Authors: Lena Hillbrand
Cali couldn’t sleep after Master left, so she got up and dragged her new chain around.
Sure, it weighed more than the last one, but it allowed her more freedom,
freedom that was well worth the price. She could use the floor toilet instead
of the bucket, and Shelly didn’t have to take her waste to the toilet and wash
the bucket every time she went.
just as good, she could visit the garden again. She could just reach the far
side of the garden and wrap her hands around the cold metal bars, or throw
weeds out and look down into the garden below, the garden that had once held
Martin and Terry and the baby. She turned away from it now. Every time she
thought about Martin, a flicker of guilt passed through her. She’d hurt him
during her own escape, and he’d been captured because of his injury. Cali didn’t know what had happened to him, but she’d never seen him again. Maybe his owner
had sent him to the blood bank. That had happened to her the first time she’d
tried to escape.
man who rarely spoke had taken over the garden below. He wasn’t friendly like
her old neighbors, and she doubted he’d ever include her in an escape plan. He
was tall and bony and kept his head down as he tended his garden. Shelly liked
to make up stories about the other saps they saw, and sometimes even the
Superiors. He especially liked to make up stories about their new neighbor, Hap.
Hap was mysterious, and therefore offered endless speculation.
girl,” Shelly said from the doorway. He had his hip stuck out and the fat
little baby in his arm.
I can help in the garden again,” Cali said, standing to demonstrate the length
of her new chain. She had as much freedom within the apartment as she’d ever
had, and escape didn’t sound like such a good option anymore. She still loved
the idea of freedom, but escape held too much risk.
was right—what would she do once she got away? Live in the woods? In winter,
she’d be neck-deep in snow, and she didn’t think boxes of food would magically
fall from the sky when she got hungry. She’d have to make a garden, and that
would be impossible in winter. If she waited until spring, maybe, but even then
she’d need seeds to start a garden.
now she had the baby to think about, too. If she ran, Master might kill Shelly
trying to get information, and he would try to extract information by beating
on the baby. That’s how he’d gotten her to confess a list of half-truths about
her own failed escape. She hadn’t even known the baby yet, but when Master
started hurting it, she thought she’d explode if she couldn’t make him stop.
She would have said or done just about anything.
kept telling herself not to get attached. But when she looked at the chubby boy
chewing on his fist until spit ran down his arm and beaded on his elbow, she
knew she’d already lost the battle.
that baby,” she said, holding out her arms. Shelly deposited the baby in Cali’s
arms and went back inside. “Hey,” she called after him. “I can finally get
outside again. Don’t stay inside all day.”
people got work to do,” Shelly called back. Cali took a deep breath. The storm
had passed, leaving the morning wet and cold and heavy with a smell she’d never
encountered. But she knew the message on the wind as if by instinct. Something
urgent in the air said to gather and hoard and guard her baby and huddle closer
to him and Shelly.
took a last deep breath and went back inside, sliding the door closed behind
her. “So what do we have to do today?” she asked. She put the baby on the bed.
He immediately began to whine, and she picked him up absently before hobbling
over to Shelly, dragging her foot behind her.
glanced at the chain. “Girl, that makes a lot of noise,” he said, shaking his
head. “I told you not to run away. You know, you’re a dreamer, but I got the
brains in this family.”
laughed and Shelly did, too, swaying his hips in the girlish way he had. Now
that Cali knew him, she couldn’t imagine that she’d ever thought he’d turn out
to be her mate. That was about as likely as him being Master’s mate. Maybe less
likely. But Shelly had become her best friend, the best she’d ever had, after
several years of constant companionship. She loved him even more than she loved
brains, what are we doing?”
dreamer, we’re putting up turnips.”
good,” she said, though she didn’t much care for turnips. “Can the baby eat
you stop calling him ‘the baby’ already? His name is Leo, and just because you
don’t call him by his name doesn’t mean you won’t get attached.”
sure it’s not. You forget I know you, girl. I’m no fool.”
maybe that’s why,” Cali said. “Now can we just put up these turnips and stop
talking about the baby?”
like the new leg chain,” Shelly said, handing Cali a bowl full of water and a
bag of turnips. “Makes you walk ever so ladylike.”
just stop your words.” Cali plunged her hands into the cold water and rubbed
the dirt off the skin of each turnip, handing it to Shelly as she finished.
