New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Yasaitis moved slowly, cautiously, feeling his way. The wind had begun to pick up and threatened to sting his eyes as he moved directly into it. While the streams of air were beginning to find their new natural pathways -- with fewer extremes of speed and random direction -- they still possessed the ability to obliterate the senses, hide the world from view by a ragged mist and red dust, and keep the thought of 'normalcy' far from anyone's mind.
But Darrel had begun to learn how to outwit the elements. His mind, sensing the loss of sight as its primary means of navigation, had turned to the other senses. His ears were beginning to judge true direction of abrupt noises over the background of the earth's roar and the wind's shrill whistle. His sense of feel helped to orient him by using the wind direction and resulting differential pressures and thus allowed his movements to be made in reasonably straight lines. Even his sense of smell had learned to distinguish the unusual from the common rancid smell of debris seemingly scattered everywhere.
It was his sense of smell that led him now. He had left camp to explore their new environment and, after nearly half a day, had sensed something out of the ordinary. He now carefully tracked it. Sensing another triumphant discovery, he thought of Scott's reluctant approval of his explorations. Darrel's foot was only now healed. In addition, while the new base had reached a stage where he could be spared, an immense workload still awaited them all. Only Yasaitis' insistence had turned the tide. Scott did believe in Yasaitis' ability and his ideas, and if Darrel felt that there was something to gain, Scott had to bow to the inevitable.
As Darrel continued to track whatever it was his nose was following, he carefully made mental notes of his trail and occasionally set out a marker. Occasionally he would group stones, other times leave easily recognizable marks – marks which could not obliterated easily by the wind and elements. He doubted others could follow his trail without luck, but he felt confident in his own ability.
Suddenly the mist gave him a glimpse of something ahead. It was only an instant of clearing visibility, but the object had moved -- Yasaitis was sure of it. Hardly bothering to strain his eyes to see ahead (he was losing the habit of trying), he quickened his pace. The ground was rough and gentle movement difficult -- but Darrel's sense of Indian tracking kept him moving swiftly and easily.
A cow! Yasaitis stood bolt upright as he realized it. A damn cow, wandering around, searching for food and/or water. A cow! Milk! Beef! Hides! All the possibilities ran through his mind. Forget the fact that they couldn't have milk and beef, except in a strict chronological order, but a cow! What a thrill to bring back a cow to camp!
Yasaitis fairly leaped forward to close the distance. Then suddenly the cow, upwind from him, nevertheless caught his movement. It skittered at the sight of him only to stumble in the tangle of debris and fall. Panic stricken, the cow struggled quickly to its feet again and set itself to hold its ground. The ragged head lowered while the eyes watched Darrel from over non-existent spectacles.
Suddenly Yasaitis realized his mistake, and stopped short. The cow was wild! The events of the past weeks had so haunted its mind and tortured its body that the animal had no remaining thought of domesticity. The cow snorted at Darrel to emphasize the point. Then Yasaitis reached for his pack to recover his gun. He would have to kill the animal. There was no possible way to take it alive. Forget the milk.
His abruptness further frightened the animal and the cow leaped forward in a quick, threatening charge. Yasaitis, with his hands on the gun, looked up only to see the forward motion. Even as the cow stopped in its tracks, its bluffing charge at an end, Yasaitis fired at the animal. The bullet grazing through a front shoulder sent the animal into a rage. The animal staggered and then charged in earnest, now fighting for its very survival.
Yasaitis could get only one more shot off before the cow was upon him. But the shot was into the animal's skull, assuring its imminent death. Darrel tried to avoid the final staggering lunge of the dying animal, but stumbled in the rough ground. The cow, slinging its head one last time, crashed headlong into him, throwing him to the ground. Before Darrel could even feel the jolt of the animal's skull, the entire carcass was on top of him. His leg caught in the debris, he felt his leg snap below the knee. Then an awful pain in his chest.
The struggle was quickly over. A dead cow now lay dormant on Darrel's legs and chest. The weight crushed in as Yasaitis tried to get his breath. His chest was rippled with pain from what was likely a broken rib. He could hardly feel his right leg – while his left was in severe pain. With some effort he brought himself back to reality. Survival suggested that he needed desperately to stop and think.
He was pinned. He could struggle but probably to no avail. Better to save his strength and think first. He would need help. But how to signal the others? Perhaps they had heard the shots. He could fire more rounds to lead them to him. Then he panicked momentarily; the gun was gone. He glanced around but the weight of the animal hampered his movements. The gun was nowhere in sight. A mild form of panic begin to vie for his attention. There was a closeness of death was now gnawing at him.
It was then that he heard the voice. "Dave! Over here.”
