We got back to town while the sun was still well above the horizon and followed Amelia through town. I had expected her to take us to the building where they had the dinner for Marylyn and Rachel’s retirement but she kept climbing the hill and we found a gigantic concrete wall obstructing our path. Two doors over six meters high occupied one side of the wall.
Amelia said, “We can leave the horses here, the girls will take care of them, but it is a long walk to town”
Able dismounted and said, “No, just a stroll and it’s all down hill.” A small door within the twin larger doors opened and four girls came out in uniform and two of them lead the horses away.
Amelia led us thru the door into a large courtyard paved in concrete. Walls ten meters high shielded all sides of the courtyard not protected by the sandstone formation in which the courtyard sat. Sand had drifted into the corners and a group of girls swept up and shoveled the sand to a small wagon they had with them. Amelia waved to them and led us to a passageway with an open roof that twisted and turned for the first 10 or 15 meters and we passed through heavy doors into the facility.
Amelia explained, “My office and the maps are in the old Administration Facility.” she said. “Long before the Plague started, the Administration built this facility. It was started as a strategic reserve and they ended up building on to it until it could hold 40,000 people for a year.”
Able and I gasped, 40.000 people was more than the population of Nor Cal from Redding all the way down to Bakersfield.
She led us to a staircase and said “It’s up four floors.” She said pointing up and starting up the stairs. Able and I followed and tried not to stumble in the dark. Oil lamps were placed sparingly along the walls but it was dim until we got to the fourth floor where the open door reveled hints of daylight as we reached it.
When Able and I got to the landing Amelia was halfway down a long hallway speaking to someone inside one of the sunlit rooms on the right. She laughed and looked to see us starting down the hall. She stopped smiling and waited for us.
When we got to her she said, “Leona is going to monitor, No one is allowed in the map room unmonitored.”
About that time a woman in her fifties came out and smiled, “I’m Leona,” she said putting out her hand to Able. Able introduced himself and I then Leona led us to a door on the dark side of the hall she signed the logbook that hung beside the door and then went into the room. Amelia waited until light came on somehow and then we followed her in.
The room was about 15 by 20 meters and held four large tables the one closest to the door was lit by very bright sunlight coming from a pipe in the ceiling and spread a sharp contrast to the rest of the room. I made out that above each table was a pipe but they were dark until Leona pulled a chain and the rear most pipe lit up some. She took a cart and went to the back of the room and opened one of the many shallow drawers in the wall, took out a map laying it carefully on the cart before bringing the cart and map to the sunlit table. Amelia was smiling at Able and I as we looked up the pipe and it was too bright to see anything, and looked at each other quizzically then at Amelia.
“Light Pipe,” she said. “Each table in the Map room has a light pipe to illuminate the table. It only works in the daytime but it’s free.”
The map was a tracing of a general area map showing Burney in the center and the hills and valleys for 50 kilometers around or so. It had been traced in greater or lesser detail by successive artisans judging from the vintages of some of the inks used.
Amelia pointed out the fields we had seen today and the fields she thought might be good for diversion seed crops to the west and around the hill a bit. “We normally raise barley and rye out there. The deer eat a lot but the fields are terraced and we flood irrigate from this dam.” She pointed out a small area of blue above the fields. “We also have been recycling our goat dropping out there and the soil is very rich. What do you think?”
“How many hectares are they all together?” I asked.
Amelia looked at Leona and Leona looked at me, “We ain’t going to give up our barley fields for mule feed.” Leona said evenly.
“I’m only looking for ten hectares as that’s about all the seed I’ll have after we do the fields in the east, “I said.
Leona became much more accommodating. “There are about fifty hectors in all the fields not counting roads and irrigation access. We fallow them in a three year rotation. But since the goat’s drop more than they eat, I think we can plant oats in some of the fallow fields.”
We discussed the soil conditions and the wagon roads that were yet to be built and I brought up planting alfalfa to divert the deer and elk. The strain of seed I brought was developed for Nevada and the conditions here were similar. They agreed to consider the idea.
The light pipe started to get dimmer, so Amelia and Leona made notes for me since I wasn’t allowed to touch anything that might affect the maps. I finished with a list in Amelia’s tight and precise hand on a whole sheet of paper. Most of which was blank. “I left you room for your calculations or notes later.” Amelia said as she handed me the paper.
We left the map room after saying good-bye to Leona and went back down the dark stair well. Finally coming to the maze again. Amelia stopped and said, “I’ll let you find your own way out from here, I’m on duty here tomorrow and have some meetings to attend.”
