October 02, 2005

Chapter 29

Miriam calmed Jacob down for a few minutes before going to the conference room to get the elders. They filed into Jacob's room quietly, sitting around his bed, with a few left standing.

"We've been praying for you, Jacob," started Daniel.

"Thank you very much," said Jacob, whose eyes were filled with tears again. "I fear I'm not worthy."

"We all fear that," said Leah, "but everyone is worthy of prayer."

"We have some questions," began Judith.

"And I have a story," said Jacob.

Jacob told them of the success of the raid, his initial abduction, and the forced march through the snow. He told of the raider's stabbing him, their pause at the ravine, and raider's using him as a support for his rifle and as a shield.

He reached the raider's commands to the search team that had come looking for Jacob and paused. "He had his gun ready to shoot any of them, and he'd had them remove their goggles. Knowing they were bound and helpless made me ask myself how helpless I was. I didn't think the raider would expect it, so I shoved off from the tree, into his knife and into him."

Miriam gasped, and some of the elders shook their heads.

"I don't remember anything after that until I woke up here," Jacob finished. He gave a small sigh of relief.

"It - it doesn't sound like you're hiding anything from us," said Leah. "We'll let you rest now."

They filed out of the room, leaving Miriam and Jacob crying.

"Will they exile me?" asked Jacob.

"Given what you just told them, I think they have to," replied Miriam. "You knew the ravine was there, you knew the knife was there, and it sounds, well, it sounds like you tried to kill yourself and the raider."

"I was trying to save people, I think."

"I know, I know."


Caleb and the readers had returned to the barn, which was now much quieter, as the raiders seemed to have settled into sullen silence.

"I think most of us should just do cleanup and maintenance," said Caleb, "but Isaac, you seemed to get along with Jethro there. Why don't you talk with him some more and see what you can find out."

Caleb and Isaac walked down to Jethro's cell.

"Be careful, Isaac," warned Caleb. "We want to know what they're thinking, but we don't want to think like them."

"Don't worry," replied Isaac. "After what these people have done, it's hard to imagine."

They heard shouts and screams behind them, and turned to find the source.

"Let me go!" shouted a young woman, as two children were grabbing her clothes, one hitting her with a dish.

Caleb knocked loudly on the gate, entering as more farmers rushed to join him. "What's this about?" he asked.

"She's no good," said the young boy. "Daddy's always said so."

"She pretends to be our mother but she isn't," said the girl. "She just eats the food and doesn't do anything useful."

The woman looked embarassed. "I'm Zipporah," she said. "And these are my father's children, Zebidah and Zebadiah."

"Your father has a fondness for Zs."

"Yes. And a fondness for these two."

Two of the farm women came in and took the children, each heading a different direction, leaving Zipporah in the stall with Caleb, Isaac, and a few of the farmers.

"I'm sorry for the disturbance," said Zipporah. "The children don't respect me. Their father's told them not to."

"Their father?" asked Caleb.

"Nathaniel. He's my father too, but he doesn't like to admit that. I'm his servant, not his daughter."

Caleb looked down.

"And he treats me like his servant. At least he didn't treat me like his captive, Ruth."

"And how was that?"

"He made her shave her head, and wear soiled clothes, and ordered us to keep her bound, feeding her only occasionally. She cried constantly."

"You didn't help her escape?"

"To what? And how could I? The children watched us constantly. Any time I've done something improper the children tell Nathaniel and I get beaten."

Caleb turned to one of the other farmers. "See to it that this girl gets a nicer place to stay, without those children. And let Miriam know I asked that this be done."

Zipporah packed up a few things and left.

"I think maybe I'll wait a while before I talk with Jethro," said Isaac. "I should go see Jacob."


Matthew had finally returned to Gregory's notes. The longer the council meetings lasted, the less confidence Matthew had that he knew the background to the conversations. Gregory's notes might be frustrating, but they had already helped him several times.

