Dilemma part 6

Mathias rose with the sun and dressed slowly as the early morning light crept across the ground outside pushing back the darkness that still tried to cling to the world hiding anywhere that gave it shelter no matter how temporary.

There were times he wished that same light would push away the dark dream that still haunted him. It wasn’t a nightmare not really, it was almost always the same, he was some place talking to an old friend that he never really remembered meeting. Sometimes he was at home, sometimes it was a park, other times he was in places he had never seen in real life. but there was always an unsettling dark pall that hung over the dream and sometimes just before he woke up, he would smell the faint whiff of rotting blood coming from his old friend.

He walked into the kitchen stifling a yawn; opening the cupboard, he pulled out the small jar of instant coffee and eyed the spoon full left inside the jar. I wish I ‘d had the opportunity to get some of the coffee off the trader, he thought. I suppose I will have to send Tolman to fetch more supplies from the Cache.

He fixed the last cup of coffee, there might not be much left in the cache, but there was tons of it scattered across every port city and in warehouses across the nation. The Cache would only go so far in feeding the Enclave. His plan was simple he would send a force across to Savannah led by Harold Wintraub, who had been hand picked by Tolman. From what he had heard in the Guard Comm. shack, the docks and warehouses in Savannah had been mostly untouched all the way up to the end. He considered it unlikely that any of the survivors, assuming there were any, would have been able to put much of a dint in what was stored there.

He sipped at the instant coffee savoring the taste as he thought about what the day would bring. As excited as he was about the upcoming vote, he was also nervous. There was a chance, maybe a decent chance he could still lose. Erin had turned out to be far more politically astute than he had given her credit for and she had played the game with skill so far.

Of course that could have been Bobs influence, and though it was to late now he should have considered removing Bob from the equation weeks ago. but he hadn’t and he was paying the price for it now. I suppose after this afternoon it wont matter, either I will have won or lost.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey

Erin is a sneaky one, Norman and four other boats left late last night, instead of waiting for dawn . probably to keep Mathias and his cronies guessing about what is going on.

Stephanie hit it off with Noel and Erin, and no not in the that way. I could lie in my journal so when I am old and senile I can read this and think this place was rocking for me.

Okay enough of juvenile fantasy’s, its Dawn and the women are up an drinking my coffee, Erin is nervous you can see it in the set of her shoulders and the way she stands. We talked into the nigh last night, and she believes Mathias has several avenues in which to attack her politically and win.

This is when being a good guy sucks, her hands are tied on how she deals with him, and knowing that he had Bob killed only makes it worse. She cant just shoot the asshole because it would destroy the Enclave. So she has to play nice and hope that she can find proof to present to the population.

The time is now 0800 and Erin just had company, A security team and a former landscaper, near as I can put the story together, she sent the security team out to look for wild rice with only a book that had a picture in it. One of the men on the team was friends with Will Tuttle a former landscaper, he went to Tuttle to ask for help in finding Rice.

Now here is the kicker, according to Tuttle there still exits some old Rice paddies, on Pickney island, left over from the old days when they grew rice here, not only that but in the last decade or so it had become popular to use Native plants when landscaping, and wild rice was one of those plants.

They brought back a pound of rice as proof, of course it needs to be dried and then parched as Tuttle called it. got to give the man credit, he stopped by a library and brought back a copy of how the Native Americans harvested and processed wild rice. Give them a foot and they ran off a mile, got to love it. I think Mathias has bitten off more than he can chew when he took on Erin. The woman is dedicated and believes in doing the best she can for these people. I can see why so many wanted her to lead them despite her young age.

Well I need to get ready, I have something to do during the Funeral, Stephanie and Henry will stay close to Erin just in case, but I suspect that after the events of yesterday and Bobs death Mathias will keep any violence from marring the funeral, the meeting after might be a different story.

It was a beautiful day; Erin thought as she stepped outside, Bob would have loved it. she decided, as she took Noels hand. “Ready, Erin” Yance Tiembo asked, he and his team had been assigned to escort her, after yesterday Morgan thought it was a necessity.

“Yes I am Yance, please lead the way” Erin said taking Noels hand in hers. Together they followed the security team and behind them came Stephanie and Henry. Her own Barbarian Guards Erin thought.

She glanced at the marina, which was hard not to do since it dominated the Enclave. Equally hard to miss were the boats which were no longer docked, she was sure that had already been noticed and was the topic of conversation this morning. Especially after Normans return last night and the rumors that had swept the enclave about what he had brought back.

She wondered what Mathias thought about. She had undone some of the poison; some of the damage Mathias had spread but was it enough. Would he be able to get every one worked up despite the supplies Norman had found.

She would like to think the people here would see reason with the supply situation settling down but, what about next year or the year after that. That’s what Mathias would fasten on and use to scare the others.

Well he was right, she admitted. And the sooner Every one stops moping around and gets down to the serious business of surviving so we can reach the thriving stage the better it will. Far to many of my people do far to little, she thought, Well all of us have been shocked and mentally scarred. We have all been through hell but the old world isn’t coming back, the Army isn’t going to come over the hill with trucks and helicopters loaded with supplies to tell us that the life we knew still exists just over the horizon.

But they didn’t want to face the reality that it was over, their lives of leisure were a thing of the past and no amount of talk from Mathias would change that. With people like Mathias in control things would only get worse, he wanted to be a king, and he would drage

She shook her head, the movement sharp, No, not if I can help it. Men like Mathias will bring back the dark ages, and I have to find a way to convince the Enclave not to start down that road.

Her thoughts continued to chase themselves all the way to what she liked to call the Admin building. Morgan had posted guards on the roof today, and two more men patrolled the walkway around the top of the lighthouse.

She entered no longer really noticed the faded paint or scuffed floors. The stairwell up to the second floor like the first floor needed a couple of coats of paint on the walls and the carpet on the risers was fraying.

The conference room was already filled with people when she entered. She nodded politely while wondering how many of them were thinking this was probably the last time they would be here.

“Regardless of what happens later, I want to thank each of you for your help in trying to keep this place running.” she said standing beside her chair. “I never asked for or expected to become leader of the Enclave and I couldn’t have done the job half as well with out you.” She said looking at each person in turn, many had been so busy with their own responsibilities they had only been able to make the once a month mandatory full committee meetings.

