

"You're all going to join the Army of God," said the raider. "With me commanding."

Jacob pushed as hard as could off the tree and lurched backwards, into the knife and through the raider. They tumbled into the ravine.

Posted by simon at 09:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2005

Chapter 23

Miriam and James had walked down the road, surrounded by most of the armed citizens from the top of the hill. The last report had been finding blood in the snow, and they had had radio silence since. Some silence was to be expected - status updates weren't important when there was an opportunity to surprise an opponent - but the last fifteen minutes had lasted much longer than expected.

A group of citizens was coming up the hill with a wagon of unconscious prisoners, followed by another wagon of children and babies. Their wails made it hard to hear anything in the snow.

"They aren't responding," said James. "Maybe they have the sound turned off so they can launch an ambush."

Miriam shook her head. Crying children made it hard to hear anything.

"We know they're on the stream side of the road, so let's start moving into the woods."

They found the trail easily enough, and followed it down the hill. As the stream bed turned into a ravine, they heard shouting, and ran ahead.

The search party was still bound - they'd done as the raider had told them. A few of them had managed to help others put on the night vision goggles, but most of them were still blind and the radio was somewhere in the snow, along with their guns.

"What happened?" asked James as he cut their bonds.

"The raider disappeared," said Isaac. "He was hiding behind Jacob near that tree. He used Jacob as a hostage, so we -"

"We had to do what he said," said one of the citizens.

The trail didn't go any further beyond the tree. Miriam was at the edge of the ravine, looking down for any sign of Jacob.

"I'm climbing down," she said. "Hand me a rope, and be careful not to drop me."

"Wait, Miriam," said Isaac. "You shouldn't be -"

"No, I definitely should be. I can handle this ravine."

"But the raider -"

"Jacob," said Miriam. Isaac stopped. Miriam finished tying the rope around her waist and started to climb into the ravine.

Halfway down she shouted "I see them! They're under this ledge."

She kept climbing down and some of the citizens followed her path.

"Jacob! Jacob! Jacob!" she shouted. He wasn't moving. The stream had washed him to its bank, next to the face-down raider.

Three citizens surrounded the bodies, inspecting them. "The raider's dead," reported the first.

"Jacob's still breathing. Not well, and he's bleeding." He opened his first aid kit, gave Jacob an injection, and started binding the wounds on his head. "I don't think we should move him, but the water's too cold to leave him."

Miriam sat on the bank, weeping. James called for help, a lot of help.


They lowered a stretcher into the ravine about half an hour later, but arranging to pull it out of the ravine took all night, as the citizens put a pair of ropes across they could use to haul up the stretcher without dumping Jacob out.

Martha came down to the ravine and was tending Jacob, keeping him stable and drying him out before the cold could do more harm. Miriam watched and helped as she could.


The cheers in the control room had turned to frowns in the council room, as James explained what appeared to have happened.

"Are we sure there aren't any other raiders on the loose?" asked Catherine.

"Not entirely sure, no, but we hope to have everyone we've seen on the surveillance cameras accounted for within an hour. We've had no other trouble."

"It's embarassing that a farmer seems to have saved our best team of people," said Catherine.

"In a hostage situation, anything can happen. Our people followed their training precisely, but the surprise came from the hostage. We're considering how to change our procedures so that our citizens can't be bound using the restraints they've brought for others, but that may take a while to sort out."

"It doesn't sound like we had time to think about much," said Matthew.

"Definitely," replied James. "The raider was very smart, taking Jacob's night vision goggles immediately, and positioning himself where he could hide behind Jacob and still have a shot on our people. Having the ravine behind him no doubt seemed like an advantage when he set up there."

"And the farmers?" asked Stephen.

"We've notified their elders about Jacob's condition, and Isaac's with them now. They're still processing the raiders and assembling the temporary prison. The raiders will all be waking up in someone else's clothes so we can ensure that no weapons sneak in. They've found a lot of knives on both the men and the women."

"Do they know what Jacob did?" pressed Stephen.

"No, I don't think so," said James. "Isaac's talking to them, but he was further back, and we didn't piece the story together until he'd left."

"Do we tell them?" asked Stephen.

"We're best leaving the farmers to the farmers," replied Catherine. "We should stay out of it."

Matthew surprised her. "I agree completely. What happened tonight is up to Jacob and the farmers to resolve. Any involvement we have with that conversation risks changing our entire relationship with the farmers."

"I've already instructed our people not to talk about it," said James. "They're writing down what they know, though."

"And what will we do with Jacob?" asked Alice.

"We can treat him in the upstairs hospital. From Martha's report, he's going to need surgery and a lot of antibiotics, but maybe the cold water kept him from bleeding to death. We're already lining up blood donors, and the upstairs surgery is ready."

Catherine started. "Has Martha used any - "

"Medicines for citizens only? Yes, she did. I authorized it," said Matthew.

"That makes two farmers in the past week, with John," said Catherine. "I hope this doesn't become a trend."

"We don't have any other exiles out there likely to return, Catherine," said Matthew, "and Jacob's case seems, well, unique."


Isaac told the elders what he could of Jacob's story.

"When they vanished, did Jacob say anything?" asked Leah.

"Not that I could hear," said Isaac. "The raider shouted something, but I don't know what he said. In the dark, it took us a minute to figure out that they were really gone, and a few more minutes before we felt it probably wasn't a trick."

"Could you tell if the raider pulled Jacob with him?" asked Daniel.

"No," replied Isaac. "I could barely make out where they were standing."

"Thank you, Isaac. Could you return to the prison and see if they need help?" ordered Leah.

Isaac left the conference room. The elders lowered their heads and sat in silence.


Martha and Miriam finally had Jacob lashed to the body board, and the citizens were ready to pull him up. They balanced the board carefully, and Martha signaled on the radio that they were ready. Jacob ascended slowly but steadily, and they could see hands reach out to pull the stretcher toward the edge of the ravine.

"And him?" asked Miriam.

"They'll be sending out another stretcher for him. "It made the most sense to focus on Jacob first."

"Can I go with Jacob?"

"Of course - he'll be in the hospital, as usual. They're getting everything ready for him now."

Miriam sat on the bank, weeping again. Martha comforted her until the next stretcher came down into the ravine.

Posted by simon at 09:25 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

Chapter 24

"And what do we do about John?" asked Catherine.

"He's still unconscious," said Matthew. "Martha expected him to be ready to return tomorrow."

"Return to what?"

"I haven't had time to think," replied Matthew. "We need to have a fuller conversation about this tomorrow, after we've all had a chance to rest. I'm sure Martha can let him sleep an extra day."

The council adjourned for a few hours' rest.


Miriam waited outside the operating room of the hospital. The elders had retired before she got there, and only Isaac was waiting for her.

"I wish -" he said.

"I know, I do too."

They said no more, sitting in the chairs until they both fell asleep.


Dawn revealed a clear sky over a crisp cold morning. In the largest barn, Miriam's organization was still running smoothly, even without her there.

The raider men were awakening slowly from their tranquilizers, each in a separate cell. As they awoke, they realized that they were in different clothes, resting on hay while locked in a stall. Bread, soup, and water were provided in dishes on a bench, and most of them drank heartily as soon as they found the water. Some stayed quiet, while others shouted everything from epithets to Bible verses at the farmers.

The women and children were on the other side of the barn. The children hadn't been tranquilized, but the citizens had surprised most of them in their sleep, so capturing them hadn't been difficult. Teenagers and women had been tranquilized, and were waking up slowly. A group of the farmer women was there to greet them as they woke up confused. They offered the women water, and helped them collect their children before leading them to larger cells with more blankets, food, water, and places to rest.

One of those wakings was different. Ruth had been tranquilized along with everyone else, and Keren sat next to her all night, waiting for her to awaken. As Ruth came to, Keren welcomed her mother back, and the two of them left the barn crying.

After a few hours all the prisoners had awakened, and the farmers changed their focus to meeting their new guests' needs while waiting for word from the elders. Two guards from the city watched ominously over the proceedings, their bright red uniforms and rifles clearly setting them apart from the rest of the scene.

At the other end of the city, the gate was open, the camp largely quiet after the previous night's excitement. A few farmers rode down the hill on horseback at dawn to fetch sleighs, and the first of them were returning. All but around fifty of the farmers were looking forward to going home in the next few days. The elders were staying, along with a core group to watch the prisoners until the city could take them to their next destination.


"He's going to be all right," said Martha as she shook Miriam awake. "He's going to be all right."

"Can I see him?"

"Yes, you can, but he'll be asleep for a few hours. Over here."

Miriam rushed to the room Martha indicated, opened the door, and started weeping again. Jacob was a tangle of bandages, his head wrapped in gauze and barely recognizable. What was visible looked chapped and bruised.

"He looks terrible, I know," said Martha. "He's not going to feel good for a while, but we think he will heal. Not much is broken, actually - he must have landed on top of the raider. The knife wound was pretty deep, but we've cleaned it up and that should heal too. I'll leave you here with him."

Isaac walked in the room as Martha left, and gasped.

"I think - I think I'd better get some sleep," he said. Miriam nodded, drifting off again to sleep in a chair.


The council had reconvened, though everyone was bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.

"I know you're all tired," started Matthew. "I certainly am, but there's too much to do right now."

Rose and Michael, the two doctors, entered the room at Matthew's signal.

"Good morning," Rose began. "We have two patients to report on to the council. First, Jacob. Jacob will be all right eventually, though only some luck in his fall and Martha's prompt intervention kept him from joining the raider who fell with him."

"Did you use -" Catherine began.

"Once we had Jacob in the hospital, we were able to accomplish everything necessary using medicines the farmers are normally provided," said Michael. "Most of what he needed was surgery to address his knife wound, blood to replace that which he had lost, and general cleanup of abrasions, sprains, and a minor break in his arm."

"Excellent," said Matthew. "So he should be available to the farmers again soon?"

"He can walk around in a day or two. It'll probably be a few months before he feels himself again, but yes."

Rose started again. "Our other patient is a more complicated story. John had been away for fifty-one years, and it definitely showed in his medical condition. I believe he is nearly the same age as you, Matthew, but he, well, he was very frail when he arrived."

"And now?" asked Stephen.

"He's still quite frail. We've completed the first phase of his detoxification, though the process hasn't been used for centuries. We've removed a tremendous number of poisons from his system, and revived many of his systems using appropriate hormones and a much larger dose of the medications we normally take."

"Many of his systems?"

"Probably all of his systems, eventually, but it takes time for this to settle and heal. His skin is far smoother than it was, and he should have more energy, but some of the more difficult pieces - bones and hair, for example - will take longer to rejuvenate."

"Can he be awakened now?" asked Matthew.

"Not this minute," said Michael, "but sometime today, certainly. We've kept him under relatively light sedation, as he wasn't strong to start with and we didn't know if the anesthesia would interfere with the rest of the process."

"Has he said anything?" asked Catherine.

"He's muttered about the gate in his sleep, and something about Rachel."

"His wife, upstairs," said Stephen.

"Yes," replied Matthew. "We're going to have to figure out how to handle that."

"She may not -" started Rose. Everyone looked at her. "She's not in good health," said Rose. "I didn't expect her to last this long, especially when we went into retreat. Apparently the chaplain can follow directions, and having her family there may be helping as well."

"Family?" asked Catherine. "Does John have," she paused, "children?"

"He and Rachel have a son, Gideon," replied Rose.

"A son? Gregory allowed John to -"

"Yes, Catherine. Or at least Gregory approved Rachel's having a child," said Matthew. "It's fair to say that he never expected John to come back here."

Stephen turned to Catherine. "I never would have expected Gregory's generosity to cause us problems either."

Catherine's face burst into a deep shade of red.

"Thank you, Rose and Michael," said Matthew. "I'm afraid we have a lot to discuss."

They left the room, and the council was silent for a few minutes as everyone gathered their thoughts.

Finally, Matthew broke the silence. "It is clear," he said, "that our founders never expected an exile to return once permitted, much less return a different person."

Posted by simon at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2005

Chapter 25

Miriam awoke to a strange rattling. Jacob was moving in his bed, and she got up to look. His eyes were fluttering a bit.

"Jacob? Jacob?" she asked.

His eyes opened, then closed again. She touched his arm.

"Miriam? Did - is he all right?"

"Is who all right?"

Jacob closed his eyes again before the speaking. "The raider," he said. "The raider I pushed into the ravine."

"Oh," said Miriam slowly. "He died."

Jacob opened his eyes and looked at her face. "Maybe I have too," he said, and started weeping.

"Jacob? Jacob!" Miriam tried to hug her brother, but the bed and the bandages made it too complicated. She took his hand, but he just wouldn't stop crying.

"Martha? Martha!" Miriam ran down the hall to fetch the nurse.