Once again, Gregory had warnings for him:

Our worst enemy is one we cannot fight: time. Eventually, no matter what we do, we must face the end of our original fuel supply. The city runs on less than half of the fuel it was originally expected to use in a year, but the original plan only anticipated a five hundred year lifespan. We are now well beyond that, and cannot continue forever.

I have tried and tried to trade for more fuel, but have generally been disappointed. Occasional deals have brought us more fuel than was required to produce the goods used to purchase it, but I worry that we will have to dip into our raw materials soon, trading those in greater bulk than seems wise, in order to gather more fuel.

This also raises issues with our presence at the surface. The farmers do provide us with a net energy gain, as they bring us materials, food, and trade goods that it would be expensive to produce, but we must eventually either find a way to make that more lucrative or consider reducing our costs in supporting them.

There is some hope of greater conservation and efficiency within the city itself, and of additional - but risky - power generation. We also need to consider a further population reduction. I have permitted children only as replacements for the previous twenty-three years as part of this, but making a real shift will mean deciding how many children and what they should focus on in the next generation.

All of Gregory's complaints about Matthew's "excessive generosity" with the farmers echoed through his mind. If the city was going to survive more than a century further, trade was going to matter a lot more than Matthew had realized. William's estimate of 120 years had seemed catastrophic already, but Gregory sounded even more dismal. Selling their stockpile of raw materials might help in the short run, but in the long run it would doom them, as they had no way to replenish them.


Isaac knocked on the door of Jacob's room. Miriam answered.

"The elders want to see you. Not about Jacob, they said - about the prison. Can I come in?"

Miriam opened the door. Jacob was sleeping.

"May - may I stay here while you're with the elders?"

"I was going to ask you to stay. Someone needs to keep an eye on Jacob and call the nurse if anything happens."

"If anything happens?"

Miriam just looked at him.

"I understand."

"I'll be back as soon as I can," said Miriam on her way out the door.

Isaac sat for a few minutes, marveling at Jacob's many bandages. After a few minutes, he leaned forward.


Jacob murmured a bit.

Isaac tried again. "Jacob?"

Jacob's eyes opened and he looked up.

"I'm sorry, Jacob," said Isaac. "I should have seen - I should have noticed - I should -"

"Don't worry, Isaac. The raider was smart. He was watching both of us, and got me when you turned to leave. If I'd left first, you'd, well -"

"It should have been me," said Isaac.

Jacob shook his head. "It wasn't. It should have been whoever the raider chose, and he happened to choose me. There's nothing we can do about it now."

"I'm sorry, Jacob."

"Don't be. You've done nothing wrong. I have."

Isaac sat back, surprised by Jacob's confession.

"I told the elders I didn't know what happened, that you fell. You didn't fall by accident?"

"No, I fell, but I chose to fall."

"I - well - thanks - I," Isaac sputtered and both of them sat silent.

After a few minutes there was a knock on the door, and Miriam returned.

"Jacob, Abner's going to sit with you for a while. Isaac and I need to go to the barn to sort out a prisoner issue."

Posted by simon at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Chapter 30

"He's awake," said Martha, "and ready to go upstairs. I told him that he had to wait for you."

"Very well," said Matthew. He opened the door and peered in. John was reading a catalog of 19th century harvesting equipment.

"I see we found you something to read," said Matthew.

"Some of these devices are very exciting, yes, but -"

"Yes, you can go upstairs and see Rachel," said Matthew. "And Gideon and Sarah are there as well. We've let them know to expect you, though we've asked them to keep it quiet for right now."

John sat up and stretched. He still looked much older than Matthew, but far younger than he had looked coming in. Martha came in with a pile of clothes and left them on the bed. She and Matthew went out in the hallway while John changed.

"He has lots of energy," said Martha. "I just don't want him to fall and break something. I don't know how well he's healed."

"His mind seems sharp."

"Maybe too sharp, too energized. There's no discussion of that in the records I have, but maybe they just thought it was normal."