Yasaitis turned toward the sound, just in time to see a young man moving rapidly toward him. The kid was noticeably unkempt with an unshaven face – just not a mature beard. The newcomer was almost on top of him when he saw Yasaitis. He stopped abruptly.
Yasaitis forced a pained smile. "Hello,” he ventured.
The kid stammered out, “Hello.” The youngster was totally amazed.
“Come here often?” Yasaitis asked. When this caused only a glimmer of a smile in the kid, Yasaitis added, “Pardon me, but could you assist me in someway? I seem to have a recently dead animal on top of me and it seems to be crushing me.”
“Huh? Oh… sure!” Then he turned as his friend joined him.
Yasaitis said, “Hello. I'm Darrel Yasaitis.”
Both of the strangers were young men, the first no more than a teenager, the second in his early twenties. The new arrival's only comment was, “I'll be damned.”
“Sure! Whatever you like,” Darrel answered. “But I'd prefer to be uncrushed.”
Abruptly, both laughed.
Yasaitis added, encouragingly, "Could we get back to the cow?"
"Oh, right," the first cried. They both leaped to the task, and using poles they had fashioned into spears, they began to pry the animal off. The animal's emaciated condition helped and after ten minutes of straining effort, Darrel was free.
Taking a deep, pleasant breath, Yasaitis thanked them. "By the way, I don't know your names."
The first answered, "I'm George Lewis. This is Roger Thompson."
Roger, still getting his wind, acknowledged, "Hi."
"Glad to know both of you. You came along at just the right time."
"Yeah," Lewis answered. "We'd been tracking the cow." He looked over at the animal rather wistfully, as if he had just lost his prize. “I guess she's yours now.”
Yasaitis was astounded at the simply honesty of the younger boy. Roger did not seem to object to the admission, either.
"Don't be absurd. She's yours. Salvage rights. The Law of the Sea. All that sort of nonsense.”
Roger seemed to recognize the action more realistically but only said, "Thanks. We can use it.”
Then Yasaitis had a sudden flash, “Who exactly is 'we'?"
"Oh, Edgar and Becky and…”
"Wait a minute, George," Roger interrupted. He looked over to Yasaitis, wanting not to say anything further.
Darrel watched him for a second. Then he smiled, "No problem, Roger. Don't feel you have to say anything else.” He smiled again as the older boy seemed to relax a bit and George only looked puzzled. “But, as has just been demonstrated, three cow hunters are better than one.”
Both boys laughed easily. Abruptly Darrel vividly recalled his pain, and his distress showed. Both boys rose up slightly, but neither quite sure of what to do. The pain subsided briefly and Darrel continued. "One thing I've learned of late. Everyone has to help everyone else. Otherwise nobody makes it.” As each shook his head in the affirmative, he said, “Consequently, I propose that we be friends."
“Sure!" George quickly offered.
"Sounds reasonable," Roger replied with more caution.
"Obviously," Yasaitis began, "At this particular moment, I'm in more need of friends than you are. Therefore, in order to show my good faith, I'll tell you about my friends. There are fourteen of us (Yasaitis failed to mention that one of the fourteen was two years old) and we're encamped in a steel yard."
"That must be Brumley's old place," George added.
"I should mention that we've done a fair amount of renovating, and now have a pretty good set-up with some solid steel buildings for shelter. In fact, we've got three-quarter inch sheet steel welded to steel pipe. It works out to be a pretty sturdy structure."
"Sounds like it." Roger was clearly interested.
"Sure does," George mimicked.
Yasaitis looked rather serious. "We also have some food and supplies, enough for others who join us."
George turned to Roger as the older boy pondered a decision. After a brief moment, "There are eight of us. An older fellow, named Edgar Morris, three girls, and two other guys." Then, struck with a new thought, "Any of your group women?"
Yasaitis laughed and felt a chest pain for his carelessness. Taking a much more gentle breath, he said, "Oh yes. We've even got a two-year-old baby.”
"A baby,” George said wistfully.
Roger made his own serious decision, "What say we take you back to your group. And then we can go back and bring our people to your place.” He smiled broadly at George, "It's a cinch that your pad is better than ours.”
“lt's gotta be," George added.
Yasaitis smiled. Roger's plan was a good one – particularly from his perspective. Go and check out Yasaitis' story before committing the rest of his group. It showed a good understanding of surviving in this new world.
Using a blanket wrapped around two makeshift spears, Roger and George carried Yasaitis back to the camp. Darrel kept up a monologue on how to find their way around. Whenever he mentioned key points of reference, they would nod and name it for him. The lake the enclaves had been enveloped in was, apparently, a flooded Thompson's Quarry. The concrete rubble was the old Leonard place, pretty close to rubble even before Ketuohok.
