Authors: Jill Williamson
“It’s just a sleeper, shell,” the enforcer said to Omar. “She’ll be fine.”
Two other enforcers dragged Jemma away from Omar and sat her against the wall by the door. Omar felt somewhat relieved that she’d live but still didn’t know what to do.
Kruse, who Omar remembered was the task director general’s assistant, glided to Omar’s side. He was thin, bald, had a pinkish hue to his skin, and he smelled like flowers. The man held a flat piece of glass in his black-gloved hands and tapped his finger against words that were displayed on the surface. “What took you so long?”
Blood tingled inside Omar’s head, making him dizzy. He hoped no one had heard —
“What!” The word came out like a scream torn from Mother’s throat. “Omar? You knew about this?”
Omar swallowed and lowered his voice. “Mother, it’s okay. I had to go and —”
“What’s that femme’s name?” Kruse asked.
Femme? Oh, right—their term for girl. “Jemma,” Omar said, staring at the strange tattoo on the side of Kruse’s head. It looked like a black arm that reached out of his collar, ran up the side of his neck, and splayed its hand over the side of the man’s shiny scalp.
Omar focused on Kruse’s face, on the white number five on his cheek. “Um … J-e-m-m-a.”
,” Jemma said, her voice slurred. “Don’t help them.”
Kruse tapped the glass and spoke softly. “Jemma. Done.”
Omar could feel the women staring at him.
“See anyone missing?” Kruse asked. “General Otley wants to get as many of you outsiders as he can. We’ve already loaded the males and given you the referrals. And we’ve credited you for each femme here. You’re rich, shell. Anyone else we need to get?”
“Just my brother, Levi. But I have a feeling he’ll come on his own.” Omar glanced at Jemma.
“That’s right,” Jemma whispered, her eyes glistening. “Levi
come, Omar. And you’ll forever regret this betrayal.”
“It’s not like that,” Omar said. “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. We were supposed to be able to choose … to get a chance for a better life.” He looked to Kruse. “Why did you kill people?”
is an excellent question, shellie,” Kruse said. “And I can promise you there will be an inquiry.”
An inquiry. His father was
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“What’s he saying, Jemma?” Mother yelled from across the room. “Omar?”
Kruse removed a gold paper envelope from his front pocket. “Take this to the Registration Department to get your task station and post. They’ll also assign your home.” He pointed to a short, muscled enforcer with longish, frizzy brown hair and a tiny mustache. “You can ride back with Skottie. See you around, shellie.” Kruse exited the meeting hall.
“No!” Mother yelled. “Omar, don’t listen to them!”
The enforcers got the women and girls to their feet and led them out the door in a line. One picked up Shay and tossed her over his shoulder like she was a ragdoll. Another carried Jemma with about as much care.
When Mother neared the door, she tried to approach Omar, but an
enforcer held her back. “Omar, why?” she asked. “You plan to work for them? And
Tears pooled in the corners of Omar’s eyes. He sniffed in a short breath and stepped back. “You’ll like it there, Mother. You’ll see. It’s
inside the Safe Lands.”
“What about the thin plague?” Mother asked, her voice laced with tears. “The slavery Papa Eli told us about?”
“Papa Eli was wrong about the Safe Lands,” Omar said. “Things are different there now. Better than here. No drafty cabins.”
Naomi, who was in line in front of Mother, yelled, “Maybe if you built one, you’d appreciate them more, you lazy slug!”
Omar flinched and focused on Naomi. Like her husband, Jordan, she’d always had a way with quick insults. “They have better electricity in the Safe Lands. Better health care for you and your baby. TVs in every home. Indoor showers with hot water. Air conditioning. And they have so many more people our age. Once you see it, you’ll see I did this to make everything better for our people. Once all this is sorted out, it’s going to be mad good.”
Naomi slipped past an enforcer and trotted up to Omar, her pregnant belly no hindrance to her speed. She cuffed her bound hands against his ear. Omar put his hands over his head and ducked out of reach, but Naomi managed to knock off his hat and grab hold of his hair. Two enforcers dragged her back to the line. “Our fathers are dead, Omar!” Naomi screamed. “You think that’s good?”
