A Girl of the Future -- Page 3
Chapter 13 -- Level Playing Field
The main router is in a small office like building off to the side. The office is open but the server is locked. Fortunately, Rio taught me how to pick locks and I am carrying a lockpick. No one bothered to search me or would think I know how to do this. Odin watches while I open the closet. The servers sit on shelves. They look like innocuous grey boxes. The router is up in the ceiling. It is a little grey box connected by unprotected wires.
"I need a stool," I complain. All I can find is an office chair. Prying the front off of the router takes some work. I am not as strong as an adult. I wish Odin would help me, but he doesn't share my training. He just watches like a dummie. I finally use the lock pick and a screw driver I find in the desk. After that, I just pry out the circuitry. I tell Odin to smash it.
He does this without question. "Now we're all even," he says. " OK, I guess since I'm Luna Banks' son I'm going to have to talk to our ten friends."
We saunter back to the main building. It is around lunch time and only part of the meal is on the table. Several of the spheres are burnt out and one is smashed. A girl with long blond hair is crying.
I listen to Odin explain how this is all intentional and how none of the spheres are meant to work. "This is a challenge to test our resourcefulness and most of all our teamwork."
Silence and surprise greet Odin's words. He explains that I know the area and that I can find us a motel in town. We can eat in restaurants and amuse ourselves for a week and then walk back to the mountain.
Actually I am not sure where there is a motel but I do know how to get back to civilization. That is how we find the motel. I remember the seven mile walk in the hot sun. Some of the girls have only thin sandals. They arrive with blistered feet and angry sunburnt faces. We get six rooms. I am rooming with Odin which I like. The restaurant is air conditioned. Some of the kids can not read a menu. Fortunately we are all old enough now to not need special food. A mile from the motel is a Walmart. In the center of the motel courtyard is a pool. It is high summer. It is hot. I get a bathing suit and early in the evening before dinner take a swim. The others are off eating and I am glad to be alone. I know I should be thinking about something but we've made it and made it on the first day. The rest of the week looks easy.
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Chapter 14 -- Unexpected Time
Odin watches me as I swim. "Najya," he calls my name. "We need to talk."
I guess we do but I can't figure what about. If he wants to thank or congratulate me, then great but it's clear from the look on his face that he is troubled.
"Odin, what gives?" I ask as I hang on to the side of the pool and lazily sciscor kick me feet.
"Najya, what do you want?"
"What do you mean?"
"You saved my ass and your own but that's not all you want. Najya, these are the people who are going to rule as council under the Chosen One. You just don't want to save Lucia's orphanage and your own life. I mean the game is going to get bigger than that. There are only seven to nine places and twelve of us left. The next time we decide who stays and goes, we are going to decide and...welll most of us have served before and know people. You....come from nothing...no background."
"It's my first time not being born from a mother's womb," I tell Odin and I wonder why I have not shared this before. I guess it was just not important.
"So what do you want?"
"You mean if I win and am on this council..."
"Well yes, but in general...."
"I'd like to go back to school and teach....college or university. I studied languages and cultures but I'm a good six years out of the field." I was spending a lot of time studying this world before I worked up the courage to be born here and it is has been three years since I was born and it will probably take even more time until I'm back. "I'm not sure what field interests me. I like technical stuff a lot more than I once did."
"And that's all you want...." Does Odin expect more?
"For me anyway...I'd like Lucia to keep her house and I'd like there to be more orphanages. I almost died being born. I don't want any one to have to go through taht." I lift myself out of the pool.
"Well, I guess we should work together," says Odin. "I think you're telling the truth and you're fundamentally honest. That is better than a lot of the folks in there." and he means the other kids. " Najya are you ready to do a lot of listening...."
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Chapter 15 -- Negotiations
I nod. I sit eating take out Chinese while a conversation rages in one of the motel rooms. I don't understand it all. Erica, the girl with long blond hair and miserably blistered feet tells of how her father refused to give her a graceful out of the contests once they were offered. "He says he got me to be on the council. He said the fix was in. What does he know!"
"There are no more fixes," explains Odin. "Najya and I broke the router that controls the spheres."
"But that's not right!" bellows a boy with cherubic curls and a white tunic stained with sweat. "I can go to Reverend Marco."
