This chapter is focusing on introducing the characters and the setting, as well as setting up the first main problem: kidnapping children in order to better their lives. Not revealing more than that, because you kind of have to read it to understand.
At night, I liked to watch the sun set over the landfill. The rays would dance across pieces of iron and copper, and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Sunset was the only time I had to look for beautiful things. Beautiful things are hard to find when you don't go out of your way looking for them, and even harder to find when you aren't looking with the right eyes.
I felt a tiny hand grasp mine, and beside me, a tiny human looked up with tired eyes.
“Sissy, I'm ready for bed,” he said to me, rubbing his eyes the way little boys do when they are weary. I picked him up and walked back into our makeshift home, feeling his head pressing down into my shoulder.
“Okay, Nolan,” I said, “Let's get you inside. You know it's dangerous out here at night.” I shut the torn screen door behind me and carried him into the bedroom. It wasn't much, and it wasn't pretty. I wrapped him in an old, dusty blanket, and kissed him on the forehead. “Good night baby boy.”
“Good night, Sissy, I love you,” he said.
I walked into the living room, lit a damp cigarette, and booted up my laptop. I didn't really feel like working right now, but it had to get done, and procrastinating probably wouldn't change the situation. I heard the door in the kitchen close softly, and a boyish face appeared around the corner. Despite being almost 30, Torin still looked like a young teenager.
“Hey honey,” he said, “working with Saskia again?”
“Yeah, we are working on setting up power further out across the Bleak Coast, and we're mapping out the stations right now.”
“Alright, well let me know when you're done. Is Nolan in bed?”
“Yep. He just fell asleep. He came outside again to get me. We have to do something about that- he can't be going outside after the sun starts to set. It's too dangerous and he is too young.”
“No offense, Lux,” he said as I cringed at hearing him say my name, which meant he was about to say something inevitably offensive, “but you aren't going to be able to protect him. I know he's young, but there just isn't anywhere here where he can escape danger. Let him get used to it now. Protect him, be with him, but don't think you can keep him from seeing the danger that we live in. He already knows, and you can't change that.”
I sighed. I knew he was right. I knew that there was no way of protecting Nolan from the knowledge that we lived a dangerous life, there was no way of giving him the childhood he deserved. Pretending might make me feel better, but it didn't make it true. I knew when I left the Grand Union with Nolan that we would be in constant danger, and I knew that he would have to learn that at some point. We were lucky that even the police were too afraid to wander out toward the Bleak Lands, or I probably would have gotten arrested for kidnapping by now. He might have been my baby brother, but it's still a criminal offense to remove a child from the Grand Union without parental consent and signed documents. I couldn't leave him there though. I couldn't leave him with a society of people who wouldn't think for themselves by choice.
Just as I got settled back into working, I heard the door again, this time closing loudly. “Hey, man,” I heard Torin's voice echo from the kitchen.
“Hey Torin. I came over to work with Lux on a project. Saskia's coming over in a little bit too. She didn't tell me what the new project was though.” He walked into the living room, “Hey, Lux, do you know what the new project Saskia wants to work on is?”
I raised my eyes from the computer screen, “Not really, Tek, she only told me it had something to do with getting some new recruits from the Union. I assume she's planning on sending some more people in from Bleak Valley to take some kids, because trying to get any one over the age of thirteen has never worked out for us. We have to be more careful this time though, because last time we got chased out by Union police. If we're not careful, they're going to end up sending military in here.”
Tek rolled his eyes. “You know those idiots fear the Bleak Lands. They're not going to send the military over here. They don't care about the kids anyway. They just don't like us in the Union because they're afraid we'll do permanent damage. As long as we come back here, they don't really care about civilians losing their children.”
“That's all good and well, Tek, unfortunately, if we cause too much damage by taking too many kids, they're going to start realizing that we will eventually outnumber them. And it's not the government I'm really so worried about getting upset. I know they couldn't care less. But if the Marketing Gods get wind of us taking all of their customers, we may have another problem on our hands, and you know that's true,” I said.
“Yeah I get that,” he said, “but there is no way for us to procreate that fast, and those kids don't deserve to be raised to be lobotomized morons. I say we take as many as we can get away with, because the likelihood of them actually coming after us is slim. Remember, they still believe the Bleak Lands are too dangerous to even send militia into. I wouldn't be worried about them.”
