Two Degrees of Freedom
New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Two Degrees of Freedom
Lew Snapp struck the ground again and again with the shovel. The surface was hard packed, baked to a solid crust, and almost unyielding of the soil beneath. And even when broken apart and the earth exposed, it was no great find. The soil was just no bargain. Maybe the top soil had been washed away, leaving only the barest of cultivable land. Lew didn't know and frankly, didn't care. It had taken them days just to clear the debris and rubble from a small plot, and now the soil was promising a minimum yield.
Lew straightened up, thinking that they'd have to find better land. And water, they would have to have some source of water. Warren had mentioned that he had been uphill and found the edge of a lake. That would be ideal, since they could irrigate without pumps or power requirements. Lew frowned, as he resolved to ask Fred again for more priority on finding better land. Their supplies were clearly limited and an early start in agriculture was essential.
Lew turned to see his son, George and Dan Steward leaning on their hoes, talking to each other. 'Damn lazy kids', he thought. Then he snorted disgustedly. He couldn't really blame them. Not when all the rest were on a big trek over to the new enclave. Smith was gone himself with plans to choose one site over the other. Then he planned to roll one enclave over to the next one. Hell, they might abandon this area entirely. So what was the use of working this soil now? Better yet, why hadn't Smith taken Lew along to check on the condition of the soil? The other location had to be better than this one! The other side of the fence had to be greener.
"Damn!” Lew muttered. He wondered if Smith would ever realize the importance of farming. Probably not. They still had plenty of supplies and it was a lot easier and a lot more exciting to play politics and order people about. Everyone was choosing up sides and letting the long term future go to hell.
Glancing toward the enclave he saw Sally Hammond and Mike Brownson walking toward the boulders. Doubtless, in their capacity as the loyal opposition, they were plotting too and that was always best done at the boulders. It seemed like every time people wanted to plot or even just talk privately, they went over to that outcropping of rock. The damn place was practically an official meeting place. Then he saw Lois leave the enclave and stride after Sally and Mike. Her pace was direct and confident, as if she dared anyone to question her right to join the other two.
Lew frowned. He knew his daughter had committed herself to Brownson but that Mike was far more interested in Sally. And that could only mean pain for his oldest offspring. He would have to talk to Lois, even if it did no good. And he was sure it would do no good. Still, it might be of some comfort if she knew to whom she could turn when it all fell apart at the seams. He saw Sally and Mike smile at Lois' approach and began to wonder what the three would talk about.
"Come join us, Lois," Sally asked.
Lois smiled slightly and found a place near Mike where she could sit and be protected from the breeze with its dust-filled air. Mike looked at her. "Maybe you can help us."
"Sure. If I can."
"What are we going to do about Fred Smith?"
Lois thought for just a second. "Why do we have to do something?" Lois kept seeing Fred standing between her and Sienstra when Brownson was down.
Sally answered, "Because he no longer recognizes the rights of others.”
"You mean Sienstra?"
"No, it's not really about him. Sienstra probably had it coming. But Fred killed a man in cold blood. No due process, no nothing. And he got away with it. What's to stop him from shooting one of us if we disagree with him?"
Mike added, "The point, Lois, is that no matter what Sienstra did, it was not up to Fred to be the judge, jury and executioner. He's our leader, not some run amuck king."
"But what else could he do?" Lois remembered the relief when she knew that Sienstra would not grab her arm again.
“I'm not real sure myself," Mike admitted. "I frankly admit that he saved me some lumps."
"Look, you both may be grateful to Smith, but it's misplaced. If he hadn't taken action so quickly, the others would have responded. Only Fred acted too quickly. And now he no longer has to accept any law but his own. That can't be. We can't tolerate a one-man rule. It would be the end of all of us.”
“The thing that bothers me,” Mike added, “Is that it's not all Fred. Him I would be more likely to trust. But Diana Riddle is something else again.”
Sally frowned. “Diana is certainly working on Fred, I'll grant you that. But Smith is still the man in charge. And that's where the buck has to stop.”
“I think,” Lois added, “That Diana is just trying to get out of work. She's buttering Fred up in order to get the easy jobs.”
“I think that it's more than that,” Mike answered. “It's more like Diana being out to get control. She's just using Fred.”
Sally was more adamant. “It doesn't really make a lot of difference to me. Fred or Diana, we simply cannot have anyone above the law.”
Lois half-heartedly murmured, “I guess you're right.”
“I know I am.”
Lois looked up at Sally helplessly. “But what can we do?"
Mike continued to gaze at the ground, his eyebrows lifting momentarily, asking the same question.
Sally, looking at each in turn, said, “We have to make Fred understand that he must consider the opinions of the group and not just his own. We have to bring him down a notch. Or two.”
"How do we do that?"
“At the first opportunity where Fred makes a decision which is at all questionable, we can raise an objection. Nothing forceful, you understand. Just imply that Fred's decision is not binding.” Mike looked a bit worried as she continued. “And realize this: It's not important if his decision eventually stands. The critical factor is that his decision is publicly questioned. Once we've done that, then we can do it again at the next opportunity. Eventually Fred will realize that he can no longer assume carte blanche, that what he says goes. He'll soon realize that he has to listen to others and to heed their advice."