"You could but that would be unwise," answers Odin. "Plans are currently for a council of seven."
"What the...." a plump black haired girl with piercing blue eyes screams.
"There's an easy way around that. There are twelve of us. A few of us will take the easy way out and get graceful outs and retire without dying. The rest nine or ten of us would like to be on the council. Put the right seven on and we can expand back to nine or ten."
"And that's what she's going to do!" asks cherub face.
I realize I am the "she."
"She plays straight and keeps her promises. She helped get sneakers for Shauna and helped Gregory with the restaurant menu. The logs to the island in the last challenge were her idea. She'll be an asset to any council."
"Yes but who is she?" asks Shauna the long haired blond girl with the fierce blisters.
"It's my first time being born the new way which really isn't so new any more," I confess. "My last lifetime before this was in the nineteenth century right here in Georgia. I was born on the coast, on Jekyll Island. Most of my education has been on the other side, but it is similar enough to what is taught here that a fair amount should transfer. I would have wanted to be a university professor before I got drafted for these challenges. I'm an orphan and I want to see Reverend Lucia in Columbus keeps her orphanage. "
My speech is over. Faces look at eachother. I think of the people who are deciding my fate. What are their backgrounds, their hopes, aspirations and dreams? I wish I could ask but I'm the one under interrogation. I know by now they must fear me. Where does fear turn into trust. In the end I am told to leave the room. When Odin comes to fetch me he tells me that we will decide the council makeup when we return to Columbus. I will be allowed to attend meetings and speak. Until then I am to be on my best behavior.
I stay on my "best behavior" pretty much the rest of the week. I read to the children who are still uncomfortable with the written word, arrange a trip to a mega mall in Altanta get a custom designed robe dress along with Cecelia, Shauna, Ruth, and Vida. I even pose for a glamor photograph. When Easton eats himself sick on fried foods, it is I who get the emergency doctor and stomach remedy from the pharmacy.
"At least they know you're useful," Odin tells me as we walk the long dirt road back to the mountain where we meet the truck. We are wearing new clothes and though the clothes are dusty we still look sharp. Shauna's blisters have healed. Easton's stomach has settled. Only the empty house and broken spheres tell the story of our week together. Back in Columbus, the real work will begin.
Chapter 16 -- The Fix
We are back in Columbus, and I am back in Odin and Odin's mother's good graces once again. Meetings are several times a week in luxurious houses. I travel by cab or by autocar with the street address punched in. Sometimes I walk. There are twelve of us, all of whom have parents at least who would like to see them on Counsel. There are seven official slots that we will expand to twelve. That is a done deal. Odin, Ericka, and Shauna choose the other for members of the Counsel and I am one of them.
Then of course the meetings continue. I find them boring a lot of the time. The learning sesions, swimming lessons, time spent reading, or just time spent travelling or having a good time with my siblings and fellow orphans is a lot more fruitful, but we have to have those meetings. Here is why: Every one of us was born with an agenda. Most of the agendas are political. Most of the kids have been highly placed or royalty before.
My own agenda can be summed up in one word: education. "I think every kid born should learn to do what I've learned. I think most can, even those injured at birth."
"But why?" asks Ericka, Easton, and Shauna. Why go through all that work.
The answer is simple. "In this world," I respond. "You're on your own. None of us can trust the adults."
"I bet Reverend Lucia would love to hear you say that," laughs Vida.
"That goes double for Reverend Lucia," I counter. "She said she would protect me. In the end she could do nothing but teach me and then she left me to fend for myself. I'm young. I'm small. I shouldn't be doing this. None of us should be in these challenges. If parents allow this, then they can't be trusted. Kids have to learn to protect themselves."
"We'll see when we get big enough that there are no more challenges," says Odin and he lets the matter drop.
It stays dropped for nearly a year and a half. That is how long it is. Reverend Lucia who because she is royalty is immune from zoning regulations makes four or five more orphan runs and converts the computer room to a dormitory by putting the entertainment console in her husband's study. She learned her lesson about pass codes from me. We have a house census of close to forty and I often eat out. I spend my time in the mall watching perfect children who are still sold (yes that is the right word) to adoring parents, watching them newly hatched as they play in their play yard under the great mound of flowers. Most malls I have learned are built by the same company.
