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Mito medical kidnap file.., p.14
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       Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.14

           P.D. Workman
 
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  Chapter Thirteen

  FOR THE NEXT COUPLE of weeks, Gabriel tried to just keep his head down and not cause any trouble. If he fit in and didn’t make any waves, then maybe DFS would be quicker to let him see Keisha again. It was easier to take his pills now that he wasn’t throwing them up again an hour later. He still got nauseated, but he rarely threw up. The nosebleeds were also negligible and the new antihistamine cleared up the rash without making him hung over the next day.

  The excruciating leg cramps still returned every few nights. Gabriel tried not to call for Matt and Heather unless the cramps were particularly bad, suffering through them in silence. He slept with electric blankets that he could turn on as soon as they started to cramp up.

  It seemed like barely any time had passed before it was time to go back to the clinic for another update and round of testing. Gabriel picked at his toast, feeling queasy even though he hadn’t taken his pills yet. They were all laid out beside his plate. With his usual meds, the protocol, and the additional anti-nausea and allergy pills, he was now taking a total of fifteen pills in the morning. It was a wonder he didn’t rattle when he walked.

  “Collin, would you take Luce to the bus?” Heather asked as she buzzed around the kitchen getting the lunches put into backpacks. “I don’t know what Josiah is doing this morning; I’ve got to get him moving.”

  Gabriel looked up from his breakfast at Collin. “I’ll do it,” he offered.

  Heather stopped her frantic packing. “Well, that’s very nice. Thank you for volunteering, Gabriel. Are you sure you’re okay to stand out there waiting?”

  “Yeah. I can do it.” Gabriel stood up and swallowed his pills in a couple of handfuls, washing them down well. He went around the table to where Luce sat, holding an apple slice up over her head, looking at it against the light. “Hey, Luce. It’s time for the bus.”

  He pressed a couple more apple slices into her other hand and picked up her plate. “Come on, time to go to the door.” He couldn’t hold her hand because both were occupied, but he took her by the wrist and gave her a gentle tug.

  Her eyes followed the plate in Gabriel’s other hand, and she went with him like the proverbial donkey led by a carrot.

  “Good girl,” Gabriel murmured. “That’s right.”

  He knew he had to do what he could to encourage her because he didn’t have the strength to pull her or force her to do anything. It was pretty bad when he couldn’t overpower a wiry eight-year-old girl, but Luce was powerful when she was upset. At the door, he put down the plate on the bench, and Luce followed and grabbed a cube of cheese.

  “Shoes now, Luce.”

  Gabriel offered her shoes one at a time and she slid her feet into them without objection. Gabriel did up the velcro.

  Heather strode to the door and put down Luce’s backpack. “Thanks again, Gabriel. You’re doing great. It’s a big help.”

  Gabriel offered Luce her coat and she put her arms through the sleeves one at a time without looking at him. She held the cheese in front of her face, turning it around and around before nibbling the corner.

  “You’ll need to carry your backpack.”

  She picked it up and walked out and down the sidewalk when he opened the door. She seemed to be into the routine now and didn’t need so much encouragement. She went to the end of the sidewalk and stood there, waiting. Gabriel followed a little behind, not quite as quick on his feet. When he stopped beside her, she slid her hand into his, not once looking at him or trying to say anything. He hadn’t heard any clear words out of Luce yet. He’d heard her scream, grunt, and make random noises at the top of her voice, apparently getting a thrill just out of hearing herself. He’d heard her babble to herself while she played, or hum the theme songs of her favorite TV shows when she watched them. There had been a few times when he had seen her grab Heather’s hand, and make noises to her, which Heather seemed reasonably adept at translating. But she had no way of telling the Foegels if someone was abusing her. She was completely vulnerable.

  The yellow bus arrived a few minutes later. Luce stepped onto it and went directly to her usual seat. The bus driver gave a little wave at Gabriel, shut the doors, and pulled out. Gabriel headed back into the house. When he got to the door, Collin was lacing up his huge high-tops. Gabriel waited, not wanting to compete for the space.

