Better Lives


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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Better Lives
Synopsis The Ferry attempts to help those who have forgotten how to help themselves.
Date March 30, 2011

In Dreams

Everything is gray — from the bloated sky to the grimey snow blanketed thick on the charcoal pavement outside, but so is winter in New York, the hardest time of year for the men and women living in the small, dingy community surrounded by eight feet of brick wall and an extra two of razorwire that the officials who manage the ghetto claim is there to keep people on the outside from getting in, but those who are emotionally wizened know the truth.

It's to keep the people inside from getting out.

If it was meant to keep the people on the outside from getting in, then the Ferrymen who arranged entry would not be standing in the ghetto's only place of worship — an old church with a sagging roof and a flock of mourning doves gently cooing in the building's rafters. Most of the ghetto's inhabitants have left the safety of their hovels and homes to hear what it is the strangers have to say; only a small handful have ever had any direct experience with the network, and those who have are hopeful but wary.

If they're caught here, it will mean trouble for everyone. As snow falls outside, crusting on the edge of the church's empty windows, the stained-glass long ago removed, wrapped in plain brown paper and sold to the outside world for money for medicine, clothes for their children, and what else the government no longer readily supplies them with the frequency that it used to, mothers fuss over their sons and daughters, urging them to hush in quiet voices and deliberately ignore the longing looks of the other women who do not have children of their own, though the sadness in their eyes suggests that they once did.

"You can't stay here," Colette Nichols-Demsky is saying. "The winters are getting colder, and the government isn't protecting you."

The small and slim figure of Tasha is hardly one that those inside might feel is a likely hero — of course, she could be powerful in ability if not stature, for all they know. She doesn't, of course, but she has a gun in her black gloves and she has the power of speech inherited from her mother that she's not afraid to use.

"We're safe here," protests one man, crossing his arms and stepping in front of his teenage son and daughter who stare at the would-be rescuers with some hope alighting in their flat and dead eyes. "We get our vaccines if we take the Negoxen, and out there we wouldn't." The man's chin lifts stubbornly.

Tasha's dark eyed glance seeks to make contact with the adolescents', and then the rest of the group, those who seem less opposed to the idea as she lifts her own chin, shaking her head. "This is the same government who willingly spread the virus in the past. Is your freedom worth the risk of catching the flu? It's not always lethal, but living in a place like this can be," she says. "We have places, a network — it's not a perfect life but it's better than this."

Jensen Raith knows a thing or two about lying. He knows how to fast talk people and blather his way past them. Threats? Old hat for him. But the finer points of negotiation are still elusive to him, strands of exercises he's never been quite able to grasp a firm hold of. Can he do it? He can. Is he the best choice for it? Not right now. Colette can do it better than he can. Tasha, Kaylee and Delia, too. The four of them also have the benefit of appearing markedly less intimidating than Raith. People don't always resist intimidation, but they almost always resent it. No, for the moment, he remains quiet, a weapon held in reserve.

Silent or not, his eyes diligently scan the crowd, watching faces for expression and emotion. He listens to objections and questions, protests and concerns when they come. And the fact of it is that whether he is genuinely concerned for these people is irrelevant: He has a job to do, and he eagerly looks for any sliver of doubt to exploit. If the women can't convince them to leave, he may yet be able to scare them.

Though not impervious to the cold, as indicated by the small shiver that runs through her every once in a while, Delia is a little better protected than most of the residents here. A shearling coat bought almost too many years ago by her brother is bare of fur in some spots along the inside. The suede on the outside is still good and the fact that it was a gift has her hanging onto it year after year. Tucking her hands into her pockets, she steps forward from her place behind Colette and regards a few of the faces.

"If it's the flu you're worried about, please, don't base your entire decision on it." She falters a little, not nearly as confident about public speaking as the rest. "We've gotten vaccines in the past, we have medical personnel, I'm one of them. You will be taken care of and you won't need to take the Negoxan anymore if you don't want to. Before you say no, think about that. Do you want to drug your children all of their lives so they don't have a chance to learn and control their own abilities?"

