New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
It suddenly occurred to Sally that, as she plodded along exhausted but with an insistent will to keep moving, it could all be in vain. If she continued to walk in a state of exhaustion, as she was doing now, she'd probably miss any clues or evidence of others. Abruptly she halted and stood up straight. Slowly she unslung her half-empty pack and laid it at her feet. She continued to stand, trying to survey her surroundings. There seemed to be nothing but wind-blown dirt on the one hand and a drying mud on the other. Encircling it all was the haze and smog. Visibility was, perhaps, now up to two hundred or three hundred yards in any direction, providing her with a world of one or two acres.
She glanced about for a resting place, saw a suitably rounded boulder, and gently sat down. Her knees drawn up, she dropped her arm across them and laid her head across the interlocked arms. Not quite right, she shifted, stretched her arms out straight, propped by her knees, and then hung her head between her legs. She crouched there for perhaps fifteen minutes while her strength returned.
Then, relatively refreshed, she lifted her head up again and stared off into her limited space. She would be more careful as she walked now, trying to ensure that she would not miss a clue. There, had to be clues. There must be some sign to lead her to the others. There had to be!
It occurred to her that perhaps she had already missed it, walked by it in a halfstupor and never even realized it. Could it be back in the direction that she had come? Was it back along that long, grueling shore line of sorts? Her eyes followed the dim line between dust and baking mud. It seemed to be getting fainter. In a few days it might become unrecognizable. And it was her only link back to the enclaves. She had considered turning back as one alternative all along. Only now she was no longer sure she still had the option.
She turned her head to look ahead, directly into the mist laying over the dried lake. Suddenly she was totally and terrifyingly alone in an unforgiving and deadly world. Her body tightened as discouraging thoughts besieged her courage. Abruptly she shook her head. She still had several days of provisions. She would make them last and she would keep going. She would find others and, more importantly, she would survive.
Quickly, moving before her resolve could falter, she got to her feet. She glanced around for her pack and went directly to it. Then, as she slung it across her back and grabbed at the dangling strap with her free arm, her attention was seized by a movement. She froze, her pack dangling precariously from one shoulder. She peered into the shifting mist covering the lake, trying to spot again the movement. A dark shape appeared abruptly before fading slightly. No. Two shapes. Two people.
Suddenly wary, she dropped to one knee, her eyes riveted to the dark shapes in the mist. Slowly they became clearer and her submerged doubts of the human shape became extraneous. It was two people. They walked arm in arm and seemed almost casual. A man and a woman, Sally thought, Good! Another woman could only be a benefit to a lone woman like Sally, seeking to befriend two strangers in the mist.
A choking sob caught her and tears came to her eyes as she suddenly recognized the people. They were not strangers -- they were friends. In a choked, whisper, she tried to call out. “Ed? Aekie?”
The two figures froze at the unidentified sound. Then Ed saw her and, trying to see better, began to step toward her. Aekie kept her hand in Ed's but stayed just behind him, peering around his shoulder to see.
Sally, elated, stood up and called, “Ed?”
Ed stood straight at the sound of his name. Then Aekie, her arm slipping into Ed's, gasped, "Sally?"
"Yes!" she cried, and began to sprint toward them.
For several minutes their greeting was limited to hugs and their names being repeated over and over again. Then Sally, wiping tears from her radiant face and Aekie becoming tearful herself, Ed asked, "What the hell ,are you doing out here, Sally? Are you alone?"
She straightened slightly. "Yes. I'm afraid so."
"But where are the others?"
“They're back in that direction," she said, pointing along the shore line. She added, "About three or four days walking.” While Ed and Aekie could only look astonished, Sally begain her own questions. "What about your enclave? You're not alone, are you?”
"Oh, no,” Ed said. Then, as Sally breathed a sigh of relief, he added, “But we've had a lot of casualties.”
"I can imagine," Sally answered, “So have we." Then with sparse but essential detail, she described the destruction of Corsair, the regrouping of the four enclaves, and the destruction caused by the flood. Her thoughts on Fred Smith and his actions were conspicuously brief but pointed.
"But what about Intrepid and Eagle? How did you fare?”
Ed, almost apologetic, answered.” There are only three of us from Intrepid. A gas explosion within the enclave killed all of the rest."