  Collin stood up. He pushed his face aggressively toward Gabriel’s. “You like little girls?” he demanded. “You like it when they can’t talk back? Huh? Is that it?”

  Gabriel swallowed and licked his lips. “No,” he said, mouth dry as cotton. “I just don’t like seeing her get hurt.”

  “She’s like an animal,” Collin growled. “She doesn’t feel pain the same way you do. Or maybe you don’t either.” He knocked Gabriel roughly back into the doorway. “Are you an animal too?”

  Gabriel steadied himself on his feet. “I’m not bothering you,” he pointed out. “If you just want to be left alone, then leave me alone.”

  Collin’s mouth twisted sourly. He looked like he was going to push Gabriel again, then changed his mind. “Fine,” he agreed. He swung his sports bag over his shoulder and walked out the door.

  Gabriel let out a sigh of relief and shut the door. He sat down on the bench for a minute to rest his shaking legs. He could hear Heather arguing with a whiny Josiah down the hall. Still in the bedroom; it didn’t sound like she had managed to get him to the breakfast table yet, and his bus would be there in another five minutes.

  Gabriel went back to the kitchen, cleared away his unfinished breakfast, and put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Glancing through the cupboards, he put a juice box, a granola bar, and a string cheese on the counter next to Josiah’s Superman lunch bag. Heather hurried in a minute later, dragging Josiah behind her. She had his backpack and reached for the lunch bag. She looked at the small pile of snacks on the counter, frowning, as she tucked the lunch bag into the backpack.

  “For his breakfast,” Gabriel explained. “I thought he could eat that on the bus.”

  “Good idea,” Heather approved. “Thank you. Josiah, take these. Get your shoes on.”

  “Is that enough for him?” Gabriel checked.

  “Yes, it will do just fine.”

  She picked up the backpack and hurried Josiah to the door to get ready. Josiah was just going out the door as the bus pulled up. Heather shut the door and came back to the kitchen, shaking her head. “It is a challenge some mornings, Gabriel!”

  “Yeah,” Gabriel agreed. “You have a lot of kids to look after.”

  “Five doesn’t really seem like a lot. I grew up in a family with eight, and we’ve had more kids at a time than that before. But when you start to add special needs into the mix…” She took a deep breath. “Well, it’s just great if everyone can pitch in. And you did that today.” She went over and picked up Alex, who was starting to fuss. “You’re so good with the little ones. Sometimes an ‘only child’ has a hard time relating when they get put in a family with foster siblings.”

  “I haven’t lived in a home with other kids. But I’ve shared rooms at the hospital a lot. And played in children’s wards.”

  “I hadn’t thought about that.”

  “Sometimes you see the same kids over again, another time. The chronic ones. I like little ones better than ones my age or older, usually.” Gabriel thought about the last hospital stay. “I got along good with Renata, though.”

  “You mentioned her. Well, I appreciate you volunteering to help today, and seeing a need without being told, too. You were very kind in the way you got Luce ready.”

  Gabriel looked at Heather’s face, wondering if she knew how Collin treated Luce.

  “I’m going to get Alex fed,” Heather said, looking down at the baby and making faces at her. “Then we’ll need to head out to the clinic.”

  Gabriel was worried about having to see Dr. De Klerk at the clinic again, and he hadn’t even thought about any of the other medical professionals that he could run
into there. When he walked into the nurse’s office to be weighed and have his vitals recorded, he stopped dead. The nurse following behind him bumped into him, almost knocking him down.

  She grabbed at him. “I’m sorry—I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Are you okay?” She hung onto Gabriel’s elbow, rigid, like she expected him to fall right over.

  Gabriel pulled away from her. “It’s okay.” He didn’t want to go in, but there was nowhere else for him to go. The nurse who was waiting for him was Nurse Birch from the weight clinic. She looked just as shocked to see him as he was to see her. Her face drained of all color.