All of them had managed to meet with Erin or Bob, as often as they could manage during the month, meeting with one to three people might be good to get an opinion and be ready for the main meeting, but it had never really been efficient either and that Erin knew was more her fault than theirs. If she could have motivated the bulk of the enclave to get more involved then the Committee members would have had more time to attend to Enclave business. Instead of the half assed approach, they had adopted out of necessity.

She sat heavily keeping tight rein on her emotions, “I would like for each of you to say a few words about Bob, and lets keep politics out of it. I do not want one single person to be able to say I, We took advantage of a good mans funeral to score points for the upcoming vote.”

“Mathias will claim that no matter what we say” Morgan said, there were nods of agreement around the table from the others.

Glenn Oswald chose that moment to speak, “I have to know what was going on last night Erin?” He said levelly, his dark eyes unreadable. “What did Norman bring back and why were there were men working on this roof here till 3 am, “

“and where did all the other boats go last night?” Olivia Bergstrom added.

Erin wasn’t surprised at the questions, she was sure that there had been tons of speculation on what exactly Norman had found and it had probably been discussed till the wee hours of the morning.

“Norman brought back some solar panels, and some farming tools.” She replied lying by omission about the food. the Work on the roof was something else, and she didn’t doubt that Mathias and his cronies had probably spread a story that she had ordered the roof rigged to collapse or some other nonsense like that. She wanted it to be a surprise for every one including the people on the committee. “There was some roof damage from the storm, that needed to be repaired, “ she added and Morgan had placed guards on the roof to make sure no one went up there and found out about her surprise till the meeting.

Gregg Timmons looked like he wanted to say something but then he shook his head and leaned back in his chair.

“if you say so Erin” Glenn said with a glance towards Gregg then shrugged. “I trust if it were important you would fill us in.”

“Glenn, A girl loves her surprises and win or lose the vote the rest of the Enclave will love this one too.” She said. “ and Olivia, Norman and the others returned to the wreck he found to do more salvage.” She replied. ““okay lets get down to how we are going to do this today” She said briskly ready to get down to business.

Funeral had been a rare thing here in the Enclave till only a short while back, during the time of the dead, bodies were burned and maybe if there was a friend or some one who just felt strongly about it would say a few words as the body was tossed onto the burn pile.

There were plenty of reasons not to bury the dead, back then it had been the fear, and a limited space to bury bodies. But now they were going back to the old way, and having to create whole new routines, and with Bobs death they were having to invent what amounted to official ceremony for the burial of a public official from scratch. Of course Bob wouldn’t want anything really fancy, but the people would expect something more than tossing him in a hole and throwing dirt on his coffin.

And Erin nodded a pageant, the funeral would be as much a political maneuver as a goodbye and there was nothing she could do about it, and Bob would have told her not to even try. The funeral was the people who attended, he would have said, not for the deceased. She only hoped she could forgive herself for the funeral that she was sure would become a circus, once the committee got finished with the planning.

Noel stood gazing at the Marina, enjoying the soothing sound of the lapping water. she paid no attention to the Yance Teimbo and his security squad who watched over her. She almost wished Erin would lose the vote so they could leave the enclave, if this was what the future of the Enclave was to be, violence spawned by politics and security guards to keep who ever was in charge safe. She wondered if Mathias had any idea what kind of monster he had unleashed with his manipulations. Once the Mob got a taste for violence it seldom gave up on the tactic and walked away, at least historically that’s how it had worked.

Most here didn’t seem to understand just how lucky they had been to have been in the Enclaves when the dead had overrun the island. The Casual dismissal and belittling of groups like Salingers who had survived the dead outside the Enclaves bothered her. if anything those people deserved respect for the sheer force of will and ingenuity that had allowed them to survive. That didn’t mean you had to like them, but they deserved better than a sneering dismissal from people who had been lucky enough to be inside a walled area not just supplies but a plan of action created and initially emplaced by the Guard to save them.

And now that she had heard some of what Salinger and his people had faced, as related by Erin, she felt both pity and respect for the challenges Salinger and his people had faced and their survival in the face of what seemed impossible odds.

They needed people like Salingers group, men and women who were motivated and were not used to living here in the relative comfort of the Enclave. The people here might be good people but about half of them still believed that Life would return to normal at some point and they could go back and pick up their old lives.

“penny for your thoughts” Chris McCaffrey said from behind her.

she turned her head to gaze at him for a second the motioned for him to stand beside her. “I was thinking that we have far to many people who have no skills to help and no desire to do things they find distasteful and beneath them.” She said being bluntly honest.

Chris was silent for a moment then shook his head. “we, the Group I survived with had some people like that. Its not being lazy, at least I don’t think so. I suspect they were so used to reality being one thing, that even with the disaster they survived they have a hard time believing that most everything that once meant something is useless now.” Chris said quietly. “how many people want to accept that the skills they spent thirty years building were in the end pointless. How many salesman do we need now, how many fast food managers, secretaries, computer repair guys, Office workers are in demand.

I remember two women who damn near starved to death because they couldn’t understand that being a vegan was a luxury the old world provided thanks to modern farming. They only gave up and started eating meat when they found out how hard it was to find enough wild plants to eat on a daily basis and found out just how hard successful farming was to learn and successful farming still doesn’t guarantee nature wont wipe out your crops with a drought, or a flood, or swarms of insects and it damn sure takes more hard work than those two every put into anything they had once done.”

“so did all of them come to accept it in the end” she asked curiously, “the fact that old world is truly dead and gone” she added to be clear.

“pretty much, once some one convinced them that the only way some of the old world could come back was with a lot of work and education. The numbers of those interested and those who believed only began to grow when the others started seeing advances.”

“what kind of advances?” Noel asked.

“my turn to ask a question? Chris said. “if Erin loses the vote, would you two stay or leave this place”

“I think in the end we would leave, but not right away. But to be very honest here, I doubt Mathias would want us to remain here and if we did I’m sure that life would become less than ideal on a daily basis.” She said, “and that was a neat dodge to my question.” She said. “I suspect that you are more than what you claim Chris, I also believe you do not mean any Harm to Erin or the Enclave so I wont press you on it.”

