Children of refuge, p.17
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       Children of Refuge, p.17

           Margaret Peterson Haddix
 
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  After a moment of stark terror, I decided maybe I wouldn’t die immediately. Maybe the Enforcers were shooting just to scare me, not to actually injure me, because none of the bullets hit my body, even as they pinged off rocks all around me. The gunfire continued, but I dared to turn my head and look toward the sky.

  A rock sailed between me and the clouds.

  “Thank you!” I screamed. “Thank you, thank you, thank you—”

  The rocks kept flying. The gunfire got softer, as if there’d been four guns firing, and now there were only three. And then it was softer still—was it possible that now there were only one or two?

  And then the gunfire ended, and all I could hear was the thudding of rocks.

  CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

  I was still cowering on the ground when I felt a hand on my back. Someone screamed in my ear, but for a moment all I could hear was the echo of gunshots and falling rocks. Then the sound made sense to me. It was Enu’s hand on my back and his voice yelling, “Edwy, you’re safe! Where’s Kiandra? What happened to her?”

  My arms and legs shook as I pushed myself up.

  “She’s locked in the back of the truck,” I told him. “She’s all right. At least, I think she’s all right. . . .”

  I glanced down toward the truck, still parked sideways by the signpost where we’d once tied Udans—ages ago, millennia ago. Between me and the truck, four dark shapes lay strewn across the rocks. Their faces looked askew. Did they have antennae sticking out from underneath their fake, human-looking faces? And did their real faces have ridges by their eyes, like beetles might?

  I didn’t care what the Enforcers really looked like, as long as they didn’t move. I saw Udans scramble past me, toward the fallen bodies, and I threw my arms around Enu. I couldn’t help it. I was raised by Freds. And no matter how I fought it, they had taught me to thank people who did great things for me.

  “You understood what I was telling you to do!” I cried. “You and Zeba and Udans knocked out the Enforcers! I think you just saved my life! Or, at least, saved me from being the Enforcers’ prisoner for the rest of my life . . .”

  Enu flushed.

  “Edwy—it was all Udans, throwing those rocks,” he said. “Zeba and me, we were too scared.”

  I could barely believe it. And I could barely believe that tough, swaggering Enu would admit he’d been afraid.

  “Just Udans?” I mumbled, stunned. “You mean . . . one person was able to do all of that? You mean if I had only tried, I could have. . . .”

  Udans looked up from where he was bent over the nearest Enforcer.

  “You could not have hit them all before they shot you, because you were out in the open,” he told me. “I could risk it only because I had the boulders hiding me. And Enu and Zeba handing me rocks. And you shouting about hitting their faces.”

  “I still should have been brave enough to throw one,” Zeba whispered. She’d crept up beside Enu and me, and I hadn’t even noticed. Tears streamed down her face. I noticed that.

  “I just kept thinking,” she went on, “what if they kill me? What if I kill one of them? How would I live with that?”

  Udans kept gazing at us.

  “You are children,” he said. “None of you have been through a war. You have never before had to think like a soldier.” Enu started to protest—he probably wanted to say something about video games—but Udans silenced him with a stern glance.

  “Until now, you have never had to think like a real soldier, in a real battle,” Udans amended. “And, God willing, you will never have to think that way again. But I fear . . .”

  Zeba and Enu both huddled beside me. Enu didn’t push my hands down from his shoulders, like I expected. Zeba drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, as if she was trying to make her body as small as possible.

  I think we were all in shock.

  “Are those Enforcers dead?” Zeba asked in a quiet voice.

  “Do you want them to be?” Udans asked.

  “Yes . . . no . . . The Freds taught us all life is valuable,” Zeba said. “But . . .”

  “I want them dead,” Enu said.

  Udans pulled something out of his shirt pocket. A vial and a needle.

  “It is the girl who will get her wish,” he said. Quickly he put the needle into the vial and then used it to inject each one of the Enforcers in turn. Then he tugged at the Enforcer’s faces, pulling their human masks—their breathing apparatus—back into place.

