Page 19

 Neal Shusterman

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“I don’t want to lose my brother, but I understand his choice. So the question is, how do we want our violent offenders to pay their debts to society? Wasting into old age on tax payers’ dollars—or allowing them to redeem themselves, by providing much-needed tissues for society and much-needed funds for those impacted by their crimes?
“I urge you to vote yes on Initiative 11 and turn a life sentence . . . into a gift of life.”
—Sponsored by Victims for the Betterment of Humanity.
* * *
Risa sleeps, then sleeps some more. Although she usually loathes lethargy, she decides she’s earned little bit of sloth. She finds it hard to believe it’s been barely three weeks since the Graveyard take down—and the night she exposed Proactive Citizenry’s devious endeavors on national news. Truly, it was another lifetime ago. A life of being in the media spotlight had become a life of hiding from searchlights.
It had been the shadowy movers and shakers of Proactive Citizenry that had gotten the charges against her dropped and allowed her to come out of hiding in the first place. But—big surprise—new charges were filed after the night she made herself their enemy. There are claims that she had stolen huge sums of money from the organization—which she had not. There are claims that she had helped to arm the AWOL Unwinds at the Graveyard—which she did not. All she had done during her tenure at the Graveyard was administer first aid and treat colds. The truth however, is of no interest to anyone but her.
CyFi’s fathers—both of whom are as sienna-pale as CyFi is dark—dote on her in equal measure, bringing her meals in bed. They were the ones who came all the way out to Cheyenne to get her, so they’ve taken a vested interest in her health. Being treated like a delicate flower tires for Risa quickly. She begins to pace the room, still amazed every time she swings her feet out of bed and walks on her own. Her wrist is stiff and aches, so she carries it carefully, even after the doctor-in-residence concludes that her fingers are fine and she will have to pay full price for any future manicures, and happily, she doesn’t have rabies either.
Her window gives her a view of a garden and not much more, so she really doesn’t know how big the place is and how many are here. Occasionally there are people tending the garden. She would go out to meet them, but her door is locked.
“Am I a prisoner?” Risa asks the taller, kinder-looking of CyFi’s dads.
“Not all locks are about restraint, dear,” he tells her. “Some are merely about timing.”
On the following afternoon, the timing must be right, because CyFi offers to give her the grand tour.
“You’ve got to understand, not everyone here is sympathetic to you,” CyFi warns. “I mean, yeah, people know all that whack campaigning you did in favor of unwinding was bogus. Everyone knows you were being blackmailed—but even so, that interview where you talk about how unwinding is the least of all evils?” He grimaces. “It’s a dish that sticks to your bones, if you know what I mean.”
Risa can’t meet his gaze. “I do.”
“You best be reminding people that the new spine you got is something you didn’t ask for and something you regret having. That’s a sentiment we can all relate to.”
As CyFi had said, the place is more than just a home; it’s a full-fledged compound. Risa’s room is in the main house—but the house has large wings that were clearly added on recently, and across the large garden are half a dozen sizeable cottages that Risa couldn’t see from her window.
“Land is cheap in Nebraska,” CyFi tells her. “That’s why we came here. Omaha’s close enough for folks that got business to go about it and far enough out that strangers leave us alone.”
Some of the people she passes glance at her, then look away without a greeting. Others give her a solemn nod. A few smile, although the smile is forced. They all know who she is—but no one knows what to make of her, any more than she knows what to make of them.
This afternoon there are several people tending to the garden as Risa and CyFi stroll through. On closer inspection, the garden isn’t just ornamental—there are vegetables growing in rows. Off to the left are pens with chickens and maybe other animals Risa can’t see.
CyFi answers her question before she asks it. “We’re fully sustainable. We don’t slaughter our own meat though, ’cept for the chickens.”
“Who, may I ask, is ‘we’?”
“The folk,” CyFi says simply.
“ChanceFolk?” Risa guesses—but looking around, none of the people here look Native American.
“No,” CyFi explains. “Tyler-folk.”
Risa doesn’t quite catch his meaning yet. It seems quite a lot of the people she sees have grafted bits about them. A cheek here, an arm there. It isn’t until she sees one bright blue eye that perfectly matches someone else’s that it begins to dawn on her what this place is.
“You live in a revival commune?” Risa is a bit awed and maybe a bit frightened, too. She’s heard rumors of such places, but never thought they were real.
CyFi grins. “The dads were the first to call it a ‘revival commune’ when we got started. I kinda like it, don’t you? It sounds kinda . . . spiritual.” He gestures to the cottages and land around him. “Most everyone here got a part of Tyler Walker,” CyFi explains. “That’s what the Tyler Walker Foundation is all about. Putting together places like this, for people who feel the need to reunite the Unwind they share.”
“Cyrus, that’s twisted.”
