"How does it feel to do what you do?" she asks him. "Sending kids to a place that ends their lives."
Obviously he's heard all this before. "How does it feel to live a life no one else feels is worth living?"
It's a harsh blow designed to get her to shut up. It works.
"I feel her life is worth living," says Connor, and he takes her hand. "Anyone feel that way about you?"
It gets to the man—although he tries not to show it. "You both had more than fifteen years to prove yourselves, and you didn't. Don't blame the world for your own lousy choices."
Risa can sense Connor's rage, and she squeezes his hand until she hears him take a deep breath and release it, keeping his anger under control.
"Doesn't it ever occur to you Unwinds that you might be better off—happier even—in a divided state?"
"Is that how you rationalize it?" says Risa, "Making yourself believe we'll be happier?"
"Hey, if that's the case," says Connor, "maybe everyone should get unwound. Why don't you go first?"
The cop glares at Connor, then takes a quick glance down at his socks, Connor snickers.
Risa closes her eyes for a moment, trying to see some ray of light in this situation, but she can't. She had known getting caught was a possibility when they came here. She knew that being out in the world was a risk. What surprised her was how quickly the Juvey-cops had descended on them. Even with their unorthodox entrance, they should have had enough time to slip away in the confusion. Whether the Admiral lives or dies, it won't change things for her or for Connor now. They are going to be unwound. All her hopes of a future have been torn away from her again—and having those hopes, even briefly, makes this far more painful than not having had them at all.
The Juvey-cop questioning Roland has eyes that don't exactly match, and a sour smell, like his deodorant soap hadn't quite worked. Like his partner in the other room, the man is not easily impressed, and Roland, unlike Connor, doesn't have the wits to rattle him. That's all right, though, because rattling him is not what Roland has in mind.
Roland's plan began to take shape shortly after Connor released him from the crate. He could have torn Connor limb from limb at the time, but Connor had three kids equal in size and strength to Roland to back him up. They were kids who should have been on Roland's side. Should have been. It was his first indication that everything had drastically changed.
Connor told him about the riot, and about Cleaver. He offered a lame apology for accusing him of killing the Goldens—an apology that Roland refused to accept. Had Roland been at the riot, it would have been organized and successful. If he had been there, it would have been a revolt, not a riot. By locking Roland away, Connor had robbed him of the chance to lead.
When they had arrived back at the scene of the riot, all focus was on Connor; all questions were directed to him. He was telling everyone what to do, and they were all listening. Even Roland's closest friends cast their eyes down when they saw him. He instinctively knew that all his support was gone. His absence from the disaster had made him an outsider, and he would never regain what he had lost here—which meant it was time to devise a new plan of action.
Roland agreed to fly the helicopter to save the Admiral's life, not because he had any desire to see the man live, but because taking that flight provided a new door of opportunity. . . .
"I'm curious," says the sour-smelling cop. "Why would you turn in the other two kids when it means turning yourself in as well?"
"There's a reward of five hundred dollars for turning in a runaway Unwind, right:"
He smirks. "Well, that's fifteen hundred, if you're including yourself."
Roland looks the Juvey-cop in the eye—no shame, no fear—and boldly presents his offer. "What if I told you I know where there are more than four hundred AWOL Unwinds? What if I helped you take down a whole smuggling operation? What would that be worth?"
The cop seems to freeze in place, and he regards Roland closely. "All right," he says. "You have my attention."
He's lasted longer than anyone expected. This is the consolation Connor must hold on to as the cop and two armed guards escort him and Risa into the room where Roland is being interrogated. By the smug look on Roland's face, however, Connor suspects it wasn't so much an interrogation as a negotiation.
"Please, sit down," says the cop sitting on the edge of a desk near Roland. Roland won't look at them. He won't even acknowledge their presence in the room. He just leans back in his chair. He'd fold his arms if the handcuffs allowed it.
The cop wastes no time in getting right to business. "Your friend here had quite a lot to say—and offered us a very interesting deal. His freedom, in exchange for four hundred Unwinds. He's volunteered to tell us exactly where they are."
Connor knew Roland would give him and Risa up, but giving up all of them—that's a new low for Roland. He still won't look at them, but his smug expression seems to have grown a little harder.
"Four hundred, huh?" says the second cop.
"He's lying," says Risa, her voice remarkably convincing. "He's trying to trick you. It's just the three of us."
"Actually," says the cop on the desk, "he's telling the truth—although we're surprised the number's at four hundred. We thought there'd be at least six hundred by now, but I guess they keep on turning eighteen."
Roland regards him, uncertain. "What?"
"Sorry to tell you this, but we know all about the Admiral and the Graveyard," the cop says. "We've known about it for more than a year."
