Cassie slipped the plastic bags of Cheerios into her backpack and stood up. Eleven was watching her with a cool gleam in his eye that tempted her to give him a piece of her mind about what he did to Rochelle. Being sworn to silence sucked. She signed the clipboard and went to the lobby to meet the guards who were going with her to the library.

The streets were empty, which was a relief at first, but became more nerve-wracking as they walked through block after block without seeing so much as a drunk street urchin. It had rained that morning, just enough to turn the streets foul with greasy puddles and muck from the malfunctioning sewers. Coupled with the stench of garbage and bodies rotting in the rising heat, it was enough to make Cassie wish they could go back to the hotel and to hell with the goat.

They found the library abuzz with activity. Guards paced and fondled their weapons, glaring at the newcomers, while librarians and patrons moved restlessly in and out of the building, often with no books to show for all their comings and goings. The primly dressed girl who assessed Cassie’s bags of cereal seemed distracted, unwilling to set a firm price. She told her to get two or three books, or maybe four, and then they could discuss. Cassie’s guide inside the library was equally nervous, shining her flashlight in the wrong places and leading her seemingly everywhere except to where the books on livestock were shelved.

“Are you trying to keep me from finding what I’m here for?” Cassie asked. “Because if you don’t have books on goats or if you won’t let me borrow one, just say so.”

The girl ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I’m not thinking too good today. It’s okay to get a book about goats.”

“Where are they, then?”

She rubbed her forehead in confusion. “I don’t know. I mean, I do know, but—” she glanced around like a cornered animal, then crumpled to the floor in tears.

Cassie squatted beside her and patted her shoulder. “It’s okay. We’ll find them. It can’t be that hard.”

At Cassie’s touch, the girl set up a keening that carried through the stacks. Between wails, she blurted, “Plant Culture, SB, Forestry, SD, Animal Culture, SF, Fish—”

It took Cassie a moment to realize the girl was reciting call letters and by then two other librarians had come to investigate the noise. Cassie made a helpless gesture. “I didn’t mean to upset her. I only wanted a book about goats.”

One of the librarians shook her head. “Poor Anya. She shouldn’t be trying to work today.”

“We told her,” the other apologized to Cassie. “But she wanted to be brave.”

“Brave about what?”

“Her little sister was in a group that got picked up yesterday. We hoped it was just a slave run by the Pharms and we invited them over this morning to negotiate, but they said they don’t have our kids.”

With Anya still sobbing, Cassie mouthed the question, “Obits?”

The librarians nodded.

While one girl stayed behind to comfort Anya, the other took Cassie to the books on animal husbandry. Cassie perused the titles, barely able to concentrate as the librarian told her of the latest round of kidnappings. “We thought we were safe because the Obits haven’t ever traveled this far into the city. The Pharms usually leave us alone and the smaller groups don’t bother us because they need our knowledge.” She gave Cassie a significant look. “Did you know we’ve got this whole place wired? We can blow it up, burning all the books in it, if anyone tries to attack us.”

Cassie hadn’t known, and the thought made her anxious to finish her business and leave, lest someone detonate the explosives by mistake.

“We thought it was fine to let our young ones play in the sculpture garden across the street. Our guards could see them and it was a way for them to get fresh air and sunshine. Children need sunshine to prevent rickets. Did you know that? We have a book that says so.”

Cassie did know. Trying to ignore the condescension, she pulled a book off a shelf and leafed through it. It contained information about several different goat breeds, but none of the pictures looked like the goat in the concierge office, so she put the book back on the shelf.

“I wasn’t there when it happened.” The librarian lowered her voice. “But our guards say a van pulled up and a bunch of guys in black jumped out. They grabbed some of our kids, shoved them into the van and took off before our people could confront them.”

“Sounds like Obits,” Cassie agreed. She selected a book about Nubian goats.

“But the weirdest part…” she dropped her voice to a whisper and leaned in close. “Is that our guards say some of those guys looked like grownups.”

Cassie had been paging through the book, thinking the pictures were a good match to their own goat. Now she stopped reading and met the librarian’s eyes. “Are you sure about that?”

The girl shrugged. “I’m only sure that’s what our guards think they saw. The kids who didn’t get picked up say the same thing. Of course, what they actually saw could be something different. Maybe it was just wishful thinking.”

“No.” Cassie cradled the book to her chest. “If they really did see grownups, it would mean about the worst thing imaginable.” Before the librarian could ask her to elaborate, she added, “I think I have everything I need. I’d like to check out now.”



Alice Audrey said...

I'm wondering how quickly they will run out of kids and start going for the teenagers.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Teenagers are an inferior product, since their HGH levels are dropping as they reach the end of their teens. Besides, teenagers are the only ones with (barely) enough savvy to survive, and if left to their own devices for long enough, they'll inevitably create more children.

If one's goal is to save the human race, it's counter-productive to go after teenagers. If one just wants to survive a little longer, that's another story. So what it really comes down to is who is doing the kidnapping and why.

Alice Audrey said...

At this point my cynical self was convinced... oh wait. That could be a spoiler. Nevermind.