Birthmarked Page 48

She peered around to get her bearings and realized her feet had brought her to Eastern Sector Two, near her old friend Emilys home. The moist air tasted of wood smoke. While more fireworks boomed into the sky behind her, she swerved left and ran down two more streets to a small house at the end of a row. She rapped on Emily and Kyle's door, gasping for breath.

When the door opened, she practically fell inward, and strong hands grasped her.

"Gaia Stone!" Kyle said in astonishment. "Emily! Come quickly."

She felt a strangled desire to scream again, and a new ripple of pain shot through her left shoulder joint. Kyle guided her to a chair by the fire. Emily was coming from the back room, wide-eyed. As he closed the door, the booming noises were muffled.

"Gaia!" she exclaimed. "What happened to you?"

Gaia turned back the bag in her arms, scrambling to get a clear look at her sister. The baby's eyes were open but other' wise she was still. Gaia let the ripped bag and the ledgers fall to the floor as she lifted the baby before her, holding her head gently in her palm. "You okay, Maya?" she asked.

The infant's eyes blinked, and she made a little pursing face with her lips. Gaia sighed with relief, and snuggled her sister closer into her arms again.

Emily and Kyle exchanged a glance, and Emily slid next to Gaia, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. Gaia winced in pain.

"Kyle," Emily said. "Go see if anyone's following her."

Kyle grabbed a coat from a hook. "I'll tell the others and get your father. Don't worry, Gaia. We'll watch for them. If the guards are coming, we'll get you out of here."

Gaia looked at Emily clearly for the first time and saw her face was fuller, her auburn hair longer than when she'd last seen her. Her eyes were the same rich blue and as full of concern as ever.

"Are you okay?" Emily asked. "What's happened to you?" She plucked gently at the fine white fabric of Gaia's cloak.

"I need to change," she said, slowly. She needed to think ahead. Leon wasn't with her. He wasn't coming. He couldn't. It was still only barely believable to her. "I need to leave as soon as possible. Do you have any formula? Any supplies I can take into the Dead Forest?"

Emily looked amazed. "Of course," she said. "But are you sure you want to go?"

Gaia hardly knew where to start, and when she tried to sum up everything that had happened to her since she'd gone inside the wall, she couldn't do it. There was too much: her father, her mother, Leon. "I can't explain it all," she said. "But I do know I have to go."

"We knew they were looking for you," Emily said. "They've been posting your picture on the Tvaltar, but they didn't explain why. What trouble are you in?"

"It's not safe for me here," Gaia said. "It's also dangerous for anyone who helps me. I just realized -- they know you're my friend. I'm sorry, Emily. I shouldn't have come here." She turned toward the door and started to rise.

Emily hushed her and pulled her down again. "Don't say that. You can't leave like this. We're glad to help, and I'm sure Kyle's got someone watching for us."

Gaia rubbed her left shoulder, trying to squeeze out some of the pain.

"You're hurt, aren't you?" Emily said. "Here. Let me help you into some other clothes. Does your baby need a bottle?"

Gaia's heart was still racing, but she was able to breathe more regularly now. "Not yet. She's my sister. Maya."

"Your sister? Where" s your mother?"

Gaia gazed down at her sisters little face, infinitely sad. "She's dead."

"Oh, Gaia."

Gaia searched out her sisters little hand and lifted the fingers into the firelight. More muffled booms came from the Enclave. If she started thinking about her mother, the tears would start coming and she didn't know if they'd ever stop.

"I'm so sorry," Emily said softly. "She was a wonderful woman."

Gaia closed her eyes hard, feeling the tears start to brim despite her determination to keep them back. "Please," she said. "I cant think about her. I can't".

"Of course not," Emily said kindly. "Just wait right here. I'm going to put Maya in something clean and dry, and I'll grab some things for you. You want me to take her?"

Gaia nodded mutely. Carefully, she passed over the infant, and her hands felt emptier than they ever had. Emily passed quietly out of the room. Gaia slumped down onto the bench near the fire and let her face drop forward into her fingers. Every bone, every muscle in her body was weary from pain and exertion, but it was deep in her heart that she was most worn with misery.

There was a sharp burst of staccato explosions outside, and a glimmer of light outside the window signaled the finale. Soon the streets would be a madhouse as people headed for their homes. She reached slowly for the pile of ledgers that had fallen to the ground at her feet and settled them in a pile on her lap. They didn't seem like much of a prize when shed lost so much. She opened the top ledger and scanned the first page. It was the list of adopted babies, a simple line for each:

Jan 4,2385 Healthy boy. Lauren and "Tom,

Tom McManus. Jr."

Jan 16,2385 Healthy boy. Zoe and Nabu "Labib"


Jan 17,2385 Healthy girl. Lucy-Alice "Joy"

Mairson and

Stephen Pignato.

And on and on, year after year they went. This was what she had to leave behind of her mother and fathers legacy: a guide, or a way to open the wounds of loss for every parent outside the wall who had ever wondered what had happened to an advanced child. Now, if they chose to, they could know who had adopted their children and, if they investigated further, if they were willing to risk pursuing information within the Enclave, they could discover if their children had thrived or died. How many parents, she wondered, would really want to know? Her Mom, of course, would have died for these records. In essence, she did.