Her eyes flit to the faces of each of the mothers and then down to their children, following a line in the crowd. "We can get you vaccines. We can get you clothing. You don't need to live behind a wall, hidden from the world."

Standing on the steps, Kaylee looks out over the see of faces, worry has her brows furrowed. It's not hard to hear those inner voices as they practically shout their distrust and wish to be alone. Her hand touches the think cross at her neck and glances at the church they are standing in front of, maybe asking for guidance in how to get them to listen.

People, if anything, are stubborn people and hard to change.

Taking a deep breath Kaylee turns to the crowd again and lifts her chin a little, determined. Her hair is bound up on the back of her head in a bun, much like she did in the far far past. Her brown leather jacket is worn, but keeps her warm, along with other things as a scarf and gloves. Even though her jeans are faded at the knees she has a sort of dignity in the way she holds herself, spine straight and shoulders back. "This is no environment to raise children in." Kaylee offers from her place with the other woman. "And drugging them with a drug they 'claim' to be safe?" Her voice is soft, a small smile on her lips.

"Don't revolve your live around a need for a vaccine, that's what the government wants. You've given up what a part of you, just for the hope of a vaccine that you hope will work this time around. Next time it might not." She looks over the faces, listening to the hum of words in her head. "I know it's hard. To sit here and listen to total strangers. To put your faith in them. I should know. Years ago, I had to put my faith into this very group and it saved my life." She glances at Raith, before continuing. "I know it's hard, but please… please consider what we're trying to tell you."

"The world wants us dead," one of the young mothers in the assembled barks back at Delia, an infant cradled in her arms, one hand at the back of the child's head for support. "There's hope for our children here, negated or not — if they're lucky to manifest something the Department can use."

At this the woman standing beside Raith, who at one time would have been at Delia's side instead and imploring the crowd to see reason, grows tense. Eileen's back stiffens and she raises her chin as gloved fingers creak and curl around the silver handle of the wolf's head cane gleaming in the church's dim glow, stony interior illuminated by candlelight.

As Tasha steps forward, Colette reaches out to give her hand a squeeze of reassurance, gratitude, but does not allow her gaze to stray from the the grubby sea of faces and wild, unkempt hair. It is not a very large church, and people fill all the available pews as well as the aisles closest to the walls, leaving only the center walkway open for any stragglers yet to arrive.

"Everywhere it's the same," Eileen murmurs in a voice so low that only Raith will hear it, which is just as well because it's meant for him alone. "Look how docile. Nothing we say makes a difference now."

"They at least have a chance at a better life," the young mother continues, and a murmur of agreement ripples through the crowd. "Telepaths, precogs, clairvoyants — they all go west to group homes funded by the Department. And they'll never want for anything. Can you say that?"

"I could live that 'better life,'" Tasha argues, reaching up to tuck a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. "I'm not Evolved. I could live that sort of life if it weren't a lie, if it weren't fascist and wrong. They're discriminating, and they only have a place for your children in those places if they're useful — what if they're not?"

The small brunette turns to seek the eyes of their audience, narrowing her eyes as she speaks passionately. "What if they're just another dime-a-dozen ability of something they don't need? You can't hold out for that sort of hope, because it's a carrot they're dangling… and trust me, the life they'd lead with us will be richer than being bloodhounds for the government."

She shakes her head. "When they stop being useful — they will treat them no better than anyone else, I promise."

"Yes." Delia's voice grows a little stronger at the challenge and there's a proud lift to her chin. Directing her attention square at the young mother, she takes a few steps toward her and holds out her hands palms up. The way she stands invites the woman to examine her. "I can say that I don't want for anything and I have a better life."

Looking out to the rest of the crowd, her blue eyes sweep over them and she gives them all a small smile. "I used to live in the ghetto, I used to think exactly like you do now. As long as I did what I was told and kept quiet, I would be taken care of. It's not a life. Children are supposed to run and play and show off… Precog, clairvoyant, telepath…" She turns her attention to the young mother once again. "You're playing Russian roulette with your baby. Gambling on a what if."

