Okay, so this isn’t chapter 61 yet. Holidays and family and work stuff have colluded to keep me busy, and I haven’t even had the chance to go back and give chapter 60 a proper edit. The good news, 61, is 90% there. The bad, I’m exhausted and don’t want to do 2 not quite done chapters in a row. The best: this is it. 61 is the last chapter, the epilogue.
Afterwards, I think I’m going to go back to posting Old Ventures. I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off, to work on the outline and catch back up. I think I’m going to repost at a chapter a week, so I can get some headway before I’m posting new material again- I really need a little bit of a break from posting 5 days a week. But hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to put it up. And hopefully, you all like it as much as I’ve liked writing it for you.
EDIT: Nope. Did I say family was part of the slow-down? I did? Okay. Family twice, then. Should be able to get it done tomorrow, as I nominally have the day off.
“I kind of feel cheated,” Rui said over the phone. “After the night we’ve had, I was kind of looking forward to the idea of setting fire to some CBP vehicles.”
“Yeah, well, if it’s any consolation, you’re still a fugitive, you’re just not wanted for attacking government agents.”
“Yet,” Rui said, “you’ve got to let a man dream.”
“And we’re sure about these coordinates?” Sonya asked. “Because I haven’t seen a road sign for aboot a hundred kilometers.”
“It’s supposed to be in the middle of nowhere,” Ben said. “That’s part of the point.”
“I see headlights,” Rox said, breaking into the party line.
“Aw,” Sonya said, “thanks for noticing; I wore my fancy push-up for you.”
“Less banter, more tree!” Rui said. “Tree tree tree!”
“Hush,” Sonya said, turning the wheel at the last minute and narrowly avoiding a large fir with her side mirror.
“Part of my life flashed before my eyes,” Ben gasped, stepping out of his bus, heaving, “Maybe parts of some past lives, too. I’m pretty sure I was an old west gogo dancer.”
“I’m not sure whether to be scared, or aroused,” Cris said, hopping down from his bus. “Did you look like you?”
“Me, 10% more feminine curves and slightly longer hair.”
“Okay, now I’m aroused,” Rui said.
“Shockingly,” Rox said, walking among them from the shadows, “it’s been days since anyone’s told me about their erections?”
“You missed it, right?”
”It was so short, it was hard not to,” Sonya cut in.
“Everybody okay,” Rox asked her, though her eyes shot right to Ben.
“Better every second,” Ben said, letting go of a breath he felt he’d been holding for several hours as children streamed from the buses. “So, why did you direct us to the creepiest woodland campout ever?”
“Because they’re the Canadian equivalent to our school. Except it’s housed in a secret, ex-military installation in the wilderness, so it’s more secure because it’s anonymous. And, you know, bonus points because their Prime Minister doesn’t feel so inadequate about Breed that he’s made it his personal mission to shove them all out of the country.”
“And we trust them?” Cris asked with an edge in his voice.
Rox looked quizzically at him a moment. “Trust is… an ongoing process. But that’s why we wanted you to meet their Director. Not of operations. But of instruction.”
“Their D. Ops gave me a hand,” Anita said, dropping down from on top of one of the buses. “We started to get concerned he might give me all eight pints of his blood, too, so he’s resting in medical. But the Director of Instruction runs the show. She’s the opposite number of the dean.”
They heard a woman muttering just around the front of one of the busses, “Um, I’m not sure about, whoa-” before she was shoved towards them. Mai stepped out behind her, smiling. “I’m, um, Dr. Maron. I have a doctorate in experimental education, I’ve grown pilot educational programs for several different kinds of classically difficult student populations. While I only minored in genetics, I’ve consulted with some of the top minds in the field of Breed studies. I’ve been talking with your friends, and while our program wasn’t planning on scaling up, that was mostly an issue of funding and population; Canada is much smaller than the US, and most of our Breed have already been recruited to your Blaremont Academy, which as of the arrival of these buses is no longer an issue. And your Latina friend spent the last hour on various stock-buying and betting web sites and has already quintupled the size of our endowment, so that won’t be a factor, either. But I’d like you all to follow me…”
They walked past staff organizing the children into more manageable groups, and into the facility. They moved through the facility’s foreboding corridors, into some dormitories. “I’d like all of you to meet the young man who started all of this.” A young boy was strapped to his bed. “He can be a bit of a wild child, but only when he gets excited. How are you feeling, Roger?” The boy opened his eyes sleepily. They lit up when they saw Dr. Maron. “Don’t be scared. Some people are here I’d like you to meet. I think they’d like to be your friend, if that’s okay with you. Is that okay with you?” He peered anxiously at them. “I’m going to remove your restraints. Remember what we talked about. No biting, no scratching. Most people don’t have extra durable skin or a healing factor to compensate, so you’ve got to be gentle with them.” One at a time she loosened and then removed his restraints. As soon as the last, around his left ankle, was removed, he jumped behind her, and hid.
