New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Fred glanced at his watch: 3:25. He would not wake the others until 3:45; they needed the rest. Even then they could be on their way by 4:00. With no problems they would be in position by 5:00 or, at the latest, 5:30. They would wait for sunrise and morning light at about 6:15. Then, as the camp roused itself, Smith's group would open fire and cut them all down. The surprise would be sudden and complete. No one would escape. Most importantly, Sally Hammond would be dead.
Fred grimaced slightly as he realized that Sally might not even be in the group, the fires that George had spotted late last night told Smith only that they had found a camp. Nevertheless, Sally's trail led directly toward this location. There was even a suggestion that she had been joined by two other people who had met her at the former shore line of the lake. Fred decided he was sure that Sally would be up ahead. In any case, he would hold off the attack until Sally showed herself just to be sure. It also meant that she would be one of the first to be shot.
3:44. Time to wake the others. Slowly Fred moved around the small group, being careful not to touch anyone but only to say their name. Soon they were all awake, putting their boots back on, stuffing their sleeping bags into the stuff sacks, and munching on their ration bars. No one spoke a word or even communicated with one another. They all knew what lay ahead. The fact that there were only six of them against perhaps a dozen men daunted everyone's enthusiasm except Fred and George, who had faith in the advantage of surprise.
Diana was also worried, but her concern was for other reasons. Her plan had been to run but Fred had decided differently. Now her only real hope was that a well placed bullet into Sally Hammond would allow Diana her own escape path. No one ever had to know that Diana knew that Sally's destination was the other enclaves. Without Sally to contradict, it would be plausible that Diana had only understood that Sally was going after Edgar Morris' group. But the critical factor was Sally's death. Diana knew that she must see to it personally.
At precisely 4:00, Fred stood up and turned toward the objective. George and the others then fell in behind. Diana followed Smith; then came Warren and Trippe, and then Steward and George. They walked quietly and carried their arms at the ready. As they approached the ridge that sloped toward the camp, they came to an outcropping of rocks. It had already been decided by Smith that this would be their fall back position. At the rocks Fred stopped and very quietly took his pack off. Then with only his rifle, ammunition and field glasses, he began walking again. The others followed suit while George and Dan Steward carefully covered the packs with debris to hide them.
Near the top of the ridge, Smith squatted down, his hand held flat toward the ground but still a half-foot above it. The others immediately stopped and began to fan out to the right. As soon as each had cleared the other and had an uninterrupted field of fire, they stopped and knelt down. Smith checked each one of them, then began moving alone to the top of the ridge. At the top he began crawling army style, until he maneuvered over the hill and into position behind a small group of rocks. With the only pair of binoculars available to his group, he began to search for signs of life.
The darkness still held most of its secrets and only an occasional glimpse of glowing fire ambers suggested any sign of life. The early morning included a full moon but the dust and haze allowed it to give only the most meager light. Morning would soon be upon them, but they had plenty of time before they would have to act. Still… there's no time like the present. Smith turned and made a prearranged hand signal.
George had waited at the edge of the ridge, his eyes following Fred's every step. When he saw the signal to move, he motioned to the others. Trippe was the first to move but the others were quick to react. Diana moved straight ahead in order to join Fred. Warren and Trippe moved off just below the ridge to take a position fifty to one hundred yards to Fred's right. George led Steward to the left to Fred's position, and then continued on for another thirty yards before they crossed over the ridge and began to traverse the gentle valley as it sloped toward the camp.
As they moved, George searched carefully for a firing position. The camp just to his left was only barely visible through the foggy air. George kept his eyes on the camp and the intervening space, scanning the ground for something of a protected position. Then he saw a rocky depression. He stopped suddenly, estimating its value. Dan steward knelt silently behind him, glancing back and forth between George and the camp, awaiting instructions.
George knew Fred's approximate position but could only guess at Trippe and Warren's. Still he knew their approximate areas and the rocky depression looked very good. It afforded a nearly ninety degree crossfire angle, but was not so far around from the others as to allow someone to easily cut them off from Smith and Trippe. Making his decision, George began moving down the gentle slope, his eyes searching the camp for any signs of movement.
Once in the rocky depression, George motioned for Dan to begin setting up a few large rocks to act as shields for their firing positions. As Dan quietly began to move rocks up toward where his mentor lay, George began to study his position. The distance was less than forty yards to the camp so that the accuracy of the rifles should be ample. Only the continual dust, fog and haze would interfere. But at their present distance, man-sized figures should be easy enough to pick out -- 'and pick off', George thought.
Satisfied, George managed to pinpoint Fred's location and after waiting several long moments, was able to sign that he was ready. Smith indicated understanding, such that George turned and laid his rifle on the ground just ahead. Then he helped Dan to get several more rocks into position. By 6:00 they were ready and rested on the ground, awaiting sunrise.