Torin cleared his throat angrily, “Also, Tek, remember that we have to actually have the resources to take care of these kids. We can't just bring them over here and have them living like refugees. They need lives. That's why we only take so many at a time.”
Tek lowered his head in thought, and for a while we sat there drinking coffee in silence. It was too hot outside. The dampness was so heavy that everything felt sticky and smelled like rain. A few miles away, thunder rumbled in the hills. I looked out the open window. “Well, Saskia better hurry if she plans on getting here before the rain,” I said.
Just as the rain began to pour down over the hills, Saskia opened the door hurriedly and walked into our home, water dripping from her torn clothes. She seemed somewhat irritated that her clothes had gotten soaked, and grabbed the bandana off her head and rang it out into the sink. “Hey guys. I assume you already know that I am trying to put together another group to go and get some more kids from the Union?” asked Saskia.
“Yeah,” I said, “We pretty much got that. Do you know who you are sending?”
“Well, I want you to lead the group this time, because Tek and Torin have a hard time handling the kids- it makes them too emotional or something. I can't because I am heading the people building the new home for the kids, and I will be getting everything set up.”
“Alright, well who are you sending with me?” I asked
“I will probably send Ezra, Sloane, and Teagan with you. Also, we need the four of you to each take one of the children. We want you to take fourteen children, but only ten will fit into the home, so the each of you will be taking one too,” she said.
I nodded wondering how I was going to manage another child in my home. One thing was certain- I would take an infant. I didn't like the idea of raising a child who knew I had essentially kidnapped him, even if it was for a good cause. Torin was looking at me with fear in his eyes. I knew he wouldn't be happy about taking another child into our home either. Nolan had proven difficult for us, especially before he had gotten old enough to really talk to us well. Now that he was four, things had gotten a little easier, but having him with us still made things difficult, and I was often questioning my decision to bring him.
We spent the next morning attempting to prepare for our mission that night. Usually this involved weapons, backpacks, and lots of planning. We usually had maps that planned each of our routes, because going in as a group would likely get us noticed. We talked about what kinds of children we needed to get. That might sound insensitive, but when you consider that we had to raise these children and bond with them, there were actually many issues to address. Sometimes, especially when we had gotten an email from an older teenager trying to get out of the Union, we would end up leading out a group of teenagers, which was much easier. However, this time we were going to get young children. We couldn't take children who were old enough to really remember what happened, because that could cause all sorts of problems. Generally, we would take children three years old and younger, unless they were with another adult or teenager that was already coming.
We agreed that this time, we would only be taking very young children, mostly infants, because we were aiming for a young population. There were many problems that arose from this. We had to bring formula in case we got stuck in the wilderness overnight. We had to bring lots of clothes and rags to tie the children to us so that we could ride through the underbrush and still be able to use both of our hands for balance or protection. It was not a smart idea to go trekking through the wilderness with an infant in our arms.
By early afternoon, we were mounting horses in order to be there by nightfall. My stomach felt sick with nerves- I hated doing these missions. I felt bad for the people that we took children from, and I felt bad for the children that we took. But I knew that we had to. I wasn't going to be the one to sit around and question the philosophy of whether or not the end justifies the means. I didn't much care. Our society had to survive, and we had to try to save as many people as we could from the lobotomized society that neighbored us. Most children were ignored by their parents, and often, families didn't see each other for months or even years on end. I doubted these parents would really miss their infants. We had often taken children without parents noticing for months. I only felt bad out of some moral compass I still had, even after years of seeing how very backward their society was.
I was glad that Teagan would be with us- mostly because that gave me another female to talk to, but also because I had developed a liking for Teagan in my time being here. She is the one who lead me out of the Union when I wanted out, and being quite a few years older than me, she was a kind of mother figure. Ezra and Sloane were both older men- around 35, who had often gone on these missions, so I felt comfortable taking them. I got to be the leader this time because I would be taking over Teagan's position when she gave birth in a few months.
As we rode through the day, I thought about Nolan and Torin sitting at home, getting food together for the night or whatever it was that they did while I was gone. I was rather fond of Torin, and new that had I not been so busy worrying about raising Nolan, I would have spent my time pursuing a relationship with him. I was glad he had been assigned as my room mate, though he never showed much interest toward me other than being friendly. Fortunately, unrequited love was the least of my worries.