Looking out over the Assembled from his seat on the dais, Lyle knew this was a momentous point in the history of the organization. A full seven Elders in the Council stood accused by Sethur, no, Raleigh, he had to remind himself. This trial could be the spark leading to a firestorm that consumed the entire movement. He still refused to call this organization just a church, it was that, perhaps, but so much more.
Pondering how he came to be sitting here helped to pass the time as the preliminaries droned on. On returning to the Enclave, Raleigh had asked to meet with the full Council of Elders and than laid out the facts leading up to the Battle of Crooked River. A battle where many had died. That the dead were non-members and Southerners made no difference. The Scripture was specific, to cause the shedding of innocent blood was...unforgivable.
Since members of the Council itself now stood in the dock, the only choice was to hold a public trial before the assembled membership. The recent and apparent suicide of two of the accused Elders just added to the tension. The call had gone out, and for the first time in living memory, a full Assembly was convened. Lyle knew little beyond what he'd picked up from Raleigh, and even his knowledge of organizational history was spotty at best - but this was a big deal.
He was here both to Witness and as an official observer of the Union - awkward, to say the least. Awkward given that the battle had been fomented by certain Senators now sitting in the comfort of their offices back at the Capital. In an odd twist of process, he had met three of the remaining five accused. Amos Mangus, a seemingly kind old man; Elder Brightman, now a silent paragon of reserve; and a force of nature that everyone called The Gunny.
The poke in his ribs by Sherry ended his musing. The man at the podium, a historian if memory served him, was finishing his statement, Lyle would be next. His notes were already on the podium, in case he needed specifics - damn if he was going to read his part in this. He would be followed by several of the Cohort, led once more by the Commander.
That brought another thought - the Enclave itself was now surrounded by an impenetrable ring of steel, ordinance steel. Several rings in fact. The proceedings would be carried by wireline or radio to the troops; all but the most distant Watchers - LRRPs - would listen, then participate. Their presence ensured that the will of the Assembled would be carried out free of any Outside influence or interruption. This privacy would be maintained by force of arms - if necessary.
Called to the podium, Lyle paused and looked out over the crowd before him, fully aware of the masses sitting outside - even more listening in as they sat within the boundary of the Enclave. Clearing his throat, he began -
"My name is Lyle Elkins. I am a senior field agent with and for Section Nine of the Intelligence Directorate of the Army of the Union of the United States of North America. I also stand here as an observer plenipotentiary for the Union. I cannot truthfully witness to any part played by those members of your community being tried here. I can and do, affirm the facts as laid out by Raleigh Dorow - known to me at the time as Sethur Silver, and his sister, Sherry Dorow. I was present at the aftermath of the Battle of Crooked River." He paused.
The carnage wrought by the mortar strike had been horrific to his young eyes. He'd also seen the change in Seth...Raleigh. The easygoing gentleman, and an honest a soul he'd met in years, had aged before his eyes. The discovery that Sherry was, in fact, his sister had made the profound change even more startling. He shook his head; "I also stand before you to..." confess was the wrong word, "to tell of my small part in the actions now called by the Union media as the Liberation of California."
It took some time to lay out everything he could while not violating his oath to secrecy about the invasion. "So to sum this for you and make it relevant to the matter at hand - the action in California was premeditated, planned, with only some event, no matter how small, to be used as the trigger for pushing the Mexicans back to the old borders. Raleigh Dorow and the Elders at Crooked River were able to prevent that battle from turning into a war." He turned to look behind him, "For that, I am certainly grateful, as are many others - for no good could have come from it."
"One final observation. If not for the direct and immediate actions of the Elder I know as Gunny, the short circuiting of the Union war plans would have been all but impossible. For the record, the Union has now formally accepted the need for the destruction of the railroad tracks and apologized to the railroad involved. I regretfully cannot say those responsible in the Senate have been brought to the dock." With that, he and Sherry left the dais as arranged, their part done.
Their armed escort led them both to a small building, a cottage as it turned out, where they met Raleigh and the historian. The two were deep in conversation, so they just sat and took in the scene.
"So, you're saying this trial could trigger another Trek?"
