LbN: Ummm...fail? I'm totally owning it: I just straight up forgot about this one. Sorry for the wait! Will definitely get back to work on this one. :)
Thor knocked softly on the door before entering. He saw all of the children were still asleep, save for one. "Kenzo…. Have you been up all night?" The boy said nothing, but Thor saw his eyes dart around to the other children. "You needn't be afraid for them. I promise you, no one will hurt any of you. Have you been up all night?"
"Yes," Kenzo said finally.
Thor nodded. "The bells will ring in about fifteen minutes. I'll have Savva, the woman who brought you food last night, bring breakfast up to you. You get some sleep, and you can eat when you wake up."
Kenzo stared at him warily.
"If you'd like, I'll stay right outside the door. Only Savva and I will enter."
The boy nodded, and curled up on the couch under a thick blanket. "Thank you," he said, before closing his eyes.
The Second and Third stared at each other intently. Then, at the exact same time, they reached for the last piece of bacon. Kayia was faster, as always. "Hah!"
"You always get the last slice," Salem grumbled.
"I swear," Salem's sister Guinea said. "You two act like children."
Thor cleared his throat, "Speaking of… I'm going to try to talk to Kenzo this afternoon. I'd appreciate it if you took the others for a tour of the compound."
"No worries, Thor," Kayia said. "Any theories about what's going on?"
"Only one….Their parents were killed for some reason, and they were sent here to be put out of the way. Unfortunately, that raises more questions than it answers."
"It'll be fine, though," Salem said. "We'll figure it out."
"Daddy!" two voices shouted. One was Rai, and the other was Tiz, his adopted daughter.
"There you are!" Thor said, smiling at them. "Tiz, there are some children I want you to meet. The oldest boy is ten, only a year younger than you. I expect you to help them get settled."
"Very well. Take your brother to his tutors. And don't be late for class. I shall see you at lunchtime." He kissed both of them on their heads and stood up from the table. "I'm going back to the Pagoda. I'll look through the ship and see if there isn't anything there. After that…." He sighed. He really didn't know what to do. "After that, I'll talk to Kenzo. Depending on what he tells me, we may have to send messengers to the other Rings tonight."
"Would you like me to accompany you?" Salem asked.
Thor thought for a moment. "No," he said, finally. "I'd like you and Kayia, and Savva if she's free, to stay with the children today. I don't want anyone asking them a lot of unnecessary questions. And, they need to learn the routine of the compound. I shan't be long."
"Alright," Salem said. "Be careful."
Thor nodded and wrapped his cloak around him. With a wave, he made his way to the snow-covered loading docks.
Ice had settled onto the transport. It took a bit more force to pry the doors open this time. Thor walked silently through the pod, on alert for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing caught his eye. It seemed as though the kids hadn't brought anything with them—no toys, no luggage, nothing. He stooped down and checked under the seats. There was a piece of plastic near the back escape hatch. Grabbing it, he turned it over in his hands. It looked like some sort of tag. "Baroque," he read. He put it in his pocket and checked the rest of the ship. Finding nothing, he headed back to the compound.
"Never heard of it," Rada said.
They were in the conference room, discussing the tag Thor had found. "What do you think this is?" he asked.
"Could be something as stupid as a toy that missing its parts. Could be a ticket of some sort. You should ask Kenzo when you talk to him."
"I think I will. Thanks Rada."
"No worries, boss."
Thor made his way to the children's room. It was noisy when he opened the door. All six of them were awake, including the baby, and Savva was playing some sort of game with them. They quieted when he walked in. "Hello," he said. "I'm Thor. We met last night. Could you all tell me your names?"
As one, the four who understood looked to Kenzo. He nodded. "The baby is Amira," he said. "And you know me already."
"That's Oz," he said, pointing to the next oldest boy. "That's Madeleine, Kyrie, and Tucker."
"It's nice to meet all of you. Salem is my Third—the third in command in this ring. He's going to take you on a tour of the compound, and then down to lunch so you can meet the other children. How does that sound?"
They all nodded and murmured their approval.
"Kenzo, may I have a word with you before you go?"
The boy shrugged and followed Thor into the other room.
"I know this is probably difficult for you," Thor began. "But I need to know what's going on. Why did they send your transport here?"
Kenzo fidgeted. "We're…not perfect."
"How do you mean?"
Kenzo glared at him, as if trying to figure out if Thor was being funny. Finally, he said, "We all have defects. They sent us here to prove ourselves."
"Who sent you here? And what do you mean 'prove yourselves'?"
"Our parents—the government. All of the children they make now are perfect. Over the past ten years, though, they started having problems. I was the first. Finally, they decided that we couldn't be a part of the community. They sent us here to see if we could survive. If we can, then they know our defects aren't…er…I think the word they used was 'inhibiting' or something. They'll bring us back to live with our families. If we can't…."
Thor listened, brow furrowed. He pictured the families Kenzo mentioned. They probably already had replacement children…. "Okay…what did they say about Chimaera? The planet we're on now."
"Just that it was wild. And that we'd have to protect each other from criminals."
"It's not full of criminals," Thor told him, shaking his head. "You needn't worry there. You'll be perfectly safe here."
"Don't know what would've happened if you hadn't found us last night."
Thor did. They would've frozen to death. Which was the governments plan all along. The children weren't sent here to prove themselves—they were sent here to die. He didn't say any of this. Instead, he asked, "What about these defects? There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with you. You seemed very strong last night when we had our…er…sword fight," he added, smiling.
"It's my eyes."
"What about them?"
Thor tried to understand, but found he couldn't. "You'll have to explain more. I haven't been to your planet in years."
"Children are born with bright eyes now—green, grey, or blue. And they have to be pure bright eyes—no mixed colors or eyes that change. I'm the first child with brown eyes in fifteen years, since they perfected the engineering of babies."
"Why does it matter?"
"Bright eyes are the best at seeing in the dark. I still can, it's just harder."
"And the others?"
"Oz and Tucker are both left handed. Madeleine is partially deaf, and Kyrie isn't balanced."
"It means she's really good at some things, but dead awful at others. Everyone on Hecate and in the Juno system is proficient at all things. Balanced."
"I understand. And Amira?"
"She's like me. Her eyes are dark blue, with green specks. They're not pure or bright."
Thor's mind was spinning. He could hear Salem in the other room, explaining the school system. "Thank you, Kenzo. You may go back with your friends."
Salem gave them a curious look as they came back into the room. "Everything okay?"
Kenzo nodded and sat next to Oz.
"I'm going to let Savva take them," Thor said. "You, Kayia, Rada and I need to talk. Fill you in at dinner, Sav," he added.
"No problem," she said. "Alright, you guys. Follow me."
"What's up?" Salem asked once she'd left with the kids. "Something's wrong, I can tell."
"You have no idea," Thor said. "Let's go find the others."