“ You’re a smart woman Noel and I promise I will tell you everything soon, very soon actually.” He said then tilted his head towards the small group of men coming around the Marina. “I should leave before they get here, That looks like Tolman and his buddies. Apparently they don’t like me much, and if they find me here it might cause problems”

“No!” Noel said sharply. “I appreciate it, but its time that its made clear that we will not allow bullying and violence to change who and what we are.” She said as she turned to face the now rapidly approaching group of men.

Tolman was in the lead, his men fanned out behind him, A mocking smile on his face as he looked at Noel. There was nothing she could do to stop him and his men from running that trader out of the Enclave. He doubted that Tiembo and his security team would interfere and break the unspoken truce that had taken place to keep from Marring the funeral and more importantly Tiembo and his cretins had to know if they started any kind of fight that it only help Mathias when the vote to oust Erin was called for.

The tension rose as the group of men drew closer, “Morning Noel, I am sorry about your friends death” Tolman said. It was amazing Noel thought that lightening didn’t strike the bastard down. It was even more surprising that they didn’t seem to be about to start a confrontation either. “if you need help packing let me know” Tolman said his smile growing larger if that were possible.

Noel had been prepared to make a stand against the abuse and violence she was sure he was intent on dishing out. So she was taken off guard and left speechless for a moment. oh his words were infuriating enough but they also pushed the moment into a political sphere where any reply she gave could have impacts against Erin. Why couldn’t life just be simple enough, see asshole, shoot asshole, of course that also meant that the surviving world population would probably drop overnight to a half dozen people since the definition of being an asshole varied from person to person

Tolman and his men filtered by, every one of them fixing Chris with a look that left no doubt that they hadnt forgotten the Trader. “Oh and Mr. Trader, I suggest you pack now, if your still here after Mathias gets elected, you will be tossed out on your butt.”

Chris remained silent, rising to the bait would only add more fuel to the fire and he refused to give that piece of crap any exta wood for that particular fire.

As Tolman and his buddies vanished down the path heading towards the cemetery, Chris shrugged “well I have to say that didn’t go as expected.”

“anything that ends with out tar and fathers is good in my book” Yance Tiembo said.

“Amen” Chris added.
.

The Enclave had not started with a cemetery, it hadn’t needed one. Any one that died, bitten or not rose again. Unknown to the Guard and the people in the Enclave they had adopted the same way to deal with the dead, The bitten were restrained till they turned then were put down, the sick were restrained and kept under watch, if they died a knife was inserted into the eye socket and up into the brain. Then the bodies were burned, since no one knew if the ruiles might change yet again and the dead might rise despite having their brains destroyed. It had only been recently that they had started burying the dead again, but the brains were still destroyed before burial just in case.

Bob had been the one who had chosen the spot for the cemetery, on the north side of the Enclave in a V shaped open grassy area. Two rows of condos and trees along ran along both arms of the V, and the Wall that followed the inter Coastal and Heddy Gutter creek cutting across the top of the V.

Some of the people in those condos hadn’t been thrilled by the idea, and Erin had even argued it would be a good place to plant crops. But Bob had insisted that with the threat of the undead seemingly gone, that it was long past time to start showing respect for their dead again and bury them.

Bob had won out, he had always been a decent man, Erin thought as she walked across the cemetery, passing through the path between the groups of mourners. She would be surprised if there was one person missing.

She approached the portable platform that had been set up beside the grave, she was grateful that the basics had already been in place before this mornings meeting. The committee of advisors sometimes couldn’t decide if the sky was blue even if they were looking at it.

Her eyes fell on the rough coffin, and the tears she had managed to hold back all morning began to roll down her cheeks. Noel took Erin’s hand and squeezed gently offering her mental strength to get through this. She squeezed back gratefully then stepped up onto the platform, where the top five committee members and Mathias waited. She felt her face harden for an instant as she looked at Mathias. He was responsible for this, and yet he looked as sad as any one else on the platform. Proof Erin, McCaffrey is right about that. with out proof people will always doubt his guilt and believe instead that I was willing to kill to stay in control here and that would end any chance of pulling every one together and making this place thrive.

From behind the platform, a guitar began to play, Erin kept the surprise from her face that hadn’t been in the quick plan that the committee had came up with. Bill McDonald, was supposed to play the bagpipe. She didn’t really care to be honest, who ever was playing was pretty good and the music seemed fitting and appropriate.

She stood there ready to address the crowd, and felt something twist inside as she saw Evelyn Garcia standing beside the Coffin. Her dark hair blowing in the breeze as she stood there with one hand on the coffin of the man she had loved. The tears came hot and heavy then and she silently cursed herself for acting like a stereotypical woman.

The crowd was silent, waiting respectfully for her to speak. The only sound the snapping of the American Flag as the wind touched it. Gregg Timmons and Morgan had insisted on having the flag on Display, Bob had always said they were still Americans no matter how tough things were. And regardless of what people might think personally it was one final salute to Bob’s character.

“We…” She said then stopped, then took a deep breath and began again. “we have all lost friends and loved ones over the last six years, Losses that we sometimes thought we wouldn’t be able to bear.” A face flashed through her mind, every one out there saw their own loved ones, husbands, fathers, wives, girlfriends and children, She had no doubt they saw them. “But we survived hell on earth and that makes our losses now even worse in a way, and Bob was special.” She said her voice ringing out over the crowd. “I have never met a man like him, a man that every one seemed to respect, and to like. Many, maybe even most of us have grown cynical, jaded, cold and hard after what we went through, but not Bob, he never lost the ability show kindness, or compassion.” She smiled sadly as a memory surfaced, “The first time I met Bob, was shortly after my fiancé had been killed…..” she spun the story out, remembering how Bob had helped Noel keep her sane, had let her cry on his shoulder and how he had become a second father to her. he had offered her guidance and wisdom, and kept her from letting the Fury and disgust she felt towards the Dead, the universe and fate from eating her alive in more ways than just physically.

When she finished she fell silent for a long moment, her eyes fixed on the coffin that held her friend, and she couldn’t find the words she wanted, No needed to use to say goodbye to Bob. Nothing was adequate to express how much she loved him, and how much she would miss him. She could pour out a thousand words, all carefully arraigned into the most beautiful speech every written and it would still be only a pale cold attempt at describing what she felt. Finally she said the only things that mattered, “I will miss you Bob and I will always love you.”