“It’s okay, Roger,” she soothed. “As far as we’ve been able to piece together, his parents lived on the frontier. The kinds of people who live almost entirely off the land. Their neighbors wouldn’t see them for years at a time. There was some kind of an accident, maybe a gas leak. His parents died. He’s been hunting for food since he was about four, feeding himself, clothing himself, finding enough wood to keep the stove warm. But he’s hardly ever spoken to another human being; he’s essentially feral. He’s young; in cases like this usually a child can be taught, given time, and patience. But with his Breed abilities coming in, he’s a bigger handful than a child his age and size would normally be. But he’s a good boy. Aren’t you, Roger?” He peaked his head out from behind her and nodded slowly.
“Most of the kids here, at least before tonight, were those with extra special needs, ones who couldn’t get into your school because they couldn’t pass the entrance exams, or who were far too young to apply. But fundamentally, our mission isn’t changing tonight- it’s evolving. We’ve been proving for months that targeted educational approaches can work. Until your friends broke in, we’d gone the better part of six months without an incident- Roger being an asterisk. He got out on his way, while he was being transported. I’d been working with him near his home for months, trying to convince him to come work with us here. When it came time for the transport, Garrity wouldn’t let me ride with him- said it was too much of a security risk, and he got scared and kicked the back doors off the van. Garrity sent a goon squad after him; thankfully they didn’t hurt him. But since he arrived, he’s been a very sweet boy.”
“Then why the restraints?” Anita asked, glaring hatefully.
“Because he’s still new here, and adjusting. We’re not sure if he suffers from night terrors, or is just anxious, but he’s not used to being around people. The first day when an orderly came to wake him, he sliced four inch-deep tracts into his face. Thankfully that orderly has an advanced healing ability, and you’d never know I had to hold his eye in my hand for five minutes to keep it from detaching from the optic nerve completely. We’re being more careful with him, that’s all.”
“Is he a prisoner here?” Anita asked.
“That is a bit more complicated,” Dr. Maron said. “Most of our students are here with their guardian’s permission. Since both of Roger’s parents are no longer with us, he’s technically a ward of the state. He’s not a prisoner, but he is in our care, and we’re legally responsible for him. I guess he’s no more a prisoner here than your average kid is a prisoner of their parents- only, I’m not sure we could keep him if he really wanted out.
“That probably answers the question,” Rox interceded. Anita stared at her, nodding furiously.
“Ahem,” Anita said.
“I don’t know if it’s necessary, or whatever,” Rox said. “You seem like an okay person, with people’s best interests at heart.”
“But if you aren’t,” Anita said, muscling past Rox, “my diminuitive friend and I come back here. We shoot, stab, burn and whatever else is necessary through the facility’s support staff. Then we hold our own little mini Nuremberg- we do an investigation, we conduct trials, and we execute anyone who, in our humble opinion, deserves it. As much of a complete and total sociopath as I can be- I really don’t want to do any of that. So imagine how much extra annoyed I’ll be if you make me. Imagine how much longer I’ll make the executions take.”
“How stable is she?” Dr. Maron asked. “Because I’m familiar with the atrocities that took place in the previous program- and disgusted by them. I have no intention of bringing back any of that kind of barbarity. But it doesn’t take the training and experience I have to recognize that this woman is suffering from at least some delusions, and frankly I’d prefer not to risk mine or my staff’s lives unnecessarily.”
“She’s fine,” Rox said. “If you’re providing food, shelter, and training to the children here, then she’ll be the best defender this place could ask for. But I’d be cautious about the edge cases. You have a mental patient who you think will respond to limited electroshock, you have a kid who maybe needs restraints when he gets upset- tell us. Up front and as early as possible. Because if she finds out, and it didn’t come from you- it could be ugly. But I promise- if you’re straight with us- and straight with her, we’ll all stay on the same team.”
“So you’re the good cop, then.”
“I’m the rational cop. She isn’t. But it’s part of my job to keep her on a leash- at least until it’s time to let her off…” Rox and Dr. Maron continued walking, while the others lingered behind.
“Sometimes irrationality’s exactly what you need,” Ben said. “These kids aren’t here today because we thought through the most rational plan to rescue them. They got here because they needed out of that detention facility; and we needed them out of there nearly as bad as they did. Rationality would have seen us negotiating with ourselves until someone else did the right thing. Sometimes the least rational thing in the world is being rational.”
Anita held up her finger. “I don’t know who it speaks more poorly for, but I know exactly what he means.”
I’m happy you made it this far. I’m happy I did, too. 2020 was a hell of a slog. We all deserve a little appreciation for soldiering through it.
As for what’s next for me, I need a break. Or maybe my family needs me to need a break. But I can’t keep the pace I’ve been on indefinitely. So for the next couple weeks I’ll keep posting the Pitchgiving, and then I’ll start in on another pass for Old Ventures 2. I’ll post a newly redone chapter every week, maybe Monday but I’ll see what makes the most sense. Then we’ll stay on a weekly schedule until it’s done. And I’m weighing doing a Pitchmas sequel… but we’ll see how I feel by the end of Pitchgiving.