December 12, 2005

Chapter 34

Jacob stirred as the door to his room opened. Miriam entered with a tray of food, setting it on a cart while Jacob shook off sleep. He'd slept poorly, waking up every time he started to roll over. The nurses had offered to sedate him, but he told them he wanted his mind clear. There was too much to think about, and too little - or too much - time.

"Any news?" asked Jacob.

"The nurses think you're difficult," replied Miriam. "They seemed especially happy that I was here to bring you breakfast."

"Have I angered them?"

"Not yet, I don't think. Martha said 'At least he hasn't thrown anything at us,' but there's definitely some tension there."

"There's tension here. This waiting, waiting to know whether I can stay or have to go..."

"I know, Jacob. I'm waiting too."

"They might exile you?"

"No, no - I'm just waiting to hear about you. Remember? You're my brother."

Jacob sighed loudly, and lay back in the bed.

"What am I supposed to do? Change what the raider did? Change what you did?" asked Miriam. She moved the cart so Jacob could reach his breakfast.

Jacob shook his head and stared at the food. "I'm not hungry," he said.

"You barely ate yesterday," said Miriam. "Have some toast. Maybe it will calm you down a bit."

Jacob pushed the cart away. "I don't want to be calm," he shouted. "I want be where I used to be, where I had some chance of feeling I was right. Where I wasn't stuck waiting for someone else to tell me if I stay or go, live or die."

Abner knocked on the door. "Is everything all right in here?"

Jacob nodded, while Miriam shook her head. Abner looked back and forth.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked.

"No," they answered in unison.

Abner stepped back out, closing the door behind him.

"You're not helping things, Jacob," said Miriam. "Where's your patience?"

"I think I lost it when the raider took me prisoner."

"It's not like you've had control over the world your entire life, and you were fine then," said Miriam. "Maybe the raider and this make that clearer, but - "

Jacob deflated a bit, sinking into the bed. "I know, I know," he said. "I just always thought I'd have something to do with what happened."

"You have," replied Miriam. "You set it all up. You just have to wait right now."

She pushed the cart back up to him. "Eat," she said.


Zipporah waved from her bed when Abner walked by. He called a nurse, then opened the door and came in.

"Is everything all right?" asked Zipporah. "I heard shouting, and it had been so peaceful here."

"It's all right now, I think," said Abner. "Just a friendly discussion." He shook his head.

Martha came in behind him, carrying a tray.

"More toast and sandwiches," said Zipporah. "Nothing that requires silverware."

"We're just, well, worried," said Abner.

"That I'll stab you? Or stab myself?" asked Zipporah.

"We're still figuring out who you are," replied Abner. "I know it's strange."

Zipporah leaned forward. "It is strange," she said, "but it's a lot better than where I was yesterday, and better than anywhere else I've been. The food tastes good, too."

A bell started ringing in the hallway. Abner closed the curtains on Zipporah's door.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said. "Stay in bed and enjoy your breakfast."


Caleb found Isaac in the library again.

"We'll need you in a few minutes," he said. "One of the raiders injured himself smashing against his cell, and we need to rearrange the barn."

Isaac closed his book and stood up. "What happened?"

"One of the younger men tried smashing his way out of the cell. He couldn't have escaped, especially with the noise he was making, but we've had to restrain him. They're taking him to the hospital now. We need to rearrange his cell so that we can keep him in restraints."

"Restraints?" asked Isaac as they left the library.

"Yes. He'll be in a hospital bed with his arms and legs bound to the bed so he can't smash around again."

"We don't normally..."

"No, we don't," replied Caleb. "But in this case we seem to have to do it for his own safety. We're keeping a close eye on the others to see if anyone else tries this, but so far they're quiet."

They walked into the barn, and Caleb picked up some hammers and pry bars near the door. The raider's cell had been next to Jethro's cell, and Jethro was keeping an eye on them.

"Couldn't keep Shadrach caged, could you?"

Caleb ignored Jethro; Isaac didn't know what to say. As they walked into Shadrach's cell, Isaac could still hear Jethro talking, apparently reading his Bible.

"We need to remove this bed frame - the one we just built into here, of course."

Even with the pry bars, pulling the bed off the floor was a challenge. The farmers hadn't wanted the raiders to be able to take apart their furniture to use as a weapon, so it was fixed tightly to the floor and the wall. Eventually it gave way, and they carried it out.

"Come talk to me when you have a chance," said Jethro, as Isaac passed, and Isaac nodded.


"We don't have anyone left who's trained to be extra guards," explained Matthew. "If I wasn't leader, we'd have one more, but even that wouldn't be enough for what you want."

