After the Apocalypse
Chapter 85: Aspirations

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

It was 2 A.M. when Jeff began poring over a large map of D-A in the main room at Clearwater. He'd always brought votive candles to Winter Camp, to light the trail for the annual Time Capsule Hike, but now as two flickered across the topographical contours, they played a far more significant role. Jeff would have preferred to use a ceremonial candle, which would have given off more light, instead, but he also knew that even one of those candles would give off far too much smoke.

The more he'd thought, the more he'd realized that his goal of interdependent communities would require significant advance planning, and that the time for sensible planning was at hand. Unfortunately, the cumulative snoring of the cabin's other occupants made the complete concentration that he demanded of himself impossible.

Not that the noise was a surprise-over the past quarter-century, numerous campers had attained various levels of fame for their snoring. Anyone waking up in the middle of the night at Winter Camp stood a good chance of lying awake for a long time while he tried to concentrate out the labored breathing of his fellows. Steve Donohue's snoring had been commemorated in a three-stanza limerick cycle at Winter Camp XVIII, and Jeff himself had been cited in the camp newspaper the next year for being louder in the night than Kyle Howey, who had been to camp in 1995 when he was only 5 months old.

Nonetheless, he couldn't work in Clearwater. Jeff moistened his fingers and snuffed out the candles, rolled up his map, and took four new candles from his upper bunk. He walked out the north door of the cabin and headed up toward Chippewa.

"Even if the women are snoring, they're only in one wing of the cabin," he reasoned, half out loud. "That leaves the dining room and the other bunkroom open and a lot quieter than here."

As he eased the door open at the women's cabin, he was startled by the sudden clatter of a dustpan that had been rigged to the door as a makeshift alarm. Jeff chuckled at the contraption, which had duplicated an effort from the early days of Winter Camp and the Murder Game. He laughed harder when he realized that the noise hadn't awakened anyone.

Clearing a spot on the table farthest from the occupied bunkroom, he spread his map back out, lit two candles, and returned to his planning. D-A's layout was as familiar to him-more so, in fact-as any place he'd ever lived. He had made it a point each year at Winter Camp to update himself on the evolving developments, and his penchant for wide-ranging hikes meant that there was scarcely an acre of the Ranch he hadn't visited within the past seven years. If anyone had taken Jeff's comments about a master plan for a new society seriously, they would have agreed that he was probably the best choice to organize the venture-but so far few knew the full scope of his ideas, and most of them still wondered what to do about what they were seeing.

As luck would have it, the one woman who had heard of Jeff's plan was the first to discover him. Allison at first thought she was imagining the strange lights she saw playing on the ceiling, but as she woke up further, she realized that the light was real. She lowered herself out of the top bunk, wrapped up in a blanket, and warily padded out to the dining area. Before entering the room, she peered around the corner.

"Jeff? What's he doing here?" she thought. "Is he dangerous? Should I interrupt him? Why is he here anyway?"

She watched Jeff in silence for a moment as he carefully studied his map and made notes on a pad. It took awhile, but she eventually decided that he was wrapped up in his own thoughts-possibly completely in his own world-and wasn't too much of a threat. On the other hand, he was inexplicably in Chippewa, and Allison couldn't help but wonder why that was.

"Jeff?" she asked, quietly.

Her question startled him, and he flinched noticeably as he turned to face her. "Oh, hi, Allison," he said. "Sorry I woke you."

"You didn't," she said. "I haven't been sleeping too well since we all got here. But what brings you here? And what are you doing there?"

"I needed some space without too many people snoring. Clearwater's way too loud to concentrate. I don't know how anyone can sleep down there."

Allison had crossed the room so she could hear Jeff's barely audible voice, and she now saw the map. "So what are you doing?"

"Laying out the new world. I'm trying to figure out where some of the specialized communities should go. Once we get some nicer weather and a chance to spread out, of course."

"Ugga bugga," thought Allison. "Here he goes again." She decided to probe for some of the details. "Perhaps if I get him talking about specifics, he'll stay in touch with reality," she thought.

"So what's the plan?"

Jeff actually welcomed the chance to share his ideas with someone else. "To start with, there's the agricultural team. The trouble there is that there isn't a whole lot of good farmland on the Ranch-we're surrounded on several sides by farms, but they're outside the secure perimeter. Even the place I picked out is a little too close to the edge for my tastes, but it's the best I could come up with so far."