Martha came in quickly. "People do sometimes come out of anesthesia crying," she said. She checked Jacob's status.

"Jacob?" she asked.

He didn't respond, and continued to sob. Miriam shook her head. "He's never been like this," she said. "Maybe the shock?"

"It may be medical," said Martha, as she filled a syringe. "For right now, I'm guessing it is." She injected Jacob with the syringe and his sobs faded back into sleep.

"Did he say anything?" asked Martha.

Miriam explained the brief conversation.

"It probably isn't an anesthesia reaction, then," said Martha, "but I think he's happier where he is now for the moment. There's a lot going on inside of him that he'll have to work out when he wakes up. Why don't you rest for now, and I'll send for you when he comes to again."

There was a knock at the door, and Isaac entered, yawning. "Is Jacob all right?" he asked. "The elders would like to see you and talk about Jacob's condition. I can stay here while you go talk."

Miriam looked at Martha. Martha nodded, and Miriam left.


The elders were sitting in silence when Miriam arrived. Daniel motioned her in, and the group turned to her.

"How is Jacob doing?" asked Leah.

Miriam tried to hold herself together but couldn't manage it. "He'll be all right, they say," she said, "but he woke up crying and wouldn't stop. Martha thought it might be the anesthesia."

"Did he say anything?" pressed Leah.

Miriam paused. "Nothing coherent," she said through her tears.

"Thank you," said Daniel, passing her a handkerchief. "Let us know when he's awake and ready to talk."

"We need you to visit the prison," said Leah. "Your plans there have worked well, but there are questions for you. If you could stop in before you take a rest, that would be helpful."


"So now we have a farmer who's killed someone," said Catherine. "I told you they were more dangerous than some like to pretend."

"He may have saved the lives of five of our own," said Stephen. "Perhaps the farmers are more helpful than some of us like to pretend."

"In any case, what Jacob did is not a problem for us," said Matthew. "If he were a citizen, we'd likely be deciding how to honor him now. Since he's not, it's not an issue we have to decide. We do, however, have to decide how best to handle the raiders."

"What do we have to decide?" asked Catherine. "We have a location ready to send them, and transportation in preparation, correct?"

"In the past," replied Matthew, "some members of raiding parties have been allowed to stay, if we allow the farmers to use their discretion to accept new members rather than reproduce themselves."

"After this madness, I'd rather not," said Margaret. William and Alice nodded in agreement, as did most of the council.

"Very well," said Matthew. "I have doubts myself. I'll have James tell the farmers that the raiders all have to go, and soon. He's already preparing the supplies to go with them."

"Supplies?" asked Catherine.

"Yes, supplies. Gregory sent the last group of raiders off with what I thought was a generous set of rations. Given that it's mid-winter, it seems wise to send them with supplies, unless you want this to be a death sentence."

Catherine looked down at the table.

"We have one other large issue to discuss today," said Matthew. "We need to decide what to do with John. He is a citizen now, and has committed no crime since his return. We cannot keep him unconscious forever, and if we were doing this to any other citizen it would already be a scandal."

"Let it be a scandal," said Catherine. "Why should he awaken when we're still dealing with the mess he brought us?"

"He didn't bring this to us," said Stephen, looking around the table. "We would have had to deal with this eventually, and might have had to deal with it after our farmers were killed or enslaved."

Most of the council nodded, and everyone looked to Matthew.

"He is a citizen," said Matthew. "We must let him awaken."


A noisy scene awaited Miriam inside the barn, as raiders bellowed Bible verse while children played games. Abner walked from cell to cell, handing Bibles to the raiders in the hope that reading would at least quiet them. Some had accepted the books, while others had thrown them back at him. The women took the books quietly, though none of them opened them.

An older farmer walked up to Miriam. "Should we be discussing the Lord with them?" he asked.

She looked around. "Maybe you can talk with the ones who aren't throwing books, Caleb. I'm not sure how long they'll be around, though."

"There are four or five of us who would like to speak with them, and see if we can get them on a more righteous path before they leave," replied Caleb.

"Are these all experienced readers?" asked Miriam.

"Yes, all of them."

"Go ahead and talk to them. I'm not sure they'll be interested in listening, but even if you soften a few, their future might be brighter."

"And the women and children?"

"You can talk with them too. I'm worried, though. This group seems like they might turn on anyone who disagrees with them."

"Are we seeking converts?"

"I haven't heard from the city yet whether they're willing to keep any of them around. It's been a long time since they did. For now, why don't you talk with the raiders and see if you can figure out what exactly it is they think. Then we can discuss whether it's safe to try to improve them."

"Thank you, Miriam."

"Don't push too far until I can talk about this with the elders," she replied. "And - have they noticed?"

"No, we haven't let them count their number," said Caleb.

"Good," said Miriam. "Make sure no one tells any of them for now."


In the downstairs hospital, Martha was preparing to bring another of her patients out of anesthesia. Matthew watched as she adjusted his medicine delivery, and about half an hour later John began to murmur.

"Rachel..." he said, again and again.

"Rachel isn't here," said Matthew, rising from his chair to greet John. "She's upstairs."

John didn't respond, and Matthew sat down again.

A few minutes later John started again, calling Rachel's name.

"John," said Matthew, looking over his bed. "John."

John shook his head a few times and opened his eyes. "Where is Rachel?" he asked.

"She's upstairs," said Matthew. "She's safe for now."

John smiled. "And the gate?" he asked. "The raiders?"

"The gate opened," said Matthew. "The farmers are safe. We captured the raiders."

John's smile grew, and then his face went blank as he noticed his visitor's purple outfit. "You're not a doctor," he said. Who are you?"

Posted by simon at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

Chapter 26

"I'm Matthew," he said, "and you're John."

"Matthew? Matt?"

"Yes, Matt, though even you haven't called me that in a very long time."

"Matt is all I remember, and that barely. The memory, though, the memory helped me find my way here. We got stuck outside the gate one night."

Matthew looked startled. "I haven't thought about that in a long time," he said. "I never would have expected it to be useful again."

John nodded.

"John," Matthew began. "You're a citizen again."

"How?" asked John. "All I've known is exile. I'm a farmer."

Matthew shook his head. "Gregory, the leader who exiled you, died the day before you came here. Your exile is over."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that you're welcome back to the city, to work with us and live with us."

John stared. He lifted his hand and looked at it.

"I'm younger. How?"

"Citizens live longer. We've cleaned your body of the many poisons you had absorbed."

"Cleaned? Cleaned?"

"It's a complex process, and maybe Martha can explain it to you. She removed decades worth of poisons your body had absorbed."

"Poisons? No one's poisoned me."

"No, no, no one's poisoned you. Your body had just grown old."

"Isn't it supposed to?"

"Not for citizens," said Matthew. "Not that quickly."

"And Rachel? Is she younger too?"

"No," said Matthew. "And I can't make her younger. But she is alive."

John's eyes gleamed and he sat up. "Can I see her?"

"In a few hours," said Matthew. "Martha needs to make sure you're all right before we let you go roaming around."

Matthew stood up and walked to the door. "I'll talk with you more soon," he said.

Martha was waiting on the other side of the door. "Is he all right?"

"More than all right, I think," said Matthew. "Same old John."


Caleb opened the stall door, stepped in, and closed the door. On the hay bales inside the stall, a man was reading the Bible. He looked up at Caleb, and returned to his reading.

Caleb sat on a hay bale across from the man. "Enjoying your reading, friend?" he asked.

"Indeed," said the man, without looking up.

"Which book are you reading?" asked Caleb.

"Exodus," he replied, continuing: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it."

"Do you ever read the New Testament?" asked Caleb, when the man had stopped.

The man stopped reading, and turned to Caleb. "Sometimes, yes. It's a wonderful vision, but painful. "


"We, humans, have squandered it."

"Squandered?" asked Caleb.

The man returned to his reading. "Squandered," he muttered. "We have to start again, return to the beginning of things and hope God will forgive our horrible trespasses."

"How did we squander it?"

The man kept reading. Caleb sat for a few minutes.

"Did you squander it?" he finally asked.

"I'm too young," said the man. "We squandered it, oh, in 2146. Probably even earlier than that, but 2146 was the end."

"Why 2146? You mean 2146 years since Christ, right? Seven hundred years ago?"

"The temple was destroyed. Time has started again."

"The temple? Which temple?"


"But the temple was destroyed twenty-eight hundred years ago, and time didn't restart then."

"Not all of it was destroyed then," said the man. "Now if you don't mind, I'd like to study. You were kind enough to give me a Bible, now be kind enough to let me read it."

Caleb shook his head, and signaled to Isaac to let him out of the stall.


As the farmers emerged from their prisoners' stalls, they all had similar stories to tell.

"Mine just kept muttering 'Jerusalem is destroyed' while he read Numbers."

"Mine accused us of blocking the Lord's will, saying something about blocking the ways of God, and promising my demise."

"Mine wouldn't say anything. He just kept reading Leviticus, and glaring at me occasionally."

"Is Jerusalem destroyed?" asked Isaac.

"It's been destroyed a few times," said Caleb. "I know the Romans destroyed it in 70, after the events of the Bible. It says that in the front of one of my older Bibles."

"Has it been destroyed since?" asked Isaac.

"The raider claimed 2146, but I've never heard that," replied Caleb. The others were shaking their heads. "I'm not sure what it matters. Jerusalem is in our hearts."


While Caleb and his friends went back to talk to the raiders, Isaac rushed to the library. He found the globe showing the city and Jerusalem nearly on the other side of the world. He'd never visited the history section before, but it seemed to offer all kinds of tales in books covering ancient, medieval, and modern history, and histories of places he'd never heard of.

Isaac looked through the most recent books, detailing wars, disasters, famines, and occasional hope. Jerusalem had been fought over for centuries, it seemed, but the books all stopped in 2143 or earlier, with no word about 2146.


Matthew had wanted to spend more time reading Gregory's notes before discussing John's future, but John seemed to be wide awake and still interested in the one thing he'd always been interested in since meeting her: Rachel.

"How can he be a citizen if he's married to a farmer?" asked Catherine. "How?"

"I don't know yet," said Matthew. "Rose didn't think Rachel would last very long, though, maybe a few days."

"But he'll still have a child who is a farmer. A child he knows and raised."

"You're right, Catherine. You're right." Matthew sighed. The rest of the council was watching them, waiting to see where this would go.

"I think we're stuck," said Matthew. "John is a citizen, whether you like it or not, but in the time he wasn't a citizen he developed connections you despise and which create complications even under the kindest of perspectives. I wasn't even on this council when you decided to revive him" - he looked around, as several members who had been on the council stared resolutely at the table - "but you did the right, and difficult thing."

"So what do we do?" asked Stephen.

"I think we have to let him see Rachel," said Matthew. "If only for the few days. And then we'll have to find a role for him where he can't cause problems. Maybe as a trader again, or something similar."

Catherine nodded. "I don't have any better ideas," she said. "We don't have proper cause to exile him yet, just to watch him. Closely."


Isaac arrived at the barn just as Caleb and his friends were leaving.

"Elders," Caleb said. "Why don't you come along? Did you find anything?"

"Not exactly," said Isaac.

They filed into the conference room. Daniel stood to greet them, and motioned for them all to sit down.

"What have you learned?" asked Judith.

"That they recognize the Bible to be true in its entirety, but that they think the world has begun again," said Caleb.

"Begun again?" asked Leah. "In a way that drives them to slaughter our people?"

"Well," started Caleb, "they think the world squandered its chance for redemption, discarding Christ's message. They see themselves as the loyal remnant, the only people who can revive it. They claim that Jerusalem itself was destroyed in 2146, and it is their task to follow the Old Testament's instructions to create a new Kingdom."

"So they really did think this was Jericho and we were Canaanites," said Daniel. "Fascinating. Horrible, but fascinating."

"Was Jerusalem destroyed?" asked Isaac. "I went to the library, but the books there end in 2143."

None of the elders knew. "We've never studied history, apart from tracking our own progress," said Judith. "We don't even really know the city's history."

"Can we find out?" pressed Isaac.

"We'll consider asking," said Daniel. "Meanwhile, keep talking with these raiders. Find out more of what their plans are, and see if there are any ways we could convince them of how badly they're misreading the Bible. And is anyone talking with the women?"

"Not yet," said Caleb, "but we can start that conversation."

"Please do," said Leah.

Posted by simon at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

Chapter 27

"I won't talk to you about religion," she said. "Talk to my husband."

Again and again, the farmers got the same response. None of the women would talk about religion at all, and the men were suspicious.

Isaac was having the best luck, talking with the oldest raider, who seemed pleased with the story he had to tell.

"We knew this was going to be the promised land when we lost Moses on the journey," he said.