“Oh, God, Ed. Only three out of fifteen?”
“I'm afraid so. But Eagle did quite a bit better. There're nine of them.” With a bit more pride, he added, "Plus we've picked up another eight people: all healthy and in fairly good shape."
"You mean seven, dear," Aekie corrected.
Oh, yeah," Ed said, "We lost one of 'em.”
"Edgar Morris?" Sally asked.
Surprised, Ed said, "Yes. But how did you know?”
“He found us. But it was just before the flood and he was killed when the waters hit us. Just before he died, he told me that he had been with you.”
“Incredible," Ed marveled. Then, puzzled, he added, “I never did figure why he took off.”
Sally then remembered her mission. "What about Tom Griffith? Is he still in charge?”
Aekie frowned. “I'm sorry, Sally. Tom was killed right after opening their enclave. But Penny's okay. In fact, she's doing quite well.”
“Yeah,” Ed laughed, “I think she's got Ernie Shaw sweet on her.”
“Dead?" Sally's plans were suddenly threatened. “But who's in charge?” Then, looking at Ed, she had a sudden thought that Ed might be. It disheartened her slightly for Ed was not currently wearing the role. If the last moments were any indication, Ed could not truly be in charge.
“Larry Scott,” Ed answered, with something of a knowing smile.
Aekie smiled as well. “Scott's probably the best thing we've got going. But I suspect you can imagine that for yourself.”
Sally smiled. “Yes, I can. Very much so.”
Sally's homecoming at Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie was, in all respects, joyous. For her; the sight of the happy, friendly faces of people she had only begun to know heartened her beyond measure. Even the new people who she had never met before brought her joy. There was a gaiety and an atmosphere of well-being that told better than Ed and Aekie could ever hopes to have described in words that Scott's reign was a good one. When he greeted her, smiling his now majestic smile, she knew that whatever her problems might be, they could now be met and overcome.
For the residents of Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie, Sally's appearance was a token of a better future. She was that essential link to all of their other companions. Her presence provided the necessary element in reuniting a group of people who had grown together in the midst of chaos and confusion and who had known a unique intimacy. Together they had built a community and had then had it abuptly severed. They could never again feel quite whole until that community was once more a single entity. Sally said nothing about her plight, knowing that the news would be even more crushing in the midst of their gaiety. There would be time later.
With Sally in the midst of her friends, Scott approached them, a careful smile on his face. "Hey, let's give Sally a break," he announced. "She's had a long, hard trip. We're not being too hospitable if we don't give her a chance to rest.” When everyone seemed to agree, he added, "What say we have a celebration this evening to welcome Sally to Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie, her home away from home?" Everyone cheered. "Good! And meanwhile, we'll give her a chance to unwind." To Sally, he added, "That sound okay to Ms. Hammond?" Sally smiled, grateful at his courtesy. To the others Scott said, "Then it's settled. We'll have a feast tonight to welcome our dear friend." A carnival mood descended as Penny accepted her orders from Scott and began organizing the preparations.
With everyone thinking of how they could help, Scott took Sally by the arm. "You can rest in my tent, Sally -- over this way."
"We need to talk," Sally said with an unexpected intensity.
"It can't wait? Scott asked.
"No," Sally said.
As they began walking, Scott motioned for Ed and Ernie Shaw to join them. The four of them walked casually to Scott's tent, a structure that was set apart from the others.
When Sally saw the welded steel frame and sheets of steel partially covered with debris and mud, she asked simply, "Tent?"
Ed smiled. “It sounds better than ‘metal shack' or welded iron bunkers.'"
Ernie, partly to himself, added, "Frankly, I prefer to call them ‘nests'.”
They all smiled and entered the ‘tent'. With only limited head room, they quickly sat down on makeshift stools made out of steel and rope. Monica was already inside. As Sally looked at her, she asked, "Can I get you anything, Sally?"
"Oh, no, thanks." Then, as an afterthought, "Monica."
Briefly she wondered if Monica would stay. That was before Monica took her place beside Scott without apparent notice by the men. Sally didn't think that Monica was part of the leadership. It was the way her eyes seemed to ignore the proceedings. Monica seemed more a secretary to the board than a board member. As Sally watched her, she began to realize that Monica was more likely a personal secretary to the Chief Executive.