Smith glanced at his water: 6:05. First light had already made its presence felt. The sun would begin to provide a diffuse but adequate light in about ten minutes. Since it was coming up behind the ridge where Smith waited, it would take even longer to find its way down into the shallow depression where the camp was situated. But that, of course, was the beauty of it. Fred smiled. He knew that the ridge position was less effective at giving them the high ground. But on the other hand it was ideal in keeping the sun behind them. The inhabitants of the camp would be staring straight into the sun at their attackers. Even with the sun being more diffused than direct, the distinct advantage of having the sun behind them made Smith even more confident of success.
As the first sun rays began to find their ways over the ridge, the scattered and reflected light began to cast a dulled lighting over the entire area. With his binoculars, Smith managed to pick out where Warren and Trippe were positioned. A bit too far back, he thought. But as he covered the ground between them and the camp, he realized that there was simply no unexposed positions any closer. Smith frowned slightly and then dismissed the concern.
As he caught sight of George and Steward, Smith smiled slightly. George was in a much better position. Fredericks, Smith realized, would not have the same sun advantage as Smith but he knew that, regardless, he could count on George. In all the time that George had taken orders from Smith, this day was the critical one. Today George Fredericks would be the key.
Smith brought the glasses down. As he absently used his shirt to wipe the sweat from the eyepieces, he saw Diana, about five yards away on the far edge of the rock outcropping. She was intently sighting her rifle on the camp. Smith jerked when he first realized her actions. They all had strict orders not to fire until Fred did. But then Fred realized that Diana was only using her rifle's telescopic sight to observe the camp. Smith frowned slightly as he abruptly realized that Diana had a telescopic sight on her rifle; he had not noticed it before. George should have that rifle, Smith thought, not Diana. With only one pair of binoculars for the whole group, the telescopic rifle should be with a more skilled rifleman.
Obliquely Smith remembered that Diana's hunting rifle was a smaller, less powerful one. It would not be as effective as the other rifles that Sienstra and Warren had stolen from the armory. Smith wondered if the telescopic sight could be used on another, more powerful rifle. After a moment, he realized that he just didn't know. He'd have to ask George later, Smith thought. But for now there was nothing else to do.
Fred turned his attention back to the camp. Putting the binoculars to his eyes, he began studying the camp as the first dulled direct rays of the sun began to fall on the area. Fred's first realization was that he was seeing a large grouping of tents. But there was something strange about the tents. They were too large, for one thing; more like A-frames. And there was one other thing wrong but Fred could not put his finger on it. For several moments Fred kept his binoculars moving from tent to tent. Then he identified the oddity: The slight wind blowing across the camp was not causing any movement of the tents, there was no flapping.
The scene puzzled him for just a second or two, until a movement caught his eye. Someone was coming out. Smith only briefly realized that, by comparison to the figure, the tents were in fact quite large, perhaps ten feet at the apex. But, instead of dwelling on the fact, Smith tried to study the figure. The individual suddenly became more important.
He appeared to be a young man in his late teens or early twenties. Unconsciously Fred noted that he could not recognize the man, i.e., he was looking at a total stranger. Almost below his consciousness, Fred felt a relief at this observation.
On a conscious level, Fred noted that the youngster was quite casual and seemed to be carrying a cup of coffee. As Fred followed the young man with his binoculars, he saw him cross the compound to the end nearest Fredericks. The youngster stopped at what looked like a large steel water tank set on comparatively high ground. Then the man disappeared behind it. For a moment Fred could only wonder. Taking the binoculars down, he abruptly saw another figure at the tent the youngster had just come from. But as Fred brought the binoculars up, the other figure stepped back through a makeshift door in the tent. Apparently someone just stepping out for a brief moment in the early morning.
Smith looked over at Diana, who looked as if she had been scoped in on the same figure. As Diana looked over at Fred, he tried to ask her what she had seen. Diana only shrugged her shoulders and turned back to watching the camp.
Someone came out from behind the circular structure, and began walking back the way the kid had come. For a moment Fred took in the whole scene, his mind registering some significant fact, but one which he could not identify. Smith lifted his binoculars again. It was, in fact, the same youngster. But in this case, Fred realized, without the cup. Then Smith smiled as he realized that the young man had just informed Smith as to the position of someone who was probably his superior… possibly the local chieftain. With his binoculars, Fred began studying the circular shape with renewed interest.
The structure still looked very much like a steel water tank. But then he noticed a peculiarity. Around the tank was a circular I-beam, probably for support against any interior pressure. But then, just below the circular banding, Fred saw a rectangular hole. Clever, Fred thought, hiding the gun port by the shadow of the circular beam immediately above it. Only in this case, Fred smiled, the early morning low angle of the sun shows the hole to be what it is: a gun port for the guard tower or command post or whatever it was. Fred shook his head slightly. As he gained more and more information on the camp and its meager defenses, Smith felt more and more confident.
