They continued their work, scrubbing and wiping and rinsing, going to the water station outside to replenish their buckets, only pausing to take off their rubber gloves and allow their hands to air out. Sonia took great pleasure from it, watching the once disgracefully filthy kitchen restored to its proper cleanliness. As they cleaned, she admired the ingenuity that when into the layout; using the catering trucks was clever and the L shaped arrangement allowed efficient movement.
The three were halfway done with the second catering truck when Aria’s phone began to vibrate; as Sonia suspected, it was her father calling. Aria answered with her usual teenage casualness and, after a few minutes, Major Lindbergh appeared at the kitchen. His purpose was supposedly to check on the progress of their cleaning but Sonia could tell that it was really a father checking on his daughter. For a moment she felt deeply sad as she recalled her own father but the man greeted her as well, careful to compliment her on her work and thank her for her efforts, something Sonia knew was motivated by concern but appreciated all the same.
Major Lindbergh lingered for a while, explaining what he had found out in the past several hours. He had interviewed both of the Andersons and the Deputy as well, all of whom were ill from the intestinal bug. Apparently a clique of malingerers had formed over time, unreliable types who performed their assigned tasks in a haphazard manner. This much wasn’t a surprise; as Major Lindbergh explained they had tasked the Andersons to do their best to bring the Compound up to speed, understanding that the possibility for difficulties and setbacks would be high.
As it was though, things were manageable until the past several weeks. At that point an undercurrent of defiance began t express itself; people ‘forgot’ work assignments and disregarded the schedule, instead choosing to go on Salvage Expeditions in Crews of their own making, discrepancies consistent with pilfering noted at the same time. And once the residents were disarmed and properly under guard, Major Lindbergh made an investigation of the call history in the cellular system, revealing an interesting pattern of communication among a particular group of people.
Things came to a head within the past week, both Rich and Beth along with several others of the more productive people falling ill. Within several days they were joined by half a dozen more, the difficulty of the illness exacerbated by the stress it created. Finally came the issue with the generator, an issue somehow related to unauthorized ‘maintenance’ performed by someone Sonia gathered from the conversation was familiar to William.
The next step would be expulsions. Major Lindbergh was deliberately vague on this point, simply telling them that approximately a dozen names had been selected, although on a preliminary basis with final disposition yet to be determined. The Major also informed William that he would need to make himself available to discuss the matter further, something Sonia could tell William regarded with a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm.
As soon as Major Lindbergh passed out of sight William stepped out of the catering truck, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he left. He spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes making calls; although Sonia tried not to eavesdrop out of good manners, curiosity got the better of her and she couldn’t help but gather the gist of the conversations from the bits and pieces she was able to overhear.
At the end, speaking to someone named Tony, who she assumed was a security specialist she recalled from a previous introduction, William became rather animated. After several minutes back and forth, William snapped his phone shut and returned.
“Well, the power should be on in a half hour, probably less,” William announced, pulling his rubber gloves back on.
“As if that’s all you were talking about,” Aria scolded, “Spill it.”
William frowned. He picked up his sponge and began to explain the expulsion process. Typically, the expelled parties were provided vehicles, escorted a certain distance and then released to continue on their way. In this case though, due to the quantity of people being expelled – William told them that eight cases had been definitely added to the list – it wasn’t practical to simply set them loose on the roads with instructions on which direction to drive.
Instead the plan in this instance would be to drive them to a settlement at Eastern Market and release them on the outskirts with some rudimentary supplies to establish themselves. “The post apocalyptic version of a catch and release program,” he said at the end with a sardonic grin.
“Sounds kind of scary,” Aria said, frowning skeptically.
“Oh, the safety I’m not worried about at all,” he reassured them. “They’re disarmed and they’ll stay that way until we drop them off.”
“So you’ll give them back their guns?” Sonia asked, throwing her head back in surprise.
“Sure,” William answered, “Unloaded and passed to them in a closed duffel bag – our taillights will be fading before they ever chamber a round.” He waved his hand ‘goodbye’ for emphasis.
“But what else can we do?” he asked, answering her skepticism, “Setting someone loose unarmed is tantamount to a death sentence. Besides, disarmament is frowned upon in the Protective Association.”
“Well, why don’t you just execute them?” Aria asked impertinently.
“Be not so eager to deal in death and judgment, fair hobbit,” William replied with a bemused smile, “Many merit death, yet live while others merit life but die nonetheless.”
“OK, William The Grey,” Aria retorted rolling her eyes while Sonia looked away, growing serious for a moment at the ironic reference, her thoughts turning to Clarice.
“Seriously though,” William went on, “we’ve yet to execute anyone over simple theft, even in cases where we’ve had definite proof. This is all just circumstantial – a bunch of damn peculiar circumstances but still circumstance. According to the rules of the Association expulsion is the maximum penalty we can enforce in these sorts of cases.”
“Seems kind of shaky,” Sonia replied, “Pissed off people running around nursing a grudge, I mean.”
“You have a point,” William conceded, “And it’s something we’ve given some thought to. But there are both principled and practical considerations against being so severe. On the principled side, we are genuinely trying to maintain some standard of rule of law – to some degree we’ve all suffered from the lack of it so we have to be mindful of its importance. After all, just because a person falls victim to corruption, doesn’t entitle them to embrace corruption in their own conduct.”
“Very true,” Sonia admitted.
“And also, on the practical side, their odds of survival fall dramatically once they leave the confines of the Protective Association anyway. I mean let’s face it, you know better than anyone what’s out there,” he said, gesturing towards the open door with his arm. “The word ‘protective’ isn’t just some turn of phrase – the difference in physical security between inside and outside is pretty stark. Myself, I believe quite strongly in the rule of law argument.” He paused, nodding gravely.
“Oh, believe me, I know that,” Sonia agreed smiling in reply. “I actually think you’re all extremely generous in the way you’re handling this.”
“Don’t get me wrong, principle doesn’t mean you don’t travel heavy,” he added quickly with a smile, “Better to have strong moral values and a gun than just strong moral values.” Sonia laughed while Aria shook her head.