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Friday, March 7, 2014

Deal

Find the rest of Jo here.


“And that’s all I’d have to do?” I say cautiously. “Just look for her? Doesn’t matter if I don’t find her?” Obviously I hope for Owen’s sake I find the girl, but I’m real interested in covering all my bases here. I don’t want to get ratted out on account I don’t find her.

He shrugs. “That’s it. I don’t expect you’ll find her. She’s been gone a long time and she was sick when they took her away.” He looks past me at the window. “I’d just like to know someone looked. That’s all. I can’t.” His voice is bleak.

“Okay,” I say. It’s not like I’ve got a real abundance of choice here in any case, but it’s not like he’s asking me to do much. “You get me a picture so I know what she’s like and I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“Good girl,” he says, pushing himself to his feet. He holds out one hand to help me up and with the other takes the stack of files away from me. My eyes follow the folders and I frown, thinking.

“You think there’s records in there about your kid?” I ask. “There’s a lot of files.”

“I’ve looked,” he replies, brushing past me and beginning to refile all of the folders I pulled out. “She went to Eureka first and then was transferred to Harper-Brown Hospital in Albany but after that her file ends.” He closes and locks the cabinet door. “No death notice though. So she might not be dead.”

“Do they always file death notices?” I ask, and wish I hadn’t when I see Owen’s face.

“No,” he answers. “No, they don’t.” He lifts his head in response to a sound elsewhere in the house and says, “Your uncle and Daka are home. We can start work on you tomorrow. Now, it’s time for dinner. I guess you’ll be hungry since you didn’t touch lunch.”


I follow him out of Uncle Larett’s office and down the hall to the kitchen, where I let myself get drawn into a conversation about what Daka learned that day. He has such good ideas, it’s a shame he’ll never get into government himself.

Previous: Owen

Monday, January 6, 2014

Owen

Find the rest of Jo here.


I scramble to think of an answer, anything that might explain what the hell I’m doing here with all of these confidential files and — as a quick glance to the side tells me — the locked cabinet standing wide open. “I don’t really have anything to say,” I say lamely.

“I should imagine not,” he says. “Want me to venture a guess?”

Not really. I shrug. I pretty well figure I’m scuppered no matter what.

To my surprise, Owen comes into the office and shuts the door behind him. I eye him warily, though I don’t really think he’s about to hurt me. I’m really thrown off guard, though, when he sits down cross-legged across from me and rests his hands on his knees, gazing steadily at me. And then he throws me completely when he opens his mouth.

“You’re going after your family, aren’t you.”

I swallow hard. “I want to. Yes.”

His fingers move restlessly over the fabric of his trousers. “Is this why you came here?” He gestures at the files spread across the floor between us. “To find out if Larett knew where your father and sister had been sent?”

“Yes,” I say, and bite my lip.

“And did you?”                                    

As I study him, it seems to me that he’s more anxious than upset. Or, rather, that he seems nervous and upset, like he’s waiting to hear my answer but isn’t sure if he wants to know what I have to say. It’s weird, because I can’t quite work out what it is that’s bothering him, and what’s really bothering me is that even though I like Owen and he’s always been super nice to me, I would have expected him to react differently. To be cross that I’d been going through Uncle Larett’s things. I don’t know. Not…ugh. This is just weird.

So I say, “Yes.”

And he says, “Where?”

“Um,” I say. “Well.” I look down at the files in my hands and shuffle them until I find Dad’s. “Dad was sent south to Diego,” I say. “And then back north more recently to Red Rock Valley when Diego closed.” I flip through to Kit’s. “Kit went to Shasta and then was transferred to Red Rock Valley.” I close the files and balance them on my knee. “All of the newer files say people have been sent to Red Rock Valley, and I think a lot of other people have been sent there as well, people who were taken a long time ago. But I haven’t had a chance to look into it enough to be sure.”

“Do you know where Red Rock Valley is?” he asks.

For a minute all I can do is blink in surprise. I’m not sure why he cares, but all I say is, “I found a map. But I couldn’t say for sure where it is from here.”

“But you’re going to go,” he says. “You and Daka.”

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s the plan. If you don’t tell Uncle Larett, that is.” Please don’t tell Uncle Larett.