Then another movement. Someone had just come out of the door of another tent. Fred almost casually used his binoculars again. Then he abruptly stiffened. He had instantly recognized the figure. His mind raced its engjnes, as he felt the surge of excitement and surprise. He concentrated all of his energies on the figure as she walked slowly and without apparent purpose away from the tent.
Fred felt the adrenaline flowing as he followed Sally meandering through the camp, apparently in deep thought. He could almost see her mind working as she moved with her head slightly downcast. Then she looked up quickly, just as Fred heard the slightest of sounds. Fred looked over the binoculars to see another figure moving toward Sally from near a small water tower.
Fred used the binoculars again but could not see the man well because of the water tower's supporting structure. Only the slight clipped beard on the man's face was noticeable, and then even that disappeared. Without it, Fred would not ever have been able to detect if it was a man or a woman. Smith went back to watching Sally as she approached the structure and the other person. Watching her intently, Smith had a sudden thought that it was not Sally -- it was so difficult to see through the muck that they still referred to as 'fresh air'. But then, as he watched the face, her head held erect and proud, Fred knew without question that it was indeed Sally Hammond.
Fred's grip on the binoculars tightened as he contemplated the moment when he would shoot her down. It was obviously too soon now, too many of the camp's members were still out of sight. He would have to wait until they were all out of the tents and into the open. Or at least when the majority were exposed. With Sally dead and a significant toll of the camp's members along with her, there would be no further worry about the camp's survivors attacking the enclaves. It was not essential for Smith and the others to kill everyone, but only to cripple them.
But, Fred thought, part of the essential crippling element is to ensure that Sally cannot lead them back. Fred concentrated on that idea as he bored into Sally's figure with the binoculars.
Learning against one of the water tower's steel legs, Sally talked about mundane things, the weather and the quality of the air, while George Harvey listened. As she paused for a moment, Harvey smiled gently, but with unexpected intensity. "Tell me, Sally: when this problem with Fred and the others is solved, what do you plan to do?"
Sally looked surprised. She paused a moment as she realized that this was not an idle question. Her mind began an immediate reformulation of George Harvey, who quietly listened to her ramblings, then immediately went to the basics. Unconsciously asking for more time to ready an intelligent answer, she answered, "I don't really know what you mean."
Harvey smiled and looked unhesitatingly into her eyes. "Sally, you're a doer. You'll never be able to sit back and watch events from the sidelines. You'll be involved. The question is how? As a part of the leadership?”
Sally recognized her own thoughts in the question; the idea of her being a member of the council or the board of directors. This did seem inevitable, but of more interest to Sally was the fact that Doc Harvey apparently recognized this fact as well and was sufficiently straight forward enough to blurt it out.
Then a very substantial thought occurred to Sally. George Harvey was a widower and a medical doctor. In addition, George was nice looking and a very considerate individual. Furthermore, Sally suddenly realized, George had been most attentive to her the night before during the celebration -- not to the point of being a pest, but just enough to make Sally notice him and his presence. And, Sally now realized, he was the sort of person with whom one could feel comfortable without the threat of conflicting careers. With his medical specialty, he was a key figure in the community, i.e. an 'equal', but not directly involved in the leadership.
Sally smiled slightly as she wondered if a woman could be a council member and the loving wife of the senior medical officer.
As Sally's smile brightened, Diana's frown deepened. Soon she would wipe Sally's sickly smile off her bright face once and for all. Then, thinking that time was running out, Diana looked over at Smith who was still intent on Sally. Diana sensed the urgency of the moment as she realized that Fred still did not know whose camp it was that they were about to attack. But Fred was taking his time to scout things out. With his binoculars it was just a matter of time before he recognized someone. Diana began to realize that she must act soon.
Then another movement in the camp caught her eye. She saw a large figure walk out of the tent nearest Frederick's position. She quickly used her telescopic sight on the man, trying to identify him. So far only Sally had been recognized; the kid that she had seen earlier she had surprisingly realized she could not identify. Meanwhile the man Sally was talking to was behind an obstruction. For just a split second she had begun to wonder if her fabricated story might actually turn out to be true; that Sally had somehow found another group other than Tom Griffith's. But as she studied the latest figure she began slowly to distinguish a familiar face. Abruptly it came to her that behind the full beard was Darrel Yasaitis.
Panic dancing around her, Diana realized that if she could recognize Yasaitis, so could Fred. When he did, Smith might stop the attack before it had begun. Diana looked quickly toward Fred, who apparently was still unaware of the most recent camp inhabitant to show his face. Her whole body tensed in anticipation, Diana realized that she must act now. In order to save herself, she must do the thing that she had relished in her mind.
