Resolution [Tall Pines Underground #5]

Let’s see some rubber hit the road, shall we? Susan tries going to church and it… does not go well. But maybe it does not go well in the best possible way. Protagonists gotta protag, right?

When Sunday morning came, the usual wake-up call was delivered with all the insistence of a gentle request.  I got the distinct impression that Milo, our roving morning alarm clock, was mostly bored and hoping someone would wake up and play with him.  I regretted having other plans. I rose and poked the clumps of bedding on my sons’ bunks, garnering as much of a reaction as I had expected. I dressed in something clean and made my way to the amphitheater. Time to go to church.

My mood leapt all over the place as I climbed the hill.  Hope battled with cynicism–and they both struggled to overcome my strong desire to turn around and crawl back into bed.

But there was a chance, a part of me insisted, that this church, hidden away on a mountaintop, might provide that sense of community that I had been missing.  As much as gossiping with George and Maggie amused, it hardly grounded me. Perhaps in time they would. But I knew I was hungry for community, hungry for a place in a group that might welcome me.  Today I might find common cause with other people who believed in something, and who believed we could make the world a better place.

And another part of me merely rolled her eyes at the naive idealism festering away in my brain.  It had taken me decades to find a church that didn’t tell me my primary value was as a wife and a mother, that Arthur was the rightful head of my household because of his anatomy, that justice on earth was subordinate to an eternal justice that sounded very nice but could not actually be demonstrated to exist.  No doubt this church would be like so many others, not like our church back home.

With a groan and another push of will to keep my legs climbing, I chided myself for assuming the worst of strangers.  At the very least, these were people who wanted to come together, to build something greater than themselves.  It took spirit to lift your head up from the grueling day-to-day, to dream bigger, to actually get up in the morning on your one day off of work detail.  I could respect that, I told myself, and that could be the foundation for building a greater respect, perhaps even building that sense of community that was otherwise absent from the refuge.

The trickle of church goers I had joined at Ponderosa had swelled to a flow of people.  When we finally gained the lip of the amphitheater, I was surprised at the appreciable crowd that filled its bowl.  Three or four hundred people thronged the old railroad tie bleachers. I found a seat among some smiling congregants and made polite introductions.  My nearest neighbors were a pair of young women from the Gray Wolf labor pool.  I remarked with surprise on the turnout and they assured me that this was the usual crowd.

“Of course, all of Jameson’s Lodge is here,” the shorter, blonde woman smiled as if sharing a joke.  Her friend mirrored the smile.  “They’ve got to show up.”

“They’re not all true believers?” I asked with mock innocence, and this seemed to go over well.

The brunette shook her head.  “And there’s a lot of folk who come to earn points with Jameson.  There’s some sweeties from other lodges who treat church attendance like politics.  And some hopeful poolies trying to catch the eye of Mountain Lion sweeties.”

Seeing that I was not quite following, her friend explained: “No Lotharios in the Lions of God.  They’re all the marrying kind in that lodge.  Jameson makes sure of that.  Mind, I wouldn’t complain if a couple of those Lion men paid attention to me,” the blonde added with a smile, again mirrored by her friend.

“Well good luck with your quest,” I grinned, much to their blushing amusement.  The ambient buzz of conversation around us faded and died, and we all looked down to the stage below us.

And then the show began.

A train of figures filed down onto the concrete slab that served as the amphitheater’s stage. At the lead strode Jameson, the lodge host for Mountain Lion. I had met him briefly a handful of times, and had been simultaneously amused and put off by his seemingly never-ending bluster of can-do attitude, which usually entailed more work for everyone at the weekend seminar. Behind him came three young women, who I took to be his daughters whom I had never met. The four of them immediately turned and took their seats on a row of chairs brought down from the Mess and set up along the side of the stage.