“Besides, you’re ladylike enough for both of us,” she added.
But I was always more ladylike than you,” he said, ducking aside when she
flicked water at him. “Now quit making me do all the work and get over here.
I’ll show you how to put up turnips so they stay good all winter. We’ll be
eating these until next summer.”
what you said about the squash.”
we’ll only be eating that until spring.”
awoke with one thing on his mind. He eased the door open and scanned the nearby
area. A bone-thin dog trotted across the barren earth and disappeared between
two cars. Draven scented the air in the same manner that the dog scented the
earth. After making certain the lot contained no person, he emerged. He scanned
the lot and the surrounding area once more to confirm his isolation.
he’d scented Cali and heard her weeping, he’d thought of little else. He no
longer possessed the capability to dream, but nonetheless, he knew he’d thought
of her while he slept. Once outside his resting place, he stretched himself
upwards and then to each side. The dog emerged from between two cars holding a
rat in its teeth. It stopped and looked at Draven.
spoke to it, letting it know he bore it no ill will. He’d once owned a dog, but
like everything that lived and breathed and aged, it had left him long ago.
This dog watched him for a moment before turning to move away into the jungle
imagined the dog thought him harmless, and he smiled to himself. The most
powerful creature on earth, yet not even frightening to a dog. He brushed the
thought aside and set off for the fence, scaled it quickly and dropped to the
other side. Usually he waited until full dark to begin his search, but this
evening he wanted an early start. He wanted to see Cali.
began working his way towards her sector. From somewhere far across the
rooftops, he heard the chiming of bells. He stopped to appreciate the timeless
sound, at once so ancient and so common. Long ago, he’d known the bells in
Belarus, and he’d come to North America to find the same sort of tolling. He’d
truly noticed them for the first time when he’d come down from his imprisonment
in the mountains and heard them once more. Only then had he realized that
months in their absence made him aware of their lonesome tolling. Every evening
and every morning, as constant as the sun’s rise and set, the bells chimed.
the last echo died away, Draven began his nightly excursion. This night, he had
a destination in mind. The sky had darkened, but an orange glow clung to the horizon,
the last shreds of sunset unwilling to relinquish the sun’s hold on the day.
Already the evening grew cold, the wind sharp. Draven could savor wet leaves
and, somewhere on the air, the whisper of coming winter. The scent was as old
as the bells, as constant and as forgotten.
since Belarus had he known the changing of seasons. In ‘the Funnel,’ as most
North Americans referred to the bottom part of their country where he’d lived
for half his Superior years, the seasons were wet and dry. Here, like in
Belarus where he’d begun his Superior life, four seasons came each year, each
with its own set of problems and pleasures.
took in the scents of the air and of the city, of evening and people waking,
the scents of Superior food and human food. His circuitous route led him back
to Byron’s building, and he landed with light-footed grace on the roof. He
straightened and surveyed his surroundings. The sky had deepened to a darker
blue, with one remaining slash of crimson in the west. For several moments,
Draven crouched, listening, but he heard nothing from within.
rose and crossed the roof to survey the parking area. Byron’s car occupied the
same spot it had that morning. Draven circled the roof carefully. Usually, he
crossed and departed so quickly he needn’t concern himself with being heard. On
any other night, if someone grew suspicious and investigated their roof, Draven
would be long gone. Here, he must use greatest caution.
he could not take Cali tonight, he would have to return. He did not want Byron
to know he’d found her—or that he could climb buildings. Though he assumed he’d
always possessed the ability but had only now realized it, he didn’t imagine it
was something Seconds wanted him to realize.
