After the Apocalypse
Chapter 79: A Private Conversation

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Allison and Mark took a walk through Beaver Creek subcamp the next night in an effort to get away from the crowds and talk further, privately, about what she had seen in Jeff. The night was warmer than usual for a Michigan January-and certainly warmer than a nuclear winter would be expected to produce-so they could speak freely without having to project their words through scarves or ski masks.

They followed the road to Highland campsite, where Mark abruptly darted off the road. "Time to break some new trails," he said. He raced up the familiar hill to the top level of the campsite, where he perched on a picnic table while Allison caught up to him.

"I think we're far enough out now," he said while Allison caught her breath. "So tell me the whole story."

"Mark, it's strange," she began. "I watched Jeff go manic on us in a matter of minutes. He was just quietly talking about how peaceful it was out here-how you wouldn't realize the outside world was in chaos unless you knew from somewhere else-and then he was gone."

"Gone?"

"Off on some bizarre tangent about how we had an unprecedented opportunity to start our own society here; to start over and get everything right. To get everyone working together for the common good. He was even going on about specialized groups, devoted to things like agriculture or engineering, which could contribute to this plan. It's scary-it almost seems like he was planning for this, or isn't exactly sad that it happened."

"I'm not shocked. Surprised, maybe, but not shocked."

Allison, on the other hand, was shocked-and suddenly a little more suspicious of the whole Winter Camp undertaking. "You could have seen this coming?"

"Not completely, no. Of course not. But when you take into account what Winter Camp has meant to a lot of us who were around from the earliest days, it isn't a completely alien thought. Over the years, this little enterprise has come to mean a lot to many of us. How else would you explain the elaborate traditions, the Web site, the immense historical record? Heck, some of us even wrote novels set in this crazy little world. I don't think it's at all shocking that some of us might prefer Winter Camp to the rest of the world-or the 'other universe', as we used to call it. And now that an opportunity to do that is available, in some ways that's a dream come true-although it's certainly not the way we would have had it all come down."

"Really?"

"I couldn't make that up. Hey-none of us has ever written a novel about the rest of our lives. Yet the Winter Camp fiction library gets bigger every year."

"Has Jeff written a novel?"

"No-his thing is short stories. He's written about a half dozen of those. And he's also in the middle of a long-term project to write a dictionary of one-syllable words using only one-syllable words in the definitions-I think he's up to the letter 'J' now; he does one letter per year-and that's all based on a game we played at Winter Camp X. A lot of long-term impact coming out of one evening in December 1986."

Allison suddenly felt a shiver run through her body. She wasn't sure if it was the weather or Mark's revelations, but she stood up in an effort to cover it. "I'm getting a little chilly here. Let's keep walking."

They headed out of Highland and down Lake Road toward Skyline and Ribble House. "You got quiet all of a sudden there," said Mark as they approached Gate 12. "Something I said?"

"No, no, nothing like that. It's just that what you said is taking a long time to sink in. So do you think Jeff's a threat to anyone?"

"Not as long as the weather remains cold, I don't. There's no real room for ambition as long as we're still focused on meeting basic survival needs. After that, well, maybe he'll have settled down, or maybe his ideas won't seem so outlandish. Could be that by then we'll all be looking for something more ambitious to fill our lives."

"Do you think there's a need to have Melissa talk to him? This is her field, after all."

"Nope. No sense in alarming anyone. Besides, I don't doubt that Jeff could confound any attempt to analyze him. It's best not to interfere for now. Do keep me posted, though. This is worth keeping an eye on."

Another thought struck Mark. "There's another possibility," he said. "Jeff might be faking all this-just sort of having a little fun with the idea of his own private Utopia, with no real intention of following through on what he was saying."

"You think so?"

"I wouldn't rule it out completely."

They had reached Woodcrest campsite, where Mark led Allison through the trees and into a clearing. "C'mon this way-we'll be out of the wind."

"Time to change the subject. There's something else, on the horizon," said Allison. "Like it or not, we're going to be running a dating service here before long."