The latter half of the procession began with an older gentleman in a neon orange vest and a priest’s tab collar. He bee-lined to the podium placed in the center of the stage. Next came a portly, middle-aged man grasping a crimson-gilt, leatherbound bible, who took up a position behind the priest. Following him came a woman of similar years, and the moment I saw her, a chill of instant disappointment washed over me. The woman was wearing my fleece.

But the priest at the podium raised his hands and the assembled congregation rose to its feet. He led us into singing a lurching rendition of We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, no doubt compromised by the lack of music or hymnals. Still, the lyrics that he called out at the top of each verse were simple enough, and we dutifully plodded through the melody until he lowered his arms again. Four hundred people sitting down on seats topped with gravel sounded like an avalanche.

“Sometimes when I hear this church sing that song,” the man with the bible began, his voice strong and clear despite his nearly shouting, “I think it might be about the hike we all had to make just to get to here.” A wash of good-natured chuckles swept the auditorium. I smiled despite the memory; safely in the past, it was ripe for the rueful humor bestowed by hindsight.

“It wasn’t an easy climb for a lot of us,” he went on, immediately recognizing and banishing the sharper corners of the memory. “I know I’m not as hale and hearty as I used to be. And for some of us, it was downright dangerous. Some of us had to make that climb without food. Some of us had to get past men with guns. It wasn’t easy getting up here. But it wasn’t supposed to be easy.”

“If it were easy, it wouldn’t be safe. We’d be down there in all the chaos. We’d be down there surrounded by those unscrupulous men with guns. We’d be just another part of the mess. Waiting to be picked off. Vulnerable. Alone. At the mercy of this damned world.” He closed his hands over his bible and shook his head softly at the ground.

He gave it a moment, and then he raised the book, which fell open at his finger. “Enter through the narrow gate,” he read, “for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and few find it.” He let the book fall closed again and nodded quietly.

He then looked up at the assembled throng. “You have entered through that narrow gate,” he declared, voice rising proudly against the sigh of mountain wind. “You have suffered through the barbs and thorns of the great defiler and you pushed through. You made it!”

He lifted the bible over his head and said, “The good book tells us that, at the end of days, the church will suffer through the Great Tribulation, where the whole world will turn against us, try to drag us down. They will tempt us. They will assault us. They will starve us. Or at least–they will try.” And here the preacher paused and grinned out onto his flock, who answered with hesitant, derisive laughter. “They’ll try, oh, they’ll try,” he repeated, egging them on. “But will they succeed?”

A few voices shouted out, “No! No! No!”

“This Refuge,” he began, and then as the shouting choked off, he began again, “This Refuge is like God’s time capsule. By His grace we have been sealed up behind these walls, safe from the fallen world that He must now punish for its many misdeeds and perversions. And that’s going to take some time, because this world has been very, very bad. But when He is done, at the end of the Great Tribulation, when Christ rises up to establish His kingdom, God will come and He will crack open this time capsule and He will welcome us forward into the Kingdom of God.”

Now he paused and rubbed one finger over his lower lip as if considering the plan that he had just outlined. “And so the thing that we’ve got to think about, the thing that you’ve got to think about, is when the Lord God comes knocking at our gate, when He comes to reclaim His people, when He comes to open this time capsule… what is He going to find here?”

“Now I’ll tell you what I hope He’ll find here,” the preacher offered his flock. “I hope that when the rapture comes, this Refuge will have clung to the teachings of the Lord. I hope that we will be revealed as faithful. As having resisted the temptations of the world outside. As pure.”

“Because after you struggled to get through that narrow gate, after you squeezed your camel through the eye of a needle and you got here, are you going to just throw it all away?” He paused again for a few calls and shouts, and then he dug in for more. “You risked your lives to set yourselves apart from that wicked world down the mountain. Are you going to fall back into that filth, that refuse, that pit of sin that you left behind?”

A whole chorus of shouts loudly answered in the negative.