  “Mr. Tate.” She took the clipboard from the nurse behind Gabriel and looked down at it. “Well, let’s work you up. Step onto the scale and we’ll see how you’re doing.” Her voice was harsh, the words coming out too fast. Gabriel stepped up onto the scale and waited for the electronic readout to display his weight.

  Nurse Birch read it aloud and wrote it onto Gabriel’s chart. She flipped back to the previous update. “And that means that you have gained… wait—you’ve lost four pounds.” Her brows drew down. “Why did you lose weight? You’re not still throwing up, are you?”

  “No.”

  “You are not getting enough calories. What has your appetite been like?”

  “Not great. And I still get nauseated, so it’s hard to eat much.”

  “Come sit down.” She gestured to a chair. She took his pulse and then listened to his chest and back. She was scowling as she jotted figures down. “Put your arm in the cuff.” They had a fancy automatic blood pressure device instead of the manual sphygmomanometer.

  Gabriel put his arm in and waited as it cycled.

  Birch looked at the final reading. “Hold still. Let’s try that again.”

  Gabriel waited while she ran the machine through another cycle. He was careful not to move in case the machine was extra sensitive. Some of them were quite persnickety.

  “It’s pretty high,” Birch said, her mouth turned down. She flipped back through the chart to look at the previous reading. “It wasn’t that high last time. That is concerning. Are you feeling stressed?”

  Gabriel coughed. “Uh… yeah.”

  She looked at his face. Gabriel turned away, hot and self-conscious. There were several long seconds of silence. Gabriel closed his eyes and rubbed his nose, waiting for her to continue with the tests or to send him to the next room.

  “Why are you stressed?” Birch questioned.

  Gabriel’s stomach twisted. His pulse was pounding in his temples. He could hear the rushing in his ears. “It’s nothing.”

  “Mr. Tate. You need to be honest with me. Whatever is going on is obviously affecting you physically. Without knowing what it is, we can’t know how to address it.”

  Gabriel put his elbows on his knees, holding his hands over his eyes. He groaned.

  “Gabriel.”

  Gabriel didn’t look at her. “You. You reported my mom to DFS, didn’t you?”

  “What?” her voice rose several tones, shocked. “What makes you think that?” For a minute, Gabriel thought that he and Renata had been wrong. It hadn’t been Nurse Birch who had reported him after all. “Those reports are confidential,” she said. “Who told you I reported you?”

  He squinted at her through his fingers. “Nobody. Just figured it out.”

  “Oh.” She stared down at her clipboard. For a long time, she was silent. “I’m going to write down that it’s situational hypertension. I recommend that someone else take another blood pressure reading before you leave today.”

  Gabriel nodded. “Okay.”

  She looked like she wanted to say something else to him. Her mouth kept pursing, her jaw muscles tensing, grinding her teeth.

  “You were wrong. You shouldn’t have reported her. My weight was going up,” he said emphatically. “Since then, it’s only gone down.”

  “It will stabilize,” Birch said. “Now that you’re not throwing up, we only need to get your calorie consumption higher.”

  “My mom had it working. The hospital couldn’t even give me food I wasn’t allergic to. My mom had me on supplements that were working. The stuff she was doing was helping.”

  Birch’s eyes showed doubt. “It is dangerous to be adding herbs and other supplements that are unproven, especially with all the meds that you are on. It’s irresponsible. They could be contraindicated. There isn’t enough research into interactions.”

  “Look at me.” Gabriel looked down at his bony arms and chest. “Does it look like I’m healthier taking these pills? Or the ones my mom had me on?”

  She wrote something else down on his chart. “Down the hall to room four-twelve,” she instructed. “You can find your way?”

  Gabriel got up. She handed him the clipboard to take with him. Once out into the hallway, Gabriel looked down at it to see what she had written. He saw the word ‘supplements.’ It was circled, and there was a question mark next to it.

  Gabriel looked with distaste at the glass next to his plate.

