Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Editing to come

For anyone who is reading this over the next week or so I just wanted to apologize for the cruddy editing job I did.  I normally miss things during the editing process, no joke, but I don't think I've ever put up anything with this many errors in it.  Frankly it is embarrassing.

Give me a week or so and I'll find most of them and rub them out.  LOL.

I also know this story is a little different from what I normally write ... shorter, darker during most of it.  Have no idea where Georgie came from, she was just sort of there in my consciousness one day.  Roland was the original protagonist and Johnson was just a minor character, meant to be a foil for the two of them.  You can see how it ultimately worked out however.  (grin)  I guess you just never know.

Most of all I hope it makes people think.  There are things mentioned in this story that are becoming commonplace in our world.  As Georgie would say, there are consequences for that.  This story is just one vision of how those consequences could ultimately play out.

Chapter 25 - Epilogue

We buried the Janitor today. He was one of us so we made room in what everyone still calls the Children's Field even though none of us are children anymore. Mr. Janitor hadn't held that job for nearly a decade. Oh he still went through the motions and no one would have ever denied him a place but mostly he was just as happy to let younger people do the work while he helped. At his burying everyone told some nice thing they remembered about the old, old man and how he'd been important to us as being one of us. There were some tears but not many, it was the Janitors time and he was ready and he hadn't been forced into it by a Euthanist after society had deemed him no longer useful.

We've had to bury a few of us through the years, but only a very few. We've been lucky in that. Victor and Soldier Tracey were the last of us for a long time. Then we lost three of us in quick succession, one to an accident and two to issues related to what was once called their defect. A couple of years after that we lost one of us after her implant ran out and she became pregnant and then miscarried in the fifth month. Her body decided she simply wasn't physically equipped to carry a child to term. We never did find out who the father was but it had to be someone in town because most of those that remain living full time here at the Pickering Children's Home are either sterile or unable to make babies for some other reason, including personal choice.

Pickering was a haven for all during and immediately after the years of the X13 pandemic. The pandemic wasn't as deadly as people had predicted it would be but it was certainly bad enough. Everyone now living in the world carries the X13 antibodies and the virus itself has mutated into a normally very mild illness. There is always the worry that it could mutate back into something with a high mortality but that is a worry for future generations, we've done all we could for this one.

It is a very different world now than it used to be. The Euthanist movement, though it is still around, is frowned upon by most people. No one is arrested if that is the ending they want but it isn't encouraged either. And if a Euthanist is found to have been sloppy or cruel they are arrested and put on work details cleaning up the remains of die-off locations, contaminated places, and mass burial sites. You'd think that after a decade all of those places would have been found and cleaned up but so many of the urban centers are just now becoming safely accessible.

I've seen those places with my own eyes. It is where we find most of the feral children and people with issues. We used to bring them all back to Pickering to care for but eventually it became too much and those of us who have become the caretakers here had to decide. So the adults now go to a safe haven of their own. Most find rehabilitation in some for and move on with a generally good quality of life. Some do not and find homes in the places that have been set up to offer care and charity dependent upon their need. Pickering is a place for children. People apply by the thousands to adopt the children we take in. It doesn't matter if they have a defect or not, people just want a chance to love a child, care for them, contribute to the future.

The people who monitor such things say that we are finally stepping back from the brink though the birth rate is still very low. Alot of people who survived the X13 pandemic had been sterilized, as the laws of that earlier time required. Because while not every country had the Defective Laws, most all of them had One Child policies and mandatory sterilization. X13 had a roughly 50% fatality rate, then at least another 20% of the remaining population died as a result of infrastructure failure and the chaos as people fought over resources. And for whatever reason the remaining population had a significantly higher rate of infertility than had come before. So these days children matter, they matter alot. Because they are our future here on this earth.

**********

The sign on the door at the end of the hallway read Director but this was not a hallway or door anyone feared. In fact the room was rarely used and vacant more often than it had an occupant because this director preferred being out amongst the residents of Pickering, interacting with them, showing them that life was worth living, living that worthwhile life with them.

When problems did arise, and it was only natural that they would, she knew she had plenty of people she could count on for help. Especially one particular someone. He still would get itchy feet and have to take off to see the world but that is the way he had always been. But lately he'd been home more often than not.

That first foray to the railway hub had only been the first of many. In the beginning the trips were primarily for supplies and equipment to secure Pickering and its residents. Then when the resources just lying around had become scarce the trips were more for intel and then for finding people to trade with for things that couldn't be made at Pickering. Slowly at first, during these early trips and after the danger of X13 had passed, they began to bring back people no longer able to care for themselves. Mostly it was children they found abandoned or alone in the rubble of the aftermath. Occasionally they would bring back adults. Eventually the trips were as much about rescue as rebuilding. And further after that rescue became the sole reason for the trips.