She stepped aside wiping at her eyes and waved Morgan to forward, Morgan dressed in a suit he had dug up from somewhere stood stiffly as he faced the crowd, he was not his best dealing with an audience, but for Bob he would this one time. “Bob was my pain in the ass” He said loudly and smiled, “ the man took sadistic delight in being the most disgusting, chipper morning person he could be towards me. He was also a clutz and the one time I saw him drunk, he spent half the night singing maudlin love songs.” There was a surprised ripple of laughter through the crowd. “But he was far more to me than just the annoyingly happy morning person,” Morgan said his powerful voice dropping in volume for a moment. “Bob was….”

Will this never end, Mathias asked himself silently, To hear these idiots talk Bob was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Kind, gentle, compassionate, A father figure, a Paragon of virtue. If he heard one more amusing story about Bob, or how Bob had saved yet another life with just a kind word and gentle touch he was going to heave, right here.

When My Turn had come round to speak, yes I talked about how Bob worked hard to cross the lines and keep every one working together for the enclave, yada, yada, yada, and yes I passed along the obligatory ‘when I met Bob’ story. But do I really have to be subjected to another two hours of mindless drivel from what amounts to cult followers.

Mathias watched as Ginger Willis mounted the platform, tears streaming down her weathered wrinkled cheeks. Her mousy brown hair slowly fading to iron gray. She was yet another woman suffering from unrequited love for Bob. They acted like he had been a rock star, old Bob must have been laying some serious pipe as Tolman liked to say.

I’m almost tempted to say to hell with leading this damn place, and let Tolman shoot Ginger before I have to hear another story about how gentle Bob was, how kind Bob had been, How loving Bob had been. Just tell the damn truth, Bob said hi to you once and you were so excited a man actually spoke to you that created a whole fantasy life around Bob who probably never spoke to you again after the first time.

What a woman like Evelyn Garcia had seen in Bob, was beyond Mathias. Even now with out hair and nail salons, with out all the make up and padded clothing, she was an attractive woman, in some ways she was extremely attractive. Her long wavy dark hair shined in the sunlight, and yes she had a few wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth, but they only added character to her face.

And a man could lose himself in her liquid dark eyes, he thought as he felt the first stirrings of excitement below the belt.

She had been the woman he had considered pursuing at one point, she had the looks, the intelligence he preferred. It was too bad she was on the other side, but if he won the vote today, he would work to bring her around to seeing things his way.

Finally the long line of speakers ended, probably due to running out of time. he grimaced as Bill McDonald’s pipes skirled to life and of course it was the typical “Amazing Grace” Played at damn near every funeral before the dead and probably the only song McDonald knew how to play.

I will not allow that song to be played at anything once I am in control of the enclave, he vowed. Then prayed that the bag on the Damned pipes burst to spare him any more caterwauling.

As the music played the coffin was lowered into the grave, and then finally blessed silence fell. Mathias was surprised when no distraught woman threw herself into the grace, screaming and wailing, and oh yes must have the gnashing of teeth if its to be a proper funeral, he thought sardonically. At least this farce was drawing to a close at last.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey.

I think the biggest problem with being a pathfinder, is not really being a diplomat. People like Mathias and Tolman I would rather shoot out of hand. Yes I believe in law and order, but I think, no fear that if men like that are allowed any where near rebuilding a society they will warp and twist the process till they are virtual kings and the only law works for them.

The Funeral is over and there’s only hour till the vote and man you can tell its going to be tight, and the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife. Already about half of the enclave is waiting outside the meeting hall. which used to be some kind of large store, or that’s what it looks like..

Erin has some sort of last minute meeting going on, and I know for a fact that Normans and another boat are on their way back here. I think that Mathias is going to be in for one hell of a shock when all the bombshells go off around him. Especially the one I plan on delivering.

On a side note, I f’ing miss corndogs and fries, in fact I am going to start a list of all the things I miss.

1420hrs, The Enclave meeting hall.

It was a beautiful day all told, clear blue skies, a gentle breeze stirred the tree’s. a man or woman could take a walk and smell the sweet scent of honeysuckle mixed with rose and irises while enjoying the touch of warm sunlight on bare skin and the drone of insects.

Tolman didn’t notice any of that how ever, he was to angry. Morgan had locked down the roofs of the buildings around the Meeting hall citing the recent spate of violence that it was safer for both Erin and Mathias if they roofs were covered by security.

And of course nothing had been said till now, he fumed, the fact that his own plans were exactly the kind of threat Security was manning the roofs against didn’t make him any happier.

He stood near a cracked cement planter, watching as people streamed into the meeting hall, he could see at least four Security men on the roof, which probably meant there were four to eight more up there. Knowing how security was normally deployed, Tolman knew that there were only forty to forty five men that Erin could pull away to provide security at the meeting.

If it came to shooting, and unlike Mathias, Tolman wasn’t so sure that it wouldn’t, He wanted the odds to be as much in his favor as possible. He merged with the crowd and was carried into the meeting hall, ignoring the glares some of security gave him.

He stopped just inside the entrance looking around for a moment, and noted that none of the advisor’s committee were present and neither was Erin. He wondered if Erin was actually hoping to delay the vote by not appearing.

The other thing he noted was a lack of security, he had expected twenty men inside, not twelve. Maybe Erin had decided having an overwhelming security presence in the hall was a bad image. Where are they, he asked himself, if it came down to shooting he had to know where the extra men were.

Frowning thoughtfully, he worried over the problem his eyes sweeping the room.

Some one adjusted the mirrors that passed the outside light from the windows up front deeper into the meeting hall and the gloom lifted enough to light the room comfortably. He was going to have to hope that his men, scattered around the hall and outside had spotted the extra security so it could be dealt with, there was no way he could. If he was seen wandering around looking like he was casing the place, some people would begin to get suspicious and that was something that he didn’t want to happen.

He made his way up to where Mathias sat beside the Portable stage, “She is up to something” Mathias said as Tolman sat down.

“of course she is, and they have the roofs locked down tight” Tolman said his voice low.

