TIME SPIKE – snippet 12:
Before he could go any further, Terry Collins marched to the front of the room. He was angry, and it showed. “If all this is true, winter could be on its way. We need to get off our duffs, quit jawing about what has or hasn’t happened and get ready for God knows what. Are we headed for a three-month freeze or are we sitting at the beginning of an ice age? We don’t know how long we have to get ready, and we don’t know how long we have to get ready for. We have to get the prisoners out of their cells and put a shovel in their hands. We’ve got work to do, and they’re the ones who need to be doing it!”
Andy grit his teeth. Until they knew more and had made plans, the idea of letting two and a half thousand inmates in a maximum security prison out of their cells was insane. Literally, in some cases, since dozens of those inmates were in fact psychotic. And while most of them weren’t, they were hardly what you’d call good citizens.
The prisoner-guard ratio was too low, it was as simple as that. They were covering twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with a staff smaller than what just the day shift normally ran with. He caught a glimpse of Collins’ eyes and knew he wanted something that had nothing to do with the possibility of an upcoming winter. He had his own agenda and instinctively Andy knew what it was. This was Collins’ first move in a play for power.
He had to stop this, now. Collins was one of those guards that, unfortunately, sometimes worked their way into the ranks and even managed, as he had, to get promoted. Callous, completely self-centered, not much different from the men he was protecting the public from. If the man gained control it would be work crews this week, slaves next week. This week, it would be all guards under his protection, next week it would be just his favorites. The rest of the guards would find themselves needing protection.
“Sit down, Terry.” He kept his tone level, but it was very cold. “You and I know it sounds good, but can’t be done. We have to get ready for tomorrow, but first we have to figure out what that tomorrow is.”
Andy hesitated. What did the people need to hear? Then he knew. The truth. That was what they needed, and what they had the right to. “You’ve all heard the numbers. We have a two-month supply of food, if we stretch it. Our water is almost gone. Our sanitation system is shaky. And we have no heating or cooling after tomorrow. Medical supplies are limited. Our firepower is limited, because we only have so much ammunition. We don’t have enough clothing.”
Collins was nodding, as if Andy was agreeing with him.
“We don’t know our environment. We don’t know what is going on around us. You heard Edelman. You heard Hulbert. You heard Joe. We don’t know when we are. We don’t know who is outside these walls, if anyone. There could be a friendly, advanced, civilization on the other side of the mountain, or no one but us anywhere on the planet.”
The room was completely silent. Collins was actually smirking, now.
It was time to lower the boom. “And before we’ve had time to figure out how to deal with any of this, Mr. Genius here”—he pointed at Collins—“thinks it’s a really bright idea to let twenty-five hundred of the state’s most dangerous felons out of their cells. Maybe he thinks some good ideas will emerge from the ensuing debate between Boomer and his boys and the Aryans.”
That brought a sudden gust of laughter from most of the guards. Collins seem to wilt a little.
“No, I don’t think so,” Andy said forcefully. “There will be no get out of jail free cards passed out. Not yet, anyway. Not until we know who and what is outside the prison walls, and until we’re sure we have the situation under control.”
“If we wait too long,” Collins shouted, “it will be too late! We will die!”
“No. If we move too fast in the wrong direction, then we will die. We can’t afford to get careless. And I can’t think of a better definition of the word ‘carelessness’ than poorly supervised prisoners.”
He looked at Schuler.
“Joe, how many men are on exploration duty?”
“Four teams of three.”
Andy looked at the men and women crowded into the room. “These men are out there looking for water, food, and anything else that we might be able to use. They are also looking for signs of civilization, for other people.”
He looked at Jenny. “What’s medical doing?”
She stood up and faced the crowd. “We are doing very little. We’re holding back on everything and anything that doesn’t have to be used to keep a person alive today. We’re looking for replacement treatments and replacement meds. We’re setting up first aid classes to teach people how to deal with medical emergencies common in a more primitive environment. We’re also in the process of developing hygiene classes. Careful washing of small cuts has suddenly become very important. The same thing goes for avoiding worms and other parasites. We are all going to have to learn new ways of doing things if we want to stay healthy.”
“Baker,” Andy called, “what are you doing about our heat source?”
Laughter rolled from the man. “We’re trying an experiment. I don’t know how well it’ll work, but I read once in a magazine where villages in India do it. We’re setting up methane toilets. Little outhouses designed to turn fecal waste into a gas that can be burned.”
A moan came from the crowd, followed by boos and shouts of, “Oh, how gross!”
Baker shrugged. “Look, folks, it’s what we got. The Indians use pig crap, and we don’t have any pigs. On the other hand, we’ve got almost three thousand people in the prison, counting everybody. That’s a lot of crap. So much, in fact, that with the sewers down the maintenance guys are wracking their brains just trying to figure out how to get rid of it. We figure we may as well do this while we’re at it. If nothing else, it should generate enough methane to keep the kitchens going.”