"I need you to go upstairs with him. The council would rather I didn't."


"We have a somewhat difficult problem in the prison," said Leah. "I believe Isaac has already met her."

"Zipporah?" asked Isaac.

"Yes, Zipporah. She seems extremely relieved to be away from her family for what may be the first time in her life. It's extremely clear that she has been harshly abused. She - she showed me the scars on her back."

"What can we do?" asked Miriam.

"For right now, she's in a separate stall in the barn, away from her siblings and the rest of the raider women. That's all been taken care of. There's another complication, though."

Miriam looked at Leah, but Judith spoke. "She claims her father was Nathaniel, but we have no Nathaniel on the list of raider prisoners. Which means that -"

"He was the one who died in the ravine."

"Precisely. We haven't told any of the raiders of that death yet, and we don't know what response we'll get. We're not equipped to handle a riot. The city is sending us two additional guards, but we'd prefer not to rely on them."

"We thought that perhaps you two could talk with Zipporah, somewhere quiet, where the rest of the raiders can't hear any of the conversation, even if she shouts. Find out how she thinks the raiders will respond."

"And if she responds?" asked Miriam.

"Talk with her."


Gideon woke up as he heard a knocking on the door. Martha entered slowly, as Sarah shook herself awake. Rachel remained quiet on the bed, breathing slowly.

"Your father is with me," she said, and opened the door further. John followed her in.

"John? Is that really you?"


"Yes, it's me. I don't - I don't -"

"It's as I said, Gideon. John is a citizen now. We did what we could to, well, to make him more appropriate for his age as a citizen."

Gideon walked up to his father, looked him over, and embraced him. John hugged him back, then let him go to kneel by Rachel's bed, taking her hand in his. She stayed asleep, shifting occasionally, but John was happy just to be with her.


Isaac and Miriam visited Zipporah's cell as the sun was setting, and waited for meal distribution to distract the prisoners before ushering her to the hospital. Isaac talked of wanting to visit her again, but Zipporah shook nervously as they walked between the buildings, looking around at the strange new city landscape.

They settled into one of the smaller empty patient rooms, Miriam sitting next to Zipporah while Isaac took a chair on the other side of the room.

"What is it?" asked Zipporah. "What are you going to do to me that you couldn't have done back there?"

Miriam shook her head. "We're not going to do anything to you. We have news, though, news which we didn't think it safe to share in the barn."

Zipporah's brown eyes widened.

Isaac started. "You said your father is Nathaniel, right?"

"Yes, he is."

"We don't have any record of a Nathaniel among the raider men."

"You mean he's escaped?"

"No - well, we don't think so. We think he's dead."

Zipporah's head fell. "Why do you think he's dead?"

"We have one dead raider, who fell into the ravine. Can you look at him, and see if it's Nathaniel?"

Zipporah's eyes filled with tears as she nodded. Miriam took her hand and led her out of the room. Isaac followed close behind. They went down a hallway and into a large room. Miriam pulled a handle on the wall, and a table emerged, with a large sheet hiding a corpse. Miriam lifted the sheet gently, and Zipporah looked briefly before turning away.

"It's him," she said.

Miriam lowered the sheet and returned the body into the wall. They walked back to the room where they had spoken previously.

"This will be your room for a while," said Miriam. "I'll go get your things from the barn. If you need anything, just push this button and a nurse or one of us will come help you."

She nodded to Isaac and they left the room, locking it behind them while a confused Zipporah cried.


"Why have the farmers moved one of the raiders to the hospital?" demanded Catherine. "What gives them that right?"

"Technically, Catherine, you're right. They can't do that. However - well, here's the conversation."

Matthew turned to the monitor and played back both the conversation in the hospital room and the conversation in the morgue.

"We haven't wanted the raiders to know that they had lost a member. The farmers stumbled on this, well, outcast, and she was able to identify the raider, something the farmers think important to their future dealings with the raiders. If she were to return to the barn and say what she's seen, even inadvertently, we could have to deal with a riot."