I read lots of local history. Reverend Lucia sees it and grills me on it. She asks why I like it and "why I want to relive pain?" I remind her that it is three hundred years since I've lived in Georgia as a physical person. I want to do some catching up.
Of course none of this can last. Our next challenge is on Jekyll Island, all the way on the other side of the state, on the ocean..... This is to be a different kind of challenge, more a meeting with all the other winners who are forming Counsels in their own counties. Of course since our counsel is twelve members not seven, we will have to select our counsel and then bring back the others on to the island.
A few weeks before the challenge, Easton and I make the trip to Brunswick in Glynn County to make sure that we can do this. There is a bridge to Jekyll Island but during the challenge, the bridge will be blocked. We will need to make sure we have a boat that runs out to the island that will take one of us back to the mainland to get the others and bring them out. Being small, it is interesting to wander the docks and see the looks adults give us as we try to hire a boat. In the end, we find a man who does party cruises where people go fishing who is happy to pick me up off the island and take back the remaining five for our expanded Counsel. We pay him in advance. All the parents are chipping in handsomely. Sometimes being royalty is fun.
With the fix in, the challenge begins a week later. I have bought my own clothes for the challenge this time. This is partly because I am older, partly because I want to be in charge, and partly because with so many orphans to look after, Reverend Lucia just plain does not have time.
Reverend Lucia does leave Larry and Snowflake in charge and does make time to drive me personally all the way to Brunswick for the challenge. Brunswick is a small town. I walked around it a lot when Easton and I were making our arrangements a couple of weeks ago. I found out by looking in a phone book that the government center where I was conceived, born, and almost died is on the edge of town. I did not visit it. I guess I don't feel much nostalgia for the place.
Still, Reverend Lucia asks if I would like to see it. We have some time to kill so I agree. The country around Brunswick is flat and green and this time of year the magnolias are blooming. It was considered swampy and unhealthy in the 19th Century. Charles' plantation house was up on a hummock of land. Much of the swamp has been drained. Other parts are designated wetlands to be preserved to help the ecology. There was an executive park built on the land where Charles' house stood. I know because I traveled there to see somewhat regularly. Then the park got abandoned or demolished and someone must have put the land to other use.
The Glynn County Conception and Birthing Center is a nondescript, windowless, red brick building with a blue door and a manicured green lawn that nearly glows. On the front lawn is a small magnolia tree and a post with a historical marker. We head inside. The place smells sterile. The walls are clean and white. I remember very little of this, until a woman with short black hair and a shield like face comes out to ask Reverend Lucia if she is interested in adopting a child and then cuts the canned talk and looks both of us over. I can see on her name tag that she is now center director. I remember her long spidery fingers and her voice.
"Let's check those tanks one more time before we flush them out. There may be someone alive in there. There is. This one's breathing...go...go...go...atagirl.&quuot; I rmeember the sponge, big and soft and the towels. "go...go...go..." It was she who fed me and gave me ice water with a straw. She told me I was brave. She told me that I was going to be all right. She meant it.
"I'm one of Reverend Lucia's best customers," the center director whose name is Tabitha, chirps. "I sent her eight kids in the past year. You were my first rescue though," she tells me. "You know I root for you every time there's a challenge. I'm so glad you've made it this far." It slowly dawns on me that I have a fan.
We get a tour of the center but since I was in one of the tanks, I remember nothing. I ask to see the employee's lounge and Tabitha introduces me. Turnover is high and no one but she and I remember that night. I notice that the old couch where I fell asleep is gone, replaced by a newer used model. I also see a photo of Reverend Lucia and her house on the wall and a phone number.
How do you say thankyou for someone who saved your life and made everything afterwards possible. I am thinking about that as we walk across the center's green lawn and back to the car. Reverend Lucia casually stops beside the post with the historical marker on this. I look too. I sort of wish I hadn't.
"On this land from 1796 to 1881" the sign says. "Stood Elsmere, the Baldwin Plantation. Elsmere grew sea island cotton on the mainland and indigo on Jekyll Island. The plantation survived the civil war and the invention of the cotton gin. When synthetic dyes ruined the market for indigo, the family went bankrupt. The house was abandoned and the land sold." That is an interesting way to tell the story. Charles who long ago took me to die's last name was Baldwin. Well I just learned that I was born in the "big house."