During the growing years, as Pickering finally came to be the safe haven for those that are different as its original architects had envisioned, the children grew up, some few leaving but most remaining. The soldiers all remained as well though they'd all to a man gone back out into the world on many occasions on rescue missions and to protect their charges when need be. The military they'd belonged to survived as well and honored their service with a special commendation and a new branch of service. They were called something else by the paper pushers in the government where it seemed people still needed a number to be recognized but to everyone else they were known as The Children's Soldiers. Every child in the world knew that if they see that patch on a soldier's uniform that they can, without question, go to them and trust that they will be taken to the nearest safe haven.

Johnson was no longer an LT but quickly rose to Colonel by field promotions until a sniper had ripped open his chest taking the rest of the lung that had already been damaged in battle. He'd quietly retired from active duty but continued to serve in an advisory position helping to set policy and settle arguments.

When he'd first returned to Pickering after the injury many of his old issues had returned but waking from every nightmare he found Georgie sitting there wiping his brow and singing softly until he calmed. It was during this time that they renewed the bond that they'd forged before the X13 pandemic had thrown the world into chaos. It was also when Johnson had come to see Georgie as not the child she had been but the women that's she'd always promised she could be. It still took time for them to make a public commitment and once they did there were many that wondered what had taken them so long.

The one dim point in their lives had been that they were unable to conceive. It wasn't for lack of trying Georgie was heard to mutter when people kept wondering when it was going to happen. Eventually they both simply accepted it as the way things were and moved on, enjoying other people's children and the many children that came and left through Pickering's doors. Though they were both still in what was classified as their fertile years it had been a while since they'd even concerned themselves with that one thing.

"Hi."

"Hi yourself. Finally get everyone settled?"

"Hmmm. Whose idea was it for Nela and Roland to leave Roly and Juanita with us again?"

"Uh ..."

"Next time you can be the one to pull that blasted little monkey down from the ceiling. How they can possibly keep up with that boy is beyond me, what with them constantly having their noses in books and teaching classes. Juanita now, she's a little Sweetheart. I mean it ... next time ..."

"Deal."

"Wait a minute. That ... was too easy."

"Uh ..."

"Ok Mrs. Director, just what are you trying to pull?"

"Nuthin'."

"Yeah right."

The discussion dissolved into quiet laughter and other pleasant things. Until Georgie told him she'd been to the doctor that morning and had a secret ... this time a good one, one she couldn't wait to tell the world.

Chapter 24

I've quarantined Isolation. It is the only thing I could think to do. Those that weren't sick screamed and cried and demanded to be let out but I couldn't do it. There are rules. Those that were staff before they become the Director's people were shocked. But rules are rules. If you go into Isolation you have to take care of yourself the best you can. When they yelled at me that I was giving them a death sentence I told them I was not, that I was giving them the same chance they'd given us over the years. Even better I explained that we'd heard on the radio that even if you didn't have a full clade vaccine not everyone who got X13 was dying. Yes, a lot of them were but not everyone. The more clades of X13 that you had antibodies for the better chance of survival you had.

Maybe I should let them out but the risk is too high that they'll attack us even if some of them are sick. They've already proven themselves to be violent too many times. I was surprised so many of them were worried and told them so. I would have thought the Director would have given the vaccine to those in his group. I should have kept my mouth shut. I woke up this morning to find that they'd killed him during the night and in a not very nice way. Mr. Waverly said that it was inevitable because he was such a blankety blank. I have to write blankety blank because right before Mr. Waverly said it Peterson put his hands over my eyes and starting going la-la-la really loud. When he stopped Mr. Waverly and Ms. Carol laughed. It is not funny. Mr. Waverly said not to worry about it though because Peterson was right and that Johnson wouldn't want me to know that word anyway. I told them to stop doing things for my own good because I wasn't a baby.

Ms. Carol said, "Pot meet kettle." After she'd explained what she meant - because it sounded really stupid - I had to give them their point but I still don't like it.

The other reason I'm not going to let them out of quarantine because not all of us are here. Johnson did what he said he was going to do and he, a couple of soldiers, and a couple of the Staff have gone to the railway station to Check Things Out. I wish he would have taken more soldiers and no Staff. The two men he took are the biggest complainers during the meetings. It has gotten to where nothing suits them. I don't like it.

**********

Nela told Georgie, "You need to let Johnson be the LT. He knows his job."

"I know he knows his job. I just wish he would have taken two more soldiers and not the two crybabies."

Nela smiled and then said, "Georgie, sit down and let me explain it." After they sat down, Nela relieved to take some of the weight off of the prosthetic the Janitor had fashioned for her that looked surprisingly lifelike, she looked at Georgie and shook her head. "Roland says you understand people but, sometimes ..."

"Is this about me, those men, or Johnson."

"Huh?"

"If it is about me, I know. I don't always talk like I'm very grown up even though I know I'm not a kid inside anymore. I can't just change the way I am overnight though because it will confuse the rest of us ... and I don't want the attention if could bring."

"Er ..."

"If it is about those men, I know they are thinking about trying to take over and be the bosses of Pickering like they were almost before. Their biggest complaint about the new Director was that he replaced them with his own people. I don't know what Johnson plans for them but I don't want him or the other soldiers to get hurt in the process and I don't like them exposing themselves to something we don't understand yet."

