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."

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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.

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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.

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