Chapter 17 -- Playing the Game
That afternoon we assemble for the challenge. Everyone from our group has been briefed. The kids who are staying behind know to wait with their parents at a motel where we all have reservations. It is still a nervous time. We all stand in a line on an unadorned dock. Parents and well wishers watch from behind velvet ropes. There are cars with seven seats a piece. There is one car for each county. Those who are chosen are to step forward. Those who are not, are to remain behind. That is it. We travel out to Jekyll Island, meet, and in a week come back. The whole thing will be broadcast on TV. I think Tabitha, Reverend Lucia, and all my siblings and fellow orphans will be watching.
I step forward with Odin, Easton, Ericka, Shauna, Vida, and Stuart. We walk to the car and don't look back. The fix is in, I tell myself and feel excedingly comfortable. The hard work comes tonight, after sundown. It takes only a few minutes to reach the island and the huge conference center which is built of white stucco and set in gardens and forest. Needless to say, Jekyll Island looks nothing like I remember it. Of course the island has been made and remade several times over. At one point it was a hunting resort. At another time it was a national preserve and now it's a resort again. There is a great meal laid out for us but no staff in sight. There are silent cameras everywhere. I see several kids clown for the camera. I see the food, anything one could possibly want. I'm not sure I'm hungry. Odin looks nervous. Kids from all over introduce themselves. Odin smiles back. There is lots of hand shaking. Nearly everyone has been royal before or rich or both. I feel out of place. I want to take a walk.
I slip out of the center and try to find my way back to the beach. The countours of the land were once my friend but in three hundred years a lot can change. I walk off the back porch and down the stairs and into the rear garden. At the top of the garden is a huge granite square with a piece of bronze set in the top. The center of the garden is all grass. On either side of it are plants and flowers carefully tended but perrennial. I wish I had learned their names. I need to study botany.
I walk into the forest. In three hundred years the paths change. I can't find my way to the spot. It feels strange to have my past so obliterated. I think of my mother, the one who gave birth to me three hundred years ago, singing songs to the moon. I walk back toward the main house and bump into Odin who is walking around the edge of the property. I know what he is looking for and we work together. We will have no need to disable communication lines and the main router this time around. The fix is in. I want to tell him that, but it can't pay not to be careful. We find the office and the lines. Odin thanks me. He says I'm a good egg. He says I play straight. He says not to forget about tonight.
I don't forget. Another spread appears magically for dinner, and this time I force myself to eat some noodles in peanut sauce, something I've acquired a taste for and I drink some caffeinated soda. Tonight will be a long one. I know the trail to take. I walk out through the garden with the granite square and off through the woods past the big oak. The beach is narrow and partially eroded here but there is a weathered wooden dock where the party boat can pull up.
I sit on the dock and wait. The waiting takes forever. Finally as the moon rises, the boat appears. It is empty except for the captain, his mate, and me. We ride back to the mainland, ten very tense minutes. He docks and I walk into town and over to the motel. Lights are on and I can feel the tension in the air. I knock on the first door. The television in the room shows static and Deborah's frightened face stares at mine. "They lost the TV feed half an hour ago," Deborah's mother says. I say they'll get it back. Deborah's mother is not sure it is a good idea to go back to the island. Deborah is not sure herself. I say that it is just a minor technical glitch. I believe it too.
In the next room Ralph and Kyle's parents are together along with the two boys and some siblings. They are all eating pizza and having a better party than today's two feasts on the island. I am greeted like a hero and offered food and no one seems to notice that the TV is playing static. In the last room, Cynthia and Laura have turned off the TV entirely. They were playing cards while their parents sat talking quietly. They are relieved to get under way. It takes a good half hour to walk back into town and down to the docks. Our boat awaits. The moon is high in the sky as we take off for the short trip back to the island.
Through the trees, I can see that lights in the main house and its wings are blazing brightly. At least there hasn't been a power outage. "You know there's been no communication to the island for at least an hour" the boat captain tells me. "I think they'll fix it," I say.
Laura and Cynthia stare at eachother. Ralph stares at his shoes. The boat docks. We walk through dark woods. Laura says this will be the last time she will ever have to do anything like this. We pass through the back garden and climb the stairs to the back porch and enter through the kitchen.
Chapter 18 -- "The game is over."