Owen is silent, staring straight through me, his jaw working as he seems to be working through something. Finally he says, “I’ll make you a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

His eyes meet mine. “You look for my daughter when you go on your search for your dad and sister, and I won’t say a thing to your uncle. Hell, I’ll even get you into shape so you might actually survive the trip.”

My mind is reeling. “You got a daughter?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Her mother was my wife, if that’s what you’re wondering.” It was. “And she’s dead now. Killed herself after Kira was taken.”


Well, that would explain how Owen ended up here with Uncle Larett. Kind of. Not really. Ugh. 

Previous: Uncle Larett's office
Next: Deal

Friday, January 3, 2014

Uncle Larett's office

Find the rest of Jo here.


It’s day three before I can do more than rifle a few papers on Uncle Larett’s desk. Owen’s been in and out of the house the last two days and I’ve been nervous about spending any extended time in Uncle Larett’s office knowing that I don’t know where Owen is going to be.

This morning I’m curled up in an armchair in the library for the third day in a row. Uncle Larett suggested I look through his books to see if I found anything I liked, and I didn’t really have the heart to tell him that I’m not a big reader. He’s trying his hardest to be kind to me. So here I am again, slowly working my way through a book by some person named JK — which is a ridiculous name — who wrote about super privileged kids breaking every rule in the book and getting rewarded for it. I don’t get it, but the book is easier to read than the first few I pulled off the shelves, and I figure I might as well work on improving my reading while I’m doing nothing else. I’ve never been a strong reader, even though Mom used to read to me and Kit when we were little. It just never seemed real important to me growing up.

Uncle Larett and Daka left shortly after breakfast, as they’ve done the last two mornings. Daka hasn’t said much about his days, but what he has said has made it sound like he’s been enjoying himself. I’m glad, because if anyone deserves to enjoy himself it’s Daka. Not that I would have thought that hanging out with my uncle and learning how to do a government job would be particularly interesting, but to each his own, I guess.

There’s a soft knock on the open library door and I look up from my book. Owen leans against the doorframe and crosses his arms.

“I’ve just finished up with the dishes,” he says. “There’s food out for lunch whenever you want it, but if you can clear away after yourself that’d be great.”

“Yep, sure,” I say. “What are you up to today?”

He gives me a lopsided smile. “The perimeter fence needs to be repaired. The proximity alert system keeps dinging, but I’m going to have to walk the property to find the problem.”

“Sounds like a long day,” I say. Please let it be a long day.

“Might be,” he says. “Might not. Depends on how many problems I run into.”

Please run into lots of problems. “Hopefully not many,” I say with a smile, feeling like a complete hypocrite.

He pushes away from the doorframe and frowns at me. “If you run into any trouble or can’t figure something out about the house you can ping me. Try not to get into too much trouble, though — I’ll be half an hour out for a lot of the day.”

“I’m sure I’ll manage,” I say. “I survived okay on my own after Mom died.”

“Yeah,” he says, looking troubled. “I know. See you later, kid.”

And then he’s gone, leaving me alone in the house for the foreseeable future.

I wait until I hear the door close behind him, and then wait a few more minutes before uncurling myself and leaving the book draped over the arm of the chair. Owen is still visible from the window, striding away from the house, so I watch until he disappears from view. And then wait another few minutes. Maybe I’m paranoid. It’s probably my guilty conscience yelling at me, but I’m determined to ignore it and carry on.

It doesn’t take long to work out that Uncle Larett’s desk holds nothing of interest, so I turn my attention to the locked cabinet I remember from when I was younger. My lock picking skills are rusty and I manage to stab my finger hard enough to draw blood when the pick slips for the third time, but eventually the lock clicks and the door swings open.

I don’t know what I was expecting to find, maybe a box or a file that says something like ‘top secret guest policy documents’, but of course there’s nothing like that in the cabinet. Instead there are stacks and stacks of neatly ordered and labelled files, arranged chronologically by date. The most recent is from three days ago; the oldest looks like it’s from about ten years before I was born.