“You know, I said that we were safe here,” he was suddenly. “We’ve got strong walls and camouflage netting over the gardens and I mean, we’ve got bushes growing on top of our roofs. Which just looks crazy to me, it still looks crazy, right? But all that, that’s to protect us from a world that’s about to get a richly-deserved whupping. That’s to keep the violence and the greed and the disease of the world at bay. But it can’t keep out everything. And Satan, he’s a crafty one. If he can’t get at us with guns and bombs and whips and chains… well, he’ll find another way. He’ll send something else.”

“Because as much as we left that world behind in our hearts, the reality is… we brought little bits of that world in along with us. Like the dirt clinging onto our boots,” and here he dramatically kicked his boots together, as if knocking off clods of mud the size of baseballs. “We remember what it’s like down there. We remember what we were like down there. We remember what we did. We remember how we used to act. And we brought all those memories into this safe haven. We brought in those bits of the world outside… just like Satan wanted us to. Like I said: if he can’t get at us with foot soldiers and guns, he’ll find another way.”

“In this Refuge, we have an opportunity,” he told us, “to rebuild our lives the way God wants them to be. We can live godly lives here. Things are so much simpler here, because the shape that God wants for your life? It’s simple. We grow food, we feed our families, we pray to bring ourselves closer to God. That’s it. That’s all you need.”

The preacher gestured dramatically at the ground around his feet, where his imaginary dirt clods had rolled off his boots. “You don’t need this greed here. This impulse to grab at everything you can, to clutch riches to your breast. In this Refuge, we have everything we need. Satan wants us to bring in all that greed from our lives before, because we made a habit, at his beckoning, of worrying more about our bank accounts than our relationship with God. But we don’t need to worry about that any more.”

“You don’t need this… this pride, here, that I kicked off my boots. A great many of us had big fancy titles and big fancy offices and we drove big fancy cars. Let me tell you, the church I pastored, if we had two thousand people on a Sunday, that was a slow week. But all that? That was nothing. It all went up in smoke overnight because there was no substance to it. Boy, we spent a lot of time on it, right? Angling to get that promotion, make that deal, buy that even fancier car. All that was just Satan, playing with us, making us focus on the unimportant details so that we’d miss out on God.”

“And this,” he sneered down at the empty ground. “This perversion from the outside world. This pornography, this sodomy, this non-stop torrent of sex sex sex everywhere you look. All this ever was–it was just a turning away from God’s plan, a plan where men and women are joined together to bring glory to God, not themselves, not their own pleasure, not the… orientations that they invented for themselves. We don’t need that here, either. Here in this Refuge, we can raise up our families as God intended. Safe from the perversions out there, pure and holy in the grace of God.”

“The greedy, the prideful, the perverts,” cried the preacher, looking up at the hundreds of faces ranked before him, “they will come for us. They will come for you. They will come for you within these very walls. They will tempt you and beguile you and whisper to you that–you can make your own way. You can decide what’s right and what’s wrong. But it’s your job–I’m giving you this job right now–not just to tell them, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Because you’ve got to stand tall against what they’ll want you to do. But you’ve also got to bring them here. You’ve got to tell them: we can’t make up our own rules. We don’t decide what’s right and what’s wrong. We are called to a better way, a higher way. We’ve got to stay true to God’s way.”

The preacher strode forward, away from his imaginary pile of dirt, and towards the ranks of churchgoers. “We have been given a gift. We may have squeezed ourselves through that narrow gate, but not without God’s help. And now we’re here, in God’s very own time capsule, and it’s up to us. Do we soil this perfect canvas, do we track in all the dirt and the grime and the filth from outside? Or do we keep this place pristine, beautiful, and pure?” He paused, looking out over his flock, his raised face beautific. “It’s up to us, friends. It’s up to us.  Won’t you join with me in making a promise to the Lord God, to ensure that we remain loyal, and steadfast, and true to His word?”

He held the crowd for a few moments longer, and then faded back towards Jameson and family. The priest stepped up to the podium and bid everyone join him in singing Onward Christian Soldiers. The first verse was almost passable, but the second simply drowned in the crowd’s ignorance of the lyrics. The priest did not even attempt the third verse, but instead charged us to go with God.

