After the Apocalypse
Chapter 115: Merge Sort Algorithm

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

The need for another Future Society meeting that evening was acute. While needed guards remained at South Cove and at Rawhide, those elders who were available began the immense challenge of interpreting all of their older knowledge in light of the new data.

First on the agenda was the resolution of Jenny Cooper's situation, and for that, Emily had been brought into the Future Society fold. Lou recounted the story of the attacks at Rawhide, where Miller was slowly recovering under an enhanced guard. Jenny was being temporarily detained there as well, but almost everyone agreed that a teenaged girl required different handling from an unknown adult invader.

"Do you have any idea why she pulled such a stupid stunt, Lou?" asked Jeff, whose contempt for the girl was obvious.

"None. Like I said, she came in from behind me-more or less out of nowhere; I couldn't have predicted that-and claimed that she and Miller together could take me. After I took him out and she shot at me, I didn't spend time assessing her motives."

"Emily, any thoughts?"

"She's a 15-year-old girl-I doubt whether anyone knows what she's thinking. Has anyone talked to her since this happened?"

"Not successfully," said Joe. "I don't know if we just didn't send the right people in or she's simply determined not to talk to us, but we don't really know anything more about her than we did yesterday. Except that something made her take sides with Miller against Lou."

"Could it be that she recognizes Miller-and that his story about being a reservist walking to Flint is all a crock?" asked Doug.

The implications of Doug's insight took only seconds to sink in around the room. "I believe this is known as a bargaining chip," said Mark Hunt.

"Any chance of playing it on Miller soon?"

"We won't be able to talk to him until he recovers completely, which is still a day away," said Ozzie, who had taken over as the closest thing to a physician Winter Camp had.

"So until then," said Ron, "or until Jenny starts talking, we keep them isolated up in Rawhide. Emily, if you think you've got a way to get into her mind, feel free to go up there and talk to her. Except for the medical team, everyone else should stay away from Rawhide completely-at this point, there's no guarantee that anyone's safe if they go up there."

"Including me," Emily said.

"True-and if you feel that way, no one expects you to risk your safety," said Mark Bollman. "Time is on our side here, so take no unnecessary risks."

"Okay."

"Moving on," said Jeff, "what's happening with the invaders at Hilltop?"

"We interviewed them all, and they're being housed at South Cove," said Dave Milon. "Ron did most of the talking, and with a little distilled assistance, we got good information-provided it's accurate-about what's going on." Dave was pleased with his clever reference to the liquor, but he gave too much away.

"Distilled assistance?!" Jeff had been deliberately kept out of the loop about the post-masquerade party and the adult beverages stored in Trout Lake, in view of the belief that he'd object strongly to drinking at a Scout camp. That belief was validated in the next minute. "You mean there's alcohol in camp?! That's completely unacceptable! How totally-"

Ron cut off Jeff's ranting. "Look, Jeff, we all know how you feel about drinking. We salvaged a bunch of booze from one of our runs to Lapeer, and it turned out to be useful in talking to our invaders. They discovered it in Trout Lake on their way in, and one of the guys was in favor of going back there and hiding out and drinking until nightfall. That discussion, up by Hilltop, delayed them enough that we were able to intercept them before they got back to BC. Then, in chatting with them all, we found that a shot of whiskey or vodka got them to open up to us."

"Wait a second. How much rotgut is in camp?" Jeff was dead set on pursuing this tangent, and while everyone knew that "rotgut" was Jeff's preferred term for Pepsi, no one dared point that out and risk his full wrath.

No one spoke for a moment. Tim Hunt was the first to risk answering. "A lot, Jeff. We came across it in Lapeer, and there was no point in leaving it there. You know it's been useful to trade it for information, and we enjoyed some of it after the masquerade party last week." Tim's courage in the face of Jeff's icy stare was wavering, but he thought it would be best to get the whole story out at once. If Jeff could be made to see that the alcohol had helped with the interrogation, perhaps he'd overlook the party.

Of all the most veteran Winter Campers, Mark Bollman and Ron Donohue were, by a fairly wide margin, the most resistant to Jeff's bold assertions of what he believed to be his unquestionable authority. Mark was the next to speak.

"I don't see it that way," he said quietly. "Look, Jeff, the BSA no longer exists. That may or may not be permanent, but for the time being, this camp is our home. I see no reason why we shouldn't enjoy whatever pleasures and comforts we might reasonably be able to pursue, as long as we're not harming anyone else. And-" Mark raised his voice, lest Jeff try to cut him off. "When you take a look at the tight discipline we've been forced to endure-rightly so-in the last month, it's even more important that we have outlets for recovery in the form of quality down time."

Allison couldn't help thinking that the mathematician in Mark was rapidly resurfacing, but since she pretty much agreed with the direction of his remarks, she saw no point in pointing that out.

Ron jumped in. "Jeff, the party was three days ago. If there were going to be detrimental effects, they'd've happened by now." Privately, Ron was somewhat amazed that it had taken so long for the news of the party to surface. "'Guilt and innocence don't have the same meaning now that they had two months ago', Jeff-remember? You said that when we picked up the cattle from Walker's-the same reasoning applies here. Wouldn't you say?" Ron fought, successfully, to suppress a grin as he spoke what he thought would be the final sentences of the debate.

The force of his own words coming back to contradict him had little impact on Jeff-but the reaction from the rest of the room was immediate and volcanic. Jeff found himself shouted down from all corners of the room. Ron let the melee continue for a few seconds before restoring order. "Okay, that's enough for now. We've got more important matters to attend to-like these new invaders. We can certainly go back and talk about this other thing some other time."

"It seems to me that our continued safety is a lot more important than pointless debate over some perfectly legal commodities," said Roger. "Can we get back to what we now know about what's going on outside?"

