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 August 27, 2005 08:51 PM
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