"Where's that?"

"Here." Jeff pointed to the map. "Over by Indianwood."

"Where the pump was working, right?"

"Right. Across the main road and to the east, there's a large flat field that should be easily tillable. Not a lot of trees, either. It won't be enough acreage to support us all, but it'll be a good place to start."

Jeff was making sense to Allison, which comforted and alarmed her pretty much simultaneously. Comfort because it was somehow relieving that Jeff appeared to be thinking rationally-alarm because she was encouraged by what she heard. Despite the fact that a rational Rand was kind of what she'd been hoping for, part of her mind wasn't ready to accept that Jeff could switch out of mania as quickly as he'd fallen into it.

"Of course, maybe he didn't cross over to manic so rapidly," she thought. "I don't have the experience to evaluate that properly. This is a job for Melissa-or maybe Mark."

All of Allison's thoughts sped through her mind very quickly-so fast that there was no perceptible time lag in the whispered conversation. "Um, yeah. I didn't look over there when we were checking out the pump. I'll have to take your word for it. So what else have you laid out?"

"Of course, many of the other communities don't require localization quite like the farmers will," said Jeff. "It would be better if the fishing group was close to one of the lakes-or maybe a group near each,. But that might be optional."

"Yeah-we've done okay with fishing so far, and no one's living closer to the lakes than Beaver Creek," said Allison.

"Exactly. Fair Oaks-right here-would be pretty good for Lockwood Lake, and Draper is the cabin closest to Trout Lake. That's closer to the front and to the outside world, though. It's not as secure."

"Is security going to be a problem when we get to that level? I mean, if we're still here by then, won't the threat of an invasion drop off?"

"I hope so, of course. Certainly by then we'll know more about what's going on in both Lapeer and Metamora."

"Hopefully also the rest of the world."

"True, but that doesn't have as direct an influence on our safety. But as far as Lapeer goes-who knows for sure? If that guy Steve got"-the aversion to the facts spread as Jeff now found it impossible to say that Steve had killed anyone-"had friends, there's a threat to the north."

"And Metamora?"

"I don't know for sure. You guys came through the town with Tim and Dave and didn't see anything; no signs of survivors. My guess is that we won't be bothered from that way. In a way, it's too bad there's not more camp development at the south end."

If Allison had known of Jeff's long-standing affinity for undeveloped wilderness areas, his last statement would have come as something much more than a surprise. As it was, the comment passed by her unremarkably.

"Moving on," said Jeff, "I don't think that the Winter Camp corps of engineers will need to move very far. I suppose it'd be useful to have an engineering team centrally located-wherever the center turns out to be when we resettle-but we're probably not going to move everyone out of Beaver Creek and Clearwater."

"Too destabilizing for the kids?"

"That, and the fact that we've already designed our security system with BC as a hub. As long as we have the horses, we can still get around okay."

"You called them the 'Winter Camp' corps. What's the point of that? It'll scarcely be winter once all of this comes down."

"As far as I'm concerned, we're still at Winter Camp XXV," said Jeff, and as he answered, Allison feared his attitude was undergoing another destabilizing shift. "It's just gone on a lot longer than we'd ever thought in our wildest fantasies."

Allison wondered about Jeff's use of the word "fantasies", but chose not to pursue that point. "Any other communities figured out? What are they doing? Where will they be?" She refrained from asking "Where do we sign up?"; she was fairly certain that Jeff had probably already thought about human allocation.

"Well, there's the kitchen crew, and of course they'll still be headquartered at BC/Clearwater. I think we'll all still gather there for meals, and that's where the best electricity and running water are. Lang and High Point would be good overflow cabins for them, but that depends on how many guys we move out of there and how many new cabins we colonize. Beyond that, I'm not completely sure. I've got a lot of thinking to do yet."

"Message received," thought Allison. "Okay then, I'll leave you to that. Good night, Jeff."

Jeff was too rapidly back into his planning to do more than mumble a quick "G'night" back. Allison returned to bed, but sleep wasn't in her immediate future. She lay awake for hours, intermittently watching the continued flickering on the ceiling and replaying the conversation over and over in her mind. What did it all mean? Where was it all headed?

Questions came easily. Answers-not so much.

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