About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I've been robbed of my death.
A date was set, a coffin prepared, and a grave dug in the earth, yet I breathe against my own will as my brother is lowered six feet down. The smooth wood coffin displays the best of Father's carpentry skill. Did he originally carve it for me?
Enforcers surround the gravesite — black human pillars lined with bullets, staring straight ahead. Probably making sure I don't run.
Solomon Hawke is not among them.
A pall of autumn leaves covers the Unity Village graveyard, the only disrupted portion of ground being Reid's grave. Lumps of black earth wait to enclose him in permanent night.
Everything about this funeral feels wrong. Reid should not be buried. He should be cremated and scattered in the most adventurous locations. He is — was — a traveler, not meant to stay in one place. But his wife, Tawny, insisted. Perhaps she wants a grave to visit.
I try to meet her eyes. Does she blame me for his death? Her gaze is fixed on Reid, as though she can see through the lid of carved wood concealing his face. She stands with her hands folded in front of her, wobbling on the soft ground in high heels. She wears a short ivory dress with long sleeves off the shoulders and a braided tan belt.
I wear black.
Tawny takes shuddering gasps and blinks hard while tears paint trails down her smooth cheeks. I should be standing by her, creating a bond as sisters, but I'm a criminal. Because I live, her husband — my brother — is dead.
I am the last of the Blackwater triplets.
I rub my hand against my raw left wrist, growing more and more used to the space that used to be my left hand. An Enforcer removed the shackles so I can at least toss a memento into Reid's grave. The Enforcers don't intimidate me anymore. They all know I'm a Radical, but they have no harm to offer me.
"Time to go." A black Enforcer — the same one who held me captive at my hearing, sentenced me to the Wall, and shoved me through the Opening — claps the metal ring to my wrist.
I don't want to go with him. He has no heart.
"Wait." The first scoop of dirt falls like a dropped gauntlet onto Reid's coffin. I stretch my shackled hand over the hole and release my Good-bye gift — a thin lump of folded letters written on pages from Reid's old journal during my journey in the West. A reddish-brown ribbon holds them together — the one he said reminded him of my hair. He bought it for me so long ago. Another life ago.
"Let's go." The Enforcer's voice is harsh and he holds out the other shackle.
I raise my left arm. With jerky movements, he locks the metal around my stump. Does my missing hand sicken him? I hope so. It's a testament to my travels, my stamina.
He drags me away from the gravesite before I can say anything to Tawny, before I can hug Mother or Father, before I can say a true Good-bye to Reid. I've seen none of them since the fiasco at the Wall two days ago.
Do they hate me?
Father meets my eyes for a brief moment before we round a corner out of sight. A giant purple bruise spreads like a stain over one side of his face, mixing with his brown whiskers. Blasted Enforcers. They had no right to strike him.
We head away from town — away from the containment center. Away from Willow, my little albino friend. All the people I love are separated into places I hate — Mother and Father at a gravesite, Reid in a coffin, Willow in a cell, and Elm trapped in the Wall tunnel.
The soft voices of sorrow fade behind me, replaced by the rhythmic tromp of Enforcers following us. "Are you taking me back to the containment center?"
"What, two nights in there weren't enough for you?" He gives a sharp laugh.
I don't have the energy to be offended. Two nights have been far too much. I need to get moving, start fixing all the brokenness clouding my village. I have a calling to fulfill. "Where are we going?"
"Nether Hospital, to get your medibot removed." He scowls at me and mutters, "What a waste."
"I didn't ask for it." I didn't ask for the small nano-creature to enter my skin and save my life, but God has a way of giving me things I don't ask for.
My posture goes slack. My trust in Him doesn't come as easily as it did before. I miss it.
We board the Lower Missouri Transit on the north side of town and plop into two hard seats. As the train gains speed, the blurred trees and wind-whipped grass remind me of riding the Ivanhoe Independent, only this train is much smoother. No jarring rattles or loud wind.
I want to ask where Hawke is, but the Lead Enforcer already suspects Hawke helped me. Did Hawke get in trouble because I called out for his aid? If so, I don't want to draw more attention to him. But I want to see him.
We need to talk.
The black Enforcer and I disembark, enter the red brick hospital, and walk past the front desk. He pulls me through a series of hallways.
"Ow." I stumble, but he doesn't slow.
If Hawke were the Enforcer with me instead of this hard-handed man, would he be gentle? How is he handling Jude's death? He seemed confused when I told him, as if Jude wasn't supposed to die. I need to tell him how it happened ... how it was my fault.
I hate the idea of Hawke mourning alone.
I killed both our brothers.
We enter a small room with one bed and three cushioned, black chairs. The Enforcer sits, leaving me to stand in the middle of the room. Before I can decide whether to escape or sit down, a sharp knock precedes the entrance of a doctor. I don't recognize his face as anyone who tended to Reid when he recovered from the train derailment last spring. His frown brings me no comfort.