"Probably true, and unavoidable. How far gone are things? You know the women better than I do."

"I think the soccer game pushed things ahead of schedule. You're right-an array of connections was inevitable-but from what I've heard around the cabin, that game led to a lot of pushing and shoving, kidding around-".

"Such is Winter Camp soccer," Mark interrupted. "Full contact has usually been part of the game."

"But you'd never done that with mixed teams before. With the girls playing, what you really had there was thinly disguised flirting. Or at least that's the way a lot of them are seeing it."

"A-ha. Okay, so what can be done to deal with this? I mean, I don't think we want to be policing people's personal lives-and all things considered, personal lives are probably more important now than ever before-but at the same time, the last thing we need is for our little society to be littered with the debris of broken amorous relationships."

Allison giggled at Mark's choice of words. "'Amorous relationships'? Could you sound a little less like a textbook?"

"Not my fault," said Mark, waving his hands in an effort at self-absolution. "I used to teach at Albion, where the faculty spent a lot of time working out a new so-called 'amorous relationships policy' governing faculty and students that got far more complicated than common sense would seem to demand. I picked up the phrase there."

"Of course," said Allison in an attempt to keep the conversation focused on the present, "this could come in handy if we're forced to repopulate the planet."

"Ye gads," said Mark. "I don't even want to think about that possibility. We've got enough issues right now without dealing with the madness of pregnancy and a flock of newborn infants. Can you imagine the trouble we'd have trying to keep up with the nutritional requirements of a group of pregnant women? Plus, I'm not sure I want Winter Campers to be fathering all of the next generation of Earthlings."

"You may not have a lot of choice there. Besides, we've already got one pregnant woman to deal with."

Mark tried to hide what he knew-what he thought Katie had told him in strict confidence. "Really? Who?"

"Katie. She's about three, four months along. You didn't know?'

"I knew-she told me a while ago-but it was my understanding from when she told me that she wanted that kept quiet." Mark phrased his next question carefully. "So, do all of the women know about this?"

"I don't think so. Obviously she's not showing yet, and I don't think she's told anyone other than me and Jenny Iaconian-we found out right before the Tundra Stomp started. And she swore us to secrecy too. Why'd she tell you?"

"Don't know-probably she wanted someone in the Future Society to be aware of things and decided that I could be trusted with that news."

Allison let that go-exactly why people seemed to think Mark was a good confidant wasn't terribly clear to her, nor was it the most important issue at that moment. "Getting back to the 'amorous relationships' issue, if you insist on calling it that-what do we do?".

"I don't want to get to the point where we have to set up any rules for this," said Mark. "And I really don't want to be stuck enforcing them. On one level, we're talking about trying to regulate the behavior of adults, which is simply asking for trouble. Of course, I don't think any reasonable person would argue that some sort of regulation is necessary to keep things from crashing down all around us."

"You really think this has the potential for that kind of disruption?"

"No, not really. I suspect the possible impact is big, but it's not that big. The question, as I see it, is this: Can we count on people's good will and common sense; will they make intelligent decisions about-let's call it 'dating', if we must-without being prodded?"

"People don't do that of their own accord even without a nuclear disaster to complicate things," laughed Allison. "Mark, we're talking about human emotions here, and you're trying to reduce them to a set of equations!"

"I'm a mathematician; it's what I do. You have a better idea?"

"Actually, I do. I think we need to come right out and say what everyone's thinking-that there are going to be relationships, but that people should be careful, more careful than usual. No sense in trying to prohibit anything-the time may come when we're glad for any sort of human contact. After a few months, who knows who might be looking good?"

"Can you sell that to the women?"

"I was thinking you could talk to them and I could talk to the guys. I think it would go over better that way-kind of another way to pull the two groups together."

"Isn't that kind of what we don't want?" laughed Mark.

"You know what I mean. This way, it's more clear to everyone that we're all aware of what's going on-or what might be going on."

"Fair enough. I suppose you've got a script prepared-it sounds like you've been thinking this out for a long time."

"Of course-that's what I do."

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