After the Apocalypse
Chapter 75: Round Robin

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Just in case you weren't sure, we've now proved this isn't like a paper book at all. Chapter 7x, which became 79, was written back in February along with a couple of others. In the intervening months, it was rewritten but, since publication of new chapters is at the whim of only one of the authors, that didn't quite make it into our recent updates.
At any rate, this is now chapter 75; anyone claiming to have read any different chapters or orders should be reported to Big Bro for political retraining

Nobody knew how it started-it just seemed, later, that a spontaneous conversation had broken out. No one was leading; no one seemed to be in charge. Jeff and Ron, had they taken the time to think about it, might have found their thoughts traveling back to Winter Camp II, when a host of wide-ranging semi-philosophical discussions were a free-time highlight, or to the continuous storytelling that had been tried at Winter Camp XI-but they weren't thinking of the past.

Only the future. And this time, the topics under discussion weren't whimsical or hypothetical. On the contrary, everything was firmly grounded in the reality of the situation, a reality that only now was becoming fully clear to everyone.

Had there been minutes kept, it would have been recorded that John Howey had started everything, with what had seemed to him to be an innocent and entirely necessary report on the status of the new alarm system.

"They're all set," he said. "We've got a secure perimeter again."

"Did you see anyone out there?" asked Ron.

"No bodies, and no tracks or other signs that anyone had been nearby. I think we'll be safer now."

"Safer than what, though?" asked Katie. "How much risk does everyone think we're facing now?"

"As far as we know, there's not a lot," said John. "It's what we don't know, of course, that'll be the biggest threat. Always is that way."

"So what don't we know?" asked Jerry.

"Let's start with what we do know," said Ron, smoothly taking control. "We've got six guys out of camp and-at least for the moment-unaccounted for. Steve's been missing the longest, but I don't think anyone's really scared about him. I suspect-if he's still mentally stable-that he's not likely to take any risks that would put us in any new danger. He's probably just trying to be alone, and the new state of the world is really good for that."

"But then there's Joe and Dave in Lapeer," said John. "They've been out for over 36 hours now, and we have a pretty good idea where they went. We know there were survivors out there-probably unfriendly, especially if that guy Steve-"

John's voice broke off for a second-somehow he found it difficult to say, out loud, that Steve had killed a man. He coughed before continuing. "-shot had friends around."

"Don't you think, though, that they too would be being careful about causing trouble?" asked Jeanne.

"Of course," said Tom, "but that's only if they weren't surprised by anything. And if no one surprised them. I suppose it's possible that they could have been seen without seeing anyone. If that's the case-"

"They'd probably have no reason to suspect that anyone's back here," said Tim.

"Good point. To continue, I think we're probably safe on that front. Lapeer's still a good trek away, too-this weather actually will work to our advantage as far as staying isolated goes."

"Okay, so what about the other-three, was it?" asked Katie. "Who were they and where were they going? And what were they up to?"

"It's Mark and Dave-Milon-and Lou," said Ron, who spoke a little too fast in his relief to talk about what was going on and what he'd been holding onto. "They're out looking for Steve. I don't know exactly where they went-they weren't even ready to admit that that's what they were doing."

"I'd guess Metamora," said Jeff. "They knew we had a patrol of sorts in Lapeer. Certainly it would have been more efficient to head southward."

The terrain toward Metamora was a little more familiar to the Tundra Stomp crew who were chatting, and Robyn took the lead. "Okay, so what's the danger factor down there? I mean, when you brought us all up here that day, it seemed like there wasn't much left to the town. Most everything was flattened. That would be a good thing."

"Right," said Tim. "When Milon and I went out there the first day, there didn't seem to be anything standing except the White Horse. But if someone has moved into the area since then…I suppose there could still be some danger."

"Okay, but why Metamora?" asked Katie. "I mean, it's a nice enough town and all, but let's face it, there was never a lot there to begin with, and it's off the main highway, which would probably be what anyone coming near here would be on. Not exactly a good spot for the crossroads of the new world order."