settled onto the roof above Cali’s apartment and waited. He heard the same
scraping he’d heard that morning, and again, voices followed. A baby cried and
then stopped crying. The voices dropped lower so he could hardly hear them at
all. Then a louder voice, Byron’s, came and went. He checked the parking lot
and watched two cars leave—the first unfamiliar, the second, Byron’s. Draven
crossed the roof yet again, and again waited for Cali.
some time, he sat listening to the sapien noises below. At last, the scraping
sound of a door opening reached him, and the scent of Cali floated up to greet him.
stilled, stunned by the sharp pain that shot through his drawing teeth when he
inhaled. He’d forgotten the power of her aroma, the hunger it awakened in him
each time he encountered it. Hers was the scent of warmth, of something long
forgotten, something deep within his core, perhaps from when he himself had
produced such inner warmth.
he heard someone enter the garden below, Draven dropped down the side of the
cage, landing with his feet between the bars. A sap stood in the garden. It was
Draven said quietly.
sapien let out a cry of surprise, his hand flying to his heart, which began
beating quite quickly. “Oh my lords, you scared the hair off me,” the sapien
said, backing towards the door. This movement always amused Draven. Did saps
think he didn’t notice the movement? Why not run for safety?
no wish to harm you,” Draven said. “I only wish to speak to Cali.”
the boy asked, regarding Draven suspiciously. “Who’s Cali?”
female who lives here with you and the baby. I would like to see her, if that
what if it’s not?” the boy asked, groping for the door behind him.
make it possible,” Draven said.
I shall stay all night, and your master will wonder very much what I’m doing here
when he returns.”
home now,” the sapien said. “I can go call him and he’ll chase you off. He’s
real mean. And important.”
Draven said. “But he’s not home. I watched him leave only moments ago.”
neither is this Cali person you’re looking for.”
your mind, I’ll not harm Cali. Have her come to the door, and if she does not
wish to speak with me, I’ll leave. I cannot reach you from here.”
sapien kept his eyes on Draven while he backed inside.
waited. After a time, Cali slid the door open a bit and peered out with one
eye, her hair covering half her face. She did not move forward to greet him.
he said, reaching through the bars towards her. Still she did not move, and he
let his hand drop. “Do you not remember me?”
he said, trying not to show his disappointment. He’d come so far,
endured so much, for a sap who no longer knew him. “Draven,” he added as a
Really? Is that really you?” she asked, opening the door a bit further and
slipping out. She stood blocking the space she’d come through. “Take off your
pulled the merino cap from his head, and they eyed each other. “I’ve been
looking for you,” he said.
you not remember?” he asked. “I was there that night. With the runaways.”
thought…I dreamed that,” she said slowly.
Come and let me see you. You have a baby now. Is that male your mate?”
I mean, yes, Master Superior.”
course he is. I’ll not harm you. You know that I won’t.” Draven extended his
hand once more. This time, Cali stepped forward, dragging one foot behind her.
Draven’s gaze fell to the chain she wore, not unlike the one he’d worn in his
own cage. From the scent, he could tell she wore an iron chain, though, instead
of steel like his. He looked to her face again. She showed no indication of
pain, frustration, or embarrassment at wearing the heavy chain. He hoped her
captivity was kinder than his.
took another step towards him but stopped just out of his reach. When he
reached for her again, she came to him. He touched her shoulder and pulled her
closer, pushed the hair from her face. A dull rage swelled in him when he saw
the bruises on her cheeks and temple and over one eye.
harms you?” he asked. “Your mate or your master?”
dropped her eyes and let her hair fall over her cheek once more. “Master.”
a moment, he only held onto her and studied her. She did not raise her eyes to
his. “Do you remember that night, what was said?”
shook her head. “No. Not very much.”
came for you. I followed you, and I want to take you with me.”
raised her eyes to his now, but then glanced over her shoulder at the door. “I
caught her wrist when she stepped back. “I’ll not hurt you. Come with me.”
kept shaking her head and refused to meet his eye again.
