After the Apocalypse
Chapter 117: Complex Analysis

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

When the new day arrived and plans for the return to Lapeer began in earnest, the one easy part of the plan for the confrontation with the Flock was deciding which invader to include.

"If we take Atkins, then the others don't have to know that he's gone." Ron had appointed himself, with no one daring to challenge him, as the director of the enterprise. "Right? We haven't told anyone up top about his condition, have we?"

"No," said Jeff. "They were there when he was shot, so they know about that, but unless one of the guard has slipped-they've been directed not to talk unless it's absolutely necessary, nor to reveal anything about us under any circumstances-they don't know anything else."

Jeff wasn't exactly right in his assessment of the information level at South Cove, although there was no way he could have known, and the news that had been passed on was of minimal use to the Flockmen. John and the Hunts were leading the guard-John had, in fact, moved some of his gear and made plans to settle in at South Cove for a long time if necessary. However, an inadvertent revelation had slipped out.

South Cove cabin was smaller than Hilltop, where the original interrogation had taken place. Two parallel bunkrooms stretched out from a central eating area, with only a thin wall between them and no barrier separating them from the dining room tables. Though Mark Hunt and John had spoken quietly as John passed on the news from Beaver Creek, they had not taken the cabin's layout into account, and they had no knowledge of Peterson's excellent hearing. On the one hand, Peterson now knew about Reggie Miller; on the other hand, since no one besides Jenny Cooper knew Miller's real name, even John and Mark couldn't reveal too much information, and hence the details weren't clear to him. As far as Peterson knew, Ron Atkins was being held in Rawhide and a second shot had been fired-possibly by Ron, which raised his spirits-as a guard had been challenged. More significantly, Peterson realized that he might have the chance to receive further knowledge if he paid close attention in the future.

"Okay, so we take Atkins. Thank God that's settled," said Dave Milon. "Let's put the debate about who's going along aside for a moment, because that's bound to be messy. How do we get there? Horses?"

"No way," said Ron. "We don't want to give away that we've got them-although I would guess they might have guessed that by now. Still, no point in giving out that information for free."

"Plus, on the off chance we need to make a run for it, better that we should have a car-or two-at our disposal."

"Two, I think," said Ron. "They said they came here in a vehicle, which they left somewhere on Sutton Road west of the camp entrance. We should return that to Lapeer and come back in a separate car, which means two drivers."

"And one hot-wirer," said Dave.

"I like it," said Roger. "That makes it that much harder for the other four to get back to Lapeer if they should happen to escape. Maybe the Flock will take it as a show of good faith, too."

"I don't know about that," said Jeff. "If they're forgoing tools, they may have no real interest in getting a car back. I suspect they'd prefer to have their men."

"That, of course, is a point for negotiation," said Ron. "Which means we need to send a negotiator. Brains as well as brawn."

There were thoughtful nods of agreement around the table, but suddenly the problem had become more complicated by a full degree of difficulty. Carrie saw the new need for a deal-maker as an opportunity for the women to send a representative on the team. She was forced to admit to herself that Melissa would probably be a better choice than she would, but on the other hand, Melissa didn't know yet that this opportunity was available. "And maybe she won't find out until we're gone," she thought to herself, consciously including herself on the away team roster.

Jeff was still pleased with his leadership on the team that had apprehended the invaders, and felt that that, combined with his commitment to Winter Camp, was a trump card in his favor. Although his obsession with developing the camp community continued, he was feeling a bit of wanderlust, and couldn't deny his wish to see the situation in town for himself. "Curiosity may have taken out a cat or two in its day," he thought, "but it's not gonna get me." He thought back to Winter Camp IV, where he had engineered a set of qualifications for prospective youth leaders that had been used to select three patrol leaders. Maybe that was the way to make the tough decisions here.

Ron's thoughts lad a laser-like precision: To lead the team into town was a task for which he was ideally suited-but how willing was he, in the depths of his heart, to take on that role? "Maybe," he thought, "it would be better if I stayed back and coordinated camp security. If we send five or six of our best men out on this quest, we're leaving ourselves open to new invaders. And maybe I should pay attention to the guy in Rawhide-we can't forget about him." He had almost convinced himself that in-camp defense was the place for him, but then he looked around the table, remembered what was at stake, and was jarred back to thinking about taking the trip.