CyFi doesn’t seem fazed by her judgment. “A lot less twisted than some other things. It’s a way to cope, Risa—cope with something that never shoulda happened in the first place.” Then his jaw tightens, his gaze turns dodgy, and she knows it’s Tyler talking now.
“You go put yourself in a room with the arms, legs, and thoughts that belong to that spine of yours, and you’ll look at this place a whole lot differently.”
Risa waits a moment for Tyler to go back to drafting behind CyFi again, as CyFi’s much more pleasant to talk to.
“Anyways,” says CyFi, not missing a beat, “this place was the first, but now we’ve set up more than thirty revival communes across the country—and there’s more on the way.” He folds his arms and smiles proudly. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Out in front of one of the cottages, Risa spots the doctor who’s been tending to her wrist. CyFi calling him “a pair of lungs,” suddenly makes more sense now. The man is throwing a ball with a young boy who is clearly his son.
“So people just dropped everything and came here with their families?” Risa asks.
“Some brought families with them; others left families behind.”
“All to join the cult of Tyler Walker?”
CyFi takes a moment before answering. Maybe it’s a moment to keep Tyler from shouting out something they might both regret. “Maybe it’s a cult, and maybe not—but if it fills a need and doesn’t hurt anyone, who are you to judge?”
Risa holds her tongue, realizing the more she talks the more she insults her host.
CyFi is happy to change the subject. “So, how’s the Fry?”
“Excuse me?”
He rolls his eyes, like it should be obvious. “Our mutual friend. How is he? Do you hear from him?”
Risa is still at a loss.
CyFi looks at her incredulously. “The one, the only Levi Jedediah Small-Fry Calder. He never told you he knew me?”
Risa finds herself stuttering. “Y-you know Lev?”
“Do I know Lev? Do I know Lev? I traveled with him for weeks. He told me all about you and Connor kidnapping him and stuff. The way you saved him from getting tithed.” CyFi gets a little wistful. “I took care of him until he had to take care of me. He took care of me real good, Risa. No way I’d be here today if it weren’t for him. Life woulda hit me like a train if he hadn’t been there to stop it.” CyFi stops walking. He looks down. “When I saw he became a clapper, I nearly crapped my pants. Not Fry—not that good kid.”
“He didn’t blow himself up.”
He snaps his eyes to her. She doesn’t know whether it’s CyFi or Tyler. Maybe it’s both of them. “Of course he didn’t! You think I don’t know that?” CyFi takes a moment to mellow. “Do you have any idea where he is now?”
Risa shakes her head. “There was an attack on his home. Last I heard he went into hiding.”
CyFi purses his lips. “Poor little Fry. Hope he turns out less screwed up than the rest of us.”
Risa knows that, as horrifying as it was that Lev had become a clapper, she would have been unwound long ago if his clapper friends hadn’t taken down Happy Jack Harvest Camp. “Small world, isn’t it?” she tells CyFi. “Lev’s still here because of us—but we’re both here because of him.”
“See, we’re all interconnected,” CyFi says. “Not just us Tyler-folk.”
As they pass the last of the cottages, a middle-aged woman with no outward surgical signs smiles warmly at Risa from her porch, and Risa smiles back, finally beginning to feel comfortable with the idea of this place. CyFi touches his chest, indicating to Risa that the woman has Tyler’s heart.
They round back toward the main house, and Risa’s wrist begins to ache, reminding her that she’ll have to take it easy for a while. Her running from the powers that be will have to slow to a walk for a while. She could think of worse places than this to have to lie low.
* * *
“This is actor Kevin Bessinger, asking you to vote no on Initiative 11. Initiative 11—the ‘pound-of-flesh’ law—is not what it appears. It says it will allow for the voluntary shelling of inmates—in other words, the removal and disposal of their brains, followed by the unwinding of the rest of their bodies. It might seem like a sensible idea—until you read what the initiative actually says.
“Initiative 11 states that shelling would be voluntary—but it also allows prison administrators to override that and mandate the shelling of any prisoner they choose. In addition, it brings into the mainstream the unethical black-market practice of selling unwound parts at auction. Do you really want our lawmakers in the black market?
“Vote no on Initiative 11. The pound-of-flesh law is not a solution we can live with.”
—Sponsored by the Coalition for Ethical Unwinding Practices
* * *
Dinner that night for Risa is not room service but a feast in the large dining room of the main house. The long table seats two dozen, and Risa is seated toward the middle, after refusing to be seated at the head. CyFi’s fathers, who, Risa learned, had given up lucrative law and dental practices to run the Tyler Walker Foundation, are not present.
“Twice a week we have a special dinner,” CyFi explains. “Just Tyler-folk—no spouses or family. It’s a time just for us—and tonight you get to be one of us.”