The Aimak women were busy cooking, faces uncovered, when Macs came back in. Joni was standing guard among the women, not protected others from them, but them from the men who were still learning their place in the settlement. Macs had a grin on his face, the one that made Joni uneasy. The women furtively glanced up at him. He nodded to her and she nodded back, then he patted the dust off his uniform and one of the elderly women fussed over it, reprimanding him loudly in her language for getting the floor dirty. He smiled and cupped his hand to her chin then kissed her fully. She froze and Joni looked away. When he was finished he strode to the table in the middle of the room and the old woman cast her gaze down, silent about his muddy boots.
"Productive?" asked Joni nonchalantly.
"Mmmm," murmured Macs.
"Macs, we've got to talk," said Joni. She shifted the weight of the gun in her arm.
"Not now, friend," said Macs sighing. He bent down and began to unlace his boots.
"They don't know enough English--"
"I said not now." He didn't look up from his boots.
Joni rolled her eyes. The men outside cheered suddenly over some news on the radio.
"Must be more pullouts," said Joni. "I know everyone else says not but they're going to use drones to find us now."
"Shut up," said Macs.
"Someone's got to say it," said Joni.
Macs burst up and lunged towards Joni and his hands were an inch from her throat before he stopped short and his angry face became immediately calm. Too used to this pattern of outburst she didn't blink.
"Do you trust me?" he asked in a silky voice.
"I trust your vision," said Joni.
Macs slapped her across the face. Joni looked away briefly and calmed herself, then looked back at him as impassively as she could muster. The other women in the room went completely still.
"Do you trust me," he asked again in the same voice.
"You're asking the wrong question," said Joni.
A shadow crossed Macs' face then he relaxed again.
"You always thought you were clever," he said.
"No," said Joni, "but I'm trying to be practical. I supported you, immediately when you said you wanted to found the community based on love, pure love, fraternal love free of the constraints of religion and tradition. The things that you said, about the ethics of us being in this place and fighting that war, it just...it just struck me. My loyalty is to that idea, but if yours isn't, and maybe it never was, then I can't trust you. Do you understand that?"
Macs took in her words for a few moments, showing no emotion, then moved so that his nose touched hers and stared angrily at her. Joni felt her skin shiver but she didn't move back.
"Get out of my face Macs. I'm trying to help you. There are hundreds of lives at stake here, and the balance of their lives hangs on your actions along. I'm no longer convinced that you always know the right action."
He pressed the heel of his boot hard into the toes of hers, right where the reinforced toe ended and the weak leather upper started. Joni winced.
"You will do as you are told," he said.
The old woman stood up and spat on the floor, then let loose a stream of what Joni could only assume was Aimak invective. Macs pulled the gun from Joni and squeezed off a round, hitting the old woman in the face and striking her down dead. Joni pulled it back and punched him in the throat. The other women leapt up screaming and ran for the door. Joni kneed him in the groin and punched him again in the face. She was acting automatically--her soldier training kicking in. He was on the floor and she rammed the butt of the gun repeatedly down in the side of his face until he went still.
Joni stood up panting. She looked around the room; she was alone except for the body of the dead woman. The door was wide open, letting the winter air suck all the cooking heat from the room. The men were outside staring in at her, Aimak and escaped soldiers alike, with their guns pointed at her.
She put the gun down on the table and put her hands up and walked to the doorway.
"He was insane," she said. They stared back at her in silence. The wind whistled through the branches of the bare tree in front of the house. "The troops will be out of here in a few weeks. That means if the enemy forces don't find us first, they'll just bomb us. We're too expensive to look for and take in. You have to see that." She looked across the multitude of faces. She was deeply afraid but forced herself to quell its expression. "You love him, I know that--"
"Who will lead us?" asked a soldier with long hair named Harrison. He was one of the first to join Macs' conspiracy. "He gave us everything--"
"I will," said Joni. "I can't give you the things that he did, you'll have to do some of that for yourselves, but I can lead you. Macs should us all the way in the beginning and all we have to do is follow it. His vision...became shrouded. There was a darkness in him, negative thoughts..." Joni began to sputter. She took in a deep breath. "We must take the goodness that he began and protect it. And so, we need to change our tactics so that we can convert the enemies that come to us, rather than fight them, because we don't have the resources to fight two sets of enemies.
"We love you," said Harrison. He stepped forward. "You are our sister after all. And it would take a blind man not to see that Macs was blighted by darkness. I will let you lead me."
The wind lulled for a moment and Joni felt intense relief. Harrison walked up through the others and stood in front of her. He kissed her on the mouth, the ritual that was reserved only for Macs. He stood back and saluted her. She nodded back.
One of the Aimak women came up to her, the daughter of the woman Macs had killed, and she kissed Joni. The other Aimak women followed in turn, then each of the men. Joni felt like melting into the ground after it was over. She wondered if she shouldn't have just run back to the base months ago when she first had her doubts. She looked back at the two bodies and sighed.
They burned Macs and the elderly woman together and pushed the remains into a ditch. They were not spoken of again.