I took the hint and let them lag behind me as I went in to the courtyard again and looked the walls. Every where I looked I saw what appeared to be bullet strikes. The walls were uniformly chipped and abraded from about a meter and a half down. Above that the walls were smooth and only creased here and there with chips and streaks.
I looked at where all that fire could have come from and in the slanting light made out gun slits all around the top of the walls. Five men with guns that automatically loaded could hold this courtyard as long as their ammunition held out and then there was still the maze and door to breach.
Able came out and seemed a little dejected. He was quiet as we passed through the door and started walking downhill all the way to the Kiva.
I told him about how all the walls had been hammered by gunfire. “Yeah, he said. They had two insurrections; they call them, both of them a long time ago. I read it in Ginny’s notes yesterday. Apparently thousands were killed when they stormed the facility, it took fifty men two days to clear the court yard and bury the dead. That’s when they outlawed guns and their security shifted to a civilian leader. Some General was shot for the second massacre and the Administration took over security.
“These people are still a mystery to me, the Bahia and the way everyone seems to be related and the way they all cooperate. Nice but strange.” I commented.
“Yeah mysterious,” Able said and ignored me.
I left Able to go and look in on Barb. I had wanted to just see her and maybe curry her a little. She had sandburs all over her legs and her tail was matted. I found her tied to a rail of the corral and Gloria the Sunshine Girl was currying her mane. She looked up when she saw me and smiled, “Doesn’t she look pretty now.”
I walked around her and she shined now. The matted winter coat she was shedding on the trail was now all slicked down and her forelock was a cloud of white over her eyes and her mane was combed and her tail had been not only combed but trimmed as well. “Thank you Gloria,” I said, “She looks as good as I’ve ever seen her.
“Well I was coming back by the corral after I had dinner and she looked sad.”
“Yeah, like here she was the prettiest filly in the corral and her legs were covered in burrs and her coat was all matted and so I said Princess you need a bath, and she looked up at me and nodded her head.” Gloria was stroking Barb’s belly with the brushes and smiling at her.
“Nodded did she?” I asked smiling at Gloria.
“Plain as day,” Gloria said and looked up at me and her smile broadened.
“I don’t know how I can repay you Gloria.”
Gloria ran the brush over Barb and said, “I did it for her. You have this marvelous animal and treat her like that. You should be ashamed.” She said looking at me sternly.
“That’s why I came over. I was about to curry her a little and clean her up before I went to dinner,” I protested. “What are you riding?” I asked her.
“Oh Poncho that bay gelding out there.” She pointed out a big bay I remembered her riding in the pasture.
“Tell you what if you promise me you’ll take good care of her. How about we swap mounts tomorrow?”
“Do you mean it? I mean, I go back on shift tomorrow at noon and I wouldn’t get her back until the day after.” Gloria said looking at me hopefully.
“If you use my bit and take real good care of her.” I said.
“I will I will,” she said.
“Ok let’s go in the tack shed and find my bridle and you show me that you can handle her and it’s deal.” We found my bridle and Gloria rode Barb around bareback for a while as I watched. Barb was gentle with Gloria up on her back and I had confidence that Gloria would take very good care of her. It was getting darker now so I had Gloria put Barb away and we swapped bridles. I had to chase Gloria home, and then I went to see if they were still serving dinner.
Wini almost told me I was too late but relented and served me a plate of goat dumplings and some beans. It wasn’t too bad for goat and I wasn’t too picky. She also found me a dish of peach cobbler that was left over from the Sunshine Girls dinner. I thanked her and all the kitchen staff before I left and went to the Kiva.
The Kiva had a flaming oil lamp outside the door and inside oil lamp was on the wall between each alcove. I opened the drapes into my alcove and found that instead of a bed, a chair and the cupboard, my alcove had a small flip top desk and a tall cabinet about a meter and a half wide as well. I looked inside and there were hangers and some drawers. On my bed were two packages. One was a grey bag with my name printed on it; I opened it and found the laundry I had left in the bath house that first night. Next to it on my bed was a package containing two blankets and the robe Irene had traded me last night. In it was a note written in a precise hand, “Josh, I send the robe you left at my place and to make you more comfortable, a couple of blankets to keep you warm. Love Irene.”
Bob came in and asked, “Where did you get the desk? And this cabinet? Everyone else just has a small table.”
‘I don’t know,” I said, “They weren’t here when I was here this morning. I just got in and found them here.”
