Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (7 page)

Thinking Like a Necessary

W
hen Aaron left the Ancients Sector, full of newfound bitterness, his mind swimming with ideas, he realized what was the biggest, dumbest mistake he’d made so far. Now he walked with purpose, straight for the Favored Farm. How could he have forgotten his own creation? It must have been the disconnection between creating the idea of the farm, and actually doing the physical work of growing and harvesting. Wanteds were the thinkers, the creators, not the mindless pluckers and deliverers. If Aaron was going to be forced to walk for days with no one bringing him food or drink, he’d have to start thinking differently. He’d have to think like a Necessary. He shuddered at the thought.

But at least he would eat.

It took him quite some time to get there. And he had forgotten about the wooden fence around the crops. But then he saw a soldier standing by the gate that led into the farm. Aaron mustered up as much authority as he could. “The high priest told me to pick my own corn if I wanted corn,” Aaron said, repeating the complaint he’d heard days ago on the street outside the university. “So I’m here to pick my own food.”

The Quillitary soldier eyed Aaron suspiciously for a moment, and then he stepped aside. “Limit is four items. Total, not each.”

“All right.” Aaron stepped into the garden and the smell of fresh fruits and vegetables was the most amazing thing he’d smelled in months. It nearly covered up the rotten stench from alongside the road. He inhaled, and then, trying not to seem too desperate, he quickly scanned the rows of the farm, digging through his memory for the layout he’d designed, wondering where the coconut trees and watermelon plants ended up.

Finally he found them on opposite ends of the farm. He gathered up one of each and sat down under the coconut tree’a rare shady spot in Quill’but couldn’t get the coconut to crack open, so he pounded his fist into the watermelon, finally breaking it, feeling like he also broke his hand in the process. But it didn’t matter. He dug into the pink flesh and slurped it, seeds and all. It wasn’t as refreshing as water, but it would have to do.

When finished, he wiped his sticky hands in the grass and his chin on his shirt, and tossed the watermelon rinds into a giant raspberry bush. Then he took two more watermelons and two ears of corn, leaving the useless coconut behind.

He made sure he had no signs of watermelon juice on his shirt, and then headed out past the guard, obediently showing the food. The soldier patted down Aaron’s book bag and let him pass without a word.

When Aaron got to the street, he breathed a sigh of relief. As he wandered past the Quillitary housing sector, his arms aching from the weight of the watermelons, he stopped to rest and gaze at the governors’ homes. They were the six best houses in Quill, not counting the high priest’s palace. Aaron burned with anger when he thought about how his hopes to live in one of these one day had been so violently dashed.

He wondered if Governor Strang might be persuaded to be on Aaron’s side’Strang had liked Aaron before everything fell apart. But Aaron hadn’t seen him in a while. Perhaps he was home today. . . . But then Aaron looked at himself. Dirty. Smelly. Wandering aimlessly. He was sure the governors all knew about him being kicked out of the university. They were probably behind it, along with Haluki.

Aaron turned his gaze to Haluki’s house as a drop of sweat made a shiny line from his temple to his jaw. Two buckets of water sat on the step by the door, having been delivered recently, no doubt. Tempting him. He swallowed reflexively, but the sticky sweetness of the watermelon had left his mouth drier than before. It was not worth trying to steal from a governor, much less the high priest, no matter how crazy with thirst he was. He’d be put in jail for years for that. Aaron narrowed his eyes, hating everything about that house and its occupants.

And then his eyes widened, and his hatred for the house trickled away. “Wait a second,” he said softly.
If Mrs. Haluki and the two children are in Artimé, and High Priest Haluki is in the palace . . . who is living in the Halukis’ house?

“Great land of Quill,” Aaron whispered. “That’s it!”

Home Sweet Home

I
t was agony for Aaron, waiting for dark, but
he knew that would be the only way to properly sneak into the Haluki home. He wasn’t
about to blow it now. When it was quiet in the neighborhood, and all was clear, he went
to the rear door to try a little trick he’d learned from Quillitary soldiers back when
they liked him. The Quill doors tended to be a bit loose in their jambs during the
driest months, and nearly every home had some sort of rot or termite infestation, so
things were not as secure as they seemed.

Aaron lifted up on the door handle, moving the whole door an inch or so,
and then wrenched it to the side. He heard the rusted-out bottom hinge break free from
the soft wood and clatter to the floor inside the house. One more wrench for the top
hinge, and the door opened. Aaron grabbed his watermelons and went inside, setting them
on the table. Then he maneuvered the door closed again and leaned against it, breathing
hard. He had never been so light-headed in all his life.

He went to the front door, unlocked and opened it, and peered outside to
make sure no one was about. When he was certain he wasn’t being watched, he brought the
precious water inside. In the kitchen he took a cup and, with a shaky hand, dipped it in
and drank heartily. He dipped the cup in a second time, knowing he should try to
preserve the water, but not caring at this particular moment. Two large buckets of water
all to himself for an entire week’it was the best possible reward for all the punishment
he’d taken recently.

When he had cleaned himself up, he made his way to a bedroom and collapsed
on a mattress not unlike the kind he’d had at university, and fell asleep.