"I hope you're right, Katie," said John. "But like I said, it's the thing you're not expecting that gets you every time."

"So turn it around," said Katie. "What else might we reasonably-or unreasonably-expect? What's on the horizon?"

"Let's think locally for a minute. Face it, we can't say for sure what's going to happen with our sextet of adventurers. For better or worse, they're out on their own," said Ron. "It seems to me that we're at a manageable place with food and water. Right?" Everyone nodded in agreement. "So what's next? Basic survival? Check. The next big concern might be…what?"

Carrie and Michelle exchanged wary glances-there was an issue that they'd been talking about in Chippewa, but neither was immediately willing to bring it up. Their trance was broken when Melissa took the conversation in a different direction.

"Okay, I'm sorry if this sounds a little academic, but there is something I've been thinking about. Depression. It ought to be hitting about now, over stuff like the pressure of living here ir worry about what's happened to our families, or any number of things."

"Have you seen any signs?" asked Tom.

"No-and that scares me. I'm concerned that when things happen, it'll all come down at once. That could be a real kick in the teeth."

"Maybe we're all just really well-adjusted," said John-but he barely got the last syllable out before all the Winter Campers and Jeanne were beside themselves with laughter.

As the mirth subsided, Jeanne moved to change the subject again. "So, let's take this to the other extreme. Maybe it's not a problem, it's an opportunity. What one thing-apart from what we really need for survival, which we have-would you like? Maybe we can think about getting something beyond the basics."

Michelle saw an opening. "My own bedroom," she said quietly.

"Not a lot of bedroom space," said Tim. "But-hey! We could pitch you a tent," he laughed. "Those we have a lot of."

"Yeah, Chippewa's a nice campsite-until the swamp warms up, that is," said Ron with a laugh.

"But is a tent really a room?" asked Melissa. "I don't think it is."

"It's the best room we've got," said John.

"No, it's not!" said Michelle, loudly. "We've got all those cabins in camp. They have real rooms."

There was a moment of silence as everyone looked at each other around the conversation circle, considering this idea. Ron was the first to speak.

"Tricky-but not undoable on its face. Of course we've got cabin space all over, but there'd be a problem with heat."

"And water," added Steve Clark.

"And what about security?" asked Jerry.

"With the new alarm system, we've got more cabins inside the secure perimeter," said John. "Unless someone has a fondness for Little Prairie-which I wouldn't understand-or the cabins around the Lord building, there'd only be a slight extra risk. It might require relocating our receiver units, but we could probably do that."

"Don't knock Little Prairie," said Ron, assuming a fake air of menace. "My first campout at D-A was there. Apart from being half an hour from everything except that anthill they call Eastwood, it's a neat little campsite."

Another round of silent glances traveled around the ring, as people started to realize that something significant might be on the verge of happening.

"Can we really make this work?" asked Michelle. "I mean, it's starting to sound like we've got a real possibility here."

"It's probably not necessary for us to be a committee of the whole just yet," said Ron. "Tell you what: How about if me and John-for security-and Michelle-cause it was her idea-figure out some of the details, see if this is really workable, and put together a plan?"

Eyes traveled the circle, and everyone was nodding.

"Get Mark in on this too," said Tim. "I think there'll probably be numbers involved in here somewhere."

"Good idea," said Ron. "We'll get together on this and try to get back to everyone real soon."

"So what do we do now?" asked Steve.

"There's not a lot more we can do," said Ron. "We're taking care of our own physiological needs as well as we can, and I suppose we're ready to defend ourselves if it should come to that, but I really don't think that any sort of violence will be needed. I don't see an armed invasion as a serious threat. It's probably just a matter of hanging together, keeping everyone as comfortable as possible, and not being stupid."

"Right," said Jeff. "Face it, we should all be having a lot more fun here than we are!"

Nobody knew how it had started-but somehow everyone knew when it was over.

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