The Safe Lands have long kept the true meaning of Liberation secret from their people. But after being sentenced to Liberation themselves, Mason and Omar soon discover the truth.
Levi watched his brothers’ public sentencing and tries to hold out hope they are still alive, He is forced to focus his attention elsewhere, however, when his new wife, Jemma, is captured and made the Safe Lands’ newest Queen. His only choice to save Jemma may be to take up Omar’s old role of undercover vigilante, leading the rebels in their quest to overthrow the government. But will Levi’s new role be enough?
Meanwhile, Jemma’s sister, Shaylinn, is ready to give birth to the “Safe Lands’” children … but not even Ciddah is sure they can be delivered safely in the midst of a rebellion. And Mason must face the fact Omar’s illness could be fatal.
If they can all unite their efforts, together they may be able to expose the Safe Lands’ lies to the people. But if they fail, they will all surely die.
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The Safe Lands
By Jill Williamson
BLINKCopyright © 2014 Jill Williamson
All rights reserved.
Levi woke to the sounds of chaos. Footsteps thumping through the house. Giggling children. Screeching children. Women shushing.
Not that the children seemed to be listening. The noise came through the closed door of the bedroom Zane had given to him and Jemma for the night. He rolled over. No sign of his wife. She must be up already and keeping the children out of the room.
It all came back then: Mason and Omar had been captured. Mason had been shot in the leg. Omar had been beat up by General Otley.
At least Otley was dead now.
What would become of his brothers?
Outside the room, someone banged against his bedroom door, followed by a screeching giggle.
Levi wondered what time it was, but this room had no clock. This was no way to remain inconspicuous to neighbors. Not in a place where children live only at the boarding school.
When he'd finally laid down that morning—after having seen his brothers captured and after Nash had brought Shaylinn, the medic named Ciddah, and Kendall's baby boy to Zane's house—there had been over fifty bodies crammed into the small dwelling in the Midlands. They'd covered the floor, sleeping side by side and head to toe.
Now all of them seemed to be wide awake and filled with energy.
Levi slid out of bed and opened the door. Three little girls ran past, nearly knocking him over, filled with the shrieking giggles of pure joy. They all met at the end of the hallway, colliding like cornered chicks.
Then, "Give it back!" one yelled. "I found it!"
They ran back toward him.
He reached out and caught the first. It was Eliza's Kaylee, pinching a rhinestone butterfly between her fingers. The other two stopped behind her, and she stretched out her arm to keep her treasure away from her pursuers. "No running in the house, Kaylee," Levi said. "And you must keep your voices down."
One of the other girls pushed up against Kaylee, snatched the butterfly, and ran off.
Kaylee's eyes flashed wide and she tried to pull away from Levi. "It's mine!" she yelled. "Give it back!"
"Shh!" Levi turned Kaylee to face him. "We have to be quiet. Do you want the enforcers to come here and take you away?"
"No!" Kaylee jerked away from Levi's grasp, and he barely kept hold of her. "Don't send me back there, Uncle Levi, please!" Her bottom lip trembled.
Maggots. He was no good with children. Where was Jemma? He scanned the house and caught sight of her brown hair in the kitchen. He looked back to the little girl. "No one will take you away, Kaylee, but you must try and be quiet. Quieter, at least." He released her, and she ran after the other two girls—silently, for now.
Levi closed the bedroom door and walked into the kitchen where Jemma and Shaylinn were putting together sandwiches. Peanut butter and jam, by the looks of things.
"Hi, Levi," Shaylinn said.
Jemma spun around, a smile on her face. "Levi! Sleep well, my love?" She set down a knife and embraced him.
He held her close, breathing her in, suddenly overwhelmed by the stress of their situation. He wished the first few months of their marriage had gone differently, that they might have lived in the cabin he'd built in Glenrock. "What time is it?"
"You slept all day." She kissed his cheek and pulled away from him.
He released her reluctantly. "You should have wakened me." He couldn't believe he'd lost an entire day. There was much to be done.
"It was a stressful night for all of us. You needed rest." She picked the knife up and kept cutting.
Other things came to his mind then. The move from the cabin. The birth of Jordan's son. "How is Naomi?"
"Doing fine. The baby too. 'Harvey,' Jordan called him this morning."
After Jordan's father. "Nice. Where is Ruston?" He scanned the house. "Where are the other ladies?"
"Ruston tried waiting for you, but there were just so many people in here that he had to start taking them below. The other women, plus Jordan and the Jack's Peak men, went down with him to see the new homes. He also took two of the little Safe Lands boys to his wife."
"How long have they been gone?"
"They left after lunch. Ruston said that when they got back, the adults would know the way to the new homes and could guide the rest of us. Said it was better than all of us going down at once and frightening the people who live there."
"I think it's romantic. Just hearing about it makes me think of the Amish."
"People of Old who chose to live apart from society and didn't use modern conveniences like electricity or motor vehicles."
"They felt it weakened the family structure and got between them and God. And they preferred to live lives of hard work the way people did for thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution. I heard Ruston explaining the Kindred to Eliza and, I don't know, I just thought of all my Amish books." She set down the knife and sighed. "I miss my books. I miss reading."
