Check out Savage Drift, the conclusion to Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 trilogy, available May 20th from Feiwel & Friends!
Dean, Alex, and the other survivors of the Monument 14 have escaped the disaster zone and made it to the safety of a Canadian refugee camp. Some of the kids have been reunited with their families, and everyone is making tentative plans for the future. And then, Niko learns that his lost love, Josie, has survived!
For Josie, separated from the group and presumed dead, life has gone from bad to worse. Trapped in a terrible prison camp with other exposed O’s and traumatized by her experiences, she has given up all hope of rescue. Meanwhile, scared by the government’s unusual interest in her pregnancy, Astrid—along with her two protectors, Dean and Jake—joins Niko on his desperate quest to be reunited with Josie.
Niko’s eyes flashed before our faces, one by one.
“Josie’s alive!” he repeated. “She’s being held against her will in Missouri!”
We all boggled at the newspaper he was holding out. It was Josie. He was right.
“I’m going to get her. Who’s coming with me?”
I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure my mouth was gaping open like a beached fish.
“Let us see the thing, Niko. Are you sure?” Jake said. Ever the politician, he stepped forward and took the paper from Niko.
“Is it really Josie? Are you sure?” Caroline asked. All the kids swarmed to Jake.
“Hold on, hold on. Let me set it down.”
Jake put the paper down on the bedsheet that Mrs. McKinley had laid down as a picnic blanket. We were out on the green, celebrating the twins’ sixth birthday.
“It’s Josie! It’s Josie, it really is!” Max crowed. “I thought for sure she got blowed up!”
“Careful with the paper!” Niko said. The kids were pushing and jostling for a better look. Luna, our fluffy white mascot, was up in Chloe’s arms, yipping and licking anyone’s face she could reach. She was just as excited as the rest of us.
“Somebody read it out loud, already!” Chloe complained.
“Now, Chloe. How would you ask in a polite way?” Mrs. McKinley reprimanded her.
“Somebody read it out loud already, PLEASE!”
Good luck, Mrs. McKinley.
Mrs. McKinley started to read the article. It said that the conditions at the type O containment camp were negligent and prisoners were being abused. It said that there was limited medical aid reaching the refugees inside. It said that if Booker hadn’t given the power to govern these containment camps to individual states, none of this would have happened.
But I was just watching Niko.
He was bouncing on the soles of his feet.
Action. That’s what he’d been missing, I realized.
Niko was a kid who thrived on structure and being productive. Here at the Quilchena luxury golf club turned refugee containment camp, there was plenty of structure, but almost nothing to do besides watch the twenty-four-hour cycle of depressing news from around the country and wait in lines.
Niko’d been wasting away—consumed with grief and guilt about losing Josie on the road from Monument to the Denver International Airport evacuation site. And he’d been starving for something to do.
And now he thought he was going to rescue Josie. Which, of course, was completely absurd.
Niko started to pace as Mrs. McKinley finished the article.
The kids had a lot of questions. Where is Missouri? Why is Josie being hit by that guard? Can they see her soon? Can they see her today?
But Niko cut through the chatter with a question of his own.
“Do you think Captain McKinley can get us to her?” he asked Mrs. M. “I mean, if he got permission, he could fly us, right?”
“I think if we go through proper channels, we should be able to get her transferred here. I mean, obviously you children cannot go down there and get her yourselves,” Mrs. McKinley said.
I shared a look with Alex—she didn’t know Niko.
He’d already packed a backpack in his mind.
He turned to me.
“I think if you and me and Alex go, we’d have the best chances,” Niko told me.
Astrid looked at me sideways. Don’t worry, I told her with my eyes.
“Niko, we need to think this through,” I said.
“What’s there to think through? She needs us! Look, look at this picture. There’s a man hitting her! We have to get there NOW. Like, tonight!”
He was ranting, a bit.
Mrs. Dominguez edged in.
“Come, kids. We play more football.” Her English was a mite better than Ulysses’s. She led the kids away, out onto the green. Her older sons helped, drawing the little ones and Luna out onto the field.
Mrs. McKinley joined them, leaving us “big kids”—me, Astrid, Niko, Jake, Alex, and Sahalia—standing next to the picnic blanket and the remains of the twins’ birthday feast. (It featured a package of chocolate-covered doughnuts and a bag of Cheez Doodles.) There had also been some rolls and apples from the “Clubhouse”—that was what everyone called the main building of the resort. It housed the dining hall, the offices, and the rec room.
Astrid, who seemed more pregnant by the minute, had eaten her share, my share, and Jake’s share. I loved watching her eat. She could really put it away.