"Sounds okay,” Mike admitted. "Only Fred is pretty quick in flying off the handle."
"No problem. If you question a decision and I immediately join in, then Fred no longer has a specific target. If we get one other person to support us, at least to agreeing that the matter should be discussed, then Fred will be gently put in his place."
"You mean he's no longer in charge?" Lois asked.
"Oh no! I'm not trying to replace Fred. Come to think of it, he might do the best job of any of us. We do need a strong leader. The point is that we have got to establish the precedence that he must answer to the rest of us.”
Sally could see them both agreeing and, apparently, understanding. The only question remaining in her mind was how they would act when the opportunity arose.
She thought about that question for some time. The one troublesome thought that kept returning to her was that she was the only one she could count on to stand up to Smith. Sally Hammond was the only person in which Sally really had confidence. Not that she doubted Mike's or Lois' courage, but it took more than courage. It took quick thinking and astute flexibility, the sense to know when to back off and when to charge. And, much to Sally's chagrin, neither Mike nor Lois appeared to have that ability.
Mike, in particular, was critical. Sally knew all too well that she was a woman in what for now was basically a man's world. Sally knew that she would not back away under fire but that, under the present circumstances, she might very well be run over. Sally knew that she had to have support from some man.
For a moment she wished she were male. But then she dismissed the thought and wished instead for Scott. If Scott were here, she could feel confident about the future. There was no doubt in her mind that she could work beside Scott as an equal partner and that, together, they could control their own destiny. For the next several hours in her free moments she thought of finding Scott and once again joining him.
Tom Warren sat by the edge of the water, slightly disgusted. It was water, of course, but it was filthy and filled with debris. ‘Which was a dirty shame,' he thought. A good-sized lake like this should have a great crop of bass. And, being the only real fisherman of the group, he should, by rights, be able to pull in more than all the others combined.
Tom was, in fact, a very good fisherman although he might have been put to the test to haul in the big ones without his arsenal of fishing boats, poles, reels, lures, etcetera, etcetera. Still, he would have given it a good try. There just wasn't much chance of live fish being anywhere around.
Tom doubted that they could even drink the water. Still, it might be useful for crops. Dirt had a great dampening and filtering effect. But in the end, he would just have to ask Lew Snapp about it. After all, it was downhill except for a rise he had just crossed over and it would be easy to dig irrigation channels. He'd already mentioned the possibility of irrigation to Lew once but the old man just muttered something unintelligible.
Tom frowned. Actually digging ditches might not be that allfired great. But he could layout the route and Lew and some of the youngsters could do the digging. After all, Tom was an explorer. He had discovered the lake his last time out and, before that, the Corsair enclave. He should keep doing what he was best at. He'd tell Fred that when the head man got back.
Tom stirred to get up, thinking it was time for his own return. Then he heard the splash. It wasn't much, but the timbre and sharpness of it stood out clearly from the constant background noise. And it was off to his right, maybe a fish. His eyes searched along the water, near the edge of the lake until he saw it.
He jerked to his feet -- it was a man. But then he calmed himself. "Hey, I'm over here.” With that he sauntered over toward the other man. Only when he came closer did he realize that the man was a stranger. The total look of surprise on the crouched figure stopped Tom in his tracks. In a low stutter, he asked, "Who the hell are you?"
"Huh?" was the only response.
Tom realized the other fellow was in bad shape. His eyes were raw red, his skin chafed and practically hanging from his skull. The fellow was obviously in need of help. More importantly, Tom realized that he was the one who must help the poor fellow. He moved closer and crouched down.
"My name's Tom Warren. What's yours?"
“Uh, Edger. Edgar Morris."
“Yeah. I was with some friends but we got separated. Then I couldn't find my way back. I've been wandering for days.” Edgar glanced down, his exhaustion becoming even more evident.
"Hey, no sweat, man. We'll take care of you.”
"Sure! There's a bunch of us back at the enclave."
Edgar looked bewildered.
"What's an enclave?"
"An enclave?" Then Tom thought it might be hard to explain. “You'll see when I get you there."
Edgar looked down again. “I'm not too sure I can go much further."
“Oh yeah. Here, you can have some of my water and I've got some rations in my pack." With that he pulled out his canteen and offered it to the man. As he unstrapped his own pack, he noticed that Edgar had a pack, too, but sagging limp and obviously depleted. "Hey, cool: we've got the same kind of pack." Tom went through his pack for the rations as the man drank greedily.
When Tom saw Edgar's rush to drink, he quickly added, "Hey, not too fast! You'll get sick." Reluctantly Edgar lowered the canteen. He seemed to acknowledge Tom's warning but kept a firm grip on the water vessel. Tom handed him rectangular, slightly chocolate tasting rations. Tom was not overly fond of the taste but it was nourishing and Edgar didn't look too picky.
"You can eat a little and drink some water. Then after a little rest we can head back to the enclave. Okay?"