“Sally," Scott began, “It's a bit surprising that you struck out on this journey to find us alone. It rather suggests that your actions may not have been… shall we say, 'officially sanctioned'? Ed has even suggested that there may be serious troubles back at the other enclaves and that your coming to us was more to enlist our aid than to simply bring us all together again. You want to tell us about it?"
“Yes," Sally answered. She began to describe a history of the four enclaves, beginning from the day that Mike Brownson had found Corsair. She described one event after another, attempting to lead the others down the same path of experience she, herself, had traveled. With great effort she tried to maintain a strict objectivity, detailing the facts without commentary. When she described in greater detail the events leading up to Mike Sienstra's death, her emotions flared and gave evidence of her feelings even though she still avoided editorializing. Finally she told them of Fred's refusal to provide blood for Mike Brownson and his stated reasons. That's when she partially lost it. “It was so senseless! How in the name of humanity could the man refuse to authorize a blood transfusion in order to save someone?"
Sally momentarily dropped her gaze to the ground, trying to regain control of her anger and frustration. Then, with more care, “I suppose the danger to Mike was why I did what I did. Up to that point, I had thought that Fred could be brought around. All we had to do was to show him that each individual had their own rights. But the one time Mike tried to voice his opinion…" Somberly she recalled that she had been the one to urge Mike to object in the first place, "Smith became irate. Nothing I said meant anything; he virtually ignored me. Fred wanted only to reduce Mike to nothing. Then when Mike was hurt, Fred guessed that here was his chance to rid himself of Mike, once and for all."
"And so you came to us for help?" It was Scott's first comment since Sally had begun.
Sally looked at him, sensing her only hope. “Yes," she murmured.
Sally seemed thunderstruck. “To stop Fred Smith before he kills us all.”
"But he killed only one person: Sienstra. And Sienstra was violating a great many more rights of others.” Scott's thoughts returned hauntingly to a picture of Pat Wells laying hurt and uncomprehending as Scott told her that he was leaving her to die.
Sally was suddenly defensive. "Isn't denying medical aid to Mike paramount to murder?"
"Mike did not die because of a lack of blood, did he? When you left, Doc Steward expected him to be okay?"
“Yes, but no thanks to Fred."
"I know Dr. Steward very well, Sally. Al will move any mountain for a patient. But let me ask you this: Did Al tell Fred that he must insist on the blood transfusion for Mike?"
Sally looked sheepish but defiant. "Not that I know of." Then her building anger overcame her reserve. "Are you taking Fred's side, Larry? Don't you believe me?"
"Easy, Sally," Ed put his hand on Sally's shoulder, gently but with authority. "We're not choosing sides. We're trying to learn the truth. Fred may very well be in the wrong. But then you may be wrong as well.”
Sally seemed to calm slightly. Ed gave her a gentle smile. “Usually, truth is somewhere in between two opposing viewpoints. We'd simply like to give Fred his due."
Sally looked at him hard. “That would probably be a bullet."
Ed held a firm gaze on the anger sweeping across Sally's face, as Scott answered quietly, “That may be, Sally. But it has yet to be decided.”
Sally looked back at him, saddened by Scott's distance but aware that her rationality must be stable now. These men obviously would not accept anything less. “I've already decided.”
Then Ernie Shaw spoke for the first time. “That's quite clear to us, Sally. You struck out on a difficult and potentially fatal trip to find us. You clearly risked your life for your beliefs; this much is clear. We don't doubt your convictions, Sally, but we must be allowed to arrive at our own."
"I can understand that. But you've heard everything I can tell. So what do you intend to do?"
Scott looked at her then glanced at the others. “Clearly, we have to go back and find the others. Then we can decide.”
Ed turned partway to Sally. “Sally, I've known Fred Smith for many years. What you say, I believe could have happened. Fred is precise, something of a perfectionist, intolerant of chaotic changes, and would insist upon a logical order of things. In his quest for order, he may have become dictatorial. But Fred is also my friend and we must give him his right to challenge your statements.”
Sally let her gaze move from one to the other, carefully and purposefully. “You're right, of course, but we can't leave it at that. There's got to be more.”