Then, stepping across the flattened wire mesh fence of the steel yard, the boys stopped and gently set their load down. Roger turned to Darrel, “Care to announce yourself?"
Yasaitis sat up and, shaking his head, said, “Good idea." Louder, “Mildred! Get your tail out here!” Within minutes everyone was at the fence. Darrel was smiling broadly. To everyone, “I'd introduce you all, but I think I'm gonna pass out instead.” Then he laid back to await their attentions.
Later, after considerable attention, hot food, and a restful sleep, Yasaitis sat up. He was well sheltered in the big room, their primary shelter. Sitting up, Mildred helped pad his pillow and get him comfortable.
“Hungry,” she asked.
"Not really. What's happening?"
Before she could answer, Scott walked in and, seeing the returning hero sitting up, came over toward him.
"It looks like you've finally decided to rejoin us."
"Well… I just figured you really really needed me."
Scott laughed while Mildred made a simple comment of "Bull!"
"Maybe we do need you, Yasaitis. You sure as hell stumble onto the best things."
"They seemed like good boys. I figured you'd approve."
"Definitely. They appear to be very upstanding types. Ed and Aekie have gone back with them to try to get the others to join up with us. If the boys are right and their supplies and shelter are as meager as they said, then we should have eight additions pretty quick."
"They tell you about the cow?"
"Sure did. Guess they didn't want us to figure that they had roughed you up. By the way, how the hell did you manage to get on the underside of a cow? Did you try to milk it or something?" Scott smiled broadly.
"I'll tell you all about it some time. When are they due back?"
"Any time now. They left yesterday, almost as soon as they dropped you off. They had the idea of salting the beef and taking it to the others. Then they planned to come back today. I expect them any moment now.”
Well, let me know when they get here. I'd like to see what all I accomplished."
“Don't worry. You'll get to see them."
Within the hour Ed and Aekie had returned with the new arrivals and the camp had turned out en masse to layout the welcome mat. It was the first overt gesture of friendship to strangers in quite a while and the people of Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie seemed uncommonly intent upon sociability. Coupled with which the prospective new members of Scott's group seemed in need of some good old-fashioned hospitality.
George Lewis, who had led the group back, appeared to be one of the more stalwart boys. An impressionable youngster of only sixteen, he seemed barely aware of the dangers of the new world. He was a country boy, tall and lanky, awkward, but capable of getting along without ever requiring much.
Something of a mentor to the younger boy was Roger Thompson a young college age student. Roger was inexperienced but perceptive. He was in perhaps the best physical condition, having been a former high school basketball star, a fact he had been able to ignore in the face of new responsibilities. His look of innocence and handsome Billy Budd appearance belied his significant leadership potential.
The others were in poorer condition. Rebecca Yolk, the pretty popular girlfriend of Roger, nursed a broken arm. The youngest member, Carrie Fraser, was simply scared silly. Carrie was a quiet, shy girl, but one who was full of hopes and eager to live. The collision and its aftermath had literally overwhelmed her, causing her to frantically search for guidance. She had found some help in the form of Ester Mack, a librarian in her early thirties.
Ester was, perhaps, better equipped to handle crises. She had been widowed almost eight years ago after only one year of marriage. Never quite getting back into the swing of dating, she had become independent, well-read and only slightly lacking in ability to cope. In addition, she was an attractive lady, tall and, with her long hair typically worn up, rather sophisticated looking. She provided an easy mentor for Carrie.
The other two young people included Dave Simak and Mark Renault. Dave was an apprentice welder, having worked several years in his father's shop – and had in fact done time at the Brumley steel yard (recently renamed). Dave was not overly intelligent but quite good with his hands. Perpetually dirty, he looked in worse condition than he, in fact, was. Mark Renault, on the other hand, was entirely out of his element. An extremely intelligent ('whiz kid') youthful scientist type, he was having trouble comprehending the new world. Only his wide reading of science fiction, with its myriad tales of catastrophically changed worlds, had allowed him to cope.
The eighth member of the arrivals was an older man of about fifty-five. As such, Edgar Morris had been the obvious leader and had quickly stepped into the midst of confusion to guide and direct the younger people. Only now Edgar suspected that perhaps his tenure as leader might be near the end. The thought did not particularly please him. I had acquired a taste for younger people constantly looking for guidance and simultaneously and inadvertently stroking his ego.
When Roger and George had returned with the two strangers, Edgar was ready to include them in his group. Unfortunately, he was now about to join their group. Still, he might be able to maintain some sort of authority. Good leaders were hard to find. More importantly, only the young seemed fit enough to survive; the old survived only if they had young to do their bidding. It was a fair bargain: the experience and knowledge of the older people for the strength and brawn of the young.