"It looks like the weather will force us to keep the raiders here at least another three days. The raiders can hear each other shouting, and with all the nonsense they're spewing, how are we supposed to know if they're passing coded messages? They have plenty of time to plan an assault, and I don't think our defenses are nearly strong enough," replied Catherine.

"We still have about half the people who went on the raid," said William. "Why can't they be guards? I know it's a loss to their departments, but maybe it's worth it."

Matthew shook his head. "It's not just about knowing how to shoot the guns and use the communicators," he said. "It's about knowing how to deal with people."

"So they stay further away from the raiders, as an emergency-only force," suggested Catherine.

Most of the council was nodding in agreement with Catherine.

"Even if they're simply there, waiting just in case, it should be an improvement," she said. "We know the farmers aren't equipped for this,and so do the raiders."

"I suspect the initial shock of their capture is wearing off," said Stephen quietly. "They haven't tried anything so far, but we know what they're capable of doing. They're different from the raiders we've had in the past. We've never seen anything like this."

"Not exactly," said Matthew. "We've had religious zealots before, but never so many or so organized. These aren't our usual robbers, either."

"So?" asked Catherine.

"All right. We'll use the group who went out on the expedition, unless they're critically needed here. We'll try to match the two shifts of guard duty to their normal working hours. But I want them in a separate area, brought in only for emergencies."

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December 15, 2005

Chapter 35

Caleb knocked on the door and looked in.

"It's time."

Miriam nodded, and Jacob started to get up. Caleb stepped back out into the hall to wait for them, closing the door.

Jacob put on his coat, and straightened himself, taking a deep breath.

"Are you ready?" asked Miriam.

"I've been ready," replied Jacob.

Miriam opened the door and they walked down the hallway with Caleb to the conference room where the elders were meeting. Caleb knocked twice, paused for a moment, then opened the door. Jacob and Miriam walked in, and Caleb closed the door behind them.

"Jacob, Miriam, sit down with us," said Daniel.

They sat, and the group was silent for a few minutes.

Leah stood slowly, "Jacob," she began, "we have decided to let you stay."

Jacob's shoulders dropped in relief, and Miriam smiled.

"However," she continued, "we can no longer keep you in the leadership position where you have served us all well. From this point forward we expect Miriam and Isaac to perform your tasks."

Miriam looked down at the floor.

"We do have a number of things for you to do, however. First, and most importantly, you need to heal, both body and soul. After we have seen progress in your healing we will talk again about your future."

Leah sat down again, and there were another few minutes of silence, interrupted by another knock on the door.

"Jacob, you should return to your room," said Daniel. "Miriam, you should stay here for a while longer."

Jacob stood, and walked haltingly to the door, which opened as he arrived. Caleb smiled at him and let him out. After Jacob left, Isaac walked in, and Caleb closed the door again.

Isaac sat down next to Miriam, and the room was quiet for a few minutes before Daniel stood and spoke.

"We need the two of you to act as our arms in this community, to lead in times of crisis and to manage the conflicts which inevitably arise."

Isaac looked startled, while Miriam kept her eyes closed, rocking back and forth gently.

"We are all very sad that Jacob cannot continue in his position," said Daniel, "and your own concerns for Jacob's well-being are part of what earned you the hard tasks he has performed in the past. Both of you have worked well with him and we hope learned from him, but it is time for you to make your own way, working with us and the rest of the community."

Judith continued. "Caleb has been running the prison in your absence, Miriam. We would like Caleb to return to his task as a reader, and Isaac to step up to managing the daily needs of the prison. Miriam, we need you to coordinate security with the city and to prepare for the raiders' eventual evacuation."

Isaac and Miriam nodded.

"There is a new complication," said Leah. The city wants to station three times as many guards as they presently have up here. Isaac will need to find them appropriate space, while Miriam coordinates what these people should do to be available in case of emergency. James and Helena said they'd look forward to working with you, Miriam, so I think you're off to a good start already."

Miriam nodded. They all sat silently for a few minutes until Daniel looked up.

"You may go now," he said.


Caleb met them outside the door.

"I understand there's to be a transition," he said, "and we should probably start now."

They started toward the barn, but Miriam stopped them as they were leaving the hospital.

"I need to see Jacob first," she said.

"I can get Isaac started while you talk," said Caleb, "but the city guards will be coming up here soon."


Jacob was drifting into sleep as Miriam came in. She ran to the bed and gave him an enormous hug, while trying not to press on any of his bandages.

"You can stay!" she said.