He rubbed her shoulders. He wanted to promise that they'd get out soon and that she could read all the books she wanted, but he was tired of showering his wife with empty promises. They were going into hiding. That almost seemed further away from freedom.
Another shriek turned his head to the living room. "These kids are being too loud."
"We've been doing the best we can. Lunch kept them quiet, so hopefully dinner will too." She handed Levi two plates, then took two herself.
Levi helped Jemma pass out plates with sandwiches. The kids sat cross-legged on the floor, which left room for Levi, Jemma, and Shaylinn to eat at the table.
"Did Zane go with Ruston?" Levi asked.
"I believe he's down in the nest, monitoring enforcer radios or something," Jemma said. "I'll have Shaylinn take him a plate when we're done."
Levi turned in his chair at the sound of Zane's voice. His friend wasn't alone. Ruston, Nash, Jordan—everyone had returned.
"Is there enough for us too?" Jordan asked.
"Yes, of course," Jemma said. "You can help yourself in the kitchen or wait until I finish."
Jordan wandered into the kitchen. "Where is Naomi?"
"Lying down with the baby in the other bedroom," Jemma said. "Ciddah was in there with her for a while."
"Elyot and Kimi finally fell asleep," Jemma said. "So hopefully Naomi is sleeping too."
Jordan pulled out the chair on Levi's left and sat down. "Harvey didn't sleep very well."
"New babies rarely do," Aunt Chipeta said.
"Tell me about the new living arrangements," Levi asked, just as Jordan took a huge bite of sandwich.
Jordan chewed a few times, then spoke over a full mouth. "It's weird. A bunch of tunnels hook everything together. And there's a park with real grass."
A park? "How do you have grass underground?"
"We have special lights that enable plants to grow," Ruston said. "There are ten empty homes below. The list you and Beshup created only utilizes eight of them. Are you sure you don't want to spread the people out a little more? The houses are quite small."
"There aren't enough adults," Levi said. "As it is we had to divide up three families of Jack's Peak's children."
"We will try it this way," Beshup said. "Once we are down there for a few days, we will discover what works and what does not."
Levi didn't like how vulnerable he felt with everyone inside this little house. Once the women and children were settled in the basements, he could focus on other things, like finding Mason and Omar and helping Beshup free the Jack's Peak women from the harem, the Safe Lands' compulsory in vitro program.
"When can we go?" he asked.
"Right away," Ruston said.
"Once everyone has eaten," Jemma added.
And so Levi ate, finishing long before most of the children, who were too busy giggling to finish in a timely manner. Finally they divided into groups and, one group at a time, descended into the basement. Levi's group waited until last so that Ruston could take his time showing Levi the way.
Levi's new household consisted of Jemma and Shaylinn, plus Nell, Trevon, Jake, Joey, and Carrie, who were Levi's nieces and nephews, and Grayn and Weiss, two Safe Lands refugees who were friends with Trevon and Joey. When they finally went down the stairs and into the basement, Zane was waiting.
"I'm going to come too," Zane told his father. "I'd like to see Tym and the girls."
"Are you sure?" Ruston asked.
"I'll be fine. You worry too much."
Ruston gave his son a silent nod.
The basement was a small, cement room with a ratty old couch, a combination washer/dryer, and a long bookshelf that hid the entrance tunnel to the nest, where Zane worked.
But rather than moving the shelves that led to the nest, Ruston rolled the washer/dryer combo out from the wall, which revealed an airlock door similar to the one that led to the bunker. He opened it, revealing a different passage. It appeared to be a storm drain at first, but it wasn't round and the floor wasn't wet. Ruston led the way with a flashlight. Shaylinn went next with Joey and Weiss, holding a boy's hand in each of hers. Then Nell and Jake, followed by Trevon and Grayn. Then Jemma, holding little Carrie. Levi followed his wife, and at the end of the line, Zane pulled the washer/dryer back into place, then closed the gateway door behind them.
"Where light go?" Carrie said.
"Ruston has the light," Jemma said.
"It won't be dark for long," Ruston called back. "Maybe twenty yards."
"What is this place?" Levi asked, inching along at the back of the line.
"One of seven gateway tunnels the Kindred built over the years," Zane said from behind him. "Entrances to tunnels that weave above the storm drains and remain separate from them, which keeps our homes safe from curious enforcers and from flooding."
"The door to the bunker?" Levi asked. "Is that a gateway?"
"Used to be," Zane said. "It's been closed off from the basements for years. There used to be ten gateways, but we no longer use the three under the downtown Midlands area."
"So I'll come back out through this door when I need to go above?" Levi asked.
At the front of the line, Ruston stopped and shined the light back to Levi. "No one leaves without my permission. Even you."
That stopped Levi in this tracks. "You can't be serious."
"This isn't like the bunker," Ruston said. "The basements are my people's home. They allow us to live a somewhat normal life. You should know that there are some Kindred who don't want you to live with us. They fear I'm bringing corruption to our doorsteps. I explained that you are not Safe Landers but Outsiders. And, like us, you are descendants of Seth McShane."