"Yes, Moses. The Bible doesn't work quite the same way the second time as it did the first, but sometimes God maybe needs to make a point to us, to make sure we believe as we should. Moses was our leader when we were enslaved."

"Enslaved? By whom?"

"By another city like this one. Well, it looked different, but it was pretty much the same. They were too hardened to listen to our truth, too greedy to let us go by easily. We came to them for food and they kept us for years, letting us farm their land but never giving us enough to do more than scrape by. They took the best of everything we had, and left us to face the winter in our shacks. In spring, they'd give us planting seed to keep us going, since we always wound up eating it."

"How did you survive?"

"We didn't all survive, especially the children. We lost a lot of good people, but we kept ourselves together, reading the Bible, praying to God for mercy."

"Moses," the raider continued, "was our prophet. He wasn't one of us - he'd come from somewhere else, worn and ragged. No 'raised in the house of Pharoah' for him, no! He just fit naturally with us somehow. Well, with most of us, those of us here today, anyway."

"And Jerusalem?" asked Isaac.

"We'd mourned Jerusalem for years, at dawn and at sunset. We still do. Moses was the one who showed us the way forward, though. God hadn't told us we were chosen, no, but we had persevered, stayed faithful."

"Maybe there are others like you?" asked Isaac.

"Maybe," said the old man. "If there are, we haven't found them yet."

"How did you escape from the city?"

"It took a lot of years. Moses came with more than rags - he brought us guns, old guns, and an understanding of gunpowder. The old guns were broken and worthless, but they showed us how to make them. We scrimped and saved and scraped together metal from our tools, and the city people were too proud to notice that we were suddenly wearing them out faster."

"And then what?"

"We waited for the last market day, hiding the guns in our wagons. Moses demanded a better price for our grain - he'd done that all year, but the city people wouldn't see reason - and finally he accepted their price. Only instead of pulling the grain from the wagons, we all pulled out the guns, and took their traders hostage."

"Wow." Isaac was shocked, even queasy. "You took them hostage. And then what did they do?"

"Moses talked with them, one last time. 'Let my people go,' he said. 'Let the Army of God find its destiny.' He read to them from the Book of Exodus and told them what had happened to Egypt and Pharoah. Their hearts were hard, but they were properly scared, and showed us how to go."

"Showed you? How?"

"They told us to go across the water we'd lived next to for so many years. They gave us wood, cloth, and fittings to build boats, and we spent that spring eating their food while building our boats. They wanted our guns in exchange, but we'd been smart. We gave them some guns, mostly broken ones anyway, and built the rest of the parts into the boats, or hid them."

"How big were these boats?"

"Large enough for two families, their goods, and some livestock. We didn't have much. The boats seemed huge when we built them, but a lot smaller once we were out in the water."

"And then you sailed?"

"We had a few practice runs first. None of us had done it before. Even the city people weren't sure how to do it, though they had pictures and books. It took the rest of the summer learning, and then we got them out on the water when we left and found that they handled differently full."

"How long did it take you?"

"It probably should have taken a couple of days, but it took more like four."

"What happened?"

"A storm kicked up the first night. The waves were huge, the wind was blasting. We took down the sails and found a place to anchor fast enough, but waiting out the storm was miserable. Sick, crying, people and animals all stuck below decks for days. The water out there looked like it was splitting, just not clean like Red Sea was. When it finally stopped, one of the boats was wrecked, so we had to load its people onto another, and one was just plain gone."

"Moses' boat?"

"Moses and his family and another family. We had a service for them when we reached the shore, but I always wondered if he knew he wouldn't be allowed to see the promised land. Jedidiah took over, then, as Moses had said he should."

"I don't think I've met Jedidiah."

"He's a quiet one, but he knows how to handle city folk. I'm sure he'll have us out of here soon enough. He did real well on our way here, as we managed to find more than enough food along the way."


"From various small farms out there. Lots of people are still trying to work the land, though they seem too busy, or too wicked, to stop and listen to the Lord. It was harvest time, so we had no trouble finding supplies."

"And then you arrived here."

"Yes, we did. And no doubt this is a test of the Lord, to see if we're strong and worthy enough. It never quite works out like the Bible tells us it did, but no doubt the tests have to be different the second time around."

"Are you going to be in trouble for telling me all this?"

"Me? Trouble? No, I don't think so. I'm already locked in my cell, and I trust you have my family over there somewhere. I don't see how I can convince you unless I tell you the story and you can see the miracles, the miracles that we've had even though today it looks like we're in trouble. Tested, always tested, but always willing to serve. The walls did come down, just not in the style of Jericho."

"It seems like a difficult path to Christ's love," said Isaac.

The man looked at him for a while, then turned his head and muttered. "It's not supposed to be easy. It's never been easy. And we humans have proved themselves unworthy so many times that we need to be grateful sometimes for the chances the Lord gives us."

Isaac saw the man was crying, and turned to go. "Thank you," he said. "thank you - and what's your name."

"Jethro." The man rolled over on his haybales to return to his Bible study.

"Thank you Jethro. I'm Isaac. It's good to meet you."

The man stayed silent, and Isaac signaled to be let out.

Caleb had been sitting outside the stall, listening quietly.

"That's quite a story," said Caleb as they walked toward the door. "Think it's true?"

"It seemed true to me," said Isaac. "It didn't sound like he'd made it up, or embroidered it."

"I'm still not sure of that," replied Caleb. "All this Jerusalem business, and now a Moses leading them to the promised land? Our land?"

"Or the city's land," said Isaac. "It sounds like we're not the only farmers working for a city."

"Let's take this to the elders," said Caleb.

Posted by simon at 10:32 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005

Chapter 28

Leah sat back. "That's the strangest story I've ever heard," she said.

"Maybe we really are Canaanites," said Daniel, half-grinning and trying to suppress it.

"I think it's terribly sad," said Judith. "They seem to have lost everything good on their way to this strange belief. The Gospels tell of Christ's return, not his permanent departure. The new Jerusalem can still arrive, no matter what has happened to the old."

Isaac shook his head. "He seemed completely convinced, as convinced as you sound now."

"He'd have to be, to carry on with these attacks, and to march around the city."

"Convinced doesn't mean correct. We've had a few strange ideas develop here too."

"Yes, but we've always spent time questioning such deviations, and even our wildest early exiles never proposed anything like this."

"Perhaps their foundations were different? Christian, but with different expectations?"

"I can't even imagine where they would have to start to come to this."

"Nor can I," said Caleb, "and that's something I'd like to ask them about, if you think it wise."

Judith shook her head, while Leah nodded.

"I think perhaps you should hold off while we consider it," said Daniel. "But if there are more details about why they find Jerusalem so important, it would seem wise to collect them."

"Did you find out about Jerusalem?" asked Isaac.

"Not yet," said Leah. "We agreed to ask the city, but James couldn't tell us. He should return later with an answer, we expect."


"Jerusalem?" asked Catherine. "You mean they don't know -"

"We never told them," said Matthew, "as they never asked. We didn't think it was wise to infect them with those questions. That year of destruction caused a lot of problems for this city, if you recall -"

"It did a lot of good for this city," replied Catherine. "It gave the founders a reason to jettison that nonsense and start fresh."

"Yes, you can look at it that way," said Stephen, "and I think the founders were right. It isn't exactly a secret we could keep forever, though."

"It's never really been a secret," said Matthew. "It's just never been, well, convenient. The relationship upstairs is always focused on exchange, and even the educational work up there is primarily about either the wastefulness of the earlier civilization or what useful things they left us."

"So do we tell them about 2146?" asked William.

"Will it turn them into crazed raiders?" asked Catherine.

"No, probably not," said Matthew. "The earliest farmers started with a set of beliefs focused on one part of the Bible, probably the most peaceful part. The early culture-formers we sent to work with them deepened that focus, and it's a powerful force now."

"Not powerful for Jacob, apparently," said Catherine.

They paused.

"Perhaps not," said Matthew. "Perhaps not. But even if Jacob pushed the raider, I don't see that as a strong sign that the farmers have abandoned any of their core beliefs. There's always been occasional violence, and the elders always see to it that it's halted, by exile if necessary."

"How do we tell them?" asked Stephen. "Do we give them the same show we all saw growing up? Or do we just say 'Yes, Jerusalem was destroyed in 2146 and so were a bunch of other cities.'"


James had returned to the conference room, and plugged a controller into the monitor bank. The elders watched him quietly as he set up, and rearranged their chairs so they could all watch the screens.

"This is probably the easiest way to show you what happened in 2146," he said. "It's what we show our children, though it's not something we dwell on."

He turned off the lights, and the screen lit up with pictures of collapsed bridges. A deep voice narrated.

"The library was completed in 2143, despite increasing costs brought on by ever-scarcer energy and supplies. The road system in the surrounding area had begun to collapse for lack of maintenance, and regular flights had been suspended for a decade. The next few years would see disasters which illustrated the need for our city."

The screen went white for a moment, and then a cloud appeared on it, growing upwards from a set of hills covered in buildings.

"In 2145, Rome was destroyed by a nuclear explosion. Claims and counter-claims of responsibility were traded for years, but the destruction of this ancient city and home to one of the world's most popular religions was only the beginning."

The screen went white again, and a new cloud appeared.

"Six months later, Jerusalem, the site of furious battles over the previous century, disappeared the same way Rome had, and once again none of the claimants seemed likely. A mere two weeks later, Mecca met the same fate."

"Inside the city, this meant -"

James snapped off the display and turned the lights back on.

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news," he said, "but that is, I'm afraid, what happened to Jerusalem."

"Carried up on a cloud like that?" asked Daniel.

"I'm afraid the cloud you saw was made of debris, the pieces of the city destroyed and blasted into the sky," replied James.

"And this city -"

"That's a constant fear," said James. "That someone would want to do that to us. And if they did that to us, you all would die shortly afterward from the blast and the pollution it would create. It's a horrible fate."

The elders were silent. "Thank you, James. We have a lot to discuss now," said Leah.

James left the room.

"There are worse things than being a Canaanite," said Daniel. "No one could have survived that."

"Apparently the temple didn't survive that," said Leah. "That explosion has created new explosions for us."

"And may yet create new ones. What do we tell our people?"

"The truth, I think," replied Judith. "Perhaps our telling them can reduce the danger of hearing the story from the raiders, and even shine a light on why listening to the raiders is dangerous."

"It's going to change things for a while," said Daniel. "We've never reflected much on what was lost, but this, this is too close to the stories we tell every day."

"It is," said Judith. "But we already knew that the world was lost and we were a few keeping faith in a time of darkness."


"Miriam - Miriam!" Abner was knocking on the post of Miriam's tent. "Martha sent me for you. Jacob's about to wake up again."

Miriam rubbed her eyes, and struggled out from under the quilts. She looked out the tent flap. "Now?"

"Now, or close to it," said Abner. She wrapped a warmer coat around herself and headed into the snow.

"It's coming down again," she said.

"Has been for an hour or two," said Abner. "It's warm in the hospital, though."

They walked into the hospital, and Miriam headed right for Jacob's bed, where Martha was waiting.

"Any minute now," she said. "This time I'll stay close in case there's a problem."

Jacob was stirring again. He moaned a bit, and opened his eyes slowly.

"Miriam? Is that you?"

"Yes, Jacob. I'm here."

He shifted his head, turning to look at her more closely. "Am I - am I going to be exiled?"

"No," she said, "no, I don't think so. No one has -" and the panic she'd felt when meeting with the elders earlier returned.

"They should," said Jacob.

"Don't say that," said Miriam. "You're going to be fine. You'll be better soon, and you'll be able to help like you always have."

Posted by simon at 09:19 PM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2005

Chapter 29

Miriam calmed Jacob down for a few minutes before going to the conference room to get the elders. They filed into Jacob's room quietly, sitting around his bed, with a few left standing.

"We've been praying for you, Jacob," started Daniel.

"Thank you very much," said Jacob, whose eyes were filled with tears again. "I fear I'm not worthy."

"We all fear that," said Leah, "but everyone is worthy of prayer."

"We have some questions," began Judith.

"And I have a story," said Jacob.

Jacob told them of the success of the raid, his initial abduction, and the forced march through the snow. He told of the raider's stabbing him, their pause at the ravine, and raider's using him as a support for his rifle and as a shield.

He reached the raider's commands to the search team that had come looking for Jacob and paused. "He had his gun ready to shoot any of them, and he'd had them remove their goggles. Knowing they were bound and helpless made me ask myself how helpless I was. I didn't think the raider would expect it, so I shoved off from the tree, into his knife and into him."

Miriam gasped, and some of the elders shook their heads.

"I don't remember anything after that until I woke up here," Jacob finished. He gave a small sigh of relief.

