Flight of the Raven
 

Stephanie S. Tolan
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Raven Discussion Guide


Flight of the Raven

Harpercollins, 2001

Purchase this title in hardback or library edition

The sequel to Welcome to the Ark!

Discussion Guide for Flight of the Raven...

Beginning chapters of Flight of the Raven...

Day One..

Amber Landis pushed her blond hair behind her ears and wiped the sweat from her forehead. It was hot and muggy in the basement computer room. It was also dark. The only light was a crack of sunlight at one side of the narrow window up near the ceiling where the blind had curled at its edge. She hadn’t turned on the light because she wasn’t really supposed to be there.

“Wait,” her father had said when he left the compound. “Look after your brother, do what Cassie says, and just wait. When news of the mission gets onto the nets, it’ll be full of lies. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”

“But what is the mission?” she had asked. He hadn’t answered. He’d only gone to join the group of camouflage-clad men milling around the truck that was revving its engine in front of the old barn.

There are things you’re better off not knowing, she’d heard all her life. She hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it! How would she ever be part of her father’s mission, how would she ever make a difference in the world, if she wasn’t even allowed to know what they were doing till after it was done?

Cassie, her stepmother, knew, and she was worried. She was doing her best not to show it, giving Amber and Kenny their stupid homeschool assignments as if everything was perfectly normal. But she had taken the radio into her room as soon as the men left, and Amber knew she listened to it early every morning and late every night. Amber couldn’t understand why nobody wanted her and Kenny to know what was going on even now, when it surely had to be over, or nearly over. It wasn’t as if they’d tell anybody. It wasn’t as if there was anybody to tell. Since the men had left she had not seen one single person except Kenny and Cassie.

She’d thought about the possibility that this mission was so much more dangerous than usual that something bad -- really bad -- might happen. If that was true, Cassie might be trying to protect them from finding out. Amber couldn’t see what difference it would make when or how they found out about it if the news was that bad.

The mission was different from anything the Free Mountain Militia had ever done before. Different and very, very big. That she knew. For weeks the air had been charged with a new energy as the men had prepared for it. There had never been so much coming and going from the compound, lots of it at night.

It was the fifth day since the men drove away in the truck, her father following in his black Honda. Five long, hot days. No mission had ever taken that long. Amber was tired of wondering, tired of waiting and even more tired of trying to look after Kenny. Her ten year old brother insisted he was a soldier, a soldier who didn’t need looking after. Especially not by a sister only two years older than he was. “You’re just a girl,” he’d sneered that very morning when she reminded him he wasn’t allowed to go out in the canoe without a life jacket. “You can’t tell me what to do.” So he’d gone without the life jacket. If he drowned, it wouldn’t be her fault.

She listened at the door for a moment then clicked the lock on the doorknob and switched on the computer. When it had run through its wake up pattern, she sat down and took herself out onto the nets. And found immediately the lies her father had warned her about:

Path:

Laurel.grt.com!news.amherst.edu!news.mytholoyoke.edu!111-winkenllnl.gov!agate!bass!clarinews

From: clarinesw@clarinet.com (AP)

Message-ID: ,militiaUR237_eb6@clarinet.com

Date: Thurs, 10 Aug 00 8:34:50EDT

 

>PLATTSBURGH, NY (AP) -No leads have been reported in the most 
>devastating terrorist attack ever launched against American 
>citizens in their own country, bigger even than the bombing of 
>the federal building in Oklahoma City. The death toll from the 
>bombing of two overpasses on Interstate 87, the highway known 
>locally as “the Northway,” has risen to 183 with the 
>confirmation that two buses carrying Canadian tourists home from 
>a visit to Disney World were among the vehicles lost in the bomb 
>blasts, and the ensuing explosion of a gasoline tanker truck.  
>According to sources, identification of bodies will not be 
>completed for some time, but both buses were carrying 45 
>passengers.

>The Free Mountain Militia, an anarchist fringe group never 
>before suspected of terrorism, has taken credit for the bombing.
>Local police have been joined by the FBI, the National Guard and
>large numbers of citizen volunteers in an all-out search of the 
>area surrounding the highway south to Lake George and north to 
>the Canadian border where the RCMP is conducting its own search.

     United States President Harris and Canadian Premier Martier 
>both arrived this morning to survey the scene of the devastation 
>and are assuring their citizens that the perpetrators of this 
>atrocity will be found and dealt with to the fullest extent of 
>the law.

>    In an unrelated story, an eight year old African American 
>boy suffering from autism has disappeared from Laurel Mountain, 
>a private mental institution near the site of the bomb blast and 
>is lost in the extensive Adirondack wilderness where the search 
>for the terrorists is being conducted. A separate search has 
>not been initiated for the boy; searchers have been asked to 
>keep an eye out for him as they go. “We’re determined to cover 
>every square inch of forest,” National Guard Officer Lester 
>Cunningham has said. “There’s no way we’ll miss that little boy 
>in the process.”

Amber read the piece again. Lies, her father had said. Of course. The government always lied -- and the media was controlled by the government. She knew that. She’d always known it. But which were the lies? 

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The line of five men in camouflage fatigues was moving quickly through the forest, guided upward on the mountain not by a trail, but by compass reckoning. In spite of the dense shade under the trees, the heat was oppressive, and they were soaked with sweat. No one spoke as they moved, one or another taking a quick drink from a canteen now and again. It was well past noon, and they’d been on the move since dawn, stopping only for small rest breaks and to listen briefly to a battery operated radio.

