Until that message.

Type: Writing toward novel | Genre: Speculative Fiction | Date: June 10, 2022 | Author: Lala Jackson

I had gotten to the point where our covert war felt normal, but it wasn’t what I had ever wanted to raise my children in. I struggle with the shame of it—how much, when I received that message from Cace, I was excited to dive back into the fray. 

Zanis was only 10, Nahoa only 7. In the moment, I felt like I was making the right choice for both of them, in the name of rising up and fighting for our people. It felt noble. We were in the camps anyway, so it felt like I was at least leading my charges out of captivity and toward possible freedom. 

It sounds dreadfully naive now. 

I don’t know how to explain what the camps were like without sounding like I’m trying to justify my decision to leave. They weren’t as awful as some of our compatriots dramatize—we were relatively safe. We didn’t necessarily have enough food, but we weren’t starving. We had a roof to sleep under and communal bathrooms we kept clean. Showers were cold, but there was clean water. It was better than what we came from—always on the run from the Mainlanders who wanted to turn us into lab rats, trying to isolate what gave us our abilities so they could replicate it for themselves.

I was going stir-crazy, but the camps were safer for the kids. I was a member of the Elders. We organized the night watches and food runs. We helped train those who came of age in the camps so they could lend their help to keep us going. 

Zanis would have entered that training in just three more years. He would’ve loved the responsibility of it. I had seen him starting to get more and more comfortable there and it worried me. It was like watching a bird who’d fallen in love with being caged, unaware of the freedom that was the birthright of their wings. At least they weren’t the only children there. They had schooling that wasn’t just left on my shoulders. It was nice to see them laugh again, little nonsensical jokes exchanged between them and their friends.

I missed my husband. It was never our intention for me to raise our children on my own. But Cace needed to be in Asali to keep our niece safe, and we didn’t think we could protect Nahoa from the Council too—keep her away from their watchful eyes on such a small island. 

And then there was me. Number one fugitive. A researcher’s dream. The Council’s prime enemy because they had no way to control me. If I were alone, I would’ve fought for myself. Stayed on the run, probably, like I had wanted to. I thought I’d be able to stay a step ahead of the Mainlanders, to outsmart the Council’s searches for me. I don’t know what made me think I could keep going like that with two little ones in tow. Love gave me a false sense of safety. 

So once we found the camps, Cace went back home to Asali to help with his sister’s daughter Isana (and her friends, one of them with even stronger powers than her own), and I stayed on the Mainland. 

Until that message.