Promised Page 7

“They would go berserk. Especially Kyle,” Gaia said. “Leon left around then, so I don’t know what happened after that.”

People kept streaming past on Gaia’s left, glancing over curiously. Her standard made a rippling noise in the wind, and its shadow flicked in the dust.

Myrna took another sloshing swig from her bottle. “Enclave parents were afraid that birth parents from outside the wall would track down their advanced children to steal them back,” she said. “There was a panic, so when Emily’s husband was caught coming under the wall to try to get their son back, there wasn’t much sympathy for him. I imagine you recall the punishment for breaching the wall.”

Gaia hugged her sister closer. “Execution.”

“Exactly,” Myrna said.

Gaia couldn’t believe it. She touched a hand to her forehead, horrified.

Leon arrived then and slid a hand around her waist. “What is it?” he asked quietly.

“Emily’s husband Kyle was executed,” Gaia said, her voice tightening. “Did you know that?”

“No,” he said. “Don’t think it was your fault.”

But it was, she thought. She was the one who had brought the ledgers to Emily’s family and started the trouble in the first place. As Leon’s arm tightened, Myrna tilted her face, regarding them frankly.

“How did your back heal?” Myrna said. “And your finger.”

“Well enough, thanks to you. I’m in your debt, Masister,” Leon said. He reached out a hand to shake with her. “What happened after Kyle’s execution?”

Myrna dabbed at her neck with a handkerchief. “Apparently, Emily garnered a lot of sympathy from people outside the wall, and she built on that. She united all the pregnant women of Wharfton for the first baby strike. They refused to advance any more babies, and they sent a message to the Protectorat demanding that he return Emily’s baby. They claimed it was the right of every mother to keep her own child.”

“A baby strike,” Gaia said, amazed. She’d never guessed that Emily would be the one to organize such a protest.

“I expect that didn’t go over well,” Leon said.

Chardo Will and Dinah arrived then from different directions. They unobtrusively joined the circle on the rock ledge as Myrna continued.

“The Protectorat doesn’t play games,” Myrna said. “He didn’t reply to Emily’s demands. He simply turned off the water to Wharfton.”

“Every spigot?” Gaia asked.

“Even the irrigation water for the fields,” said Myrna.

Gaia tried to imagine the panic that had hit Wharfton as people discovered they had no water. “It was like a backward siege, wasn’t it? With the people inside the wall controlling the people outside by cutting off what they needed,” Gaia said. “Did the strikers give in?”

“Actually it got complicated,” Myrna said. “The people of Wharfton united behind the mothers, and inside the wall, the Protectorat’s hard-line policy backfired.” She glanced briefly at Leon. “People in the Enclave are not all as cold as you might think, and some of the very wealthy, influential families formed a consortium and spoke up on behalf of the people outside the wall. It became a humanitarian issue.”

“I’ll bet,” Leon said dryly. “Those same families are probably the ones who own the fields outside the wall. They didn’t want to lose their investments.”

“Did the Protectorat’s own people persuade him to turn on the water again?” Gaia asked.

“No,” Myrna said. “But he was forced to negotiate. On the third day of the siege, the Protectorat named two conditions to turn the water back on. He wanted all of the people of Wharfton to register their DNA into one database.”

Gaia was confused, trying to remember. Hadn’t she and Mabrother Iris once discussed such a possibility? She thought he’d said it wouldn’t be practical.

“But that must be fifteen thousand people or more,” Gaia said.

“Sixteen thousand, four hundred, and twelve, to be exact,” Myrna said. “The Protectorat wanted cheek swabs collected from everybody, in family groups. That way he would have a record of everyone’s DNA, once and for all.”

Gaia looked at Leon. “What good could that possibly do him?”

Leon was watching Myrna. “It’s an overabundance of information, certainly, but he likes to plan ahead. It fits.”

Gaia shifted her weight, repositioning Maya on her hip. “What was the second condition?”

“He wanted Emily to come live inside the Bastion, as his permanent guest,” Myrna said. “She could have her son back, but inside the wall, in the Protectorat’s own home.”

“To control her,” Gaia said, with instinctive understanding. It was practically the same thing that had happened to her in Sylum when the Matrarc had confined her for a period of reflection in the lodge, only Emily’s status as a guest would never end. “Did she go?”

“By day six, Wharfton was completely out of water,” Myrna said. “They’d drunk every last drop of cider and distilled wine just for the liquid. Pets were dying, and people were pressuring Emily. She said she’d never signed on for a rebellion. She just wanted to see her son again, so she went.”

“But is she all right?” Gaia asked.

Myrna frowned thoughtfully. “She appears to be. She’s risen to a position of some importance. She’s been there over a year now, and her second child, a boy—that’s the only home he’s ever known.”

Gaia turned to Leon, whose gaze was directed toward the Enclave, as if he could penetrate the mind of his father just by observing the city where he dwelled.

“So there’s a full DNA registry,” Leon said.

