After the Apocalypse
Chapter 122: Six Degrees Of Anticipation

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

On the night before the trek to Lapeer, Carrie found herself unable to sleep. She was at once excited about the trip to come and terrified about what might happen. As she lay awake, picking out patterns in the woodwork of Chippewa's ceiling, she found herself wondering if what she was getting was really what she wanted. Would she be up to the task that she had so eagerly pursued-indeed, had campaigned for?

At first, she had dismissed her nervousness as a simple adrenalin rush, but as the night wore on, that explanation seemed too simple. Certainly what she had signed on for was exciting, but could it be too exciting? And would she be the weak link that destroyed the whole operation?

"I suppose everyone's feeling that way, to some extent," she thought.

A survey of the other five team members, however, would not have confirmed her belief.

Dave Milon had the most to lose the next day, but oddly, he slept quite soundly. He hadn't had a chance for any time with Melissa that night, but he was nonetheless relaxed, and curiously at peace with what was to come. The invasion that he'd been privately fearing ever since the M-24 firefight wasn't going to happen, and he now had a chance to strike another blow on the other side's territory. The difference this time was that they were going in ready for action, and while no one was advocating a first assault, he felt that they'd have the upper hand the next day. With that straightened out in his mind, he had no trouble sleeping.

Roger was awake, but only because he was carefully preparing his thoughts and actions. After the undeniable surprise at being nominated to the team, he had slowly come around to Jeff's view. If the religious side of the Flock could be exploited and turned to Winter Camp's benefit, there was certainly no turning away from the fact that he was best suited to doing so.

How that was to be done, of course, was a puzzle of the first order. Praying for guidance didn't seem exactly proper, given that they were preparing an invasion of a religious community. He'd tried that, of course, but after repeating "If it be Your will" at the beginning of nearly every sentence, the hollowness and uncertainty of his requests began to get to him. Was it really right, he mused, even to make this kind of move on a band of God-fearing men and women?

That reverie lasted for approximately five seconds. Once he remembered that five men (Or was it six? He couldn't remember exactly.) had come into camp armed and ready, possibly, to shoot his friends and their families, his sympathy for the Flock as a religious outfit dissolved. True men of God wouldn't have done that, unless they were responding to a genuine threat and acting in their own defense.

He thought some more. Of course, based on the information that Atkins, in particular, had provided, it could reasonably be argued that they were doing precisely that. Which then negated the conclusion he'd so carefully crafted, and took him back to the beginning.

Roger tried again. According to the current knowledge that Winter Camp possessed, the central figure was the Deacon Whateley fellow. Getting through to the Deacon, though, would require careful action. He'd need to present his Christian credentials as quickly and forcefully as the situation would allow. That would seem to suggest a visible religious symbol, of which he had...what?

A collar would be a good choice, but he didn't have one, and it would be something of a misrepresentation even to wear it if there was one in camp. Honesty and sincerity, he decided, would be critical to the success of his role. If the Deacon was as sincere in his faith as Roger was, he'd be able to spot a phony in a second.

That left his Bible. That raised the question: Could he carry that into whatever encounter might be in store and do so convincingly, as a man of God? There was certainly a case to be made for a strong "We Come In Peace" display tomorrow-was this the right form?

As he thought about the situation from that angle, his part as he was now defining it began to make more and more sense, and he soon came to think that this was what he was being called to do, for the good of Winter Camp. And it was indeed a calling-he felt certain of that.

Jeff slept restlessly that night. He was frequently jarred awake by his thoughts, and found it difficult to return to sleep. The problem plaguing his mind was that he was excited about the next day's opportunity, and he couldn't completely rationalize away the idea that there was something wrong with that. If he was to be completely honest with himself, he admitted, he'd been looking for an excuse to make a trip into Lapeer for awhile now.

Now that that chance had presented itself, he wondered if he was in this for the good of Winter Camp, or in a quest for personal glory. He was justifiably proud of his work in getting the pump flowing and in securing the herd from Walker's farm. However, he felt a need to demonstrate his ability in a different area-preferably one where no one would expect him to excel.

Why was that?

In a way, it certainly wasn't out of character. Following his instinct toward new ideas and conquering new challenges had been the path his life had frequently taken-indeed, that was how Winter Camp had come into existence in 1977. So far, his intuition hadn't gotten him into any trouble he couldn't handle-but then again, it had never taken him to a place where a gun might be pointed at him.

Unfortunately as far as a good night's sleep was concerned, the thought of facing an armed enemy only heightened Jeff's excitement. He had led his adult life in relative comfort, and certainly without a lot of danger-maybe the chance for something to shake that up and introduce an element of risk had more appeal than he had previously been prepared to admit.

"Didn't someone once say that 'There is nothing more exhilarating in life than to be shot at without result.', or something like that?" he thought. "I think I understand that now."

He drifted off to sleep again, alive with anticipation for reasons that now made more sense to him. Whether or not his heightened emotional state would be an asset or a liability the next day had ceased to be a concern. He was confident that all would be well tomorrow, and that was enough to settle his mind, at least for an hour or so.

Dave Woods and Mark Hunt sat up that night, plotting in careful detail what they would do when they were in the lead car the next morning. There was a myriad of small choices to be made, and the rest of the crew had left them in their hands. The challenge that they faced was simple: how to navigate the very fine line between being prepared for any necessary defense while at the same time not communicating the impression that they were launching an armed invasion of the Flock's headquarters.

"I think that the force-or, actually, the lack of force-of six people won't be perceived as a threat," said Mark, who hoped to settle the issues in time to get some decent rest that night.

"Except that we're sending as many people as they did, and they were certainly a threat."

"The guns, man. You're forgetting about the guns. Five men wandering the landscape might or might not be a threat. Put some high-powered rifles in their hands, and it's rather a different story."

"So you're suggesting that we should go in unarmed?" asked Dave, who couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

"No way. That's just stupid. But there's got to be a way to do this intelligently."

"Okay, then here's what I think. The folks who are escorting Atkins, and who are in the lead, probably shouldn't be armed. The second wave, though, needs to carry weapons and have them clearly on display."

"That 'second wave' is Jeff, Roger, and Carrie. Not my choice for a show of force. Besides, I don't think anyone would argue that the real shooters on the team are the two of us and Milon. Taking a gun out of our hands isn't the way to assert ourselves tomorrow."

"Which is exactly why we need to do it. Okay, maybe we rearrange the assignments a bit-put Jeff and Roger up front and we'll drop back with Carrie. That should solve that problem. What's just as important, though, is shaking them up mentally. So if we do that, it's important that Milon be armed and look a little bit dangerous."

"The image of Dave with a weapon in his hands suggests danger all by itself, if you ask me," said Mark, "so you can check that off."

"That's only because we know Dave," said Woods.

"No, it's not. I think if you took a poll, the sight of him carrying any kind of firearm would be judged 'scary' by a 2-1 margin. Which, of course, is something we can use to our advantage. And the fact of the matter is that the Flock sent people into camp on an armed assault mission-they can't claim to be surprised that their force is being met with our force."

The fact that the Flock's "force" had only been turned against their own men wasn't something that clouded the ongoing analysis. As they kept aligning and realigning the plan for the next day, their hope was that there'd be no need for gunplay-but their brains insisted that that eventuality be planned for.

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