The smog had clashed with the rain clouds that covered The Byways that night. The combination created a downfall of liquid soot that made one look like they were cave dwellers. Globs of black paste dripped off of the tin roofs like stalactites. The soot from the black rain was washed away in the next days rainfall and mist, but for that short time The Byways resembled some suburb of hell.
In the week that Isaac had been gone, The Byways was beginning to be overrun by the Sentinel force. The atmosphere of the town became authoritarian with police holding no regard to privacy or well-being. On a rainy night like that night it was hard to tell the difference between thunder and a door being kicked in. But that evening, Naomi and the crew had other concerns.
“What the fuck?” Naomi grumbled as she found the light switch.
She made her way to the living room where she found the female crop awake, kneeling on the floor moaning.
“Hey! It’s ok!” She ran over to the crop and tried to comfort it.
The crop looked at Naomi with a face like she had just entered this dimension. Nothing around her was familiar, not even the Earth.
“I’m here to help. We took you from that place. You’re safe.” Of course, the crop didn’t understand a word Naomi was saying, but Naomi felt as though it comforted her.
She grabbed the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around the childlike woman before getting her some canned beans. The crop’s eyes were shifty and she twitched at any sound or sudden movement. Essentially a wild animal, Naomi knew she had to gain some form of trust.
Naomi brought the woman to the wood-burning stove and fed her. She hummed a song that her mother used to sing to her and her brother, though she stopped prematurely when she remembered how it made her feel. The whipping heat from the fire dried her eyes for her.
Glooping sounds filled the night air like a ringing in one’s ear, only to be silenced by the chewing of beans and the crackle of fire. The swooshing of the machines that kept the male crop alive worked tirelessly. Naomi worried endlessly if he would wake up as well, as his body became emaciated from the lack of nutrients. The clinic had run out of anything worthy of liquifying for the crop days ago.
The two sat by the fire all night, Naomi dozing off when she could.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
When Naomi woke, it was dawn. Her eyes were peeled open by the sound of knocking at the door. Martha and Jonas had arrived.
The crop had been in the same spot and position as she was when Naomi dozed off to sleep. It was as if she were a robot and hadn’t moved all night. Maybe she hadn’t.
“Hey.” Naomi rubbed her eyes as she opened the door.
“Hey. How are the Siblings?” That’s what Martha had came up with to start calling the two crops.
“Well the girl woke up last night and the man is starving. I don’t know what to do with him.” Naomi guided them over to the male crop. “We ran out of liquid food days ago.”
“I have a couple of bags back at the house from a couple of shipments ago. They should last us a couple of more days at least.” Jonas said, heading for the door. “I’ll run and get them.”
Jonas would have to dodge the new city patrols and buffed up scanner numbers, especially carrying a thing like liquid food. Usually, that might not have been suspicious, but with two crops missing the Sentinels might put two and two together.
Naomi cared for the male crop, checking his vitals, while Martha tried to teach the female how to talk.
“Mar-tha. Mar…tha.” Martha said as she pointed at herself.
She pointed at Naomi now. “Na-omi. Na…omi.”
The crop looked in the direction of the point, but made no indication that she understood anything at all of what was trying to be done. She turned her head back to the fire in a daze.
Just as Naomi put water on the stove to boil for coffee, The Mole came in the door.
“Hey, have you heard anything about Isaac?” Naomi said.
“I haven’t, but I have a guy on the inside that is keeping a lookout for him in the city. I don’t know where else he would’ve went.” The Mole came and eyed the female crop trying to decipher if she was indeed human.
“I hope he’s alright. I don’t blame any of what happened on him.”
“I know, but I’m sure he blames himself.”
“Mole. Can you say Mole?” Martha continued. “Don’t you have a real name?”
“I do, but for my sake I’d rather stay The Mole.”
Martha rolled her eyes and kept teaching, but she knew that was the smart thing for him to do.
The water came to a rolling boil as Naomi took it off of the stove. She had a makeshift filter made out of multiple layers of material from a screen door. She cradled the mesh over a mason jar and poured the water over the grounds. It wasn’t the best coffee, but it made do.
The Mole took a sip and sighed with satisfaction. “So. What’s the next move for Daybreak?”
“We need to get more people.” Naomi sat by the fire with her elbows on her knees. The coffee cup warming both of her hands.
“That’s not going to be easy with the way things are in town now.”
“Yeah, no shit. What should we do?”
“Maybe we should just lay low for awhile. I mean, with everything that’s happened…you haven’t even had time to grieve.” Martha paused the speech lesson for a moment.
“I don’t have time to grieve right now, Martha. The shit they did to Noah, and now Isaac is gone off on some hero mission…I’ll grieve when the The Crest is dead.” She took a furious gulp of coffee.
“So, it sounds like we have a mission, but you’re right. We need more people.” The Mole said.
“Don’t they call you The Mole because you’re secretive? Fucking snoop around in the shadows and find some motherfuckers to help us.” Her knee bounced, but Naomi wasn’t mad at him.
“I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, I’ll see if my guy has any word on Isaac’s whereabouts.”
“I don’t know if it would be good or bad news for him to have seen Isaac. If he sees him, that means he’s in the Cloud City and about to do something extreme.” Martha gave up on the teaching for now and grabbed a cup of coffee.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Later that night, Jonas had made it back with two bags of liquid food for the male crop.
“You’re a lifesaver, literally. Thank you.” Naomi hugged Jonas and hooked one of the food bags up to the man.
“It’s getting crazy out there. I’ve never seen it like this.” Jonas said.
“It’s never been this bad before. We pissed them off.” The Mole chuckled in an ‘oh shit we fucked up’ kind of way.
“And we’re going to keep pissing them off too so they better get used to it.” Naomi said as she watched the food flow into the crop.
As the morning turned to afternoon and then evening, The Mole slipped through the shadows of the alleyways. Able to avoid any contact with scanners or Sentinels, he made it back to his shed near the edge of The Byways.
He opened the door, his leg having to assist his hands in shoving it open, guiding it along the half crescent groove it had made in the floor. He’d told many people it was by design, as no one would be able to enter without him knowing. Most were only amused, not convinced.
He shoved the door open and beneath him lay a folded piece of paper, damp from the evening mists. The Mole unfolded it to reveal what it said.
“Found your guy in the substreets of the city. Told him I was with you, that I could bring him back. Told me he wasn’t going back and he had to finish what y’all had started. I didn’t really have time to argue with him. I got him to where he needed to go. Whatever he’s doing, I’m sure you’ll see him soon enough. Gotta go. You know how to reach me.
The Mole folded the letter back up and flicked his lighter. He couldn’t afford to leave a trace of anything leading back to him or Daybreak.