As she brought her rifle and scope to bear on Sally; the immensity of her crime crystallized more clearly in her mind. With Mike Brownson it had been relatively easy, he had been asleep and Diana had not even had to see his face. She had only to pull his bandages from his wounds and hook them on a part of the cot. Then the blood had begun to flow and Diana did not have to wait until the end. She hadn't even ended up with blood on her hands.
But now the face was right before her eyes. Diana must now watch a bullet rip into it and destroy the flesh and bone. For just a moment she hesitated... until Diana recalled her own precarious position – this was a question of Diana's survival -- and her resolve stiffened. Slowly she squeezed on the trigger, the telescopic sight's cross-hairs firmly placed on the back and uppermost part of Sally's neck.
Then an explosive sound and Diana saw Sally's figure jerk and turn as the bullet slashed into her upper back. In that instant after the rifle's shot reverberated in the slight valley, all of the players reacted in their own way. Yasaitis, momentarily back in a war zone, instantly hit the ground and rolled for the cover of a metal table. George Harvey saw blood and flesh ripped from Sally's shoulders and Sally twirl toward him. George had his arms about her before she was halfway down, and he cradled her as he laid her gently on the ground. Using his body to cover her in the direction in which he thought the bullet had come from, he lifted her slightly, and with her legs dragging in the dirt between his, he carried her into the shadows of the lower catch basin of the water tower.
George Fredericks had his rifle pulled back, not ready for the attack. He had expected Smith to wait for as many people to show themselves as possible before firing, and then to signal him in some way. Suddenly Steward was emptying his clip at the diving figure of a big man who had taken cover behind what was reacting to the bullets in the same fashion as a piece of heavy steel. George pulled his rifle to the ready just as another figure showed itself behind one of the tents. George fired two quick shots but missed as the man made it to cover. Then shots came from the circular structure. George ignored them, thinking they were only meant to make the attackers hesitate. Then, as other figures appeared and leaped for other shelters, George began to fire quickly and randomly.
When the first shot had shattered the morning, Tom Warren had been sighting on one of the holes in the circular pill box (as Trippe had designated it). With more shots Tom suddenly realized that the attack was on. Leaping to his feet, Tom began firing the automatic weapon from the hip. Trippe had not gotten a single shot off when he saw Warren jump up and commence firing. Trippe fairly leaped at him, knocking Warren down in a clumsy way. Rifle fire hit all around them just as Tom's head dropped behind cover. Bullets splattered on the rocks, sending chips flying. Warren, now aware of his blunder, kept his head down.
Smith could hardly believe his ears as Diana's shot ripped into Sally. He looked at Diana, cursing her insubordination. Then he pulled his rifle up and began spraying the tents. It was only after he had expended a complete clip that Fred recognized that the multiple shots flying about were, in large part, ricochets and that his shots were bouncing off the tents. Smith lambasted himself as too late he realized that the tents were steel A-frames! There was no canvas for his bullets to rip through on their way to the occupants. His plan to wipe out part of the camp's populace by spraying the tents with a barrage of bullets was now worse than useless.
George Harvey pulled his jacket off and as the noise and confusion rose up all about him, pulled it around Sally's bloody left shoulder. Instinctively he knew that her left shoulder blade was shattered. Then her eyes blinked as she momentarily recovered from the first shock. She forced herself back to full awareness, unwilling to let the comfort of unconsciousness lull her into death.
Leaning over her,he said, “Take it easy, Sally, you'll be okay.” She looked up at him and questioned his statement with her eyes. George felt her urgency and suspicion. “Really, Sally, you're okay. The bullet's done a job on your shoulder, but you're going to be fine. Trust me,” he urged.
As she watched him she realized that he would in fact take very good care of her. Then for the first time in a long time, she decided to let another person assume the responsibility for providing such services on her behalf. Closing her eyes, she relaxed and laid herself in his care.
Inside his tent Larry Scott tried to contact the Ready Watch in the converted water tower. He kept shouting, trying to make himself heard over the din of shooting. He glanced up at Monica who was near one of the tent's ventilation holes. She looked back and nodded her head. "I can't see a thing. Just dust where the bullets keep hitting.”
Scott nodded, then he tried again to signal Penny Griffith in the Ready Watch. Inasmuch as it was apparent no one had anything positive to shoot at, Scott called for a cease fire. Slowly the noise began to subside as the word was passed for all of the people to stay put and keep their heads down. It was time to find out what was happening.
There was a similar response on the attackers' side as their targets disappeared. There was simply nothing to shoot at – not even the occasional exposure by someone in an attempt to return fire. In the relative silence that followed, Larry Scott began to shout orders.
Smith, now chagrined by the stalemated indecisive outcome to this point, suddenly recognized the voice in the camp as Scott called out familiar names, giving individual instructions. Fred abruptly realized the worst: they had attacked their own people, the survivors of the last two enclaves.