“Okay,” Andy said. “You get the idea. We have problems—a lot of problems—but we’re working at solving them. We’ll use our prisoners’ favorite recipe for pruno to make a form of fuel. When it’s done we’ll be able to mix it with what gas we have. That will allow us to stretch our supply and use some of our older vehicles and generators. During the Second World War, the Germans used alcohol to fuel their war effort. It’s not the greatest answer, but it will do the job, at least for a while.
“When we get these things under control we’ll get busy solving some of our other problems. Have a little faith. Man has survived a long time with nothing but his brains. I really think we’re smart enough to get through this.”
He shot Collins a look. For the moment, at least, the bastard seemed cowed by the ridicule he’d gotten. “I’ve appointed over a dozen project managers. Each of these managers will need volunteers. They will be posting lists sometime within the next few days. Anyone interested in helping out, sign up. If you don’t see something that will utilize a skill you have, come talk to me. I’ll give your name to someone who can use what you know.”
Jeff Edelman spoke up. “I need people with mapping skills. That means people capable of drawing a straight line, and good at drawing things to a scale. It doesn’t mean someone who has actually drawn a map professionally. We need to send someone capable of mapping an area with each exploration party that leaves the prison. It would be nice if that person could also catalogue the different plant and animals being found.”
Rice was next. “I’m building a green house. I need laborers able and willing to do some shovel work, and people with green thumbs. I’m also looking for anyone who understands sprouting and herb production.”
Collins flared up again. “And when are we suppose to do all this volunteerism? We’re working twelve-hour shifts with no days off. We need to put the prisoners to work, I tell you!”
Andy took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He really wanted to take a poke at the jackass standing in the middle of the room. “Collins, you aren’t going to force me into making a snap judgment. So, sit down and be quiet, unless you have something constructive to say. Everyone here is aware of our limitations and most of us are aware of our responsibilities.”
Kathleen stood up next. Her face was a combination of pale white areas and red blotches caused from crying. “If this is going to last for more than a few days, we need a place to rest. Is there a way we can move prisoners in with each other? We, the guards, we need bedrooms. Someplace to get away that is our own. Someplace quiet. And we need a place to go when we’re off duty and want to be around people. Maybe we could keep the cafeteria open.”
Andy looked at Hulbert.
“Sure,” the man said. “I’ll open the cafeteria as soon as we finish here. But I don’t want any bloodshed so it’s going to take a couple of days to arrange sleeping quarters. We can’t just pile the prisoners in together. Imagine sticking Boomer in with one of the skinheads.”
The room erupted into laughter. “Boomer” was the nickname for an inmate named Timmy Bolgeo, and it fit the man. He was a three hundred pound black weight lifter who was normally easy enough to deal with. But he did have an anger management problem, and when his temper went things got pretty thermonuclear. The skinheads were his favorite method of venting.
Andy grinned and motioned for Woeltje to open the doors. The guards’ laughter could be heard all over the building. And laughter was as good a way as any to end the meeting. Actually, it had ended a lot better than he’d thought it would. In retrospect, Collins’ opposition had given Andy the handle to settle people down.
With the meeting over he asked Jenny if he could walk her back to the infirmary. Her easy smile and soft voice were two things he had come to lean on, these past two days. They eased his tension and made making bad choices easier.
And all the choices had become bad. Like his decision to cut water rations in half. And food rations by one third. And his decision to not notice that the only diabetic getting an insulin shot was a young guard who stood watch in the east tower. The nurses had agonized over that decision. They could keep all the insulin dependent diabetics alive for sixteen days, or one diabetic alive for six months. They had chosen the six months. And they had chosen the youngest person in need.
Jenny was the one who finally made the call. She was having to make all the tough calls coming out of the infirmary. The other nurses had basically jumped into the back seat, leaving it to her to drive the bus.
She was making and then living with her bad choices, just like he was.
“Before the meeting you said you had a problem.” He walked slowly, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. He’d spent almost all his time since the Quiver in meetings of one sort or another.
“Yeah,” she smiled, but it was thin and didn’t hold any humor. “I’m running out of supplies. Seizure medications, anti-depressants, blood pressure meds, heart meds, you name it. Unfortunately, we were running low on a lot of medications when this hit. Starting tomorrow, people aren’t going to get their regular doses. I juggled the diabetics. Put them on oral meds instead of their injections and changed their diets to buy them a little time. I could do it with the prisoners because I could control their activity level as well as their food intake. A guard was different. If she was going to work she had to have her meds.”
They were at the door to the infirmary.
“I’m sorry you were put in the position of choosing, Jenny.”
“Sorry or not, I have to do it again. And then again. And again.”
He had to restrain a powerful impulse to reach out and stroke her hair. It was hanging lose today; the rubber band she had been using to tie it back was gone. “We’re all doing it. We have no choice.”
She nodded then leaned against him. They stood like that a few moments, her head on his chest. He could feel her tears as they soaked through his shirt.
“Jenny!” Barbara called from inside the building.
She straightened and smiled. “Thanks for the shoulder.”
He nodded and watched her disappear into the building and mentally kicked himself. Some men would have come up with something to say that would have made her feel better. They wouldn’t have stood there like a lump of clay.