Sarge looked into my alcove. “Perkins you’re back. Here is a letter came for you.” He handed me a folded piece of paper with a wax seal on it. My name was written in a broad flowing script on one side. Inside in a small precise script, I read, “Josh: I wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you did for my daughter. I hope you find the desk and closet useful in making your stay with us more pleasant. E. Riley”
“Who’s it from?” Sarge asked.
“E. Riley that must be Audrey’s mother. She sent the desk and closet.” I said refolding the letter.
“I told you. You hit a home run with Audrey.” Sarge said. “Oh I forgot. There is another package for you, I’ll get it.”
While Sarge left and Bob drifted back to his alcove to tune his mandolin, I put my pack and saddle bags on my bed and began to unpack. I was piling all my laundry on the floor.
It wasn’t much, I had four uniforms and one was in my new closet, I was wearing one and the other two were so dirty I thought that they would make the floor dirty. My extra socks and shorts were all dirty; I had two cotton shirts, both dirty and four kerchiefs. I took my notebooks and pen and put them in the desk. I was looking at the twin ink bottles and the selection of quills and small stack of paper that I’d found when Sarge came back in and handed me a small leather box tied up with a strip of leather.
“It came just before dinner. I put it in my room ‘cause I was headed out the door. What is it?” Sarge inquired.
I sat on my bed and opened it. Inside the box were two yellow ceramic flowers about 10 centimeter wide wrapped in an angora weaving in yellow and green stripes. The flowers were yellow and looked like sunflowers; in the middle of the flower was a small shallow cup. “Flowers? What would I do with ceramic flowers?”
“Candle holders,” Sarge said.
In the wrappings I spied a note. I unfolded it and it said, “Josh please accept this as a gift for being so kind and gentle. Astral.”
Sarge turned and left only to return with two candles. “I found a source for candles, only four cents each. I put them on your account.”
“No problem. Put you smelly clothes in the laundry bag and drop it at the door, I’ve got laundry service all set up. Only 25 cents a week.” Sarge said and left me alone.
I took one of the candles out and lit it off the oil lamp between Bob’s alcove and mine, and used it to melt the bottom of the other candle and put it into one of the candle holders. I lit the second candle and used it’s flame to melt the base of the first one put it in and sat the candleholder on my desk. It fit precisely in the indentation on the left corner. There was another indentation on the right and so I put the other flower in it and stood back. The glow of the two candle power desk was very nice in the corner of the alcove.
I stuffed all my dirty laundry in the bag and took it out to the entranceway and put it with the others that were piled by the door. Then returned to sort out my pack and saddle bags.
I pulled out of my pack the two Bahia tokens I had gotten from Astral and Audrey the night of what was soon to become known as “The Great Barney Clusterfuck” and put them on top of my cupboard.
In five minutes I had placed everything in what I thought would be a good place, took off my boots and lay back on my bed. I was in tall cotton, I figured, looking at my furnishings. We had only been here two days and I had already made a lot of friends and all of them would rather fuck than fight.
I had drifted off to sleep when I was awaken by Able coming into the Kiva singing some sad song, I couldn’t tell what it was and got up to see what was happening. Steve and Roy wearing bathrobes were half carrying Able, who was singing at the top of his lungs, the only problem was Able had forgotten the words and how to carry a tune. They put him in his bed and covered him with a blanket. Within a few minutes he quieted down and soon fell asleep.
“What happed to him?” I asked.
Roy looked at me and said, “Don’t know, He came into the bath house about half smashed, sat down and drank about four more beers and smoked some and then started crying. Me and Steve drug him out of there and half way here he started singing. Steve and I have bodies to wash so we’re going back.”
Steve and Roy left in a hurry, hot dates I guessed, and I went back into my alcove.
I went in and got undressed and put on my robe. I dug my shaving kit out and went to the back of the Kiva where Sarge was just finishing up his bath. As I hung up my robe he asked, “Where did you get that robe?”
“Irene and Audrey traded it to me.” I said. I wasn’t going to explain what I traded them and Sarge only nodded.
“Very nice and looks softer than the robes at the bath house.”
The water in the heater was hot and I dipped out a bucket full and took it to the wash basins that were mounted on the wall between the baths. Sarge or someone had fitted a mirror with a candle on each side I took out my razor and shaved, brushed my teeth then took a bath. By now everyone was either in their alcove asleep or talking softly around the brazier on the pedestal.
I dried off and hung my towel on the drying rack that was near the water heater. Put on my robe and for the first time since I saw Barney got a full nights sleep.