  Heather saw him eyeing it. “You need to drink it, bud.”

  “I know I’m supposed to… but it’s not officially part of the protocol, is it? I mean, the pills are the protocol. The formula is just a suggestion to help me put on weight.”

  “It is to help you put on weight,” Heather agreed. “And you need to drink it.”

  “My mom would never let me drink something like that. It’s not food; it’s just straight chemicals.”

  “If you didn’t have the nerve to be allergic to dairy, you could have a dairy-based formula,” Heather said with a teasing smile.

  “It tastes awful.”

  “You can add some chocolate syrup if you think that would help. Or you can drink it down as fast as you can without tasting it. It’s all up to you. But you need to drink it.”

  “It’s… chalky… sludgy.”

  “Sounds horrible,” she said cheerfully. “Enjoy it. Do what you can to get enough calories other ways and maybe you won’t have to take it any more after your next appointment.”

  “Urggh.” Gabriel shuddered.

  Heather left him to his meal. Gabriel took his pills and his sandwich. He took the cup of formula away from the table. “I’m going to sit outside,” he called to Heather.

  She answered something from down the hall. Gabriel stepped outside and sat down on the wrought iron bench in front of the house. He swirled the drink in the cup and took a small sip. It was wretched stuff. He couldn’t do as Heather suggested and just gulp it down. He would gag and throw it up again. He could only get it down a bit at a time.

  “You don’t need to look so miserable about it.”

  Gabriel’s head snapped up. Renata was standing halfway across the lawn from him.

  “Renata! What are you doing here?” Gabriel stood up but didn’t know whether he should shake her hand, or hug her, or something else.

  Renata laughed. She walked the rest of the way across the lawn and gave him a brief hug. “How are you, Gabe?”

  “I’m… I’m good. What about you? You’re out of the hospital. Does that mean you’re feeling better?”

  “I’m doing great. Let’s sit down.” She motioned to the bench.

  Gabriel sat back down again, and she sat next to him. She held his hand. Gabriel still had his formula in the other hand. He took another sip, grimacing at the taste and texture.

  “That looks painful,” Renata laughed. “Doesn’t taste good?”

  “Uggh.”

  “You should take it like I do!” she touched her stomach where the tube was.

  “It’d almost be worth the surgery.”

  She laughed. She looked him over critically, the corners of her eyes crinkled. “You’re looking a lot better. Walking around. You don’t look half-dead anymore.”

  Gabriel shrugged. “I guess. Still not as good as I was before they took me away from my mom, though. And they put me on this stuff instead of the diet that was helping me to
gain weight before.”

  She shook her head and stared at the glass. “What’s in it? It could be some kind of poison. Experimental bioweapons. Viruses. Nanobots?”

  “It’s just a stupid soy supplement. Vitamins and minerals ground up in gritty soy milk and sweetened with corn syrup. To help me gain weight.”

  She considered. “I’d rather drink nanobots.”

  Gabriel studied Renata in turn. “How about you? You’re feeling better? Your ribs and your… psych stuff?”

  “They let me out. The ribs are still tender, but they’re healing. Got the drain out. Lung’s staying inflated.”

  “How did you end up here? Is your foster family close by?”

  She looked at him sideways. “No. I just decided to look you up. See how my psych ward buddy was doing.”

  “So… what? You ran away?” Gabriel took another gulp of the formula.

  “Why don’t you just dump that?” Renata asked. She motioned to the little overgrown garden behind them. “Nobody would know.”

  “I have to do what they say. If I want to be able to go back to my mom—”

  “Oh, Gabriel. You’re away from me for a few weeks, and they already got you brainwashed again. You know they’re not sending you back to your mom. Ever.”

  “She said if she knew it would get me taken away, she would have put me in the mito clinic. If I follow all of their instructions, and she says she’ll keep me in the program…”

  Renata raised an eyebrow at him. Gabriel cleared his throat and took another drink. If he didn’t believe that there was some chance he could go back to Keisha, Gabriel didn’t know if he could go on.