"I'm Enforcer Kaphtor," my Enforcer says. "You're to take out her medibot."
The doctor blinks slowly. "Patients need a scan for remaining injuries before I can remove it."
"Then do it."
The doctor appraises me with a wrinkled nose. "She's that girl who wrote the biography. Parvin Blackwater."
It's okay, talk as if I'm not here. I'm quite happy to be invisible.
"Yup, Unity's newest Radical."
For the first time, I don't mind the title of Radical. I'm proud not to have a Clock like everyone else — proud not to know the day I'll die. I'm terrified, but free from that looming knowledge.
Clock. That's all that matters to people. Numbers, not flesh and blood. Jude was right about that.
"Radicals warrant no medical care. She'd need a Clock, famous troublemaker or not."
Troublemaker? I wrote my biography to save Radicals — to stop the meaningless sentences. Is this how the rest of my people see me? A troublemaker?
"She's under different rules."
The doctor raises an eyebrow. "Oh really? I was unaware that government-set healthcare could change at the whim of an Enforcer."
I finally lower myself into a spare seat, since they won't acknowledge my presence, but the doctor grabs my left arm and yanks me back to my feet. I gasp as a zing shoots down my arm to my stump, pinching the scarred skin as only an invisible hand can do.
"Now that seat needs to be cleaned." He shoves me away. "You going to pay for the cleaning fluid? Don't touch anything."
My arm throbs. I bite the inside of my cheek. Kaphtor stands slowly, towering over the doctor. "I thought Skelley Chase contacted this hospital about Miss Blackwater."
The doctor's mouth opens and closes twice before he manages a sound. "S-Skelley Chase?" He looks at me. "This is his girl? This Radical?"
My nerves pop like a jack-in-the-box. That name ...
Frozen fury forms in the crevices of my brain like glaciers. "No." My voice comes out guttural and dark.
The doctor turns to me. "You're not the one he contacted us about?"
"I'm not his girl." My right hand clenches. The shackles clink. "I'll do nothing under Skelley Chase's orders."
Kaphtor grips my forearm, squeezing like a tourniquet. "You don't have a choice, Radical."
"He murdered my brother!" Shot him. Shot Reid in the head, against his word.
Kaphtor's hold loosens. "He just hastened your brother's Good- bye. You didn't prepare yourself for his death."
"That's because I thought the Clock was mine."
"Enough." The doctor opens the door. "Follow me and we'll take out the medibot. We need a fresh one in our storage anyway."
His eyes narrow. "Like Enforcer Kaphtor said, you don't have a choice, Radical."
My anger isn't really about the medibot. Let them take out the stupid metal creature that's been healing my body from the inside. I just don't want to do anything to please Skelley Chase, the man who got me sent across the Wall.
The man who caused all this.
If not for him, Reid would be alive, I'd be dead, and things would be right.
No. I shake my head as if to rattle my pessimism. God has a calling for me, that's the reason I'm still alive. Why was it so easy to cling to that knowledge two days ago, yet I doubt today?
We accompany the doctor to a new room, long like the start of a hallway. In the center is a flat slab, like a table, but with a screen as the surface. When the door closes, the room is almost completely dark, with just enough glow to see.
A single metal chair rests beside the table.
"Sit." The doctor taps on the table screen.
Now I'm allowed to sit? I plop into a chair and close my eyes, succumbing to his probing.
"You should know"–the doctor speaks from somewhere behind me–"I don't approve of unlawful administration of medical instruments, especially medibots, no matter who does it."
Enforcer Kaphtor says nothing.
Light penetrates my eyelids, so I open them and glance at the table. It is now covered in a colorful grid of yellow lines, green squares, and tiny blue dots.
A small metal dish is placed on the top of my skull and a series of light shocks pass through my body from head to toe. The doctor mutters, clicks something on the metal dish, and sends the shocks again. This time, they're stronger. My left wrist spasms.
"Fool!" the doctor hisses.
He removes the dish from my head. A virtual body now lies on the screen table to my left — or rather floats halfway out of it, face-up as though someone pushed it out of the table from beneath and it's straining against the electronic grid as if it's netting. The body has no distinct features — just a virtual human ... missing a left hand.
So, that's supposed to be me.
A red dot pulses in the stub of my virtual left arm. The doctor places the wide barrel of a device that looks like a gun against my left shoulder. I twist to look at it, but he smacks my cheek with the back of his hand. I swallow the burning in my throat and eyes. I guess doctors are only kind to the patients who can pay.
God, I feel so alone. Reid said I'm never alone because You are here, so why do I feel forgotten? So ... dirty? When will You return me to my family? I can't spend another day in the containment center.
