Children of Jubilee
“Run! Hide!” my brother Enu screamed beside me.
Enu had been trying to boss me around my whole life. Usually I resisted. But the sound I’d thought was thunder kept striking louder and louder behind us. It was the sound of marching feet.
Enforcers’ marching feet.
Coming toward us.
I leaned forward, bent my knees, and shoved off the pavement, trying to launch myself through a gap in the crowd ahead.
This is not my life, I thought.
I was a tech geek. A coder. A hacker. A Why leave the couch when everything’s available online? type. I never ran.
A hand grabbed my arm from behind.
“We have to stay together!” someone yelled.
Edwy. My little brother. The brother I’d never met until a few weeks ago. The one who’d always been kept safe.
Until . . . well, a few weeks ago.
“We need you!” he begged. Because I guess I was still barreling forward.
Oh, momentum . . . It’s not just a scientific theory.
I whirled around. There must have been hundreds of people around us scrambling to escape. Maybe thousands. Maybe the entire population of Refuge City. But I got something like tunnel vision: My eyes could focus only on five faces. Three belonged to twelve-year-olds: Edwy and his friends Rosi and Zeba. Two belonged to five-year-olds: Rosi’s little brother, Bobo, and a girl named Cana. Until a few weeks ago I’d never seen such young children in person, not since I was that age myself. When, of course, being that little seemed natural. But now it was hard to believe that such tiny human beings as five-year-olds were real. They seemed more like dolls or toys.
“Kiandra, will you carry me?” Cana asked, raising her arms to me. “I’m scared.”
Me too, kid, I thought.
“Enu’s the one with muscles,” I said, backing away from her.
Where was Enu?
He’d shoved his way farther into the crowd ahead of us than I had, but I grabbed for his hand and jerked him back. Because suddenly it hit me that Edwy was right: We did need to stick together. With the Enforcers invading Refuge City, we wouldn’t be able to find one another electronically. How much longer would it be safe to use anything electronic at all?
Not . . . able . . . to . . . use . . . electronics. . . .
It was a horrifying thought. I glanced down at the stolen Enforcer communication device in my hand. We’d taken it from one of the Enforcers we’d battled out in the desert. I was mostly confident that I’d managed to disable any tracking built into the device, just as I was mostly confident that I’d blocked all the bioscans for the entire city, so the seven of us kids wouldn’t instantly be picked up as criminals.
Now would be a really bad time to be wrong.
“I want you to carry me, Kiandra,” Cana insisted, grabbing my waist.
Now, what was that about? Granted, Bobo had already hopped up into Rosi’s arms, so she wasn’t available. But Cana had known Edwy her entire life—why wasn’t he her first choice? Or Zeba, who liked taking care of people? Or Enu, who really did have a lot of muscles and could have carried Cana on his back without even noticing?
Cana wasn’t the only one staring at me with wide, terrified eyes. Rosi, Zeba, Edwy, and now even Enu were too. And Bobo probably would have, except that he’d just buried his face against his sister’s neck, letting her stare for both of them.
Oh. Everybody thinks I have a plan. Everyone thinks I can save them.
I tucked the Enforcer communication device under my arm and pulled out my mobile phone.
“We need to find the best hiding place,” I told Enu. “Before we start running.”
Someone or something—Enu? Zeba? Just the natural pressure of the screaming, fleeing crowd?—pushed us to the side, against the wall of a Ref City skyscraper. But I was lost in an electronic world, searching for maps of all the nearby basements. Type, type, swipe, maximize, minimize. . . . Just in case someone could track my search, I clicked on a building four blocks to the east, even as I announced to the group, “Follow me. We’re going west.”
Cana grabbed my shoulders and scrambled up onto my back—okay, whatever. I pulled the Enforcer communication device from beneath my arm and handed it to her.
“Hide this between us,” I told her, and she obediently tucked it under her chin, against my back.
But then I felt bad, like I was endangering her too much. She was five.
I was so not used to watching out for anyone but myself.
We reached a deserted alleyway full of Dumpsters.
“The door at the end!” I shouted, pointing. “I hacked in and changed the security code for the keypad to eight-zero-nine-two. Go!”
I twisted around to pull Cana from my back and hand her to Enu. She held on tighter.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” Cana asked.
No, not just Cana—Enu practically whimpered the same thing. Maybe the others did too. My ears had starting ringing so badly I could barely hear anything.
I broke Cana’s hold on me and thrust her at Enu.
“After I hide this!” I yanked the Enforcer communication device from between Cana and me as it fell. “We don’t want to be caught with it!”
Enu grabbed my wrist.