"Uh ..."

"And if it is about Johnson. I get it. He doesn't like that ... doesn't like that when he thinks about sex sometimes it might be with me because he thinks of me as a little kid which really, really creeps him out. Only it isn't really about actual sex with me, it's about him worrying that at some point he might look at me like that which creeps him out even more. Because he's just as worried about there not being enough adult women as the rest of the adult me are worried about."

"Oh Chica, you ... you ..."

"Yeah. I know. So which is it?"

Nela laughed for a really long time before answering, "I think you've covered most of it. Look ... don't get upset with the LT."

"Why would I be upset with him? About the almost but not quite sex that only might be in the future or about how he nearly swallows his face if anyone even says the word sex?"

"OK, instead of me guessing how about you tell me how you feel."

"You and Roland don't talk about me do you?"

"Not like that. Roland is almost as bad as the LT where you are concerned."

"Roland doesn't want ..."

"No. He sees you as a little sister."

Georgie snorted. "News flash. I'm older than he is by almost five months. I'm older than almost all of us that are left."

"You are freaking kidding me!"

"Uh uh. I was one of the first born in quarantine."

"Wow. I never would have guessed. You're smaller than most of them and you ... um ... look younger."

"I didn't know either until Nurse Cassie told me. It's no big deal, birthdays never meant much to us. Not even Nurse Cassie celebrated them. I asked her one time and she said it was because it focused too much on time passing and she didn't want to upset any of us. I think it was more about her seeing time pass. Nurse Cassie wasn't always the easiest person to understand."

Nela just shook her head. "So ... you're ..."

"Almost seventeen and a half if you want to measure it in years. My brain feels a lot older though."

Nela just blinked. "Okay then. Uh ... do you think of Roland as ... er ..."

"You mean am I jealous or want his attention like you have it? No. Roland has always just been Roland to me and me to him. There was never time for it to be anything else and even had there been we always knew what was important."

Nela looked relieved and Georgie tried not to smile about that. Then Nela asked, "So, do you want the LT to ..."

"No. I don't think either one of us is ready for that particular responsibility. Our jobs are too important and we both have our own issues still to deal with. Maybe someone else can help him with his human condition and ..."

"His what?!" Nela laughed.

"It's what Waverly and I wound up calling it when we were discussing the problem that there are a lot more adult males than adult females in our group."

"Madre de Dios, you've had this figured out all along haven't you?"

"Understood the problems we are facing? Yes. Have figured out how to deal with the problems we're facing so no one gets hurt? No." Georgie scratched the stubble on her head only to realize it was no longer stubble but thick, springy curls that she hoped went away as her hair got longer because it made her look like that silly dog in the show Caro used to like that was called a poodle. "Some of it can probably be dealt with by hard work and long hours. That's the consequences Nurse Cassie used to deal out when someone started to go To Far. But these men are adults, I'm not sure how long that is going to work. And I'm not sure the adult women are really all that interested in some of the men that will make the most noise about there not being enough women. Like those two that Johnson took with him. None of the women really like them."

"You caught that part of it have you."

"Yes. What is Johnson going to do with them? We can't just send away people because they don't agree with the rules. And we can't just lock them in Isolation either. I don't want to go down that path. People shouldn't have to be scared into following the rules. Isolation is a good place to die but not a good place to learn to the reasons for following the rules."

"Hmmm. While I agree with what you say mostly, people are people and we'll always have to deal with those that aren't rule followers, even when those rules are for a good reason. As for the LT, I think what he plans on doing is trying to show them some reality. Those two talk like the trains are going to start running again before the supplies give out."

"Well, technically we don't have proof that they won't. We are hypothesizing based on the things we are hearing on the radio. It is bad out there."

"You're right and that is one of the other reasons the LT took them two in particular. By seeing it with their own eyes they can't say the messenger is lying. And if that doesn't work the LT may find a way to leave them someplace they can't make their way back from."

Georgie thought about it. "They aren't in the greatest shape. Waverly calls them Tri-V spuds."

"Yeah, they aren't exactly easy to motivate when they are on the duty roster, that's for sure." Nela stood back up gingerly. Sometimes getting back on the prosthetic was harder than getting off of it. "I gotta get back. But ... between you and me ... just cut the LT some slack. He's doing the best he can."

Georgie let her go without saying anything else. She still didn't understand why Nela thought she was blaming Johnson for anything. Maybe it was like those Tri-V movies where everyone always seemed to blame the men when there were problems. Didn't make sense to her in the movies and it didn't make sense in real life either. After all she was just as free as Johnson. Besides, at least she could say the word sex without looking like she'd eaten too many green apples.

Chapter 23

Peterson was able to rebuild the communication equipment and even make it better. Ms. Carol who was Ms. Neville's assistant has been helping him. She was the one that dealt with most of the techie stuff before. She isn't trained for it but said she had to learn on the job because the Director was so cheap. She's been really helpful because to save money she'd been illegally downloading files and vids and storing them to have something to play on the Tri-V when the Director didn't want the news to play in the common room.

