Niko’s eyes flashed to our faces, one by one.
“Josie’s alive!” he repeated. “She’s being held against her will in Missouri!”
We all boggled at the newspaper he was holding out. It was Josie. He was right.
“I’m going to get her. Who’s coming with me?”
I didn’t know what to say. I’m sure my mouth was gaping open like a beached fish.
“Let us see the thing, Niko. Are you sure?” Jake said. Ever the politician, he stepped forward and took the paper from Niko.
“Is it really Josie? Are you sure?” Caroline asked. All the kids swarmed to Jake.
“Hold on, hold on. Let me set it down.”
Jake put the paper down on the bedsheet that Mrs. McKinley had laid down as a picnic blanket. We were out on the green, celebrating the twins’ sixth birthday.
“It’s Josie! It’s Josie, it really is!” Max crowed. “I thought for sure she got blowed up!”
“Careful with the paper!” Niko said. The kids were pushing and jostling for a better look. Luna, our fluffy white mascot, was up in Chloe’s arms, yipping and licking anyone’s face she could reach. She was just as excited as the rest of us.
“Somebody read it out loud, already!” Chloe complained.
“Now, Chloe. How would you ask in a polite way?” Mrs. McKinley reprimanded her.
“Somebody read it out loud already, PLEASE!”
Good luck, Mrs. McKinley.
Mrs. McKinley started to read the article. It said that the conditions at the type O containment camp were negligent and prisoners were being abused. It said that there was limited medical aid reaching the refugees inside. It said that if Booker hadn’t given the power to govern these containment camps to individual states, none of this would have happened.
But I was just watching Niko.
He was bouncing on the soles of his feet.
Action. That’s what he’d been missing, I realized.
Niko was a kid who thrived on structure and being productive. Here at the Quilchena luxury golf club turned refugee containment camp, there was plenty of structure, but almost nothing to do besides watch the twenty-four-hour cycle of depressing news from around the country and wait in lines.
Niko’d been wasting away—consumed with grief and guilt about losing Josie on the road from Monument to the Denver International Airport evacuation site.
And he’d been starving for something to do.
And now he thought he was going to rescue Josie.
Which, of course, was completely absurd.
Niko started to pace as Mrs. McKinley finished the article.
The kids had a lot of questions. Where is Missouri? Why is Josie being hit by that guard? Can they see her soon? Can they see her today?
But Niko cut through the chatter with a question of his own.
“Do you think Captain McKinley can get us to her?” he asked Mrs. M. “I mean, if he got permission, he could fly us, right?”
“I think if we go through proper channels, we should be able to get her transferred here. I mean, obviously you children cannot go down there and get her yourselves,” Mrs. McKinley said.
I shared a look with Alex—she didn’t know Niko.
He’d already packed a backpack in his mind.
He turned to me.
“I think if you and me and Alex go, we’d have the best chances,” Niko told me.
Astrid looked at me sideways. Don’t worry, I told her with my eyes.
“Niko, we need to think this through,” I said.
“What’s there to think through? She needs us! Look, look at this picture. There’s a man hitting her! We have to get there NOW. Like, tonight!”
He was ranting, a bit.
Mrs. Dominguez edged in.
“Come, kids. We play more football.” Her English was a mite better than Ulysses’s. She led the kids away, out onto the green. Her older sons helped, drawing the little ones and Luna out onto the field.
Mrs. McKinley joined them, leaving us “big kids”—me, Astrid, Niko, Jake, Alex, and Sahalia—standing next to the picnic blanket and the remains of the twins’ birthday feast. (It featured a package of chocolate-covered doughnuts and a bag of Cheez Doodles.) There had also been some rolls and apples from the “Clubhouse”—that was what everyone called the main building of the resort. It housed the dining hall, the offices, and the rec room.
Astrid, who seemed more pregnant by the minute, had eaten her share, my share, and Jake’s share. I loved watching her eat. She could really put it away.