Scott asked, “What?”
Sally looked at Larry, her intensity building, her objective forming clearly in her mind. “Fred Smith is an intelligent person. He is capable of a great deal, including deceit. Whether you agree he's currently being deceitful is not at issue, but the possibility that he could deceive you is!"
“What I want from you is your assurance that you will make a definite decision.” Sally looked at each of them as they waited for her to explain. “Ed, who's in charge here?”
Ed watched her for a brief moment. “Larry.”
"Why? Why only Larry? Why not the three of you?”
Ernie interrupted, "Your point being that there can only be a single leader?"
"In time when survival is precarious at best, yes.”
Ed answered, "Then we agree with you on that point.”
"And do you agree that the survivors of all six enclaves should form a single entity under one leader?"
Scott asked, "You don't think that two independent groups can live in peace?”
“No. One, Smith could not accept it. He has become plagued by thoughts of bandits and scavengers. Another group of strong people nearby would never be acceptable.” Sally held her hand up quickly to prevent rebuttal. “But, even if you don't buy that, you must be aware that chances for survival are better if we all join.”
“That's clear enough,” Ernie answered. "Besides, two independent groups with different successes and abilities would simply provide fuel for envy and jealousy."
“And competition," Sally added. "We do not have the option of having competition flourish between two groups. It's a luxury for which survival will not allow.”
Ed spoke, "Then I take it, Sally, you want us to agree that only one leader is possible for both our groups?"
"And one thing more,” Sally looked directly at Scott, “If you want to find Fred and the others, fine. Give Fred his day in court. But then choose! Put yourselves at his mercy, under his authority. OR! Choose another leader. If you come to the same conclusion as I have by judging his actions, then you must act.”
“Vote?" someone asked.
“With Larry as the opposing candidate? I doubt Smith would accept it if he lost. And, besides, there are more in the other group. None of them have ever even thought of Scott as the leader. It was certainly a surprise when I learned of it."
Slight smiles went all around the group. Sally, only slightly embarrassed, continued, “The one thing you will have to accept, if not now, then eventually. Is that Fred Smith will not step down. If you do nothing else, convince yourself that what I'm saying is true. Offer him every compromise, but always require that he abdicate. I guarantee that he won't. He'll never accept that one condition."
"If that's true,” Ed agreed, "Then it's clear that he has no right to such authority. Any leader must, in the final analysis, accept the will of the group.”
“And Fred won't. Convince yourself of that and then you'll know what you have to do.”
Scott looked unbelievingly at Sally. "You make Fred sound like some sort of egocentric paranoid.”
"Egocentric, absolutely. He's totally convinced that he is the only one who can make major decisions. In his view, anyone else's efforts would be dangerous to everyone. He must have it his way or not at all.”
A moment lulled as the four of them thought of Sally's charge. Then Ernie suggested, "Perhaps our aim should first be to find Fred and the others. Then essentially put Fred to the test. If he demonstrates that he would in no circumstance step down, then we will have to use force.”
"How?" Scott asked. "Impeach him? Execute him?"
“If need be, yes.” Ernie answered.
“Why does that sound like barbarism or at the very least, tribalism? If we don't like our leader, must we put up our own champion? When a man steps beyond his allotted realm, must he die?"
Ernie gazed intently at Scott. "If he will not relinquish his authority to the will of the group, yes. It's an ancient rule: when circumstances dictate, The King Must Die.”
Sally added, "There is no choice, Larry. It is the way of this world – at least for now.”
For a long moment Scott looked from one to the other. All the others seemed in agreement.
Sally and Scott moved quietly away from the tent. When the other men had left, Monica had started to leave herself, as if she knew that Scott must be alone with Sally. But Scott had stopped her and had told her to wait for him. Then he had taken Sally's arm and they had gone outside. As they walked, Sally suddenly felt unsure, as if she was meeting for the first time the man she was promised in marriage. Only in this case something was wrong.
They walked for some time, out beyond the barbed wire fence that unofficially marked the settlement's boundaries. Once they were out of sight of the camp, Scott spoke for the first time.
“Sally, are you aware of what you're asking for?'
