“That’s maddening,” said Prue. And then, for good measure, she turned to the tree and thought, That’s maddening. The wind whipped through the meadow; now the only light came from a few torches on the far side of the tree. They cast the trunk in a ghostly silhouette. The boy began wandering away, his eyes fixated on something in the distance.
“Wait!” called Prue, carefully stepping after him.
“Find the makers,” said the boy, as if to himself. “Reanimate the true heir.”
“I don’t know what this means!” shouted Prue. The boy had moved beyond the illuminated halo of the torches; he had disappeared into the bordering dark.
“Find the makers,” Prue heard the boy’s voice sound. “Reanimate the true heir.”
And then she was alone.
Across the Boundary
Unthank led the three girls into the office and shut the door behind them. To Elsie, the sound of the door latching cracked like a lightning strike, and she cringed to hear it. What’s more, she hadn’t even been allowed to go to the dormitory to get her Intrepid Tina doll, and her hands felt very empty without her. No one had spoken since they’d left the factory floor; the silence had been oppressive, ominous. Only their footsteps, echoing noisily on the hallway floor, broke the quiet. Inside the office, Elsie was greeted with a very strange array of sights: a weird, metallic chair in the center of the room, bookshelves stacked with little glass jars and vials, the blinking lights of a bunch of little white boxes—the same kind that Unthank had carried with him when he made his accusations to the kids in the machine shop.
He’d been positively apoplectic then; now he seemed to be almost giddy. Once he’d shepherded the girls into the office and closed the door, he lined Elsie, Rachel, and Martha up in front of his desk and began rubbing his hands together excitedly.
“Three of you,” he said. “Three live specimens. It’s not often that such an opportunity presents itself.”
Miss Mudrak stood to the side of the line of three, looking down with a disinterested scowl on her face.
“What have you done with Carl?” Rachel asked Unthank, her voice imbued with a rare kind of bravery.
“And all the others?” added Martha.
Unthank responded, “Shush, girls. Think of it this way: You’re making an enormous contribution to science. Not only to science, actually, but the progress of humankind. You will be remembered and lauded. When people talk about space flight, it’s the ones who took the risks who are most remembered. We don’t know much about those Russian scientists, but we sure know who the first into space was, don’t we?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Laika!”
“That was a dog,” said Martha.
“Doesn’t matter. A very famous dog.”
“And didn’t she die?” she pressed.
Unthank only glared at her.
“What are you getting at?” asked Rachel. “What are you going to do with us?”
Unthank paused, as if collecting his thoughts. He knelt down in front of the three girls like a proud parent, sizing up his brood after a successful holiday recital. “Girls,” he said. “Girls.”
Elsie was suspicious of this turn of events; his earlier frustration and anger seemed to have vanished completely.
He continued, “I have a dream. I have a great ambition. And with your help, I’m going to achieve it.” He looked off to his right, where a set of high windows let in the gray light of the winter day. A few trees could be seen distantly through the foggy panes. He stood and walked to those windows, peering out of them. “Out there,” he said, pointing to the trees, “out there is a vast swath of untouched, untrammeled resources. Trees. Minerals. Land. Thousands upon thousands of acres of it. This so-called Impassable Wilderness, this wild area, which so far no man or woman has had the guts and the guile to conquer—I intend to be the one, when the history is written, to have finally overcome the challenges of the place to call it my own.” The color in his face was rising; he was getting very excited. He jogged over to his desk, piled high with papers. Pulling a few maps from the surface, he waved them at the three girls.
“Look at this,” he said. “I mean: There are no deeds, no tax records, no Bureau of Land Management surveys. This place would seem to not even exist! And yet it’s right there, on the cusp of our city, taunting us. Toying with us. As if the whole place were just wagging its great green tongue at us.”
The girls just stared at the man.
“Well, I’m this close—this close!” He was holding his thumb and index finger a few inches apart. “I’ve had a few ideas the past week—a few, in the parlance of us scientists, ‘eureka moments.’ I thought I’d have to wait and parse out those ideas over weeks and weeks, as more kids became Unadoptable. But now I have three. Three pitch-perfect Unadoptable children on which to try the spoils of my research.”
keep silent any longer. “Sir, Mr. Unthank,” she said, pleadingly. “Me and my sister’s parents are coming for us in less than a week. Please, sir, let us go. They’re expecting us to be safe here.”
“Parents,” he said, pausing as if trying to remember the meaning of the word. “Coming for you?” He looked at Desdemona.
“This is true,” said Miss Mudrak icily.