"It - it doesn't sound like you're hiding anything from us," said Leah. "We'll let you rest now."

They filed out of the room, leaving Miriam and Jacob crying.

"Will they exile me?" asked Jacob.

"Given what you just told them, I think they have to," replied Miriam. "You knew the ravine was there, you knew the knife was there, and it sounds, well, it sounds like you tried to kill yourself and the raider."

"I was trying to save people, I think."

"I know, I know."


Caleb and the readers had returned to the barn, which was now much quieter, as the raiders seemed to have settled into sullen silence.

"I think most of us should just do cleanup and maintenance," said Caleb, "but Isaac, you seemed to get along with Jethro there. Why don't you talk with him some more and see what you can find out."

Caleb and Isaac walked down to Jethro's cell.

"Be careful, Isaac," warned Caleb. "We want to know what they're thinking, but we don't want to think like them."

"Don't worry," replied Isaac. "After what these people have done, it's hard to imagine."

They heard shouts and screams behind them, and turned to find the source.

"Let me go!" shouted a young woman, as two children were grabbing her clothes, one hitting her with a dish.

Caleb knocked loudly on the gate, entering as more farmers rushed to join him. "What's this about?" he asked.

"She's no good," said the young boy. "Daddy's always said so."

"She pretends to be our mother but she isn't," said the girl. "She just eats the food and doesn't do anything useful."

The woman looked embarassed. "I'm Zipporah," she said. "And these are my father's children, Zebidah and Zebadiah."

"Your father has a fondness for Zs."

"Yes. And a fondness for these two."

Two of the farm women came in and took the children, each heading a different direction, leaving Zipporah in the stall with Caleb, Isaac, and a few of the farmers.

"I'm sorry for the disturbance," said Zipporah. "The children don't respect me. Their father's told them not to."

"Their father?" asked Caleb.

"Nathaniel. He's my father too, but he doesn't like to admit that. I'm his servant, not his daughter."

Caleb looked down.

"And he treats me like his servant. At least he didn't treat me like his captive, Ruth."

"And how was that?"

"He made her shave her head, and wear soiled clothes, and ordered us to keep her bound, feeding her only occasionally. She cried constantly."

"You didn't help her escape?"

"To what? And how could I? The children watched us constantly. Any time I've done something improper the children tell Nathaniel and I get beaten."

Caleb turned to one of the other farmers. "See to it that this girl gets a nicer place to stay, without those children. And let Miriam know I asked that this be done."

Zipporah packed up a few things and left.

"I think maybe I'll wait a while before I talk with Jethro," said Isaac. "I should go see Jacob."


Matthew had finally returned to Gregory's notes. The longer the council meetings lasted, the less confidence Matthew had that he knew the background to the conversations. Gregory's notes might be frustrating, but they had already helped him several times.

Once again, Gregory had warnings for him:

Our worst enemy is one we cannot fight: time. Eventually, no matter what we do, we must face the end of our original fuel supply. The city runs on less than half of the fuel it was originally expected to use in a year, but the original plan only anticipated a five hundred year lifespan. We are now well beyond that, and cannot continue forever.

I have tried and tried to trade for more fuel, but have generally been disappointed. Occasional deals have brought us more fuel than was required to produce the goods used to purchase it, but I worry that we will have to dip into our raw materials soon, trading those in greater bulk than seems wise, in order to gather more fuel.

This also raises issues with our presence at the surface. The farmers do provide us with a net energy gain, as they bring us materials, food, and trade goods that it would be expensive to produce, but we must eventually either find a way to make that more lucrative or consider reducing our costs in supporting them.

There is some hope of greater conservation and efficiency within the city itself, and of additional - but risky - power generation. We also need to consider a further population reduction. I have permitted children only as replacements for the previous twenty-three years as part of this, but making a real shift will mean deciding how many children and what they should focus on in the next generation.

All of Gregory's complaints about Matthew's "excessive generosity" with the farmers echoed through his mind. If the city was going to survive more than a century further, trade was going to matter a lot more than Matthew had realized. William's estimate of 120 years had seemed catastrophic already, but Gregory sounded even more dismal. Selling their stockpile of raw materials might help in the short run, but in the long run it would doom them, as they had no way to replenish them.


Isaac knocked on the door of Jacob's room. Miriam answered.

"The elders want to see you. Not about Jacob, they said - about the prison. Can I come in?"

Miriam opened the door. Jacob was sleeping.

"May - may I stay here while you're with the elders?"

"I was going to ask you to stay. Someone needs to keep an eye on Jacob and call the nurse if anything happens."

"If anything happens?"

Miriam just looked at him.

"I understand."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," said Miriam on her way out the door.

Isaac sat for a few minutes, marveling at Jacob's many bandages. After a few minutes, he leaned forward.


Jacob murmured a bit.

Isaac tried again. "Jacob?"

Jacob's eyes opened and he looked up.

"I'm sorry, Jacob," said Isaac. "I should have seen - I should have noticed - I should -"

"Don't worry, Isaac. The raider was smart. He was watching both of us, and got me when you turned to leave. If I'd left first, you'd, well -"

"It should have been me," said Isaac.

Jacob shook his head. "It wasn't. It should have been whoever the raider chose, and he happened to choose me. There's nothing we can do about it now."

"I'm sorry, Jacob."

"Don't be. You've done nothing wrong. I have."

Isaac sat back, surprised by Jacob's confession.

"I told the elders I didn't know what happened, that you fell. You didn't fall by accident?"

"No, I fell, but I chose to fall."

"I - well - thanks - I," Isaac sputtered and both of them sat silent.

After a few minutes there was a knock on the door, and Miriam returned.

"Jacob, Abner's going to sit with you for a while. Isaac and I need to go to the barn to sort out a prisoner issue."

Posted by simon at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Chapter 30

"He's awake," said Martha, "and ready to go upstairs. I told him that he had to wait for you."

"Very well," said Matthew. He opened the door and peered in. John was reading a catalog of 19th century harvesting equipment.

"I see we found you something to read," said Matthew.

"Some of these devices are very exciting, yes, but -"

"Yes, you can go upstairs and see Rachel," said Matthew. "And Gideon and Sarah are there as well. We've let them know to expect you, though we've asked them to keep it quiet for right now."

John sat up and stretched. He still looked much older than Matthew, but far younger than he had looked coming in. Martha came in with a pile of clothes and left them on the bed. She and Matthew went out in the hallway while John changed.

"He has lots of energy," said Martha. "I just don't want him to fall and break something. I don't know how well he's healed."

"His mind seems sharp."

"Maybe too sharp, too energized. There's no discussion of that in the records I have, but maybe they just thought it was normal."

"I need you to go upstairs with him. The council would rather I didn't."


"We have a somewhat difficult problem in the prison," said Leah. "I believe Isaac has already met her."

"Zipporah?" asked Isaac.

"Yes, Zipporah. She seems extremely relieved to be away from her family for what may be the first time in her life. It's extremely clear that she has been harshly abused. She - she showed me the scars on her back."

"What can we do?" asked Miriam.

"For right now, she's in a separate stall in the barn, away from her siblings and the rest of the raider women. That's all been taken care of. There's another complication, though."

Miriam looked at Leah, but Judith spoke. "She claims her father was Nathaniel, but we have no Nathaniel on the list of raider prisoners. Which means that -"

"He was the one who died in the ravine."

"Precisely. We haven't told any of the raiders of that death yet, and we don't know what response we'll get. We're not equipped to handle a riot. The city is sending us two additional guards, but we'd prefer not to rely on them."

"We thought that perhaps you two could talk with Zipporah, somewhere quiet, where the rest of the raiders can't hear any of the conversation, even if she shouts. Find out how she thinks the raiders will respond."

"And if she responds?" asked Miriam.

"Talk with her."


Gideon woke up as he heard a knocking on the door. Martha entered slowly, as Sarah shook herself awake. Rachel remained quiet on the bed, breathing slowly.

"Your father is with me," she said, and opened the door further. John followed her in.

"John? Is that really you?"


"Yes, it's me. I don't - I don't -"

"It's as I said, Gideon. John is a citizen now. We did what we could to, well, to make him more appropriate for his age as a citizen."

Gideon walked up to his father, looked him over, and embraced him. John hugged him back, then let him go to kneel by Rachel's bed, taking her hand in his. She stayed asleep, shifting occasionally, but John was happy just to be with her.


Isaac and Miriam visited Zipporah's cell as the sun was setting, and waited for meal distribution to distract the prisoners before ushering her to the hospital. Isaac talked of wanting to visit her again, but Zipporah shook nervously as they walked between the buildings, looking around at the strange new city landscape.

They settled into one of the smaller empty patient rooms, Miriam sitting next to Zipporah while Isaac took a chair on the other side of the room.

"What is it?" asked Zipporah. "What are you going to do to me that you couldn't have done back there?"

Miriam shook her head. "We're not going to do anything to you. We have news, though, news which we didn't think it safe to share in the barn."

Zipporah's brown eyes widened.

Isaac started. "You said your father is Nathaniel, right?"

"Yes, he is."

"We don't have any record of a Nathaniel among the raider men."

"You mean he's escaped?"

"No - well, we don't think so. We think he's dead."

Zipporah's head fell. "Why do you think he's dead?"

"We have one dead raider, who fell into the ravine. Can you look at him, and see if it's Nathaniel?"

Zipporah's eyes filled with tears as she nodded. Miriam took her hand and led her out of the room. Isaac followed close behind. They went down a hallway and into a large room. Miriam pulled a handle on the wall, and a table emerged, with a large sheet hiding a corpse. Miriam lifted the sheet gently, and Zipporah looked briefly before turning away.

"It's him," she said.

Miriam lowered the sheet and returned the body into the wall. They walked back to the room where they had spoken previously.

"This will be your room for a while," said Miriam. "I'll go get your things from the barn. If you need anything, just push this button and a nurse or one of us will come help you."

She nodded to Isaac and they left the room, locking it behind them while a confused Zipporah cried.


"Why have the farmers moved one of the raiders to the hospital?" demanded Catherine. "What gives them that right?"

"Technically, Catherine, you're right. They can't do that. However - well, here's the conversation."

Matthew turned to the monitor and played back both the conversation in the hospital room and the conversation in the morgue.

"We haven't wanted the raiders to know that they had lost a member. The farmers stumbled on this, well, outcast, and she was able to identify the raider, something the farmers think important to their future dealings with the raiders. If she were to return to the barn and say what she's seen, even inadvertently, we could have to deal with a riot."

"We've already reinforced the guard for the night," said Stephen. "I suspect we should maintain that level of force."

"Zipporah, as the raider woman is called, is locked in that room in any case. She seems to have quieted quickly, and hasn't shown any sign of trying to get out, but she's more secure in that room than she would be in the barn in any case."

"She's in the hospital, and John - " began Catherine.

"Is also in that same hospital, visiting his wife, who will no doubt pass away any day now. I know it seems like a horrible conspiracy to overthrow the city, Catherine," sighed Matthew.

"Could we at least have a guard or two at the hospital?"

Matthew nodded. "It will disrupt our schedule a little, but it seems like a reasonable precaution."


"Is there any hope for me, Miriam?"

"Yes, Jacob. There's always hope. The elders didn't give me any reason to think they were speaking to the sister of a soon-to-be exile."

"Even without exile, though -"

"Stop it, Jacob. We have to go on living, all of us. Whatever the raiders drive us to, whatever comes next."

Posted by simon at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 31

John woke up as dawn broke, leaving Rachel's side for a moment and coming back quickly. Gideon and Sarah were just waking up.

Martha came in on her morning rounds a few minutes later.

"She hasn't changed at all," said Gideon. "Just sleeping quietly."

Martha looked over the machines. "She's changed a bit, I'm afraid, and not for the better."

John looked up. "Is there anything you can do - like you did for me?"

"Even if she were a citizen, at this point, no."

John's face fell. "How long?"

"A day, maybe two."


The old man brightened when Isaac arrived.

"Listen to what I told you?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Isaac replied. "I have some questions, though, things I need to know for your story to make sense."

"Of course you have questions. How could you not? The world has changed."

"I just don't quite -"

"Of course you don't. Even for us this was a shock, a change in direction that many couldn't accept."

Issac sat down on a haybale in the cell.

"I haven't yet heard if Jerusalem was destroyed," he started.

"It was," replied Jethro. "Along with Rome and Mecca. We humans, filled with a terrible pride, destroyed our holy places."

Isaac sighed. "We can be terrible, no question." He looked around at the stall. "But how do you know that the world has started again, that Christ has departed?"

"There are a few key pieces. We always understood the events in Revelation to take place in Jerusalem, but a few verses make that painfully clear."

He picked up his Bible, and flipped to Revelation. "There's chapter 11, which starts:

"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty [and] two months."