  Heather came out the front door. “Oh… you have company!”

  “Uh… yeah.” Gabriel let go of her hand and looked at Renata. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to cause any trouble for her. “This is Renata.”

  “Oh, your friend from the hospital.”

  “Yeah.” Gabriel glanced over at Renata, sensing the smile before he saw it. “I might have mentioned you.”

  “Well, I would hope so!”

  “I didn’t know that the two of you were keeping in touch…”

  Gabriel couldn’t explain what he didn’t understand himself, so he said nothing. Renata gave Heather a bland smile. “You can find anything on Google.”

  Frown lines appeared between Heather’s eyebrows. She looked at Gabriel. “You finished your drink?”

  He displayed the cup’s contents to her. “Just about.”

  “Good. Don’t you go pouring it out. My garden may need weeding, but it doesn’t need a dietary supplement.”

  Renata giggled.

  “Why don’t you bring Renata in, and you guys can have a couple of cookies?”

  Gabriel took a breath and drank the rest of the formula. “Cookies sound good.”

  “However we can get extra calories in you.”

  Gabriel and Renata got up and passed by Heather to enter the house. Gabriel led the way to the kitchen. He knew where to find the cookies. He put a couple each on a plate and sat down at the table with Renata. She looked at them.

  “Those are homemade! Nobody makes homemade anymore!”

  “They’re really good,” Gabriel informed her. “I helped make them.”

  “You?”

  He nodded. He waited for her to help herself to one and then realized his mistake. “Oh… I forgot…!” Gabriel looked at Heather.

  “Renata can’t have cookies?” Heather asked. “Is it the sugar? What can you have, Renata?”

  “Nothing by mouth,” Renata said. “I have a tube.”

  “Oh. Yes, I think I remember Gabriel mentioning that. Well, I’d offer you some of Alex’s formula, but you probably have a specific one that you’re supposed to be taking.”

  “Yeah. What does Alex get?”

  Heather told her the brand and variety, and Renata nodded. “Yeah. That would make me puke. It’s all gotta be predigested and chemicals and stuff.”

  “Fun. You won’t be staying long, then. You’ll need to go home for another feeding.”

  Renata nodded, her eyes on Gabriel while he ate one of the cookies.

  “Where are you living, Renata? Is your foster family in town here?”

  “No. Closer to the valley,” Renata said vaguely.

  “I know most of the foster families around here who take kids with medical needs.”

  “Uh-huh.” Renata didn’t volunteer any information about her family at this broad hint. “So how old is Alex? What’s wrong with him?”

  “Her,” Gabriel corrected. He looked at Heather to supply more information about Alex. He’d never asked her what was wrong with any of the other foster kids.

  “Alex has something called Shaken Baby Syndrome,” Heather explained. “She has neurological damage from one of her biological parents shaking her.”

  Renata nodded. Gabriel could tell by her expression that she had a theory on this, but she kept her mouth shut and just smiled politely.

  “I’ll… leave you kids to talk. Your tutor is going to be here in about an hour, Gabriel.”

  “Okay. Thanks.”

  They waited for her to leave again. Gabriel looked back at Renata. “Okay. Let’s hear it.”

  “What?”

  “Shaken Baby Syndrome.”

  She grinned. “You already know what I think. It’s bull. There wasn’t any such thing until social workers needed another reason to take babies away from their bio parents. So they made something up.”

  “But Alex is damaged. You can see that looking at her. It isn’t made up.”

  “Neither is your mito, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make up Munchhausen by Proxy to take you away from her, does it? A baby is sick and you say she was shaken, so you can take her away, get more money by putting her in foster care.”

  They went back out to the bench in front of the house. Gabriel shook his head. “If they say she was shaken, they would have to be able to prove it…”

  “Just like they had to prove that your mom was poisoning you? Or she was neglecting your medical care? Or was she putting things into your head to make you think that you had symptoms that you didn’t? They just throw everything that might pass in the charges. The judge takes one look at all the medical double-talk, and a kid with obvious medical problems, and say remove her. Get her out of there before the parents kill her.”