The prayer coaxes my tears to the surface again. I sniff once. The gun sucks my skin with a sharp whirring. I tense in anticipation of pain, but it doesn't come. The barrel leaves my shoulder. The red dot on my virtual body gives three sharp pulses and words scroll across the bottom of the table screen, so tiny I can't make them out.
The doctor throws the gun onto the table. It lands with a clunk, but doesn't disturb the grid. He rounds my chair and faces Enforcer Kaphtor. "Skelley Chase is a wasteful imbecile."
I couldn't agree more.
Kaphtor leans forward. "He does everything for the well-being of others. Watch yourself."
With a wild gesture to me, the doctor continues. "The medibot has taken residence in her body. It never should have been inserted in the first place! There is a delicate process behind receiving a medibot. Thousands of specie have been wasted on this ... this Radical."
My hackles finally rise enough to elicit argument. "Hey, I never asked for it —"
"I don't understand." Kaphtor cuts me off.
"Most medibots are designed to remain in a body until all systems are fixed and functioning." The doctor seizes my left wrist and almost pulls my arm from my socket. "Her severed hand will never be fixed and functioning. Amputees are not allowed medibots unless they have enough specie to permanently purchase it from the medical center."
"There's nothing you can do?" I squirm at the idea of the electronic spider living inside my body forever.
"No! Now get out."
Kaphtor stands. "Mr. Chase wants it removed."
The doctor grabs his medibot-extracting gun and walks to the door. "Well, I won't be the one delivering the bad news. Good day." He holds the door open.
Kaphtor jerks me after him. The shackles cut into my tender wrists. I don't know why Kaphtor uses them — my left arm can slip out at a whim.
We return to Unity via the Lower Missouri Transit and tromp to the containment center. On our way, we pass the county building where the electronic post board makes up one outer wall.
There I am, magnified for everyone to see — a colored photo of me on all fours with the thousand-foot Wall in the background, mid-retch. Charming. Below that picture is a headline.
Parvin Blackwater Returns ... and Outlives Her Clock!
Well, when they say it like that, I sound like a miracle. But it was never my Clock to start with. It was Reid's Clock.
I don't know my Numbers. I don't want to know.
We arrive at the containment center. The building is made of hard wood and a shingled roof — one of the few roofs in Unity Village not made of thatch. As we enter, two more Enforcers pass in the opposite direction with a small albino girl between them.
"Willow!" I reach for her.
"Parvin!" She struggles to return to me, but we've already passed each other.
"Where are you taking her? Bring her back!" The Enforcers exit, yanking her with them. I turn to Kaphtor and abandon whatever pride kept me from cordiality. "Please. Please bring her back or let me go with her. Don't hurt her."
His walking slows and he glances at me. I hold his gaze and he blinks three times fast before looking forward again. Did I break through? Crack the hardness that seems to lay captive every Enforcer?
"She's not your concern."
No matter how I strain, I detect no softening in his voice. "What about Elm?" The anxiety of unanswered questions almost drowns me. "He's the albino boy trapped in the Wall. Is anyone going to let him out?"
Kaphtor pulls me down the hallway to the left, past the cell Willow previously occupied, and into the very last barred unit.
"It's already been two days. Someone has to let him out. He's just a boy. He'll starve!"
He takes off my shackles and shoves me into the cell so hard I fall to the ground. My stump strikes the wooden bench that's served as my bed the past two nights. I cry out, but can't find the energy to push myself up.
The barred door clangs shut and Kaphtor's footsteps echo off the stone. Clip. Clip. Clip. Clip.
I curl on the cold ground. Alone. Helpless. Willow and I are at the mercy of the Enforcers of Unity Village, where laws are ignored and Radicals are killed because it's easy.
I can do nothing. Meanwhile, an assassin is delivering Jude's Clock-matching invention to the Council — giving the Council even more power to control us. Once they start matching everyone with a Clock, they'll make laws by our Numbers. No work for Numbers below one year. No medical care for Numbers two years or less. People won't have a choice to reject the Clocks.
We're nothing more than clicking Numbers to them.
So many things need to be fixed, and I'm inhibited by strips of metal and wood.
What will they do with me? With Willow? With Elm? With my family?
I turn my face to the ceiling, hoping gravity will keep my tears from falling. It doesn't. They stream into my ears and my mind rests only on troubling thoughts.
Willow — my little eleven-year-old albino companion — is trapped in this foreign world so different from the forest life she's known, all because she chose to help me through the Wall. Will I ever get her back home? Will I ever get Elm — her grafting partner — out of the Wall?
It is all my doing. I never should have returned, despite Skelley Chase's threat of killing Reid. He killed him anyway. Or maybe it's because I returned too late. If I could have reached this side a day earlier ...
I AM CALLING YOU.
"I haven't forgotten," I whisper. But if God's calling, why is He letting me sit in a cell while others are dying? Isn't my calling to bring shalom? To save lives?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Time to Speak"
Copyright © 2015 Nadine Brandes.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.