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 September 7, 2005 07:47 PM
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