Suddenly, the man in the lead, dark hair curling out from beneath his camouflage cap, stopped and the man behind him nearly ran up his back. Behind them the others came to a ragged stop, looking at each other questioningly. “What’s up?” the second man whispered.

The other didn’t answer. He merely pointed. A huge moss-covered tree was lying at an angle, its upper branches caught among other trees, a tangle of roots nearly head-high reaching into the air from a mound of moss and ferns. Next to the roots, spaced next to each other as neatly as if they’d been placed next to a bed before retiring, stood a small pair of ragged navy blue sneakers. The dark haired man, a finger to his lips, motioned to the others to fan out around the tree. They did so, indicating with no more than raised eyebrows and shrugs their question about what they were doing.

The leader bent to peer under the trunk, where a mass of fir branches stuck out, their tips at odd angles almost as if they’d been woven together. He took hold of one branch, moved it slightly so that the others moved as well and then waited. After a moment, he gave a gentle tug, again moving the tangle of branches and pulling the one he was holding a few inches toward him so that a small opening appeared behind it. He looked the opening, and then stood up, nodding.

“What?” the man next to him mouthed.

“What are the odds?” the dark-haired man said, his voice at normal volume now. “A few yards either way, and we’d have missed him.”

“Missed who?”

“That black kid who ran away from the mental hospital. The one they’ve been talking about on the news. Not that it does him or us any good. He’s dead. Must’ve fixed himself a bed here last night. Can’t imagine what killed him -- it wasn’t cold.” The man began pulling branches out from under the tree trunk and gestured for help. After a few moments they could all see what he had seen. A small barefoot boy, a metal bracelet around one ankle, wearing blue jeans and a red and white striped tee shirt, lay curled in a fetal position, one dark fist clutched tightly beneath his chin, the other over his head as if to protect himself from a possible blow.

“Leave him,” a blond man with a flat, smooth face said, kicking at the pile of branches they had pulled free. “Dump those shoes in there with him and put the branches back. We don’t need nobody else finding him and seeing that somebody besides the kid was here. This whole place’ll be crawling with feds and soldiers soon enough.”

The dark-haired man stood for a moment, looking down at the tiny figure, frowning. “Too bad,” he said. “We could’ve taken him along. Kept him as a hostage. A trade. You never know what sort of bargaining chip you might need.” He took his cap off and ran a hand through the hair that was stuck to his neck with sweat. “I have an idea. Get a picture of him, Ham. Nobody would know he isn’t just sleeping. He looks peaceful enough.”

The man he’d spoken to, heavy set and crew cut, nodded and pulled open a side pocket on his pack to take out a 35 mm camera. He stepped closer and bent to get a good shot in the shadows. When the flash went off, the boy stirred. The movement wasn’t large, and the child didn’t open his eyes. But he’d moved. They’d all seen it.

The leader leaned in and laid a finger against the boy’s throat. “He’s got a pulse. Bery slow, but steady.”

“So?” the flat faced man said. “We can’t drag some little kid back with us -- we got too far to go.”

“Of course we can, Virgil” the dark-haired man said. He put his cap back on and reached down to pull the boy from his nest. The child made no sound, but his body uncurled as he was dragged free of his hiding place. The arm he’d had over his head moved to join the other, its fist still clutched tightly under his chin. “Wake up, kid!” the man said, and tried to stand the boy on his legs. He might as well have tried to stand a rag doll. “Well, give me a hand with him, somebody!”

The man named Ham reached to help, taking the boy under the arms and slinging him against his shoulder as the other man stood, brushing the leaves and dirt from his knees.

“I’m tellin’ you, Mack, we should leave him,” the blond man said. “There’s something wrong with him. He was in a loony bin, after all. You don’t know what kind of trouble he could be. Besides, he’s a black kid!”

The leader turned on him. “You better not let Landis hear you sounding like a racist. He’d have you outa the Cadre, out of the Militia for that matter, before you could blink.”

The blond man kicked at a rock, his face flushing pink. “Ah, who said anything racist, for cripe sake? I just said he was black. He is black!”

“Yeah, well the operative word here is kid. People want lost kids back. As long as he’s alive and tradeable, he could come in handy. We’re taking him.” He looked from one to the other of the rest of the men. “Anybody else have any objections?”

The others shook their heads.

“Okay, then. Let’s get going. Somebody get his shoes.”

When they’d rearranged their packs they went on, moving as steadily and swiftly as before. There was no sound from the child and no movement. He had not opened his eyes. As he was carried roughly, slung over Ham’s shoulder, he kept one hand, fist tightly closed, tucked under his chin.

From the top of a white pine next to the fallen tree a raven lifted itself silently into the air and flew over the men as they moved.

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When Elijah felt himself pulled from his nest beneath the tree, rough hands dragging him into a world of sunlight and the roar that was and was not sound, the roar of violence he had been running from when he left Laurel Mountain filled his head again, louder than he’d ever heard it. He kept his eyes tightly shut, let himself go limp. Mountain, he thought, trying to retreat into the consciousness of the great stone presence. Men’s voices intruded but he blocked them out. Mountain! Silence!

He felt himself lifted and flung across the hard shoulder of a man whose huge hand clasped his legs as they began moving. Elijah’s head jolted with every step the man took. Tree branches brushed at his back. Clutching his marble tightly, Elijah reached with his mind, sending it out into the mountain until he could hear nothing, feel nothing. Concentrating with fierce intensity, Elijah Raymond turned himself to stone.

     


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