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 October 2, 2005 03:16 PM
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