For the stupidity, the disastrous leadership he had provided, Fred berated himself. He knew that he would look like a fool when the others realized what had happened, Quickly he looked at Diana to see if she had heard, only the two of them were in a position to easily hear the voices from the camp because of the winds moving down the valley in a direction from Fredericks to the camp. But Diana was intently looking through her telescope at where Sally was down.
Then Fred voiced it aloud. "This is not Edgar's gang. This is Tom Griffith's group. Didn't you just hear someone call Penny's name?"
Diana looked around to where Smith glared at her. She was still not sure if Sally was dead, and Smith was acting really obtuse, just now putting together the obvious. With clear disgust she replied, "Of course, it's the others." Abruptly realizing she had said more than necessary, she followed with, "But the fact that Sally Hammond's down is what counts. We can still carry it off."
Smith was astounded. "You knew?"
Diana could only feel disgust for the slow witted Smith. "Of course I knew. But I didn't want you to give everything away to Griffith. Do you want to work as second fiddle under that inept bureaucrat?"
Diana's question was hardly heard by Smith. Only the statement and its implications had passed over the raised threshold of his thinking. Smith suddenly knew that Diana was the evil that he had always feared. As Diana taunted him further, Smith could realize only one clear decision. His vision clearing, he belatedly but clearly saw Diana's taunts and her manipulations. Swinging his rifle around toward her, he saw the sudden panic in her face. As that panic turned to horror, he fired two quick shots point blank into her face and chest. As her body flew backwards from the bullets' impact, Smith said under his breath, "Bitch!”
It suddenly occurred to him that as leader he must now take charge and call for a formal ceasefire. Within moments he had convinced the camp there would be no more shooting. He then took courage, stood up, and began waling slowly toward the camp, his rifle now slung over his shoulder. As he walked, he thought about the prospects of working for Tom Griffith. He had always respected the man, and given the circumstances – especially after the sneak attack on an unknown target – Fred might not have any choice. Smith grated at the idea, but he had lost the edge to fight, particularly with Tom Griffith. Their history was far too long.
Fred's actions provided clear evidence of what most were only hearing with great difficulty. But actions often speak louder than words, George thought, as he stood up and began moving down the hill, followed by Dan Steward. Then Trippe joined them, with only Warren hesitating. But soon Jon convinced him that it was okay. In the camp itself, Yasaitis stood up as Larry Scott and Tom Wirth stepped out of their tents, each with lowered weapons. Then Penny Griffith and Ed Parsons came out of the Ready Watch. Slowly they began to recognize each other.
Fred reached the camp first and walked up to where Larry and Penny stood, just as Monica came out from the tent behind them. Most still carried their weapons, but held them down in a non-threatening posture. Scott made a point of handing his to Monica, who quickly accepted it. As Fred glanced around, he realized with some relief that no one in the camp had been killed. Sally was still alive and several people were busily helping George Harvey carry her to the medical tent. Apparently the only real casualty had been Diana. And perhaps her leader, Smith thought.
"Fred Smith!” Scott was clearly surprised. "What the hell?”
Fred looked at Scott. “Hello, Larry. Penny." Keeping his poise, with only a trace of self-consciousness as numerous others from the camp joined them, he added, “I'm afraid that we mistook you for marauders. I hope no one was hurt."
"Marauders?” Scott looked at Smith unbelievingly. Slowly his amazement turned to a mocking astonishment. “So, not knowing who the hell we were, you just came in shooting!”
Fred turned to Scott, his taut face smarting at the insult. "That's not quite accurate. We had simply encircled your camp and were attempting to identify you. Unfortunately, Diana Riddle opened fire without my authority." Several people gasped, trying to understand what had just happened. As George Fredericks and the others came up to the group with its unspoken division between opposing camps still intact, Fred asked, “Is Sally the only one hurt?"
Scott suddenly realized why Sally had been the first target. “Yes, Sally is our only casualty -- which is in itself rather interesting. Especially when you consider what brought her here."
Smith glared back at Scott, his temper no longer bothering to control his responses to his tormentor. With everyone from both sides gathering around them, Fred raised his voice to address the crowd, the acid in his voice, however, clearly evident. “Diana Riddle,” for just a second he turned to George Fredericks for confirmation, “Had told us that Sally had gone to recruit a gang so that she could overrun us.” Fredericks nodded his head in agreement. “Obviously, Diana lied, even though I can't understand why.”
Scott watched Smith for just a second. “Apparently.” Scott glanced at those standing just behind Smith. “Just where is Diana?”
Fred looked straight at Scott. “She's dead. She was killed in the gunfire.”
George Fredericks was clearly startled. He had assumed that none of the camp's random gun fire had even come close to Fred's position. It had been obvious that the camp had no idea as to the exact locations of where their attackers were. George looked at Scott, who returned his look. For a brief instance they seemed to be of like mind.
