Alex stepped up preparations for the attack, sending messengers to the allied groups throughout the day and night. He gave the twins the address to the rural lab where the children were being taken, allotting them some of their precious gasoline so they could ride their stolen motorcycles. Their investigation resulted in detailed information about the facility, its layout and the number of guards. Even better, Danny produced a series of maps and diagrams from memory, with Danica confirming their accuracy. These they turned over to Alex and Julilla, who pored over them, debating the merits of pincer movements vs. frontal assault. They discussed how the Fresnels could best be deployed, or if they should be used at all. They analyzed the skills and supplies of their soldiers and allies until their heads hurt and they begged Rochelle for something stronger than willow drops.
But their best pain-killers were going to May, now that they had acquired a few from the Thespians. Although May’s blisters were deflating and her bleeding had slowed to a spotting, a sullen listlessness had taken hold. She spoke only when spoken to, murmuring no more than a word or two when she chose to answer at all. She refused to eat until pestered, even though they gave her the best food they had. Instead, she spent most of her time staring at the wall, pretending to sleep when anyone came near.
Cassie and Julilla were flummoxed. They sat with May when they could and tried to draw her into conversation, to no avail. They enlisted Alaina’s help, thinking maybe they could talk fashion and jewelry together. But although May listened patiently, she answered in monosyllables and showed no interest in anything related to art. Frustrated, Alaina assigned her students to practice their reading on her, bringing the first sign of emotion anyone had seen when May cursed the little boy stuttering through Green Eggs and Ham and told Alaina she’d rather go back to the Pharms than endure any more “kiddie bedtime stories.” Insulted, Alaina quit sending children to read to her and May got a little of the peace she craved.
Finally there came a day when decisions had to be made. Mundo called a meeting on the patio and this time David was included so the issue of battlefield supply could be addressed. Cassie tried to ignore the way he stared at her and wondered, as she often did, why he had told her about Trina. Marsha the Thespian had planted suspicions in her mind, but confronting David was out of the question, since every time she tried to have a few words with him, he turned it into an attempt to get her into bed. Cassie had too much else going on to need that hassle as well. She would have to let some mysteries remain mysteries, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“If the bunker is forty miles away,” David told Alex, “No way can we supply you from here. We’ve got just the one shuttle and not nearly enough gas.”
“It’s too dangerous, anyway,” Julilla said. “Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy.”
“I wish you’d quit quoting that damn book,” Alex said.
“You’re the one who recommended it.”
“Not so you could memorize it and go around quoting it all the time.”
Mundo silenced them. “No fighting. If you can’t save it for the enemy, one of you needs to resign. I won’t have my co-commanders arguing.”
Julilla and Alex exchanged sullen looks and returned to examining the maps. This time David leaned forward as well and traced a few paths with a finger. “Acrefield Mall looks like it’s about fifteen miles away. Did the twins get a sense of what condition it was in?”
“Burnt,” Alex said.
“Any schools that maybe still have cafeteria supplies?”
Julilla shrugged. “Who knows?”
“So even if we tried to supply you locally, we wouldn’t know until we got there if it could be done.”
“How is that different from now?” Kayleen looked up from doodling on her notepad with a purple felt tip.
David glared, but Mundo seized on her point. “There’s some truth to that. Supplies are getting harder to find in the city, so it’s not like you’d be working any harder out the sticks. We’ll lay in stock here and then your team can go with us and work the vicinity.”
“Look,” David said, sitting up straight. “I don’t mind dying, as long as it’s fast and not from the Telo. Getting blown up in an Obit ambush would suit me fine. But where does that leave you guys? Any form of supply that depends on driving in plain sight on known roads, is going to be a problem.”
“Supply chain is an army’s weak point,” Alex agreed. “It’s what got Napoleon.”
“I thought winter got Napoleon,” Kayleen said.
“That too, but it was really—”
“Enough.” Mundo held out his hand for the map. “I know it’s rural, but there’s got to be a way to make this work.”
“Attack fast and get the Obits’ food,” Julilla said, to Alex’s nod of agreement. “It’s the only way.”
“Unless there’s a grain elevator still full somewhere nearby,” Cassie pointed out. “Or livestock still alive—cows or goats or something.”
A slow smile broke over Mundo’s face. “That’s right. You’re the eco-girl with the wilderness skills. How’d we manage to forget that?”
“I don’t have farm skills. I know wild plants and animals, and a little about vegetable gardening. Not food crops and chickens.”
“But plants are plants, right?” Julilla said.
“I guess.” Cassie frowned in thought. “In the garden, seeds often get left behind and grow on their own the next season, so I bet it’s the same with big fields of crops. They’re probably hybrids, but the second generation usually sprouts okay. It’s the third generation that’s the problem.” Getting blank stares from the group, she added, “In other words, there may be some wild crops growing, like corn and tomatoes. And then there’s the farm houses and barns. Barns would’ve had oats and corn before the Telo, if the mice didn’t get it all by now.”
Mundo nodded enthusiastically. “So it’s not crazy that we could forage out there.” He turned to David. “We’ll vet this plan with our allies, but I propose that all allied non-combatants stay here with a guard and as much as we can lay by for them in the way of supplies. You’ll come with us and lead the allied foragers in local scavenging.”
David rubbed his face in frustration. “I’m telling you, man, I wouldn’t know an edible plant from poison ivy.”
“There’s also grain elevators, animals, and farmhouses, like Cassie said.”
“And if there’s not?” A wicked grin spread across his face. “Maybe Cassie should be on my forage team.”
“No,” Cassie said, before Mundo had a chance to speak. She fumbled for an answer to his inquisitive look, but could only shake her head.
Julilla came to her rescue. “She’s my lieutenant and I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to train her. Anyone can tell corn from dandelions. Ask around the alliance for an outdoorsy sort to partner with David.”
“But I want her.”
Cassie felt David’s gaze boring into her. “Forget it.”
She said it with such firm contempt that Mundo motioned for David to let the matter drop. “We’ll find someone to accompany the foragers as a subject matter expert. In the meantime, we need to call the alliance together and finalize our plans.” He looked at Kayleen, who appeared to be more interested in applying sunscreen than writing anything down. “Have you been taking notes, babe?”
Kayleen set the Coppertone aside and picked up her notepad. “Farmhouses, barns, grain elevators, and tomatoes. I pay attention.”
“Good. I need you to write the schedule for the final pre-battle meeting of the alliance. Plans to be voted on include the following….”