I went, with or without God, as quickly as my legs would carry me.

I got as far as the Mess when an honest-to-God jet fighter screamed overhead, the wake of its flight rattling windows and sending a few pedestrians to their knees, hands clasped over their ears.  The jet streaked past us, following the slope of the mountain down towards the basin below.

I ran along with others to the deck outside the Mess, which afforded the best view of the quickly receding aircraft.

“Did they see us? Did they spot us?” someone was asking.  It wasn’t clear if they feared or hoped for it to be true.

But the consensus was no.  “They’re going too fast.”  “Gotta be mach two or three!”  “That low and fast, this whole mountain’s just a blur to the pilot.”

“Are they chasing something or running from something?” someone else wanted to know.  This only triggered another round of bloviating about the jet’s speed and altitude and flight plan.

The plane gave us the definitive answer to that question.  As it cleared the ridge beneath us and flew into the basin proper, it spawned another smoketrail from under its wing.  The missile arced away from the jet at terrific speed and then drove itself into some target on the ground invisible to our eyes.

A curling explosion blossomed before us, looking like a miniature special effect from our vantage.  Everyone on the deck gasped all the same.

“Isn’t that… isn’t there a city down there?” someone asked, to general agreement.  I had never been able to distinguish the different grey splotches on the horizon enough to tell them apart, but they had all been populous urban centers—and now they were being blown up by military hardware.

The oily black cloud of the explosion dissipated only to be replaced by the burgeoning trails of smoke rising from the winking lights along the ground.  The city—whichever one it was—was on fire.

I pushed my way through the crowd to the stairs off the end of the deck.  I had no stomach for participating in the next round of speculation already starting up—why would the military fire on a civilian population, what could that city have done to provoke such a response, are we even sure if that jet was our military and not somebody else’s, or hijacked or gone rogue and what would that mean?

What it meant, whatever the answer, was that the outside world was still falling apart.  This was confirmation that it was now more dangerous than ever out there.  It meant we were not going anywhere.

It meant we were stuck in here.

There would be no escape, and there would be no rescue from outside.  Hope could not be invested in the world beyond the walls, not any more.  We were on our own.

I walked down the path towards the Ponderosa barracks.  A swarm of poolies were clustering out on the concrete slab outside the barn doors, trying to see down the mountain at the most recent commotion.  Jackson and Caden stood among the spectators, their blankets still wrapped around their shoulders.

Stuck in here with our families and stuck in here with dangerous men spewing hate.  And stuck in here with a few hundred people whose loyalties and priorities were an open question.  Who among this crowd would turn on my boys if it meant their own families would get ahead?  Who of my fellow poolies would identify me as one of the preacher’s dangerous outside influences, here to upset their God’s precious time capsule?

Too much speculation.  I gently pressed my way through to my sons and wrapped my arms around them.  They thought I was cold and held me close inside their still bed-warm blankets.  For now, for at least this moment, all three of us were warm and fed and safe.

Tomorrow I’d see about keeping it that way.

“Okay,” I told Maggie.

She turned from where she was pulling up weeds from a bed of soybeans and cocked an eyebrow at me. “Okay what?”

“You want me to help you organize the poolies.” We were alone in the walipini, our sweetie overseer gone off to the comfort of the lodge and the other worker in our group fetching nitrates. “So let’s get started.”

The woman dropped her handful of weed sprouts into her collection bucket. “Just like that? All set to start a revolution?”

“First thing we need to be clear about. We are not going to start a revolution. That sort of talk will get someone killed.” I cut off her protest with a hiss. “This is not negotiable. I am not going to help you organize an insurrection.”

Maggie was quiet for a long moment and then nodded. “Okay. So how do we recruit people to join a not-a-revolution?”

“We don’t recruit,” I told her firmly. “We get to know people. We network. We organize.”

She put a hand on her hip. “What, are we unionizing?”