"Of course, the Temple of God was in Jerusalem, and it's hard to measure that now that it's one big crater."

"Go on," said Isaac.

"Also in Revelation, there's the beginning of Chapter 14: 'And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion.' But if there's no Mount Sion - the same as Zion - there's no place for the Lamb to stand. And Christ promised to return to Jerusalem when 'the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord' back in Matthew."

Isaac had no answer.

"There's one other piece," said Jethro, "which convinced me. It's from Psalm 125, and this one really struck at the heart of things:"

"They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever."

"Apparently we removed Mount Zion," said the raider. "The temple is gone and cannot be rebuilt, and the entire mountain has gone as well. It's hard to imagine."

"I have - I have to go," said Isaac.

"Take your time," said Jethro. "Come back whenever you like."


The snow outside was falling harder and harder. Miriam had radioed the farmers who had trekked down to the valley, and they were settling in for a long night in the enormous commune farmhouse, tending the animals there as best they could. The raiders hadn't broken in, and they had plenty of food and fuel to get them through the storm. They would try to reach the outer farms when it stopped snowing, and hoped they would be in similarly good shape.

Reporting to the elders had been simple this time, though their silence about Jacob was unnerving. She didn't expect they'd exile him into a snowstorm, but it would be good to hear that they weren't going to exile him.

She walked from the hospital to the barn, along a pathway already bounded by growing walls of snow. A raider had taken up reading scriptures again, this time shouting the book of Genesis into the room.

"And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died. And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan: And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters."

"Did he have to choose the begats?" asked Caleb.

"I'd rather hear that than Joshua," replied Miriam. "Has it been like this all morning?"

"Mostly. One of them started early, got tired, then another picked up. It's one at a time, but they seem to pick what they want to read."

"All Old Testament?"

"Mostly. I'm pretty sure I heard some of Revelation."

"Anything new with the families?"

"Not since Zipporah, no. The women and children seem pretty relaxed, but the men seem even more tense than before. Any idea how long we'll be entertaining them?"

"Not for long, I'd hope, but this snow makes me wonder. It's getting windy out there too, and I doubt the city wants to risk losing a flight."

"The sooner these folks depart, the better. They're spooky. I've asked the readers to stop talking about religion with them."

"Nothing new to learn? Isaac seemed to get the story pretty easily from that old man."

"Maybe too much to learn," replied Caleb. Miriam looked puzzled, and Caleb continued. "I've found three of my readers looking through their Bibles, always in the first few chapters or in the very back, at Revelation."

"You don't think they'd -"

"That's the problem. I do think they might get some bad ideas here. They've seen what these people can do, but the shock's wearing off. And most of us - well, we haven't exactly had a theological challenge around here in a long time."

"I guess challenging ourselves in Sunday school wasn't enough?"

"Maybe not. Anyway, I'm having a meeting later to go over our message, and I'm emphasizing that message to our readers, not just to the raiders."

"Should we keep an eye on our own people?"

"Informally, yes. Formally, probably not. And did we hear from the city about Jerusalem?"


Jacob stood up slowly. Miriam hadn't been by in a while, and he was tired of depending on nurses for everything. He was tired and bruised, but not very broken. His first few steps were tentative, and he used the rolling stand for his fluids as a support, but he could get around.

Once he felt stable, he walked out of his room and looked around. More of the rooms looked occupied, though none of the nurses were around. He walked down the hallway, past a room whose door was closed. A young woman was resting in bed. He continued - then stepped back. He'd never seen her before.

He started on again, but stopped quickly.

"Jacob? What are you doing out of bed?" asked Abner, down the hall from him.

"I couldn't stand waiting around," Jacob replied.

"You never really could," said Abner, "but this one time you might be wise to. Here - let me help you."

They walked back down the hallway. "Who's she?" asked Jacob.

"She's one of the raider women. Apparently was treated badly. Miriam put her in here to separate her from the rest of them."

Down the hall another familiar face appeared, though not quite familiar.

"Jacob? Is that you?" asked John.

"John? John? What happened?"

"It's a long story. Abner can tell you - I just told him last night. The city doctors - well, my exile ended, and I'm a citizen again somehow, and, well, I'm here to see Rachel."

"How's she doing?"

"Not well. She's tossing and turning, and I need to find a nurse."

"I'll help," said Abner. "Jacob, you go in there and rest for a little while, and I'll be in to see you soon."

Posted by simon at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2005

Chapter 32

Gideon and Sarah stood on one side of Rachel's bed while John sat on the other, holding Rachel's hand and trying to soothe her as she shuddered.

"There, there," John said. "We're all here with you, Rachel - Gideon, Sarah, and John."

Rachel kept shaking even as John tried to calm here, smoothing her hair in a vain attempt to calm her.

She started to rise from the bed, and her eyes opened for the first time in days.

"Rachel, Rachel," said John, and Gideon leaned in toward his mother.

"John?" asked Rachel. "John? What's happened to you?"

"It's hard to explain," said John, stroking her hair again. "I was in the hospital for a while too."

Rachel blinked slowly, and leaned back into the bed.

"What kind of hospital?" she asked.

"The city hospital," said John. "I had to bring a warning - the gates were closed."

Gideon and Sarah were nodding vigorously, but Rachel's eyes were on John.

"The city hospital?" she asked again.

John nodded, his eyes full of tears.

Martha rushed into the room, Abner right behind. Rachel closed her eyes again as John rubbed her hand, repeating her name over and over.

"She's not -" started Gideon.

Martha looked over the readouts of the intensive care unit. Rachel seemed to have been doing better, briefly, but her blood pressure and pulse were falling rapidly. She pushed buttons ordering the machine to make a last effort to revive Rachel, ordering everyone away from the bed.

A few minutes later it was over. "I'm sorry," said Martha.

John sat weeping in the corner, as Gideon and Sarah tried to console him.


"Have you seen Isaac?" asked Caleb.

"Not in a while. I think he was over by the library."

Caleb walked over to the library and wandered through the books, finally finding Isaac in a corner, reading old history next to a globe.


Isaac looked up. "Caleb? Do you need something?"

"Just you," replied Caleb. "The elders want to see all the readers who've talked with the prisoners in twenty minutes. Everyone else was in the barn, but I couldn't find -"

"Sorry," said Isaac. "I was reading, trying to figure out, well, how the raiders got where they are."

"It sounds like a sad story, to me, Isaac. Centuries of mourning and then waking up one day thinking they needed to conquer."

Caleb shook his head; Isaac nodded. He closed his books and pushed them against a wall, leaving a neat stack for future reading.


"While we find it clear that the raiders are wrong about many things, including what this means, they are unfortunately correct that Jerusalem has been destroyed," said Leah.

Caleb, Isaac, Miriam, and the readers all shook their heads.

Leah continued. "We know this is something of a shock, as we have read about Jerusalem since our childhoods, and I don't think most of us have contemplated whether this Jerusalem we knew could still exist out in this devastated world. It's always been far away but real."

"It still is real," said Daniel. "We carry Jerusalem with us, every time we think of these stories or tell them. What happened there happened, and even the loss of the city doesn't change that."

"Is there anything left there?" asked Isaac.

The elders looked down. Leah spoke up. "No, most likely there isn't. The city showed us pictures. There is still, however, the Jerusalem in our hearts."

"How should we handle telling both our own community members and the raiders?" asked Miriam.

"This shouldn't be a secret," said Daniel. "We know this news will disturb all of us who hear it, but it's better shared than hidden away. Tell your families and friends, and we'll have a meeting later tonight to pray over the loss. We'll tell those who have already returned to their farms as soon as we can, though I'd rather not put this out over the radio."

"As for the raiders," said Judith, "they already know this. What the city showed us confirms their story all too well. There is nothing to be gained by hiding this from them, and if anything we hope it will help you deal with the snares we've heard them set for some of you."

"For now," said Daniel, "enjoy your dinner and the company of your fellows, and remember that we are still bonded by Christ, who has not left us and will not leave us."

Everyone except the elders got up to leave.

"Miriam?" asked Judith. "Could you stay for a moment?"

Miriam shuddered involuntarily, but stayed.

When the room had cleared, the elders were silent for a few minutes, and then Judith spoke.

"This Zipporah, can you talk more with her? Find out her situation and what she can tell us about the raiders?"

Relieved, Miriam almost broke down, but stammered a reply. "Yes, I definitely can talk with her."

"We're concerned she is in danger from her fellow raiders," said Daniel. "What we know of her story is not encouraging. We could ask the city to allow her to stay, but right now they'd prefer all of the raiders to go."

"I'll ask," said Miriam. "I don't know how much her father's death changes things."

"That does need to stay a secret from the rest of the raiders until they're ready to leave," said Daniel. "The city's already asked us to mix people up on the two transports, so the raiders can't notice he's gone until after they've been safely deported."

"That shouldn't be a problem," said Miriam, "though hopefully that transport will be soon. The barn wasn't really built for this."

Daniel shook his head. "We know. None of us were."

The elders returned to their silence, and Miriam prepared to go. As she opened the door to leave, she turned back to them, asking "Jacob?"

"We are not decided about Jacob," replied Leah after a long pause.

Miriam left quietly.

Posted by simon at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2005

Chapter 33

Isaac knocked on the side of Caleb's wagon, seeing a light inside.

"Yes? Come in."

Isaac climbed into the wagon and into the back. Caleb was sitting on stool, carving saw handles on a table.

"What do you need, Isaac?"

"I - well, I'm angry," said Isaac. "First the raiders attack us, and then their beliefs are so strange, and then we find out Jerusalem's been destroyed, and -"

"It's difficult," said Caleb, never stopping his carving a delicate decoration into the handle. "We aren't used to hearing different views, especially views so passionately held. And you've really never heard anything this different, have you?"

Isaac shook his head.

"Maybe I'm lucky," said Caleb, "because I have. Less charged than the raiders, but maybe stranger."

"What do you mean?" asked Isaac.

Caleb shook his head. "I guess you haven't heard much about the lake dwellers. They were mostly before your time, though we still hear from them occasionally and do a bit of trading. I used to live with them."

"Live with them? In all their filth?"

"It wasn't that bad," said Caleb. "I looked around here and didn't think it suited me. I know my parents had tried their best to make me a proper farmer, but when they died, I wandered a bit. I followed one of our trading parties down the path to the lake, and stayed there for a long while before the lake dwellers realized they had company. I caught fish in the creeks, and foraged for food."

Isaac's eyes were wide.

"It's not that unusual, Isaac. I think I was the last person who left our community and returned later, but it used to happen all the time. People wandered. Most of them didn't come back, and a few came back terrified, but some of us had a good time.

"Anyway, the lake dwellers eventually figured out I was down there, and wondered what kind of strange farmer was living on fish. They stopped by one night when I was asleep, and collapsed my tent on me so I couldn't resist. They tied me up and put me in a boat."

"And then what?" asked Isaac.

"They pushed the boat out into the lake, and let it float out. They meant for the lake to have me as a sacrifice, and to consume me whenever it felt hungry."

"Those murderous -" began Isaac.

"No, not really," replied Caleb. "I knew that they worshipped the lake, but hadn't thought through that they might not be as nice to a mere trespasser as they are to our trading parties."

"How did you escape?"

"I thought I was lucky," said Caleb, "or just very good at untying knots. A few hours after dark I managed to wriggle free and paddle to shore."

"And you came home?"

"No, not exactly. I was on the other side of the lake and had to walk back around. I ran into the same group of lake dwellers a few days later. I thought about hiding, but they're good trackers, so I just braved it out. Some of them seemed to think I'd come back from the lake god, and no one felt like sacrificing me again. They gave me some food, and eventually I joined their boats for a couple of years."

"Did they keep worshipping you? Did you worship the lake?"

"They didn't worship me for long, and one of them confessed that he'd tied my bonds pretty loosely since he didn't think I was meant for sacrifice. Everyone had a good laugh, fortunately. Did I worship the lake? No, not really. They didn't expect that. I was at their ceremonies, though, and helped make a lot of their ritual tools and boats."

"They weren't like the raiders, though."

"No, they weren't. They weren't nearly as convinced they understood the world, for one thing, and they were very curious about our customs. The lake dwellers thought we were very strange, though they liked the things we traded with them. And they were definitely afraid of the city people."

"Caleb, I - I worry. I don't think I can convince the raiders of our truths."

"Maybe you can't, Isaac. It's only our job to try."

"They seem to have very different truths."

"People have always been that way. We're blessed here by the choices we've made, and that's why I eventually thanked the lake dwellers for their kindness and walked back up here. I don't think the lake dwellers were right about the god of the waters, but they were just as convinced of that as we are of our God."

