January 11, 2006

Chapter 38

Caleb found Isaac outside the kitchen, heading toward his tent. Dinner had just come to an end, and Isaac looked tired.

"Can we talk for a little while?" asked Caleb, walking alongside Isaac.

"A little while," said Isaac. "I think I've pushed too hard in the last week, and it's catching up with me."

"I think it'll be quick," said Caleb. "It's about Jethro."

"Nothing Jethro ever does is quick. He has this serene faith that no matter what happens his group will win in the end."

"That may be," said Caleb, "but they'll be winning someplace far away."

"He doesn't seem very concerned with the where or how," replied Isaac. "He knows God has foreordained his success. Even if he doesn't make it, he says, Nathaniel or one of the others will."

"Nathaniel's already gone to God," said Caleb, shaking his head. "For better or worse."

Isaac nodded. "I haven't said a word about that, though it's strange, since he was clearly Jethro's favorite. I'm not sure he'd be so serene if he knew."

"We need him to stay serene for now," said Caleb. "I hadn't known Nathaniel was that popular. Meeting his family and hearing Jacob's story didn't give me that impression."

"I don't know if he was popular with anyone except Jethro, but Jethro keeps talking about how 'upright' he is, and the effort he's put into ensuring his family lives by the law."

"Interesting perspective," said Caleb. "I guess it's a good thing we separated Zipporah from the rest."

"Jethro hasn't told me anything about her. He referred to some stain on the family's honor - maybe that was it."

"Any more on their plans, or how they think the Book of Joshua will get them out of this one?"

"No, not really. He's been talking a lot about the Book of Daniel lately, but that may just reflect their being prisoners."

They'd arrived at Isaac's tent. "I'll talk to him and to you more in the morning," said Isaac. "I need to sleep now."


Abner knocked on the door and entered. Jacob put down his Bible.

"I need your help, Jacob," he started.

"Am I allowed to help?"

"For some things, yes. I asked the elders. These aren't the kinds of things you're used to doing, though."

"What kinds of things?"

"Well, first I need you to talk with John, and Gideon and Sarah. John won't stop weeping. Gideon and Sarah are planning on returning home soon, but they don't know what to do with John."

"How can I... what am I supposed to do?"

"John knows you and, I think, trusts you. You also have some idea of how the city-farmer relationship works. Maybe you can help him contemplate having a future at least, maybe even plan it."

"That doesn't sound easy."

"I didn't say these were easy - they're situations where I don't have an easy answer, or time to come up with one."

"What else is there?"

"The other one may actually be more difficult - I don't know. You've seen Zipporah, the raider woman."

"The one whose father I killed, yes."

Abner blanched, and then continued. "We don't yet know what's going to become of her. The elders, because of her circumstances, are talking with the city about letting her stay here, but the city is not happy about anything to do with the raiders."

"Where do I fit in to that?"

"You don't, exactly. I need someone to talk with her, keep her entertained, and maybe teach her to read better while I work with some of the other raiders."

"There are other raiders in the hospital?"

"No, the raiders in the barn. The elders think I'm a safer person to have talking with them than most of our readers."

"I'll talk with John, Gideon, and Sarah. I need to think about Zipporah."

"Good. She doesn't know, if that matters."

"She'll learn it eventually, if she stays here."


Talking with the pilots had helped Matthew sort out the pile of receipts Gregory had left behind. The table was covered in piles, representing different cities, different kinds of transactions, and different states of transactions.

Matthew had built a grid on a sheet of paper listing which goods had come to which cities, which had gone where, and which were supposed to have gone but hadn't. It looked like Gregory had been building a long chain of trades to try to get fuel, but something had gone terribly wrong in the last few months. At least four cities were expecting goods that Gregory didn't have, though the pilots hadn't felt any huge pressure to find anything other than fuel.

Had Gregory been attempting simple fraud? Matthew couldn't figure out how he would possibly restore his city's reputation if that was the case. At least three of the cities involved were regular trading partners, and had suspended their shipments completely.

He looked through the file of recent communications, and it was pretty empty. Only two cities were sending any messages directly, and the rest of the file was just general broadcasts - weather events and some news and advertising.

It was late, but he buzzed for Catherine.


"What do you want that can't wait for the whole council?" asked Catherine, storming into his entry chamber.

"I'm hoping you can tell me a little of what these mean," said Matthew. "I've been sorting out the transactions Gregory left behind, and it's looking pretty ugly."

"I never saw the transactions directly," replied Catherine. "All I knew was that he was looking for fuel, and I thought he was close."

"He might have been, at one point," said Matthew. "It looks, though, like he took some risks in his trading and wound up unable to deliver to his customers."

Matthew pushed a sheaf of papers over to Catherine, who turned redder and redder as she reviewed them.

"I never... I don't know... Where would we... Did these get delivered eventually?"

"I don't think so. I'll be asking the pilots that tomorrow, now that I've assembled all this. So far as I can tell from the paperwork, we've lost most of our friends - and even [city name where the raiders came from]. I'm hoping there's a brighter answer to this, or a missing set of papers."

"I don't know... I wish he'd told me."

"I was hoping the same thing, I'm afraid. Did anyone on council work with Gregory on these things?"

"Years ago, yes, Paul did. But after he died, Gregory kept it more to himself, telling us only about the occasional major success. The pilots used to talk about their trips more often, but they've been pretty quiet for years."

"I remember Gregory exhorting us all to focus on what we were doing here, and not on the world outside."

"That was a lot of it. For a lot of years the pilots barely even flew, but then in the last few years they've been much more active."

"Gregory decided to risk more fuel on trading, I'm guessing, as he decided we were getting too close to running out."

"He was very concerned, the last few years, yes."

"Will you help me present this to the council?"

"You need to present this - I don't really know anything about it - but yes, I'll do what I can."

"Thank you for that."

Matthew settled down again with his papers, sorting and smoothing them, as Catherine departed.

Posted by simon at January 11, 2006 08:52 PM

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