"But we're trying to get out of here," Levi said. "We've been prisoners above. Now we're going to be prisoners below? That seems worse."
"You're not prisoners," Ruston said. "You simply cannot go to and from the basements into the Safe Lands whenever you choose. You must take care and let me know when you want to use the gateway. This is for all of our safety. Plus, this particular gateway empties into my house, and my wife wouldn't like people passing through our home at all hours of the day or night."
Ruston turned back toward the path and the line began to move again.
"She doesn't like much," Zane said. "My mother."
Wonderful. Levi didn't like it but had no right to argue. He was tired of being totally dependent on others, though, and he wanted more than anything to get out of this place and back to Glenrock.
They reached the end of the tunnel at what looked like a regular wooden door. Up ahead, Ruston opened it, and dim light seeped into the corridor. The line started to move again as they passed through the door.
"You have electricity?" Levi asked Zane. "How?"
"We have our own powerhouse," Zane said. "It's underground, built right underneath the Highland-Midland wall on the wall side of Lake Joie. It is actually connected to the biofiltration system for Lake Joie, though the Safe Lands Guild doesn't know it."
"So, it's a dam?"
"A little simpler than that, actually. It's a series of waterwheels. Some are connected to the fountains and waterfalls in Lake Joie Park, some are hidden throughout the storm drains, and we've engineered the drains to send the water through them. It works quite well."
Levi followed Jemma through the door and into a living room with carpet and furniture. No windows. Zane followed and closed the door.
"But what about in the winter?" Levi asked. "When the water freezes?"
"LPG-powered generators," Zane said. "Dayle gets us most of the gas through the Highland DPT office, or I work out the credits for emergency purchases. But we try to keep power use to a minimum." Zane slipped past him then and approached a boy who looked to be in his early teens. "Hay-o, Tym."
"Hay-o." The boy embraced Zane.
"As I told the others," Ruston said, "enjoy your new homes, but take short showers or they'll get cold fast. All our light bulbs are compact fluorescents. Turn off lights you aren't using. The houses don't have central heat. There are space heaters for when it gets cold and lots of blankets. And we use ceiling fans or portable fans for when it's hot. We wash laundry in cold water and don't use dryers. Hang out clothing to dry it and—"
"To your room, Tym. Now!" a woman yelled.
The volume of her voice put a hush over the crowd of people. Levi looked over the heads of the others. A woman stood in the doorway that led out of the room, clutching two girls, one to each leg. The girls looked to be five and ten. The woman was glaring at Zane and the young teen.
"Obey your mother, Tym," Ruston said.
"Yes, sir." And the young boy smiled at Zane then passed through an open door on the left wall, closing it softly behind him.
"You must be Ruston's wife," Jemma said, hefting Carrie up her hip.
Ruston squeezed through the crowd until he stood beside the woman and girls. "Yes, this is my wife, Tova, and my daughters, Resi and Luz. That was my son, Tym, who's now in his room. And the new boys from the boarding school should be around here somewhere."
"They went to the park with Nash," Tova said. But that's all she said. No polite greeting or kind words. She simply stared at all of them like she wanted them to leave her house as soon as possible. She did eye baby Carrie though.
Her youngest girl reached out and took hold of Carrie's chubby fingers. "Hi, baby."
"Kids," Carrie said, waving her other hand. "Hi, kids."
"This is Carrie," Jemma said. "Her mommy is away right now, so I'm taking care of her. These are some of her brothers and sisters and their friends."
"None of them are yours?" Tova asked, frowning.
"No, Levi and I have only been married a few months. No kids yet." Jemma blushed, and Levi thought she was the most beautiful creature in the world.
"Let's get you to your new home, then," Ruston said. "Dathan? Are you coming?"
Dathan—Zane's given name. Those who went into the Safe Lands all had aliases to protect themselves.
Zane was still standing beside his mother, who was glaring at him as if she had just discovered that he had betrayed his people in the same way Omar had betrayed theirs. "Yep, I'm coming. Bye, Mom. Bye, Resi. Bye, Luz." And he walked past them to where his father stood by another door.
"Bye, Dathan," the younger girl said.
Tova took the girls by the arms and led them into the kitchen without a word to Zane.
Ruston led Levi and his household out the door and into a narrow corridor that was similar to the one that led from the basement of Zane's Safe Lands house to Ruston's underground home, though this one had light bulbs hanging from the ceiling every five yards.
They walked to the end of the corridor where it met a crossroads. Straight ahead was a little alcove and another door, but to the left and right, the corridor stretched out until it curved out of sight.
They followed the left corridor for maybe two hundred yards, passing by two alcoves with doors before Ruston stopped and turned into another alcove. There was a number on the door: 16–1.
"That one on the right we just passed leads to the library," Ruston said.
"Can we use the library?" Jemma asked, her voice so hopeful that Levi chuckled.
Excerpted from Rebels by Jill Williamson. Copyright © 2014 Jill Williamson. Excerpted by permission of BLINK.
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