"But how -"

"We don't know, Isaac. Ask the elders to prove to you that God exists in the way we expect and to demonstrate that what we do is precisely what God ordered, and you'll be waiting a long long time for an answer. The lake dwellers would give you a similar response."

"But the raiders seem so certain."

"They have to be certain, to behave the way they do. I haven't heard any of them question the beliefs they were raised with, nor do they seem to doubt the huge transformation they've seen over the past few years."

"A week ago, I was as certain as they were."

"No doubt you were, and most of our younger readers. You haven't had anything to test yourselves against."

"But temptation -"

"Temptation lurks behind every bush, in the most respectable houses. Temptation is everywhere, but it doesn't affect the way we believe. Sin for us means doing wrong despite knowing all too well what's right. That's not the same as questioning what's right." Caleb finished the decoration on one handle and started on another.

"I know what's right," said Isaac. "Or at least I did."

"That's a normal response in this situation. I thought the lake dwellers were mad when I first learned how they worshipped. Of course, there was something personal to that, being a sacrifice and all." He paused for a moment, focusing on a difficult corner of carving, while Isaac waited.

"But they weren't mad, or at least they were partly sane. They weren't anything like our raiders, though they were perfectly willing to use violence when they thought it was necessary. Not much room for a broader perspective on the world, but they fit well with the place they had."

"Kind of like us, you're saying?"

"Yes, very much like us. They lost track of older traditions completely, while we still had the Bible. They can't read or write down there, either. I told them some stories, and they especially liked the one about Jonah, but I was depressed that they didn't seem to pick up on any higher meaning."

Isaac nodded. "I think I see what you mean, but it doesn't help me deal with the raiders at all."

"It can't help you directly," said Caleb. "It's not just a matter of convincing them that we're right and they're wrong. First we have to convince them that other possibilities exist, something even most of us don't realize. I don't see that in any of the raider men I've talked with, and we certainly can't send them to live with the lake dwellers. The most I think we can do is to show them a bit of how we live and hope they see the good."

"They see a different good," said Isaac, "and I don't know if ours can stand against it."

"It'll be hard to convince them, no doubt," replied Caleb. "They have incredible faith, even if they've taken a strange direction. They can quote my own Bible at me all day, and I still don't see how it adds up the way they think it does."

Isaac looked down at his Bible as if it was a trusted friend who had begun to waver. He shook his head.

"I think I need to read a lot more of this tonight," Isaac said. "I need a response to their claims."

Caleb thought for a moment. "That's probably a wise idea, but focus on what you believe, not just on what they believe."

"I'm mostly looking for overlap," said Isaac.

"There isn't much overlap between our beliefs and their beliefs apart from the book itself," offered Caleb, "but if you can find a starting place for a conversation with them that will bring them closer to God, I'd be happy to hear it."

Posted by simon at 09:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2005

Chapter 34

Jacob stirred as the door to his room opened. Miriam entered with a tray of food, setting it on a cart while Jacob shook off sleep. He'd slept poorly, waking up every time he started to roll over. The nurses had offered to sedate him, but he told them he wanted his mind clear. There was too much to think about, and too little - or too much - time.

"Any news?" asked Jacob.

"The nurses think you're difficult," replied Miriam. "They seemed especially happy that I was here to bring you breakfast."

"Have I angered them?"

"Not yet, I don't think. Martha said 'At least he hasn't thrown anything at us,' but there's definitely some tension there."

"There's tension here. This waiting, waiting to know whether I can stay or have to go..."

"I know, Jacob. I'm waiting too."

"They might exile you?"

"No, no - I'm just waiting to hear about you. Remember? You're my brother."

Jacob sighed loudly, and lay back in the bed.

"What am I supposed to do? Change what the raider did? Change what you did?" asked Miriam. She moved the cart so Jacob could reach his breakfast.

Jacob shook his head and stared at the food. "I'm not hungry," he said.

"You barely ate yesterday," said Miriam. "Have some toast. Maybe it will calm you down a bit."

Jacob pushed the cart away. "I don't want to be calm," he shouted. "I want be where I used to be, where I had some chance of feeling I was right. Where I wasn't stuck waiting for someone else to tell me if I stay or go, live or die."

Abner knocked on the door. "Is everything all right in here?"

Jacob nodded, while Miriam shook her head. Abner looked back and forth.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked.

"No," they answered in unison.

Abner stepped back out, closing the door behind him.

"You're not helping things, Jacob," said Miriam. "Where's your patience?"

"I think I lost it when the raider took me prisoner."

"It's not like you've had control over the world your entire life, and you were fine then," said Miriam. "Maybe the raider and this make that clearer, but - "

Jacob deflated a bit, sinking into the bed. "I know, I know," he said. "I just always thought I'd have something to do with what happened."

"You have," replied Miriam. "You set it all up. You just have to wait right now."

She pushed the cart back up to him. "Eat," she said.


Zipporah waved from her bed when Abner walked by. He called a nurse, then opened the door and came in.

"Is everything all right?" asked Zipporah. "I heard shouting, and it had been so peaceful here."

"It's all right now, I think," said Abner. "Just a friendly discussion." He shook his head.

Martha came in behind him, carrying a tray.

"More toast and sandwiches," said Zipporah. "Nothing that requires silverware."

"We're just, well, worried," said Abner.

"That I'll stab you? Or stab myself?" asked Zipporah.

"We're still figuring out who you are," replied Abner. "I know it's strange."

Zipporah leaned forward. "It is strange," she said, "but it's a lot better than where I was yesterday, and better than anywhere else I've been. The food tastes good, too."

A bell started ringing in the hallway. Abner closed the curtains on Zipporah's door.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said. "Stay in bed and enjoy your breakfast."


Caleb found Isaac in the library again.

"We'll need you in a few minutes," he said. "One of the raiders injured himself smashing against his cell, and we need to rearrange the barn."

Isaac closed his book and stood up. "What happened?"

"One of the younger men tried smashing his way out of the cell. He couldn't have escaped, especially with the noise he was making, but we've had to restrain him. They're taking him to the hospital now. We need to rearrange his cell so that we can keep him in restraints."

"Restraints?" asked Isaac as they left the library.

"Yes. He'll be in a hospital bed with his arms and legs bound to the bed so he can't smash around again."

"We don't normally..."

"No, we don't," replied Caleb. "But in this case we seem to have to do it for his own safety. We're keeping a close eye on the others to see if anyone else tries this, but so far they're quiet."

They walked into the barn, and Caleb picked up some hammers and pry bars near the door. The raider's cell had been next to Jethro's cell, and Jethro was keeping an eye on them.

"Couldn't keep Shadrach caged, could you?"

Caleb ignored Jethro; Isaac didn't know what to say. As they walked into Shadrach's cell, Isaac could still hear Jethro talking, apparently reading his Bible.

"We need to remove this bed frame - the one we just built into here, of course."

Even with the pry bars, pulling the bed off the floor was a challenge. The farmers hadn't wanted the raiders to be able to take apart their furniture to use as a weapon, so it was fixed tightly to the floor and the wall. Eventually it gave way, and they carried it out.

"Come talk to me when you have a chance," said Jethro, as Isaac passed, and Isaac nodded.


"We don't have anyone left who's trained to be extra guards," explained Matthew. "If I wasn't leader, we'd have one more, but even that wouldn't be enough for what you want."

"It looks like the weather will force us to keep the raiders here at least another three days. The raiders can hear each other shouting, and with all the nonsense they're spewing, how are we supposed to know if they're passing coded messages? They have plenty of time to plan an assault, and I don't think our defenses are nearly strong enough," replied Catherine.

"We still have about half the people who went on the raid," said William. "Why can't they be guards? I know it's a loss to their departments, but maybe it's worth it."

Matthew shook his head. "It's not just about knowing how to shoot the guns and use the communicators," he said. "It's about knowing how to deal with people."

"So they stay further away from the raiders, as an emergency-only force," suggested Catherine.

Most of the council was nodding in agreement with Catherine.

"Even if they're simply there, waiting just in case, it should be an improvement," she said. "We know the farmers aren't equipped for this,and so do the raiders."

"I suspect the initial shock of their capture is wearing off," said Stephen quietly. "They haven't tried anything so far, but we know what they're capable of doing. They're different from the raiders we've had in the past. We've never seen anything like this."

"Not exactly," said Matthew. "We've had religious zealots before, but never so many or so organized. These aren't our usual robbers, either."

"So?" asked Catherine.

"All right. We'll use the group who went out on the expedition, unless they're critically needed here. We'll try to match the two shifts of guard duty to their normal working hours. But I want them in a separate area, brought in only for emergencies."

Posted by simon at 08:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 15, 2005

Chapter 35

Caleb knocked on the door and looked in.

"It's time."

Miriam nodded, and Jacob started to get up. Caleb stepped back out into the hall to wait for them, closing the door.

Jacob put on his coat, and straightened himself, taking a deep breath.

"Are you ready?" asked Miriam.

"I've been ready," replied Jacob.

Miriam opened the door and they walked down the hallway with Caleb to the conference room where the elders were meeting. Caleb knocked twice, paused for a moment, then opened the door. Jacob and Miriam walked in, and Caleb closed the door behind them.

"Jacob, Miriam, sit down with us," said Daniel.

They sat, and the group was silent for a few minutes.

Leah stood slowly, "Jacob," she began, "we have decided to let you stay."

Jacob's shoulders dropped in relief, and Miriam smiled.

"However," she continued, "we can no longer keep you in the leadership position where you have served us all well. From this point forward we expect Miriam and Isaac to perform your tasks."

Miriam looked down at the floor.

"We do have a number of things for you to do, however. First, and most importantly, you need to heal, both body and soul. After we have seen progress in your healing we will talk again about your future."

Leah sat down again, and there were another few minutes of silence, interrupted by another knock on the door.

"Jacob, you should return to your room," said Daniel. "Miriam, you should stay here for a while longer."

Jacob stood, and walked haltingly to the door, which opened as he arrived. Caleb smiled at him and let him out. After Jacob left, Isaac walked in, and Caleb closed the door again.

Isaac sat down next to Miriam, and the room was quiet for a few minutes before Daniel stood and spoke.

"We need the two of you to act as our arms in this community, to lead in times of crisis and to manage the conflicts which inevitably arise."

Isaac looked startled, while Miriam kept her eyes closed, rocking back and forth gently.

"We are all very sad that Jacob cannot continue in his position," said Daniel, "and your own concerns for Jacob's well-being are part of what earned you the hard tasks he has performed in the past. Both of you have worked well with him and we hope learned from him, but it is time for you to make your own way, working with us and the rest of the community."

Judith continued. "Caleb has been running the prison in your absence, Miriam. We would like Caleb to return to his task as a reader, and Isaac to step up to managing the daily needs of the prison. Miriam, we need you to coordinate security with the city and to prepare for the raiders' eventual evacuation."

Isaac and Miriam nodded.

"There is a new complication," said Leah. The city wants to station three times as many guards as they presently have up here. Isaac will need to find them appropriate space, while Miriam coordinates what these people should do to be available in case of emergency. James and Helena said they'd look forward to working with you, Miriam, so I think you're off to a good start already."

Miriam nodded. They all sat silently for a few minutes until Daniel looked up.

"You may go now," he said.


Caleb met them outside the door.

"I understand there's to be a transition," he said, "and we should probably start now."

They started toward the barn, but Miriam stopped them as they were leaving the hospital.

"I need to see Jacob first," she said.

"I can get Isaac started while you talk," said Caleb, "but the city guards will be coming up here soon."


Jacob was drifting into sleep as Miriam came in. She ran to the bed and gave him an enormous hug, while trying not to press on any of his bandages.

"You can stay!" she said.

"Yes, sort of," he replied. "I'm not sure what they'll have me doing, but it sounds like it'll be different. Something where they don't need to trust me much, I suspect."

"They didn't trust me to observe the raiders earlier," said Miriam.

"They trusted you to observe the raiders, Miriam - they just wanted at least one of the two of us to be safe. Their sending Isaac was because of -"

"Isaac seems to have taken your place," said Miriam. "Or maybe I've taken yours and he's taken mine."

Jacob shook his head. "He's all right, Miriam. I know you've always seen his failings, but he's older than we were when we started in on this, and he thinks things through."

"Maybe," said Miriam. "He's now sharing management of the prison with me. I have security, he has day-to-day."

"I'm glad you have security. I've been nervous about using the barn for this many people. I guess it's not my concern any more."

"The elders don't think - well, I still do. I'll need your help."

"Will they like that?"

"I think they probably suspect it anyway."

"Maybe. I'm not sure what I can do to help anyway, being out of the conversation."

"Well, can you keep an eye out around here?"

"When I'm awake, yes - but what's around here?"

"Zipporah, for one."

