Fifteen minutes later, Esther Roundtree and her son Jed stood at the island countertop in the twin’s farmhouse. Abigail poured rum and cola into two highball glasses and pushed them over to her guests. Delilah perched on a stool at the end of the counter, tapping her fingers against the granite.
Esther put her hand over Delilah’s and stilled her fingers. “Does the procurement agent know about Jacob?”
“No.” Abigail answered for her sister. “Pa hasn’t been here, and he hasn’t connected to us. At least I haven’t sensed his presence. But he’s due to arrive soon. Possibly tomorrow.”
“Jacob must be a very special young man for you to want to protect him,” Esther said as she gently squeezed Delilah’s hand and held the young woman’s gaze. “You can still emancipate him. But it comes at a significant cost.” The old woman paused. “And you’re the one who must pay the price. Are you sure he’s worth it?”
“What’s the cost?” Abigail interjected before Delilah could speak.
“It doesn’t matter what I have to do,” Delilah shot back. “I don’t want to send him there.”
“Delilah, just wait a minute,” Abigail pleaded. “At least find out more before you decide.” Then she turned to Esther. “If Pa isn’t aware of Jacob, can we keep him from finding out?”
“Your Pa’s a Receptive, so he can detect your aural signal like I did. To receive it, though, he must be tuned in. There’s a chance he’s attending to his other huntresses and not actively sensing you two. Still, the probability that he knows is high.”
Abigail closed her eyes and inhaled. She released her breath and tried to concentrate as Esther spoke and focus on what she was saying. But frustration with her twin clouded her thoughts. For years, Abigail carried the weight of the hunt for both of them. The task was exhausting, yet she consistently met their quota of high-quality specimens for the Kindredship and avoided the consequences that came with failure. And now, when Delilah finally showed signs of mastering the pursuit and being an equal partner in the quest, she became attached to her first catch and wanted to release him. As always, the burden of sorting out complications fell on her.
Abigail sighed. “C’mon Delilah! Your first specimen! Really? I mean, who does that? I’m so tired of taking up the slack for you. Will you ever step up and pull your own weight?”
The words tumbled from Abigail’s lips before she could stop them.
“So that’s what you think, Abby? I’m a slacker?” With her eyes narrowed and her mouth set in a tight line, Delilah stood up and glared at her sister. “Well, you don’t need to deal with me any longer, sis. I’m going with Miss Esther’s plan.”
“What?” Abigail stuttered. “What plan?”
“You weren’t listening, were you?” Delilah snapped. “You were too busy brooding about my shortcomings and how I’m a pain in the ass. Hmm… guess you’re not so perfect either, are you?”
“Delilah… I’m sorry. Can we talk about this? Please? Tell me the plan.”
“Miss Esther will fill you in,” Delilah replied as she turned away. “Jed’s helping me load Jacob into his car, and then Jacob and I are leaving.”
“Wait. Delilah, where are you going?” Abigail followed her sister and Jed into the living area, but Delilah didn’t acknowledge her question. Without speaking to her sister, Delilah bounded up the loft steps while Jed hoisted Jacob off the couch and carried him out the front door.
Abigail turned to Esther. “Please,” she implored helplessly. “Tell me what’s going on. I’m afraid for her. If Pa finds out about this, he’ll assign her to the procreation camp.”
Esther wrapped her arms around Abigail and pulled her into a tight hug. “Don’t worry, dear. Delilah will be fine. The decision was up to her, and she made her choice. Hopefully, in time, you’ll understand.”
“Understand what?” Abigail pulled back and searched Esther’s face. “Oh my god! What’s she going to do?”
“The only way she can save Jacob from being enslaved as a breeder is to forsake the Kindredship. And disappear.”
“Disappear?” Abigail mumbled. “But how is that possible? Won’t Pa find her?”
Esther clasped Abigail’s hand and led her to the couch. “No, dear. She’ll be safe. We have developed technology that blocks aural signatures from the Receptives.”
Abigail frowned, unaware of the science. “How long will she be away?”
Esther clasped Abigail’s hands. “Delilah won’t be coming back.”
With a gasp, Abigail jumped to her feet and called to her sister as she ran toward the loft steps.
“You can’t abandon me. Delilah! There has to be another way.”
Delilah descended the loft steps scowling. Two stuffed duffle bags were slung over her shoulders.
“You heard Miss Esther. I have no other choice.” She dropped the bags to the floor and faced her sister. “I’ve never been able to excel at the hunt. You’ve always had to cover for me. And honestly, I don’t think that will change. I’m a burden, and I know it. But if I’m gone, you’ll only be responsible for yourself. Trust me, it’ll be easier for both of us this way.”
“Easier?” Abigail shouted. “This isn’t easy for me. You’re my sister, for god’s sake. I can’t believe you’re willing to tear us apart for some guy.”
“It’s not just about Jacob. It’s about the hunt, too. I don’t want to do it anymore. I can’t.”
Delilah stepped closer to her twin and gripped her arms. “Do you like this life, Abby? Well, I hate it. Always hunting. Endlessly procuring. We condemn innocent young men to a life in a breeding camp, and for what? To engineer a superior crossbreed? Perfect our species? Do you ever ask yourself why the Ascendents obsess with creating superior progeny for the Kindredship? I do. And we don’t fare well in any of the answers I’ve found.”
Delilah released her grip on Abigail and pulled her into an embrace. “Every hunting season we contribute to our obsolescence,” she whispered. “Miss Esther is offering me a way out, and I’m taking it. Please come with me. We can do this together.”
To be continued.
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Written by Allorianna Matsourani