Scott was now was seeing everything he feared in Smith's eyes, which came closer to telling the truth than his words. "You're telling us Diana lied, but now Diana's dead. There is no way to hear her side. Let's hope that Sally survives -- I would not want to discover that she lied as well."
Some of the others, with Penny taking the lead, had begun to acknowledge and greet their long lost comrades. But then Scott's hard threat quieted all the embryonic activity. Fred, meanwhile, had felt the full impact of the glove across his face. He returned Scott's stare, making mental notes that he would not tolerate this man's actions ever again. Fred knew that Scott had penetrated far too deep and that the two of them could never work together. Fred was beginning to brace for a blow to Scott's head when Penny Griffith interrupted.
“Larry! Fred! Wait a minute. There's just been a horrible mistake. But we're all friends. Remember that: We're friends.”
The others immediately relaxed, silently thanking Penny for defusing the situation. Scott still held himself taut, not convinced that anything was settled. George glanced at the faces of the two men and came to the same conclusion. Fred sensed only the relief at not having to answer Scott's accusation.
It suddenly occurred to Smith to return to his leadership style. “You're right, Penny.” As she smiled slightly, he added, “But where's Tom? I expected to see your husband by now.”
Penny tensed slightly but then calmly answered, "He's dead, Fred. He was killed by a gas explosion right after we had opened the enclave.”
Fred's smile vanished. “I'm sorry to hear that. Tom was a good friend.”
“Yes, he was,” Scott added. “He'll be remembered for a long time.”
Fred glanced around the group, trying to guess who had taken Tom's place. He saw Ed Parsons but Ed was shoulder to shoulder with some of the others and had no pretense of leadership. He seemed only to be watching Fred and Scott. Smith suddenly realized that only Scott seemed to be standing apart from the others. ‘Of course!' Fred's mind railed. ‘It was so obvious!'
Penny Griffith promptly confirmed it. "Larry took over after Tom's death. And he's done a wonderful job.”
Smith was thunderstruck by the news: the one person he would be unable to tolerate was in charge! The rage began to kindle a fire in his mind. As Fred realized the inevitability and irony of fate, the kindling burst loose into flames. The idea of his turning over the leadership to this usurper was against every fiber of Fred's being. He could never work under Scott nor, if the truth be told, under any other man. Not any more. Fred now knew with profound certainty that he must be in charge. There wasn't the slightest alternative. They were all in mortal damage if some bungling inept joker was trying run the show. Still struggling to control his thoughts, Fred hardly heard Scott's question.
“How are the others? Sally told us about the flood.” When Fred did not immediately answer, Scott continued, "We're of course on higher ground. Consequently we were okay."
The last sentence reached Fred but only as another taunt that Fred had foolishly led his people and made them prey to a flood. Controlling his fury, he tried to distract them from the unpleasant subject. He asked, "Where are your enclaves? Have you abandoned them?"
"Were forced to, actually. One was gutted by a gas explosion. The other was sinking in water when we left her.” A pleasant smile came across Scott's face, "We were quite lucky, though. We were able to find this large steel yard; or perhaps I should say Tom Wirth found it.” With that Scott hesitated a moment to give Tom his due.
Fred ignored the gesture, watching Scott.
“The steel yard has really worked out quite well. We have plenty of welding material and have been able to build a very comfortable camp. We call it Intrepid Eagle's Eyrie. I suppose now we may have to change the name.” Scott carefully kept his smile at the ready.
"How nice," Fred added with only a hint of sarcasm. "I'm sure you've all worked very hard on it. Still, the enclaves are going to be our best hope for some time to come. I doubt that we'd ever want to abandon them prematurely.”
“You have to leave the womb some time.”
"Poor analogy, I'm afraid, Scott. More like a premature birth, a premature exposure to the world. And we're fresh out of incubators. "
"Perhaps," Scott answered simply. “But then again, we just survived a sneak attack. With an enclave, it would only take a single grenade.” Fred bristled as Scott added, “But perhaps the best thing to do is take a look at both camps, and then take a vote. We'll let everyone decide which is best.”
Fred glanced around the group, gauging their reactions. His voice now had a cynical edge. “Well, Scott, I see you've learned how to play to the crowd.”
Scott ignored the diversion. "Of course, I'm assuming that we'll all want to regroup.”
Smith could feel the general murmur of agreement to Scott's words. Fred knew he had to take charge now or lose it forever. "But of course we'll want all of you to rejoin our group. There's no alternative but that we all stick together." Then, trying for the initiative, "Perhaps we should all go back to the base camp, the enclaves. I'm sure the others will be particularly pleased to welcome home our wandering friends. We can perhaps have a small celebration as the last two enclaves rejoin the ranks.”