I sigh. It’ll take me forever to go through these files if I start from the beginning, so instead I take a few of the most recent and then dig through until I find files dated around the time Dad and Kit disappeared, leaving a pencil in the gaps so I remember to put things back in the right places. Given how meticulous Uncle Larett’s filing system seems to be, I have a bad feeling that if I put things back in the wrong place that he’s bound to notice, and then I’m scuppered.

It takes me a long time to get through the first few files because I’m so slow at reading, and the papers are full of government-speak so there’s some things I have to figure out from context. I spread the folders out across the floor and flop down on my belly, kicking my heels in the air as I trace my finger under each line of type, sounding out words I’m not sure about and feeling ridiculously pleased when I realise that I’m starting to recognise more words than I did when I started. It only takes me about two files before I realise that I’ve gotten really super lucky; these are movement papers, authorising the removal of certain persons in order to silence their troublesome relations. Not that the papers say anything that explicit, but it’s pretty clear that that’s what they’re for, and when I start sifting through the older material I find the papers for Dad and Kit. I think I’ve been expecting to find them, but at the same time I find it hard to believe that Uncle Larett could have signed off on the removal of his brother and niece. He’s such a nice man that somehow I expected that he wouldn’t have been able to do it, that his conscience would have bothered him. I guess the government is stronger than family in the end.

Incidentally, the papers confirm what I’ve always suspected — there are no shiny houses waiting in the capitol for the taken. All of the newer files list the destination as Red Rock Valley, about twenty miles east of the capitol, and a lot of the older ones, including Dad’s and Kit’s, include transfer papers to the same place. I can’t find a description anywhere of what exactly Red Rock Valley is, but I have a bad feeling that it’s a lot, lot worse than what the evening telecast wants us to believe. If nothing else, I have a hard time believing that there’s any one residence in the capitol or outside of it that can house this many people in any kind of luxury. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just have a real bad gut feeling.

Some of the files have maps, and I sneak one into my pocket because I’m not real sure I’ll be able to find Red Rock Valley without some point of reference. Once I’ve been a place I can always find it again, but I gotta get there first, and I’ve never been to Red Rock Valley before. I figure at least with a map, between me and Daka we ought to be able to get ourselves there.

I’m real pleased with myself for having found what I’m looking for, and as I’m starting to shuffle the folders back together to put them away, it takes me a minute to clock that the faint noise I’ve been hearing for the last minute is actually footsteps. And when I look up and see Owen standing in the doorway my stomach plummets down to my kneecaps and I have to swallow down the bile that’s threatening to escape my throat. I can’t at all read the expression on his face, and here I am kneeling on the floor with a slew of Uncle Larett’s files spread out in front of me and a pile clutched to my chest.

“Hi,” I say, but it comes out as a squeak. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Mmm,” Owen says. His expression hasn’t changed. “Should I ask what you’re doing, or do you want to tell me?”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deviants and government jobs

Find the rest of Jo here.


I can smell food when I get out of the shower, and after I’ve pulled on clean clothes I wander out to the kitchen. It’s not surprising to find Owen standing at the stove; he’s been part of the household for as long as I can remember. He’s Uncle Larett’s gardener and cook and all-around handyman, and from watching Uncle Larett and Owen together you’d never guess how much they love each other. It always makes me sad, watching them and knowing they have to be so careful. Uncle Larett won’t just lose his job if they find out that he’s a Deviant, he’ll lose his life. And so will Owen. It doesn’t matter that Uncle Larett is a government official — if anything it’ll just make it that much worse. As if I need more of a reason to hate the government.

“Smells good,” I say, sliding into a chair. Daka’s slouched across the table from me. “What’s for dinner? Please tell me Owen cooked.” I’ve had experience with Uncle Larett’s cooking when Owen’s been away. He burnt the vegetables because he forgot to put water in the pan. Mom insisted on cooking the rest of that visit.

Owen smiles his slow smile at me and says, “Rabbit stew. Mam’s recipe.”

“Daka,” I say, tucking one foot up underneath me, “Owen makes the best damn rabbit stew I’ve ever tasted. And he won’t teach me the recipe.”

“Well,” Owen says, “that’s not quite accurate.” He looks up at Daka and continues, “I offered once, when she was about thirteen. Miss Jo is a bit squeamish.”