Her stomach looked like it was getting bigger every day. She had definitely “popped,” as they say. Even her belly button had popped. It stood out, springy and cheerful, always bouncing back.
When Astrid would let them, the little kids took turns playing with her belly button. I sort of wanted to play with it too, but couldn’t bring myself to ask.
Anyway, the little kids didn’t need to hear us fight, so I was glad they herded them away. Mrs. McKinley worked hard to arrange this little party and the twins should enjoy it.
Niko’s eyes were snapping and there was a little flush of color on his tan face. That only happened when he was really mad— otherwise he’s kind of monotone. Straight brown hair, brown eyes, light brown skin.
“I can’t believe none of you care,” Niko said. “Josie’s alive. She should be with us. Instead, she’s locked up in that hellhole. We have to go get her.”
“Niko, she’s thousands of miles from here, across the border,” I said.
“What about your uncle?” Alex asked. “Once we get in touch with your uncle, maybe he can go get her himself. Missouri’s not so far from Pennsylvania, compared with Vancouver.”
“It won’t work,” Niko interrupted. “We’ve got to go get her now. She’s in danger!”
“Niko,” Astrid said. “You’re upset—”
“You don’t even know what she did for us!”
“We do, Niko,” Alex said. He put a hand on Niko’s shoulder. “If she hadn’t gone O, we’d be dead. We know that. If she hadn’t killed those people, we’d be dead.”
“Yeah,” Sahalia added. She was wearing a set of painter’s coveralls rolled up to the knee, with a red bandanna around her waist. She looked utterly, shockingly cool, as usual. “Whatever we have to do to get her back, we’ll do it.”
“Fine,” Niko spat. He waved us away with his hands, as if to dismiss us. “I’ll go alone. It’s better that way.”
“Niko, we all want Josie free,” Astrid said. “But you have to be reasonable!”
“I think Niko’s right. He should go get her,” Jake announced. “If there’s anyone on this black-stained, effed-up earth who can get to her, it’s Niko Mills.”
I looked at him: Jake Simonsen, all cleaned up. On antidepressants. Working out. Getting tan again. He and his dad were always tossing a football around.
Astrid was so happy about how well he’s doing.
My teeth were clenched and I wanted so badly to punch him.
“Come on, Jake!” I said. “Don’t do that. Don’t make Niko think this is possible. He can’t cross the border and get to Missouri and break her out of jail!” I continued. “It’s crazy!”
“Says Mr. Safe. Says Mr. Conservative!” Jake countered.
“Don’t make this about you and me!” I shouted. “This is about Niko’s safety!”
“Guys, you have to stop fighting!” Sahalia yelled.
“Yeah, watch it, Dean. You’ll go O on us.”
I took two steps and was up in his face.
“Don’t you ever, EVER talk about me going O again,” I growled. His sunny grin was gone now and I saw he wanted the fight as bad as I did.
“You guys are a-holes,” Astrid said. She pushed us apart. “This is about NIKO and JOSIE. Not you two and your territorial idiot wars.”
“Actually, this is supposed to be a party for the twins,” Sahalia reminded us. “And we’re ruining it.”
I saw the little kids were watching us. Caroline and Henry were holding hands, their eyes wide and scared.
“Real mature, you guys,” Sahalia said. “You two had better get it together. You’re going to be dads, for God’s sake!”
I stalked away.
Maybe Astrid would think I was being childish, but it was either walk away or take Jake’s head off.
Niko’s uncle’s farm was the common daydream that kept Niko, Alex, and Sahalia going. And me and Astrid, too, to a degree.
Niko’s uncle lived in a big, broken-down farmhouse on a large but defunct fruit tree farm in rural Pennsylvania. Niko and Alex had schemes for fixing up the farmhouse, reinvigorating the crops. Somehow they thought the farm could house all of us and our families when and not if we found them.
It was a good dream anyway. Unless the farm was overrun with refugees.
I Keep to myself.
The Josie who took care of everyone—that girl’s dead.
She was killed in an aspen grove off the highway somewhere between Monument and Denver.
She was killed along with a deranged soldier.
(I killed her when I killed the solider.)
I am a girl with a rage inside that threatens to boil over every minute of the day.
All of us here are O types who were exposed. Some of us have been tipped into madness by the compounds.
It depends on how long you were exposed.
I was out there for more than two days, best we can piece together.
Myself, I work on self-control every moment of the waking day. I have to be on guard against my own blood.
I see others allow it to take over. Fights erupt. Tempers flare over an unfriendly glance, a stubbed toe, a bad dream.