Edgar nodded and began to chew on the ration bar. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed Tom casually making himself comfortable and starting to repack his knapsack. ‘It was incredible,' Edgar thought. ‘Weren't there any people struggling for survival like he and his kids had been? Were all the rest so well provisioned and supplied that they could hand out candy bars to strangers?' Edgar glanced back to his right, toward the path on which he had staggered to the lake. Thinking of the group that he had just left, he remembered that they had been well off too. 'They even had neat metal lockers packed with supplies. If it hadn't been for their damn head man, he would have been in great shape. But, oh no, he had to blow that set up at the outset.'
'Scott had taken an immediate dislike to me,' Edgar thought. 'He knew I was after his job and he really loaded it on me. That bastard would have worked me to death if I hadn't gotten the hell out of there. He knew that I couldn't gripe or complain without shooting myself down. Nobody chooses a complainer to run things. Hell, it was either escape or get worked to death.'
Edgar frowned as he momentarily recalled how close to death he had just come going with the alternative. He'd simply waited too long before swallowing his pride and heading back. He still believed he could find his way, but he would likely not have made it in his present condition. And, if this Warren fellow hadn't found him, he might have had this lake for a final resting place.
But he felt his strength returning. Perhaps he had not been that far gone after all. Slowly he began to taste the ration bar. 'Damn', he thought, 'same crummy chocolate bar they had back at the steel yard.'
Then it hit him! 'Was there a connection? Same crummy bars, plenty of provisions, taking survival like a romp in the park. Was Warren's group somehow connected to Scott's?' He didn't remember hearing anything about other groups from the people in the steel yard. But hell, he had been worked constantly; he never had time to ask questions.
Finishing the bar and taking more water, he began to feel more confident -- and curious. “How many people in your group?”
Tom had been only casually watching over his charge and was surprised at the question. But he recovered, almost. “How many? Hell, I don't know for sure.” Then he began to calculate. “Let's see, there were fifteen of us in Challenger. That's our name for number five enclave. No wait, fourteen. And Pioneer had twelve... uh thirteen. Corsair had five survivors, I think. And I guess there must be eleven from Viking. That figures out to be about... hmmmm... about forty two people, if I'm remembering right.."
"Forty two? That's quite a number!"
“Yeah, I suppose. But you're the first one to show up from outside the group.”
Edgar smiled. Then he caught something. "Wait a minute. You said 'number five'. And then you mentioned three others. Did you skip a number?"
“Oh, there were six enclaves, all told. We still ain't found Intrepid or Eagle.”
"Those two of your... uh, enclaves, are still missing?"
“Right. Both Griffith's and Parsons' groups are still out there somewhere. But we'll find them soon enough.”
Edgar sat shocked. There was no longer the slightest doubt. Edgar now knew from where the name, Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie, had come. 'All these people were all part of the same band. And,' he thought, 'I'm the only one who can lead one group to the other.'
He smiled. Knowing of the others could turn out to be very useful information. In fact, the information could even be politically useful. 'But this time,' Edgar vowed, 'I'm going to get the lay of the land before I lay my cards on the table. Yes sir, I ain't gonna blow another chance.' He began to smile even broader.
The others weren't too thrilled about the decision, Fred knew, but only because of the work involved in moving one enclave from one point to the other. And, perhaps, there might be some danger as well. They would have to roll it and getting it started rolling would involve a lot of muscle. Stopping the damn thing short of the cliff, once it got started, would have its own problems. On the other hand, everyone seemed agreeable with the idea that they must all band together and having the two enclaves nearby could not help but increase their chances.
The difficulty, Fred visualized, would come in telling one group they must move. There would always be an outcry from some who felt the place that they had temporarily rolled to a stop was home. And they would be loath to give it up. All of which Fred thought was asinine. They would move and damn well like it, he thought. The decision on which enclave was to be moved was a logical one, based on the numerous advantages of one location over the other. One enclave was at a lower elevation -- plus which it had access to the lake whose water could easily flow downhill for purposes of irrigation. Thus, in rolling one enclave toward another, it would be mostly downhill – an enormous advantage! They would have to accept the rational choice; it would be pointless to do otherwise. Fred continued to think and rethink his position as he led the entire part back toward Pioneer.
Fred had already told George Frederick of his decision and George had agreed, although not an agreement that was particularly enthusiastic. In fact, George had appeared to care less and only voiced an opinion that Fred's choice might be the best one. It did seem that they would be moving downhill until they reached the cliff area. And that would aid George, who had already figured that he would be in charge of the mechanics of the move. Later, of course, he would try to convince Fred to put Jon Trippe in charge, since the former enclave captain was an engineer and, in addition, it would look more like a dissemination of authority. More importantly George had no desire to be put in charge of the obviously thankless task.
George had come to develop a nice sense of the political tenor of his new world. He saw the advantage of a strong leader, but had no desire to be one. He preferred a calm status quo instead of a revolutionary climate, even if the changes were good and just. Better to cause change and improve conditions without anyone knowing. And, as things improved, the people would be happier. They might not know why they were happy, but they would be and that was the whole point. Prosperity was just a period when most saw no need for change.