Her stomach looked like it was getting bigger every day. She had definitely “popped,” as they say. Even her belly button had popped. It stood out, springy and cheerful, always bouncing back.
When Astrid would let them, the little kids took turns playing with her belly button. I sort of wanted to play with it too, but couldn’t bring myself to ask.
Anyway, the little kids didn’t need to hear us fight, so I was glad they herded them away. Mrs. McKinley worked hard to arrange this little party and the twins should enjoy it.
Niko’s eyes were snapping and there was a little flush of color on his tan face. That only happened when he was really mad—otherwise he’s kind of monotone. Straight brown hair, brown eyes, light brown skin.
“I can’t believe none of you care,” Niko said. “Josie’s alive. She should be with us. Instead, she’s locked up in that hellhole. We have to go get her.”
“Niko, she’s thousands of miles from here, across the border,” I said.
“What about your uncle?” Alex asked. “Once we get in touch with your uncle, maybe he can go get her himself. Missouri’s not so far from Pennsylvania, compared with Vancouver.”
“It won’t work,” Niko interrupted. “We’ve got to go get her now. She’s in danger!”
“Niko,” Astrid said. “You’re upset—”
“You don’t even know what she did for us!”
“We do, Niko,” Alex said. He put a hand on Niko’s shoulder. “If she hadn’t gone O, we’d be dead. We know that. If she hadn’t killed those people, we’d be dead.”
“Yeah,” Sahalia added. She was wearing a set of painter’s coveralls rolled up to the knee, with a red bandanna around her waist. She looked utterly, shockingly cool, as usual. “Whatever we have to do to get her back, we’ll do it.”
“Fine,” Niko spat. He waved us away with his hands, as if to dismiss us. “I’ll go alone. It’s better that way.”
“Niko, we all want Josie free,” Astrid said. “But you have to be reasonable!”
“I think Niko’s right. He should go get her,” Jake announced. “If there’s anyone on this black-stained, effed-up earth who can get to her, it’s Niko Mills.”
I looked at him: Jake Simonsen, all cleaned up. On antidepressants. Working out. Getting tan again. He and his dad were always tossing a football around.
Astrid was so happy about how well he’s doing.
My teeth were clenched and I wanted so badly to punch him.
“Come on, Jake!” I said. “Don’t do that. Don’t make Niko think this is possible. He can’t cross the border and get to Missouri and break her out of jail!” I continued. “It’s crazy!”
“Says Mr. Safe. Says Mr. Conservative!” Jake countered.
“Don’t make this about you and me!” I shouted. “This is about Niko’s safety!”
“Guys, you have to stop fighting!” Sahalia yelled.
“Yeah, watch it, Dean. You’ll go O on us.”
I took two steps and was up in his face.
“Don’t you ever, EVER talk about me going O again,” I growled. His sunny grin was gone now and I saw he wanted the fight as bad as I did.
“You guys are a-holes,” Astrid said. She pushed us apart. “This is about NIKO and JOSIE. Not you two and your territorial idiot wars.”
“Actually, this is supposed to be a party for the twins,” Sahalia reminded us. “And we’re ruining it.”
I saw the little kids were watching us. Caroline and Henry were holding hands, their eyes wide and scared.
“Real mature, you guys,” Sahalia said. “You two had better get it together. You’re going to be dads, for God’s sake!”
I stalked away.
Maybe Astrid would think I was being childish, but it was either walk away or take Jake’s head off.
Niko’s uncle’s farm was the common daydream that kept Niko, Alex, and Sahalia going. And me and Astrid, too, to a degree.
Niko’s uncle lived in a big, broken-down farmhouse on a large but defunct fruit tree farm in rural Pennsylvania. Niko and Alex had schemes for fixing up the farmhouse, reinvigorating the crops. Somehow they thought the farm could house all of us and our families when and not if we found them.
It was a good dream anyway. Unless the farm was overrun with refugees.
Excerpted from Monument 14: Savage Drift by Emmy Laybourne. Copyright © 2014 by Emmy Laybourne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.