Authors: Lana Krumwiede
A throng gathered around the hauler as it inched through the city of Deliverance. Taemon was in the passenger seat, Amma was in the middle, and Drigg was driving. Or trying to, anyway. The press of desperate people made it difficult.
“We need food!” someone called.
“It’s all going to the Relief Center!” Taemon yelled. “You can get food there.”
The mob’s fervor increased.
“There’s never enough!”
“My children . . .”
“Is there any milk in there?”
Taemon leaned out the window and searched the crowd for his parents, as he had done for the past four months while accompanying Drigg on his weekly trips bringing food to the city dwellers who had decided to stay put after the Fall — the day psi mysteriously disappeared from Deliverance.
It was hard to believe that Deliverance had been clean, orderly, and impressive just four short months ago. Now it was a filthy, bedraggled heap — a shadow of its former glory.
Some of the damage was due to the earthquake that had rocked the city on the day of the Fall. But most of the destruction was a result of the riots that had occurred in the weeks afterward. Once people had lost their telekinetic abilities, their lives were completely upended. Their vehicles didn’t work. They had to kick down their own front doors to enter their homes. Even the simplest of tasks — cooking, dressing, and hygiene — had to be reinvented using nothing but their hands. For people who had been taught that manual labor was beneath them, the situation was appalling.
While the violence had died down, the quality of life had yet to improve much for the thousands of people still living in the city. Food was frightfully scarce — the spring crops had withered because people could not figure out how to water that many plants without psi. Volunteers from the colony tried to help, but the city dwellers still hadn’t grasped the fact that psi was gone for good. It made Taemon sick to see so many city dwellers stand by uselessly while their food supply was ruined rather than adopting the tools and techniques of the colonists. It seemed people would rather go hungry than accept the truth.
But for Taemon, hardest of all was the knowledge that the destruction, the anger, and the hunger were all his fault. Because he had caused the Fall.
Four months ago, the Heart of the Earth had given him a choice: accept his role as the True Son and do what was best for the people, or turn his back on his destiny and become an instrument of war. It wasn’t much of a choice. Taemon had directed the Heart of the Earth to do away with psi, the telekinetic power that had become a weapon in the hands of the corrupt. He’d believed he was ushering in a new era — an era of peace and equality. He had pictured the people of Deliverance living in harmony with the people of the colony, learning from their powerless brethren how to live a new kind of life, one that would bring them closer to the Heart of the Earth — and closer to the teachings of the Prophet Nathan.
Instead, the people of Deliverance had clung to their old beliefs and were praying for the day when this punishment would be lifted and they could go back to a life free of labor.
Only Taemon and Amma knew that no such day was coming.
Still, every week, he made himself go with Drigg to the city, where he had to confront the repercussions of his decision, in the hope that he would find Mam and Da. Or find someone who knew where they were, and maybe get word of them. So far, though, nothing.
Taemon rolled up the window and sat back in his seat. “Will it ever get better?”
Amma sighed. “Someday. It has to get better someday.”
“I’m just happy if I don’t run anybody over with the hauler,” Drigg said.
Taemon watched a man who walked beside the truck as it crept along. He looked like most city dwellers since the Fall: hair matted, shirt rumpled and dirty, psi collar ripped out and replaced by yarn ties crudely laced through the fabric, psi cuffs torn off, psi shoes bound with strips of cloth to keep them on his feet. This was the new uniform of the people of Deliverance.
“After we unload all this, I’ve got a list of things to pick up in the city.” Drigg’s voice cut through Taemon’s gloomy mood. “It’ll take me a couple of hours, and if you want to take some time to look for your folks, that’d be all right.”
“Thanks, Drigg,” Taemon said. “There’s still one asylum I haven’t checked.”
They found the asylum, a grim, squat building secluded in a woodsy area and surrounded by an iron fence.
Drigg drove into a gravel parking lot that held a few abandoned quadriders. He stopped the hauler at the gate, which led to a long path lined with spindly pine trees. “Now, listen: when I get back to pick you up, you have to be watching for me. I can’t leave the hauler to go looking for you.”
Taemon nodded. The hauler had come from the powerless colony, which had only a handful of corn-fueled vehicles. Now they were the only vehicles in all of Deliverance that still worked. If they left the hauler unattended, someone would surely steal it. “Right,” said Taemon. “Thanks.”