“No doubt,” Scott replied. It was now time, Scott realized, to test the waters. “And we'll all want to start thinking about setting up a more permanent form of government. Obviously, you and I, Fred, will have to step down in favor of whoever the combined communities decide on." Scott went slightly stiff, having flung the final gauntlet in Fred's face. He waited for the answer which would tell him enough of Fred's state of mind that he could know what direction to take.
Fred, almost expecting the attacks now, was more confident. “I don't know how you got put in charge, Scott, or for that matter what extreme circumstances would force the issue in that direction. But around here I'm still the leader. Naturally, I'm always open to the input from others, but we've all long since agreed that a single strong leader is essential for the group's survival. I was chosen for that role and I will, of course, continue to act as such until the will of the group says otherwise."
“Times change, Fred. We both have to realize that.”
“Not basically. We are still living in the same state of siege that we were before Ketuohok. Some of the ground rules may have changed slightly, but the basic questions are still the same. And I derive my authority from the initial leadership. Furthermore, I represent four of the enclaves!"
"The initial leadership doesn't mean much any longer, Fred. Nor who linked up first. We're in a different world now.”
“You have a short memory, Scott," Fred's face hardened as he spit out the name, "It was the initial leadership that gave you and your friends their chance to live in the enclaves. Your lack of gratitude, quite frankly, astounds me."
Scott watched Fred, ignoring Fred's poor history and simultaneously cursing the fates who insisted on this moment: Fred was committing himself deeper and deeper. Should he do the same? With his body stiffening at the slur on his 'gratitude', he said, "When Ketuohok hit us, all debts were paid."
"A convenient thought, no doubt, for you, since no one owes you thing.”
“And what do we owe you?”
Fred raged within; his fury overflowing at the affront of this ursurper. It was time to put down this mutiny, now and forever. “ You owe me nothing, Scott. I cancel your debt as of now."
Scott stepped back with one foot and turned away in disgust. His hands went to his hips as he refused to look at Smith any longer.
Smith went on, “But I won't cancel my own debt to the others! I intend to continue to serve as the leader of our groups. If you – as an individual -- prefer to disassociate yourself, that's your business."
Scott looked back at the taut, tense attitude of Smith's. Larry suddenly cared no more for the negotiations. It was time to end the crumbling subtlety and talk direct. "Fred, our groups must join each other. But that can only happen if both you and I step down. Someone else will have to lead."
Smith looked amazed. The bluntness and audacity of the heresy railed at his mind. But he controlled his rage, battling inside, maintaining the appearance of the composed leader. But the raw hate he radiated at Scott was being felt by the others. Hate, like love, is never directional; it spreads in all directions, its amplitude controlled only by the intensity of the source.
In a measured cold fashion, Fred replied, "You have nothing to offer! You have no position to withdraw from! And I will not cast aside my responsibilities for your empty gesture! If a leader stepped down whenever some self-serving con artist challenged him, we'd have nothing but chaos. No leader worth his salt can shun his duty just because some defrocked comedian suggests it."
Scott knew his direction now. "Fred. The first duty of a leader is to know when to quit. When he no longer recognizes the rights of those he governs, he is no longer fit to rule.”
Fred, livid with the attack, raised his voice to overpower Scott's. "And just who decides who's fit? You?" Then he turned away abruptly, dismissing the challenger.
"We all decide, collectively," Scott answered.
Fred glared back at him. "I trust you know what you can do with that shit!" Fred quickly glanced at the others, his confidence insisting on their subservience. For just a split second he recognized their expressions. There was no support in their faces. They seemed only to be there to witness events. Even George Fredericks was oblivious to Fred's demand for respect.
Suddenly Fred realized that neither he nor Scott controlled these people. The thought horrified him as he felt the structure of their society threatened at its very core by the random mutterings of multiple personalities. He hardly heard Scott as he spoke again. Then he turned to Scott, uncomprehending.
Scott repeated, "Give it up, Fred."
"Go to hell!"
Scott watched him for a moment, intent upon the tightness of every muscle in Fred's body. To Larry's mind, Smith was a caged animal, its back against the wall, ready for one last desperate lunge; perhaps to end it all but to take as many with him as possible. Scott turned his back to walk away.
"Don't turn your back on me, you scum!” Fred screamed. Suddenly he raised his rifle and leveled it at Scott.
As Scott turned to race the muzzle, George Frederick, his own rifle aimed at Smith said quietly but forcefully, "Drop the gun, Fred."
Fred turned his head to glare at George, before flinging his rifle to the ground in disgust. George lowered his rifle. Then before anyone could speak, George pitched a hunting knife, still in its scabbard, in Scott's direction. Then Fred smiled slightly as he realized that he still had hope. Making an instant decision, he jerked his own knife from the scabbard at his waist. Then he lunged at Scott, slashing with the knife in a wide arc. Scott immediately ducked back as the group gave way to the fighters.