He man sighed, "So much of history repeats itself. Which, in and of itself, proves much of what has been said about Mankind's seemingly unlimited capacity for stupidity. The original trekboere left before the wars with the British became inevitable. The next Trek was forced by conditions in South America. We found a home here once more, and thankful as we are for the increase granted by the Almighty, we were all but overwhelmed by those taken in during the Troubles. Now with the trial, a split might cause the generational members to, once more, go Trekking. In this case, East to Old Nebraska." He paused, "With or without permission."
"Blindly following tradition is no answer to a changing world. What would they gain?"
"Through no fault of your own, Raleigh, you lack the visceral understanding of what history has taught this congregation - again and again. The trekboere were by their nature, nomadic. When they settled, even temporally, the laager meant safety for the young, for the community. Now, almost overwhelmed, our history and tradition being diluted by newcomers, many - especially in the older families, are ready to go Trek again, to distill and reinforce old and proven traditions. As has happened twice before." He held his hands out, "Traditions are traditions for a reason, Raleigh, because they work."
"What happens to those who choose not to leave?"
"History has not been kind to them. Those that stayed behind after the first Trek were all but destroyed by war. The second, by internal strife and bickering until the community shrank, then disappeared. Any community, no matter the size, cannot survive over time without a shared belief system, agreed upon laws and an unspoken contract, if you will, to support one another. If the Council splits, and it might, it would be the end of the Enclave as it is seen today. Those who would stay would have the comfort, luxury even, of established fields and a known growing cycle."
Sherry spoke, "And those that would Trek? What of those who chose to leave?"
The historian rubbed his face. "They would have the comfort of well proven tradition, the strength of conviction and frankly, a challenge that would refine them, as a blazing forge and pounding hammer strengthens steel. They would not just survive, Miss Dorow, they would prosper. As before." Glancing at his watch, he stood. "I must go, there is yet another meeting, and as I provide the historical resource for all things... Good day."
The click of the closing door broke the silence. Raleigh was the first to speak. "So, Lyle, how did it go?"
"I gave my Witness, I told of the California action and I confirmed the Union had, in fact, planned to start a war with the South."
"You forget the part about Gunny." Sherry said.
"Ya. Said Gunny stopped the war by blowing up the tracks. No logistics, no war." He shrugged. "From what I just heard, nobody wins, why hold a trial?"
That produced a smile on Raleigh's face. "Goodness, Lyle, doesn't the truth set us free?"
Sherry interrupted before Lyle could answer. "Spare me, Brother. Truth is what you see as true, there is no real truth. Truth with a capital T."
Shaking his head, the reply was almost whimsical. "There you would be wrong, Sis. If enough people see, say or hear the same thing, it becomes a truth. If people are told something by a higher authority, if you will, one they believe in, it is a truth. And if you see something often enough with the same outcome, you can bet it is the truth."
Turning before speaking again, he continued, "As for your question...and it is a good one. You can set a story free, to be told or retold - and changed at every turn." Another smile, "And wonder if the truth would ever be in the story. Or you can grab that story, kicking and screaming, then put it up on display before God and everybody and ensure the truth - or at least the facts as you know them, get out to the largest group of people. All at once. Make that story a matter of printed record - printed not just in your lifetime, but in your presence, to take that story and try like hell to get the greatest good out of it, because the dead will not thank you - for they cannot." Then softly, "Nor will the living - for they will not."
Walking over to the sink, he filled a pot with water, chuckling, he finished with, "So, the truth is funny that way, Lyle. It's only good if you can control what is taken to be the truth. For if it's taken wrong - well, that's how people die. This sad episode should be proof enough, - even for you."
"If I can, I'll escort the paroled Southerners back to their homes. With any kind of luck, maybe I can make a change there." He shrugged as he lit the burner, "I doubt it will make a difference, greed there is no different there than here."
Sherry spoke up, "Tell the whole story. Otherwise, you're just as bad as we've been in playing with the truth."
"Fine. Sherry and I will also be looking for Naomi. She was at Ft Chaffee for training when the Chërnyi strike left this mess. There is a possibility she is still alive. Not much of a chance, but one I'm... We are willing to take."
That evening, after dinner, a knock broke the silence. When Lyle opened the door, he was surprised to see a young woman, maybe fifteen or a bit older, standing there. With her striking long red hair and almost luminous green eyes, he was struck dumb. The spell was broken by her simple - "May I see Sethur? Please."
