As she pulled up to the group of young people splitting wood and digging the fire pit, Nix halted her wagon. As a fellow lead homesteader, even just in his mid-20's also, James Early set down his ax and came forward to greet Nix as another member of the council. He looked a touch perplexed at the broad smile from the usually wry and sarcastic young woman, but as he started to open his mouth to ask if she had taken a fall and somehow become nicer, Nix rushed him with a boisterous greeting "James! I am so happy to see you! Come here! I have a present for you!". She hugged the young man fiercely as if reunited with a paramour and whispered in his ear "We have big trouble James, I need you to roll with my lead. Treat me like any other girl."
James pulled back enough so she could watch his face re-shape into a giant grin as he picked her up under the arms and swung her in a circle. As he placed her back on the ground he returned her greeting with "Oh, I bet you do Miss Alexandria" and planted a huge smack of a kiss right on her lips as Nix kept herself from biting him and only snarled a bit at the use of her middle name. She never should have drank that bottle of applejack with him, but that was a couple years and a lot of cares ago. "Follow me!" she winked and nodded for James to follow.
Rather than unhitching her wagon outside, Nix drove Cow and her wagon directly into the barn with James walking just behind, scratching Garibaldi who was a whore for his belly rubs. It was plausible that her wares were delicate and couldn't stay outside or could be ruined by the moisture of dew or a light rain. Nix drove straight to the far wall where the big council table was set up for any meetings or decisions that needed to be made.
"James, we have a big damned problem. Who else is here from the council is here? We need all of them and every map we have but we need to look calm and normal because we are very much being watched. and within 48 hours they will have slipped spies in among us." Nix dropped Cow's rope and sank into a chair, finally realizing the toll that even a few hours had taken on her. In them, she had relived the deaths of everyone from her childhood and imagined the deaths of everyone she knew as an adult dozens of times while trying to act like a regular person, a task at which she was already no good.
"Nix, what the hell? Who is watching us? Spies? What problem is this?" James looked confused but not panicked as he asked. He was not a young man given to sudden and thoughtless responses. "Well, someone has collected a bunch of dead folks in small paddocks spaced around this farm and those dead include the freshly killed Day men. I'm betting they are going to drop those dead herds on us during the harvest bonfire and win themselves a bunch of valleys and homesteads and goods all in one night." Nix rasped.
"Yeah. Shit. That's a big damned problem. I'll get everyone. You have a sit and a drink." James squeezed Nix's shoulder and slipped a flask into her hand. With a final ruffle at Garibaldi he took off with hands in his pockets, looking to not have a care in the world. He was a good man, even if Nix wasn't sure if she wanted to punch him or hug him from minute to minute.
In under an hour, James had passed the word around and all of the homestead representatives present had casually made their way into the barn, just happening to carry their bedrolls or other items from their wagons that served as excellent disguises for map rolls. After ditching their unneeded goods, they came to the large table and placed their maps into the patchwork so the whole system of mountains and valleys became visible.
Using stones, pipes, flasks, and other goods from pouches and pockets, the group marked out every homestead and important landmark. A box of colored chalk allowed them to sketch in paths, creeks, old roads and derelict buildings. Nix chalked in the herd of dead and four likely positions for the others. She talked out the routes, locations, and tactical plans she had considered for both sides, including the spies posing as Day farm workers and even the upsetting possibility of them creating a back door into the barn itself.
Just one question was asked. A middle aged woman with tight blonde curls and the strong body of a blacksmith queried "Are you certain it was the Day family and that they had just recently been killed? Sometimes we see the faces of those we lost or know in the dead and it sets our minds to terrible worrying." Nix turned to her respectfully and nodded her head. "Yes ma'am. I saw Richard Day bumping through that crowd of dead and his own dibble was sticking out of his chest right where his heart should have been. His face was clean and he was wearing that awful Grateful Dead shirt with all the holes that Karen keeps threatening to burn."
