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 yourself. Finally get everyone settled?"
"Hmmm. Whose idea was it for Nela and Roland to leave Roly and Juanita with us again?"
"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 ..."
"Wait a minute. That ... was too easy."
"Ok Mrs. Director, just what are you trying to pull?"
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.