“I don’t understand” she said, shifting again in the chair, shoulders slumped making her appear smaller than her sixteen years. “I don’t understand any of this.”
Jarnison sighed, leaned across the desk and met her terrified gaze. He sensed her confusion, his peripheral telepathological hologram revealing her elevated heart rate and truth levels as corresponding to her body and verbal language. “I know this is bewildering for you Scout, but we’re here only to help you. Let’s start again at the beginning. Do you understand how you came to be here?”
“You grabbed me, that’s how.” Scout glanced around the small room, her senses on high alert, the panic coming in waves. She’d wanted to be found but didn’t imagine it would be like this. She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, her hologram indicating security and safety but her biological and intuitive dissonance proving almost too much to handle. She opened her eyes to meet his scrutiny again, taking her time to regard the man sitting opposite her.
“Yes, we arrested you. But you didn’t resist arrest, Scout. In fact, it’s almost like you hoped we would. Is that why you broke the glass at Elaboratory Governance? What was your plan?”
“You know my plan.”
“How do I know your plan, Scout?”
“Because I’m one of you, and you know it.”
Jarnison leant back in the chair. Now he was getting somewhere. He’d been tracking Scout for almost three months, but she’d been missing from ELAB for fifteen years. Like many female ELAB infants, she’d disappeared, assumed abducted. Then suddenly her telecommune began to emit transient and random signals. This was the first time an abductee had re-emerged apparently by her own volition. Previously, ELAB children reclaimed from the Tribe had died soon after arrest, seemingly by psychic suicide. But this particular Scout was different, in so many ways. Not only did she willingly submit to arrest, Scout acknowledged and used both her verbal and telecommune capabilities freely, and now admitted to being ELAB rather than a native Tribe child.
“Scout, you should know we could’ve arrested you at any time over the last few months, but we chose to watch and wait, to see what you’d do.” When Scout first appeared on ELAB mapping, she was moving erratically around the borders of the Wilderness. Governance wanted to swoop in to reclaim her, as they’d done previously when that green blip appeared, but Jarnison argued for patience. He didn’t want any more dead children. It seemed this Scout was venturing outside the black zone deliberately, and he wanted to know why. He lobbied hard for the chance to see if this Scout would turn herself in. And whilst her arrest hadn’t been without incident – taking a metal pole to the exterior of the Elaboratory Governance Dome was certainly a dramatic gesture – here she was, alive and well, and seemingly wanting to know as much about them as they did about her.
“I know, I felt you, I saw you.” Scout said,” You know that’s why they had me, don’t you? To scout for Hunters. To watch out for you.”
Here we go. “Talk to me about that, Scout. Tell me about the Tribe. Why did you come here? Did they send you?”
“No, I escaped.”
Escaped? ELAB had always assumed the Scouts were familiarly integrated with the Tribe, treated as beloved children, and that was why they suffered anxiety and suicided when they were rescued, arrested or captured. Jarnison was curious, and not a little alarmed.
“What did you escape from, Scout?”
Scout closed her eyes again. She tuned in to her intuition and alert system. To her surprise and confusion, all signals still read safe. This might actually turn out to be what she’d hoped for – her chance to tell the truth about the Tribe.
She took a deep breath. “You know about us Scouts, what we do, what we are. We’re not Clean like Tribe, we are ELAB. But I found out what happens to all the Scouts and I didn’t want it to happen to me.”
Now Jarnison was really listening. He pulled his chair in closer and mentally opened his intellibook. “May I keep notes?”
“Sure”. Scout breathed deeply in and out again.
In February 2031, Elaboratory Council and Governance closed the borders forever. The amnesty, whereby those who wished to self-select into the wider psychic augmentation program could do so, ended. Anyone not willing to submit to augmentation would have to leave ELAB communities, and this would be enforced by law, and the first generation of Tribe was born from this diaspora. Navigating abandoned settlements and wildernesses, the Tribe established itself beyond the reach of the ELAB as a society of individual family and social groups. Each singular Tribe is self-sufficient, governed by a collective Tribe Council of elders with representatives from each group. Lore, knowledge and culture are passed down through storytelling and hand-written edicts. Technology is banned, as Tribe believe ELAB track and trace devices and signals via their psychic and mental augmentation – or Elaboration, as they choose to call it – for malevolent means, The Tribe see themselves as an utopian society, the resistance, a revolution against ELAB which they perceive as a dictatorship, facilitating an unnatural evolution of humanity. They are ever vigilant, believing ELAB has a militant agenda to reassimilate them into mainstream society, and enforce Elaboration upon them. Tribe survives by scavenging the chattels of societal abandonment, and by living from the land
For three generations, Tribe have inhabited the fringes of ELAB. And for two of those generations, Scouts have been a part of the overall defence strategy. Kidnapping of very young ELAB children, bringing them up as part of the Tribe and assigning them the role of Scout is Tribe lore and practice. Scouts are always female as they’re assumed to be less aggressive and more docile.
