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“This is what the truth is. Second Salvations murdered my parents, and I’m running away.” A single post over unregulated Internet channels. A sleeping society awakens to a chase, broadcast live on television screens all across the New United States of America... Rebecca and Daniel have never met. A fifteen-year-old preacher’s kid and a sixteen-year-old atheist outcast, they appear to have little in common. And yet they have both attracted the attention of a recruiter for Angel Island, where bad kids go to be remade—or destroyed. Agents of the all-powerful New America Unity Church will stop at nothing to get them. They’re building an army, a modern children’s crusade, in which Rebecca and Daniel may be just the kind of future leaders they need. If not, they might be just the kind of sacrifice necessary to keep the rest of the faithless in line.
Her messages showed that she had more than a dozen new applicants. There were the standard adoptions, too, various sad cases who’d lost their parents or whose parents had been stripped of custody for any number of reasons. The applications were more interesting. From there, Ruth would often find the best candidates for future leadership roles in Second Salvations. Unlike the adoptions, applications allowed her to discriminate, to select.
Among those applications, she found the teenage daughter of an assistant pastor. Rebecca Riggs, the form claimed, exceled in Bible studies, choir, kickboxing, and shooters club. For two years, however, she’d developed quite the rebellious streak. Ruth studied the girl’s school photograph: straight ash-blonde hair, pale eyes, confident smile. Much as Ruth searched the girl’s face, she could not see the devil anywhere in it.
She hadn’t been tested yet. Tuesday, the application said.
Pretty, Ruth thought. And promising.
The test would be informative, but …
I like you, Ruth thought. Yes. I like you already.
Ruth considered herself an excellent, and immediate, judge of character.
The other applications were fairly standard. Nothing special. The same went for the adoptions, although it didn’t matter much anyway, as far as those went. Angel Island would get assigned their fair share of adoptions, keeping the numbers as even as possible among the Second Salvations camps.
But there was another case to review. A boy whose file was labeled “Monitoring.”
Daniel Forester of Pittsburgh, age sixteen. His picture came from school, too. His hair was too long, his face bristling with unshaven corn-colored peach fuzz, his blue eyes blank and uninterested. He looked … unfed. Prematurely aged into his early twenties.
Father arrested for sedition, currently debilitated from exposure and housed in a prison infirmary; mother recently unemployed and reportedly exhibiting symptoms of spiritual and mental illnesses including depression. No mention of current job applications anywhere.
Daniel Forester, a complete unbeliever from a family of unbelievers. Heretics, all. An attached video even showed him disavowing God’s very existence.
“Blasphemer,” Ruth muttered.
But the law had made him get the Solomon test on his birthday last week, and the results were compelling.
Wow, she thought. Daniel, if you only knew.
But kids never knew. A person’s Solomon results were known only to the state until he or she reached the age of adulthood. For interesting cases like this one, the church and state had two whole years to take advantage—or, more often, to ignore them. The world was rife with mediocrity.
Poor Daniel, she thought. To be both faithless and parentless at such a young age.
She’d have to act soon, before someone else snatched him up. There were ways to deal with the oh-so-sad Mrs. Forester. Custody could simply be taken from her, given her current situation. Or she might kill herself.
Ruth considered. Then—distraction.
The clock tower struck eight. Outside, the doors to the narthex swung open, admitting the campers. They flowed in, a slow and silent tide, to bear witness. Inside, four of their number would already be waiting, three boys and a girl. The Reverend would preside over their discipline. He was good at that. He would be good for Daniel, too.
But what Daniel really needs, Ruth thought, studying the boy’s picture, is a good mother.
Marcus Damanda lives in Woodbridge, Virginia with his cat, Shazam. At various times throughout his life, he played bass guitar for the garage heavy metal band Mother’s Day, wrote for The Dale City Messenger, and published editorials in The Potomac News and The Freelance Star. Currently, while not plotting his next foray into fictitious suburban mayhem, he spoils his nieces and nephews and teaches middle school English.
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