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)

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