“You wanted me to skin the rabbit before teaching me to make the stew,” I object. I distinctly remember this occasion, because I was excited to learn to make something that didn’t involve fish and then Owen came in carrying an incredibly cute and incredibly dead rabbit and asked me if I knew how to skin an animal, and I’d promptly burst into tears and run to find Mom. “It was fluffy and cute and really, really dead. It had nothing to do with the blood.” An image of Mom’s bloody head flashes across my mind and I shiver.

Owen notices and changes the subject. “How long will you be staying with us?”

“I haven’t decided,” I say. Depends on how long it takes me to find the information I need.

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” Uncle Larett says as he comes into the kitchen. He just brushes against Owen as he moves past, nothing that could cause comment, but I notice it because I’m watching for it. “I’m afraid I have quite a lot of work to do at the moment, but I could spare a few mornings and I can probably manage to wrangle it so I can work from home most days, if you like.”

“Actually,” I say quickly, glancing at Daka, “Daka was hoping you might be able to teach him some things.”

“Oh?” Uncle Larett sounds interested. “How so?”

Daka has a trapped expression on his face and looks more than mildly terrified. “Oh,” he says, stalling for time as he clearly tries to remember what we’d talked about on the road here, “I’m interested in getting a job in the city. With the government,” he adds quickly. “In administration, I think. I’m good with figures and with my letters and I think I could be really good in an administration job if I could just get off the boats. But I think that I’d need a lot of experience to get that kind of job. So I thought maybe I could see what you do, since Jo says you’ve got some kind of government job.”

There’s a lot more passion in Daka’s voice than I would have expected, and as I watch him talk it occurs to me that probably he’s been wishing he could get out of Granite for longer than I have. He’s clever, Daka is, but he’s the oldest in his family and has been responsible for them all for years. He must hate the boats. In all the years I’ve known him he’s never complained.

Uncle Larett is looking at Daka with quite a lot more interest than he was earlier. “Well,” he says. “I’d be happy to have you come along if you’re really that interested, although I warn you that quite a lot of my day is dull and there will be some times when I may have to fob you off on someone else for a few hours.”

“That would be fine,” Daka says after a quick glance at me.

“Before you get the wrong idea about him,” I add as Owen sets a bowl of stew down in front of me, “Daka’s not actually really boring. He’d also really like to learn to hunt if you’d be willing to teach him.”

Uncle Larett looks really flattered, and I feel a little guilty at using him like this. I do like him, after all, but I need him out of the way and I can’t think of another way to do it. And I really don’t think he’s likely to just tell me what I want to know. I’m pretty sure he’d get tossed for that and also probably jailed, if he were lucky.

“Well,” Uncle Larett says again. “I’d be happy to teach you. But — ” He turns to me, his eyebrows pinching together. “Jo, I don’t want to feel like I’m abandoning you. If you — ”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I say, digging a spoon into my stew. “I just want to sleep and eat and maybe swim in the lake.” Around a mouthful I add, “And maybe Owen can teach me how to cook.” Yep, way to go me — I’m reinforcing gender stereotypes left, right, and centre here. Daka can go off and hunt and I can stay in and learn to cook. Ick.

It takes a little more convincing, but eventually Uncle Larett must decide that both Daka and I are serious and that I don’t mind if my best friend monopolises my uncle’s time, because he agrees that Daka can go with him into Pendleton in the morning. Meanwhile I’m hoping that Owen will be out of the house most of the day so I’ll have plenty of time to snoop around Uncle Larett’s office. I’m a little nervous about trying to poke around his stuff day after day, because the more I’ve got my nose where it doesn’t belong the more likely I am to get caught, and then that’s one adventure that’s cut off before it’s even began. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Uncle Larett

Find the rest of Jo here.


It’s been a couple of years since I last saw Uncle Larett, but I’m really surprised by how much his hair has greyed and how gaunt his face has become. He’s always been a thin man, but now he just looks unwell; the dark blue veins are stark against his white skin. I stand up and his eyes come to me immediately.