“Since we have no need for the rooftops, it doesn’t affect my plans” Mathias replied. “I hope you remember that we do not need violence today.”

Tolman shrugged, as far as he was concerned the need for violence was dependent on what happened.

The Meeting hall had once been a Sears store, Erin thought as she approached the platform possibly for the last time. With all the shelves removed it was more than large enough to hold the entire enclave, and today it looked like all of the enclave was present.

Erin climbed the steps of the platform that had been built three years ago, a hush fell across the people in the first two rows and rippled out across the crowd as she stepped behind the podium.

“before we reach the main event today, I wanted to make a couple of announcements.”
Mathias who sat waiting his turn at the podium frowned but remained quiet. So far willing to let her proceed normally, she knew that wouldn’t last but that was okay.

“Shortly before Bobs death, He had talked extensively about how to solve our food supply problems, to that effect…” She wanted to laugh and throw up, she talked far to much like a politician these days than the normal everyday twenty year old she had been when the world fell apart. “ he showed me a book and asked me to send out a teams to look for certain plants. Which I ordered sent out the day before he died.” She said looking out over the room, fully aware of Mathias grinding his teeth together in frustration.

“This morning shortly after Dawn, one of those teams returned.” She said gesturing to Noel who stepped up onto the platform carrying a bag. She walked to the table where the counselors sat and poured some of the rice inside the bag onto the table top. “Thanks to Will Tuttle, we now have a supply of wild rice to supplement our food supplies and he assures me that he can show us how to plant and grow more like we do any other crop.”

The room was totally silent for a moment, then some one began to clap, it spread around the hall till it seemed every one had joined in.

Erin smiled not even bothering to look at Mathias, as the applause died down Mathias stood and broke protocol. “ All that’s well and good Erin, but it’s a little late isn’t it. You have what a pound of rice, how much more can we gather. This changes little, we still have babies on the way, and when they are born what little excess food we might have will go away as we struggle to feed both the mothers and the new born..”

Erin frowned, then nodded slowly in agreement much to Mathias’ surprise. “your right of course, we cant promise that we can find and harvest enough rice to make a real difference.” She said, setting off internal alarms for Mathias.

“I guess now is as good a time as any to bring this up,” She said slowly.

“Erin, we have a vote waiting, trying to delay the inevitable is pointless.’ Mathias stated.

“Pointless or not, this is a subject that was brought to my attention and I have spent far to long debating and frankly putting it off so as possibly my last real act as Leader I will address the next two topics.” She said levely.. Mathias gazed calmly at her for a moment then nodded.

“Please do continue then” he said gesturing for her to move along.

“Thank you Mathias.” She said “Ladies and gentlemen, not long ago, Bob brought to my attention that there was a growing sentiment in the enclave that something needed to be done about the pregnant women.” A brittle silence fell over the room, and not a few women and men looked angrily around.

“The solution that was suggested as you can guess was forced abortion.” She said, as angry mutters rose from the assembled crowd. I knew those cowards wouldn’t stand up and shout yes kill the babies when they have to face the women and admit publicly how they feel, she thought viciously

“Please, if I can continue” She said loudly, pitching her voice to carry over the hubbub. If anything the noise crew louder, in for a penny in for a pound, she thought as she saw the gleam of satisfaction in Mathias’s eyes. Oh I know the trap you set and I bet you aren’t expecting what I am about to do, you piece of murderous shit.

“I SAID SHUT THE HELL UP!” Erin shouted, the pure shock at hearing her not only shout but curse too, stilled the angry denunciations and she leaped into the near silence and took control. “I delayed for two reasons, the first is I find the idea abhorrent, but my personal beliefs have to take a back seat to what is best for the Enclave, which LEADS ME,” She said loudly over the rising volume of comments from both sides of the argument this time.

She was growing angry at the interruptions but pushed on. “which leads me to the second reason which is that I believe that no one person has the right, or authority to make such a decision.” she said. “and because I feel that way, I can do nothing else but lay this final solution before you and call for a public vote, a show of hands.” She said. “Yes a Show of Hands” She shouted over the rising tide of anger. those of you that have suggested this solution will not be able to hide your votes, You will not be able to hide behind whispers and rumors, you will have to look at the women whose babies you want to condemn when you vote and then you will show the strength of your convictions or lack there of.”

Mathias face was a mask, but for the first time she saw real anger there in the depths of his eyes. Well screw you, and your going to get another little rude surprise or two in just a few minutes. She thought as she saw Dell Stillwell, her messenger peek into the hall from the main door. unnoticed by the others he gave her a thumbs up and vanished outside again.

She held up her hands trying to quell the noise, it took a few minutes to get them to calm down but there was no way Mathias could push for an immediate move to vote, not with this hanging out there.

The noise finally fell to acceptable levels, “Please I am not finished” Erin stated loudly drawing all eyes to her. “The reasons we are gathered here today are tied directly into the issue I just announced as well as our food supply and my fitness as leader. So before we have a public vote on the issue of population control. I want to bring three things to your attention. “

Mathias stirred in his chair, eyes intent, he knew he couldn’t interrupt her, but no one in this crowd but his most loyal followers would go for by passing this to impeach Erin. But what did she have to sway them because that’s what shes going to try to do.

“we all know about the Smokers and how it will extend our supply of fish, and every one is fully aware that Norman left the Enclave just before the Hurricane and returned last night, and yes was gone again before daybreak along with seven other boats. “ She saw Mathias gather himself to push into the moment, to try and derail here. She only nodded. “well I think I can show you at least some of what Norman brought back.” She lifted a hand and waved.

The room fell silent in shock, and mouths fell open, as the lights in the ceiling came to life. Erin gave Mathias a scorching go to hell look as she pulled a microphone from under the podium and one of Tiembo men plugged the systen into the wall. the power was only temporary, it would last for about an hour but it was enough and with the fuel recovered from the Cargo ship and the solar panels, things were going to change around here.

“this is part of what he brought back and more is being recovered.” She said her voice booming from the speaker. “there is enough food on the wreck he found to feed us all for months, there are solar panels, farming tools, and a plethora of other items, including several hundred tons of diesel still in the cargo ships tanks.”