» » « «

In the morning, when the sunlight streamed in through the dusty windows
and the heat of the day was not yet upon the land of Quill, Aaron rose. He took stock of
the Halukis’ provisions, which were shockingly plentiful. They had an entire shelf of
cooking and baking materials, a shelf containing large sacks of rice, beans, and
peanuts, and a shelf of dried herbs and oils. Aaron stared at the abundance. Growing up
in a Necessary house and then going straight to the university where his meals were
served in a cafeteria, he’d had none of these extras just lying around.

Aaron glanced over his shoulder even though he knew no one was in the
house. It was more out of habit, or perhaps because he knew he was doing something
terribly against the law. Just being here made him worthy of a life in
jail . . . or worse.

But he also felt strangely confident about not getting caught. It was
clear from looking around that the Halukis had closed up the house as if leaving
permanently’which rarely happened in the past before Artimé, except when the last of a
family had been sent to the Ancients Sector. And even then, there was another family
eagerly waiting to move in. But now with people vacating daily and moving to Artimé, and
with all the added confusion in Quill these days, Aaron felt that if he were careful to
come and go through the back door and limit his outdoor movement to after dark, he could
get away with living here for quite some time.

He took a handful of peanuts and ate them as he surveyed his new living
quarters. The kitchen and gathering space was twice as large as the entire home Aaron’s
parents lived in. There was a table with four sturdy chairs, and a sofa and two lounge
chairs in the gathering area with soft cushions.
Who needs so many
chairs?
he wondered as he tested them out.
A family of
four needs four chairs at most.
Aaron furrowed his brow at the waste.

He wondered about all the homes that stood empty now in the Necessary
quadrants. “All those extra furniture items just sitting there,” he mused. “Beds,
chairs, nonperishables, cooking equipment, waste-burying shovels . . .”
Aaron moved through the house, noticing all the unnecessary things that the Halukis had,
and he burned with anger once more.

“High Priest Haluki,” Aaron said matter-of-factly, “one day you will beg
me for your life.” He moved down the short hallway. “And I will not give it back to
you.” He paused, a little surprised by the cold words that had just come out of his
mouth. But he cleared his head and continued on, entering a closed room that contained a
desk and a large double-door closet. Aaron peered at the desk, noting a few books and
papers. He stepped behind it to the closet and put his hands on the doorknobs.

When he pulled them open wide, he could only stare at the contents,
completely baffled. His forehead wrinkled as he puzzled over the giant glass cylinder
before him. He reached out tentatively to touch its surface, murmuring, “What in the
name of Quill is this?”

 

A Skirmish

C
oming toward the gate’everyone in Artimé still called it “the gate” out of habit even though the gate was no longer there’were two hulking, serious types from Quill. “Fresh out of the university?” Arija guessed to Tina, one of her companion girrinos, as the young men approached.

“Not wearing Quillitary garb, no book bags, a bit tired around the eyes but pale . . . ,” Tina murmured. “Definitely indoor workers. Not old enough to have children in here, though.” She and Arija stood, snorting a few times for effect.

The two stepped closer uneasily. “We’re here to see our brothers,” one said.

“What are your names?” Tina asked politely enough.

“Dred Crandall,” said the taller one.

“Crawledge Prize,” said the other, whose hair curled around his ears and dripped with sweat.

“And you’re here to see . . . ?” Arija was skeptical. Crandall and Prize? They had the same last names as two of the governors. As far as she knew, the Halukis were the only governor’s family here. But Arija certainly didn’t know everyone in Artimé.

“Our brothers,” Crandall said again, impatiently this time. He scratched a small scab on his neck.

Arija and Tina stood aside. “Do you know where to find them?”

“We’ll find them,” Prize said. He and Crandall passed through the opening and strode quickly to the footpath, looking a bit startled by the bright colors as they gazed left and right at the people milling around munching on breakfast pastries and strolling across the grass.

“Keep an eye on them,” Arija said to the other two girrinos, whose names were Opal and Penelope. “Be ready to call for help if necessary.”

Moments later, angry shouts rang out from the lawn near the mansion. Crandall and Prize had approached a group of Necessaries and were attempting to yank two of them away.

“Come on,” Prize said, trying to get the Necessary to be quiet. “Your little vacation is over. You are required in Quadrant One.”

“No! Stop! Help me!” the Necessary shouted, catching the attention of two teachers, Mr. Appleblossom and Ms. Claire Morning, who were enjoying a rather spirited discussion of musicals versus plays nearby.

Mr. Appleblossom bounded over and Ms. Morning kept up easily with her long strides.

“What’s going on?” Ms. Morning asked, her normally kind voice quite curt this morning.

The Necessary tried to yank his arm away. “They’re trying to force us back to work in Quill,” he said, breathless.

“They have duties,” said Crandall. He glared at the two teachers, who looked fairly harmless to him. He took a better grip of the arm he was holding and turned toward the gate. “Come on,” he growled.

Mr. Appleblossom spoke up. “Your pompousness and attitude is boor. Now kindly take yourselves right out the door.”

Prize stared at the theater instructor. “What?” he asked, for Mr. Appleblossom’s manner of speaking in rhyme took some getting used to.

“Out and out! Away, away, away! Do
not
return again another day!” Mr. Appleblossom gestured impatiently toward the gate and even stomped his foot.

Crandall, face turning red, let go of the Necessary and turned toward Mr. Appleblossom. He hovered over the little instructor, his hands balling into fists.

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