"Yes, sort of," he replied. "I'm not sure what they'll have me doing, but it sounds like it'll be different. Something where they don't need to trust me much, I suspect."

"They didn't trust me to observe the raiders earlier," said Miriam.

"They trusted you to observe the raiders, Miriam - they just wanted at least one of the two of us to be safe. Their sending Isaac was because of -"

"Isaac seems to have taken your place," said Miriam. "Or maybe I've taken yours and he's taken mine."

Jacob shook his head. "He's all right, Miriam. I know you've always seen his failings, but he's older than we were when we started in on this, and he thinks things through."

"Maybe," said Miriam. "He's now sharing management of the prison with me. I have security, he has day-to-day."

"I'm glad you have security. I've been nervous about using the barn for this many people. I guess it's not my concern any more."

"The elders don't think - well, I still do. I'll need your help."

"Will they like that?"

"I think they probably suspect it anyway."

"Maybe. I'm not sure what I can do to help anyway, being out of the conversation."

"Well, can you keep an eye out around here?"

"When I'm awake, yes - but what's around here?"

"Zipporah, for one."

Jacob shook his head. "Maybe I should just stay asleep. I killed her father, remember?"

Miriam was silent for a moment. "You're right," she said. "That's too much to ask. Although..." She paused.

"Although what?" asked Jacob.

"Do you know her story?" asked Miriam.

"Just what Abner told me. She's here because you had her identify her father's body, and you don't want her telling the rest of them what happened."

"She hated her father, Jacob. He abused her, kicked her out. And her father was the one who'd taken Ruth."

Jacob lay back. "I still don't think I'm the one to do this."

Miriam nodded. "All right, don't push. Just keep an eye on her as you're around."

"Thanks for wanting to keep me around," said Jacob. "You'd better run and help your friend Isaac with all those prisoners, though."


The barn was getting louder each day. The children were getting more comfortable and playing, though the farmers still kept each family in its own cell. The raider women were singing hymns, sometimes in unison, while the raider men took turns reading the Bible aloud.

Miriam trudged through the snow just in time for the meeting. Caleb had gathered the readers and many of the staff into the quietest, emptiest part of the barn, leaving the city guards to watch the cells and make sure no one got out. Helena was there in her red uniform, already sitting down with a notebook.

The group quieted and settled as Miriam approached, though the raiders' noise continued in the background. Isaac pointed Miriam toward a chair at one end, and as she sat, everyone except Helena lowered their head for a moment of silent contemplation.

A few minutes later, Miriam raised her head, and the others followed soon thereafter.

"Let's start with security," she began. "Have there been any new incidents?"

"Only an outbreak of hymns," replied Caleb. "They've gotten louder, but we haven't had any new cases of raiders smashing themselves against walls, and they haven't tried to do anything to us."

"The city is wondering if they're communicating through their readings and singing," said Helena.

There was silence for a few minutes.

"They could be," said Caleb, "but they haven't altered any of the material they're reading. I suppose that particular passages could have a special meaning, but I don't get a sense that they were prepared for anything like this."

"I don't see it either," said Isaac. "They seem consistent with their shouting at the city walls earlier."

"We can monitor it more closely," said Caleb.

"I've heard that the city wants to post additional guards," said Miriam.

"Yes, yes, we do," replied Helena. "Two twelve-hour shifts, with twelve additional guards up here at a time."

"Among the prisoners, or -"

"I was thinking here might work," said Helena. "This is far enough away from the main barn that they won't hear too much from the cells, but close enough that they can respond if needed."

"Respond how?"

"With anesthetic dart guns, most likely."

Miriam paused. "We've never had - well, we've never had an occasion where massive force was necessary. We understand your need for guards at your own place, but this sounds, well, excessive."

"We don't expect to have to use them at all," said Helena. "It's just extra reassurance, since we've had to keep the raiders here longer than expected."

"Do we have a departure date for them yet?"

"It still depends on the weather," said Helena. "We're hoping this storm will break in a couple of days. We're still concerned about wind, not to mention conditions at the drop-off site. We think four days is a reasonable target, though we thought four days yesterday too."

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December 28, 2005

Chapter 36

"Finally," said Matthew, closing his door behind him and sitting in his chair. He spread out the papers, looking for anything that seemed like an invoice or a receipt, and turned to Gregory's notes again.

Our one hope of finding fuel is trade. Finding fuel directly has been extremely difficult, as none of the other cities appear interested in a direct trade of any of any of our goods for fuel, at an acceptable price, in any case. However, there are cities which don't have reactors. These cities are our most promising trading partners, as we can sell them solar panels and get other goods from them.