Mathias stared at her, seeing his plans going down the drain, the only card he had left would be to accuse her of stealing food and hording it for herself and her cronies, and that was a thin line.

“I said three things” Erin said, “the second is we have found a supply of wild rice that we can cultivate, Bob had suggested the idea and I had sent out two teams the day before he died. I only wish he were here to find out he was right about the rice.”

At the moment she had the entire crowd in her hand and she knew it, Mathias was on his feet ready to leap in and try to wreck her by using the cache he had created. She smiled at him, security had cleared the cache building of Mathias’s supporters and secured it during the funeral. She even had a few confessions, but that would be for after this.

“the third thing is simple really, we have concluded a trade agreement with a collection of small towns, who call themselves the Safe zone. They will supply us with some food and other items for docking privileges here at Harbor town, in addition they have stated that if we can grow enough rice they would be willing to trade us technology that we need.”

“oh this is horse shit” Mathias said rising to his feet at last,. “you put on a good show Erin I will grant you that, but here at the end of your conjuring trick you expect us to believe you’ve been in contact with some group called the Free zone. This trader has snowed you completely Erin if you believe that crap.”

Erin nodded at Yance who turned away talking quietly into his radio. “Mathias the problem you have is your run off at the mouth far to often, you have no facts only opinions and you have convinced some of the Enclave to believe your giving them facts.” She said as two men entered carried a large metal travel case.

“Erin I have remained civil, in the face of your insults and insinuations. But enough of this, I demand the vote you’ve had your fun.” Mathias said.

Erin smiled and looked at the Committee table behind her where the two men had opened the case and set up an old fashioned looking radio.. Another man appeared from the back pulling a cable that was quickly attached to the radio.

“Would you like to talk to the Free zone Mathias?, The trader gave me this radio days ago, and a representative of the zone is due to arrive in a couple of hours. But you can call him or their base on this thing.” She said gesturing towards the radio as it was turned on and the screen and gauges lit up it was like magic to people who had lost power and it attendant technology years back.

Mathias knew at that moment Erin had played him like a fiddle. It only remained to be seen if he could salvage anything out of this, he could possibly use his fall back story about Erin having a cache of food, but if he dragged it out now, people would want to know why he had waited till this minute to announce the find.

He might be able to get a messenger to arrive, bring word that the cache had just been located and he might even be able to implicate Erin in Bobs death if he played it close and tight.

“The vote Erin, no more games. I find it amazing that you waited till today to pull all this out of the hat, or did you have this all along and didn’t bother to share it with us till you were desperate.” Mathias said.

“if you insist Mathias” Erin said calmly as she turned back to the gathering. “I think that with our food supply problem balanced out, that we can hold off voting on the population control issue. but I beg you people to work towards a solution before we reach points like this. next time we might not be so lucky. Is there any one that moves for a public vote,” she asked. there was silence in the room. “very well we move on to the next business a vote of no confidence to remove me from office and elect a new Leader. I want you to know that regardless of how this turns out, It has been my privilege to lead the Enclave.” She stepped away from the podium, and headed to the bathroom.

Mathias rose and stepped forward, he had one chance to salvage the vote, as he moved to the podium Tolman rose and casually made his way over to Royce Collins.

“Ladies and Gentleman, we have seen and heard some long awaited good news today, but that is the problem. It should never have taken this long to solve the problem. Whether this free zone really exists, or is some scam cooked up by the stranger who seems to have the run of the enclave I couldn’t tell you. But I do know that even if this Free zone sailed in today, they wouldn’t solve our problems. Problems that Bob found the answers to, Not Erin. Bob is gone, what will she do now.

The power was a nice touch and I am thrilled to see it myself. But fuel for a generator will run out, where will we get batteries for the Solar panels. It’s a nice surprise but will do nothing for us, we can not run fridges or freezers for any real stretch of time because the fuel for the generators will not last. Yes its good news, but we have to realize that the fuel is finite, who knows if it can go bad and stop working too. And when its gone, we are back in the dark.

Yes the Rice is great, and the news is welcome but how much can there be. and I find suspect that Erin suddenly located a cache of food that can feed us for months. I could believe a couple of days of food but Months?.” Mathias continued to build this case, using every trick and technique he knew.

His face showing only the emotions he allowed, which was a good thing because when he spotted Royce leaving the hall, he wanted to smile. Hopefully his messenger would arrive just before the vote was announced.

Mathias could stand up and regretfully inform them that Erin had lied to them all, that she had been systematically looting the food stores. And that it was also possible that she had ordered Bob killed because the paragon of virtue found out about her heinous plot to deprive the enclave of food so she and her lackeys could celebrate while the others starved.

Noel sat quietly; furious as she listened to Mathias, the man did know how to play an audience it was possible that he might just have swayed enough votes back in his pocket to win. Damn him, damn him to hell. She hoped that Erin really did know what she was doing, because this little plan of hers could backfire and ruin not only Erin but the Enclave as a whole.

She noted that he carefully avoided the final solution, and hoped he chocked on his own bile for getting that one started. He could deny it all he wanted, but it had been his people spreading it around.

She had found it amusing that as Mathias spoke about Erin exaggerating the supplies, equipment and food stuffs, the news reached the meeting and was quickly spread that Normans Lady Catherine and Chip Barnes boat the Naughty lady had arrived loaded down with supplies. Take that Mathias, she thought hiding a smile

Finally Mathias finished speaking, Noel was surprised that during his half hour manipulation that he hadn’t been struck dead. He took his seat again and the voting slips were handed out. It was as simple as could be, write yes or no on the slip and place it in the collection boxes that would be passed around. Then the committee would open them and tally the numbers. Enough yes’s and Erin remained in control.

She filled hers out and looked up to see Mathias watching her with cold reptilian eyes, she smiled and gave him the finger, to hell with politics she thought.

It took an hour, one long hour to tally the votes that could change the course of the Enclave. The people inside were split and they new it, many that backed Mathias only supported some of his ideas, not the man himself. They had been Walters supporters and embracing Mathias as Walters successor was hard but they had no choice, they supported much harsher rules and penalties and thought that Erin’s way was to wishy washy and would lead them to ruin.