I think about pigs. I think about chickens too. I think about the dead pig hanging from a branch with blood dripping from its throat. They always drove the pig on to the island around Christmas time as a gift for a year's hard labor. Uncle Josef would slaughter it and then they would hang it up....
I SMELL BLOOD!
I run through the kitchen and that is how I see the bodies. There are eight of them at least lying crumpled in pools of blood in the hall. There are more in some of the meeting rooms. I give up counting. Odin sits calmly on a couch. On his lap is a very large revolver.
I think of the afternoon. I think of the bodies. I think of Odin wanting to find the main communication lines. I feel responsible. I have a million questions. Odin gets up and quietly closes the meeting room door.
"You ought to be proud of Stuart and me. We did this for you."
"Are you crazy?"
"No, there was an attempted coup. Some of the kids from other counties heard how 'out of hand' things had gotten in Columbus so they tried to go after Stuart and me. Easton, Ericka, and Shauna by the way were meeting with those kids before we ever got here. You see of all the counsels there's going to be a head counsel and it might have been us. There were kids here who couldn't stand to be ruled by the son of a business woman and a nigger and other riff-raff. They had fancy electronic gadgets that were supposed to cut off our access to food and water. They said we could either resign or they would starve us for a week.&qot; Odin picks up several boxes from the end table. I glance at the components inside. The devices are sausage shaped and there are large print instructions packed in with them.
"Of course Stuart, Vida, and I arrived here armed for any eventuality. We didn't have fancy electronic devices," Odin explains. "We had these. Sometimes a man has to kill to defend what is his."
I am still taking all this in. I ask Odin how many he has killed and he says fifteen. That leaves most kids still alive. "They are afraid and that is good," answers Odin. "It's time for the game to end. We win. We have the arms. We had the courage, and we took the initiative. The others are too afraid to counter attack and as soon as we restore communication, they are going to swear an oath of obedience to me as promising child for all of Georgia. This way further challenge stop. You'll be my Minister for Education. You like that?"
I don't think it's a question of liking. I stare at the components. I ask where Stuart is. He comes into the room. He's been throwing up. He says that Odin and he and Vida had to kill those who would have killed them. The others from the boat straggle in. "We have to protect what is ours," Odin replies. "Now we have to find a way to bury the bodies."
In a weird way all of this makes sense. There is a word for it in French "coup d'etat." Sometimes coups get bloody. This one was. I help Stuart find a shovel. We are going to bury the bodies in the back garden. Of course digging through the grass will be difficult. Stuart, Vida, and I walk down into the back garden. We have a long night of work ahead of us.
For some reason I take a look at the granite square. I wonder if this is another historical marker. I read what it says on the bronze on top. Here is what it says:
Elsmere Plantation Negro and Slave Cemetary. Here is the final resting place of over one hundred and fifty slaves and black share croppers of the Elsmere Plantation.
Listed below these words are the names neatly alphabetized. Most last names are Baldwin because that was Charles' last name. Many slaves have middle and first names and nearly all the names are in English. We had two languages, English and something that today is called Gullah or Creole. I find my own name Nanette Juno Baldwin. I find my mother's name Juno Felicity Baldwin. The names are wonderful and fanciful. There are Caesars, Hannibals, Abrahams, Callistas, Io's, Jasmines, Crystals, and Diamonds. Dates of birth and death are excedingly accurate. This must all come from plantation records, I think.
I turn back to Stuart and Vida. "We can't bury any one here. This is hallowed ground."
"You tell Odin then," answers Stuart. "He's in charge."
Chapter 19 -- Two for Two?
"Odin," I explain. "We can't bury any one out back. There's already a cemetary there."
"There's a what?" asks a very irritated Odin. &qout;Come," I tell him. "I'll show you." We head down the back stairs and over to the granite cube. Odin reads the names and then he laughs. "It's an old...." He remembers my skin is black. "Why would any body care about these people after all this time?" Odin asks nobody. "Afro-American Historical Society and Department of Africanna Studies Cornell University ...shit that's up north. 2004. 2004, that's a hundred and fifty years after the...what the fuck?"
"People can care. The slaves were human beings," I remind Odin. "Isn't that enough?"