The second cop chuckles, amused by the dumbfounded look on Roland's face. "But . . . but . . ."
"But why don't we round them up?" says the cop, anticipating Roland's question. "Look at it this way. The Admiral— he's like that neighborhood stray cat that nobody likes but no one wants to get rid of because he takes care of the rats. See, runaway Unwinds on the street—that's a problem for us. But the Admiral gets them off the street and keeps them in that little desert ghetto of his. He doesn't know it, but he's doing us a favor. No more rats."
"Of course," says the second cop, "if the old man dies, we may have to go in there and clean the place out after all."
"No!" says Risa. "Someone else can take over!" +
The second cop shrugs as if it's nothing to him. "Better be a good mouser."
While Roland can only stare incredulously as his plan crumbles, Connor feels relief, and maybe even a bit of hope. "So, then you'll let us go back?"
The cop on the desk picks up a file. "I'm afraid I can't do that. It's one thing to look the other way, but quite another to release a criminal." Then he begins to read. "Connor Lassiter. Scheduled to be unwound the 21st of November—until you went AWOL. You caused an accident that killed a bus driver, left dozens of others injured, and shut down an interstate highway for hours. Then, on top of it, you took a hostage and shot a Juvey-cop with his own tranq gun."
Roland looks at the cop in awe. "He's the Akron AWOL?!"
Connor glances at Risa, then back at the cop. "Fine. I admit it. But she had nothing to do with it! Let her go!"
The cop shakes his head, scanning the file. "Witnesses say she was an accomplice. I'm afraid there's only one place she's going. Same place as you: the nearest harvest camp."
"But what about me?" asks Roland. "I had nothing to do with any of that!"
The cop closes the file. "Ever hear of 'guilt by association?" he asks Roland. "You should be more careful with the company you keep." Then he signals for the guards to take all three of them away.
For your case and peace of mind, there are a variety of harvest camps to choose from. Each facility is privately owned, state licensed, and federally funded by your tax dollars. Regardless of the site you choose, you can feel confident that your Unwind will receive the finest possible care from our board-certified staff as they make their transition to a divided state.
—From The Parents' Unwinding Handbook
On the existence of a soul, whether unwound or unborn, people are likely to debate for hours on end, but no one questions whether an unwinding facility has a soul. It does not. Perhaps that's why those who build these massive medical factories try so hard to make them kid-conscious and user-friendly, in a number of ways.
First of all, they are no longer called unwinding facilities, as they were when they were first conceived. They are now called harvest camps.
Secondly, every single one of them is located in a spectacularly scenic location, perhaps to remind its guests of the big picture, and the reassuring majesty of a larger plan.
Third, the grounds are as well maintained as a resort, filled with bright pastel colors and as little red as possible, since red is psychologically associated with anger, aggression, and, not coincidentally, blood.
Happy Jack Harvest Camp, in beautiful Happy Jack, Arizona, is the perfect model of what a harvest camp should be. Nestled on a pine-covered ridge in northern Arizona, the sedating forest views give way to the breathtaking red mountains of Sedona to the west. No doubt it was the view that made happy men of the twentieth century lumberjacks who founded the town. Hence the name.
The boys' dormitory is painted light blue, with green accents. The girls' is lavender, with pink. The staff have uniforms that consist of comfortable shorts and Hawaiian shirts, except for the surgeons in the medical unit. Their scrubs are sunshine yellow.
There's a barbed-wire fence, but it's hidden behind a towering hibiscus hedge—and although the Unwinds in residence see the crowded buses arriving at the front gate each day, they are spared the sight of departing trucks. Those leave the back way.
The average stay for an Unwind is three weeks, although it varies depending on blood type and supply and demand. Much like life in the outside world, no one knows when it's their time.
Occasionally, in spite of the professional and positive attitude of the staff, outbursts do occur. This week's rebellion is in the form of graffiti on the side of the medical clinic that reads, YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE.
* * *
On the fourth of February, three kids arrive by police escort. Two are brought unceremoniously into the welcome center, just like any other arriving Unwinds. The third is singled out to take the longer route that passes by the dormitories, the sports fields, and all the various places where Unwinds are gathered.
Hobbled by leg shackles, constricted by handcuffs, Connor's strides are short, his posture hunched. Armed Juvey-cops are on either side, in front of and behind him.
All things at Happy Jack are serene and gracious—but this moment is the exception to the rule. Once in a while, a particularly troublesome Unwind is singled out and publicly humbled for all to see before being set loose into the general population. Invariably, that Unwind will try to rebel and, invariably, that Unwind will be taken to the clinic and unwound within just a few days of his or her arrival.
It stands as an unspoken warning to every Unwind there. You will get with the program, or your stay here will be very, very short. The lesson is always learned.