  “This ensures that they will be unconscious for the next twelve hours,” he said. “But they will not die. There are people in Refuge City who will be eager to study their bodies, eager to keep them imprisoned the way they would like to imprison us.”

  “Udans—did you have something to do with the patroller the Enforcers have been looking for?” I ask. “Did you maybe smuggle him to Refuge City too?”

  His face looked as rocklike as my father’s ever had.

  “I tried,” he said. “Your father and I and . . . some others in Cursed Town. We tried to get that patroller to the scientists in the city. But we didn’t know the proper way to handle Enforcers. That man died. The scientists had to do a chemical analysis to find out why.”

  “Udans, you’re not a country bumpkin,” Enu said. “You’re a hero!”

  “It is possible for me to be both at once,” Udans said. The corners of his mouth twitched. In a less grim moment it might have even been called a smile.

  I guess even Udans didn’t believe there was nothing he could do to change the world. I guess he just did it . . . secretly. While telling us kids we couldn’t do anything.

  “Help me move these bodies,” he said, lifting one Enforcer by the shoulders. “Their spy sensors probably detected the gunfire. And other Enforcers are probably coming to investigate right now. . . . Let’s be elsewhere when they arrive, all right?”

  I almost fell over when I tried to stand, but Udans got us all moving down through the rocks. Enu picked up the guns and handed them to Zeba. She looked like just touching them would make her throw up, but she took them without comment. Udans tugged two Enforcers downhill, over the rocky slope. Enu and I each dragged one. But when we got close to the truck, I couldn’t help myself: I dropped the Enforcer and grabbed the lever to unlock and open the back liftgate of the truck.

  Rosi and Kiandra stood just inside the door, poised to spring out at any Enforcers nearby. Cana and Bobo were back by the boxes, as if they’d been told to hide and be safe, but neither of them could stay put.

  “You! Where—? What—? The Enforcers—?” Rosi couldn’t even finish one question before she started another one.

  “It’s okay, Rosi,” I said. “Everyone’s okay. We’re all safe now.”

  EPILOGUE

  We rode back into Refuge City feeling like triumphant heroes. Of course, Udans, Enu, and Kiandra had to explain to the rest of us exactly what it meant to be a triumphant hero, because it wasn’t something the Freds had taught us about.

  But we were triumphant. And Udans had kindly told us that we’d all acted heroically, even if we’d all had moments of being scared.

  “You think I am not scared sometimes too?” he asked.

  “We know you are,” Enu said quickly. “But now we understand why.”

  Because we couldn’t fit everyone in the cab of the truck, Enu and Kiandra rode up front with Udans, while Zeba, Rosi, Bobo, Cana, and I rode in the back, sitting on boxes arranged in a circle.

  We didn’t mean to divide up based on who had been raised in a Fredtown and who hadn’t. But that was how it worked out.

  The unconscious Enforcers were stowed in the secret compartment, under the box I sat on. They barely fit. But, still, there were four of them—maybe the space was slightly bigger than it had seemed when I was trapped there myself.

  Udans had worried that alarms would go off when the Ref City scanners detected the Enforcers’ presence, and that reminded me that Rosi, Bobo, and Cana didn’t have the rig
ht papers either. But Kiandra assured us all that she could hack into the system and jam the city scanners. She made it sound easy.

  I trusted Kiandra. But it was hard to forget about the Enforcers beneath my feet, all the way back to Refuge City.

  As I might have expected, Rosi and Zeba hit it off famously.

  “It’s nice to meet another twelve-year-old girl,” Rosi said hesitantly, smiling through the dirt on her face.

  “Don’t worry—Kiandra’s all about girl power too,” I said. “She’ll tell you all about it.”

  “Why would anyone talk about ‘girl power’ or ‘boy power’ when we’re all humans?” Rosi asked, at the same time that Zeba said, “Doesn’t talking about one person’s power imply that there would be someone else who might not have power? Isn’t that dangerous?”

  Yeah, it was pretty clear that they were going to be friends.