"Well, what do we do with the bodies if you don't want to bury them here?" asks Odin as if he is doing me a favor. "Wrap them in sheets and put them in the walk in cooler. When we get contact again, we give them back to their parents. We are going to have to explain some of what happened here don't you think?"
Odin rubs his chin and reaches for a mustache he does not have. "It will be faster that way," he says to no one. And, that is what we do. Odin, Stuart, and I move fifteen contorted and bloody bodies into the walk in cooler while Vida finds the sheets to cover them. Then Vida and I clean the blood stains from the hallways and walls. It is somewhere between late night and morning when we finish. I put away the rest of the leftover food and inspect the kitchen for provisions. There is plenty of food we can cook ourselves plus pots and pans. We have hot water and electricity.
I wonder what will happen when the powers that be come out to the island. With communications cut off, it is only a matter of time before someone gets curious enough to come out here by boat or the bridge road block gets opened. By then, nearly every one who is alive will no doubt be blamed for Odin's shooting spree or maybe it was a coup d'etat. I wasn't here. I was getting the other five members of the counsel. I was playing straight and keeping promises and when the authorities get here, none of that will amount to a hill of beans. Reverend Lucia will probably even find a way to call me stupid. I feel indescribably stupid.
Oddly enough, life goes on. With the sun, I rise and go to prepare breakfast, toast and reheated leftovers. I eat penut sauce noodles while Odin butters his bread. There is hot tea and coffee and cold orange juice. Odin asks me how long the provisions will hold out and I say about three or four days.
After breakfast Odin gathers all of us in the library. There are about forty kids left alive. He makes each of us swear an oath of loyalty to him as promising child. He says when a priest ratifies the oath, the competiton ends. Columbus will now be Georgia's second or maybe first capital and his council will be the head council for the entire state. I am to be Minister of Education for the promising counsel. This pleases me though it also sounds like hot air.
The oath administered, Odin goes to the kitchen for more coffee. He heads out the back door and down the stairs into the garden. I follow him. He stares at the granite cube. "Which one were you?" he asks. "Nanette Juno Baldwin" I answer. "Born 1822 died 1828. I'm buried here."
"The Hell you are!" growls Odin who puts down his cup of coffee. He is smiling and his eyes are flashing. He is not happy. "What's with you Najya."
"I am buried here," I answer. "Para....You named her Coral Ebony Baldwin found my body a few days after I died. She had a sixth sense and was the one who said I was protected by spirits. She was also the one who taught me English since she knew I could speak. It may have been garbled but that didn't mean I couldn't speak. In a different time or place, I would have gone to school. It was only my body that was harmed, a few muscles."
"And would you have liked an electric wheel chair too?" asks Odin.
"How about a little wooden cart with wheels. It wasn't easy not to move around."
Odin sits down on a bench. "Why?" he asks.
"Why what?" I answer.
"Why now? Why did you come back? What for?&qout;
"I had been away long enough. I wanted to start out in the county where I died so I picked Glynn."
"How do I know you are telling the truth?" asks Odin. I see him take the gun from out of his pants. "Are you going to make it two for two?" I ask him.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You were Charles Baldwin, 1802 to 1863. One afternoon you came for me in a wagon and offered me a ride. You had heard I was remarkable for one so afflicted. We spoke in English and you offered me some kind of sweetened milk drink from a water skin. I think now the drink was poisoned. It wasn't cold enough to kill me from exposure in one night. You were a wealthy man. You owned Elsmere Plantation. You could have afforded to feed me. I wasn't a lame race horse you would have had to shoot. Where was your charity, kindness, etc.... I was just defective property. It took people a hundred and fifty years later to put my name on that cube. They showed more charity than you. OK, now make it two for two. We're screwed any way and I'd just as soon not see it."
Odin who was once Charles and is still Charles, does not shoot me. He settles the gun back in his pants and sits down on a stone bench. I sit on the ground near him. "Do you want to hear my side of the story?" he asks. I say yes.
"Najya, Nannette, whoever you are, you were unusual. Had you been an ordinary imbecile, I would have thought nothing of feeding you but you were different. When strong and healthy children died of fevers, you shrugged them off. When there should have been no mind inside that body, there was a clever child who could learn languages. The witch woman, Coral, saw that and in time so would others. It was said 'the spirits protect Nanna.' You were a sign and a wonder.