Omar looked away as an enforcer led Naomi and his mother out the door. He picked up his hat, and his gaze landed on Jemma as she was carried past. His chin quivered. “Don’t look at me like that.” He put his hat back on. “Levi will come—we both know he will. Once he sees how g-good …”
The enforcer shifted Jemma in his arms, and her head lolled to face Omar. “You’re wrong. You won’t get away with this.” As the enforcer took her outside, she yelled, “Levi will save us!”
Omar stood by the wall across from the door until all the women had been taken outside.
Skottie approached. His frizzy brown hair looked like a helmet, but unlike the other enforcers, this guy didn’t have one. He did have a white number seven on his cheek. Omar realized he’d never asked about the numbers during his visit. All Safe Landers seemed to have them on their faces and right hands, and they must mean something.
“Some crazy flames, huh?” Skottie said. “I mean, we were told these people
to relocate, but then they showed up with guns and everything went crazy.”
“Why’d you shoot them?” Omar practically yelled.
“Walls!” Skottie lifted his hands. “Not me, shell. I just drive the truck. But between you and me, Otley thinks he runs the Safe Lands. He got hit, you know, by some ancient. Maybe that will humble him a bit. We can hope.” He walked toward the door. “Let’s get out of here. It’s dead hot, and my truck has air.”
Omar followed Skottie to the third truck in the line. He tried to see his father’s body once more, but the stage blocked it from view. Swallowing a lump, he turned to open the door to the truck but found no door handle. Before he could decide what to do, the metal grid that covered the door slid up onto the roof.
Inside the cab, Skottie sat on the driver’s side, his door grid already sliding down. “Sorry, shell. I forgot you don’t have your SimTag yet. Jump in.”
Omar climbed up into the cab. Skottie tapped his right fist on the dashboard, and Omar’s door closed.
The dashboard was black with a grid of square indentations, some vent slots, and the imprint of a steering wheel. The push of a button started the vehicle, the other button made the steering wheel rise from the dash. Electric green gauge lights lit up in a line across the top of the windshield:
, Gas, Time.
“Dashboard-air-eight,” Skottie said, and cool air shot out from the vents. “Let me know if that gets too cold.”
Omar turned to look out the grid. It was clear glass, though—tinted—but there was no sign of the metal crosshatch. “I thought the doors were metal.”
“Yeah, that’s one-way ballistic SimGlass. Only looks like metal from the outside.”
The truck ahead of Skottie’s started to move, and Skottie steered after it. Omar watched out his window, craning to get one last glimpse of Father’s body.
He straightened, facing the back of the truck before them, wishing he could see through the grid on the back to know who was inside. Naomi had said her father was dead. How many others had died? He hoped Mason was okay. His brother wouldn’t have fired a gun. But he could have gotten hit trying to help someone.
Please let Mason be alive.
evi steered his ATV and cart up the mountain. The image of Jemma with her arms around Omar’s waist kept a scowl on his face, despite his attempts to focus on the coming trade. Omar had been right to arrange this meeting, though. The people of Glenrock were dangerously low on ammunition and gunpowder. If anyone should attack the village … Well, Levi didn’t want to think about such a scenario.
Instead, he imagined how pleased his dad would be when he returned with enough ammunition to last the winter. Such a prize might soften the man enough to allow Levi to travel to Denver City alone next time. The delight on Jemma’s face when Levi had given her the pearls filled his thoughts. He liked giving her things, seeing her eyes light up, being the cause of her beautiful smile. And there were thousands more treasures for her in Denver City.
Enough to last a lifetime.
When Levi reached the trading cabin, Beshup hadn’t arrived yet. So Levi checked over his ATV, organized his trader cart, and visited the outhouse behind the cabin. When he returned to the yard, he was disappointed not to see Beshup waiting or even approaching. His
impatience increased his agitation. The abandoned cabin stood closer to Jack’s Peak than to Glenrock. Where was the man?
Hurry up, Beshup. I’ve got stuff to do. I could be with Jemma right—
The sound of distant gunfire straightened Levi’s posture. Several single-shot rifles firing at once. Levi jogged down the driveway to an outcropping of rock that enabled him to see much of the valley.
Another few rounds of gunfire rang out from the northeast, far from where the walls of the Safe Lands split the countryside. His stomach tightened.