George's thoughts were interrupted as Beverly dropped out of the line of march and joined him. They were all moving back toward Pioneer with only Dr. Beckman, his wife, Ann Andrews and some of the smaller children left at Viking.
As Beverly joined George, she smiled slightly. “Hi.”
George looked out of the corner of his eye and smiled back. When he said nothing, she went on, “You looked sort of lonely back here. I thought I'd join you and keep you company.”
George continued to smile. “Nice thought. But I wasn't lonely; just meditating… sort of.”
Beverly didn't reply, content to only walk alongside George. Then, after a moment, “Why do you always take the last place in line?”
George looked over to her, wondering the import of the question. Flippantly, he replied, "This way I get to watch the others.”
Beverly thought about the answer for a moment, undecided if she really understood. But she suspected that it would do no good to inquire further. One thing she had learned about George in the last months was that he was seldom straightforward in his replies to questions. It wasn't that he lied or anything, but he never gave an answer of crystal clear clarity. One always had to read between the lines for his meaning and then could only guess if they, in fact, understood what it really meant. Worse yet, Beverly had learned, it did no good to ask a follow-up question. George would give an even more obscure answer or answer frivolously. In either case, the additional information simply made things more confusing. It was better for Beverly if she worked on only the one answer. The second answer usually led her further astray.
Abruptly Beverly said, clearly and distinctly, “Gork!” George, his eyes raised slightly, turned to her for just a second. Then his quizzical expression changed to a broad smile and he continued to walk.
'Most frustrating damn man I ever knew', she thought. ‘Nothing will get him to talk; all he does is think. While others carry on pleasant conversations, George listens. While others make brilliant points, George analyzes them. While others do clever things, George observes. What with all his study and thinking, he may very well be the most brilliant man alive. Only no one will ever know because he will never say anything. He might answer a question, but only obliquely. Perhaps,' Beverly thought, 'he's an alien observer from outer space and lives under an edict of non-intervention. He can't interfere or directly contribute to mankind, but can only observe and occasionally give hints to plodding humans on the real truths of the universe. George,' Beverly decided, 'would make a good Oracle.'
On the other hand, he was a good lover; tender, considerate and very pleasant in bed. There had been only a few opportunities, of late, but Beverly remembered each and everyone. Then a sudden and horrifying thought struck her: were her own sexual abilities being observed, monitored and gauged? What an absolutely disgusting thought! For a moment, Beverly could only frown.
When that moment passed, she glanced up at George's smile written on his rugged jaw and deep-set eyes. She didn't like the idea of his being an oracle, after all. Besides, he needed a shave. Then she smiled slightly as she realized that if he needed a shave, he was human and fallible. The more she thought of it, the more she liked it. She began to smile almost gaily as she contemplated stealing his razor.
Smiling happily, her gait mimicking the lightheartedness in her eyes, she attracted his attention. He put his arm around her lovingly and protectively. Her immediate reaction was "Ouch!" Quickly she pointed to the offender, the handgun in its holster. He dropped his arm in bewilderment and looked heavenward for guidance. Not trusting any answer he might receive, Beverly quickly skirted around behind, came up close on his other side and, grabbing his arm, placed it carefully on her opposite shoulder. He smiled and gave her a hug.
"Why do you always wear that gun lately?”
He thought only a moment before he answered, "Purely for your benefit, my dear."
Beverly suspected a considered and important meaning in the answer, but could not be certain. But she suddenly realized a question he could not avoid with oblique and swayed answers. “Will you marry me?"
She felt his body tense only slightly. Then, quietly he asked, "Do you love me?"
Simply she said, "Very much."
He hugged her slightly, with a clear note of affection. "Good, because I love you.”
She smiled, felt warm and tender, and sighed to herself. It was several steps before she sensed the single missing ingredient. "So?" she asked.
"I'll marry you, Beverly. Or, if you like, we can consider ourselves already pledged and I'll make an announcement to the group tonight."
Beverly thought a moment. "You know, I always wanted a big church wedding."
"Then I'll build you a big church."
Beverly grinned. "Could I have one with bells?"
George grinned. "Not to worry, honey. When I kiss you, you'll hear bells."
Beverly's expression of doubt was not fit for publication.
As the group reached Pioneer, Fred began to gather everyone for an announcement. They all knew what he would say -- with the exception of one critical ingredient: they did not know which one of the enclaves would be moved. When they were approximately gathered, milling around but attentive, Fred began.
"As I am sure all of you are aware, life in our little community will be substantially improved if we can relocate one enclave closer to the other one. Besides the obvious factors of convenience and security, it will also contribute to a stronger sense of community. There are no advantages to the two enclaves identifying themselves as separate entities and feeling any sense of competition."
Everyone stirred slightly; they knew the preamble, they wanted the essential detail.
"We have now completed a survey of the two sites and it has become clear that one has numerous and substantial advantages over the other.”
'Which one, Fred?' the crowd seemed to mutter.
“Based on these advantages, we have chosen the present site of the Pioneer for our future home. Right now, we're all standing on the best site. ”
'Which means we have to go back and move Viking down to here. Damn!'