"Larry, I don't want to talk about Smith and the others. Let's leave that for now." Then, as Scott stopped and turned toward her, his face showing a telltale hint of surprise, she added, "Let's talk about us."
Scott smiled gently. "It's been a long time since there was an us.”
Sally felt a brush of fright. "Was?"
Scott raised his hand to her cheek. Then gently he said, "Let there never be any doubt that I loved you very deeply."
Sally knew in her heart the inevitable. But her abject heartbreak insisted on a reason. "Why the past tense? Do you no longer love me?"
Scott dropped his hand as his eyes left hers to gaze on her hair. "Oh no, Sally. I still love you, very much."
"Then why? Why are you standing away from me? Do you have any doubt that I love you?"
"No.” Scott turned back to her. "Sally, so much has happened. And perhaps more importantly, there is so much ahead of us."
"But how does anything that has happened, or will happen… How does that come between us?"
Scott hesitated for only a moment. "Sally, a few moments ago you asked me to remove Fred Smith from his position. In his place you thought to put me, as the single leader. Did you do so only to become my second in command?"
Sally was genuinely shocked and deeply hurt. Protesting, she answered, “Larry, you can't believe that! I'm not doing this for myself.”
Scott held up a hand to halt her protests. "Of course; I know that. But you are not a follower, Sally. You are a leader. You make things happen. At the very least you would have to be a council member, or a member of the board of directors, or something of the sort. Furthermore, two people of that caliber in the same family seldom works.”
Sally stared, suddenly unsure. Then as she considered his words, she began to understand. Slowly she agreed, "I see what you're saying. In all candor, I suppose that I do consider myself as one of the leaders. But how does that…” Her voice trailed off as Sally suddenly realized that a single leader needed a consort as his mate, not a council member. Monica could serve Scott but Sally could not. Evita might have been able to pull something like that off, but Sally didn't see herself in the same role.
They talked for a while longer but Sally could only think that she had lost Scott. Larry was being very kind, which Sally appreciated. But the critical factor was that Sally was again alone. She could aspire to be one of the council; in fact she knew that she had no other alternative. But what as a woman was she supposed to do? Sally wanted a man she could respect without reservation, but she also knew that she could not be less than her potential. Was the equality of husband and wife not possible any more?
Sally did not know the answer. Her only thought was that life suddenly appeared very lonely to her.
Much later that night, after the celebration was over, Scott sat in his tent, his knees supporting his outstretched arms, his own hands manipulating a stringy weed. He stared across the small tent, gazing at the blank wall. The others had left, only Monica remained. But she kept quietly busy, refraining from interrupting his thoughts.
Out loud he wondered, "Whatever happened to our thoughts of civilization? Must we revert to tribal law?" Monica recognized the question as rhetorical and kept silent. "If I challenge Fred's authority, and he refuses to back down, then do I have to fight him? Have we reached the point where one of us may have to die?" He grimaced as his hand fell to his chest. “My God, how barbaric!”
Monica moved silently over to Larry, sat down beside him, and grasped his arm. His head raised at her touch and he began again, “Monica, it's not that I'm scared of drying. We've become all too used to death in these last months. But it seems so pointless. Can't we rule our lives without becoming savages?"
Monica, her gaze downward, quietly answered, "You can only do what is right."
"But what's right?" He turned to her abruptly. “How do we know? It's easy to do what is right.” Then, turning away, "The trick is in knowing what is right.”
"If you have to fight him, then it's right."
Scott's hand went to his neck to rub away the complexity. “Somehow we must prevent losing our civilization. And yet, in order to stay in a position to prevent a return to barbarism, I must act barbaric and use inhumane methods. It's the same old question of the ends justifying the means .”
Monica turned to face him directly. “The ends are the justification provided you remember to question the means at each step."
Scott looked away. "But once the foot is through the door, the question will never again be as seriously questioned as now. And I may very well have to kill a man. The first one will be hard, but I can't believe that it will be as difficult for the second. Or the third."
Scott returned to his silent arguments within himself as suddenly in Monica's mind a thought crystallized. Her own responsibility seemed abruptly clear. And she knew that she would do whatever she had to do. It was suddenly perfectly clear.
Chapter Eleven -- Gathering Allies
Chapter Thirteen -- Sneak Attack
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