After the Apocalypse
Chapter 111: The Waiting Game II

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Mark had given up searching for radio transmissions and shut down the communications center. People were drifting into the main room at Beaver Creek, and the noise-while muted as the possible invasion took its toll in fear-was making it hard to hear even the static. Doug had briefed most of the people on the pure facts-but of course, there weren't a lot of those to be had.

Which meant a fertile atmosphere for speculation, and a time to do what could be done to keep everyone both informed and calm. "That, of course, is a difficult balancing act," he thought. Nonetheless, he had to try-throughout the history of Winter Camp, Mark had never done much with camp security, but now was his time, and this was the best contribution he could make.

He was not surprised to see Katie and Carrie among the crowd, but was surprised that they were rather quiet-he had expected that this situation might be another "incomplete information" mini-scandal in their eyes. They waved him over.

"So what do we really know?" asked Carrie.

"What's Doug told you?"

"Just that there seem to be two groups of invaders in camp. One of them about five guys and armed. They're moving in this general direction, but we've sent some patrols out to intercept them. The other is a single guy, being held captive at Rawhide. "

"Those are the facts. Anything beyond that is either pointless trivia or pure speculation."

"I find it hard to believe that you would regard any trivia as 'pointless', Mark," said Katie.

"Okay, you have a point. At a time of crisis, it's not unusual to focus on microscopic details-but what we have comes only from our guys in the field. I don't think we even know for sure how many people are in camp-we think five plus the one at Rawhide, but of course there could be other people we don't know about or haven't seen. Of more interest is the 'why?' factor."

"Okay, I'll ask. Why?" asked Carrie.

"This is just guesswork, now," cautioned Mark. "My suspicion is that they're part of the Night Razers, and they're either looking to avenge our little firefight in Lapeer, or they're looking for me and trying to shut down the radio. We know the Razers aren't too happy about any radio transmissions leaking out, and if they've discovered what we're up to, I imagine they might really want it stopped. If they're with Miller-the solo guy, up at Rawhide right now-they're probably just looking around or looking for him." "Do we need to evacuate?" asked Jeanne. "We've got families with kids here-maybe we should get them out of danger."

"If they're with Miller's crew, I don't think violence is their intent. Miller didn't take anyone out when he had a chance, after all," said Mark. "If it's the Razers, I'm not sure where we could go that would be safe. The BC highlands aren't going to be easy to hide in, and you'll be a lot less comfortable than we are here." He paused. "Besides, I don't think they're looking for women and children. If they're bent on revenge, they want men."

Mark's pronouncement took a moment to sink in with the group, which had slowly grown as others came into the cabin. "So let's say there's a confrontation somewhere along the way," said Carrie. "What makes you think they'll stop without coming back here?"

"First, it's hard to say how much they know about the layout of the camp. With the weather we've had lately, it's not like there are a lot of tracks leading back here. Once they get to Rand Acres, they might suspect that someone's back here, but if all goes well, we'll have them…neutralized by that time. Remember, they don't know anything-as far as we know-about us, but we have them under fairly tight surveillance now. Second, according to Emily, the Razers aren't a group that's out for mindless killing. Sure, they're a militia, but they seem primarily interested in protecting their own safety. If we back here are not a threat to them, we might be able to talk. But I don't think that'll be a problem. I suspect our guys will be able to intercept them successfully and take down any threat that they're posing."

"Are we sure they're dangerous?" asked Allison. "They might just be exploring the area."

"Ron made that exact point before the recon teams went out," said Doug. "That would definitely be a better outcome. We can hope that that's true and at the same time be ready in case it's not."

"Where do you expect this encounter to be?"

"The sentries reported that they were moving, slowly but steadily, down Ranch Road. Our interceptors were pushing through the woods behind Clearwater and to the north. I suspect that first contact will be somewhere around the old OK Corral. It's a big clearing, so there'll be a good chance to catch them without shooting."

"That's pretty close by," said Katie. "Which means it should be happening about now, right?"

"Probably. Assuming that everyone's still moving at the same speed and in the same direction," said Mark. "On the other hand, our guys might have decided to wait them out, or they might have turned back and headed for a cabin. Lots of alternate possibilities exist."

"I don't like this 'all we can do is wait' idea," said Jaime. "Isn't there something we can do back here?"

"The one thing that comes to mind is to count heads," said Doug. "Let's make sure that we can account for everyone who's supposed to be back here. I don't think we want-or need-any roving kids to stray into the path of what could get messy. If everything breaks in our favor, we won't have anything to worry about, but if something happens badly, we'll at least have control of our own people. And there's always the chance that the Razers aren't interested in shooting kids."

As a course of action, it didn't rank with what the armed patrols were doing, but everyone agreed that it was better than doing nothing. The cabin emptied as people spread out to round up anyone they could find, and Mark went back to the radio.

Twenty minutes later, the makeshift census was complete. Jeff and Mark had kept a careful roster of who had come to camp and when, and according to the master list, only two people were unaccounted for. They had kept Steve Donohue's name on active status as if he was still in camp; no one was ready to suggest that he might not be alive.

Jenny Cooper was a different story. Over the course of the past month, there were certain clearings and campsites that were frequently visited by campers for recreation and exercise, and those were easily checked. Nobody had seen any sign of Jenny in their routine roundup, and Emily and Timmy knew nothing of where she might be.

"Should we start a search?" asked Katie.

"Not right now," said Emily. "There's too much danger. Jenny probably just wanted to be alone for a while-she's a fifteen-year-old girl, and there's so little opportunity for privacy up at Chippewa. I'm guessing she's just out for a walk, and we'll see her before it gets dark."

Emily's opinion, of course, carried the most weight. There would be no immediate search. Jeanne and Doug began collecting Winter Camp's first aid supplies into the BC kitchen, and the rest of the crowd settled into the cabin to wait. Based on what they knew, it would not be a long wait, but few of the adults took much comfort in that. The high stakes ruled that out.

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