It was a tired and nervous group of people that finally made it back to the compound. The zombie swarm we drove through thanks to Will's forethought didn't give up on us. Instead they followed, and because we had to take a break not far away from where we left them to refuel a few of our vehicles, they caught up with us.
The casualties were small compared to what they could have been, but we were cautious when we stopped. We lost two of the food trucks in our escape, and five of the men from the valley. Those brave souls stood their ground and held off the initial wave of zombies, giving us just enough time to get away. If the entire swarm had hit us at once rather than just the faster zombies from it, we'd have all been lost.
Those two trucks amounted to about 20% of the food these people were bringing with them. One was full of fruits and vegetables that hadn't been preserved, the other a mixture of dried meat, preserves, and fresh veggies. We tried to mix each load of food that way, so that the loss of any given load wouldn't be disastrous. The vegetable truck was one of the last ones we loaded, and by that time we were in a hurry.
I've been home for more than a day, but I still haven't been able to get a read on how most people around the compound feel about newcomers. I've been busy catching up with my fellow coordinators on what's been happening while I've been away, so I haven't really had the chance to talk to a lot of people. I have spent some time with Pat and his girls, and one of them asked me over breakfast this morning (a very early breakfast, since I still have a lot of work to catch up and the girls had been out just before dawn collecting eggs) if we'd have to cut our food rations because of the new arrivals.
I told her I didn't think so, because they'd brought a lot with them. I told her that these people were very good at farming and hunting, and that they had managed to do very well for themselves. She seemed skeptical. I didn't blame her.
The truth is that none of us can see the future. I'm all about being as practical as we can in making sure that the largest number of human beings possible can survive. I saw the angry looks on the faces of some of our sentries and guards as we tried to get our caravan of vehicles inside the compound, which in itself was an awkward and dangerous job. Leaving the gates open for so long might as well have been ringing the dinner bell to the local zombies, and then at the end we had to take all the trucks we got from Tennessee back out since there was nowhere to store them inside the walls. Getting them in, emptying them, and getting them back out seems like such a simple thing, but the frustration it caused the people who had to do it was clear.
Then again, I saw even more relief on the faces of people who had known terrible hunger. The sight of truck after truck being unloaded of their burdens of foodstuff must have been almost unreal to them. It's not a permanent solution, but those stores will go a long way toward feeding the people until our crops mature.
I've also been talking with some of the council members and a few other people about the best way we can make use of our new citizens. That's likely to take up the majority of the day. One advantage we have here is that we are practical, and organized, and ready to solve problems.
These last several days have changed me somehow. I don't know exactly why or how, but I can tell you with certainty that two weeks ago I would have left these people to fend for themselves if it meant keeping my own fed and safe. I'd have felt bad about it, but I'd have done it anyway with total conviction.
Now, I know for sure that I couldn't do that. I don't know if it was seeing so many pregnant women struggling to get by that moved some unseen switch inside me or what, but I'm different.
Before this trip, I think I saw people outside the compound and the few small groups we are close to as static, unchanging. To me they were just survivors that had potential use, but could be ignored if needed. In the valley I saw a thriving group of people who had managed to create a wonderful home for themselves, and welcomed the chance to bring children into it. It doesn't sound like much, I guess, but life changing events that alter how you see the world don't have to be big shows. Sometimes the most important lessons are the ones we have to look hard at to see.
I feel changed. I can't help it. I see those women looking shyly around their new home, wondering where they will sleep when the decision of what to do with them is made. I see them and think of all the others out there who have beaten the odds and won the struggle for so long, and I feel something inside me want to scream out at the injustice of it.
I used to think that in our situation, the highest moral code you could follow was the survival of the tribe. And maybe that's still true. I can't help but think I was woefully ignorant of other things, though. Compassion is strong, but I've always advocated being able to ignore it for the sake of pragmatism. Maybe human civilization needs to have that overwhelming sense of compassion to become better than it was. Maybe we have to make the conscious choice to do right and damn the risks. I don't know what kind of world we would build without it, but today it seems that such a world would be a colder and less loving place than I would want to raise my children in.
So much work to do. Now, more than ever...