Gaia flipped the pages and slowly ran her finger down the column of dates until she came to the one entry that still mattered most:

Feb 12, 2389 Healthy boy. Jodi and Sol Chiaro. "Martin"

That was her brother Arthur. He had become Martin Chiaro. Little good it did her to know; he was as lost to her as ever.

Gaia closed the cover, and as she did, she noticed something shiny on the floor, mixed in with the gilded paper and a blanket that Leon had tucked into the gift bag. She reached down and pulled at a bit of chain, lifting it into the glow of the firelight. At the bottom of the loop a familiar disk of metal rose and pivoted slowly in the golden light: her locket watch.

"Oh, Leon," she murmured.

She could practically hear his voice insisting that it be' longed to her, especially now that she was free. She flipped open the tiny catch to see the words engraved within the cover: Life First. She wrapped the chain slowly around her fingers and gripped the cool watch, pressing her fist against her forehead. It was ticking. She would not cry. She would not.

"You okay?" Emily asked, coming in again with Maya and an armful of clothes.

Gaia shook her head. She was not okay. She didn't know if she'd ever be okay again. She wiped her wrist against her eye.

When she glanced up at Emily again, she noted the sway of Emily's back as she held the baby, and the subtle curve of her belly. Gaia frowned. "Are you expecting again?"

Emily laughed. "How like you to notice."

Gaia glanced around the room more carefully, seeing the simple furniture and a high chair in one corner. The sound of people laughing passed in the row outside. "Where's your baby?"

"Paul? He's down for the night." She smiled again. "Or so I hope. Here. Why don't you change? I mean, you look like a princess, but that's not very practical out here."

Gaia slipped off her white clothes and dressed slowly in a brown dress and a blue, white-flecked sweater. She had to be careful with her left arm, but it didn't feel like anything was broken.

"Here, you take her," Emily said, passing Maya back to Gaia. "I'll get you some stew."

"I'm not hungry. I don't have time. Honestly."

"You'll eat anyway."

Emily bustled around, taking away Gaia's white discards and bringing her a steaming bowl with a spoon. As her fingers closed on the spoon, Gaia founds she was shaky with shock and exhaustion.

"What are those?" Emily asked, gesturing to the ledgers.

"I want you to take care of them," Gaia said. "They're the records of the advanced babies and who adopted them inside the Enclave."

Emily's forehead creased in disbelief. "Are you serious?"

Gaia lifted a spoonful of soup before her lips and blew gently on it. It did smell good, salty and rich with potatoes and meat. "Yes," she said. "Can you make copies somehow? Do you have people you can trust? Your parents?"

Emily sat beside Gaia and turned a few of the pages. "This is incredible," she said, nodding. "There are a few of us, not too many, but a few of us that have started meeting up." Her expression grew more somber. "A few weeks ago, something frightened me badly."

"When the raven was shot? On the shore?"

Emily turned to her slowly, her amazement obviously. "How do you know about that?"

"They were showing me," Gaia said. "They wanted to make a point."

Emily s voice dropped. "They made their point. They've gone too far, Gaia. Taking your parents, and then raising the quota to five. A baker was roughed up in Eastern Sector One the other day by a couple of guards. People are starting to talk. Fireworks are not going to be enough to keep everyone happy."

"You think there might be a revolt or something?" Gaia said, swallowing her stew.

"It's too soon to say. But this," Emily tapped the ledgers. "This could change things. What if people could actually take back their children?"

"And the baby quotas?" Gaia asked. "What about them?"

Emily settled her hand over her stomach. "I couldn't do it," Emily said. "I couldn't give up my baby. And I know two other mothers who feel the same way. I don't know what we're going to do if-- " She lowered her gaze. "I mean, I know it's your job," she continued.

Gaia set aside her stew. "No. Never again."

Emily looked surprised.

"It's out of the question," Gaia said.

Gaia gazed down at her sister, who had fallen asleep again peacefully. Her nose was still flattened, and she had only the faintest indications of eyebrows. A fierce, possessive power rose in Gaia as she cradled her sister in her arms. "I have Maya to look out for."

Emily drew her fingers into a fist on top of the ledgers. "This is an awful idea," she said. "But do you really want to take her into the wasteland? I could keep her for you. She'd be safe here."

She didn't have to spell it out for Gaia to understand: Emily believed they were going to die. Gaia couldn't think that way, and she couldn't leave her sister behind. She'd had enough of separating families.

"Thank you, but we're staying together," she said.

There was a quick knock at the door, and Emily rose to let in her husband. Behind him came Theo Rupp.

"Gaia!" Theo said. "Amy and I have been that sick with worry! Are you all right? Where are your parents?"

Gaia stood and felt his big arms encircle her and the baby in a great hug.

"Is anybody coming?" Emily asked Kyle.

"The guards are searching for you house by house," Kyle said to Gaia. "They lost you in all the crowds, but now they're coming. I've got Rufus watching outside."

"Then there's no time to lose," Gaia said, turning to Emily. "Help me get ready."

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