After the Apocalypse
Chapter 116: Higher Stakes

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

"So now what?"

"Honestly?"

"Yep."

"I have no idea. I think we're getting in over our heads at this point."

"Gotten in. We're there. There's no turning back."

"So now what?"

"I was hoping you'd ask. It's something we need to figure out."

The prospect of running a prison camp of sorts, and the reality of what the recent capture of the Flockmen meant, had quickly emerged as a serious issue in the minds of several senior Winter Campers. For no apparent reason, they had each come through the darkness to the Beaver Creek porch. While the most zealous armed guards kept a steady watch over South Cove and Rawhide and their occupants, more thoughtful minds began quietly to grapple with a new reality.

"What can we do? We can't let them go-they're too great a risk. And we can't keep them here-we're just not set up for that kind of operation. They can't really be integrated into our new little world, but can we manage to keep them isolated?"

"I think we've got people here who'd just like to shoot them and be done with it all."

"True-but we can't do that."

Variations of "No kidding" came from around the porch-there was no disagreement with the rather obvious point.

"Not just because of the 'in cold blood' thing, or the Scout Law, but because one, they're still a source of some information-"

"You don't think we've gotten everything out of them yet?"

"No. And two, if there's another wave from Lapeer, we'd better be able to show that we've been good to these guys."

"No sense in provoking any revenge. You think there'll be more visitors?"

"Almost certainly. These five were probably expected back. They won't make it, and someone's waiting for them. They're likely either to send out a scout patrol or another attack force. Probably larger and better-armed than these guys."

"Assuming they've got the numbers."

"True. They did say something about a colony of about 100, so I think we can safely assume that they can send more commandos. Whether they will or not is a different question."

"So we do no harm. No real argument there."

"I think keeping a tight guard up in South Cove will turn out to be a net plus. It'll give some of the guys something concrete to do."

"And then there's preparing for the next wave. Sounds like we'll have no lack of work for the foreseeable future."

"What do you figure we need to do for that?"

"More of the same, actually. Our defensive perimeter worked pretty well with this encounter, so I think the one change that needs to be made is to conceal the activity at South Cove as much as possible. If the new invaders link up with the five we've got up there, things could get too much messier too fast."

"Lucky it's snowing tonight-again. Should help conceal some of our tracks. But we'll need to work on some kind of backwoods path for the security crews to use getting back and forth. The horses will be a dead giveaway if their tracks are spotted."

"Anything else for back here in BC?"

"Not really. It seems to me that the best plan is to head off any newcomers early on-like we did with these guys-and confront them far before they find the main compound and Rand Acres."

"What about other entrances into camp? We know that Gate 8 is clear enough to get through, and then the roads lead back here through Jack Lord. We're not really watching those roads all that well."

"I still don't think anyone'll think to come in that way. Unless they had a report from someone-and I still find it strange that these guys weren't in any kind of radio contact with their headquarters."

"Are we sure. Maybe they left their radio behind along the way somewhere."

"Doubtful. We checked out the Trout Lake building pretty well. Nothing there besides what we put there."

"Which reminds me, we should probably pull the booze out of there. Too attractive, and too much a giveaway."

Silence overran the crowd for a moment, then a new speaker took the conversation in a completely different direction.

"Negotiate directly."

"What?"

"Let's take one of these guys back to Lapeer. One of them, and six of us. Show him off. We've been kicking ideas around back in the cabin, and it seems like we ought to be able to take advantage of these guys."

"Take advantage?"

"Figuratively speaking, of course. Look, they're not going to make it back to town on time, which means someone's probably gonna come looking for them. Maybe with an attack in mind. Let's preempt that. Escort one of them back to town-he can testify that we've treated all of them fairly-and use that leverage to score points with this Whateley dude. Either we can trade him for information-"

"Or supplies."

"Maybe. Hard to say what exactly we need there right now. If a trade's not in the works, maybe we can at least get some kind of cease-fire agreement."

"Very hard to enforce. I don't know how trustworthy these guys are gonna be."

"They're led by a reverend; that ought to count for something. And if he's really like a cult leader, he probably has enough influence over them that they'll stay in line."

"Yeah-remember too that they want to leave the area. Odds are decent that they don't want any trouble. Collectively, that is. No telling what some individuals might want, but of course if they're swearing off tools..."

Slowly, people began to realize that this idea might have some merit. The obvious question raced through everyone's minds before it was finally voiced.

"So who's willing to make that trip?"

Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh-the idea that there would be a shortage of volunteers for that kind of a mission was a truly crazy one to anyone who knew the Winter Campers. Indeed, the challenge would be to find a fair way to choose from among the numerous men who wanted to go.

And one woman. Carrie had said very little during the porch chat, but she was determined to prove her worth by joining the escort team. She couldn't explain why, but she knew it was something she had to do.

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