  But then Rosi turned to me and said, “I missed you.”

  Bobo sidled up beside me and leaned his head on my shoulder, almost as if he were my little brother too.

  “Yeah, so many times when we were walking, Rosi would say, ‘Think about how Edwy would jump over that log’ or ‘Can’t you be a brave big boy like Edwy?’ ” Bobo said. “I even made up a song about it: ‘Edwy, Edwy, Edwy, Edwy’s always the best. . . .’ ”

  “I don’t think Edwy wants to hear you sing right now, Bobo,” Rosi said. Even in the dim light of the closed-in truck, I could see her face redden. “Remember, it’s not polite to sing while others are trying to talk.”

  This was such a perfectly prissy Rosi thing to say, I almost laughed out loud.

  Rosi still had dirt on her face, and her hair looked like she’d come through a cyclone. I’d seen her try to smooth it down, but after a week and a half of being a fugitive in the wilderness, she needed more help than that. She still looked almost nothing like the Rosi I’d been used to back in Fredtown.

  But she looked absolutely beautiful. I even kind of understood now why Enu talked about how pretty girls were.

  Cana leaned on my knee on the opposite side from Bobo.

  “Do you still disagree with everything about the Freds?” she asked plaintively. “Don’t you ever miss Fredtown?”

  “Sometimes I do,” I admitted. “But it wasn’t where we belonged. Things weren’t real there.”

  “Are things real in Refuge City?” Cana asked in her wise little five-year-old-girl voice. “Were things real in Cursed Town?” I winced, because the name sounded so much worse coming from an innocent little kid. We probably shouldn’t have talked about Cursed Town in front of her and Bobo. But they’d been there. They’d seen what it was like. “Was it real when the Enforcers were chasing us?”

  “Um . . . ,” I floundered.

  “What Edwy means,” Rosi interrupted, “is that the Freds were kind of playing make-believe in Fredtown. They were pretending there weren’t any bad things in the universe we’d ever have to deal with.”

  “But we will,” Zeba whispered.

  “There are bad things out there we have to fix,” Rosi said firmly. “Edwy and his brother and sister—and Udans and Zeba—they all rescued us from some bad things by the border. And now we have to find a way to rescue all the other kids left behind in Cursed Town.”

  I looked down at my feet. I knew that the Enforcers were right below, unconscious and defeated for now, but only for now. Our victory was a temporary one.

  “Rosi’s wrong,” I said, and when she started to protest, I stared her down. “It’s not just the kids in Cursed Town we have to rescue—it’s all the people there. The grown-ups, too. And in all the other towns like it. We have to help all of humanity.”

  Rosi started to giggle.

  “Oh, Edwy,” she said. “Edwy, Edwy, Edwy. I never thought I’d hear you sounding so much like a Fred.”

  “I don’t sound like a Fred,” I told her. “I’ve got bigger dreams than they ever did. Bigger goals. I want to help everyone.”

  I wanted to hear what Rosi would say to that, but just then the truck abruptly shuddered to a halt. I almost fell over backward. The box under me skidded sideways. Rosi and Zeba slammed against the wall.

  Someone hit the back door, and it began sliding open.

  “Get out! Get out!” Kiandra screamed at us when there was still just a crack between the bottom of the door and the floor of the truck. “I just figured out how to monitor the Enforcers’ conversations on this device!” She held up one of the pocket-sized scanners the Enforcers had used. “They’ve got a tracker on us! They say the fact that four of their Enforcers were carried off—that means they’re entitled to take over Refuge City, too! We can’t let them find us with the captured Enforcers!”

  I scrambled out, pulling Bobo along with me. Rosi carried Cana, and Zeba helped her down. Kiandra pulled the back door of the truck shut behind us. Then Enu pulled us all back toward the curb.

  After the dim interior of the truck, I stood blinking in the bright lights of a typical Ref City street. I heard Bobo murmur, “Oh, cool!” Rosi and Cana just gazed around, their eyes huge with awe.

  The truck pulled away from us.