"We've already reinforced the guard for the night," said Stephen. "I suspect we should maintain that level of force."

"Zipporah, as the raider woman is called, is locked in that room in any case. She seems to have quieted quickly, and hasn't shown any sign of trying to get out, but she's more secure in that room than she would be in the barn in any case."

"She's in the hospital, and John - " began Catherine.

"Is also in that same hospital, visiting his wife, who will no doubt pass away any day now. I know it seems like a horrible conspiracy to overthrow the city, Catherine," sighed Matthew.

"Could we at least have a guard or two at the hospital?"

Matthew nodded. "It will disrupt our schedule a little, but it seems like a reasonable precaution."


"Is there any hope for me, Miriam?"

"Yes, Jacob. There's always hope. The elders didn't give me any reason to think they were speaking to the sister of a soon-to-be exile."

"Even without exile, though -"

"Stop it, Jacob. We have to go on living, all of us. Whatever the raiders drive us to, whatever comes next."

Posted by simon at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

Chapter 31

John woke up as dawn broke, leaving Rachel's side for a moment and coming back quickly. Gideon and Sarah were just waking up.

Martha came in on her morning rounds a few minutes later.

"She hasn't changed at all," said Gideon. "Just sleeping quietly."

Martha looked over the machines. "She's changed a bit, I'm afraid, and not for the better."

John looked up. "Is there anything you can do - like you did for me?"

"Even if she were a citizen, at this point, no."

John's face fell. "How long?"

"A day, maybe two."


The old man brightened when Isaac arrived.

"Listen to what I told you?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Isaac replied. "I have some questions, though, things I need to know for your story to make sense."

"Of course you have questions. How could you not? The world has changed."

"I just don't quite -"

"Of course you don't. Even for us this was a shock, a change in direction that many couldn't accept."

Issac sat down on a haybale in the cell.

"I haven't yet heard if Jerusalem was destroyed," he started.

"It was," replied Jethro. "Along with Rome and Mecca. We humans, filled with a terrible pride, destroyed our holy places."

Isaac sighed. "We can be terrible, no question." He looked around at the stall. "But how do you know that the world has started again, that Christ has departed?"

"There are a few key pieces. We always understood the events in Revelation to take place in Jerusalem, but a few verses make that painfully clear."

He picked up his Bible, and flipped to Revelation. "There's chapter 11, which starts:

"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty [and] two months."

"Of course, the Temple of God was in Jerusalem, and it's hard to measure that now that it's one big crater."

"Go on," said Isaac.

"Also in Revelation, there's the beginning of Chapter 14: 'And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion.' But if there's no Mount Sion - the same as Zion - there's no place for the Lamb to stand. And Christ promised to return to Jerusalem when 'the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord' back in Matthew."

Isaac had no answer.

"There's one other piece," said Jethro, "which convinced me. It's from Psalm 125, and this one really struck at the heart of things:"

"They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever."

"Apparently we removed Mount Zion," said the raider. "The temple is gone and cannot be rebuilt, and the entire mountain has gone as well. It's hard to imagine."

"I have - I have to go," said Isaac.

"Take your time," said Jethro. "Come back whenever you like."


The snow outside was falling harder and harder. Miriam had radioed the farmers who had trekked down to the valley, and they were settling in for a long night in the enormous commune farmhouse, tending the animals there as best they could. The raiders hadn't broken in, and they had plenty of food and fuel to get them through the storm. They would try to reach the outer farms when it stopped snowing, and hoped they would be in similarly good shape.

Reporting to the elders had been simple this time, though their silence about Jacob was unnerving. She didn't expect they'd exile him into a snowstorm, but it would be good to hear that they weren't going to exile him.

She walked from the hospital to the barn, along a pathway already bounded by growing walls of snow. A raider had taken up reading scriptures again, this time shouting the book of Genesis into the room.

"And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died. And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan: And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters."