He stood aside and waved her in. Before he could say or do anything, Sherry snagged his arm and said, "Let's you and me go for a walk, boyo - there's some things we need settle and damn soon." As he looked back, the door closed.
"Well, Ginger, you have grown up" he said looking her up and down, "since I left." He held out his hand and led her to a chair, pulling it out for her to sit upon. He went to the far side of the table and sat back behind his tea. Lifting the medallion from around his neck, he laid it on the table. "I've not forgotten you, my sweet Ginger. I had some other...duties that had to come first, for now. What do you wish?"
"To go away with you. Word is that you will be heading to the South, with her."
"That her, my sweet, is my own blood sister, one lost to me for over ten years." That caused Ginger's hands to fly to her face, even as it reddened. "I'm still an orphan, as far as I know - only now slightly less alone in the world, for I have found a sliver of family." He reached out his hand, which she took, holding tightly.
"But having a sliver of a family is not the same as having a whole family. To have someone who loves you, shares your life, dreams and wants to begin a new family - together."
"We're of a single mind then?" Her voice was husky, he couldn't miss the passion she held in check. She had grown up, and all too fast for what he must do.
"Almost, Ginger. Please hear me out, before you continue. We could, just today, get married. You are of a proper age to decide, to know what you believe you want. The Brothers might frown, but you have the right, and they would sanction our joining."
The "But?" tore from her full red lips as a sob.
"This is why I asked you to hear me out. I have found that my mother and a younger brother might be living in the South, maybe. Can you see that not knowing, or at least trying to know - could become a bitter acid, eating away at our happiness?"
Tearing her hand away from his, covering her mouth, just as she blurted "My god, alive...after all this time?"
Leaping up from the table, she rushed to his side, clutching him tightly. "That's, that's...wonderful!"
With her ample breasts mashed into his face, Raleigh had to take a moment to reply. He would be giving up so much, but he really had no choice, nor did Sherry - they had to know. Putting his arms around Ginger's backside, he squeezed back. She finally gave him enough room to speak.
Looking down at his face, her eyes brimming with tears, she whispered, "You must go, of course. I would in your place - without a second thought." She smiled, "I can wait. How long?"
"Maybe as much as a year. I can stay in touch via radio - but even with help, it will take a while. We'll need to..."
Putting a finger to his lips, she untangled herself and sat back down. "However long it takes, is how long it will take. I'll wait. I have a lot of training yet to take, lessons to learn."
"You have Decided then?"
"Yes, Nurse midwife. I've asked for and been accepted for additional training in Pediatric emergency care. I didn't know when you would be back from Walkabout...then the trial started and I..." she said. "No matter where we go, where we live, the skills will be of value to anyone living in the area. What have you planned - for after?"
"No matter how the trial turns out, even if there is another Trek, I plan to return and if the community will have me...us - stay as a member in the community. I've not spent all that much time Outside, though it seems nearly a lifetime, but I'm convinced life within is better than without."
The tears began anew. "I, too, want to live within. It's not just the friends, its the"
"It's called The Way for a reason. Then we are decided?"
"Was there ever a doubt?"
"No, Ginger. Not for me, not for a very long time. I felt your spirit as we met, it was that sudden. I'll get with Brother Jones and have him publish our banns." After a short pause, "One last thing. When I came here, I had the clothing on my back, this medallion and a few old American coins. Five pennies and a dime. I've asked a friend, Brother Wilson, to make those into a copper ring, coated with the silver from the dime for my engagement token."
"You've been wearing mine for some time."
The smile was answer enough for her. "When I return, I'll have this," he tapped on the medallion, "made into wedding rings, to show new and old families together." Their embrace lasted for a very long time.
As Lyle and Sherry walked into the night, a set of shadows detached themselves from the darkness, and ghosted along with them. Despite all that had happened in the last many months, there was still no real trust of admitted Union spooks, no matter how friendly they might seem. Besides, they wanted to ensure the pair stayed away from the Assembled, some things were just not meant for non-members.
"Well, Sherry, you have me all to yourself. What do you want to talk about that we haven't talked about over the years?" They'd never become physically intimate, he wasn't sure Sherry was even capable of that kind of an intimate relationship. They were lovers, after a fashion. She gave off a kind of excitement that he was drawn to, like the proverbial moth to a flame. Maybe her near-death on more than one occasion gave her a unique or perhaps, a fatalistic outlook - no matter, he couldn't leave - and he'd tried, twice.