  “They must have done something. I’ve seen Alex.”

  Renata laughed. “You’d make a great judge. You don’t know anything about what happened. Preemie baby has a brain bleed, must be Shaken Baby Syndrome. Floppy baby with neurological problems? Must be Shaken Baby Syndrome. Petechial bleeding? Shaken Baby Syndrome. Neck damage? Broken ribs? It’s all Shaken Baby.”

  “How can they do that?”

  “Do you think they actually do experiments to see what kind of injuries shaking a baby will produce?”

  “Well… no.”

  “So how do they know?”

  “Because some people really do shake their babies.”

  “Do they? Have you seen people do it? Like the social workers say you have to do to produce these injuries?” Renata demonstrated, miming shaking a baby violently, shaking and shaking and shaking. Gabriel’s heart raced with anxiety just seeing her act it out. How could anyone do that?

  “Of course not… no one would do that in front of a witness.”

  “So how do you compare a real case of Shaken Baby—if there is such a thing—with a fake one? With a bleed caused by a disease or an accident?”

  How would you know? Gabriel slumped over and rubbed his temples. She was drawing him in again. Sucking him into her arguments. Making them sound reasonable.

  “So what are you doing here?” he asked, putting further discussion of baby Alex or Shaken Baby Syndrome aside. “How did you even know where I was?”

  “You knew where you were going before you left, remember? The Foegels. You knew from what Sky read.”

 
“But how did you know where they lived? And how did you get here?”

  “Google is your friend,” Renata said obliquely.

  Gabriel looked at her, waiting for her to explain clearly. Renata rolled her eyes. She looked at the front door of the house and then looked behind them, through the big living room window. She scanned up and down the street. Then she snuggled up closer to Gabriel and lowered her voice.

  “I decided that somebody has to do something about it.”

  “About what?”

  “About medical kidnap. It’s even making it to the mainstream news. It’s so common that they can’t keep it hidden anymore. If we strike now, I think we can bring the whole structure tumbling down. We’re at a tipping point.”

  “You want to… stop them from being able to take any more kids.”

  Renata nodded vigorously. “Exactly. We’re going to expose what is going on, the corruption of the whole system. We have to get kids out from under their oppressors to tell their stories.”

  “We have to… what…?”

  “You want to tell your story, right? Because you know that if people knew what was happening, they would be outraged. They would return you to your mom. If people could see the corruption, they would revolt against it.”

  Gabriel already knew that nobody was going to listen to him. “I’ve been trying,” he said. “I even went to a court hearing of my case… but the judge wouldn’t let me or my mom talk. She said that the judge has thrown her out before. They won’t let us speak.”

  “Which judge?” Renata asked.

  Gabriel was irritated by the segue. He scowled. “Dreyer.”

  “Oooh,” Renata grabbed her chest as if shot. “Bad luck! He and Markey are golfing buddies.”

  Markey was Renata’s nickname for Dr. De Klerk, Gabriel remembered. “Yeah, I figured. How did you know that?”

  “Pssh. I’ve had them all at some point.”

  “Oh. So what am I supposed to do about Dreyer? I can’t exactly get him to listen to me. Or get changed to someone else.”

  “My idea is bigger than one boy testifying in one courtroom.”

  “What, then?”

  “I want to get kids away from their foster homes, to where they’re safe to talk about what’s going on. Get their stories told. If people can hear their stories from their own mouths, see how similar they are, how big the whole thing is…”

  “Get kids away from their foster homes.”

  “Yeah. How about it, Gabe?”

  “How about what? Me…?” Gabriel stared at her. “You want me to run away from the Foegels? And go where? Tell who?”

  She was grinning, pleased with herself. “Why not?”

  “Why—? Well, for one thing… I can’t run!”

  “You could do it if we planned it right. Not run, I don’t mean. Just walk away.”