He shook her wrist until she looked at him. “I’ll not make you come,” he said.
“Not until you’re ready. But if you’re not happy here, if you’re not treated
well, I will take you.”
fine,” she said, shaking her hair back and looking at him squarely for the
first time. For the first time that night, he saw the fierceness in her that
had always drawn him. “My home is here. My mate, and my baby. And I think
Master will take the chain off soon, if I don’t do anything brainless.”
will take the chain off.”
shrugged. “I’ll break it.”
paused, then said, “I’m just going to be good now. I want my normal, happy life
back. Master was good to me before I ran away.”
still had her wrist, and he pulled her arm up between them. In the faint light
of night, he could see the rash of beads under her skin where Byron had bitten
her and not closed the marks. “This is good?” His thumb crossed the back of her
hand, soft and puckered with scar tissue. He knew that scar, the mark of a
runaway. How many sapiens had he returned to masters that branded them
runaways? “And this?”
pulled at her arm, but Draven held fast until she ceased struggling and faced
him once more. “What do you want?” she asked.
can’t just leave.”
I can’t. Not again. He’ll catch us again, and this time he’ll kill us all.”
time it will be different. I’ll be with you.”
paused, then nodded. “If you like.”
said if I didn’t want to, you wouldn’t make me.”
won’t.” He dropped her arm. “But I’ll come every night until you let me have
wouldn’t be free, though. I’d just have a different master.”
be good to you. Wasn’t I always?”
hesitated and looked past him, into the cold, still night. “Yeah.”
you ask, I will take you.”
can’t ask you for anything.”
may I ask you for something?”
Cali looked at him the same way her mate had, backing away as he had.
like to draw from you.” Draven kept his eyes on hers, and she stopped moving
and did not look away. “Please.”
pushed her tangled hair back and strode forward in a confident, purposeful
manner that did not fit the station of a chained sapien. She pushed her wrist
at his mouth. “Here. Take it.”
pulled her arm down, snaked his other arm through the bars and pulled her
against him. Her warmth leapt onto his skin, striped with the cold iron bars.
“I would ask for your throat,” he said softly, and he buried his hand in her
hair and tipped her head back so he could see the slender curve of her neck.
Her heart beat hard, the sap throbbing visibly in the vein at the side of her
throat, and he could feel the current of fear coursing through her. Slowly he
relaxed his grip. He let his mouth take her gradually, sinking his teeth as
gently as he could, stroking her shoulder blades and her back with his thumbs
until she relaxed and her breathing slowed.
you,” he whispered when he’d closed the puncture wound. “I will return each
night, until you let me have the rest of you.”
pushed off the side of Cali’s garden and dropped onto the bars of the garden
below hers, crossed that cage and swung down to the street below. He passed
from street to street, more focused than he had been since he’d arrived in
Princeton. His intensity disconcerted him slightly. He did not know what to
make of Cali, of himself, of his reaction to her.
had been so long, that was all. He’d wanted her and thought of her and made her
into a totem. He’d just had the sap he’d fixated on for two years, and with it,
a taste of justice. Cali represented everything wrong that he could make right.
If he had her, he would have what society owed him, what Byron and the
government had promised when he’d hired himself out as an assassin. He would
not have killed a man if he’d known he would get only money for it. He had done
it because Cali was his reward. And when he had her, justice would be done. The
world would be right again, would make sense. He wouldn’t be a fugitive, a
traitor, or a shiftless leech draining the dredges of society.
circled a building and came upon a large trash receptacle. He had an advantage on
this side of town. Most Illegals frequented the sectors or seams between them
which featured cheap restaurants offering overdrawn saps and off-the-menu
services. Not many restaurants or businesses operated in this sector, which
featured only apartments and an occasional boutique shop. As for outlaws, it
belonged to Draven alone.