“You’re thinking institutionally,” I explained, stepping forward. “We don’t need to build a rival institution to fight the sweeties. We need to organize the people who are already here. And to do that we need to get to know them first.”

She looked skeptical. I pressed on: “When I first got here, you gave me the hard sell. Oppressors, class conflict, injustice. I’m guessing I’m not the only one you tried to recruit that way. How’d it go?”

She tipped her head in reluctant acknowledgement. “Not well. I think I scared most of them away.”

“I don’t doubt it, especially the men, right?” At her expression I knew I’d hit my mark. “Too much brass and you’ll scare the poor menfolk, lady.”

“So we have heart-to-hearts instead?” she asked with a roll of her eyes. “That’s how you find not-revolutionaries?”

“For what we’ll be doing–standing up to people with power and literal weapons on their hips–you don’t need to find the people who are angry enough to take action. You need to find the people you can trust to stand by you… and not do something stupid.” I stressed carefully. “And to find that out, yeah, you need to talk with them.”

She gave me a look that said my proposition was not entirely ludicrous.  “So what’s our first step?”

The door to the walipini opened and the third poolie on our team started spraying nitrates on the soybeans. I bent over the plants in front of me. “You and I get to know each other.” Maggie looked dubious, but bent over the plants opposite me. “Where’d you grow up?”

“All over,” she replied diffidently. “United Emirates. Hong Kong. London. Washington. Brasilia. My mother was in diplomatic service.”

“Well that had to be interesting at least.”

She shrugged, an expression of discomfort. “Moved around constantly, never knew the language until I was leaving, all my peers were sixth-generation politico snobs.”

“I’m sorry,” I sympathized. “That sounds like it was hard.”

She chuckled humorlessly at the greenery at her fingertips. “I didn’t know it at the time, so it couldn’t have been that bad, right? In college when everybody told stories about their friends back home, I realized I had neither friends nor home.”

I moved down the aisle in search of more weeds. “Where was college?”

“Harvard, then Harvard Business,” she answered dispassionately. “Which sounds prestigious, but… it’s hardly the magic bullet for success.”

“As a former university professor, I sympathize with that sentiment. I taught a seminar once where we studied how society oversold the benefits of higher education.” I smirked across the bed to Maggie. “The administration politely asked me to pick a different topic the next year.”

She snorted. “That sounds about right. I even remember my sister trying to tell me how much college didn’t matter–at least the grades and the classes parts–but I ignored her.”

“Sister, huh? Older or younger?”

“Older,” she answered. “By about eight years. She grew up in a townhouse and went to the same schools as her friends up until thirteen, fourteen. She never really understood that we may have had the same parents, but we had very different childhoods.”

“You said your mom was the diplomat. What did your other parent do?”

She smiled, perhaps the first time I had seen such genuine emotion from her. “Dad was a musician. Cellist. Wherever we went, he joined the local symphony. Later in life I always wondered if he got those jobs because of Mom’s connections or if he really was that good. I didn’t inherit his ear, so I couldn’t tell you if he was a virtuoso or not.”

“Did your sister inherit the ear?”

“She did,” Maggie replied, and her mood faltered. “That and the cancer. We lost Dad a long while ago, while I was still in my MBA program. Janice passed three years ago.”

I stopped what I was doing. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said as earnestly as possible. I waited to see if I could catch her eye, but she busied herself with the plants.

“Yeah, well, it means she doesn’t have to live through this,” she sighed. “Mom’s the one who told me to start a refuge subscription. I assume she did the same and now she’s in a place much like this. Hopefully a little better managed than here.”

The tension in her voice had returned the moment she mentioned her mother. “Are you and your mom close?” I asked.

She laughed at the very suggestion. “When she told me to start a subscription, that was the first time we’d talked since… since Janice’s funeral.” Her trowel speared deep into the bed, threatening to uproot an entire soy plant. “Haven’t spoken since.”

“May I ask why?”

She looked up now, brow furrowed. “Since we’re getting to know each other and all, I suppose so. It’s not really something I talk about.”