Chaplin and Mr. McDowell - the older janitor - are working on storing the fuel and batteries. People were being wasteful of them. One of the old staff said in a meeting that I was starting to sound like the Director. I made me really sick to my stomach. That's when Mr. Waverly stood up and explained a few things. We'd already told everyone how much was in the inventory but he broke it down to how many meals that meant and how long it would last us and reminded everyone that there were no more trains coming. He then asked them where they thought the food and other supplies were going to come from after what we had ran out. Roland and I had already explained how much we had, we just hadn't expected to have to explain to adults what that meant. Apparently we do. That's just sad.

Johnson is very worried that we are going to lose our communication to the Outside if and when we run out of fuel and batteries. He's just as worried that the Outside is going to lose its ability to communicate. It hasn't gotten that bad yet but there aren't as many people broadcasting as there should be unless things are much worse than even we think they are. Because what news does come through is bad. X13 is like a fast moving fire, but worse. You no sooner think that one place has been completely burned over than new flames pick up where the old ones died. At this rate there is going to be nothing left to burn.

The news is also hopeful in other ways though. It lets us know that there are other people out there. It also lets us know that people are too busy trying to survive X13 to fight with each other so most of the wars that have run on for so many years aren't anymore. Roland said it was like that in ancient times too. People could be warring away but during planting and harvesting they used their swords as plows ... or something like that since he and Nela were talking too fast for me to want to listen ... and when a bad sickness came through they would stop and wait for it to burn itself out. Yes, Roland and Nela are back being friends but while they might think about sex they are too tired to have sex. Still, they share the same room and have gotten some silly teasing from the rest of us. It makes their eats get red but they also get a stupid smile on their face. But I've told them both if they get to where they don't want to have sex with each other that they better end it nicer this time or there would be consequences because I didn't want to have to look at them being sad and angry like they were before. They got very strange looks on their face when I told them that. Maybe I shouldn't have said it while we were in the cafeteria eating with everyone else. Or maybe they looked that way because Johnson got up and rushed out. There are some days I don't know who is going to act stranger.

Speaking of strange, Johnson worried me by organizing a scouting mission. I kept telling him that it was too soon but he said either my idea had worked or it didn't, that waiting a third week wouldn't change it. I had to agree with him even when I didn't want to. All of the documentation for the old ebola data in the books Nurse Cassie left us said that the treatment was either effective at this point or that it hadn't taken. X13 isn't ebola but the principles are the same. Besides we didn't have any prepared vaccine here at Pickering, the only thing we had left were blood transfusions. It was a lot to ask them to trust us but they did because they knew there was no real alternative. We got lucky in that there were sufficient blood type matches between us and our soldiers ... and between us and the Staff.

At first the Staff couldn't believe us when we said we would take care of them too. Roland took the brunt of them needing to be constantly reassured that they would get their turn. I - and Mr. Waverly - were too busy. Plus Mr. Waverly tended to get testy with people and ask them had they or had they not been living with us for our whole lives or were they just stupid on purpose and ignoring that Roland and I had taken care of them and their needs as often as they'd seen to the rest of the children's needs. I think Mr. Waverly is also testy because Ms. Trundle is trying to Get His Attention. I don't think Mr. Waverly minds Ms. Trundle doing that so much as he is tried of some of the other men starting to look around and wonder who is going to try and get their attention.

Mr. Waverly and Johnson have had some long talks and I think they are worried about that too. I gave up asking Johnson to talk about what was bothering him and went to Mr. Waverly. I don't always like the answers that Mr. Waverly gives my questions but at least I can trust that he believes what he is saying and isn't telling a story to make me feel better.

**********

"Mr. Waverly ..."

"You are persistent Georgina, I'll give you that."

"All I want to do is understand what you and Johnson are worried about and why."

Waverly sighed. "Johnson's going to scalp me but ... better for you to be aware so that you can assimilate the possibilities."

"Assimilate what?"

"That adult males outnumber the adult females around here three to one."

"And?"

"Georgina, do I need to explain the facts of life to you?" he asked kindly.

"If you mean sex then no. I figured that out when they fixed us."

"Hmmmm. I'm not really speaking of the physical act but ..."

"Oh. But ... but I don't think they're like the ... like the men who killed Caro."

Thinking his way through the mind field the subject could become Waverly said, "They aren't. But that doesn't mean that they don't see themselves as having needs. The human condition we all live in usually means that people naturally want to pair off. The human condition also means that most of us desire to have sex and eventually even procreate though our society's rules have made that problematic for the last couple of decades."

"You mean it is about sex but it's also about making babies and all the responsibility of that."

"Yes, but ... uh ... often the human condition makes thinking of the consequences of sex come second place to wanting to have sex. It is also more than just sex Georgina. Men and women aren't that different about wanting someone they can ... can love and trust and that will love and trust them in return. It makes life ... nice."

Georgie did some quick calculations in her head. "Three to one. Hmmmm. You and Johnson are worried that they grown men might start looking at the rest of us as ... uh ... objects of their affection."

