The morning after the attacks on Ann Arbor and the Marshalling yards, a man approached the Buffer-Zone along I-96. He was wearing protective clothing and waving a white flag.
“I have come to negotiate” the man said.
“Are you surrendering?” General Spackle asked.
“I have come to negotiate terms for your surrender” the man said.
Spackle gave him credit for having big balls. Great, big, brass one that clanged when he walked.
“What do you propose?” Spackle asked.
“We propose a one week truce so your side can discuss terms.” the man said, trying to hand Spackle a sealed letter. The man tossed it on the table when Spackle refused to accept it.
Spackle continued to look at it as if it were a rattlesnake.
“What can you tell me about the terms?” Spackle asked.
Looking around to see how many people were listening, the man lowered his voice “We need people to administer our colonies. You and the elite are the obvious choices.”
“So what you are saying is that we get to keep our jobs as long as we let you run the show. The little people...well too bad for them” Spackle summarized.
The man winked “You know what they say, ‘Unless you are the lead dog, the scenery don’t change.’”
“I will pass the letter on with my recommendation” Spackle said.
“Do you need a ride back to Howell?” Spackle asked.
“Sure, if you can spare it” the man said, surprised.
Spackle sent the emissary back to Howell in a truck with six fighters. They were flying a white flag. Hidden cameras took footage of every inch of I-96 from the Buffer Zone to the center of Howell.
The official body that ruled Ann Arbor was called The People's Collective Voice.
Bicklebaugh called them his personal sock-puppets. They were primarily Ph.D. and post-doc candidates in Economics, Social Work, Psychology and Political Science.
They had been chafing under Bicklebaugh's guiding hand. They found him far too "compromising" for their taste. Every one of them was initially "conflicted" when they heard he had been injured in the attack. Ultimately, they exhaled an enormous sigh of relief when they heard he was alive but incapacitated and unable to communicate.
Ironically, for students of the sciences, they all exhibited a disdain (hatred, really) for math. They believed that math artificially limited their understanding of reality. The economists said it best "Keynes said to do the maths first and then tear them up. We save a lot of time by never doing the 'maths' to start with."
It was telling that not a single one of them had ever balanced a checkbook.
It is axiomatical that political zealots are incapable of introspection nor are they well-calibrated regarding the general public's opinions about their beliefs. The zealots now running Ann Arbor, now unfettered by adult guidance, were no different from any of the other zealots in history.
They were absolutely certain that Benicio's allies would eagerly embrace Marxism and accept them as their saviors.
It was a case of extreme and uncritical optimism. That same optimism was evident in the fact that none of them bothered to review the days-food-supply on hand.
A copy of the letter was in the center of the table. Quinn Spackle, Rick Salazar, John Wilder, Hunter Chernovsky, Paul Seraph, Benicio and a several others were in the room.
The problems with a loose confederation is that it falls apart like toilet paper in a thunderstorm if even a few members decide to not participate. Another fatal flaw is that decision-making because unwieldy as the number of members grows.
Looking around the table, Chernovsky wondered why some of them had been invited.
The Amish representative was totally against fighting.
The community that was just starting to gel east of Capiche was waffling. They didn’t want to commit in any direction.
Even Paul Seraph, the leader of the city of Eaton Rapids was equivocating. Of course Seraph had his hands full with the Jackson County Hard-timers gang. The Jackson County line was six miles south of Eaton Rapids and he suffered incursions from the Hard-timers.
Right now he was complaining that he didn’t understand how the different Hard-timers managed to function together. When they were in the prison, the Blacks and Hispanics and Whites had been mortal enemies.
By any normal standard, the Hard-timers should have quickly collapsed under their own weight. What held them up was that the gang(s?) had seized an oil distribution tank-farm in the northeast corner of Jackson County.
Seraph’s equivocating was based on the “lesser evil” theory. The three gangs that ruled Jackson County were totally ruthless. Anybody who wandered into whatever territory they were claiming that day was likely to be raped and killed, irrespective of their gender.
An alliance with Ann Arbor sounded totally reasonable if it helped him beat back the threat of the Jackson County Hard-timers.
Rick Salazar always seemed wishy-washy. He gave the impression of agreeing with whoever was talking at the time. He wanted everybody to make their best case and “feel heard.
As far as Chernovsky was concerned, idiots should shut-up and listen, not be encouraged to talk.
Chernovsky was plowing through the administrative work that piled up every day. He spent the daylight hours with the troops and caught up with administrative work at night. On nights when he had meetings that he could not avoid, he caught up while people he did not consider worthy of his attention were talking.
Benicio was a rock. He was very, very, very clear that there was no good ending for him, personally, if Delta Township agreed to “A partnership of equals” with Ann Arbor.
Quinn Spackle was equally against surrendering to Ann Arbor. His forces had suffered over 150 casualties; 50 KIA and over 100 wounded...many of who would not be returning to the line. Surrendering to Ann Arbor would make a mockery of the loses his men had endured.
Benicio territory was the 800 pound gorilla with respect to population within the federation. Chernovsky’s best guess was that Benicio had between 10,000 and 15,000 residents. That compared to Capiche’s 400, Eaton Rapids’ 500ish, the Amish 200 and so on.
All that dwarfed before Ann Arbor. The best estimates that Chernovsky had was that the area controlled by Ann Arbor contained well over 70,000 residents with more pouring in from Detroit every day.
It doesn’t matter how much you punch above your weight, it is brutally difficult to overcome a five-to-one numerical disadvantage regardless of how well dug in you are.
And that is exactly what the fighters of the Buffer-Zone were doing. They were digging in.
Supplies continued to flow into the Buffer Zone. Day-by-day the Buffer-Zone was healing. The biggest question in Chernovsky’s mind was “Is Ann Arbor healing faster than we are?”
General Quinn Spackle could have given Chernovsky a decent appraisal of the situation if Chernovsky had come right out and asked.
Spackle didn’t screw around with written reports. He let Dysen read them and give him a verbal synopsis. He talked to Tory and Dot in real-time.
The pilots told him that the Ann Arbor forces had moved fighters west along the major east/west arteries until the “point person” fell over dead. Then they backed up about a hundred yards and started driving squads into the brush to find avenues where the toxic gas was diluted enough to be survivable.
Each volunteer was attached to a fifty yard length of twine. They had to move out to the end of the twine and then tie ribbons to branches at eye level as they walked back. If they went out the full fifty yards and survived the return trip, they got a two night leave in Ann Arbor. If they refused to go out, they were summarily executed. If the guessed wrong and wandered into the path of the VX...well, too bad for them.
As a general trend, the regions that were clear of toxic materials oriented roughly with the wind. But there were features that caused the wind to back-eddy and convect sideways. There was also the issue of the heavier-than-air being blown downwind until it hit a ditch or drainage feature and then it flowed west toward the river, regardless of wind direction.
It was slow going for the Ann Arbor troops but Sayed had LOTS of troops and he had a week to work with.
It would not be much longer before Sayed would be in a position to attack the Buffer-Zone again.