“We get caught, we’re doomed anyway,” he said. “We can’t lose you.”
This was the worst thing ever. Not the doomed part—I already knew that. It was Enu being sentimental and needy that slayed me. He’d spent the past thirteen years—my entire life—pretty much saying, “Why do I have to have a little sister? Sisters are useless! Why couldn’t you have been the banished one? Why couldn’t I have a brother instead?”
And then, just a matter of weeks ago, Edwy had shown up at our door.
Now look where we were: homeless fugitives, desperately fleeing the alien Enforcers.
And the Enforcers claimed they had the right to take over Ref City just because of something we’d done.
I wanted to make a joke about all this, to wisecrack, Who’s useless now? I wanted all this to be a joke. Enu and me, we didn’t do serious.
But this day was nothing but serious.
“I’m not going far,” I said, my voice gruff. “I’ll just hide it . . . over there.”
I gestured at one of the Dumpsters. Strategically, this was really dumb. If the Dumpster was ever emptied again—if Ref City ever became that normal again—the communication device would be taken away. And it was insanity to keep the device in the same alleyway where we were hiding. How hard could it be to stash the device in the next alley over? Or—even better—a block or two away?
But I gazed out of the alley at the hordes flooding past on the street. Just in the few seconds since we’d ducked past the Dumpsters, the crowd had gone from panicked to frenzied to rabid. People were knocking one another down. People were trampling other people’s bodies.
“Bobo and Cana can’t see this,” Rosi said. Her brother still had his face burrowed against her neck, but she put her hand on Cana’s head, gently steering the younger girl to look toward the door leading to safety. “Come on.”
She tugged Enu and Cana toward the door. Once Enu started moving, Rosi pulled Edwy and Zeba after them.
Zeba peered at me, her eyes wide with shock and horror.
“Kiandra, please—” she began.
“I’ll be right behind you,” I promised. I wanted to add, Believe me, I’m no martyr. I know how to look out for number one.
But that wasn’t actually something I could promise. Not today.
I crouched low to hide in the shadow of the Dumpsters, and dashed to the nearest one. Then I slid the Enforcer communication device into the gap between the bottom of the Dumpster and the ground. Nobody would see it there.
Unless some rat comes along and noses it out into the open, I thought. Unless . . .
Enu stood in the doorway at the end of the alley. I could see the others behind him, descending the stairs into darkness.
Should have stopped to grab flashlights, I thought. Should have studied survival tips for life on the streets.
I really hated situations I wasn’t prepared for. Situations I couldn’t study and analyze ahead of time.
But maybe my feet were smarter than my brain, because I started sprinting toward Enu and the doorway. When I was still a meter or two away, he reached out and pulled me in. The metal door began swinging shut behind us.
“Wait,” I said, when there was only a narrow crack left between the door and the frame.
“Did you hear something? Is someone there?” Enu hissed at me. He was already three steps down the stairs. The others were far below. “Shut the door! Lock it!”
I hadn’t heard anything new. I’d stopped hearing
something. The screams of the crowd, which had seemed endless just a moment ago, had suddenly ceased.
It was like air vanishing, like going deaf—something I’d taken for granted was suddenly gone.
I peeked out the crack beside the door, and after a second Enu joined me, standing on tiptoes to lean his chin against the top of my head.
The crowd fleeing ahead of the Enforcers had disappeared. But the thudding of the Enforcers’ marching hadn’t stopped. It had grown from a distant rumble to a constant roar, like thunderclaps so close together that the echo of one met the next striking crash.
Then the first line of Enforcers came into view out in the street: one black uniform after another, one long row after another of bubbled space helmets gleaming in the sunlight like a taunt: You pitiful humans don’t know how to fight us now. Not anymore. We’ve made ourselves indestructible, can’t you see?
Enu grabbed my shoulders and began to pull me away.
“They’ll see us!”
“No, they won’t!” I shoved him away. “Only if they use the bioscans, and if those work . . .”
If those work, there’s nothing we can do, nowhere we can go. No way to save ourselves.
I didn’t say that out loud.
“I just want to see what they do,” I whispered. “I have to know . . .”
To know if we’re doomed.
Enu put his hands on my shoulders again, but only to get closer to the door. He and I both pressed our faces against the crack and kept peeking out.
One of the Enforcers at the end of the row turned toward the alley, and my heart seized. He lifted a gun to his shoulder.
I clutched Enu’s hand. There wasn’t time to run. I could only watch.
But the Enforcer wasn’t aiming at us. He pointed his gun at the Dumpster where I’d hidden the communication device. He squeezed his trigger.
Instantly the Dumpster vanished.