  “Wait—Udans is staying with the truck?” I asked.

  “He said he has to get it far away from us, so the Enforcers won’t make the connection,” Kiandra whispered. “Oh, Edwy, he’s sacrificing himself for us. . . .”

  Udans the kidnapper, I thought. The pirate. And now he’s been a hero twice in one day. . . .

  “And for now Kiandra’s jamming every bioscan system she can, but we don’t know how long that will last,” Enu said. “We’ve got to find someplace to hide before the Enforcers get here, someplace that isn’t our apartment or Zeba’s soup kitchen. . . .”

  The truck disappeared into traffic. All seven of us kids began blindly scrambling in the opposite direction, through the crowds. We’d gone barely a block when I noticed the people around me had stopped. They were all staring up at an enormous news screen on the side of the nearest building, with the words Emergency announcement! Emergency announcement! scrolling across it.

  A booming voice cried out from loudspeakers all around us, “Due to a violent uprising near Refuge City, the Enforcers are being sent in to take control of all the formerly free zones, as covered in the terms of Agreement 5062. We repeat, the Enforcers are now in the process of taking control of the whole planet. . . .”

  Everyone around me looked dazed. But I gathered the other six kids close to me.

  “We’ll be okay,” I said. “Don’t worry! We’ll just tell everyone in Ref City that there’s a way to disable the Enforcers. We’ll tell the secret about the Enforcers’ faces and the masks, and they won’t be able to take over. We’ve just got to get the word out! Kiandra, can’t you take over that public announcement system?”

  Kiandra’s eyes lit up, and she started to nod. But then she looked past me, back toward the screen.

  “Too late,” she whispered, pointing.

  On the screen, a row of Enforcers were marching into what I recognized as the outskirts of Refuge City. They looked almost exactly like the Enforcers we’d encountered out in the wilderness: same dark uniforms, same grim expressions.

  But over their heads they all wore clear, bubble-shaped helmets—helmets that covered their vulnerable faces completely.

  “They know what we did out in the wilderness,” Kiandra whispered. “They’ve already adapted.”

  Around us people were weeping. People were screaming. People were bashing their heads against the nearest wall.

  “Don’t people know that’s not a good idea?” Bobo asked in his innocent little-boy voice.

  I swallowed hard. I couldn’t let him down, any more than I could have let Rosi down.

  “They just don’t know what else to do,” I told Bobo. “But they’re going to be all right. Because we’re going to think of something better to do. We will. We’re going to fix everything.”

  “We will,” Rosi whispered, as if all the disagreemen
ts we’d ever had were over.

  It was like we’d been on the same team all along.

  We were definitely on the same team now.

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  MARGARET PETERSON HADDIX is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed teen and middle-grade novels, including the Missing series, the Shadow Children series, the Palace Chronicles, Under Their Skin, Children of Exile, Claim to Fame, and Uprising. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for the Indianapolis News. She also taught at Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at haddixbooks.com.

  Visit us at simonandschuster.com/kids

  Authors.SimonandSchuster.com/Margaret-Peterson-Haddix

  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

  Simon & Schuster, New York

  ALSO BY MARGARET PETERSON HADDIX

  * * *

  THE MISSING SERIES

  Found

  Sent

  Sabotaged

  Torn

  Caught

  Risked

  Revealed

  Sought (an eBook original)

  Rescued (an eBook original)

  THE SHADOW CHILDREN

  Among the Hidden

  Among the Impostors

  Among the Betrayed

  Among the Barons

  Among the Brave

  Among the Enemy

  Among the Free

  THE PALACE CHRONICLES

  Just Ella

  Palace of Mirrors

  Palace of Lies

  UNDER THEIR SKIN SERIES

  Under Their Skin

  In Over Their Heads

  CHILDREN OF EXILE SERIES

  Children of Exile

  The Girl with 500 Middle Names

  Because of Anya

  Say What?

  Dexter the Tough

  Running Out of Time

  Full Ride

  Game Changer

  The Always War

  Claim to Fame

  Uprising

 
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