"Did he have to choose the begats?" asked Caleb.

"I'd rather hear that than Joshua," replied Miriam. "Has it been like this all morning?"

"Mostly. One of them started early, got tired, then another picked up. It's one at a time, but they seem to pick what they want to read."

"All Old Testament?"

"Mostly. I'm pretty sure I heard some of Revelation."

"Anything new with the families?"

"Not since Zipporah, no. The women and children seem pretty relaxed, but the men seem even more tense than before. Any idea how long we'll be entertaining them?"

"Not for long, I'd hope, but this snow makes me wonder. It's getting windy out there too, and I doubt the city wants to risk losing a flight."

"The sooner these folks depart, the better. They're spooky. I've asked the readers to stop talking about religion with them."

"Nothing new to learn? Isaac seemed to get the story pretty easily from that old man."

"Maybe too much to learn," replied Caleb. Miriam looked puzzled, and Caleb continued. "I've found three of my readers looking through their Bibles, always in the first few chapters or in the very back, at Revelation."

"You don't think they'd -"

"That's the problem. I do think they might get some bad ideas here. They've seen what these people can do, but the shock's wearing off. And most of us - well, we haven't exactly had a theological challenge around here in a long time."

"I guess challenging ourselves in Sunday school wasn't enough?"

"Maybe not. Anyway, I'm having a meeting later to go over our message, and I'm emphasizing that message to our readers, not just to the raiders."

"Should we keep an eye on our own people?"

"Informally, yes. Formally, probably not. And did we hear from the city about Jerusalem?"


Jacob stood up slowly. Miriam hadn't been by in a while, and he was tired of depending on nurses for everything. He was tired and bruised, but not very broken. His first few steps were tentative, and he used the rolling stand for his fluids as a support, but he could get around.

Once he felt stable, he walked out of his room and looked around. More of the rooms looked occupied, though none of the nurses were around. He walked down the hallway, past a room whose door was closed. A young woman was resting in bed. He continued - then stepped back. He'd never seen her before.

He started on again, but stopped quickly.

"Jacob? What are you doing out of bed?" asked Abner, down the hall from him.

"I couldn't stand waiting around," Jacob replied.

"You never really could," said Abner, "but this one time you might be wise to. Here - let me help you."

They walked back down the hallway. "Who's she?" asked Jacob.

"She's one of the raider women. Apparently was treated badly. Miriam put her in here to separate her from the rest of them."

Down the hall another familiar face appeared, though not quite familiar.

"Jacob? Is that you?" asked John.

"John? John? What happened?"

"It's a long story. Abner can tell you - I just told him last night. The city doctors - well, my exile ended, and I'm a citizen again somehow, and, well, I'm here to see Rachel."

"How's she doing?"

"Not well. She's tossing and turning, and I need to find a nurse."

"I'll help," said Abner. "Jacob, you go in there and rest for a little while, and I'll be in to see you soon."

Posted by simon at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2005

Chapter 32

Gideon and Sarah stood on one side of Rachel's bed while John sat on the other, holding Rachel's hand and trying to soothe her as she shuddered.

"There, there," John said. "We're all here with you, Rachel - Gideon, Sarah, and John."

Rachel kept shaking even as John tried to calm here, smoothing her hair in a vain attempt to calm her.

She started to rise from the bed, and her eyes opened for the first time in days.

"Rachel, Rachel," said John, and Gideon leaned in toward his mother.

"John?" asked Rachel. "John? What's happened to you?"

"It's hard to explain," said John, stroking her hair again. "I was in the hospital for a while too."

Rachel blinked slowly, and leaned back into the bed.

"What kind of hospital?" she asked.

"The city hospital," said John. "I had to bring a warning - the gates were closed."

Gideon and Sarah were nodding vigorously, but Rachel's eyes were on John.

"The city hospital?" she asked again.

John nodded, his eyes full of tears.

