AFTER THE DAY: Timothy's History, The Dispute: The Travellers meal part 2.

John stood quietly and I could tell he was reorganising his thoughts. "Which Ism, do you think they are?" He asked.

"I'm, not certain," I paused, "I think whoever they are, they planned to survive 'the day'. In a deliberately constructed and provisioned bunker. They undoubtedly think of themselves as 'the government', and no doubt want to take back what they think is theirs."

"What do you think we should do about them?

"I'm not sure. I think Lilly would talk about alliances and information gathering. It would certainly be a bad idea to antagonise them at this stage." I turned to John as a thought occurred to me, "Have you asked them about the smokers?"

"No, it seemed to me that the more ignorant they thought I was, the more I might learn about them."

"I think it would be good to ask them, I imagine they might be the source of the carts that come down from the North. Even their reaction to the question would tell us something."

"Are we being too smart for our own good." Asked John, looking distantly at the orange glow on the western sky.

The question caught me off guard, "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Prehaps we should be more direct, tell them to get lost. The valley is fine without outsiders. We have the guns, the walls nearly finished. The smokers don't seem interested in us. Our farm is productive, we have clean water. Joshuah's batteries work, and he had the generator running on alcohol for an hour last week."

I looked at him, "Do you really believe we could fight all comers?"

John guffawed, "No!" he looked me straight in the eye and said, "There is a fight coming,  and I don't want one, I want the Valley the way it has always been. When I kicked things into gear with the smokers I knew it was over then. Dad, Mary David and the rest didn't know it, but they created a safe happy haven here after 'the day'. I don't read many of your books these days, but I loved Tom sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I have spent most of my life barefoot. And now with these travellers, I feel like I just lost my childhood."

There was nothing much I could say to this. I felt the same thing, it had been obvious earlier at the wall, that all the adults in the community felt it. Something was over, and something new and more uncertain was beginning.

We stood a moment longer as the stars crawled out of the deepening blue of the sky. "I think I will talk to the 'old one', " I said.

John just nodded,  and we went back inside.

Entering the hall was like walking into a different world, Sarah had got her guitar out, and was banging out old familiar tunes,  to which young and old had started dancing. Shelly who could charm anyone out of a grump, had even got one of the 'others' up holding her hands and dancing. The old one was seated at a table tapping his hands in time with Sarah's beat, along with several others. Lilly was still hovering at what she clearly thought was a nice innocuous distance.

I decided ale was the order of the day and got 2 tankards from the barrel that had been set up on a table,  took them over to where the 'old one' was sitting, sat down and handed him one of the tankards. He thanked me and took it from me tasting it. He seemed genuinely impressed.

"You have hops here?" He asked.

"Yes, they used to grow wild further down the valley. An old friend told me there had been an old hop farm there, that used to sell to a brewery in the city, long before she had been born."

"It must be a good variety," he said.

It was obvious there was a great deal he wasn't saying, and every now and then his eyes quickly checked where the 'others' were. If he was aware of Lilly watching from the corner of her eye, he didn't show it.

I decided to take a leaf out of John's book and take the direct approach, asking; "Why have you come to our Valley?"

He took another drink from the tankard and set it down on the table. "We can't stay in isolation for ever, the different groups have to make contact with each other."

I remember thinking this was a good answer which gave me no information at all. I decided to persist, "But why now? Why not 10 years ago? Or next year?"

"Well, it just seemed like the right time."

Which again told me nothing at all, "Have you contacted other groups of survivors?"

The 'old one' thought about his answer just long enough to make me think he was deciding how much of a lie he could get away with, before saying, "We have certainly seen signs of other groups."

Trust was not growing between us. I think part of my mistrust at least, was the 'old ones' perpetual benign smile. It seemed natural enough at first but it didn't seem to change much. There was no real hint of how he genuinely felt, just a sense of presumed superiority. Well that and his evasiveness.

He looked around the room at the wall lamps, "Where do you get the gas from?" He asked.

The 'digester' was Simon last invention: although he had worked on it for years before it began producing enough gas for it to be useful. The gas bell had foxed him for a long time, since he couldn't cast anything big enough in the forge. Eventually he had come up with a somewhat conical design which he has been able to cast in pieces and seal together on the anvil: even so it had taken him 2 attempts to make it work. But once it did it was a relief to abandon the smoky tallow lamps and candles.

Given Simon efforts, my answer to 'the old one' seemed trivial, "Manure." I said.

He leaned forwards a little conspiratorial, "You could have electricity with our help" he said.

Ah, at last the 'sales pitch' I thought. An idea it had taken Jayne ages to explain to me. I decided the appropriate reaction was guarded enthusiasm: "Really" I said.

He then went to some length to explain how a turbine could be built driven by steam heated by coal. He only mentioned the coal once towards the end of his 'pitch,' and made no mention of where we would get the coal from. I suspected I was supposed to puzzle over this and ask: I decided to disappoint.

Instead I said, "sounds like a lot of hard work?"

For the first time in our conversation there were signs of faint cracks in the 'old one's' benign smile. Which gave me the impression I was right about his script. With a slightly furrowed brow, he picked up the Tankard and took another drink.

With his mind distracted, the timing felt exactly right, "Good lighting must be important on the short winter days in the mountans?" I said, as matter of factly as I could.

And I was rewarded by an automatic nod and a 'hmm', which he quickly tried to override by saying, "not that the hills are that high." And I caught him briefly checking my face for belief, which I tried to give him a good impression of.

I noticed his rucksack and said, "I'll find out what sleeping arrangements have been conjured up for you." And stood up adding, "Nice chatting with you." And held out my hand. He took it and shook it, a little warily as if it might bite him. I had the distinct impression his composure had been at least dislodged.

Before letting go of my hand, he asked with a quizzical look, "Are you in charge here?"

Again I didn't know quite how to respond to this: the question had never occurred to me before, people in  the Valley just took responsibility, and tried to do something helpful. The only answer I could think of was, "Not today." In retrospect I don't think I could have come up with a better answer.

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