Dave's feelings were mixed. His brain knew that sending a thinker was the right thing to do, but he also knew that that meant one fewer spot on the crew for him-and he wanted the thrill of another adventure in Lapeer. Additionally, he subscribed to the High Point cabin residents' view that they were the best suited for any off-camp missions. A place given over to an "egghead" meant one less man for the show-if not necessarily the exercise-of brute force that he knew was necessary. "There's unknown danger in town," he thought. "That's got to be our number one priority-not playing mind games negotiating with these God-squadders. And we can't have some weakling who's going to be a defensive liability if there's trouble."

A couple of people were watching Dave's thought process as it evolved. It was clear to them that his adrenaline was flowing now, and how that would affect the course of the discussion to come was on their minds. They'd seen him in a variety of manic states through the years-the "cake incident" was just the most recent in a fairly long list-and no one knew which version would present itself next.

"Some people might be in particular danger," said Doug, in an attempt to start the conversation without dictating a direction. "Didn't one of them say that the Deacon is trying to find his son's killer and avenge his death? Maybe we should send a crew of people who've not yet been to Lapeer, in case someone's been recognized."

Coming from anyone other than Doug, who had no apparent interest-and indeed, no hidden interest-in what was rapidly developing in many minds into a highly desirable assignment, such a suggestion would have been instantly shouted down. With Doug as the source, no one questioned the motivation behind a very important point, even if it ruled many people out of the pool of potential travelers.

On the other hand, Dave knew that Doug's reasoning wasn't going to carry much weight with the primary guards, who weren't in the room. If a show of force was necessary, they wanted to be the ones to show it,-indeed, they were sure they'd be the best ones for the job-and while they would respect Doug's viewpoint, Dave doubted that anyone would share his concern for their safety.

With that fact foremost in his mind, he phrased his response carefully. "We can take care of ourselves, Doug. We've done the job in town before-there's no sense in risking people who are needed back here when an experienced crew can be sent."

"What about a mixed crew?" Jeff saw that Dave wouldn't be dissuaded, and he believed that there was some truth to his words-but he was sure that there was an increased risk of trouble under any circumstances, and he felt that there was a need for a show of good sense to go along with the show of strength.

Dave saw that he'd scored a point, which was unexpected, but he pushed on. "How mixed?"

"I was thinking just over 50% brawn, so with a six-man team, maybe 4 people for strength and 2 for thought, or 5 and 3 if we send eight. Of those, maybe we include a minority of people who've been in before, so we keep the number of targets down while still bringing along some who know the lay of the land in Lapeer."

"Howey and the Hunts will never go for that. And Lou too. It's not fair to them and their talents to have this discussion while they're not around."

"John took some of his stuff up to South Cove," said Jeff. "Sounds to me like he's made his decision. Besides, he's got family here to think of. Lou's proved that he's the best one to handle the guy at Rawhide-we need him there. We have to consider what's best for the group, not just engineering someone's bizarre notion of equal opportunity. The best mix of people is what we should send-and that includes some negotiators as well as some defenders."

He turned and spoke to Dave directly. "Whom would you send?"

Dave knew that he had just been handed his best opportunity, and that he had to be decisive. He spoke quickly, but dropped John from his list as a tactical maneuver. "The Hunts, Woods, Ron, me, and someone else who thinks." Ron, he knew, could both look forceful and think quickly. He intentionally left a space, so that Jeff could think he was contributing. "Any nominees?"

Jeff was set aback by the speed of Dave's response. "Nominees? I'd send Roger, if he's willing." Roger didn't expect to be considered, so while everyone looked at him, he struggled to hide his surprise.

"What about his family?" asked Dave.

"He's a good strong Christian. He'll know how to deal with this reverend. Plus he won't diminish our security force back here."

Roger's first instinct was to reject the idea outright, but he was sufficiently considerate of his fellows not to do that. He sat quietly, as if thinking the idea over, as the wrangling continued. Dave had gained an advantage by naming five names right away, and Jeff sought to regain control, putting a roster together on the fly. "In addition to Roger, I think we should have Ron, Joe, Woods, and one of the Hunts. Probably Mark-Tim's skills will probably be of more use back here."