Turning to the rest of the group, she shrugs one shoulder upward and lifts one side of her mouth in a crooked smile. "What if you took the chance to leave and make that better life yourself?"

"'Russian roulette' implies a chance of winning." Raith spits these out more than he says them. The expression on his face is less one of anger and more one of, resignation? Before he continues, he offers a glance, perhaps strangely, not to any of his companions, but towards the doves that have accompanied them, and then directs it back to the women with him. "Precogs, clairvoyants-" The ex-spy takes a split-second to look at Kaylee specifically- "Telepaths. You know why they pick them all up and ship them out west?" His gaze then moves out to the audience they have gathered. "You know what amenity is included in everyone of those 'group homes,' that one empty chamber in the revolver?" Perplexingly, Raith glances back over his shoulder to address his own people, asking of them, "Do you?" And then his attention is on the mother. "Doyou? No, of course you don't, because you've been had. Because there are no groups homes out west.

"There is no empty chamber in that revolver they're pointing at your baby's head." Now, Raith addresses the entire crowd. "There are five loaded chambers, and a gas chamber! The only thing they're funding out west are extermination centers. They are killing precogs, telepaths and clairvoyants like rats-" Abruptly, he jabs a finger out to point at that younger mother, or perhaps more appropriately, towards her infant- "And next, they're coming for him!" Negotiation isn't working.

Fear is the key.

The telepath in the small band snaps her head towards Raith, eyes widening for a moment. In all truth, Kaylee is not all that surprised. A part of her had always suspected those that went out west would never return and probably had a special spot reserved for them six feet under.

Hearing it from Raith makes that suspicion all to real.

"Oh yes, the grass is always greener on the other side." Kaylee states bitterly under her breath with a sigh glancing at the others, with a slightly helpless glance. "You all really think that? I trust the government about as far as I can spit… and that isn't far at all."

"I live a good life, a better life then this. I live free to be who I am. Whatever they are offering out west…" She points at Raith "I believe him… before them." Kaylee looks at various people directly, as if to stare them down. "I am a telepath… and I'd rather take my chances out there." Her finger moves to point beyond the fence.

"I won't live this way. I won't let my children live this way." Blue eyes narrow just a little as she considers her choice of words. "I want to see them laughing and playing, being exactly the person they were born to be. With the gift God gave them, if he gave them one. Not worrying about them dragging me or them off to put a bullet in our brains." Grabbing onto some of that fear Raith is putting out there. "And he's right, I guarantee they don't discriminate between adults or children." Kaylee's voice softens as she adds, "They never did with that damnable virus. All they see is what we are. It's only a matter of time before they take the next step… or the next vaccine strangly doesn't work for the newest strain."

Raith's words have an effect on Eileen in a way that most words don't, though none of what he's said is news to her — she works too closely with Special Activities to be surprised. She sucks in a sharp breath that hitches as it's drawn and her jaw goes hard. It resonates with her.

Colette, on the other hand, turns both her eyes, one clouded and one green, on Jensen, her dark brow knit with alarm, and she must realize the horrified expression that her face has set into because she forces it to resemble something more neutral and sympathetic. There's a lot that branch of the network keeps to itself for the sake of morale.

The crowd's reaction is why. A hundred voices are talking all at once, husbands turning to wives and wives turning to husbands. The children old enough to understand what Raith is telling them seek one another out from across the room with their eyes and remember friends and playmates who are no longer with them — the ones they envied for being specially selected by the Department of Evolved Affairs.

They aren't envious anymore.

"That's a lie!" someone shouts from the back of the church, but the cry is answered from a pew closer to the front before any of the Ferrymen have a chance to respond.

"Why would they lie to us? They've been smuggling us news from the outside for years!"

"If I want to hear the news, I'll turn on my radio!"