Smith lunged and feinted, trying to force Larry back, to make him give way. Scott did give ground but then, as he saw the look on Fred's smiling face, dismissed all previous objections. Tentatively, he probed, dashing in and out quickly. Abruptly he was forced to step back again as a wide swinging arc of Fred's knife hand slashed just above Scott's elbow. Larry winced at the pain but sensed immediately that it was not life threatening..
With Fred's smile broadening at his initial success, Scott realized his chance. Roaring a loud war yell, he suddenly leaped at Fred with no thought of feint or withdrawing. The totality of the charge unnerved Fred just long enough that he was forced to put his knife arm in hazard to protect his body from the whipping slash of Scott's knife. With one long swipe, Larry's knife sliced the forearm of Smith in a long gash from the elbow to the wrist.
Smith screamed a muffled cry as his knife fell to the ground and Smith fell back in horrible pain. He stumbled back only a few feet until he fell against a strut of the water tower. There, his back against the steel angle iron, he held his bleeding arm and looked at Scott's approaching figure. Smith grimaced at the sight of death as Larry came to within a few feet. Then Scott straightened, watching Fred intently, his knife at the ready.
"You've won," Fredericks announced. "Finish him off.”
Scott didn't take his eyes off Smith's crouching figure. “Is it necessary to kill you, Fred?"
George moved slightly forward. "Yes it is. If not now, then later. You cannot lead properly if you have to constantly concern yourself with the possibility of his knifing you in the back while you sleep. You have to finish it now!”
Scott heard all the words, the same arguments he had already lived in his mind. But he also knew all the counterarguments, had thought of them long before. The problem was that now, finally, he must decide.
The blast of the rifle splitting the still tense air roared in everyone's ears as they watched Smith's head jerk to one side with the impact of the bullet. For a moment they all stood transfixed, their minds sorting the information of their senses while they watched Fred fall headlong to the side and then hit the ground hard. As the dust raised itself abruptly to hide the dead from view, Scott turned to see Monica lowering a smoking rifle from her shoulder, her eyes intent upon the sight of Fred's body.
After a moment, she turned the rifle to hold it in a vertical position as if saluting the fallen dead. As she turned and began walking toward Scott, she extended the rifle to George Fredericks, without ever taking her eyes off Scott. George took the rifle without a word and then looked at Scott.
"I had to do it," she said simply. "Otherwise you would have had to take that first step. Now that decision is still ahead of you."
Scott stood watching her, his knife forgotten by his side. Trying to comprehend this suddenly unfathomable woman, he struggled for some semblance of rationality. "Monica," he murmured, "We can't do things that way."
She looked up at him, surprised, "Why not?"
"We can't make our choices with a gun!" Scott pleaded.
"But it was my right." Then, indicating the others, "We all have a right to end a rule. It is our only hope for living."
“But it's anarchy.”
“It's freedom." Abruptly Monica looked very confident. "We've all talked about this before. I don't remember who said it, but we all agreed that when a leader violates the rules by which we govern our lives, when he or she ignores due process, then that same leader must accept the fact that they will not be given due process either. They cannot hide behind laws which they themselves have flaunted."
Monica continued, he mind focused totally on Scott, but her voice gaining in strength. "When Fred Smith summarily killed Mike Sienstra, he tossed aside any protection of civilized laws. He didn't shoot Mike once to stop him. He shot him three times to execute him. He took the law into his own hands, and when you do that, he has no right to hide behind the laws.
"And," she added with increased forcefulness, "If you had done the same to Fred, then you would be subject to the same lack of due process when someone decided to take you down. But now they can't depend on that. They can shoot me! I've violated due process. I can't appeal to it for my protection. But whoever kills me will find themselves in my position. Somewhere we have to end the cycle. Hopefully..." Monica almost grinned, "It will end with me, and no one will feel the need to kill me. It's not like I'm going to be making bad laws and imposing my bad decisions on others." Her seriousness quickly returned. "But you don't have that luxury. And furthermore, you can't expect it from me again. Or anyone else to do your dirty work."
Scott shook his head, amazed at the woman before him. There was a horrific sense of logic in her words. But was that enough? Could this be the turnng point. Obliquely, he saw Fredericks watching Monica with abject admiration in his eyes. Others in the group seem to be in an equal state of astonishment and wonder at the young woman's words.
Slowly Larry began to sense an end to his dilemma. A society, he thought, could be as strong as the strengths of its members. Strong individuals were essential for stability. A few powerful men among a weak populace could cause chaotic swings in the pendulum, but large numbers of strong willed individuals would always dampen any attempted extremes. There would be less structure, perhaps a bit more chaotic, but they would be free. And ultimately that was the only goal they needed.
Scott now knew his direction. He reached for Monica's shoulder and drew her to him. Then he turned to Fredericks, "George, we'll bury Fred in Challenger." Quickly he added with emphasis, "With all appropriate honors."
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