If someone gets really out of control, the guards lock them in the study rooms at Hawthorn.
If someone really, really loses it, sometimes the guards take them and they don’t come back.
It makes it worse that we’re just a little stronger than we were before. Tougher. The cycle of healing, a bit speeded-up. Not so much you notice, but old ladies not using their canes. Piercedear holes closing up.
More energy in the cells, is what the inmates say.
They call it the O advantage.
It’s our only one.
The Type O Containment Camp at Old Mizzou is a prison, not a shelter.
The blisterers (type A), the paranoid freaks (type AB), and the people who’ve been made sterile (type B) are at refugee camps where there’s more freedom. More food. Clean clothes. TV.
But all of the people here at Mizzou have type O blood and were exposed to the compounds. So the authorities decided we are all murderers (probably true—certainly is for me) and penned us in together. Even the little kids.
“Yes, Mario,” I say when he starts to grumble about how wrong it all is. “It’s unjust. Goes against our rights.”
But every time my fingers itch to bash some idiot’s nose in, I suspect they were right to do it.
I remember my Gram talking about fevers. I remember her sitting on the edge of my bed, putting a clammy washcloth on my forehead.
“Gram,” I cried. “My head hurts.”
I didn’t say it aloud, but I was begging for Tylenol and she knew it.
“I could give you something, my baby girl, but then your fever would die, and fever’s what makes you strong.”
I would cry, and the tears themselves seemed boiling hot.
“A fever comes in and burns up your baby fat. It burns up the waste in your tissue. It moves you along in your development. Fevers are very good, darlin’. They make you invincible.”
Did I feel stronger, afterward? I did. I felt clean. I felt tough.
Gram made me feel like I was good through and through and I would never do wrong.
I’m glad Gram is long dead. I wouldn’t want her to know me now. Because the O rage comes on like a fever but it burns your soul up. Your body it makes strong and your mind it lulls to sleep with bloodlust and you can recover from that. But after you kill, your soul buckles. It won’t lie flat; like a warped frying pan, it sits on the burner and rattles, uneven.
You can never breathe the same way again because every breath is one you stole from corpses rotting, unburied, where you left them to bleed out.
It’s my fault that Mario is here in “the Virtues” with me. The Virtues are a quad of buildings with inspiring names: Excellence, Responsibility, Discovery, and Respect, as well as a dining hall and two other dorms, all contained by not one but two chain-link fences, each topped with razor wire. Welcome to the University of Missouri at Columbia, post-apocalypse edition.
I remember when Mario and I first passed through the gates. I wondered what the gates were protecting us from. Stupid.
At the screening and sorting, we had placidly submitted to the mandatory blood typing. We had told our story. Mario could have gone to a different camp—he’s AB. But he wouldn’t leave me.
A tall guard with bright blue eyes and not much hair signed off on us.
He looked at Mario’s paperwork.
“You’re in the wrong place, old-timer,” he told Mario.
“This girl here is my responsibility. We prefer to stay together.”
The guard looked us over, nodding his head in a way I did not like.
“You ‘prefer,’ do you?” he said, pronouncing the words slowly. “Little girl found herself a ‘sugar daddy’?”
“Come on now, there’s no need to be crass,” Mario grouched in his way. “She’s fifteen years old. She’s a child.”
The smile slipped off the guard’s face.
“Not in here,” he said. “In here she’s a threat. I’m going to give you one last chance—you need to go. You think you’re being high and mighty, protecting the girl. But this camp ain’t no place for an old man like you. You should go.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll stay with my friend.”
I didn’t like this. A six-foot-tall bully looking down on frail, elderly Mario like he meant to flatten him, and Mario looking back with undisguised contempt.
I got antsy, started making fists and releasing them. Maybe I shifted from foot to foot.
The guard took hold of my jaw and forced me to look up into his face.
“How long were you out there?” he asked.
“She was out for just a short while,” Mario said.
“I DIDN’T ASK YOU, OLD MAN!” the guard shouted.
He tightened his grip on my jaw, gave my head a shake.
“My name’s Ezekiel Venger, and I’m one of the head guards here. Now, how long?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
He let me go.
“I know you’re trouble, Miss Fifteen. I can tell which ones are dangerous. That’s why they put me in charge. You better watch yourself. I’m not gonna give you an inch of wiggle room. Not one sorry inch.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
I know when to call someone sir.
You call someone sir if you respect him. If he’s older than you. If he’s in a position of authority. Or if he’s got a nightstick and a chip on his shoulder.
Mario is my only friend.
He thinks I am a good person. He’s wrong, but I don’t argue with him. He tells me he believes in me.