There was tension and excitement in the air that grew with each passing moment. finally the committee signaled it had counted all the votes. A hush fell over the meeting hall, and if any one noticed that the number of security men had increased they didn’t react.

Gregg Timmons, walked to the podium and with a boyish grin picked up the microphone. “this feels odd after so long, “ he said, as a few of the residents chuckled. “could some one get Erin please.”

Erin appeared a minute later followed by Yance Teimbo and two strangers, a black man and a woman. she mounted the platform and smiled naturally looking for all the world like she didn’t have a care in the world.

“As the head of the advisor committee, its my job to announce the tally.” Greg said his eyes sweeping the room for a moment. “310 votes for Erin” Greg announced. The room erupted into cheers and shouts of protest.

Erin took the Microphone from Gregg and turned the volume up, the generator would crap out any time now and she wanted to get this done. “Please lets calm down, I would like five volunteers from the crowd to come up here and independently double check the numbers” she said. As the volunteers were being picked she had Yance send a runner down to the docks to bring back more fuel for the generator. Since no one was sure the batteries they had hooked up to the solar array would hold much of a charge.

She looked at Mathias who looked as calm as could be in the face of failure, her eyes narrowed in speculation as she noticed Tolman was no where in sight. That could be a problem she thought, as she glanced towards the front where ten Security men stood waiting.

It took another half hour, for the volunteer to count the votes and they reached the same number as the committee. And thankfully who ever Yance had sent to fetch more fuel had returned in time. Tomorrow they would have to install that massive guard generator and fill its tanks, it could run for something like a week or so Morgan had said.

Erin let the cheering go for a minute or two, then got them calmed down again. “I want to thank you for having confidence in me, and I hope those who do not will give me a chance to prove myself to you.” She said. “because of that I want to schedule a meeting for next week where I will propose some changes in how we do things, and that will give Walters supporters a voice in how the place is run. “ she said, almost laughing at the surprised looks on faces of the opposition.

As she talked she knew that security was locking down the exits, in prepartion for what was to come next, God she had never expected some of what they had found out when the Teams had Raided the building where Mathias had kept his cache. Now every one else was about to find out.

“I know its been a long day already and I am afraid that its going to be a little longer.” She announced as good natured groans broke out. She wished the humor of the moment would last but not with what was about to happen.

“I am afraid this is a very serious matter,” she said watching Mathias out of the corner of her eye. He knew something was going on, and with increased number of security he knew it wasn’t going to be good.

“for over a few weeks we have been given information about possible treason, theft and other things these accusations were directed at my opponent,” Mathias flinched visibly and grew pale “ and because there was no evidence I declined to bring it up, refusing to use what might be mere gossip and lies to smear my opponent. Then yesterday someone gave Morgan a tip that led security to raid the ……”

Mathias couldn’t believe what she was saying, he started to protest but saw the two men that security escorted into the building handcuffed together, Tolman was gone, that damn dog. That wasn’t the biggest shock of the day how ever, Mathias realized as Erin announced that the man who had started the investigation had arrived and like the others Mathias turned to see McCaffrey enter the building helping a pale and obviously dying Jakob Salinger walk down the aisle. Mathias went cold at the sight, Salinger lived, what had he told Erin. Really he didn’t need to ask that, he knew Salinger would have told her all of it. why shouldn’t he, Tolman had tried to kill him after all. Salinger was his destruction even if Tolman had been the only person that Salinger had met.

“I protest this farce, you won so now your going to flex your power to end any competition I might pose to you in the future.” Mathias said angrily. “and even worse, you’ve conspired with our Enemy.

“In a way yes” Erin replied to his utter astonishment. “I don’t know the extent of the information your two henchman gave to Morgan but I know enough, to never want you in any position to control the Enclave” She said angrily, “as far as conspiring with our enemy, I find his story quite interesting and the panel I am going to put together drawn from both sides of our political split will revue our evidence and Salingers testimony.”

“ oh please Erin, you and your cronies concocted this crap, there’s no way you could have been told anything that those two men supposedly said. You’ve been in the hall the entire time, the only way you could know ‘their confessions’ was to have created them days ago”

“Radio’s Mathias, Radios” Erin replied icily, holding up the Radio that had been clipped to her belt, she wore it so often that most never noticed it. “while I was waiting for the results of the vote I got a call from Chet who gave me the news.”

“Mathias, your under arrest for conspiring to murder Walter Reynolds, Stealing and hording Enclave supplies, with holding knowledge of Murder, being complicit in the murder of Bob….” Morgan announced in a voice like cool clipped tones. Mathias listened to the charges roll out with something like shock. How, how was this even possible. Even if he beat the charges and he could, he was finished here there would be no taking control through the system and even the most ardent Anti Erin resident would steer clear of him.

He looked at Salinger, and realized that this man had been the one to really set off the investigation, Tolman had screwed up and not killed the one man that could tie them to the majority of the charges being listed. At least I was never actually present, I can beat this and then I will leave the enclave start over somewhere else. But I will throw Tolman under the bus for screwing up like this and running out on me to boot.

“Happy now” Chris asked Salinger as they watched Mathias being led away his life in ruins, the crowd of residents in the hall were talking quietly, unable to take in all that had just happened, even Mathias’s supporters looked stunned, no doubt in an hour they would have convinced themselves that this was on big con job. .

“Very” the dying man said softly. “Erin has agreed to take in what’s left of my people, and with Mathias going down and the real story coming out, my people can get a new start here.”

“Don’t talk so much, save your energy” Chris urged him.

“why so I can live an extra hour” Salinger asked. “I need one more favor, if you don’t mind.”

“Depends on what it is” Chris replied as he turned and started for the door, half carrying Salinger.

“I am recording my testimony for Erin’s panel, and then I would like you to help me get back to my people. I have to tell them that I got the deal.”

“You realize that trip will probably kill you” Chris said softly.

“I am going to die anyway, at least for the first time in my life I did something important that worked out for the best. Cant ask for more than that” Salinger said softly.

1600hrs.

Word spread quickly through the enclave as a old fashioned schooner, flying the American flag, appeared out on the intercoastal by the time it furled sail and dropped anchor outside the marina and lowered a small boat, almost the entire Enclave had turned out to watch.