"Now when you manage niggers on an island, you have to keep them in line and if they have a way to rise up, they will do that and if there is a child they can use for a sign and a wonder, well you have to do what you can to protect what is yours. That's what I did. I went to the apothecary and got the posion and invited you for a ride. No one thought I would touch you. No one believed I could. I knew better. I knew science triumphs over superstition and that the strong always defeat the weak. That is nature's rule and God's plan."
"I'm not weak," I answer. " I never was.&quuot;
"No, not any more, and you are the sign and wonder that others will rally around, only now..."
"I'm stuck keeping you alive," laughs Odin. "Who would have ever thought of that?" Odin laughs, and his laughter is almost crying. I think of Charles again. He was handsomer than Odin, though Odin has been a mover and shaker in this future time several lives. "It had to happen some time" he tells himself.
Chapter 20 -- Pax Adam
I leave Odin alone and return to the kitchen. Vida and Deobrah are putting away food and washing dishes. Most of the kids are bored. We have no TV from Brunswick. I am thiking about the contours of the land. In three centuries the waves and wind alter the land. The beach where I died is probably under water. Still I head down the trails into the woods. There are several beaches and mine is is way at the islands southern end.
I am looking for it, staring through reeds and swamp grass and over stones when I see the boat. It is a speed launch that scarcely touches the water. Men in cream colored robes drive it. I see it heading past me and towards the broken down dock behind the main house. I scurry down the pahts. I can hear horses, the horses that pulled Charles' wagon. I remember struggling to sit up and feeling sleepy in the warm setting sun. I race out into the grass that covers the old burial ground just as I see a priest with a long wheaten braid and another priest with long golden hair come striding up the path.
They are important people who walk as if there is no need to hurry. The priest with the braid is Reverend Adam. I remember him from the day after I was born. I see him consult his medallion to remember me and then turn to look at me. Reverend Adam does not say hello. He just asks me where I can find Odin. I say I don't know where Odin is.
We enter the house together and find Odin in the library reading a two day old newspaper. Odin jumps up and bows and scrapes before the priests. He says they are just the poeople he wants to see.
"Is that so?" asks Reverend Adam. "Najya, tell me about Odin and what happened here."
"I was in town getting the others for our counsel as we had planned. The shooting happened while I was in transit. I saw nothing."
"And what about the cemetary in the back?" asks Reverend Adam.
"That's three hundred years old," I answer. "The past doesn't matter. The present does. If you ratify the oaths we said this morning, you end the promising child games. Odin is a proven administrator. He is competent. He is even fairly honest. He...had a chance to shoot me this morning when he learned about my past and he didn't. Let's make peace and end the game. You said you were a referee?"
"And you feel you can work with Odin?quot; asks the smaller younger priest.
"Yes," I answer. "Please this is bigger than something that happened three hundred years ago...."
"And what about vengance?" asks Reverend Adam.
"That is for the Universe to handle. Please, can we end the games?" Reverend Adam fiddles with his medallion. Then he embraces me and for a short moment, I still want to pull his braid. I know now why Odin laughed. By noon we have communication restored. Reverend Adam has ratified our oaths and sent back the news to Reverend Marco. The game is over.
Chapter 21 -- All The Good Things
We do not return to ticker tape parades or a heroes welcome, but the game is over and the fix has truely been repaired. Odin Boyle is the Promising Child and head of the Head Council of Georgia which is in Columbus, now dubbed Georgia's Second Capital.
I am Minister of Education. I work in a posh office with a fridge and cot in the back. I like this arrangement because sometimes I sleep at work. Home is just too crowded. There are forty-seven orphans at Reverend Lucia's and while she is adding two new wings to her house (no more trouble from zoning!) it is a bit crowded there. The really good news is Lucia has been able to adopt out several orphans and people are again taking interest. In fact, adopting orphans has become rather chic. Maybe this is due to the whole ugly way the promising child challenges ended. Yes, Odin is to thank for this.
Our building is posh and four stories tall but we have only one or two security guards who work the desk and no metal detectors. Odin says too much armor makes us look weak. Any one who wants his life will have to shoot it out. He never leaves home without his trusty pistol and many of the other ministers go about armed as well. A few wear bullet proof vests but Odin thinks this is a sign of weakness.