“Jo,” he says, and I step forward to meet him. He enfolds me in a hug, crushing me against his chest, and then steps back to hold me at arms’ length. “I almost didn’t recognise you. Your hair — ” His fingers brush lightly over my shorn hair and pull away. “I’m so sorry about your mother,” he continues after a moment, and I bite my lip. “I would have come for the funeral but I was caught up in meetings in the capital and didn’t even hear about it until I got back. How are you holding up? Do you need anything?”

“I’m okay,” I lie. “I just…I wanted to get out of Granite for a little while. I hope it’s okay we came to visit. I told Daka he didn’t have to come but he said I couldn’t come by myself.” I sniff huffily. “It’s not like I haven’t walked to Pendleton by myself before,” I add, glancing sideways at Daka. “I am not a child.”

Daka snorts. “She says that, but she hasn’t a clue how to take care of herself. She’s just stubborn.” He hesitates, then leans towards Uncle Larett and says under his breath, “She’s not been eating real well, sir, so I’d be mighty beholden to you if you could get some food down her.”

I glare at him. I didn’t tell him to say that bit. I’m supposed to sound slightly pathetic, not a complete basket case. “I’m not an invalid,” I say, annoyed.

“I’m sure you’re not,” Uncle Larett says calmly, before turning to Daka. “I’m very sorry — we haven’t been introduced.” He offers a hand. “Larett Donerson, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Jo’s father was my baby brother.”

“Daka Sato,” Daka replies, awkwardly shaking my uncle’s hand. He’s taller than Uncle Larett by a couple of inches and he’s much broader and I can tell from the expression on his face that he’s more than a little afraid that he’s going to accidentally crush Uncle Larett’s hand if he squeezes too hard. “Jo’s my best friend.”

“I’m pleased you’re here,” he says. “Both of you.” He smiles at me. “I have few visitors who aren’t here on business. Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” I say. And I am, actually.

“I’ll have Tara show you to your rooms — please by all means make use of the showers if you like. I imagine it was quite a warm walk. When you’re done come along to the dining room and we’ll have some dinner.” 

Tara appears as if by magic at the door and leads us to our rooms, shows us where the clean linens are, tucked away into beautiful wooden cabinets, and disappears again. I leave Daka to his room and retreat to mine, where I drop my bag on the floor and fall backwards on the giant bed. It’s a beautiful room, full of exquisite furniture and priceless knick-knacks. There’s never been any question that Uncle Larett has bags of money, or that my family has hardly ever had any, and I can’t help but wonder why Mom never asked Uncle Larett for help after Dad was taken away. Probably because she was never quite comfortable with his job. I don’t know. I feel a surge of frustration with Mom and squash it down ruthlessly. I can’t be mad at Mom. She’s dead.

Instead I shed my clothes and climb into the shower, which is blindingly white and, once the door’s shut, turns into a seemingly inescapable cubicle that would terrify a claustrophobic person. I stand under the water for half an hour, letting the water beat down over my head and shoulders until I can’t tell what’s water and what’s tears anymore. My nose clogs up and I can feel a headache building from all of the tears, but it doesn’t matter. The water washes everything away. I only ever seem to cry when I’m alone; it’s like I have to hide the tears and the pain and the sorrow the best I can when I’m around other people, like I have to pretend everything’s going to be okay because no one really knows what to do for someone who’s grieving. And it’s awful, because it’s a lie and living a lie is exhausting, but I can’t even tell Daka the truth about how torn apart Mom’s death has left me because I know he’s already desperately worried about me and I don’t want to upset him even more. But I miss my mom. There’s a hole in my chest that just aches and aches and won’t go away. Part of me is starting to think that I’m bad luck, because everyone I’ve ever loved has been taken away from me. And nothing can ever make that okay. Nothing will ever bring my mom back to me. And as much as I’d like to believe that Kit and maybe even Daddy could still be alive somewhere, I still remind myself every day that they’re probably dead. This search for Kit is really nothing more than me running away from home, where mixed in with the good memories of growing up with Mom and Dad are the horrible ones of Mom’s sobs filling the house when Dad was taken, of her days and days of silence after Kit. And after Mom died, every day that I sat in the house I could hear her, could see her, and while I’m glad I’ve run away because the memories would have driven me crazy, I also feel like a coward for not being able to face up to the pain. All I’m doing here is pretending that my life is something more than endless days of painful memories and selling vegetables, and hoping I can cling to my courage long enough to figure out what I’m doing. In the end I think Daka’s right, actually, I’m nothing more than a kid, and that I’m just pretending when I say otherwise, when I say that I have a clue what’s going on. It’s kind of terrifying, actually, when I realise how good I’ve got at lying to myself.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arrival at Pendleton

Find the rest of Jo here.