Christ sat on a low Stonewall that gave him a great vantage point to watch as the small boat came up to a dock and was tied off. “I remember him being taller” Stephanie muttered with a grin as a muscular red head, armed only with a Pistol on his thigh and a wicked looking Khurkri at his waist climbed out and shook hands with Erin. “I’m Jared Stone, “ he said as three more men joined him from the small ships boat. “this is Ori McBride…”

Chris smiled and slid down off the wall. “lets go eat something, and if your really nice, maybe we can catch Ori by himself and get some shine off him.”

Stephanie laughed and dropped her arm around Henrys shoulder. “ He just wants to get me drunk to take advantage of you” she said.

Henry started to laugh then stopped as what she had said hit him. “what?” he barked as she laughed again. “your kidding right, you know I spend a lot of time alone with him.”

“ I don’t judge” Stephanie said laughing.

From the Journal of Chris McCaffrey.

You know you never really know how things will turn out. I never saw Mathias arrest coming and from the conversations I’ve had with Erin over the last couple of days, she didn’t either. Apparently when Morgan’s people raided the building where Mathias had hidden all the food that Tolman and his men had stolen from both the Enclave and Salinger’s people that, two of the men rolled over hoping for mercy. They admitted to everything, the Murder of Walter, Bob, and at least sixteen others. They even verified Salinger’s claims of meeting with Tolman and not being responsible for the raid on the Enclave food supplies.

Speaking of, I took Salinger back to his people it took almost two days to find them. I had to pull him around in the cart that I had made for my supplies. It was one of the most emotional bittersweet reunions I ve seen. They were overjoyed to find out he had not been killed, but had to face the fact that he was already dead because of the infection, Tolman had killed him but it had just taken time to catch up. that’s what he told them.

He told them about Mathias’s arrest, and how Erin had agreed to let the survivors of his group join the Enclave, especially since some if not half of the food Mathias had cached belonged to them. Salinger managed to joke and laugh with them all the way back to the Enclave, He fell silent as we approached the gate, and when I looked back at him, I realized he had died. So the Enclave had another funeral yesterday. Honestly I didn’t know the man well, but I think, at least there at the end he was a good man.

Tolman vanished, during the investigation it was discovered that one of Tolmans men who worked security had warned him that something big was up and that teams were on the way to lock down the meeting the wall and that the messenger he had sent out had been intercepted and held the moment the man had left the building.

The end result was he escaped before the net was drawn closed around the meeting hall, probably went over the wall which wasn’t all that far.

Mathias is going into Exile, I understand that Erin wanted him hung, but the committee convince her to send him away. I don’t think Mathias was expecting to be placed on a boat, or that the boat would drop him off on a beach in Florida. In fact, he should be there tomorrow.

Now then, Jared left yesterday after the funeral, apparently they were able to hammer out some kind of deal that has Erin excited as hell. I’m glad for her to be honest, mot of the people here are good folks and they deserve a good break.

I’m leaving tomorrow, I have ten pounds of fresh fish and a meeting with Waylon Tucker, it seems that Erin needs some battery’s to use with her Solar panels and Tucker is the man to speak with. I gather he is some kind of eccentric genius. Stephanie will stay here for now to help keep a watch in Erin just in case Tolman decides to come back for a little revenge.

Chris closed his journal, and yawned before he could turn in for the night , there was a soft knock on the door to the room he was using. “this had better be good” he said as he went and opened the door and found Erin in the hallway.

He invited her in and offered her coffee which she happily accepted.

She sat down cradling the precious cup of coffee in both hands as she gazed at him. “why didn’t you just tell me the truth from the start and help us” she asked. “you see I read the Illinois captains log and saw a copy of the original cargo manifest and it seems that the Captain abandoned the ship because they were running out of food and there was no huge supply of MRE’s listed on the manifest.”

He took a drink studying her over the rim of his cup he savored the taste for a moment then shrugged. “It took the zone a week to load all that food” he said conversationally, “ Henry told me that Norman had found the log and possibly a copy of the Cargo Manifest, so I’ve been waiting for this conversation.”

“so why not just give it to us, you could have helped us from the first day,” She said, she didn’t sound angry but she could be.

“there are a lot of reasons, we didn’t, but the main one was this Erin. you people had a few things to offer us, but we didn’t want to swoop in throwing food and materials. One it looks like we are trying to take over, two your people would come to rely on the zone to feed them and provide for them, because they had no idea how to help themselves. Case in point the smokers. I wanted you to be able to meet us on half way even terms so your people could feel like equals to the Zone instead of feeling like they had to beg for help. so I waited till the food was placed on board the ship, which the rest of its cargo is real by the way, and then told Norman about it.

And the reason we haven’t touched it yet is because we are busying recovering as much as we can on the mainland, and thought that if your people started salvaging ships, it would give you even more things you can use and trade. And the last reason, I like you, for all its faults and flaws Erin, this place held on to rules and some law, most didn’t. I was amazed when I heard you talk about needing evidence, and things like that. Most groups I’ve encountered outside the zone just banish or execute people because some one accused them of something, they don’t even waste time on a trail or trying to find out if the charges are accurate or real. Your different, and from what I hear so is Waylon Tucker and Gideon Snow. “

“Thank you for being honest with me” Erin said looking thoughtful. “this time at least” She said then laughed.

“Drink your coffee before it gets cold” he said with a smile.

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12 thoughts on “Dilemma part 6

    • This story takes place four years after the dead stop moving. So Jared is still alive at this point in the story. The world died or began to die in June of 2010, this story takes place in 2016.

      I was feeling all nostalgic and had the idea for a guest appearance LOL It wont happen again.

      Like

    • well, I have learned to outline LOL. The Clock just kind of appeared in my head already completed. kind of weird really. I was pumping out around 30 page chapters every three days.

      Laurens story, I wrote freestyle I guess its called. I sat down and let my fingers move. Mostly these days I outline, I don’t always end up following it.

      Case in point, I have two whole different endings of Dilemma part 6 other than what I posted. I liked the ending I posted more than I like the other two no matter what the outline demanded. LOL.

      So I guess, to make this already long answer a bit longer, :), I guess I outline and let the story flow most of the time.

      Thanks for reading Zgun, Glad you’ve enjoyed it

      Like

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