Waverly spent nearly a full minute trying to cough up his spit that had gone down the wrong way. "My goodness Georgina."

"Well, that's what you are saying isn't it? You and Johnson don't think we are appropriate objects of affection."

"That's exactly what we are saying and the reason why we haven't discussed this with you before is because we didn't want to upset you as this has obviously done."

Georgie shook her head and surprised Waverly once again. "I'm not upset. I agree with you. I already had the sex talk with everyone when Roland and Nela started fooling around. I had to have it again when they got back together. I've also warned them that you don't play games with grown men because they are all strange and might not understand that games is all that it is. It isn't anything different than Nurse Cassie talked to us about before she got sick."

It took a moment for Waverly to find his voice. "Cassandra actually ... she ..."

"Nurse Cassie gave us some credit is what she did. She understood that even if other people didn't think of us as anything but Defectives that we were still going to experience the human condition. We just might take longer to get there. Some of us might one day be ready for sex and the other stuff that goes with it but for those of us that are left, that's still a ways off. Maybe someone needs to sit down and have a sex talk with the grown men and explain that to them."

Waverly swallowed and said, "As our friend Johnson is fond of saying ... holy hell."

Chapter 22

We buried the last of us today. It was inevitable. They were too far gone and even if they weren't, as some have said, "sucked dry by the vampires" they're medical needs were impossible to meet with the equipment that remained undamaged.

We all took turns caring for them, even if it was for just a minute. They needed to be remembered though some had left us so long ago that not all of us could remember them. Not even I and Roland remembered all of their surnames though we remembered most of their nicknames. Some of them looked a little like when we were little; their condition compromising their ability to grow like the rest of us had. We all tried to have a good attitude, like when were helping each other in the ward but it broke the hearts of some of us. When I saw it was too much I sent them all away, told them they'd done their share, that it was time that I took my share of it. It was a story to make them feel better. I didn't like telling a story but it was all some of us could handle. Even Roland who really wanted to help wound up to heart sore. I sent him away too. I'm the one that swore on the Bible, not him.

It hurts that they didn't know we were there with them. It hurts that we weren't there for them before. Too many things about our entire lives hurt. But Johnson and Roland both keep reminding me that there were good things too and that if we are careful there will be even better things in the future. Johnson told me to think of it like a circle closing so that a new one could open ... for all of us. The us that stays here and the us that goes on to God. And I have to believe that's where they are now. Johnson calls them the Innocents because he can't stand to call them anything else. That's what he usually calls all of us, except I don't feel Innocent anymore. I look at my hands and see blood.

We buried them in Potter's Field. Only Johnson won't let us call it that anymore. Our soldiers and the Staff made a new sign for the cemetery; it says Children's Field. He also refused to allow the Outsiders or the Director's people to be buried there. The Janitor showed him another place where other people had been buried a long time ago and Roland and Johnson worked it out so that we were buried in Children's Field and the others went to that other place after being cremated in a big pile behind the Administrative wing. The smell was terrible. Only Roland and I witnessed it, some of me wishes I hadn't. Roland said that cremation was best for those we didn't know well enough; we didn't know what they had in their bodies and didn't know most of their names. They were all raked up together with the other ashes of things used to burn them put into one grave that got a marker that had the date and "Battle For Pickering". Peterson, Ms. Carol, and Roland wrote up a more detailed report and put it with the other files in the big archive room but no one else has bothered to read it. We lived it.

The one thing that we all agreed on was that Tracey wasn't going to be put with the others in that far away grave. She got her own hole and her own marker and we put a wreath on hers the same way we did as each of us has been laid in Children's Field.

Why does life have to be the way it is? When we were prisoners the Outside seemed free. And now that we are free the Outside seems like the prison.

The last of us to die was Victor. Mr. Waverly said that it was likely because he'd stayed a real person for the longest of them all. Calling him a real person and the others not is wrong but, like the others, it is the only way I can think of it. To think of them being awake and aware while they were treated like cattle for so many years is more than I can bare. Mr. Waverly said to go ahead and think of them that way if I need to because they wouldn't mind. I think that is how Mr. Waverly has to think of them too. I know Johnson agrees with him; same for Roland. Maybe I am being contrary because I don't want to ... or maybe I'm afraid of finding out it doesn't hurt like it should. I don't know. I'm so confused.

Lobotomized. Of all the horrors of Lockdown that is something I never conceived of. Not the controversial surgical procedure of the early 20th century that Nurse Cassie's books describes that was designed to alleviate some mental illness. No, this was literally an ice pick like tool being driven behind the eye socket, scrambling the brain material sufficiently to create a mannequin like person that was so incapacitated that they made no trouble for their captors. I have dreams of the sheer terror they must have experienced seeing that instrument coming at them, the pain ... and then the nothingness of no identity or intellect. On top of that the nerves to their vocal cords were destroyed so that even their voice was stolen from them.