I dipped my head in acknowledgement. “Please don’t feel pressured. We can talk about other things. I’d love to hear how you put your MBA to use.”

She snorted. “No you wouldn’t. I did twelve years in Logistics, which is an entire industry centered around packing things into boxes as efficiently as possible.” She fell quiet, and I was about to ask her to elaborate, when she blurted out, “Mom remarried. And Dad’s replacement was… not someone I approved of. It’s embarrassingly stereotypical, but there you have it.”

I smiled softly. “I can understand that. It sounds like you and your father were close, and you and your mother… weren’t.”

“True,” she sighed. “Fuck, now I’m all maudlin.” She heaved another sigh and stuck her trowel into the soil. “You’ve got to understand, Dad always put me and Janice and Mom ahead of himself. He was… a very kind man, always.”

I nodded in understanding. “Losing him right before you struck out into the working world must have been…bleak.”

“Bleak’s a good word for it,” Maggie nodded. “The soulless machine of corporate logistics and finance gobbled me up right after, and it was… years before I could get my head above water long enough to even wonder where that… world of kindness that he created had gone. How he even made it happen, in the midst of all the madness and demands that get thrown at you day by day.”

“So is logistics as cut-throat as you make it sound?”

She shook her head ruefully. “You shave a half-penny off of a packing protocol, right? And you multiply that by literally forty million packages a year, and that’s a savings of two hundred grand. Which you’d think would be a straightforward win, except your boss negotiated the original contract for the packing material, and the veep who wants to subsume your entire department for not cutting enough costs sees the change as a threat to his plans, and our competitors are strategically buying up the new packing material that is needed for the new protocol… and so on and so forth. It was exhausting.”

“What were you shipping?” I wanted to know.

But she shrugged. “I’m not even sure. Probably kitchen gadgets that nobody actually needed.”

I chuckled at that. “You sound like my girlfriend the hobby chef. She swore she could make anything with a bowl, a fork, and a knife. You cook?”

“No, but I really liked watching cooking shows while eating take-out.” The woman rooted elbow-deep in greenery to pull out a particularly pernicious weed. “Never had time to cook, anyway. Or much of anyone to cook for.”

“No special someone?”

She twisted her lips into a sad smile. “Never for long. Didn’t have time for them, either.” She fell silent again, but this time I knew to wait. “Tried fixing that after Janice died. Her wife was just devastated at the funeral, and as much as I felt for her, I was jealous of my sister. If I up and died, there wouldn’t be anybody half as emotional at my funeral.”

I noted the phrase “her wife” without comment.  “So you went hunting for romance?” I asked with a conspiratorial smile.

She responded with a sour smirk. “A concerted campaign of online dating, and a less-than-successful attempt to cut back my overtime hours.”

“How’d that work out?”

“I did not meet my soulmate in the first six months. Or the first year. Or the first two.” She rolled her shoulders against the fatigue of gardening, and then turned it into a shrug. “Met some nice guys, and a lot of less than nice guys. There was a certain… distasteful desperation to the whole affair. Although I’m told that putting my real age on my profile was an egregious error.”

I made a face. “If they balked at your age, you didn’t want them, anyway. Besides, what are you, mid-thirties?”

She nodded. “I was advised that anything over thirty-three is akin to a death knell.”

We worked on for a short while. When nothing more seemed to be coming, I asked, “May I ask what made your mother’s new husband objectionable?”

Maggie tipped her head back and forth. “He’s like all the worst of Mom’s habits bundled together. Dad balanced her out. Harold is a workaholic high-stakes hard-sell political operative, and he drags Mom along into his no-holds-barred 24/7 dealmaking. Not to mention, he’s dragged Mom hard to the right. She was always conservative, just now… hideously more so.”

“Hm,” I murmured. “So your sister and her wife…?”

“He did not approve, and so neither did Mom,” she grimaced. “Which she decided to share with my sister two years after they got married.”

