TIME SPIKE – snippet 40:



            He considered Haggerty’s proposal, liking it the more he thought about it. Timbering was hard work, everybody knew that. Adrian had read once that a man doing hard labor needed at least four thousand calories a day. If they fed them starvation rations, they’d drop like flies, all except the best.

            “Push the motherfuckers hard,” he said. “Whichever die from hunger and overwork, that’s all the better. Seventeen hundred is still way too many.”

            He sat up straight in the chair. “Phil, you make up the list. Put anyone questionable on it. Anyone you think might be trouble. Double-check with Jimmy. Anyone that Jimmy decided to let pass but it was a close call, put him on the wood-cutting detail. However many we have tools for, we’ll put ‘em to work. If they can get two or three trees down before dropping dead, that’ll help. And if you get a half dozen guys who are actually good at bringing them down, fine. We’ll keep those and feed them better. We don’t know anything about this place. Winter could get long and cold.”

            Bostic was staring out the window. “Who burns the bodies? We can’t use our own guys, Adrian. We’re going to need them—all of them, each and every one, with a gun in his hands—to keep control over the situation. Once the guys figure out you’re planning to get rid of one out of four of them—”

            “One out of two,” Luff interrupted forcefully. “By the time I’m done.”

            Bostic made a face. “That just reinforces my point.”

            “He’s right, Adrian,” said Haggerty. “We gotta keep our own guys with their hands free of anything except a weapon. We only got maybe two hundred we can really count on.”

            Walker had figured three hundred reliables, but Luff thought Phil’s estimate was probably closer to the truth. Some of “our guys” wouldn’t cut it, when push came to shove.

            He thought about the problem. When the solution came to him, he smiled.

            “Use Boomer’s rugheads. You handle it, Danny. Put them in charge of the whole thing. Designing and building the pyres, furnaces, whatever works. Running them. Dumping the ashes. The whole nine yards.”

            Bostic looked dubious. So did Haggerty.

            “The Boomer’s crazy,” Haggerty protested. “He might go ballistic at the idea.”

            “I didn’t say Boomer himself.” Luff’s grin widened. “Tell him we want Cook in charge. Boomer can stay in his cell, keeping his hands clean. I want that fucking Indian running the show. Let the son-of-a-bitch spend some time handling corpses. I figure he’ll be a lot more cooperative in a week or two when I offer him a job running our new medical department.”

            He leaned back, shrugging. “Boomer’ll go for it. He’s not actually crazy. A lot of that’s just a reputation he built up, and did it on purpose. He knows he and his guys are on thin ice. As long as we don’t shove his own face in it, he’ll accept the situation. Cook’s new, anyway. It’s not like he and Boomer are old buddies.”

            Bostic looked back at his pad. “What about hunting parties? By the looks of the freezer, that’s what the guards were doing. They butchered something.”

            Luff shook his head. “Which of these motherfuckers would you be willing to give guns and ammo to, and a pretty please, come back and share with us?”

            Bostic shrugged. “Want to or not, sooner or later, that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do. We’ll have to use our own guys, of course.”

            “I know. But not now. Right now we need every man we’ve got and every damn bit of ammunition to keep the lid on. And don’t forget that Blacklock and his guards will be back, sooner or later.”

            Bostic scooted his chair closer to the desk and dropped his voice. “That’s what I’m worried about, Adrian. If I were in Blacklock’s shoes, I wouldn’t attack us. This place is a fortress. I’d just put a few shooters in the trees and keep us hemmed in. Eventually we’d get starved out.”

            Luff nodded. He had thought the same thing. He just hadn’t come up with a solution yet. He’d looked at the problem from every angle he could look at it from and, so far, had come up empty. Saving the dead in the freezers, just in case, wouldn’t work. Cannibalism only sounded acceptable the day before you died of hunger, and by then it would be too late. Besides, the electricity was gone. Unless they could get the generator back up, the freezers would be warm a long time before the last of the meat was gone.

            Leaving the prison, moving away from the area, getting out of reach of Blacklock and his guards might have worked, but he didn’t know who else was out there. If there were Indians and Spanish conquistadores, like Collins said, there could be too many of them. Or there could be other people altogether; modern people—hell, maybe even people from the future—who were well enough armed to take them out. Besides, there were dinosaurs roaming around loose out there. Real no-fooling dinosaurs. Adrian had seen one of them himself. It had walked past the prison just a few hours ago. As big as a shopping mall.

            No. They had to have the walls. Whatever else, they had to stay behind the walls.

            “What about hanging onto the disposable prisoners?” Bostic suggested. “Use them as cannon fodder. Force Blacklock into wasting his ammo on them. He can’t have too much with him.”

            “Don’t you understand? We can’t feed them in the meantime, period. We don’t know how long the guards will be gone.” Luff was getting tired of Bostic. The man was smart and capable, yes, but he could be a pain in the ass.

            “I heard once,” Bostic said, “a man could go a month or so without eating. If we give them water, keep them locked up, they should still be alive.”

            Luff slammed his left hand on the top of the desk. “What! Do you have shit for brains? They wouldn’t go after the guards. Every swinging dick in the joint would turn on us the second we opened the gates. No, we have to get rid of them.”

            Bostic shrugged. “Okay, then give me a few of our guys. Half a dozen or less. We can spare that many. I’ll take them out into the woods before Blacklock can get back here. We can bring in enough meat to give us an edge. Dammit, Adrian, we need someone outside the walls.”

            Luff thought about it. He was skeptical about how much meat Bostic and a small crew of hunters could produce. Sure, Danny could find deer hunters among the cons—but how many of them had been hunting in years? And shooting a deer was a whole different ball game from shooting a dinosaur.

            But it was true that they could spare that many men from watching over the others, once things stabilized a little. And Bostic and his guys could probably turn up something. The man was sharp and hard. In fact, he was probably the smartest and most capable of the three top lieutenants. He was sure as hell smarter than Haggerty. That was the reason Adrian had picked him, despite his misgivings.

            So, fine. Send him on his way playing Dinosaur Danny. Eventually, Adrian figured he’d probably have to get rid of Bostic. If that’s what it came down to, he could use the time Bostic was gone to make the arrangements to do so.

            But there was no reason to do it now. The man was useful for the moment, and you worked with what you had.

            “Okay, fine. Put together a crew. Four or five guys including you, no more. You can leave in about a week, I figure. By then, things should have settled down enough.”