There was agreement on three crew members, which came as a mild surprise all the way around. Perhaps consensus was reachable before action became necessary. Dave took a chance, striking at what he suspected was true and saw as a glaring weakness in Jeff's plan. "And yourself, right?"

"Yep."

"No women?" asked Carrie, sensing that her opportunity was slipping away.

"Wait a minute," said Dave. "Jeff, you're needed back here. We can't risk having you in harm's way." Dave wasn't as convinced of Jeff's ultimate value to the camp as his words indicated; he was considerably more certain that he would be a defensive liability, and would surely be the wrong person to display a show of force. It followed, in his mind, that Jeff needed to be left off the team-but while he normally didn't fear Jeff's wrath, something in his head was saying that a full-blown argument here could get out of control and ultimately work against the point he was trying to make.

Allison watched the developing drama with interest. She had picked up a fair amount of knowledge about the dynamics among the Winter Campers over the past month, but this was really her first opportunity to see some of the personalities in sharp conflict. The one thing that really amazed her was how an apparent clash of wills was diverting attention from what seemed to be a serious problem, but she wasn't sure how to point that out, or what the reaction would be to her doing so. She also wondered why Mark Bollman wasn't at the table-she was sure that something of this magnitude would involve all of the camp's best minds.

"Can we agree on those three-Mark, Woods, and Ron-at least?" asked Doug.

"Are we sure that they want to go on this mission?"

The question was at least two-thirds rhetorical-no one doubted that Mark and Dave were ready to leave for Lapeer on a moment's notice. Ron, as it turned out, was a different matter. "We need good strong guards here. We'll still have five prisoners, including the guy at Rawhide. Face it, we can't leave ourselves open to attack while we've got people in town," he said. "I'm willing to stay back. Who's with me?"

No one volunteered immediately. His self-withdrawal was intended to move the process forward and make room for both Roger and Jeff on the team, but Ron's effort at forcing a quick decision had essentially the opposite effect. Without him on the force, there were effectively two vacancies-one each in brains and brawn. No one else possessed his combination of assets in such abundance.

As the discussion continued, growing more heated from time to time in an almost periodic fashion, it became clearer that a simple resolution wasn't in sight, but that some kind of decision had to be made. The suggestion that the team should be elected was brought up, but eventually died out when the question of who should be allowed to vote came up. No one was willing to grant a vote to the kids at camp-although exactly where the line separating kids from adults was wasn't easily determined-and everyone eventually came to agree that this wasn't really a matter for the entire community to decide.

"Maybe we should just draw numbers," suggested Carrie.

"I'll take the square root of minus one," said Jeff.

Mark Bollman would have pointed out that "pi to the e" was the number that Jeff would have been expected to choose, but he wasn't there. Ron, who was there, asserted quite convincingly that something this important was not to be left to chance. In the moments that followed, he emerged as a new leader whose authority was based on fear and respect, combined in proportions which varied from person to person.

"No numbers. Look, folks, this is how it's going to have to be. Jeff and Roger should go-Roger has some insight which might be useful, and he can keep Jeff in line. We all seem to agree on Mark and Woods, so they're in. Milon's made a pretty good case that we need people who know what's currently going on in town, and I think he can fill that role as well as anyone. So if we send a group of six, we need one more person. Can we just agree on that?"

The faces around the room displayed an array of reactions ranging from surprise to smugness, but no one challenged Ron's idea. He took it a step further. "Okay. Now, in order to save ourselves any more complications, let's just trust each other. I suggest we let those five guys select the sixth, and agree to go along with whatever they decide."

There was a sense of shock in the room as everyone was taken somewhat aback by what was looking like a quick resolution to a messy problem. No one spoke for a minute as a lot of personal agendas were jettisoned.

"Agreed?" asked Ron. Everyone nodded-some more enthusiastically than others, but all were publicly on board.

In her heart, Carrie knew that what Ron had crafted was a good plan, but she still wanted in on the team. She swiftly assembled a new strategy: Melissa had to be brought into the mix. Carrie couldn't explain why she thought so, but it seemed to her that Melissa had some influence over Dave Milon. Maybe by talking to her, she could get her to sway Dave's thinking and get him to make her case with the other four team members.

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