However, unsurprisingly, there are problems. These cities tend to be the gathered remnants of the unprepared people, and they lack our tradition of clear communication and our sense of mission. They frequently try to cheat us, agreeing to one set of terms but then insisting on older terms we never agreed to. We have rejected their merchandise on many occasions for poor quality.

Distance is another large issue, as most of these cities are far away, requiring our helicopter to fly for most of a day to reach them. The transportation costs eat quickly into the value of the merchandise itself. Gems, fine jewelery, and furs are relatively transportable, but lead and raw uranium ore are difficult.

It has also been difficult to find out what precisely the cities that have fuel want in return for it. [name] has a processing facility that can accept the raw ore, but they return very little fuel for large quantities of ore. Other cities are balancing their needs - or perhaps just their leaders' needs - against a fixed and limited supply of fuel.

Despite these problems, some of the trades have worked well, especially for minerals. Unfortunately, there is no sign yet of our being able to trade these minerals for fuel, and our two attempts to do so both ended in situations where our pilots felt it more appropriate to depart the area than to stay and attempt to trade.

Matthew sat back, and looked over the invoices. Three the claims about undelivered goods were from nearby cities, but many were from cities he'd never heard of. Gregory had clearly expanded the web of cities he was willing to trade with, but it didn't seem likely that these places would be interested in dealing fairly.


"I'm sorry to hear that, Jacob. I'm glad you'll still be with us, though."

"Thanks, Abner. It seems that I'm supposed to stay right here for a while."

"Well, there's a lot to do right here."

"I'm not sure they want me doing anything for now."

"That has to be frustrating," replied Abner. "You've never been one to sit longer than it takes to eat."

"I have a lot to learn, apparently," said Jacob, sitting back in his bed and reaching for the Bible on his nightstand.


Helena escorted the troop of guards in their red uniforms through the barn, taking them from the elevator to their space in the corner by way of the raiders' main living area. The raiders quieted briefly as the group passed, but not for long, returning quickly to their Bible verses. It seemed to be Jethro's turn:

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.' And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

"That's different," muttered Caleb. "I haven't heard anything from the Gospels before."

Another voice rang out shortly afterward.

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary."

The guards reached their corner, and Helena showed them where to rest while waiting for a duty that would hopefully never call. The farmers had set up tables, chairs, and benches, with warm drinks and plates of food. The guards had brought books and games, and set about getting comfortable even as the voice continued.

"She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies."

Miriam came around the corner, welcoming the guards.

"Is there any way to quiet the raiders?" asked Helena. "We can watch for disturbances on the monitors, and this noise is troubling."

"I don't think we can," replied Miriam. "We can't get them to stop reading, and if we block the passageway so you can't hear them, we've both blocked your way in and made it harder for you to hear if there's a problem."

"We'll have to play music then, I suppose, though probably everyone wants something different."

"Our musicians have left the city," said Miriam.

"Not that," said Helena. "We have recorded music we can play."

"You're welcome to play recorder if you want," replied Miriam. "I think our guards will like it, and the raiders can't really complain."

"I don't think they'll hear any of our music," said Helena.

Miriam turned to leave. In the passage back to the barn, she ran into Caleb, who'd come to find her.

"Miriam, we need to talk, now," said Caleb. "The raiders aren't just reading random verses at us."

They walked past the raiders and over to the library.

"They read the end of Matthew as the city guards came through," said Caleb. "I think it's the first time I've heard them read anything New Testament outside of Revelation, and I don't think it's a coincidence."

"I thought I heard Lamentations," said Miriam.

"Yes, they started into that right after the bit of Matthew. But when I heard 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,' it was pretty clear something was up."

"Has anything else changed?"

"Not yet," said Caleb, "but I wish we'd been subtler about bringing in the extra guards."

"Maybe the 'all nations' bit was just a sign that they knew there was more than just us here."

"Possibly, but there have always been the two city guards."

"If they're looking for converts, I doubt the city guards will be very interested in the Bible, given past experience. Helena was hoping to drown out the sound with music of some kind."

"That would probably be a good idea. They're far enough away from the yelling that they can probably drown it out. It's making me fairly crazy in the barn. Prison isn't slowing these guys down at all."

"Hang in there, Caleb. Anything new from your readers?"

"No, it's been quiet. I still need to talk with Isaac about the last conversations he had with Jethro, but he's arranging food for tonight. No one else had much luck with these guys, though I don't think Isaac's enjoying the experience."

"Is anyone?" asked Miriam.

"No, not exactly. Isaac seemed pretty frustrated with them, though."

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