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Gabe was laughing, but Jonas had looked serious and concerned. “You’re right,” he said, slowly. “And I do remember that there were young girls chosen each year to be what was called ‘birthmothers.’ They must have been the ones who . . .”

“What happened to the birthmothers? What happened to my birthmother?”

“I don’t know, Gabe.”

“Didn’t she want me?”

Jonas sighed. “I don’t know, Gabe. It was a different system—”

“I’m going to find out.”

“How?”

Gabe was very young then, no more than nine. But he swaggered when he replied. “I’ll go back there. You can’t stop me. I’ll find a way.”

Now that the boys had moved out of the Childhood Place where they had spent their first years, now that they were in Boys’ Lodge, their interests had changed and they rarely talked of their earlier years. It was girls who did that, Gabe thought. At Girls’ Lodge, he heard, the girls talked long into the evening, retelling their own tales to each other. For the boys, though, talk now was of school, or of sports, or of the future, not the past.

Boys’ Lodge was a congenial group. They did their schoolwork together in the evenings, and shared meals, their food prepared by a staff of two workers in the kitchen. There was a lodge director, a kindly man who had a room within the building, and who mediated the infrequent disputes among the boys. One could go to him with problems. But Gabe often wished that he lived in a house with a family, the way his best friend, Nathaniel, did. Nathaniel had parents, and two sisters; their house was noisy with bickering and laughter.

Glancing through the window, through the rain that had now almost stopped, he could see the house where Nathaniel lived, farther along the curved path. Its little garden was thick with summer flowers, and as he watched, a door opened and a gray cat was sent outside, where it assumed a pose, in the way of cats, on the little porch and licked its paws. It was Deirdre’s cat. Gabe tried to remember its name; he could picture Nathaniel’s sister laughing when she had told it to him, but the whimsical name eluded him. Catacomb? Cataclysm? No. But something like those. Deirdre was good with words.

Pretty, too. Gabe flushed briefly, a little embarrassed at his own thoughts. He watched the cat, hoping that Deirdre would appear at the door. Maybe she would sit down and stroke the gray fur. Catapult! That was its name. He pictured her there, stroking Catapult, gazing into the distance, maybe thinking about—him? Maybe? Could that be possible? Of course, he realized suddenly, he could veer, and find out. But maybe he didn’t really want to know? And anyway, there wasn’t time. The dinner bell was about to ring. The other boys, laughing and noisy, would soon be rushing down the hallway.

Also, Gabe reminded himself, shaking off the thoughts about Nathaniel’s pretty, dark-haired sister, it wasn’t fair to her, even if he found that she did care about him. She shouldn’t. Very soon he would finish his boat. And then he would be gone.

Two

You know he’s building a boat.”

Kira nodded. She had just gotten the children to sleep. They were so lively, into everything. Now that Annabelle could walk, she followed her two-year-old brother, Matthew, into all kinds of mischief. Kira was exhausted by evening. She brought her cup of tea, set her walking stick aside, and sat down beside Jonas, who looked troubled.

“I know. I was here when he came for the books, remember?”

Jonas glanced at the walls of the room. Shelves of books extended from the floor to the ceiling. And not just this room, but all the others in the house he shared with his family. It was one of the things they were trying now to teach the children: not to pull and grab at the books. So tempting, for babies: the bright colors. He remembered when the dog, as a puppy, had indulged in the same mischief, and again and again they had found corners of the lower volumes chewed. Now Frolic was middle-aged, overweight, lazy, and no longer needing to chew. He slept, snoring, on his folded blanket most of the day, and it was the toddlers who grabbed and gnawed.

“I always knew this time would come,” Jonas said. “He told me when he was much younger that he would go looking for his past.”

Kira nodded again. “Of course he wonders,” she pointed out. “It will be the next generation, the ones like our children, who were born here, who won’t feel that pull.”

Both of them, like almost everyone in the small village, had come from another place, had fled something, had escaped from hardship of some kind. Jonas stood. He stared through the window out into the night. Kira recognized the look. Her husband had always had that need, to turn his gaze outward, trying to find the answers to things. It was the first thing she had noticed about him: the piercing blue eyes, and the way he had of seeming to see beyond what was obvious. In their earlier days together, when Jonas was Leader, he had called on that vision often for answers to problems. But the problems had fallen away, the village had thrived, and Jonas had relinquished leadership to others so that he could take up an unburdened life with his family.

Now he was the protector of the books and the knowledge. He was the scholar/librarian. It was Jonas to whom Gabriel had come not long ago, looking for books with diagrams and instructions, so that he could learn to build a boat.

He sighed, turning away from the darkness that was enfolding the village. “I worry about him,” he said.