Lew Snapp threw his head in the air and loudly cursed, “Fucked again!” There was a sudden laughter and a more relaxed atmosphere as Lew seemed to sum it all up. While everyone watched, Lew looked at the hoe in his hand and then at Fred. Without the slightest hesitation, he walked up to Fred, handed him the hoe and said, "Here. You'll need it.”
Everyone laughed aloud. Suddenly, it was like a party. Then Fred began to smile himself. “Thanks for your vote, Lew,” he joked.
The group was beginning to break up when they heard a shout. They looked upslope and saw Tom Warren with someone else, waving. Several waved in return. It was Mike Brownson who finally asked, “Who the hell is that with Tom?”
The idea struck everyone and each turned to watch. A murmur of hope went through the group as several names of the members of the two missing enclaves were suggested. Several edged in the direction of Tom, trying to get a better look, trying to recognize a face from another time, seemingly long in the past. Then, as reality vied with hoped, someone murmured, "It's a stranger.”
As Tom came closer, his arm on the shoulder of the man close alongside, he held his other arm up and announced, "I found us a new volunteer!” Tom smiled proudly, showing off his discovery.
For a few moments they all stared while Tom and Edgar stopped just short of the crowd. Then Tom began the introductions. "This is Edgar Morris. He wants to join us." Then, turning to Edgar, "Edgar, these are the people I told you about."
Edgar glanced around, his gaze alighting briefly on each face. His head remained slightly bent and subservient. His only response was a sheepish, "Hi."
Mike was the first to recover. Abruptly he stepped forward, extending his hand. "Hello. My name is Mike Brownson."
Edgar was immediately relieved and reached for Mike's hand. “Pleased to meet you, I'm sure."
"Hold on a minute!" Fred stepped through the group just as they seemed ready to step forward and introduce themselves. But his presence held them for a moment while Edgar looked at his face. Morris knew immediately that this man was Scott's counterpart. He knew it even more when Fred looked directly at him. "Who are you?"
Edgar felt under the gun as Tom's arm gently lifted off his shoulder and slowly dropped to his side. "Well, as Tom said, I'm Edgar…
Fred interrupted. "I'm more interested in where did you come from? How did you get here? Are there any others with you?"
Edgar felt bludgeoned under the third degree. But he was momentarily reprieved by Mike. "What the hell, Fred? Is that necessary?"
Fred glared at Mike. "Yes!” Then he turned back to Edgar. "Well?"
Edgar seemed to stumble through the answers. "Well, I've been living in a collapsed building, off in that direction, I think," he pointed in an approximate direction from which they had just come. "I was staying there with another fellow and his wife. We was just trying to hang on by scraping together enough to keep us alive." He glanced at Fred, realized that the man was watching him and listening very attentively.
Trying to remain casual, Edgar continued, "We was out scouting for more food, when I became separated from them. Then I realized I was lost and couldn't find my way back. I musta wandered for days. Finally I found the water back yonder and was just trying to figure if I could chance a drink when Tom, here, found me. I guess if he hadn't come along, I'da been a goner' fore long." He glanced up at Fred to gauge his reaction.
"Only two others in your group?"
"Uh, yes, sir."
“And now you want to join up with us?” The tenor of Fred's question was more of a threat than a request for information.
"Well, yes. I kinda hoped I could. I wouldn't last too long out there by myself.”
Mike turned accusingly to Fred, “So what's the problem?"
Fred glared back at Mike, clearly perturbed by the unwarranted interruption. Sally quickly decided she needed to break the silence, "Have you had something to eat, Mr. Morris?"
Edgar leaped at the courtesy. “Oh yes, ma'am. Tom fixed me up real good. Course, that was a while ago.”
Tom Warren, suddenly unsure of the value of his find, seemed ready to quit the discussion. "Fred? Okay if I get Edgar a hot meal? I sort of promised him one."
Dawn Trippe quickly stepped forward. Quickly, glancing at Fred, she said, “I'm sure it's okay, Tom. Fred?"
Fred watched them both. "Very well. Feed him… Over by the boulders.”
Dawn quickly assented and, with Tom in tow, she led Edgar toward the enclaves and the boulders beyond.
When they were out of easy hearing, Mike turned to face Fred, who was still staring at Edgar. Mike asked, "What the hell was that all about?"
Fred turned to his antagonist. With a savage voice he said to Mike, "While you may be unconcerned with the security of the group, I'm not. I am directly responsible for the safety of all of us. And I don't intend to welcome with open arms any derelict or itinerant migrant into the group without knowing a lot about him. He could be a spy for others or just an opportunist looking to rip us off. You can't have security if anybody can walk right into camp and set up shop."
"You're not serious?" Mike asked, aghast.
Fred looked incredulous. "I would think that you, Mike, of all people here, would be aware of the potential dangers of allowing a complete stranger to join our group."