"What makes you think you can trust the radio?"

"What makes you think you can trust them?"

It goes on like this for almost a full minute before a woman about Kaylee's age, steps up onto the platform, holding the hand of a younger girl in her late teens. The movement is not much, but it lowers the volume of the assembly down from its dull roar. "My sister and I will go with you," she says. "She's pregnant, no license. There was a soldier—" And she needn't say anything more than that.

"So will we," puts in a voice from the side aisle to left. It belongs to a man in his late thirties, his arm around a younger woman who might be his wife, and a child of six or seven between them. "They took my son last September."

The shock on Tasha's face turns swiftly to anger, brows furrowing as she shakes her head, before she turns to look at Eileen, and that expression softens. She shakes her head again, and turns to regard the speakers as verbal volleys are flung across the church. "If we hadn't trusted them years ago, you would be free," she says softly. "You would be citizens."

As families begin to step forward, she nods to them. "You should pack a bag, just what you can carry. We can't promise you a lot but we can promise you honesty, which is more than the government will give you."

"If you want to stay," Raith begins as he steps forward on the stage, clearly meaning to address all the naysayers, "Then stay but remember this. They have everything to gain by lying to you. They keep you placated. In line. They keep you all where they can find you if they lie because one day killing the precogs, the clairvoyants and the telepaths won't be enough and then they will come for you. But we?" A sweeping gesture is directed towards the rest of the Ferry representatives. "What do we gain from lying to you? Nothing. We don't get more personnel, we don't get more money, or more weapons, or more power. Nothing. You leave, and all we gain is the knowledge that they can't find you. You leave, and you have a chance to live."

"You stay, and all you'll have a chance to do is make life easy when the Orkin Man comes for you."

With Raith's revelation, Delia's only reaction is for her eyes to fall to the children. Her lips press together into a thin, unhappy line before she steps a little closer to the young mother that had issued the most verbal protest against them. "We're not going to force you out or judge you harshly if you decide to stay," her voice low so only those nearest them can hear. "If your baby is one of the desirable ones and you never see him again, what would you do if you found out the group homes aren't there? What would you do if you didn't believe him right now and found out later that he is telling you the truth right now?"

Looking out to the people who remain firmly in their places, she takes a few steps into their midst and turns to look at each of them as she continues. "You need a license to have a child. A license to pass on your legacy. We're not going to force you to submit like dogs. We're not going to treat you like cockroaches who have to hide when the light comes on. You're not just getting a chance at a better life here, you're getting the chance to actually have a life instead of an existence."

There is a touch of relief as people step forward, but it's short lived as Kaylee hears what they say. It has more of an effect on the telepath then Raith's words. The telepath looks at the teenager for a long moment and then her sister. A soldier did that.

She feels sick.

Probably looks it even. "You're making the right choice." Kaylee finally says confidently to the pregnant teen's sister.

Then an approving glance goes Raith's direction and even Delia's, giving a small and slow nod of her head in agreement. Her expression is gentle as she speaks up, "It may not be a posh life, but it's a better one then this. You can live as a human being. Live as one and love who you want…" Licenses be damned. No doubt the government would have had something to say about her having any kids at all or a relationship in general. As a telepath she's excedingly dangerous by the government's definition. "Make a life for yourself and your families. Something to have more pride in then this."

Kaylee adds after a moment, "If you stay… then may God watch over you and protect you, but I hope that y'all will consider coming with us."

In the end, there are only twelve who join the Ferrymen on the platform, twelve who will be smuggled out of the ghetto the same way Raith that brought the group in, twelve who will be listed as missing the next time the military calls for everyone who lives within the community's walls to line up and be counted.

It is not an insignificant number to the Ferrymen or the Department of Evolved Affairs, but it is still more than the former anticipated it would save after weeks of preparation and less than the latter expected it might lose if the network ever gained access.

Outside, the snow continues to fall like ash. Those leaving with the Ferry can be certain of one thing: winter will cover their tracks.

At least for a little while.

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