Mr. Waverly explained that the Director thought she was being humane - a treatment that ended a torturous existence for a Defective while retaining the benefit of leaving them useful to the rest of the human race. To her it was no different than someone that donated themselves for harvest. Those in lockdown received better and more frequent medical care than we on the Children's Ward ever had. No expense was spared to keep them well cared for and alive. What an oxymoron of an existence.

In fact, if I am to believe it and I somehow must because I cannot detect a lie by any of the Staff when they tell it, the Director - the woman that would always hold that title in our minds - cared more for those in Lockdown than she did any of the others in Pickering, including Staff ... and her own mother. She visited them. Tended to them herself. Spoke to them kindly. They fulfilled her ideal. They made no sound, no protest, simply fulfilled their role, their fate.

It was when the new Director arrived that it changed. It was her attachment to those in Lockdown that got our Director entombed with them. The Lockdown area became his experiment, and the stick he threatened everyone else with. It was there first that the blood drawing calendar was changed. In fact those in Lockdown were constantly being siphoned, their lives drained from them by a never ending series of drops. It was after two of us in Lockdown died that he turned to his livelier victims and it would have been the same result for us had they too soon played their hand and antagonized the Outsiders into attacking.

We found it was Mr. Russell that leaked the information to an associate on the outside. Both men are now dead so I'll leave the consequences in God's more than capable hands. I don't wish to think of it anymore right now as there are far too many other things that need my time.

**********

"Are you out here again?!"

Georgie turned to see Johnson stomping towards her.

"I'm not digging up bones. I just came this way after checking to see if the squirrels had found our boxes of nuts. We're going to need them for protein before the winter is over with."

Johnson stopped and nearly slid in the damp clay of the cemetery. "Oh. So ... er ... did they?"

"They found them. Tried to break in but haven't made it through the container yet. But I need the boys to come bring them in so we can add them to the storage."

"Saw you padlocked the food area."

Georgie nodded becoming irritated despite her fatigue. "I think people have just been going and getting stuff when they get hungry. They don't like that we're rationing things. They see all the food listed on the inventory at the group meetings and think we are stupid for saying we have to save what we can."

"Stop the group meetings. Teach 'em a lesson."

"Roland wants things to be a democracy."

"Roland is an idealist. And some of the Staff are having a hard time coming to terms with the intelligence you kids have."

"I know. They spent so many years trying not to see it that now that they can they think it's a mirage or illusion. The padlock was the mildest consequence that I could think of but it still made some angry. The rest of us understand. Most of you soldiers understand ... except Archer who I think has an eating disorder as I am catching him eating weird things like ..." Georgie shuddered. "Like rats."

Johnson grinned. "That's not weird. I've eaten rats myself when I did a tour in the Mekong Delta."

"Ugh. Rats are ... that's nasty. We are not going to eat rats. Period. Not if I have to go to the railway station and look for something else myself."

Johnson got a considering look on his face but Georgie stomped her foot. "No. It is too dangerous for any of us. People are sick out there."

"And ..."

"No. It has only been a week."

Johnson didn't argue but Georgie had a bad feeling. "Please Johnson. There is still too much to do here. We have to rebuild and make safety. The bad cold temperature will be here next month. Then the snow piles up so that not even the trains can get through."

"Forget the waterworks Kiddo, not gonna work. You've been turning them on and off way too easy lately to get people to do what you want them to do."

"Do not."

"Do too Brat, whether you know it or not. Do what you gotta to string the others along but don't even try it with me 'cause it won't work."

Georgie scrunched up her face and said, "I don't ... do I? I ... I ..."

Johnson shook his head on a grin and took the satchel of what turned out to be nuts from her hand and said, "Don't worry about it. Just don't do it to me. And hustle your bustle brat. Roland wants to call another one of them infernal meetings so everyone can let everyone else know what they're up to and find out stuff."

"Why don't you like the meetings? I thought you said communication is important."

"It is so don't go throwing my words back at me. But arguing and complaining is not communicating ... it's nothing but a bunch of noise."

"Why don't you tell everyone that. They'll listen to you better than they listen to us."

"Because I refuse to take on the mantel of that responsibility. I am a soldier, not a friggin' politician. Let Roland play king."

"He doesn't want to be king. He doesn't want anyone to be king. He wants us all to work together like we always have."

"The problem girlie is that the Staff are not you and as adults they've got certain ideas about how things should run and how much freedom they should have."

"We aren't taking freedom from them. They've got more of it now than they ever had. They can come and go as they please, dress how they wish, lots of stuff. All we ask is that they be free responsibly because everyone has to be free, not just some of them."

"So tell them that."

"Roland and I have tried. Mr. Waverly gets it. Ms. Carol gets it. The Janitor gets it. Some of the others do too. It's only a few that don't. They don't understand that you can be free and still have to pay consequences when your freedom messes with someone else's freedom."

Johnson laughed. "Oh Kid, you just described most of the problems of the world since time began. Sounds like what you need are some basic rules and when you present them you need to have concrete reasons for the rules. I notice that most of the children still operate by the rules they always have."