Martha rushed into the room, Abner right behind. Rachel closed her eyes again as John rubbed her hand, repeating her name over and over.

"She's not -" started Gideon.

Martha looked over the readouts of the intensive care unit. Rachel seemed to have been doing better, briefly, but her blood pressure and pulse were falling rapidly. She pushed buttons ordering the machine to make a last effort to revive Rachel, ordering everyone away from the bed.

A few minutes later it was over. "I'm sorry," said Martha.

John sat weeping in the corner, as Gideon and Sarah tried to console him.


"Have you seen Isaac?" asked Caleb.

"Not in a while. I think he was over by the library."

Caleb walked over to the library and wandered through the books, finally finding Isaac in a corner, reading old history next to a globe.


Isaac looked up. "Caleb? Do you need something?"

"Just you," replied Caleb. "The elders want to see all the readers who've talked with the prisoners in twenty minutes. Everyone else was in the barn, but I couldn't find -"

"Sorry," said Isaac. "I was reading, trying to figure out, well, how the raiders got where they are."

"It sounds like a sad story, to me, Isaac. Centuries of mourning and then waking up one day thinking they needed to conquer."

Caleb shook his head; Isaac nodded. He closed his books and pushed them against a wall, leaving a neat stack for future reading.


"While we find it clear that the raiders are wrong about many things, including what this means, they are unfortunately correct that Jerusalem has been destroyed," said Leah.

Caleb, Isaac, Miriam, and the readers all shook their heads.

Leah continued. "We know this is something of a shock, as we have read about Jerusalem since our childhoods, and I don't think most of us have contemplated whether this Jerusalem we knew could still exist out in this devastated world. It's always been far away but real."

"It still is real," said Daniel. "We carry Jerusalem with us, every time we think of these stories or tell them. What happened there happened, and even the loss of the city doesn't change that."

"Is there anything left there?" asked Isaac.

The elders looked down. Leah spoke up. "No, most likely there isn't. The city showed us pictures. There is still, however, the Jerusalem in our hearts."

"How should we handle telling both our own community members and the raiders?" asked Miriam.

"This shouldn't be a secret," said Daniel. "We know this news will disturb all of us who hear it, but it's better shared than hidden away. Tell your families and friends, and we'll have a meeting later tonight to pray over the loss. We'll tell those who have already returned to their farms as soon as we can, though I'd rather not put this out over the radio."

"As for the raiders," said Judith, "they already know this. What the city showed us confirms their story all too well. There is nothing to be gained by hiding this from them, and if anything we hope it will help you deal with the snares we've heard them set for some of you."

"For now," said Daniel, "enjoy your dinner and the company of your fellows, and remember that we are still bonded by Christ, who has not left us and will not leave us."

Everyone except the elders got up to leave.

"Miriam?" asked Judith. "Could you stay for a moment?"

Miriam shuddered involuntarily, but stayed.

When the room had cleared, the elders were silent for a few minutes, and then Judith spoke.

"This Zipporah, can you talk more with her? Find out her situation and what she can tell us about the raiders?"

Relieved, Miriam almost broke down, but stammered a reply. "Yes, I definitely can talk with her."

"We're concerned she is in danger from her fellow raiders," said Daniel. "What we know of her story is not encouraging. We could ask the city to allow her to stay, but right now they'd prefer all of the raiders to go."

"I'll ask," said Miriam. "I don't know how much her father's death changes things."

"That does need to stay a secret from the rest of the raiders until they're ready to leave," said Daniel. "The city's already asked us to mix people up on the two transports, so the raiders can't notice he's gone until after they've been safely deported."

"That shouldn't be a problem," said Miriam, "though hopefully that transport will be soon. The barn wasn't really built for this."

Daniel shook his head. "We know. None of us were."

The elders returned to their silence, and Miriam prepared to go. As she opened the door to leave, she turned back to them, asking "Jacob?"

"We are not decided about Jacob," replied Leah after a long pause.

Miriam left quietly.

Posted by simon at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

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