Edgar had not figured on any competition until he met Scott. Then he began to become concerned. It was not so much Scott himself as the others. Clearly, everyone of the strangers recognized Scott as their leader without question; there was not even the hint of an undercurrent of intrigue. But the aspect that brought it home so clearly to Edgar was the reactions of his own people. Roger and George had already turned to Scott for guidance. And the rest seemed to sense Scott's position without being told.
As Edgar watched Scott greet the others he became more and more amazed; the man was not the usual kind of leader. He said nothing to call attention to himself and made no action that would infer that he was in charge. Rather, he moved like royalty which had never thought that it could be challenged. He moved casually and without pretense. Yet the youngsters looked on him like a king. It was only when he began to talk with them that they suspected that he might only be a prince. And Edgar knew that he, himself, would never rise above a captaincy.
"Mr. Morris?" Edgar realized that Scott was approaching him. He smiled and acknowledged the title as Larry extended his hand, "Welcome to Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie."
Edgar immediately felt a liking for the man. But he had to think ahead. "Thank you. But, tell me, why Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie?"
Scott smiled, "Because you have to be a damn tough bird to survive here."
Edgar laughed slightly, wondering what the real reason was. Then he glanced around the camp, appreciating the extent of their assets. "You seem well set up here."
Larry glanced around himself. "We're doing okay. Finding this steel yard was our biggest break." Turning back to Edgar he added, "Tom Wirth found it. I think you've already met him.”
“Right.” Edgar didn't really care. Becoming more serious, he asked, “The Parsons fellow indicated that you wanted our groups to join together. That right?"
Larry was slightly surprised but easily recovered, "Certainly. I'm sure you can appreciate that we can all benefit from combining our efforts.”
"Oh, I agree, of course. And I think it's clear that you have the best situation in terms of a base. I'm afraid our set up is rather shabby by comparison." When Scott only nodded, "I think it only fair to the youngsters that we move in with you. If that's agreeable, of course. Being responsible for them, I can't really do anything else."
Scott listened very carefully to Edgar's words, waiting patiently for the point to be made. "I'm glad you appreciate your position.”
"Good. So if you could just show me where my group is to set up, we'll get started. The sooner we're settled, the sooner we can help out."
Scott looked directly at Morris, measuring his reactions. “Mr. Morris, I'm afraid you don't understand. The idea is for our two groups to join completely. There can no longer be two distinct units. And obviously there can be only one leader."
Edgar stared back, seemingly at ease with the course of the discussion. “And who might that one leader be? You?"
“If that's the will of the group, yes."
“And how is the 'will of the group' to be determined?" Edgar's voice sounded challenging.
Scott frowned slightly. "Come to think of it, we've never had the point come up. I suppose we'd vote on it.”
“Which would be fine for you, since your group outnumbers mine by several votes.”
I don't really think that's the point, Edgar. If you like, you can stay with us for a while and then make your bid. That will give the others a chance to get to know you.”
“Which again suits your purposes since you then have all the advantages of the incumbent.”
Scott's face hardened. "Mr. Morris, I'm in charge of the Eyrie. And I have no intention of stepping down just because someone asks me to. It's a decision for everyone. If this is not to your liking, you're free to leave.”
Edgar glared back. “You forget. I'm in charge of those seven youngsters. If I leave, they leave.”
“The hell they will!” The hardness in Scott's face, for the first time, unnerved Edgar. “If they leave, it will be under their own free will and not because you say so. They are not your chattel or your pawns to be used in a bid for power. Or in a fit of pique." Scott's mind had briefly remembered his mistakes with Pat and Linda Wells.
The two men glared at each other, waiting for the other to speak. Edgar felt the weight of his defensive position and felt compelled to answer. Finally he said, “One thing's clear. It is hardly to the benefit of the group for us to fight over the leadership.”
“It's not to anyone's benefit, however you look at it. Therefore I suggest we make a simple arrangement...”
“No deals, Mr. Morris,” Scott interrupted. “I don't bargain. I assign duties as I see fit.”
Edgar was stunned. The forcefulness reached to his bones, rattling his composure. His eyes flickered away, unable to meet Scott's. Then he turned abruptly and walked away. A sudden thought hit him; Edgar hadn't been given leave to depart. Suppose Scott was offended! Then Edgar shuddered it off, that was ridiculous. They hadn't reached that stage.
After a moment Edgar began to wonder if, perhaps, they had reached that stage. He knew he was too independent to bend to majestic will. He knew only too clearly that he was incapable of strict obedience to anyone. Clearly Edgar Morris must be ready to leave on a moment's notice -- for his own sake. His only other option was… He'd have to think about that.
Chapter Ten -- Two Degrees of Freedom
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