He'd been very careful to avoid any mention of Kansas City or the FEMA camps in Pennsylvania. Even as isolated as his family had been, he'd heard of them - the horror stories of the camps were legend across the land. The camps became perhaps the most visible of many things that had led to the dissolution of the old United States and the birth of the new Union Constitution. Well, that and the mob lynching of the entire old Congress after the facts of the Flood had been fully established.
The PMA had become the de facto ruling authority, carefully nurturing the new Republic until they could fade back into their 'proper' status of merely protectors of the Nation. Now, Lyle mused, he was now a protector, like it or not. Sherry kept an edge on the game and it was a game he had yet to tire of.
Her answer brought him back to earth. "We have a lot to talk about, Lyle. Now that I have found my brother, things are...different. Knowing you aren't alone makes a difference, a big difference." She put his arm in hers as they walked. "It means a lot of other things as well."
"I'm all ears, Miss Dorow." Always, it was Sherry or Miss Dorow. When other men had tried some endearment, they usually got heir ears boxed - or a taste of the vicious profanity that gave even hardened combat vets pause. No - it was Sherry or Miss Dorow - nothing else would do. "Do tell of these other things."
She stopped dead, grabbed his other arm and pulled him to face her. She was close; he could feel her breath on his face, the darkness hiding any expression. This was not the first time she had been this close. There had been the time in the mountains outside of Tahoe, deep in the winter, when they had to sleep together for warmth while waiting to spring an ambush on some bandits. The time she nursed him back to health after a nasty bug had gotten to him, the time...
"There is us. We need to talk about us. Now that Raleigh is back in my life - though not for long if that redhead has anything to say, I'm sure. We need to talk about us, us."
"You have my complete attention. Start talking." That earned him a punch in the arm, but he had made his point. She had something to say, he wanted to hear it. Their interactions over time had run from simplistic, to other times, so very deep - he'd fallen in. Now what?
She started walking again, arm in arm. "We've been together, on and off now for- what? Two years?"
"Two years, eight months, six days and I've not checked my watch of late. Sherry - please remember, when we first - call it met, you killed a man, and seemly in cold blood to boot. That kind of behavior can be - let's say, off-putting to some people, those more delicate than myself. Your point?"
"In that entire time, you've been a .. a real gentleman. Holding my hair out of my face while I puked, taking care of me while I had a fever but not taking advantage of me while I was sick..."
"Spare me. If I had tried anything, you would have cut my throat first chance you got. And I've seen your work first hand and up close. Get to it - we've known each other long enough that I can tell when you are dancing around something. I promise I won't be shocked - I been blistered by you before - so, damnit, spit it out."
"What do you think of me. Really think of me? I want honesty, it," a small sob, "it matters to me, now." That said in a small voice, so low - even the Watchers missed it.
That caught him by complete surprise. He'd assumed she would ride off into the sunset with her brother and that would be it. Perhaps he could go back home and finish his college work, or even go back to chasing sheep for a while - just until he got his head back together. Sherry had not just rocked his world; she had opened an entire new Universe for him.
"That's an interesting question. A hard one at that." The sob was repeated. "Honestly - to those that don't know you, they likely see a foul mouthed bitch, no - make that a harridan. One with a knife, who knows how to use it. Far too good with a pistol as well. They might see a woman, nearly out of control, living on the edge, not caring what others might think or say. In other words, a wild woman or savage - one description might fit as well as the other."
He took a long pause, the soft sobbing was continuous now. "But, as they say, fuck what others might think. I know you. I've worked with you in places and doing things the others know nothing about - or even hear about, if we've done a good job. You've proven to be more than just loyal. You've proven to be thoughtful, clever even, far more clever than I might ever be. You, you might be a bit standoffish, given what you've been through, I can see that. Defensive, even. You've been willing to do what it takes to protect those that disdain you, to take risks that scare the crap out of me, and still come back for more. A Soldier fighting in a war that will take forever, or nearly so, to win - and one that may not even be possible to win."
He gathered her up in his arms, she was unresisting, "Yet you still try, again and again, like any good Soldier, doing her damnest to hold Evil at bay, no, to defeat it - and all the while, fighting the urge to give in, or to give up." Now for the stretch - "My kind of woman." Sherry became a dead weight in his arms - she'd fainted. Sighing, he called into the dark - "Okay, guys. How about a hand here? She's small, but not all that light."
