TIME SPIKE – snippet 39:



Chapter 27



            Adrian Luff sat behind the large desk that had once belonged to the warden, staring at the clock on the wall.

            The generator had died six hours ago. There was still fuel, so that wasn’t the problem. But nobody Luff could find knew how to fix whatever was wrong with it.

            The second hand wasn’t moving. The computer didn’t work. Even the pencil sharpener sat dead and useless in front of him. Nothing electrical worked, unless it had a battery backand half the battery-operated equipment was down.

            The world was completely, totally, one hundred percent fucked up.

            He was out of his cell, but still couldn’t go anywhere. And if he did decide to get the hell out of Dodge, then what? The dinosaurs outside the prison were carnivorous. They ate meat. He was meat. And since he wasn’t one of those great white hunters, he was going nowhere.

            Besides, there was nowhere to go. There were no towns. There was no reason to leave. Bad as it was, the prison was the safest place that existed in this crazy new world. At least the dinosaurs couldn’t get through the walls.

            He hefted a small red ball he’d found in the bottom drawer of the desk. He’d spent some time earlier tossing the ball at the wall. It would hit the dark paneling with a satisfying thump, touch the floor half way between the wall and the chair he sat in, and then bounce close enough for him to catch it without getting up. That had helped steady his nerves, which needed it.

            The takeover hadn’t gone as planned. They hadn’t hung on to any of the guards. Worse yet, none of the nurses. They had the methane outhouses, but no one knew how to operate and maintain them. Said they didn’t, anyway. Adrian was pretty sure at least one of the Boom’s boys would know how to make them work. But that would require a deal and Adrian wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with Boomer. He hadn’t decided on that yet.

            There was a greenhouse filled with dirt, but no one knew if it had been planted or if it was just sitting there, waiting for seeds. Chuck Reed was a farmer and he said he could figure it out. But Reed was half-crazy. He also said he owned a ten thousand acre cattle ranch in southern Texas and was descended from old Spanish hidalgos, when everybody knew he’d been born and raised near Mattoon and had had a hardscrabble farm that barely made him a living.

            There were pills and sprays and ointments, but no nurses who knew how to use them. Just that freaky new guy, Cook. He probably knew, but that was going to take more dealing. Right now, Luff was in no mood to deal.

            There were no women of any kind.

            That was what most the men were focused on right now. The women had slipped through their fingers. But Luff wasn’t really worried about that. Soon enough, they’d accept the fact. A lot of them had been without a woman for so long they didn’t even miss it anymore. They just liked the idea. It was a taste of normal. Whatever that was.

            In a day or two, though, they would start focusing on the other stuff, and when they did he was going to have trouble keeping them in line. Things weren’t the way he had envisioned. The food shortage was going to produce a crisis soon. The amount of ammunition on hand was nowhere near enough. Hell, the only thing they had going for them was the well. And even that was primitive. The water had to be dipped with a bucket on a rope, one bucket at a time

            There was equipment and tools inside the machine shop that looked as though it had been separated out for some purpose. But he didn’t know for what. None of the men he had could make sense of the stack. Some of it looked like it might be farm equipment, but Reed’s only contribution had been to insist the guards had been putting together a time machine so that they could escape.

            Luff’s only hope was that once the interview of the prisoners began he would strike gold and come up with a dozen or so who had the skills he and his men were going to need in order to survive in this new world. Then he wouldn’t need to deal with the Boom at all.

            He swiveled his chair a little to face the three men on the other side of the desk. They were the three he’d decided would make the best lieutenants, although he wasn’t sure about one of them. That was Danny Bostic.

            “How many we got?” he asked.

            Jimmy Walker looked at his list. “Twenty-two hundred and forty-six prisoners, in total. Three-hundred and eighty-four of them can be shot today. They’re waterheads. Totally useless. There are another hundred and thirty-one men too old to work. Most of them have been here since they were in their twenties, anyway. They wouldn’t know anything useful that any con doesn’t know. They could also be gotten rid of.”

            Luff did the math in his head. Five hundred and fifteen who could be eliminated as soon as possible, bringing the number of prisoners down to one thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one. That would cull a lot of the dead weight right off the bat, and ease the pressure on everything.

            It would also set the tone. It was important to set the right tone, and do it at the start. That would prevent misunderstandings.

            Luff nodded. “Okay. Start making the arrangements.”

            Walker started out the door.

            “Jimmy,” Luff called.

            The man stopped.

            “I don’t want them shot. We can’t afford the ammo. Slit their throats, hang them, chop their fucking heads off with an axe, I don’t care. Just don’t waste any bullets.”

            Walker nodded and left, closing the door behind him.

            “Why don’t we just turn them out?” Danny Bostic asked.

            The third man nodded. That was Phil Haggerty. “Be the easiest way, Adrian. Without supplies or guns, they wouldn’t last long and we wouldn’t have to worry about them.”

            “Can’t,” said Luff. “They aren’t all stupid. Too many of them would run right to Blacklock. And some of the others might wind up with the Indians. We have enough enemies. I’m not going to provide any of them with recruits. Those we don’t keep, die. If we have to, we’ll just lock them in one of the cell houses, and close the door behind us. It’s not that hard. Now, give me your status reports. You first, Danny.”

            Bostic ran through the numbers. “We’re looking at maybe a six weeks’ food supply. As far as fuel goes, if we just use the fuel for cooking, we could go a little over three months. But, in the meantime, if winter come, things are going to get chilly. Could be very chilly, we just don’t know. We’re going to have to use wood for heating, and that’ll mean figuring out ways to make wood-burning stoves. We’ll also need some pretty big wood-gathering crews.”

            “Those estimates were based on what? Two thousand men?”

            “A little more, actually. My estimate was just about the same as what Jimmy came up with in his head count. But I figured twenty-four hundred men, just to be on the safe side.”

            Adrian gave him a thin smile. “Always good to be on the safe side. Which I just made safer, didn’t I?” He pointed at the pad in Bostic’s hand. “So now recalculate everything, starting with seventeen hundred men instead of twenty-four hundred. I just increased our margin by almost fifty percent.”

             Haggerty cleared his throat. “We’re gonna have to figure out what to do with the bodies, Adrian. We can’t just leave ‘em lying around. Things stink bad enough already, just from the couple of dozen men we’ve got waiting to be buried. By the time Jimmy’s finished, we’ll have twenty times that many.”

            Bostic scowled. “And most of the chamber pots aren’t being emptied any more. Stupid fucks. That’s their idea of liberty.”

            “So use the backhoe. It works, doesn’t it?”

            “That’ll take fuel,” Bostic said. “And even using a backhoe, five hundred bodies is a hell of lot to bury. You make the grave too shallow, that’ll be a problem after a while.”

            Luff was getting impatient. “Fine. Burn ‘em. We can use wood for that.” He waved his hand at the window. “There’s wood out there. Lots of it.”

            “That’ll work,” said Haggerty. “Kill two birds with one stone, too. Put the marginal ones on wood-cutting detail. If they squawk, shoot ‘em. I think we could get some of those big ass trees down and chopped up in a just a few days. That would give us what we needed to burn the bodies without eating into our fuel or food supply. The men could be worked without feeding ‘em much, too. If we called it a test, a tryout, promising that the best workers would be fed better, they’d work their asses off.”

            Luff nodded. Haggerty was sharp. He understood the logic of the situation right off, where Bostic was still dragging his ass.