Chico says to enjoy the good times while you can. She is subMinister for Culture for television programming. Who says culture has to be high culture. Jason, who can run intellectual rings around all of us is subMinister in my own department. Jason's department is Rehabilitation Services. Enough said.
I spend a lot of time on the road. Georgia needs lots of schools. I want no child to grow up so helpless the priests will be tempted to set before him challenges he will fail. If all children are made self sufficient as soon as possible there will be no way to set up challenges ever again. There will be no more promising children.
It is a bright sunny March morning when my phone rings. I roll off my office cot and hear Tabitha's voice. This is Tabitha, head of the Glynn County Government Conception Center. "I just hatched out six kids, all of them dark like you. It turns out when I checked the database, they have been slaves or share croppers. It's great to see people affirm their identity. I think I can get the local mall to take them. This will give them a real shot at good placements, better than what we can give, but before they go over there, I'd like them to meet you. I think somehow, you've made all of this possible."
What can I say. My schedule is light enough to spare a trip to Brunswick. Besides even if it were heavy, I'd make the time to go see Tabitha and her newborns with their beautiful brown skin and pasts that are as scarred as my own, or maybe scarred in a different way. I let my office staff know of my appointment and get a government autocar. While I'm waiting by the motor pool Jason joins me. He says he'd like to ride with me to Brunswick. He has been inspecting centers around the state and hasn't been out to the coast yet.
We arrive in Brunswick late in the morning and cross the green grass in front of the center. I stop and glance at the historical marker on the sign. It is ironic that in this life, I was born in the big house. It surprises me that the new hatchlings are sitting in the employee lounge but there is a feast on the table of hot cereal, low fat cookies, soy milk and soup. The children are in new shirts that are long enough to be nighties. They can't really talk yet and stumble when they walk. I suppose some sort of inspirational speech is called for but I don't have one in me. I tell them welcome to the world and that this world can be a good place and that the future is theirs.
I stay to eat with them and as Jason and I are eating lunch with the returning slaves, it happens. We don't hear about it until we arrive back in Columbus. It is three pm and yellow tape cordons off what is left of the government building. I stare at the stinking crater of black rubble. The bomb went off about noon according to the police. I remmeber that Odin always took his lunch about 1pm. He is not among the survivors.
Chico who was out on any number of errands, is still alive. Lucia is worried. She is royalty. She remains royalty. The orphanage is safe. I think of a little girl with blistered feet. Her name was Ericka. I remember putting the sheet over Ericka's body in the walk in cooler on Jeckyll Island. Ericka and the other kids who wanted to rule had adult backers. Live by the sword. Die by the sword, but I have only come close to the sword and never wielded the blade.
I am no longer minister of anything. Still I insist on staying in Columbus at least until they recover Odin's body and he can receive a proper burial and memorial service. Lucia fears for my life, and by extension Chico's and Jason's. She makes no pretense any more about being able to keep any of us safe.
It rains the day we bury Odin. We do it. His mother and father are elsewhere. Maybe they knew when the fix came undone and the promise broke. We go back to Reverend Lucia's for the funeral feast. I peel an orange and offer seclets around. I am seven years old, one to two years away from puberty and about five years away from full physical maturity. I am alive but my future stretches before me blank and grey.
Reverend Lucia and Reverend Adam do the explaining. My life is in danger. I am way too much of a symbol with my distintctive appearance. I need to leave town. Lucia has enough funds to send me anywhere I would like to go. I need only name a place.
"I'm not getting rid of you," Reverend Lucia explains. Part of me believes her. In my last two life times I never had a mother who could raise me. Now with my brother and sister, I'll be totally on my own.
Outside the bus window, I see the sign for South Carolina. I realize that in my seven years of preparing for challenges and learning to become self sufficient, I have never been outside the state of Georgia. Now, I am leaving not only Georgia but the United States. My bus ticket says Montreal Canada. It is a slow bus and the city in Quebec is nearly three days away. I chose the destination and Chico and Jason are along for the ride. It is evening now and the sky turns grey. I remember a song I heard that first night after Tabitha saved my life and Reverend Lucia put me in her car. I awoke and heard Reverend Lucia singing it to herself to stay awake. Now the tune keeps me awake as well.
"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round......"
Never forget and don't stop fighting.