Jacob shook his head. "Maybe I should just stay asleep. I killed her father, remember?"

Miriam was silent for a moment. "You're right," she said. "That's too much to ask. Although..." She paused.

"Although what?" asked Jacob.

"Do you know her story?" asked Miriam.

"Just what Abner told me. She's here because you had her identify her father's body, and you don't want her telling the rest of them what happened."

"She hated her father, Jacob. He abused her, kicked her out. And her father was the one who'd taken Ruth."

Jacob lay back. "I still don't think I'm the one to do this."

Miriam nodded. "All right, don't push. Just keep an eye on her as you're around."

"Thanks for wanting to keep me around," said Jacob. "You'd better run and help your friend Isaac with all those prisoners, though."


The barn was getting louder each day. The children were getting more comfortable and playing, though the farmers still kept each family in its own cell. The raider women were singing hymns, sometimes in unison, while the raider men took turns reading the Bible aloud.

Miriam trudged through the snow just in time for the meeting. Caleb had gathered the readers and many of the staff into the quietest, emptiest part of the barn, leaving the city guards to watch the cells and make sure no one got out. Helena was there in her red uniform, already sitting down with a notebook.

The group quieted and settled as Miriam approached, though the raiders' noise continued in the background. Isaac pointed Miriam toward a chair at one end, and as she sat, everyone except Helena lowered their head for a moment of silent contemplation.

A few minutes later, Miriam raised her head, and the others followed soon thereafter.

"Let's start with security," she began. "Have there been any new incidents?"

"Only an outbreak of hymns," replied Caleb. "They've gotten louder, but we haven't had any new cases of raiders smashing themselves against walls, and they haven't tried to do anything to us."

"The city is wondering if they're communicating through their readings and singing," said Helena.

There was silence for a few minutes.

"They could be," said Caleb, "but they haven't altered any of the material they're reading. I suppose that particular passages could have a special meaning, but I don't get a sense that they were prepared for anything like this."

"I don't see it either," said Isaac. "They seem consistent with their shouting at the city walls earlier."

"We can monitor it more closely," said Caleb.

"I've heard that the city wants to post additional guards," said Miriam.

"Yes, yes, we do," replied Helena. "Two twelve-hour shifts, with twelve additional guards up here at a time."

"Among the prisoners, or -"

"I was thinking here might work," said Helena. "This is far enough away from the main barn that they won't hear too much from the cells, but close enough that they can respond if needed."

"Respond how?"

"With anesthetic dart guns, most likely."

Miriam paused. "We've never had - well, we've never had an occasion where massive force was necessary. We understand your need for guards at your own place, but this sounds, well, excessive."

"We don't expect to have to use them at all," said Helena. "It's just extra reassurance, since we've had to keep the raiders here longer than expected."

"Do we have a departure date for them yet?"

"It still depends on the weather," said Helena. "We're hoping this storm will break in a couple of days. We're still concerned about wind, not to mention conditions at the drop-off site. We think four days is a reasonable target, though we thought four days yesterday too."

Posted by simon at 08:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 28, 2005

Chapter 36

"Finally," said Matthew, closing his door behind him and sitting in his chair. He spread out the papers, looking for anything that seemed like an invoice or a receipt, and turned to Gregory's notes again.

Our one hope of finding fuel is trade. Finding fuel directly has been extremely difficult, as none of the other cities appear interested in a direct trade of any of any of our goods for fuel, at an acceptable price, in any case. However, there are cities which don't have reactors. These cities are our most promising trading partners, as we can sell them solar panels and get other goods from them.

However, unsurprisingly, there are problems. These cities tend to be the gathered remnants of the unprepared people, and they lack our tradition of clear communication and our sense of mission. They frequently try to cheat us, agreeing to one set of terms but then insisting on older terms we never agreed to. We have rejected their merchandise on many occasions for poor quality.

Distance is another large issue, as most of these cities are far away, requiring our helicopter to fly for most of a day to reach them. The transportation costs eat quickly into the value of the merchandise itself. Gems, fine jewelery, and furs are relatively transportable, but lead and raw uranium ore are difficult.

It has also been difficult to find out what precisely the cities that have fuel want in return for it. [name] has a processing facility that can accept the raw ore, but they return very little fuel for large quantities of ore. Other cities are balancing their needs - or perhaps just their leaders' needs - against a fixed and limited supply of fuel.

Despite these problems, some of the trades have worked well, especially for minerals. Unfortunately, there is no sign yet of our being able to trade these minerals for fuel, and our two attempts to do so both ended in situations where our pilots felt it more appropriate to depart the area than to stay and attempt to trade.

Matthew sat back, and looked over the invoices. Three the claims about undelivered goods were from nearby cities, but many were from cities he'd never heard of. Gregory had clearly expanded the web of cities he was willing to trade with, but it didn't seem likely that these places would be interested in dealing fairly.


"I'm sorry to hear that, Jacob. I'm glad you'll still be with us, though."

"Thanks, Abner. It seems that I'm supposed to stay right here for a while."

"Well, there's a lot to do right here."

"I'm not sure they want me doing anything for now."

"That has to be frustrating," replied Abner. "You've never been one to sit longer than it takes to eat."

"I have a lot to learn, apparently," said Jacob, sitting back in his bed and reaching for the Bible on his nightstand.


Helena escorted the troop of guards in their red uniforms through the barn, taking them from the elevator to their space in the corner by way of the raiders' main living area. The raiders quieted briefly as the group passed, but not for long, returning quickly to their Bible verses. It seemed to be Jethro's turn:

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.' And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

"That's different," muttered Caleb. "I haven't heard anything from the Gospels before."

Another voice rang out shortly afterward.

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary."

The guards reached their corner, and Helena showed them where to rest while waiting for a duty that would hopefully never call. The farmers had set up tables, chairs, and benches, with warm drinks and plates of food. The guards had brought books and games, and set about getting comfortable even as the voice continued.

"She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies."

Miriam came around the corner, welcoming the guards.

"Is there any way to quiet the raiders?" asked Helena. "We can watch for disturbances on the monitors, and this noise is troubling."

"I don't think we can," replied Miriam. "We can't get them to stop reading, and if we block the passageway so you can't hear them, we've both blocked your way in and made it harder for you to hear if there's a problem."

"We'll have to play music then, I suppose, though probably everyone wants something different."

"Our musicians have left the city," said Miriam.

"Not that," said Helena. "We have recorded music we can play."

"You're welcome to play recorder if you want," replied Miriam. "I think our guards will like it, and the raiders can't really complain."

"I don't think they'll hear any of our music," said Helena.

Miriam turned to leave. In the passage back to the barn, she ran into Caleb, who'd come to find her.

"Miriam, we need to talk, now," said Caleb. "The raiders aren't just reading random verses at us."

They walked past the raiders and over to the library.

"They read the end of Matthew as the city guards came through," said Caleb. "I think it's the first time I've heard them read anything New Testament outside of Revelation, and I don't think it's a coincidence."

"I thought I heard Lamentations," said Miriam.

"Yes, they started into that right after the bit of Matthew. But when I heard 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,' it was pretty clear something was up."

"Has anything else changed?"

"Not yet," said Caleb, "but I wish we'd been subtler about bringing in the extra guards."

"Maybe the 'all nations' bit was just a sign that they knew there was more than just us here."

"Possibly, but there have always been the two city guards."

"If they're looking for converts, I doubt the city guards will be very interested in the Bible, given past experience. Helena was hoping to drown out the sound with music of some kind."

"That would probably be a good idea. They're far enough away from the yelling that they can probably drown it out. It's making me fairly crazy in the barn. Prison isn't slowing these guys down at all."

"Hang in there, Caleb. Anything new from your readers?"

"No, it's been quiet. I still need to talk with Isaac about the last conversations he had with Jethro, but he's arranging food for tonight. No one else had much luck with these guys, though I don't think Isaac's enjoying the experience."

"Is anyone?" asked Miriam.

"No, not exactly. Isaac seemed pretty frustrated with them, though."

Posted by simon at 04:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 01, 2006

Chapter 37

The pilots wore red, but they had never reported to Matthew before. Relations with other cities were purely the territory of the leader, and while the pilots sometimes coordinated with Matthew, they never told him where they were going or what they doing. Gregory sometimes did, and rumors sometimes suggested what was happening, but this was the first time Matthew had sat down with the four of them expecting details of what they did.

The pilots filed in to the council room, which Matthew had cleared for the meeting. Anthony entered last, closing and locking the door behind him.

"We're ready to take the raiders whenever the weather clears," said Elizabeth. "The helicopter is fueled and all maintenance is up to date, except the pre-flight. We'll need about six hours between the two trips for additional maintenance."

"That's excellent," said Matthew. "As critical as that mission will be, though, I need to ask you about your other projects. Gregory left behind notes, and some invoices, but not a lot of detail about where and how he was hoping to get us fuel."

"It hadn't been going very well," said Mark. "We kept getting offers, but most of them were setups. We had one case where the landing site was in a canyon, but the infrared scanners showed a small army of people ready to take us down but no one at the actual landing site."

"Then there was the one where they greeted us warmly, but didn't have the goods for us," said Mary. "They had some old tubes filled with lead, but it sure wasn't fuel."

"Did Gregory find you these places, or did you find out about them from other cities?"

"Only a few of the other cities will even talk about their trading partners with us," replied Mary. "When you go to the same place repeatedly, you get to know their trade crews, but even then it's mostly rumors as they try to get more from us than was promised."

"There are some interesting bazaars out there, though," said Anthony. "Most of the cities work like we do, with leaders negotiating prices and us just acting as a delivery team. When you get closer to the coast, though, there are some cities near enough to each other that they have open markets."

"The food is usually pretty good, though you have to be careful," said Mark. "The deals are mostly questionable, but we brought back some large decorative furniture for Gregory, some jewelery that we later traded to another city, some chemicals, some fabric, spices - it's usually not big stuff."

"How does that kind of trade work?" asked Matthew.

"Usually we bring a set of solar panels to [city3], and the city pays us in gold coins. We don't really need gold coins here - though Gregory did build a small stockpile - so we then take those coins to the bazaar and buy various things. It changes every time we go there, but you can still mostly work from a list," said Elizabeth.

"How many cities do we actually trade with?" asked Matthew.

"There are only three places we go with bazaars, plus another dozen we visit once every couple of years. There are probably another twenty beyond that which we've visited occasionally, but they're mostly further away and don't have anything that interesting to us," said Anthony.

"And what have we been trading away?"

"Mostly our finished manufactured goods. Gregory was also looking for markets for some of the things the farmers produce, mostly their furniture and more permanent things like that. We've sold some food, mostly flour and hops."

"Except for the solar panels, most of what we have to offer doesn't seem very exciting to the other cities. I think they want more excitement," said Mary.


"Well, only a few of these places are anything like us. There are two other libraries within a reasonable flight, and they have most of what we have. Well, most -"

"One of them's out of fuel completely," interjected Anthony. "They've been out for ten or fifteen years now. They're using solar panels - our panels - to get by, and selling off their stocked-up goods, but it isn't pretty. They never - well, they have a much bigger population, and a lot of it is learning about farming the hard way now. If they weren't hidden away in a mountain valley, they'd have been taken over long ago. Gregory gave them a discount on panels, too, which probably helped."

"The other library's in decent shape," said Mary. "But they've cut their population to a skeleton staff over the years. They don't have pilots any more - anyone who wants to trade has to come to them, and their landing strip is set to explode if anything goes wrong. It's terrifying going there, but apparently everyone who deals with them understands the terms."

"They weren't willing to trade us their fuel, obviously," said Mark.

"So what do the other cities want?" asked Matthew.

"It totally varies by city," said Elizabeth. "They're all so different."

"Different?" asked Matthew. "I mean, I understand that different climates might lead to differences, and most of these cities were put together by survivors over time, but aren't we all trying to survive?"

Anthony laughed. "Everyone's trying to survive, but some are surviving a lot better than others. [City4] on the coast is a lot of fun for us, and they take some of the farmers' furniture at a nice price, but their leaders are completely harsh to their subjects. I can't imagine having to live there, especially knowing how their king and queen live."

"King and queen?"

"Yes, thrones and everything," said Mary. "They always grant us an audience, I think so they can enjoy the sight of us bowing and scraping. Oh, and they laugh at our red uniforms, up there on their golden thrones."

"They're rich, but it's a strange rich," continued Mark. "They buy our solar panels, but I don't think they have much power in their city. It's on the surface, so maybe they don't need it."

"How do they survive?" asked Matthew.

"They dominate the countryside, so they can get food. Their army looks especially well-fed, but there's nothing much around for them to attack, so they mostly keep an eye on their own people. They do their trading on ships, mostly up and down the coast, but occasionally they cross the ocean. And ocean-going ships come to them."