Off to the side, someone whispered "What's a dibble?" The piercing blue eyes of the blacksmith flicked in the direction of the question as she answered "A dibble is a farm tool. It's a graduated metal spike on what looks like a pistol handle. It's used for planting bulbs and transplanting small plants to the field. Imagine a vampire stake made of metal and with a handle and you are about there. I made that dibble for him." The blacksmith frowned deeply. Several people flinched or recoiled as one.
The group at the table became very quite. No one laughed at Nix. No one dismissed her. Anyone who had survived on their own for this long after Revenant Day had good instincts and was probably not a hysteric. An older and soft-spoken man known simply as "The General" (because he had been) leaned forward and perused the map. Two of his sons moved forward with him and others stepped aside so they could get in closer. The General picked up the blue chalk which marked possible locations for dead herds and placed two more small X marks on the maps and then tossed the stick of chalk to one of his sons who snatched it out of the air, seeming not to have looked up. He added one more X and similarly his brother added two more. One known location and nine possible locations.
One of the sons, Daniel, nodded to his brother Jason and began "We both ran a couple of tours of special ops in the military." At this understatement, Jason smirked. "We'll go run recon tonight after dark. These sites are all close enough that if we split them up between us, I'm pretty sure we can put eyes on all of them. We have scopes and rifles in the truck. We'll get a look at their arms, placements, numbers and any other intel we can gather"
Jason continued "Let's number these sites one through nine." He turned to the General, "Dad, at 0300 I'll broadcast on CB channel 1. Two short, and then one long..." what followed was a complicated system of CB channel changes indicated by counted seconds of broadcast dead air and then counts of dead and living at each site given by a system of clicks, not unlike Morse code. However, as Jason and Danny were making up the code and channel hops right here, not using a set system, no one else would be able to follow them on the dial or understand what information was being transmitted. It was low tech, but so was everything these days.
James asked the General why Danny and Jason wouldn't just come back and give them the info, rather than this complicated system of radio communication. The General let out a long breath, watching his only sons plan a dangerous strategic mission in just 15 minutes, knowing they were the most likely to make it succeed. "Well," the General said softly, "it is very possible they can be followed, spotted, shot or captured. They are walking into a lot of area with almost no intel. Those boys have seen and done some crazy things, so even if they are chased or shot- they know they can keep moving and hiding for at least a few hours, long enough to transmit the information they have before they are killed. They know these woods and this valley better than whoever is out there and are likely better trained. Even if someone gets the drop on them, they will find a way to get us the information. Even if it kills them."
James looked at the men, impressed and suddenly understanding them so much better. Nix just nodded sadly to the General. She laid her hand on his arm, stood up on her toes and kissed his perfectly, regulation shaved cheek. "They are damned good boys. General, but you already know that." The General nodded once and turned to look at Nix. "And you, Miss Kobesky, you are a damned tough young woman and we are lucky to have you. That was a hell of a catch today. How did you find that herd all tucked up in a hollow like that?"
"Cats found them and led me over for a look." Nix nodded toward Garibaldi, now sprawled across the council table being absently scratched by Jason and Daniel as they planned their final details. Shaking her head slightly, Nix continued "They aren't always that... brazenly indolent." The General chuckled. "All those years we used dogs in the military. Maybe we should have had a few cats too."
Nix grinned "But then you would have needed cat ladies too, General."
Wrapping his arm around her shoulder and leading her back to the table, the silver haired man smiled and quietly promised "There is always a place for you in this old man's army." Jason and Daniel were standing up from the table and gave their father identical claps on his arms. He nodded and they walked off to go toss their truck for supplies. The General headed off to meet with other family heads to start setting up some signals and creating security measures that had never been used before. As Nix began to follow and took a slightly staggering step, the General pointed her toward a bench. "Sit. Rest. Drink. Food. Work more later."
Nix nodded and sat on an old bench. James brought her a sandwich and mug of coffee with something very alcoholic mixed in. She asked no questions, closed her eyes and leaned back to sip the potent brew, only half listening to the planning around her. James sat beside her in silence and Garibaldi hopped up between them on the bench. It was going to be a very, very long day.