Mike flushed slightly as he recalled Bryan Riddle. But that seemed such a long time ago. Mike tried not to glance in Diana Riddle's direction -- he would not want to meet her eyes just now. Instead Mike shook his head, resignedly, "You've got to be kidding, Fred. This ain't the same world. We can't do just anything on the basis of... national security. That's insane. "
"You're right about one thing: it's not the same world. It's much worse. We're struggling for our very survival on a daily basis. It's inevitable that other stragglers, like this fellow, will band together for common purposes. Then we can look forward to raids by bandits.”
"Oh, that's garbage! No one is riding around in this muck, killing and raping." Mike's voice showed a clear disgust. "You must be paranoid."
Fred's hard glare at Mike intensified, his body becoming rigid. Sally, watching his reaction became unnerved. She realized immediately that Mike was doing just what they had discussed. But he was arguing with too much conviction. He was not simply raising a question to Fred, but was challenging him. He would not know to back down. She had to divert Fred's attention. "There may be something in what you say, Fred, but is it necessary to be so suspicious?"
Fred glanced at her for just a moment. Then he turned back to Mike. "No one rides around because there are no horses. There is also no food, no shelter, no nothing. To a stranger we're living in a paradise. We have a secure shelter, plenty of food, plenty of medical supplies; in short we've got it made. To anyone else, we're the envy of the neighborhood. When someone is starving, that envy will drive him to robbery, murder or whatever it takes. As for as rape… does the name Georgina mean anything to you?”
Diana had been watching the exchange with great interest. She realized that Mike was wandering in where wiser heads would have feared to thread. Better yet, he was doing just what Diana wanted. It was now time to take advantage of the situation, to further drive the wedge between the two men. “Fred's right, Mike. I would think any fool could see that.”
Mike burned with Diana's words. He glanced at her only briefly. He recognized that it was Fred he was opposing and not his sycophant. With a steady voice, he said, “On the other hand, I would think any fool could see that, if we let the others join us, there would be no envy."
Fred snorted, disgusted with trying to explain life to a child. Diana quickly added, "And when they all join us, there'll be no food, medicine, or room in either enclave.”
Fred smiled for just a flicker of a moment. Diana caught the expression out of the corner of her eye. Inwardly she knew that she had made valuable points with Fred.
A sudden gust of hot, dry wind lifted the dust from the ground and blew it into the already heated atmosphere. Fred turned his head to avoid the onrush of air and then turned further to face George Frederick. With his back to Mike, he ordered, “Frederick, I want you in charge of Mr. Morris. Find out everything there is to know about him. I want…”
Mike interrupted. “What the hell? You turning your henchman on him?”
George went completely rigid, a hard cold stare aimed at Mike. Sally, now very scared, leaped into the fray. “Mike! That's enough!”
Mike glanced at her and abruptly turned and walked away. Fred ignored his departure while George stared at Mike's back. George, infuriated by the unwarranted attack, mentally wrote Mike off his list. To all intents and purposes, Mike was now a non-person. George would never again concern himself with that person's survival.
Sally was watching Fred intently, thinking furiously of the possible consequences of the past moments. Everyone was deadly quiet, as if giving a moment's respect for the newly departed. Then, softly but clearly, Sarah Ryker gasped, “Oh, my Lord!”
The simple exclamation riveted everyone's attention to the woman as she stood in stark amazement, her hands outstretched before her. As everyone's eyes questioned her, wondering what new evil had been discovered, she simply gazed at her arms. Then, lifting her head to meet the others, she said with a surprising lilt to her voice, “It's sprinkling.”
The words, seemingly taken out of context, were almost incomprehensible to the group. There had been no normal precipitation since before Ketuohok for what now seemed like eons. Then it began to seep in as others extended their limbs to catch droplets of water. The gusting wind disguised the rain by a covering of dust, but then would cast an occasional droplet into a convenient face. Surprise and joy began to reach every soul as smiles formed on each face. The troubles of the past moments fleeted by. Rain promised hope in all its greatest form.
People began to touch each other and embrace at the arrival of the good news. Others stepped about, their eyes lifted to the heavens for signs of more rain. Even Fred and George were preoccupied by the possibility and began to gaze skyward.
Then it began in earnest. With faces turned upward, the water began to fall in a downpour. With the wind swishing about, the body seemed immersed in water. Cries of joy and exhilaration went up as each person delighted in the first real bath in months. Several sampled the water with their tongues for purity. Others washed their bodies, some began to dance about. Someone was singing, ‘The Day That the Rains Came Down' over and over.
Dripping wet, Fred decided it was time to reassert himself. Smiling, he yelled, “Not too much now. We don't want any drownings!” Several laughed. “Evan, check the upper hatch. George, let's see if we can catch some of this in buckets.
The whole group began to move, to take every possible advantage of the rainfall. All but Diana, who was miffed that the confrontation had been called on account of rain.
It was then that the earth moved.
Almost everyone found themselves abruptly on the muddy ground. A roar emitted from the trembling earth and, suddenly, a massive shock ran across the ground with an enormous crash.
Sally struggled back to her feet, slipping on the shifting, suddenly muddy earth. Yelling, she began to run for the enclave. "Joyce! Get the children inside!"
Joyce, near the lower hatch, understood immediately. Pulling herself up, she grabbed the closest youngster and fairly threw him toward the hatch. Then she began to hand the others up.