Ron spoke quickly, before Jeff had another chance to. "As far as I can tell, these guys were sent by Deacon Whateley, the leader of the Flock, because he heard from someone-no one told me exactly who-that his son's killer was hiding out here at camp."

"Was that one of the guys Steve got, or someone from the battle in Lapeer, or someone else entirely?" asked Dave Woods.

"Nick Whateley-that's the son-was evidently one of the guys Steve shot at Radio Shack on the second day. I kind of got the impression that these guys didn't care too much for ol' Nick, and they're not too sad that he's dead, but the Deacon has something of a hold on his people. These five are what he calls 'shepherds'-they're lower-level officers in his organizational structure, above most of the Flock, but still subject to Whateley's orders. It's not exactly a cult, as far as I can tell, but there's a streak of loyalty running through these guys that the Deacon is easily tapping into."

"Sort of like us and Winter Camp, in a way," said Mark Bollman, who had come to that conclusion while watching the interviews.

"Very good point," said Ron. "To continue, I don't get the impression that they have any of Steve's distinguishing characteristics, so I'm not sure what they hoped to find or to do once they got here."

"At least they didn't take the 'shoot at anything that breathes' approach when they saw us," said Ozzie. "It's easy to see that that might have been an instruction."

"But that would have ruined any scheme they had to get information out of anyone," said Ron. "In that sense too, they're a lot like us. Maybe not the Flock as an organization, but certainly these guys as individuals. The challenge is that they probably have too much knowledge for us to let them go safely-but we can talk about that later. Getting back to what we learned today: The Deacon is planning to take the Flock south as soon as possible. He's preaching that the bombs were God's revenge on humanity, and that mankind must give up its tools and everything manmade-including clothes, believe it or not-to get back on God's good side."

"How big is this Flock?" asked Roger.

"About 100-comparable to us in size, truth be known. I don't know anything about their male/female breakdown, on the number of kids they've got. Didn't ask. They're under shelter at Lapeer Hospital, and it seems like the Night Razers are leaving that more or less alone."

"So there's no friction between the two groups?"

"Not significantly-they said there was kind of an uneasy truce between the two sides. The Flock, of course, plans to leave, so as long as the Razers leave them alone, it's no big deal to them if the town gets leveled. And since most of the Flock are keeping to themselves, the Razers don't see them as an impediment."

"And it's because of what we've done in Lapeer that no one's viewing us the same way, right?" asked Jeff.

The question hung in the air briefly, and everyone pondered what the possible answers might mean. If the answer was yes, then there was at least a clear threat and opponents-but everyone was probably at risk. If no, then there was a random quality to their interactions with the citizens of Lapeer that would make the future perhaps safer, but certainly no more secure.

"Probably," said Ron. "But there's nothing we can do to change that now, so we need to look forward."

Roger felt that the time had come for a subject change. "Did you learn anything new about the Night Razers?"

"Nothing directly, but the guys said they were the only members of the Flock who were out on patrol in camp. We didn't tell them that we had another captive, but that means that Miller-if he is indeed from Lapeer-is probably with the Razers. And if Doug's theory about Jenny turns out to be right, there's another couple of dots connected."

"Assuming that they're all telling the truth and not lying to protect their friend," said Jeff, who remained skeptical.

"Of course-but we got essentially the same story from all of them, and we were extremely careful not to let them talk to each other while the interrogation went on. If we can get confirmation from the guy who was shot, who hasn't been near the others recently-that would increase the chance that we have the truth."

"That's not gonna happen tonight," said Jeff. "He's recovering down in Clearwater and needs some time to rest before we put the screws to him and find out what he knows."

"Okay, but unless they agreed on a common story to that level of detail before they even met up with us-which, let's face it, is very unlikely-it's probable that they're telling the truth. There might be subtleties that the guy who was shot can add, but I don't think he'll upset the essential framework of what we now have," said Ron. "Until and unless we get a contradiction, it seems to me that we must move forward from this information." Everyone around the room nodded in agreement.

"All right then, I have a more serious question," said Katie. "If we're seriously talking about holding 6 outsiders here, won't their failure to return arouse a lot of suspicion back in Lapeer? And if that's the case, aren't we opening ourselves up for a more dangerous invasion? Don't get me wrong-I think we're right when we say we can't risk letting these guys go, but that's got important ramifications that need to be thought through."

As the discussion progressed, Katie's point was never far from anyone's thoughts, but it became clear over time that security concerns were too complicated to admit a speedy resolution; too many unknown factors remained. Certainly this would be an issue to consume many hours yet-just as certain was that other information needed to be announced and acted upon.

"There's something else that might be going on," said Ron. "This is more speculative than anything else we've heard, but one thing that kind of ran through the four interviews struck me as odd. I get an impression that these guys aren't as committed to what Whateley wants as we-or he-might think. We may be able to get them to come around to our world."

"I assume that you base this on what they actually said rather than merely on how they were speaking," said Doug.

"More or less, yes. They really have an issue with him over his 'no tools' edict, and I don't think they totally agree with the lifestyle restrictions he's imposing."

"Such as? Given that there's been a nuclear war, some 'lifestyle restrictions' might be in force more or less by necessity rather than by design."

"Clothing as simple as possible-on the road to none at all once they make it to wherever they're going in the South. No alcohol, even though there's evidently a fair amount of it in town. That, of course, is how we got through to them with what we had and a willingness to share it. A general effort by the Deacon to establish himself as the supreme leader-almost a dictatorship. That's something they don't like. Not at all."

"So you're saying we might be able to offer them something better than what they have, enough to get all of them to join us? At the same time, are the benefits to us of having them enough to counteract the increased risks we'll take by adding outsiders from a faction known to be, at best, unfriendly to us?" asked Jeff. "I think that's asking an awful lot."

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