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 September 12, 2005 09:25 PM
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