Battle of Haibi Chapter 33
Previous: Battle of Haibi Chapter 32: Quarantine
Chapter 33 The Beginning of a New World
"Monday," the snowbank mutters with Kabocha's voice as the sun's morning light starts to diffuse through the grey sky above.
Another, far younger voice adds, "Does that mean we have to go back to school already?"
"No," Janice says from the snowbank's far end, "We have to build one first.."
"Oh," someone says sadly.
One of the red warning triangles sticks barely out of the snow, which is not quite fifty centimetres deep as the worst blizzard seen in years by the walled community reluctantly comes to an end.
Shiden slogs up to it in a grey Defender-issue winter coat, old enough not to be mistaken for one of the seventy Kabocha handed out to the survivors in Tower Four. He pulls up the sign, stamps down some of the snow around it, and finally puts the stick back into the ground with a bit more height to it.
After a pot of oatmeal and what might be the last cow's milk anyone will ever taste, Kasei stands a few feet outside the perimeter listening to Hagane's plan.
"There's no chance of spreading delta vector under these conditions," he says, "As long as we don't come into direct contact with the humans. The snow isolates us from the living matter in the ground, so we won't be leaving it in our trails."
"We'll leave a few centimetres on the ground as we clear paths," Shinyoo adds, "Which we would be doing anyway so that the organisms in the ground are insulated from the cold."
"We don't have much left for trees," explains Kabocha, "so until the spring thaw, the snow is the best shelter material we have."
"You may also clean out the Tower and make it your own again," Kasei says, "once you feel safe about the uh-"
"Delta vector," Hagane offers.
"Right," Kasei confirms with a certain measure of indifference, "and once we no longer require your services at the camp," he emphasizes.
"Right," Hagane drawls, knowing that'll probably be years, if not generations.
"Janice, are you sure you want to stay with these-"
"I have to," she interrupts, "Kasei, this delta radiation stuff is serious. It killed Taka. I know you've seen Hagane's handiwork on injuries far worse inflicted by the machinery in your own factory. You know there was more to Taka's death. I have it. I have delta vector inside me."
"How bad?" Kasei asks.
"I need that awful tasting bradford crap four times a day," Janice sobs, "I'd be dead without it." She looks him in the eye and says, "The kids have it worse. One, his fever won't come down, he'll have to stay here."
Kasei winces, "Is he going to make it?"
"If we feed him," Hagane says, "His nasty gastroenteritis should clear enough of the delta vector out of his system within a few days that he'll be able to work."
"You know the rule," Kasei growls, "We can't afford to support invalids any better than we can support lazies."
"We have him studying the Ochreby Fivesquare house plan to figure out how we can start building it in the spring," Janice explains, "He can be your apprentice then."
"Very well," Kasei says, "but it comes out of your rations. I think fifteen can survive on the food for fourteen for a couple of days." Then he walks away.
Kabocha puts together a shovel from the Defense Tower supply, adding two leaves to each side of the central spade and locking together the two lengths of the shaft. She offers it to Janice, the last of the quarantined ones to be given one. All of the shovels, as well as their coats, have been decorated with red triangles as a warning to the others.
"You didn't tell him it was Kenny," Hagane says.
"Oh," Janice realizes.
"He didn't ask, either," Kabocha moans as he plunges his shovel into the snow to start a hard day of work, by tracing Kasei's tracks back to the main camp.
"Where's Samurai?" Janice asks.
"Refusing to budge," Kabocha says grimly, "Kasei did notice, by the way."
"Really?" Janice asks, "How can you tell?"
"With him, we have sixteen in our camp," Hagane explains, "If he doesn't work, we aren't allowed to share our rations with him."
"Maybe he's sicker than we thought?" Janice asks.
"It isn't delta poisoning," Hagane says, then leans in close, "You know he was in charge of the Defenders for the battle. He feels like a failure. I'm having Kenny keep an eye on him just in case he wants to harikari or something like that."
Keepsie attacks the snow with enthusiasm.
Noticing, Hagane wonders, "Now how did she get so cheerful all of a sudden?"
"She caught me," Janice confesses, "I'm making her a new dress out of the drapes Kabocha brought back from the tower. Something odd about those drapes," she shrugs, "muddy prints from a bird's feet. I'm guessing a crow."
Samurai, hiding behind his log, nurses the little battery stove, upon which is a rather carelessly torn piece of beef.
"I can't eat this," he says, pulling a blackened leaf away from the barely thawed meat.
"We know," Freddo signs, "But we can." The crow hops a few inches closer to Samurai. His nearly healed wing is still strapped to his body, and he's already explained that he wants the cast off.
A couple packets of instant oatmeal drop out of the sky, one of them bouncing off Samurai's halo with a twang. Quinn, once known as Corvus Juugoban, circles back for another trip to the distant, and uninhabited, Sector Two, where a couple of deserted farmhouses survived the carnage of that weekend.
As soon as Samurai has the cast cut off, Freddo starts preening the tattered feathers locked away for those few weeks.
Samurai tests the radiation output of the oatmeal packets with a fresh leaf, and happily discovers that they are indeed delta-free.
Quinn lands, quite tentatively on a single leg, sinking up to her karina, dragging another piece of the frozen red meat with her out of the snow next to Samurai. She sets it on the hot plate and turns her attention to the thawed, but still raw, beef that Freddo just dragged off.
"Remember the taste, fellas," Samurai sobs, "I think they're extinct."
Freddo swallows a bite of the last beef on Earth, and nods at Samurai before tearing off another. The crows know that outside the wall, cows have been extinct ever since a freak meteor shower burned up all the grassland shortly after Wallace, the first ever sentient crow, emerged two years after Haibi was deployed. They are taking Samurai's advice to heart.
"Juuyon?" Freddo asks, referring to Tess by the number Tori gave her merely because it is far easier to sign.
Quinn signs quite slowly with her recovering leg, "Didn't make it. Found her pieces."
"You sure?" Freddo asks.
"No one else has ever had that many imped remiges," Quinn explains, "She got hellknighted this time. The smell is unmistakable."
Freddo bows his head, then spells out the other crow's name properly, "Nick?"
"Flew off with Roku," Quinn explains.
Making sure he has Samurai's attention, he takes several minutes to sign, "Nick Vitores was Juunanaban. Rokuban was Juice Hightail."
Samurai whispers, "The Nick Vitores and Juice Hightail?"
Freddo painfully spreads his right wing and nods.
"My God," he gasps, "Where's Jack and Devon?"
"No idea," Freddo signs, "Probably still asleep."
Samurai looks about to make sure no one's watching before chowing on his oatmeal, feeling like Elijah [see 1 Kings 17: 1-6], especially after signing off on his tale, The Beginning of the World.
Next: Battle of Haibi Chapter 34: A Knight Saved