Roland says he isn’t mad at me anymore but things aren’t the same. I think it is more me than him. I’m just not who I used to be. I’m still one of us, but I’m … I’m set apart. It’s like when Nurse Cassie picked Roland and I out to be caregivers for all of us, when she left us in charge after she died. It made us different from the rest of us, more different than we already were. Not better. Different. And now, all these things that have happened since our soldiers came, they’ve made me different as well. Maybe it is all the secrets I have to keep. And now I have another one.
I think I have found a way to help our soldiers but they can’t know. No one can know, especially not Roland but that’s for a different reason. I planted the idea in Miss Neville and then she ran off to the Director with it. It was easy. I should feel bad at how easy it was but I’m not.
The Director is in a real tear about money. She’s always been that way but lately it’s been worse, so I thought to use that to help. And it looks like it worked.
Roland rolled over to visit the soldiers to find them staring at boxes that had been delivered. “Whoa. What is this?” he asked.
Johnson just continued to stare but Nela smiled and said, “Books, manuals, old exams.”
Curious but cautious Roland rolled forward for a closer look. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she said tossing one to him.
Peterson was investigating another box. “These are all used … old too … but …”
“We … maybe …”
Getting frustrated Roland turned to Johnson. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know Kid except … maybe … maybe this … someone thinks …” Noticing Roland’s expression he said, “You know what these are.”
Quietly and with a feigned indifference Roland said, “They’re study guides for career placement exams.”
Showing more understanding than Roland was comfortable with Johnson said, “Yeah Kid, they are.”
It didn’t’ take but a moment for Roland to man up and thought he couldn’t smile he did nod and say, “This is good news. They think at least some of you will be able to leave Pickering and make it Outside.”
Chaplin snorted. “More like someone is tired of feeding so many and wants us outta here.”
Roland blinked and agreed, “Sounds like something the Director would do.”
After a few more minutes visiting Roland returned to the children’s ward and rolled over to Georgie who was in the middle of patching up a skinned knee.”
“When you’re finished we need to talk.”
Georgie met him in the old nurse’s station. “Are you getting another pressure sore?”
“No.” He proceeded to tell her about the study guides and other materials that had been delivered.
“You don’t care?”
“There nothing I can do about it. Besides, if they are really getting a chance to get out of here they should take it. They don’t have the protection we do.”
“Maybe we don’t have protection anymore,” he said trying to shake Georgie up.
However she surprised him by agreeing. “Maybe we don’t.”
“If they could have gotten what they need from us some other way they would have done it before now.”
“You can’t know that for sure.”
“If I knew what really happened in Lockdown.”
“Georgie, no. You can’t. The risk isn’t worth it.”
In a dazed confusion that revealed the true inner fear that drove her Georgie muttered, “Purgatory. That’s what Nurse Cassie said. Purgatory. She tried to tell us what Lockdown was but she waited too long and that is all she could get out.”
“And we aren’t any closer to finding out what she meant than we were back then.”
“After what I saw …”
Roland grabbed her arm, “No. That’s not Lockdown. Remember there can’t be any strong drugs in our system before they take the blood. They’d have to dope them to keep them in comas, but alive enough to harvest from.”
That calmed Georgie’s imagination some and though Roland sensed it he didn’t relax. “Let it go Georgie. We can’t change what has already happened.”
Sadly she opined, “So many of us have disappeared. And the adults too. And now this other man. Too many.”
“But not for two years until Victor.”
Like she hadn’t heard him she whispered, “Poor Victor.”
Shaking the arm he still held Roland agreed, “Yes, poor Victor. But we did all we could. Not even an Outside doctor could have done more that you did.”
“Not according to the Books.”
“Most of those books were written before the Defective Laws took effect. You know that Georgie. What doctors might have been able to do back then – repeat, might have – isn’t what they will or can do today. A lot of drugs that could have helped a Defective back then aren’t even made anymore. You know the rules – probably better than any of us; and, you know the consequences for breaking them.”
Shaking her head she said, “I need more training. There’s still so much I don’t know. There wasn’t time for Nurse Cassie to teach me everything. There has to be people looking for ways to make medicines that wouldn’t break the rules.”
“Why? What do you mean why?”
“Just what I said. Why do there have to be people doing that? Most defectives are aborted before they’re born. Those few that are born get triaged out of the womb and then euthanized. People who become labeled Defective like our soldiers get permanently triaged and sent some place to contribute to a society that tolerates them as long as they don’t waste resources; or, they go to someplace where resources are withheld until they die. I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.”
“Roland don’t. You sound like a Euthanist or someone who operates a Compassionate Ending Farm.”
Sighing Roland said, “Well I’m not, I’m no more that than you are. But those people exist and they outnumber us millions to one. It is stupid to pretend life is any other way.” After letting go of Georgie’s arm and looking at a sky they’d never known freedom under Roland added, “And it is stupid for me to pretend too. Sometimes I wish they had never come here. They brought the Outside and … and feelings and …”
With understanding compassion Georgie patted Roland’s arm. “I know. But they are here. And Nurse Cassie left us in charge, made us promise to always take care of us all. They’re part of us now.”
“Not if they can leave.”
“Yes, even if they can and do leave. In fact we need to help them leave, encourage them if they believe too much in their own Defectiveness. Those that leave will take a little of each of us with them. It won’t be like us all really getting to leave, that’s never going to happen. But a bit of us will. Someone will know our names, remember us, be happy that we were friends. Us Roland, not just our blood. We may have no other freedom in this world but we are free to be friends. And friends help each other.”
They were both quiet for a while then Roland asked, “Does it ever stop hurting?”
“Losing someone? No. Sometimes I miss Caro so bad I can’t sleep and can barely breathe. I remember them all, even back before everyone helped to quiet the dragons that used to run around in my head. We all slept together in that room with the padded floor and walls. When it was cold we snuggled close. I couldn’t hear most of the time, sometimes the dragons were so bad I couldn’t see, but I knew smells and I remember how everyone felt. I remember when the smell and feel of someone would just suddenly be gone. I remember when the realization that another one was gone would sweep through us and how everyone would start crying. We didn’t really understand what was happening but we understood Gone Away and Never Coming Back.”
“You remember that? I thought I was the only one.”
“No. You aren’t the only one. Caro remembered too. She would have nightmares about being the only one left.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Others have told me similar things when they have an episode or a nightmare. You’d be surprised what some of us remember. The first time I really understood the feelings … there was a girl. It was before Nurse Cassie.”
Surprised Roland asked, “So long ago as that?”
“Yeah. There was a girl. I think she was worse than me. She couldn’t see or hear or even really move around very much. It used to be she would shake and shake and shake.”
“No. Dragons. Different from mine but still some kind of dragons. She was scared all the time. But she didn’t shake so bad when I slept close to her. Somehow she knew I understood about dragons. One day after the blood taking she didn’t come back. I remember waiting and waiting. I’d grown used to recognizing when she was there. Then finally I understood missing … that feeling that there was a hole in us that hadn’t been there before. That’s when that woman cut herself. I’ve always wondered if the two things connected.”
“You should have asked Nurse Cassie.”
“It took a long time for me to figure out how to control the dragons enough, that I could learn to put my feelings into words. But eventually I did ask her.”
“Well? What did she say?”
“That there were some questions that didn’t have answers. Same way she talked about Lockdown. I think she knew but was trying to protect us.”
“Maybe she was.”
Roland was uncomfortable with some of the ideas and memories that Georgie had brought up. He needed to think. He rolled out of the nurse’s station and to his room to get ready for lights out. But it would be a long time before he actually fell asleep.