Five men materialized out of the dark, bristling with weapons. One knelt to the side of the supine women. While feeling her wrist for a pulse, he said, "Jones here. I'm a Medico. What happened?"
"Near as I can tell, she fainted."
At that comment, two of the men faded away. Jones went on - "She sick that you know of?"
Laughter - "No, I'm still alive."
"What's so funny, Bud? Your woman is down. Get your head on straight! Anything else?"
Sobered, Lyle replied, "She didn't have lunch and the fact that she stood as Witness was a lot of stress."
"Shit! This is her? Damn - why didn't you say something!" The Medico continued to mutter, the two men returned within moments, stretcher in hand. Seconds later, Sherry was secure on the litter and four of the men took off in a dead run, one at each corner. The fifth Watcher put his hand on Lyle's shoulder.
"Chill, Brother. They'll have her at the infirmary in a short short. We got a full up Doc on duty tonight. What about you? How are you doing?"
"I don't understand..."
"We heard you two Witness. We also got the back brief, direct from the Commander himself. That's why we're keeping a minimum of a full Hand around you all the time - no more bogus suicides, not on my watch. Between you and Brother Silver, you guys stopped a war. And even I got to admit, coming back and shooting your own boss in front of God and everybody else took some serious balls. Come on, I know a guy that has some hot tea this time of night. Then we can check on your woman."
"Your woman. You know, Brother, I like the sound of that..."
The two of them found Sherry in the ward just off the infirmary, alone - except for the four heavily armed men in the room. Plus the group outside the door. She had an IV in one arm and a very foul expression on her face. Lyle just walked up and kissed her.
"Glad to see you're making new friends. What did the Doc have to say?"
"Dehydration, hunger, stress, blah, blah, blah."
"Well then, lucky for you," he sat down a large insulated mug and a steaming hot cinnamon roll, "that my new buddies know the night shift cook, eh?" He didn't get an answer; she was too busy eating the roll. "When you come up for air, we can finish our conversation. I'm sure these gentlemen won't mind waiting outside?"
He dropped his bomb while she was halfway through the tea. "You missed the part where the Medico called you 'My woman' - shame really"
"Screw you." said around a mouthful of tea.
"A guy could get used to that, having a woman, that is. Not a loaner, mind you, but someone full time. A companion. Helpmate, a..."
"Stop. You win. I was a sap. Sorry I asked."
He leaned over until their noses touched. "No. No, I won't. Give up, girl. You're mine, I'm yours. No way around it. Let me know when you read the memo, okay?" He backed away just in time to avoid the slug he knew was coming. Yup, his woman. She'd give up at some point to his way of thinking - he could only hope it would be soon.
It had taken nearly a week, but the Assembled had finally spoken, then returned to what life they had going. No split had breached the community, but there would still be a Trek. A self-selected group would begin the move to the new Enclave, made at the same time the Union began reparation of the Southerners. The paroled Southerners would be escorted by Lyle, now a fully accredited Ambassador-at-large; the Union Senate loath to have him underfoot any longer. They knew scores were yet to be settled, and they preferred a somewhat...less direct way of reaching a settlement.
He would be joined by Raleigh as an official aide de camp, with Sherry as whatever she chose to call herself, and finally, Gunny. The trial had been fair, the verdict final. He'd demonstrated, it was determined - a lack of critical judgment, serious enough that he'd been booted from the Council, and like Lyle, nobody wanted him underfoot.
Two other couples asked to be included in the travel party, their children were grown, and they saw this as an opportunity to share The Way with others. Proselytizing would be the wrong word to use; mission work was something the community just didn't do. If someone asked, though, well, they would be happy to explain The Way. During the trip, the couples would be a great help in setting up and running a camp and both men were combat proven Veterans - that never hurt.
Lyle was able to persuade the Directorate that he could still be of use, despite the somewhat unorthodox way of settling his differences with his now-former boss. The new chairman limited his support to logistics, which the Army would have provided anyway, and a full time radio watch. No fool, he could use any driblets of intel that Lyle might send his way. And with the crazy women to keep an eye on everything, what could possibly go wrong?
Feedback welcomed here OR via PM. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Last edited by TacAir
on Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.