Kira set aside the needlework she had picked up. She went to him, circled her arms around his waist, and looked up into those solemn eyes that were as blue as her own. “Of course you do. You brought him here.” It had been years before that Jonas, hardly more than a boy himself then, had brought Gabriel—a toddler with no past, a child who deserved a future—to this village, which had welcomed them with no questions.

“He was so little. And he had no one.”

“He had you.”

“I was a boy. I couldn’t be a parent to him. I didn’t know what that meant. The people who raised me did their best, but it was just a job to them.” Jonas sighed, recalling the couple he had called Mother and Father. “I remember that once I asked them if they loved me,” he said.

“And?”

He shook his head. “They didn’t know what that meant. They said the word was meaningless.”

“They did their best,” Kira said, after a moment, and he nodded.

“Gabe’s older now than I was when I brought him here,” Jonas mused. “Stronger. Braver.”

“Not as handsome, though.” She reached up, smiling, and smoothed a strand of his hair. Ordinarily he would have grinned back at her. But his face was worried and his thoughts were elsewhere.

“And I’m pretty sure he has a gift of some sort.”

Kira sighed. She knew what that meant. She and Jonas both had a gift. Sometimes it was exhilarating, but it was demanding, too, and burdensome, to know how to use it well, and when.

“I worry about what he’ll find, if he goes searching,” Jonas went on. “He wants a family, and there won’t be one. He was a—” Frowning, he searched for the right description. “He was a manufactured product,” he said at last. “We all were.”

Kira sat silently. It was a chilling description. Finally, thoughtfully, she replied. “All of us came here from difficult places,” she reminded him.

“But you had a mother who loved you.”

“I did. Until she died. Then I was all alone.”

“But you had her, at least, for—how many years?”

“Almost fifteen.”

“That’s close to Gabe’s age now. He feels such a longing for something, and I worry that he’ll never find it. That it never was there. But—” Jonas rose and went to the window. Kira watched him as he stood there, looking out into the darkness. Beyond him, she could see the outline of trees moving slightly in a night breeze against the dark starless sky. “But what?” she asked, when he had stood silently for a long moment.

“I’m not sure. I can feel something out there. Something connected to Gabe.”

“Something dangerous?” she asked in an apprehensive tone. “We must warn him, if there’s something dangerous out there.”

“No.” Jonas shook his head. He was still focusing on something beyond the room. “No. He’s not in danger. At least not now. But there is a presence. It seems benign. I think . . .” He paused. “I think something—someone—is looking for him. Or waiting? Waiting for him? Watching him?”

He didn’t tell Kira what else he felt, because he didn’t comprehend it himself, and because he didn’t want to alarm her. But there was something else out there, something vaguely at the edges of his awareness, something not really connected to Gabe. And the something else was vaguely familiar, and very dangerous.

Three

At first, his friends had helped him. But that time had passed. Now they were off fishing, playing ball, indulging in all the usual summer pastimes during this brief holiday from school. The excitement of Gabe’s project was short-lived, and their interest waned when they realized he was not just hammering together a primitive raft that they could paddle along the riverbank.

Gabe hummed to himself as he measured his boards. He had a vague picture in his mind of the way they should go together. But though the books he had borrowed from Jonas had shown boats of all kinds, from ones with billowy sails to long, narrow vessels with rows of seated men at oars, none had provided instructions for the building. His would be small, he knew. Just big enough for him and his supplies. It would have a paddle; he had already begun carving one, crouched in his little shed during rainy days.

“Any chance you’d like to go fishing?”

Gabe looked up at the sound of the voice. Nathaniel, tall and brown from the sun, was standing on the path, holding his gear. Often they had fished together, usually from a huge rock on the bank farther along. The river was easy to fish, slow moving and somewhat shallow there; the silvery, sinuous trout were eager for the bait, and made good eating later.

It was tempting. But Gabe shook his head. “Can’t. I’m behind. This is slower going than I thought it would be.”

“What’s that?” Nathaniel asked, pointing to the edge of the clearing where a leafy stack of thin poles waited.

Gabe looked over. “Bamboo.”

“You can’t build from that. You need real planks for a boat.”

Gabe laughed. “I know. I’m using cedar. But I need the bamboo for . . . Well, here; I’ll show you.” He wiped his sweaty hands on the hem of his shirt and then went and got the large book from the shed.

“Jonas let you bring it here?” Nathaniel asked in surprise.

Gabe nodded. “I had to promise to keep it clean and dry.” He set the book on a flat rock, squatted there, and turned the pages. “Look,” he said, pointing to a page.

Nathaniel looked at the picture of a large vessel with its many sails unfurled. The rigging was complicated, with countless lines and winches holding the billowing sails in place, and a large crew of men could be seen on deck. “You’re crazy,” Nathaniel said. “You can’t build that.”

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