I’ve never seen the Pendleton gates closed before, but they’re definitely shut when Daka and I come up the road towards the town, and there’s a patrol outside. They spot us long before we’re within speaking distance and watch us as we approach. It’s a little creepy, but all they do when we finally reach them is ask to see our travel papers, give the forms a cursory glance, and wave us through a small door in the gates.

Pendleton is home to an army base, so it’s not real surprising that there’s a large military presence in the town, but there are more men and women on active duty in the streets as Daka and I walk along Main Street than I remember from the past. We attract a few curious glances but largely pass unnoticed, which is fine by me. I like being invisible.

My stomach is growling by the time we head up the long driveway towards Uncle Larett’s place. Which is kind of surprising, actually, because I haven’t been much in the way of hungry the last couple weeks, and anyway Daka and I stopped for lunch before we reached Pendleton. That seems like hours ago now and for the first time in a long time I’m actually thinking about food, which ends up only making my tummy growl more. I’m so focused on my cranky stomach that I don’t notice at first when we crest the little hill that brings Uncle Larett’s house into view that Daka’s stopped still and is staring. When I realise he’s stopped, I turn around and frown at him.

“It’s huge,” he says, and I remember that he’s never been to Uncle Larett’s. I was intimidated the first couple times I came when I was little because the house and grounds seemed to go on forever, and even now it boggles my mind that one person needs so much space. The Sato dome could easily fit into one corner of Uncle Larett’s house.

“Come on,” I say, starting up the road again. “I promise Uncle Larett isn’t as scary as his house.”

The door is opened in response to my knock by a pretty girl, dressed in a neat navy uniform with her hair pulled back. She’s a different servant than Uncle Larett had the last time I was here, but unlike the last one she’s not a BV. When she opens her mouth I realise she must be a local girl rather than someone hired from the city, which explains why she hasn’t upgraded her looks yet.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“I’m Jo Donerson,” I say. “I’m here to see my uncle, Larett Donerson. Is he home?”

“Please come in,” she says, opening the door wider and stepping back. She closes the door behind us, takes in the dust settling from our boots onto the polished stone floor, and refocuses her gaze on my face. “Please follow me.”

The house is eerily silent; the click of our heels echoes through the front hall and back again as we trail after the girl. It’s cool inside the house, which is a shock after the heat outside, and I can feel the sweat on my face drying under the assault of the cooler air. Daka is distracted by the tapestries hanging on the walls and I have to grab his arm to stop him from walking on when the girl opens a door into a side room.

“If you’ll please just wait inside,” she says, “I’ll see if Mr Donerson is available to see you now.” She smiles at both of us, dips her head, and shuts the door behind her. All I can think after she’s gone is that she must have incredibly soft shoes because I can’t hear her walking back up the corridor.

I’d forgotten how big the rooms were in Uncle Larett’s house. It’s one thing to look at the house from the outside and marvel at how expansive it is, but it’s just as overwhelming from the inside, where each room is easily bigger than the domes in Granite. I drift around the edges of the room, aimlessly picking up trinkets and putting them back down again before sitting down on a soft blue sofa to wait, but Daka looks uneasily at the furniture and says he prefers to stand.

“You won’t break it, you know,” says a voice from the door. Daka and I both look up, startled, as neither of us had heard the door open.

Previous: Leaving Granite

Friday, November 29, 2013

Leaving Granite

Find the rest of Jo here.


I sit on the fence for several moments without moving, absolutely flummoxed by this incredibly unexpected side of Jamie that’s been revealed, and finally look down at the crumpled white paper I have clutched in my hand. It gets carefully refolded and tucked into the back of my leggings where I won’t lose it; the last thing I want is to arrive at Pendleton to someone demanding papers when I don’t have any.