"Sure. It makes things easier. But most of those rules are simple. We take turns, help each other, don't borrow without asking, keep our room clean, take care of our clothes, and do our chores. It isn't hard, I don't know why the adults are making it so hard."

"Mostly 'cause they're still figuring out what freedom really means. You kids, for all that you spent a lifetime as prisoners, understand freedom and the responsibility that comes with it a great deal better and in simpler terms than most everyone else."

"Hopefully with time and understanding they'll learn."

"And if not, there's always them consequences you keep talking about."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chapter 21

If I catch her up wandering one more time I'll tie her to me with lengths of chain. I know why she's doing it, understand she almost can't help herself right now, but if she doesn't get some rest she is going to collapse. Roland has talked to her. Even tried sleeping in the same room to try and soothe her but he's as exhausted as she is. They've been through a lot, and then to put themselves through that too.

Can't believe they would risk it after all they've been through but to a one they all volunteered. I suppose in a way they've been doing it for so long that they didn't think it any big deal but to us, to us it was a huge deal. And to think that first Georgie and then Roland had been planning a way to do it long before the battle even took place. All because they consider us theirs, part of them. 


I wish the canisters and equipment hadn't been destroyed but the Director sabotaged them. Bastard. If he ain't assassinated by the end of the week by one of his own I'll eat my pillow.

Tired of going over it in my head. Don't have room for it really. Don't apparently have room for the old nightmares either. Head is stuffed too full of all the new worries to have time to replay the old ones.

Dammit, there she goes again. I'm going to tie her to me. I swear I am.


**********

"Move! Get out of my way! Georgie! Georgie?!"

Johnson rushed the door with gun drawn only he was unable to find an enemy to shoot. What he did find was Georgie sitting at a desk with old style paper files opened in front of her. Her hands were over her eyes and she was rocking and wailing.

"Kid. Kid, are you hurt? C'mon tell me something ... use words already ... Georgie ..."

Georgie uncovered her eyes, looked to the ceiling and screamed a battle cry only there was no battle. It was over. Done. Nothing she could do. Years too late for most of them.

"Dammit ..." Both Johnson and then Peterson tried to grab her but she fought them off and stumbled over to a row of medical cots in the darkened end of the room. That's when the men saw them.

"Dear God in Heaven," Peterson mumbled as he made the sign of the cross, looking like he himself was in danger of having a meltdown.

Waverly limped into the room sighing. "I'll take her."

"You touch her and I'll rip your face off. Who the hell are those ... those people?"

"Ol' Neville is the woman kneeling by that bed over there. The woman on the bed is the Director ... former director. It was an open secret on the Staff side that Neville was the Director's bio-mom. Neville wouldn't leave her side and they ... they executed them ... first the Director then Neville. 'Course the Director really didn't realize what was going on."

"What do you mean by that?"

"She'd already been made like the others, been lobotomized."

The word hung in the air and shocked everyone like a demon's curse at the Virgin Birth.

Johnson tried to speak but couldn't. He slowly made his way to Georgie's side where she was looking at the tags and charts hung on the end rails of each medical cot. The bodies in the beds were emaciated, barely more than skeletons with skin stretched over them.  Only a few showed any signs of life. Living cadavers so pale they nearly glowed.

"Georgie ... Kiddo ... come ... come away.  C'mon Kid ... let me ..."

"They're us. They're us." That's all she could bring herself to say as tears finally began to fall.

Johnson looked around helplessly but no one seemed to know what to do or say. Waverly carefully made his way over, but was very careful to head the soldier's threat to not to touch Georgie. "Johnson, she needs a blanket, coat, something. Check her skin. She's going to go into shock if we aren't careful."

"We?" Johnson growled.

"I know how it looks," the man said. "I'd think the same way. Just give those of us left a chance. We've been just as much prisoners of Pickering as the children have. We ... we survived the only way we knew how."

Hearing his words Georgie looked up and her eyes bore into his and said, "Say it again."

"Uh ..." then Waverly did all the while Georgie stared at him and through him.

The girl continued to look at him for a moment before allowing her expression to soften slightly. She looked at Johnson and said, "He's the same Mr. Waverly he's always been. He believes what he claims and ... and I'm going to need the help."

"For what?" Johnson asked.

"They're dying. They drained them to the point that their hearts are struggling to pump. And I don't understand everything that was done ... yet. With the Directors both dead and most of the Staff he's the only one left that I can ask and be sure to get honest answers from." Johnson started to say something snide but Georgie interrupted him saying, "I know, but I can read him best. And while I may not like his honest answers, I still need them. Especially now."

"I'm not sure what 'especially now' means but right now in the here and now you need to sit down. You're the color of the shower room tiles. Peterson, find a coat, sweater, blanket ... something. But I want it something clean. Make sure she uses it for herself and doesn't give it away. Then I want you to sit and guard her. No one goes near her. No one touches her. I don't want anyone even breathing in her direction. Any of the prisoners - and that includes former Staff - looks like they are going to make a move you put a bullet in their gut. Got it?"

Peterson snapped a salute and said, "Sure thing LT."