  “Where?”

  “Did you ever hear of the underground railway?”

  “I am black,” Gabriel pointed out. “I couldn’t exactly help hearing of the underground railway. It’s the way that they got slaves away from their owners, to the north or Canada. So they could live as free people.”

  “So what if you and I started an underground railway for the foster kids? What’s the difference? They’re being kidnapped from their own homes and being treated as commodities, just like the black slaves. We get them out, give them a chance to tell their stories. Start an avalanche in the media.”

  “Where would they go? Where would they be safe to speak out?”

  Renata had obviously not thought that far ahead. She meditated on the problem for a few minutes, leaning her chin on her palm. “Out of state,” she said finally. “DFS is a state department Each one runs separately. If you suddenly showed up in California, they couldn’t do anything without a new report, right? If you’re not a criminal, they don’t have to send you back where you came from.”

  “So you want me to run away to California with you?”

  “It doesn’t have to be California. You got somewhere you want to see?” She laughed.

  Gabriel just sat there. She leaned over, looking into his face.

  “Come on, Gabe…”

  “So you ran away from your foster family.”

  She shrugged.

  “What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? What’s your plan?”

  “I’m not stupid. I’m gonna stay below the radar and get whoever I can to come along. I don’t need a foster family to survive.”

  “You can’t just stop at McDonalds or a truck stop for something to eat. What are you going to do?”

  She showed him her backpack. A ratty old army backpack. It looked like it was stuffed pretty full. “You think I’d leave without supplies? I got all the formula I could carry. Some ready-mixed, and some powder that you just have to add water to. Easier to carry that way.”

  “And your meds?”

  “I’ve got my meds.” She gave a little shrug. “The ones I need.”

  “Where are you going to stay?”

  “Depends on how long I have to wait for you.”

  “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Renata. I’m sorry… I think my chances are better if I stay here, and do what I’m supposed to.”

  “So you’re just gonna sit here and drink your nanobots and let DFS decide where you’re going to live, what you’re going to eat and drink, and what meds you’re going to take? You know they’re not going to send you back to your mom.”

  “They could.”

  “They’re not going to. I’ve been around, Gabe. I know.”

  “Sometimes kids go back to their parents. I know. I’ve read it in the news. We just have to be patient.”

  “Judge Dread and Dr. Markey don’t send kids back. Others might if they see through the wool DFS pulls over their eyes. But judges like Dreyer already know the score. They don’t care if the allegations are true or not. They just care about money and power. And doctors like Markus De Klerk keep them fed.”

  “You really think so?”

  “Didn’t I warn you? I told you everything that was going to happen, didn’t I? So why wouldn’t you believe the rest?”

  “I just don’t… want to. I gotta believe that I’m going to go back to my mom if I just… try…”

  Renata shook her head. She got up. “I’m gonna scram before your torturer—err, tutor—gets here. The fewer people that see me, the better.”

  “Where are you going to go?”

  “I’ll be around.”

  “You’re not going… to California?”

  “Not yet. I think you’ll change your mind once you’ve had a chance to think about it. You’re not dumb. I’ve got a couple of other kids to contact too.”

  Gabriel tried to envision what it was that Renata had in mind. “So you have other kids you think would run away… and talk about what happened to them. You think we could get the word out there about kids being taken away unfairly…?”

  “Kidnapped,” Renata questioned. “Language is powerful. Don’t say ‘taken away’ or ‘apprehended.’ They were kidnapped. You and other kids that they just want to get foster care money for or put into research programs. The word is kidnapped.”

  Gabriel bit his lip. He stood up, following her to the front door. “So how do I contact you? If I change my mind?”

  “I’ll be in touch.” Renata considered. “Go for walks. Tell Mrs. Foegel that you need to build up your stamina. I’ll watch for you. You can’t call me, and you can’t tell anyone where I am.”

  “Nobody will ask.”

  “They’ll be looking for me. It’s not the first time I’ve escaped.”

 

 
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