We share a two-person suite with four others. I am not the only one Mario is protecting. He volunteered to sponsor four kids, and this is why they allowed him to be with us up on the second floor of Excellence. All the other suites on the second floor are just women and children.
It’s only men on the first floor and it’s rough down there.
I share a bed with Lori. She’s fourteen. She has brown hair and white skin and huge brown eyes that look so sad sometimes I want to punch her in the face.
She’s told me her story. She’s from Denver and she and her folks were hiding out in their apartment but they ran out of food. By the time they made it to the airport the evacuations had begun. They were among the last of the people there so when the rioting began—with people clawing and trampling one another as the sky over Colorado Springs lit up—her mother was killed. Then her father fell between the Jetway and the door of the plane as he shoved her in.
I didn’t want to hear her story. I wanted it to fall away from my ears, like beads of water on wax paper, but the words stuck in. Water, water, water. Lori is all water.
Lori lies against me at night and weeps and gets the pillow wet.
I know, I know I should comfort her. It wouldn’t take much. What? A pat on the back. A hug.
But there is no compassion left in me.
Like I said, that Josie is dead.
What do I give to her? I give her the warmth of my sleeping body. That’s all she can have. Escaping heat.
I should tell you about the other three. Yes, I should name them. Tell you about them and tell you what they look like and their sweet, scared smiles and how Heather looks like Batiste, her oval face very sincere and serious. Half Asian. How one of the boys is always getting words wrong. Nemolade for lemonade. Callerpitter for caterpillar. Bob wire for barbed wire. Cute, innocent, annoying, traumatized. Sweet, demanding, lost, and present. There is nothing I can do for them and I want nothing to do with them.
Every day I wish Mario had not taken them in. The orphan Os.
They were fending for themselves and getting roughed up. I know it was the right thing to do.
There should never have been kids in here in the first place.
As I understand it, the national government brought us here, but the state of Missouri is running the camp. The locals don’t want us released, but don’t care to pay for us to be properly cared for, either. And the national government has been slow to provide for us.
The result: not enough guards, not enough food, not enough space, not enough medical care. And they won’t let us out.
There were petitions circulating, when we first arrived. People trying to get the stable O’s separated from the criminal ones. But the guards made life hard for the signature gatherers.
Now we’re all just waiting it out.
Every week a rumor drifts through the camp that we’re to be released.
The hope is dangerous. Makes you care.
I have to watch out for the men. Some of them are handsy.
I’m not so worried about what they could do to me—I’m worried about what I could do to them.
You do not want to get in trouble.
There was a scuffle a few days ago near the fence. Some reporters got the idea to talk to us about life inside the compound. Were shouting questions to us.
I begged Mario to stay away. But he insisted. He gets all red in the face when he talks about the conditions here. He wants justice and he wants his rights and all I want is to get out of here.
I went over with him, to the gates, because I knew there’d be trouble and there was.
There were maybe twenty inmates standing there, shouting to the dozen or so reporters who were yelling things like
“Do you feel your rights have been violated?”
“Are the rumors of gang violence true?”
“Are you in danger?”
Some of the prisoners shouted answers. Others yelled, “Get us out of here!” and “Contact my uncle so and so! He’ll give you a reward!” and “In God’s name, help us!”
Then a couple of Humvees came to herd the press away and out came two guards, with their semiautomatic tranquilizer dart guns.
Venger was one of the guards.
I saw delight flash across Venger’s face when he saw me and Mario at the fence. The guards waded into the throng of people, pulling them from the fence and pushing them toward the dorms.
“I knew it!” he shouted. “I knew you two were trouble! Nobody chooses to be in here!”
Venger pushed through the crowd and grabbed Mario’s frail arm.
And VRAAAH, my rage amped up. Like a car getting on the highway, zooming up to speed.
“Don’t touch him!” I spat.
He poked me, hard, in the center of my chest with his nightstick.
I grabbed it.
“You little black poodle skank!” he snarled.
Then he raised up his stick to hit Mario. Not me, Mario.
I raised my arm and took the blow to my forearm.
I shoved myself between them and felt Venger’s body warm and tall and powerful up against me. And I caught his eye.
I saw euphoria there. The delight of using your body to hurt others. Swinging an arm, breaking a skull.
Venger may be O or he may not be. But he knows the joy of the kill.
Of course, it was a huge mistake, to defy Venger.
I don’t know what bothers him most, that I’m young, that I’m a girl, or that I’m black.
But I kept him from cracking the skull of an eighty-year-old man.
Now I’m his favorite target.
Monument 14: Savage Drift © Emmy Laybourne, 2014