Scouts, as ELABs, utilise their intuition and psychic enhancement for reconnaissance and alert purposes. Scouts are expected to go to work when they are five years old, and before they turn sixteen are sent from the Tribe on a Quest, from which they are not expected to return.
Tribe religion centres around Ancestors. Generational predecessors are venerated for their courage in bringing about the Exile from ELAB. Ancestor worship is a daily family practice, and festivals are held between tribes to celebrate their efforts and success. The Scout’s ancestry, however, despite their being embedded in family and Tribe life, isn’t acknowledged or celebrated. Scouts look forward to Quest, as they believe it’s an exciting time of transition and initiation. Nothing is spoken again of a Scout who has left on Quest. It’s like she dropped off the face of the earth.
A Tribe may have as many as four Scouts at a time. Scouts believe their abilities are shamanistic, supernatural, that they are chosen by Ancestors to act as Scouts. They are subject to stronger discipline and higher expectations but are afforded better conditions accordingly. It’s a criminal offense to strike or abuse a Scout.
Every Scout is named Scout, but the close familiarity of the Tribe dictates names are not used to differentiate members. Pronouns include “mother”, “father”, “elder” “boy” and “girl” – expression of personal identity beyond Tribal definitions is banned. Scouts are always called Scouts.
Life is difficult for the Tribe, and for Scouts. The mobs are constantly moving, and when they move, they leave everything behind to begin again in a new place. The overarching atmosphere is one of fear. Fear of being discovered. Fear of being assimilated by force by the ELAB nation. Fear of the environment and of other Tribes, and violent renegades, of which the wilderness is full. Scouts are precious, and abduction attempts between tribes are commonplace. Scouts are largely ignorant to ELAB culture, save for what Tribe lore conditions them to believe. They are burdened heavily with the responsibility of keeping their Tribe safe, alerted via their psychic and mental skills to the imminent presence of ELAB, but they themselves never feel safe. And as they grow older, they become increasingly aware of the fact there are no Scouts over the age of sixteen, and this burgeoning awareness of itself is a reason for Scouts to become anxious. Where do Scouts go on Quest? What happens to them? When a Scout starts asking such questions, it’s time for her to go on her Quest. She may be six, she may be sixteen – whenever a Scout asks about her Ancestors, it’s time for her to leave and go “find” them.
Scout suspected for some time something sinister was happening to her sisters when they departed on Quest. On day, she stumbled across some belongings stuffed inside a fallen tree. Then she discovered arrows, one after another, presumably abandoned, which Tribe never do. She began investigating deeper into the landscape, using her physical senses, as the intuition which usually bonded the Scouts was silent. But the further she strayed, the clearer the psychic signals of ELAB. The closer she went to the boundaries, the more curious she became, and rather than feeling more afraid, she felt….calm. Each day she ventured further. Then one day, following an intuitive breadcrumb trail, Scout discovered a mound of recently turned earth. Her stomach sank. She knew it was a grave. Carefully, she brushed away the dirt until her flesh touched flesh. Now she knew what happened to the last Scout, and no matter how dangerous it was to keep going, she knew she was in greater danger if she went back.
Scout stood with her fingers laced through the wire fence for some time, looking in. Here she was in broad daylight, on the threshold of everything she believed was evil and wrong with the world. Her body trembled, her mouth was dry, but closing her eyes, she felt no fear. Concentrating, Scout projected herself psychically into the city in the distance. She walked the streets in her mind’s eye, observing people walking around, buildings and cars, the like of which she’d never seen in her life. And yet it was familiar – she knew this place. It felt not hostile, dangerous and unknown, but like….something she couldn’t put her finger on. She felt into her pocket and stroked something there, then opened her eyes. So many questions, I need answers. Then, all at once, she climbed the fence and dropped silently on the other side.
Jarnison listened, carefully recording everything Scout told him. By now she seemed relaxed, almost resigned. “So why did you come here, Scout? Why did you want to be found after all this time?”
“I want to survive”, she said.
Jarnison stretched back in his chair, ran his fingers through his hair and switched off his mapping system. She wasn’t his prisoner, and this wasn’t an interrogation. It was a liberation. Her guard was down, and they were on the same psychic level now. “In a way, you’re here looking for your Ancestors, don’t you think?”
Scout let the tears come. She sensed Jarnison was no longer intuiting but was relying only on her words for the truth. “Yes, I think so,” she whispered.
He added gently, “I think you’re looking for who you are, and I think you know in your heart now who you are not.”
Scout was out of her body, watching herself in another time and place. “I’m not them. I know what they are, I know what they do. They’re wrong – it’s all wrong. They lie. They kill. They said you were the enemy, but I know you’re not. They took me, didn’t they? My Ancestors are here. I belong here. Please, help me.”
She reached into her pocket and took out a heart shaped locket on a fine chain bracelet, just the size for a little child, laying it carefully on the table. Jarnison reached across the desk, placing his hand on Scout’s. “I will,” he said, “I promise, I will.”
(c) Jo Hilder 2021