“I’m coming with you,” Amma said, scooting across the front seat. “Unless you need my help with your errands, Drigg?”
“Nah, you go on with the boy. Keep an eye on him.”
Taemon was grateful for the company. The abandoned asylums were even more disturbing than the rest of the city. Even though he’d never seen an asylum before the Fall, he couldn’t help but think they had always been disturbing.
He forced his feet to move forward, stepping on the thin shadows that the trees cast across the path. He told himself that each shadow he passed brought him closer to his family — or what was left of it.
His brother was gone, buried under the stones when the temple collapsed during the Fall. There was no way to bring Yens back, but he could find his parents. He had to.
“This is the last place I know to look,” Taemon said.
“We’ll find them,” Amma said. “Other families got separated during the Fall. It takes time, but they find each other.”
Taemon nodded, trying to keep his spirits up despite the unsettling sights ahead: the overgrown shrubs and grass, the cracked sidewalk, the walls streaked with water stains, the roof sagging in several places. The disrepair had clearly started long before the Fall. “Skies, I hate these places.”
Amma shuddered. “I know.”
Before the Fall, anyone who was deemed too dangerous was sent to an asylum. Usually
meant that their powers were abnormal, which Taemon now knew meant they simply had one of the rarer types of psi, like precognition or telepathy, but it could also mean their behavior was odd or violent. In the asylum, these people were medicated heavily to suppress their psionic abilities. Toward the end of his reign, Elder Naseph had used asylums as a handy way of silencing anyone who opposed him. That included Da, Taemon had learned, who’d become more and more vocal in his opposition to Naseph’s warmongering ways. Mam had been deemed guilty by association.
The front door was wide open and askew, the top hinge long since missing. Taemon knocked on the door frame, a gesture that still felt a bit foreign to him, though he’d been functioning without psi for months before the Fall. “Hello? Anyone here?” He leaned inside the door and called again. “Hello?” His voice echoed inside the entryway.
He glanced at Amma. “Looks pretty empty, just like the others.”
“There could be some squatters inside. They might know something.”
“Squatters usually don’t want to be found,” Taemon said.
They stepped inside, the grit-covered linoleum scratchy underfoot. A wide staircase led down to what may have been a common room for the patients to gather in. Chairs, sofas, and lamps, many of them broken, were piled in random places. They’d seen the same disarray in the other asylums.
“Why is the furniture always thrown around like that?” Amma said.
“Looting, maybe?” Taemon guessed. “During the Fall?”
“What would they be trying to loot? The drugs in here are used to take psi away, not bring it back.”
Taemon grunted. He tried to picture the chaos that must have erupted when the people who ran this place realized they no longer had psi. There would have been no way to keep the doors locked, no way to subdue the inmates. He looked again at heaps of broken furniture. Barricades. Fighting. The image of it came perfectly to his mind, squashing his hopes for finding Mam. “Is anyone here? We’re looking for a former inmate. We won’t cause any trouble.”
A scuffling sound startled them, but it was only a bird trapped inside, fluttering against the ceiling.
They went from door to door and found no one. There was no electricity, but there were windows, small and high, next to the ceiling. They let in enough natural light to see the same things they’d seen in other asylums: bizarre scratch marks on many of the walls, odd designs or symbols that held no meaning for Taemon. Beds and chairs were turned on end in strange places.
“So sad,” Amma said. And she was right. Everything about this place was sad.
They checked every room, but there were no signs of habitation.
“We can search the grounds,” Amma said as they neared the end of the last hallway. “There might be people hiding in the woods.”
Taemon looked down the hall one last time and saw a door they hadn’t noticed before. “Hold on. There’s one more room.”
He jogged to the door and tried to push it open, but something was blocking the way. Leaning his shoulder into the door, he pushed harder.
The door gave way with a smash, but it still didn’t open all the way. Taemon peered into a dim storage room. Shelves filled with cleaning supplies, linens, and medicine lined the walls. One shelf held a stash of food and drink pouches. Brooms and mops were propped up against the far wall.
Amma had her hand on his shoulder, trying to get a look. “We need more light,” she whispered.
Taemon tried to open the door wider, but something was blocking it. It looked like a chair had been braced against the door and been broken when he’d forced it open. One large piece remained wedged between the door and the wall. He stepped into the tiny room to clear the debris.
“Two yellow, one blue, three red,” a hoarse voice whispered from a dark corner. “Two yellow, one blue, three red.”