“Well that sounds terrible,” I agreed. “Where did you fall on the issue?”

Maggie shrugged. “Janice came out to me when I was twelve. At the time, she was my hero who could do no wrong, so. Being bi was normal for me from a young age. And Dad was all for whatever made her happy. Mom held her tongue, or didn’t actually have a problem with it, until Harold.”

“Would you describe yourself as liberal in other ways?” I asked, then chuckled at the very question. “If such a thing mattered any more.”

She scoffed. “I worked in business. You’re required to be fiscally conservative in that world. Your bonuses rely on it. So it always depended on who was asking. I liked to think of myself as a moderate, but I suspect I was fooling myself. If you could print up my lifetime voting record, I suspect I’d be disappointed.”

“And given your hard sell to me last week,” I said, “I’m guessing you didn’t volunteer for a lot of campaigns or anything.”

“Who ever had the time?” she said with a shake of her head. “Or the inclination, to be honest. Politics was what Mom did.”

I bobbed my head. “And church?”

“Yeah, that’s her thing, too,” Maggie groused. “When I was young, we went to whichever church gave Mom the best connections. Now she and Harold… well, they had a church of choice, but it’s probably a looted wreck by now. Ugly fucking building.”

“Let’s hope all the looting and arson is restricted to the ugly buildings,” I agreed with a pale smile. “We can go reclaim cities full of greenspace and fabulous architecture.”

“If we ever get out of the refuge,” the woman sighed, and then speared me with a sharp look. “So do we know each other yet?”

I tried for a modest smile. “I’d like to think I know you a little better. You want to do me?”

She gave me an odd look. “In a minute. First you tell me what you know about me now. As if you were going to recruit me. Or not-recruit me.”

It took me a moment to compose a response, and she chuckled. “That bad?”

“With the understanding that this is a bit of a tutorial,” I began, “I’ll be frank. You’re educated, intelligent, and self-aware enough to doubt the many things you’ve been taught as true. You doubt yourself, too, which is good right up until it becomes a hindrance. But I doubt you let that happen often, given your years in business. I’m sure your mother’s example serves you well there, as well.” I put on a look of mock apology. “You’re more like your mom than you like to admit.”

Maggie raised one eyebrow, and then tipped her head to the side. “Yeah, probably true.”

“More than anything, though,” I said a little hesitantly, “you’ve got a long history of feeling like you’ve got the short end of the stick. Despite living a life of considerable privilege, you feel cheated. And that’s something that I’d need to be careful around. Easy to tap into that energy, but once unleashed, it can be hard to throttle it down into responsible action.”

Maggie crossed her arms. “You still think I’m dangerous.”

“I think you, like anybody else, have the capacity to do great good and great harm,” I moderated, “and your sense of personal injustice may trigger you into dangerous action.”

“So I’m not safe enough–demure enough–to organize with you?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I assured her with a smile. “I just won’t involve you when that sense of umbrage might turn ugly.” Before she could take any more offense, I urged her, “Now do me.”

She took me through it all: childhood home, university dreams, hasty wedding, childbirth and domestic turmoil, the divorce, finding my way again, and ending up trapped inside a fortified corporate retreat in the mountains. We finished one long row of soya and worked halfway up the next before her questions petered out.

“And now,” I asked when we were done, “do you know me better?”

Maggie nodded slowly. “You know, I think so. You are… careful, observant, precise. Loyal to a fault, though I suspect that’s been successfully beaten out of you by now. Principled… and very methodical about bringing your principles to bear.”

I smirked. “Now now. I was frank with you. Don’t pull punches.”

She frowned at me thoughtfully. “You’re slow to act. A perfectionist. You’ll let a problem burn down the world while you figure the most elegant way to deal with it.”

“And does that mean that you can’t work with me?” I asked without any trace of humor.

One of her eyebrows peaked. “Not at all. I just won’t involve you when that perfectionism of yours means you can’t do the ugly, necessary work.”

I nodded with satisfaction. “Then we understand each other.”

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