Fred struggled to his feet. Glancing around, he yelled, "Everyone stay down! We're better off on the open ground." Several stopped their efforts to reach the enclave, and crouched back down. Fred looked toward the enclave, less than thirty feet away, to where the children continued to scamper inside. “Stop the kids,” he yelled. But apparently no one heard his last order -- at least no one with the task of getting the kids into the enclave. Fred was about to move in their direction to make his orders heard, when beyond the enclave he saw Warren, Dawn Trippe and Morris, running like mad for the enclave. He heard Tom yell in panic but could not decipher it.
He soon didn't have to make sense of Tom's words. For now he heard the roar, the unmistakable sound of a cataract of onrushing water. Momentarily he froze as Evan Hendricks, on hands and knees, heard it as well. Evan moved quickly, shouting, "It's a flood! The lake! Run for it!"
Those nearby suddenly understood. Sally and several others had earlier broke for the enclave and only belatedly recognized the problem. A few, confused by the conflict of orders, began to run in different directions. Others simply stood up. George pulled Beverly to his side and planted his feet against an unseen roar of water.
They first saw it as it crashed onto the boulders. Then it roared on toward them. Edgar had slipped and fallen in the mud but was on his feet again and running. Tom had slowed momentarily as the older man went down, but then thought better of it. Dawn Trippe was just reaching the enclave.
When the water hit Edgar, it flipped his legs out from under him, then picked him up in the foam to twirl his body in the onrush. Crashing into the enclave, the water threw the struggling body against the enclave supports. Warren, hanging onto the enclave for dear life, grabbed at Edgar and caught a flailing arm.
Jon had reached his wife as the initial wave hit. He spun her away from the ladder and grabbed another enclave support. With all his strength he could muster he gathered Dawn to him with his other arm wrapped around the support. Across from them, Sally had just reached one of the remaining supports. Joyce Snapp, with George Snapp and one other child, were plastered against the ladder. Joyce struggled with all her strength to lift the slight body of Angela Warren. Hands reached down from the hatch to try to help and did.
Those in the open were hit with the onrush of water, their legs carried out from under them, and then they were thrown to the ground, limbs flailing in the foam. Only George and Beverly managed to buck the trend but then the current ripped them from their base and they fell together in the rising river. Debris and logs appeared in the onrush. One log with the appearance of a dead alligator roared through the group, striking Joanne Masters as she struggled to get to her feet. Then the log rolled and angled off in the direction of George and Beverly's floating, flailing bodies.
Diana had grabbed Fred's waist in genuine fear. Suddenly she knew that Fred and she must stay together on this one. Nature did not play favorites.
In the space of less than thirty minutes, an emptying lake discharged its water onto a flat and sloping plain. The container of the lake, ripped apart by the tremors, sent short-lived and violent rivers in three directions at once. But, with a limited capacity, the water's onrush slowed and the level, never above the waist, began to subside. As the plains spread the water, the level fell even more and quickly seemed to dissipate its strength.
The fury was over but it had taken its toll. The dead numbered Joanne Masters, Emma Steward, Linda Middleton, Roy Steward, Evan Hendricks, Susan Warren and Sally Rodgers. Seriously hurt were Mike Brownson, Lew Snapp, Sarah Ryker, Edgar Morris and Mabel Hendricks. George and Beverly were missing. Almost everyone had a minimum of bruises, cuts and were in a state of shock.
But slowly they began to recover and to try to tend to others. Fred and Diana had been washed some distance and each had been badly cut and scraped by the debris. But they were quickly up. Fred began to stagger back toward the enclave, his mind dazed but functioning. Diana stayed close to him but already taking charge of much of what had to be done. As 'First Lady' she had some very specific duties now and she would not be denied them.
Sally and the Trippes were able to get to most of the others first. Sally found Edgar near Tom Warren, who seemed ready to collapse from exhaustion. On her knees, she tried to find signs of life and hold the trickle of blood from Edgar's mouth.
Edgar looked up, struggling for a last glimpse, knowing his time was near. He recognized Sally and thought of her brief help. He coughed and tried to speak. She hushed him but he would not have it. “The others,” he croaked, "They're back there, toward the lake. Past the concrete ruins.”
Startled, she leaned closer. "What others?" she asked.
Edgar coughed violently and, in a moment, gasped, "Intrepid Eagle's… Scott and the others. Near a steel yard.”
Sally was suddenly exhilarated. 'The others were alive! Good Lord, Scott was alive!' The thoughts rocketed through her mind. 'They could find their friends. She could find Scott.' Incredulously, she asked Edgar, “The others? They're alive?"
Edgar, seeing his mission accomplished, relaxed slightly. Carefully he said, “Yes. And better off than you, I reckon.”
“Better off? Why?”
Edgar felt his life going. He tried to answer but only managed a simple, “They're not fighting among themselves. They're…”
Sally continued to stare until she realized that he had died. She turned to Tom where he sat with his back against the support. "He's dead, Tom.”
Tom glanced toward her, still dazed and shocked. “What?" he murmured.
