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datatime: 2022-12-03 19:27:29 Author:WVqSOSmK

At the moment, Ben was walking the wall circuit. Big, loping strides carried him around the yard. Men followed behind, the earnest ones matching his pace, the slower ones yakking away.

As it developed, the Captain had put a great deal of thought to it already. For the next several hours, they might as well have been discussing the release of zoo animals into the wilderness. The clones were too wild, and at the same time too tame. They were dangerous, but habituated. They couldn't be freed anywhere close to the city, or they might try to return and prey upon it. Sending them down to the pilgrim camp would be like throwing them into quicksand. It was a pit of despair and deprivations down along the river. If the deck sweeps had not been called off, they could have been transferred by helicopter to some distant place, but now that wasn't an option either. After Miranda's directive shutting down human experimentation, Los Alamos had ceased the harvesting of cities, which were probably finished anyway.

Nathan Lee was surprised. Then you're not opposed to them going free?

Not yet. And not me, said the Captain. But when the time's right, I'm all for you.

You've got your work cut out, said the Captain.

As it developed, the Captain had put a great deal of thought to it already. For the next several hours, they might as well have been discussing the release of zoo animals into the wilderness. The clones were too wild, and at the same time too tame. They were dangerous, but habituated. They couldn't be freed anywhere close to the city, or they might try to return and prey upon it. Sending them down to the pilgrim camp would be like throwing them into quicksand. It was a pit of despair and deprivations down along the river. If the deck sweeps had not been called off, they could have been transferred by helicopter to some distant place, but now that wasn't an option either. After Miranda's directive shutting down human experimentation, Los Alamos had ceased the harvesting of cities, which were probably finished anyway.

Well, all right then, Nathan Lee said, trying to believe his luck. So when is the right time?

Their release, in short, would have to wait until E-Day, their fabled evacuation date. Nathan Lee worried that if and when that day ever arrived, there would be so much chaos the guards might forget to open the cells. In crossing America, he had heard stories of prisons and zoos filled with the carcasses of captives who had starved to death. The Captain took the job of programming the cell doors to automatically open an hour after the city emptied.

In the meantime, Nathan Lee wanted to prepare the clones for alien times. They knew how to quarry limestone, sow wheat, work leather, smith iron, and herd goats. But survival in the ruins of America was going to require different skills. One can of spoiled food could wipe them out with botulism. One wrong highway could land them in the Canadian winter. The cities might be dead, but they were still mechanically alive, and deadly. The clones needed a crash course in the twenty-first century.

Fine, grumbled Izzy. We'll pick one. But which one?

By the fire, Eesho was holding forth about the coming armageddon. It had been over a month since Ochs had kowtowed to him, but the encounter continued to whet his appetite for disciples. Borrowing from Revelation and from the War Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he had patched together a hybrid parable about a giant demon, one of the Sons of Darkness, begging him for forgiveness, and a queen of the dead, a woman with green eyes and hair like red gold whose name was Miranda, and her slaves, who were Nathan Lee and Izzy. Each day his sermons became a little bolder and more intricate.

I'm thinking the boys should get turned loose, he announced to the Captain in the quiet of one afternoon. They were watching the yard over cameras. Over the weeks, the prisoners had slowly begun to trickle up from their cells and brave the sun again. Ben was the stalwart, first every morning, last at dusk, walking, feeding the fire, walking, walking, getting those muscles ready. Nathan Lee could see his mind at work. Ben had not missed a day. For weeks he'd had the place to himself. Now it was inhabited again. The burnt sacrifices of birds and squirrels resumed, though the season was getting cold and they'd largely hunted the place out.

Not his bloody lordship, Izzy protested. I'm not about to hand Eesho the keys to the castle. He already thinks he's God almighty.

Izzy balked. Why would any of them trust us? They're onto us now. In their shoes, I wouldn't trust us.

Nathan Lee was surprised. Then you're not opposed to them going free?

They're prisoners. They have no choice.

I wouldn't treat a dog the way we've had to treat those men.

Izzy balked. Why would any of them trust us? They're onto us now. In their shoes, I wouldn't trust us.

The notion gratified him. He despised what had been done to them. They and their sacrificed brothers had been used a thousand different ways by Los Alamos, from serving as lab subjects to titillating the city's mystical itch. Now they could be used one final time, as his surrogate for breaking free.

Izzy balked. Why would any of them trust us? They're onto us now. In their shoes, I wouldn't trust us.

Not him, Nathan Lee said, Ben.

Izzy balked. Why would any of them trust us? They're onto us now. In their shoes, I wouldn't trust us.

About time someone brought that up, the Captain replied.

Fine, grumbled Izzy. We'll pick one. But which one?

Not yet. And not me, said the Captain. But when the time's right, I'm all for you.

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