Georgie barely heard the men as they started what they called Clean Up. The Director's people were separated out from Pickering Staff and they were placed in two separate and secure holding cells ... formerly known as Isolation ... and before that the old drunk tank. The only difference was that Georgie demanded to be allowed to look over the Staff to make sure none of them would be turning into medical emergencies and to patch the wounds up that couldn't wait. The man that had been one of the Janitors at Pickering for as long as the children could remember and whose IQ was nearly as low as some of theirs waddled forward and said, "This is my home. Don't send me away. Don't make me leave."

She got him calmed and told him to sit down so that she could reach the cut he had on his head. "None of us are leaving right now. It's too dangerous out there. But if we do leave some day you can choose to stay here or come with us."

"You'd let me come with you some day?"

"Yes, you're one of us." The old man nodded and then went to stand beside Peterson who gave him the once over.

The old man said, "I went to war. Got my head blown off. They sewed it back on and I came to work here."

Johnson and some of the others glanced over and the man stood straight and tall for the first time in years and slowly brought his arthritic hand up in a salute. It tugged at the thing in Johnson that was also tugged on by the children. He looked at the old man and returned his salute, causing if possible the old man to stand even straighter.

Johnson turned away thinking this was the damnedest war he'd ever been in. Then wondered if the war was over or if these was merely the first of many battles to come.

Chapter 20

How do I sum up all of my fears of that place? I can't. The sum isn't calculable. The fear of it is over but the memories of the fear will last the rest of my lifetime. And those memories keep haunting me. It has been days now and they still haven't stopped visiting me in the middle of the night.

I get up. Walk around checking everyone and it is only then I can crawl back in bed and sleep. But I don't really rest. I can't. I feel like if I really stop, finally stop, to take everything in I'll fall apart. And I can't do that right now. Too many of us got hurt, too many of us need me. And if it isn't for physical ouches it is for mental ones, to calm their fears, to help combat their meltdowns. To let them know that though things have changed almost to be unrecognizable that we are still together and that won't change. Ever.

The rest of us only partly understand what we found. I've tried to explain it to Roland but not even he completely understands. They're all sad, they all understand the loss, but not the rest of it, not the dark reality of it. Some of the soldiers wanted ... but no, I stopped them, told them it all had to end. That there had been enough death and that there was probably a lot of dying still going on.

So it has become a prison. It was already a prison, just not one the prisoners inside it understood. The monsters will get their consequences but not at my hand. I can't deal anymore consequences out, not right now. There's already enough blood on my hands for me to deal with, has been for years, blood I can never tell about. But this, this I think I'm strong enough to leave to God. If it is to be death or something like it for those prisoners, let God send the Angel of Death to deal it out. I'm too sick of it all.

And there are so many more immediate problems we need to figure out. And an unexpected future we have to get ready for.


**********

The soldiers had given Georgie a few moments to get positioned for her part of the plan and then they caught the Outsiders in a vicious surprise attack, caught them between their guns and the guns of the Director's people. There was no friendly fire to worry about. It was three forces and only one could be victorious.

Georgie watched both sides of the barricaded door from her vantage point which wasn't very secure and she was almost shot several times. However as soon as she saw the last Outsider fall in the hallway she dropped the grenade into the room where the Director's men remained. Two had fallen in the battle but that left enough for the explosion to shred.

Georgie herself had underestimated the force she'd be up against and she was knocked down along with most of the ceiling, stunned but not really unconscious. The men ran through covering each other, proving through their actions and training that while they may have been turned away by the politicians and military they were still soldiers - the children's soldiers. Georgie watched them through bleary eyes and every time she tried to follow them, she was pushed back down and told to stay out of the line of fire.

The soldiers broke down the door only to find another battle taking place. To keep ricochets from causing more damage than they already had the butt of rifles, fists, and muscles were used to finish subduing what remained of the Director's staff. In a last ditch effort the Director himself grabbed one of the children as a bargaining chip. It was a tense standoff and when the Director realized that there was no way for him to win he put the gun to the head of child named Ralph and nearly pulled the trigger. Would have pulled the trigger except for Tracey.

She gave her life - after all the derogatory and mean words and actions she still gave her life rather than watch one of the soldier's charges be harmed. Who knows why? But when it was realized what she had given for them the children cried for her as if they had lost one of their own. In a way they had. She had been tempted. Would have given into the temptation had the opportunity ever presented itself. But in the end, in the end she chose the children over the fulfillment of her own selfish desires; even knowing they were within reach in a way they never had been before. In the end she chose to be the better person even when it cost her her life.

The soldiers didn't stop despite the loss of a comrade in arms affecting them. They were still on the clock, still had a duty to fulfill. They made sure that all of the adults were disarmed and secured. They got the children out and escorted them to the safe location so they could be reunited with the other children and left in Roland's care. And they counted and moved the dead.

"Georgie ... yo Kid. Dammit, where is she? Did anyone see ...?"

A battle weary Waverly pointed to another open door. "You better get in there with her. She's about to ..."

Georgie let out a moan and then wailed.