Sally realized that Tom had been oblivious to the conversation and possibly hurt as well. She went to him. “You okay?”
Taking a breath, he answered, “Think so.” He didn't seem too sure.
"Stay here and rest. I'll be back in a minute. Got to check on the others.”
He nodded his head slightly and then looked away.
When she stood up, she surveyed the area, stunned at the magnitude of the disaster. Bodies were strewn about over a large expanse, some clearly dead. Others were sitting up, struggling to recover their strength. A few seemed to be attending others. Then Sally saw, some distance away, Mike laying very still with Lois leaning over him. Lois looked as if she needed aid as well. Sally hurried to them.
Mike had a gash on his head but his chest still showed signs of breathing. Lois, barely able to hold herself up, was unable to guess how she might help him. Sally took her by the arms and eased her to one side. She seemed exhausted and momentarily wiped out, but had no obvious serious injury. Then she turned to Mike. Ripping the sleeves of her blouse, she wrapped his head to stem the blood flow. Then she saw the pool of blood under his left hip. He was severely cut and bleeding profusely. She tried to stem the flow but in vain. Raising up, she turned and yelled for help.
Al Steward was attending Mabel Hendricks, but let Lew Snapp hold a bandage as he rushed over to Sally. "He's bleeding to death, Al!" she cried. He turned and yelled for bandages and his son, Dan, ducked back into the enclave. Working furiously, he managed to hold back the flow and eventually wrapped the wound completely.
“I've stopped the bleeding," he told Sally. "Stay with him and don't move him. I've got to help the others. He's okay for now.” Then he glanced briefly at Lois, who was only now regaining some clearness of thought. Quickly checking her, he decided she was okay and left.
Lois, sitting closer to Mike, reached out to touch his forehead. Then watching his face, she asked Sally, "Is he gonna be all right?"
Sally answered quickly, "Sure, Lois. He'll be okay. He's lost a lot of blood but he'll be okay. We'll take care of him."
Lois only murmured, "Oh, God, I hope he's okay."
Sally watched the terrified face for a moment then turned away. As she looked around the area and tried to see the fate of others, she was unaccountably struck by something peculiar. At first she wasn't able to identify it, but there was just something amiss, something different. The difference in fact gnawed at her attention more than the others.
Abruptly, it hit her: the air was incredibly clear – or at least far clearer than it had been since the comet. The overcast skies and smog still diffused the sun's light, but the visibility must be five times what it had been before even under the best of conditions. The rain, which still maintained a light sprinkle, had cleared the air of much of the particulate matter. Sally suddenly felt a wave of hope even in the midst of disaster. Scott was alive and within reach. The world was recovering from its own wounds. It had all the earmarks of one being able to see a rainbow in a sky of clouds and sunshine.
Fred moved about the others in their makeshift shelters and the piles of recovered supplies, talking to each person, trying to give a boost of morale or encourage a sense of continuity. Everyone worked silently and steadily, trying to cope with the deaths. Several kept close watch over the seriously injured, assisting Doc Steward as best they could. Doc Beckman had been hurriedly brought from Viking, where the others who had been left behind had been spared the bulk of the onrush of water. No one had been seriously injured there and had in fact managed to get inside their enclave with no problem.
As Fred watched Beckman, he felt a momentary surge of vulnerability. He had chosen wrong in picking Pioneer as the new home, but fate for the moment had spared him the community's recognition of the fallacy of his decision. Unfortunately they would eventually remember that he had chosen a flood plain for a permanent home. It had been he who had ordered everyone on the ground during the tremor. He had not guessed at the water and he could not know if any had lost their lives purely on his decision. It was an awesome and threatening responsibility he might have to assume.
Darkness had already laid its curtain on the survivors and, for the first time, they were using most of their lights. They had delayed the use of lighting since they would otherwise quickly run out of light bulbs. Even if wind power was always available, the stock of lights was limited and could only be used in an emergency. This was clearly an emergency.
"Fred?" a voice asked. Smith turned to see Sally approaching him in the subdued light. When she came near she asked, "Mike's lost a lot of blood. Al says we have to get donors for his blood type and get him a transfusion. Will you set it up?"
Smith glanced about for a second then turned to Sally. "Sally, everyone's exhausted. Half don't have the strength to walk around. If we start drawing blood, it may wipe some out completely. I can't ask others to endanger their own lives out of a false sense of duty. And it might be a total waste of effort if Brownson doesn't make it.”
Sally thought she was beyond shock. But, apparently, there was no end to the vulgarities of this world. All she could mutter was, "You're kidding!"
"No. We're on the brink. We can't risk the survival of most for just one man. Not right now. And it might do no good in any event. We'll have to wait. If things are better by tomorrow morning, we'll set it up."
Sally felt exhaustion pulling her to the ground. She could not even think of arguing. Sarcastically she mumbled, "If he dies, you can always suck his blood out for the others, Fred." Not really hearing her, Fred said nothing. She turned away, thinking she'd get the blood herself. Then, when she got her strength back, she'd kill Fred. It was obviously the only other thing worth doing.
Chapter Eleven -- Gathering Allies
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