Myrna nodded. “It took us a month, but we swabbed every single person. That’s when I moved outside the wall, and I found, to my great surprise, that despite the rampant ignorance of your old neighbors, life in Wharfton suits me just fine.”

“He’ll want us to register our DNA, too,” Chardo Will guessed.

“Yes,” Myrna said, turning to him. “That’s a given. And you are?”

Gaia made quick introductions.

Unexpectedly, Dinah laughed. “I wonder what the Protectorat will think of our expools.”

Myrna glanced at Gaia.

“Many of our men are sterile,” Gaia explained. “We suspect they’re XX-males. I suppose now we’ll find out for certain from their DNA.”

Myrna looked surprised. She took another look at the line of people in the caravan. “How about the women? Are they fertile?”

Dinah nodded, still smiling. “I’d say. Our mothers have, on average, eight children each. Many have over ten, and the children are almost all boys. We hope that will change now that we’re here, away from the water that poisoned us in Sylum.”

“There does seem to be quite a preponderance of men,” Myrna said.

“We have nine men for every one woman,” Gaia said. “And there were no girls born in the past year.”

Myrna was clearly interested. “Very odd. Is there any hemophilia in your population?” Myrna asked.

“None,” Leon said.

Myrna crossed her arms, plainly considering. “Interesting,” she said finally, and turned to look speculatively at Leon. “Your father will be very interested.”

“We’re counting on that,” he said.

Gaia was still worried about her old friend. “Does Emily ever come outside the wall? What happened to advancing the babies? I can hardly believe there are no more quotas.”

Myrna’s gaze narrowed slightly, and she adjusted her hat brim over her eyes. “Emily came out briefly for a recruitment. She works for Leon’s father now. For the Vessel Institute.”

“What’s that?” Gaia asked.

“It’s in its pilot phase,” Myrna said. “Essentially, the Vessel Institute is a baby factory.”

Chapter 6


“THE PROTECTORAT WOULD NEVER describe it so crudely,” Myrna added. “But that’s what it is.”

“You can’t mean what I’m thinking,” Will said. “Women would never allow themselves to be used that way.”

“Maybe not where you come from,” Myrna said.

“How does your baby factory actually work?” Dinah asked.

“The Vessel Institute hires women to bear children for childless couples in the Enclave,” Myrna said.

“How many?” Gaia asked. “What does it pay?”

“There are twelve women in the pilot program, and I’m not aware of the particulars of the stipend,” Myrna said.

“Is Emily one of these women?” Leon asked.

“Emily is the spokeswoman for the Vessel Institute,” Myrna said. “Whether she’s also pregnant, I don’t know. Her second son is only a few months old, but I suppose it’s possible. I guess she’d be the thirteenth.”

“You just said Emily led the baby strike. How could she become the spokesperson for a baby factory?” Gaia argued. “It doesn’t make sense. How is this system any better than advancing babies?”

“These mothers have a choice,” Myrna said. “They sign on with their eyes wide open.”

“Wait. You approve of this?” Gaia asked Myrna.

“I’m just telling you how it works,” Myrna said coolly.

“Listen, I don’t want to interrupt,” Dinah said, “but we’ve got some practical problems of our own right now. Shouldn’t you be at the head of the caravan, Gaia?”

Gaia lifted the binoculars again and realized the vanguard was approaching the first, poorest houses of Western Sector Three. Soon they would reach the dip where she wanted them to turn down into the unlake. After all their planning and their weeks in the wasteland, they had reached the brink of arrival.

Gaia turned to find Mikey behind her and gestured to the boy. “Red flag,” she said, and the boy lifted one high into the air. Within moments, other red flags went up along the line ahead of and behind them, and people stopped where they were.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Gaia said to Myrna. “Leon, please take Myrna to Jack to see what she can do for him.”

“I’m coming with you,” Leon said.

“I want you to stay out of sight for now,” Gaia said, absently adjusting Maya on her hip once more. “I’m hoping your presence is still a secret from the Protectorat. For that matter, I’d just as soon he doesn’t hear about Jack yet, either.”

“He’ll find out soon enough,” Leon said.

“But not now. Not right from the start,” she said.

He came a step nearer. “Gaia. Be reasonable. I want to be with you. This is important.”

Gaia glanced around at the others and then dropped her voice. “You’ll distract me,” she admitted. “I don’t want to have to worry about you. Stay back, with Jack and Myrna.”

Leon’s eyes flicked oddly. “That’s insulting, you know. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Are you asking me as the Matrarc or as my fiancée?”

She gave a slight, apologetic smile, already backing away from him. “Which way will you argue with me less?”

He watched her a silent moment, his mouth set, and then he turned to Will. “Go with her. Don’t let her leave you. Don’t let her do anything stupid.”

“Will do,” Will said. His teeth flashed in a grin before his voice turned solicitous. “Keep yourself safe, buddy.”

“Shove off, Chardo,” Leon said. He gestured at the toddler on Gaia’s hip. “You want me to take Maya?” he asked Gaia.

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