Footsteps sound on the path up the hill and I look up, half expecting Jamie to be coming back, but it’s Daka at last, looking more than a little strained. I’m grateful he wasn’t here when Jamie came along. Daka’s too damn honest. Jamie’d have cottoned on in an instant that something wasn’t right. Which makes me wonder what that makes me. Dishonest, I guess. Good at dissembling. Hah.

“Good morning,” I say pleasantly as he comes to a stop in front of me. Perched on the fence, I’m almost as tall as Daka for once and my eyes are on a level with his. This is always a fun experience for me since he’s normally so much bigger than me, so I sit up a little straighter to take advantage of the moment, forget to be careful of my balance, and promptly crash backwards into a spiky bush. I lie there for a moment, sprawled every which way, and sincerely hope that this is not an indication of how this entire adventure is going to go. If so, I imagine we’ll both be dead or in jail by dinner.

Daka offers his hand and I take it, letting him lift me out of the bush and onto my feet.

“So,” he says, “what’s the plan?”

“Oh,” I say. I forgot I haven’t told him the plan. Such as it is. Which isn’t much of a plan. But even so… “We go to Pendleton. I even have papers.” I wave the form under his nose and tuck it back into my leggings. “Don’t ask.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to reconsider leaving,” he says. “Here you have a house. You can stay safe. You can get a job. You can have a life.”

I snort indelicately and swing my bag onto my back. “You know I can’t keep the house if I stay,” I reply. I hook my thumbs through the bag’s straps and start up the road, kicking a pebble in front of me. “Too expensive.”

“Oh,” he says. Clearly it hasn’t occurred to him.

“Also, the idea of staying safe is growing increasingly boring,” I say with far more bravado than I actually feel. “I think I want some danger in my life.”

Daka glances sideways at me with some measure of alarm. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

I roll my eyes. “Daka, we’re stomping off to parts unknown, on a stupid, hare-brained scheme of rescuing my possibly-dead sister from her kidnappers, the all-knowing and all-powerful government. As far as plans go it’s not the best. I think ‘danger’ may come as part of the package.”

He flinches slightly. He’s a pacifist, my Daka. I’ve seen him capture spiders, big ugly hairy ones, and release them outside because he doesn’t want to kill them. Me, I smash spiders flat with whatever comes to hand.

“What did you tell your family?” I ask. “When you left, I mean. I assume they asked.” I assume Taj or Pike asked. I doubt Mrs Sato noticed.

“Said I was going to visit Aunt Augusta in Pendleton. Guess that wasn’t too much of a lie — if we’re actually headed to Pendleton I’ll stop in to see her.”

I shrug. “Sure.”

He sighs. “It’ll probably take the boys weeks to work out that I’m not coming back.”

“You don’t have to come,” I remind him.

“Yeah, I do,” he replies. “Someone has to keep you from getting killed.”

He grins at me, but behind the bravado he’s nervous. So am I. I wish I had a better plan, but I don’t, so that’s that. All I’ve got so far is a glimpse of official paperwork in Uncle Larett’s office from years ago that I’m hoping will tell me where the government keeps their ‘guests’. It’s not a lot to go on, but I guess it’s something.

“So why are we going to Pendleton?” Daka asks after we’ve been walking maybe a half hour in silence.

“I want to see my uncle,” I say.

Daka looks surprised. “You haven’t seen him in years. Why now?”

“Because I’m looking for comfort from the only family I have left after the tragic death of my mother,” I say. Daka raises his eyebrows at me and I sigh. “You remember the summer Hana taught us to pick locks?”

“Not particularly, but I assume it’s important.”

I tell him what I found in Uncle Larett’s office. “I’m hoping it’ll give us a place to start,” I say. “Otherwise we’re running blind.”

“I don’t know,” Daka says slowly, looking troubled. “If you get caught then that’s pretty much going to be the end of your search for Kit.”

“Well, I won’t get caught,” I said. “Uncle Larett won’t know why I’m there. And I’m depending on you to keep him busy.”

Daka looks less than best pleased at this, but he listens quietly as I begin to outline my plan, only occasionally interjecting when he has an idea that he think will help. This is why I love Daka. Having determined that he’s not going to get me to change my mind, he’s switched tactics and it’s all about doing everything he can to support me now. And that’s what I need.