The gunfire was coming from home. Who or what were they shooting at?
He paced back to the cabin, then returned to the rocky ledge as more gunfire pattered in the valley below. He walked back and forth a few more times, squeezing his fists and frowning.
Where was Beshup?
As Levi reached the rocky viewpoint for the fourth time, he picked up his two-way radio to call the perch in Glenrock. “Jackrabbit to Rich Man, come in.”
He waited … listened to the static … and hammered a fist against the side of his rig. He called again, then called his dad’s two-way radio, his uncle’s, Harvey’s. No answer.
Maybe Beshup would answer. “Jackrabbit to Thunder Cry. Come in, Thunder Cry. Over.”
Only a moment passed before the two-way radio clicked. “Ten four, Jackrabbit. This is Thunder Cry. How are you this fine afternoon? Over?”
“Where you been, Thunder Cry? I’ve been waiting at the bird’s nest for a while now. Over.”
“Why you waiting?”
That was a strange question. “Omar said you have fire to trade.”
“Who told you that? We’ve barely got enough for ourselves.”
Levi gritted his teeth. “Omar said you called him.”
Static. “I haven’t talked to your brother in over a month.”
Levi closed his eyes.
What are you up to, Omar?
“You still there, Jackrabbit?”
“I’m hearing gunfire over in Glenrock,” Levi said. “Going to go take a look.”
“Let me know what you find.”
“Will do. Over and out.” Levi tossed his two-way radio into his cart and started the ATV. The mile-and-a-half trek down the mountain had never seemed so far. He wanted to take the shortcut past the Safe Lands, but he’d do his village no good if he were captured. Every minute was agony to him. The men couldn’t be target shooting. There wasn’t enough ammo for sport.
He steered onto the village road, and the fresh dual-axle tracks in the dirt made him push the ATV even faster. Levi veered onto the waterwheel trail so he could come around the back of the village.
He parked at the river. The only sound was the hydro-generator puttering away. He grabbed his rifle and ran up the hill through the forest, darting past trees and over moss and mushrooms, cutting across the trail’s switchbacks. As the hill carried him higher, his legs grew weak, forcing him to slow down.
Something lay across the path before him. A body. He sprinted toward it and knelt beside the form of a man. Elder Sam, Naomi’s father, dead, a pistol still clutched in his hand. His body was matted with grass and dirt and looked to have rolled down the incline. Levi’s mind screamed, knowing this was real, yet at the same time certain only nightmares contained such horror. His pulse thudded in his head like drums.
As if someone else were controlling him, his hands tugged the gun from Elder Sam’s hand and checked it for ammunition. Empty. He tucked it into the back of his pants anyway.
“I’ll come back for you, Elder Sam.” Levi crept further up the hill. As he neared the village square, he found three more bodies, fallen in the woods: Elder Mark, Elder Devin, and Elder Michael. All had been shot. All were out of ammo. At least it appeared they had died fighting.
Levi also found Grazer, Mason’s dog, lifeless near a tree. The mutt had been incredibly friendly—why would someone have shot him?
He left the dog and took off through the forest toward his house. Levi’s family home stood on the far side of the square. He went in through the back door and made his way to the front of the house, checked all the bedrooms. No one home.
He ran out the front door and scanned the area. A body lay on the ground halfway between him and the sick house.
Levi sprinted across the grass and fell to his knees beside his great-grandfather. Papa Eli, founder of Glenrock and the oldest living member of the Elias tribe, lay on his stomach in the grass. The back of his white T-shirt was coated in blood. Levi set down his rifle. “Papa Eli?” He tucked in the old man’s arm and rolled him over. The grass that had been underneath him was red and wet. So much blood. The bullet had passed through at an angle, leaving a hole in Papa Eli’s shoulder. Or maybe the bullet had entered from the front and passed out the back. Mother would know.
Levi wanted to find his mother, his father, his brothers. Help Papa Eli. Find out who’d done this and —
Papa Eli wheezed in a deep breath. His eyes flashed open, wide and bloodshot, then rolled around in their sockets before fixing on Levi. Recognition softened the look of pain on the old man’s face. His voice came out in a raspy whisper. “Didn’t get you?”
“No, sir.” Levi fought to keep his voice steady. “Who shot you?”