"They have no helicopters?"

"No - if you want to trade, you come to them."

"But they have no fuel?"

"They have it sometimes, though they have no need for it. The prices are incredibly high, though."

"Are there any other sources for fuel?"

"Yes, but they're all incredibly expensive," said Elizabeth. "No one on this continent seems to be producing it anymore."

"Two cities turned into huge radioactive disasters about three centuries ago, apparently," added Anthony. "I'm not sure if they were the only producers, but no one seems excited about making it now."

"Gregory had us exploring coastal cities in the hopes that they were getting some by trade," said Mark. "It was a good idea, except that no one seems to be getting any from anywhere. It made no sense to take the helicopter empty, but I don't think the trades we managed to make were all that valuable, either."

"There are always rumors in the bazaars, of course, but that never went anywhere," said Elizabeth.

"They might," said Mark, "but the cost of the bribes just to start the conversation seems to be more than we can carry in the helicopter."

Posted by simon at 08:22 PM

January 11, 2006

Chapter 38

Caleb found Isaac outside the kitchen, heading toward his tent. Dinner had just come to an end, and Isaac looked tired.

"Can we talk for a little while?" asked Caleb, walking alongside Isaac.

"A little while," said Isaac. "I think I've pushed too hard in the last week, and it's catching up with me."

"I think it'll be quick," said Caleb. "It's about Jethro."

"Nothing Jethro ever does is quick. He has this serene faith that no matter what happens his group will win in the end."

"That may be," said Caleb, "but they'll be winning someplace far away."

"He doesn't seem very concerned with the where or how," replied Isaac. "He knows God has foreordained his success. Even if he doesn't make it, he says, Nathaniel or one of the others will."

"Nathaniel's already gone to God," said Caleb, shaking his head. "For better or worse."

Isaac nodded. "I haven't said a word about that, though it's strange, since he was clearly Jethro's favorite. I'm not sure he'd be so serene if he knew."

"We need him to stay serene for now," said Caleb. "I hadn't known Nathaniel was that popular. Meeting his family and hearing Jacob's story didn't give me that impression."

"I don't know if he was popular with anyone except Jethro, but Jethro keeps talking about how 'upright' he is, and the effort he's put into ensuring his family lives by the law."

"Interesting perspective," said Caleb. "I guess it's a good thing we separated Zipporah from the rest."

"Jethro hasn't told me anything about her. He referred to some stain on the family's honor - maybe that was it."

"Any more on their plans, or how they think the Book of Joshua will get them out of this one?"

"No, not really. He's been talking a lot about the Book of Daniel lately, but that may just reflect their being prisoners."

They'd arrived at Isaac's tent. "I'll talk to him and to you more in the morning," said Isaac. "I need to sleep now."


Abner knocked on the door and entered. Jacob put down his Bible.

"I need your help, Jacob," he started.

"Am I allowed to help?"

"For some things, yes. I asked the elders. These aren't the kinds of things you're used to doing, though."

"What kinds of things?"

"Well, first I need you to talk with John, and Gideon and Sarah. John won't stop weeping. Gideon and Sarah are planning on returning home soon, but they don't know what to do with John."

"How can I... what am I supposed to do?"

"John knows you and, I think, trusts you. You also have some idea of how the city-farmer relationship works. Maybe you can help him contemplate having a future at least, maybe even plan it."

"That doesn't sound easy."

"I didn't say these were easy - they're situations where I don't have an easy answer, or time to come up with one."

"What else is there?"

"The other one may actually be more difficult - I don't know. You've seen Zipporah, the raider woman."

"The one whose father I killed, yes."

Abner blanched, and then continued. "We don't yet know what's going to become of her. The elders, because of her circumstances, are talking with the city about letting her stay here, but the city is not happy about anything to do with the raiders."

"Where do I fit in to that?"

"You don't, exactly. I need someone to talk with her, keep her entertained, and maybe teach her to read better while I work with some of the other raiders."

"There are other raiders in the hospital?"

"No, the raiders in the barn. The elders think I'm a safer person to have talking with them than most of our readers."

"I'll talk with John, Gideon, and Sarah. I need to think about Zipporah."

"Good. She doesn't know, if that matters."

"She'll learn it eventually, if she stays here."


Talking with the pilots had helped Matthew sort out the pile of receipts Gregory had left behind. The table was covered in piles, representing different cities, different kinds of transactions, and different states of transactions.

Matthew had built a grid on a sheet of paper listing which goods had come to which cities, which had gone where, and which were supposed to have gone but hadn't. It looked like Gregory had been building a long chain of trades to try to get fuel, but something had gone terribly wrong in the last few months. At least four cities were expecting goods that Gregory didn't have, though the pilots hadn't felt any huge pressure to find anything other than fuel.

Had Gregory been attempting simple fraud? Matthew couldn't figure out how he would possibly restore his city's reputation if that was the case. At least three of the cities involved were regular trading partners, and had suspended their shipments completely.

He looked through the file of recent communications, and it was pretty empty. Only two cities were sending any messages directly, and the rest of the file was just general broadcasts - weather events and some news and advertising.

It was late, but he buzzed for Catherine.


"What do you want that can't wait for the whole council?" asked Catherine, storming into his entry chamber.

"I'm hoping you can tell me a little of what these mean," said Matthew. "I've been sorting out the transactions Gregory left behind, and it's looking pretty ugly."

"I never saw the transactions directly," replied Catherine. "All I knew was that he was looking for fuel, and I thought he was close."

"He might have been, at one point," said Matthew. "It looks, though, like he took some risks in his trading and wound up unable to deliver to his customers."

Matthew pushed a sheaf of papers over to Catherine, who turned redder and redder as she reviewed them.

"I never... I don't know... Where would we... Did these get delivered eventually?"

"I don't think so. I'll be asking the pilots that tomorrow, now that I've assembled all this. So far as I can tell from the paperwork, we've lost most of our friends - and even [city name where the raiders came from]. I'm hoping there's a brighter answer to this, or a missing set of papers."

"I don't know... I wish he'd told me."

"I was hoping the same thing, I'm afraid. Did anyone on council work with Gregory on these things?"

"Years ago, yes, Paul did. But after he died, Gregory kept it more to himself, telling us only about the occasional major success. The pilots used to talk about their trips more often, but they've been pretty quiet for years."

"I remember Gregory exhorting us all to focus on what we were doing here, and not on the world outside."

"That was a lot of it. For a lot of years the pilots barely even flew, but then in the last few years they've been much more active."

"Gregory decided to risk more fuel on trading, I'm guessing, as he decided we were getting too close to running out."

"He was very concerned, the last few years, yes."

"Will you help me present this to the council?"

"You need to present this - I don't really know anything about it - but yes, I'll do what I can."

"Thank you for that."

Matthew settled down again with his papers, sorting and smoothing them, as Catherine departed.

Posted by simon at 08:52 PM

January 30, 2006

Chapter 39

The sun rose to a frigid morning. A few birds flew near the barn, pecking for bits of scattered grain, while a few farmers added logs to their dwindled fires. More snow had fallen overnight, and it was still piling deeper along the paths and among the tents.

Isaac poked his head out of his tent and quickly ducked back inside. He'd meant to be awake hours before, but no one had roused him. He put his clothes and his warmest coat on, and got into his boots.

The path to the barn was clear, and there was plenty of activity inside. Four city guards were watching as breakfast was served, with farmers bringing food to every cell.

"Good morning, Isaac," said Caleb. "We thought we'd let you rest a bit today. Don't worry - everything's taken care of. Food, blankets, slops."

Isaac paused. "Great," he said. "I probably could have slept some more -"

"But you didn't," interrupted Caleb. "We'd have gotten you up at some point, but you're here now, and that's great. We need to start planning lunch."

Isaac nodded. "Anything unusual happen overnight?"

"Just the usual prayers and Bible-reading, and there hasn't even been much of that. All things considered, it's been fairly quiet. Well, except for the city guards changing shifts every hour."

"I'll just look around a bit, then meet with the cooks and get some breakfast."

"I'm going to get some rest myself," said Caleb, moving toward the door.

Isaac walked through the cells. Women and children were eating as families and talking, while the men seemed to be eating their food while reviewing their Bible. Isaac came to Jethro's cell.

"Good morning, Jethro."

"Good morning, Isaac. I had an idea for you last night."

"Really? What's that?"

"Think about the book of Isaiah."

"All right -"

"Think about the book of Isaiah without Jerusalem."

Isaac turned white. "But it's all about Jerusalem... I'll think about it, Jethro. I'll think about it."


"How long?" asked Matthew.

"We're looking at five days, probably," said Anthony.

"Five days?" asked Catherine. Council members were shaking their heads.

"It could be longer, unfortunately," replied Anthony. "Based on reports from other cities, it seems likely that the storm is just starting to build. It will be at least four days before it stops snowing, and then we'll have a fair amount of work to do before we're ready to fly."

"How much work?"

"It depends on how much snow actually falls. Probably one meter, but it could be two or even three this time. We already have half a meter, maybe more."

"Thank you, Anthony," said Matthew.

"We should warn the farmers to be ready," said Stephen. "We still have direct access to the barn, but they could get cut off from their tents and supplies."

"Andrew can take care of that," said Matthew. "I'm mostly concerned about the drain of having our guards up there for so long."

"Could we have more shifts, but shorter?"

"We don't have enough people trained in weaponry for that."

"We don't seem to have enough people for anything new at the moment," said Matthew.


Jacob decided it was time to go for a walk. He hadn't really been out and about since he woke up in the hospital, and maybe people seeing him more would let them stare at him less. He put his arm in the coat and wrapped the rest around his cast, buttoning it and hoping it would stay closed.

The view from the window in the hall was enchanting and forbidding at the same time. Dim sunlight illuminated flakes falling to earth, piling up deeper.

Abner was on the radio in the reception area of the hospital, and motioned for Jacob to pause. "Yes, yes, I'll let everyone here know," he said, before disconnecting.

"Lots of snow on the way, Jacob - lots."

"How much?"

"They aren't sure, but at least a meter, maybe a few."

Jacob shook his head. The last storm that size had struck while he was a boy, and he remembered walking back and forth through the passage between his house and the woodshed endless times to keep the fire going while his parents worked on digging out the house. Their barn doors had been blocked, and a drift on one side kept much of it closed until spring.

"Is there room for everyone inside?" asked Jacob.

"Not comfortably," replied Abner. "More than half of us left, but since the barn is full, and the hospital's close to full..."


Caleb was leading the readers out in the snow, as they compacted snow into large bricks and built it into extensions on the front of the hospital and the barn, with a long passageway between the two and another to the library. James had sent a bin of shovels to the surface, and everyone seemed to have found a favorite.

"I'm sorry I can't help," said Jacob, walking out in the snow, pointing to his arm.

"You'll help soon enough," said Caleb, pulling him aside. "We have a small problem."

"We have a large problem, if snow keeps falling like this."

"Well, yes," said Caleb, "but it looks like John will be stuck here for a while. Gideon and Sarah finally left last night - he told them to go - but he's pretty much a mess. He offered to help shovel, but I don't think he's ready to be with people again."

"Might it do him some good?"

"It might, but I'm more worried about the effect he'll have on the rest of us. Not everyone's seen his transformation, and some of those who have - well, let's just say I suspect we'll be hearing about the city's magic for a few years to come."

"Magic? That's strange. The city's definitely not magic."

"Not everyone has spent as much time with the city as you have, and I don't think anyone's ever seen anything like it."

"I haven't, no. John looks a lot younger, but he still, well, still looks old. Not quite like the city people, who never really seem to age. Some of that may be grief, of course."

"Between John's reappearance and the number of guards the city sent up yesterday, there's a lot of murmuring about the city. I think a few of us have already forgotten what the raiders had in store for us."

"And the elders?"

"They know about the situation, but I don't think any of them have seen John. They'll have to make decisions about him soon enough."

"Where is he now?"


Jacob walked into the library, knocking the snow off his coat and shoes. None of the usual city staff were around, and it seemed completely empty, though beautifully warm. No one was sitting at the tables, but Jacob stopped to watch the snow falling through the windows, wondering how the snow might fall any harder.

He heard a stirring behind some shelves, and found John reading. He had a whole stack of books in front of him, and was flipping through the one in front of him at high speed.

"Looking for something?" asked Jacob.

John looked up, his eyes red and weary. "Nothing I can find," he said. "It doesn't sound like anyone else has gotten much younger suddenly, at least no one discussed here."

"You're looking well."

"Rachel didn't seem to think so."

Jacob looked down.

"And I'm not sure what anyone else thinks."

"I think a lot of people are confused."

"That's fair," said John. "I'm confused too."

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