A year after the day she was rescued, Makara Angel, as she came to be called, hardly ever left Raine’s side. He raised her like his daughter in those first years as she adjusted to life under the Angels. Raine was a busy man, but still, he always found time to spend with her, and took little Makara with him whenever he could.
It was one cool, spring day when Raine, for once, had a bit of free time, and he took Makara with him on his patrol. He usually did these alone, or at times, with one of his officers. He rarely had time for solitude, so riding on his Harley to check on things was the closest he could ever come to finding inner peace.
The Angels’ had carved out a vast swath of territory in South L.A.. That part of the city had laid largely abandoned since Dark Day, and even the Reapers had had trouble taming a lot of the smaller gangs that made it their home.
Ever since Raine and Green split from the Reapers, taking with them over a hundred of their slaves, Raine had used those gangs as a buffer between himself and the far more numerous and powerful Reapers. It had worked so far – but barely. Given time, Carin would find a way to break through and end the Angels.
The Angels needed more men. Trying to recruit from the smaller gangs was hard, and often drew their ire. And a lot of the warlords were proud and resented the Angels’ influence. There’d even been a few turf wars, as there always was in post-apocalyptic L.A., and even before. Only the Angels’ resilience and absorbing of some of the smaller gangs had won them the right to stay, as well as tripling their slave count. The more slaves a gang had, the more power. That meant for food to be grown, more scavenging parties from the city ruins, more men to build walls…
Still, though, the Angels weren’t strong enough defend themselves against a gang like the Reapers. And Carin would never forgive Raine for his cessation from the Reapers, just as Raine would never forgive Carin. His blood boiled at the mere thought of…
No, Raine thought. I won’t think of that today. I won’t give him power over my thoughts.
Raine needed something, though, to grow his gang…only he didn’t know what. Recent months had been slower, the other gangs had grown wary of the Angels’ presence, not wishing the challenge their position.
And yet, no opportunity had presented itself to Raine. Not in recent months.
Raine pulled the chopper to a stop next to a large, open field sitting below the highway. That field was filled with slaves, working hard under in the cool, cloudy afternoon. They paid little mind to the armed Angels watching them over.
Raine did everything he could to give his subjects a good life; the Reapers often worked their slaves to death, seeing that gaining new ones was easy, as lightly defended settlements were numerous within the L.A. ruins, and not all of them fell under the influence of a rival gang. Many of the slaves here were grateful for the kinder life and going to bed with a full stomach.
Being a slave of the Angels certainly beat being out there, prey to any gang that happened along. Prey to starvation, or freezing to death, or countless number of things that got people killed these days.
“Why do you have slaves, Raine?” Makara asked.
Raine blinked at the innocence of that question. He didn’t turn to look at Makara…not at first. He realized then that Makara, who mostly stayed at the base, had seen very little of slavery. It was the childlike simplicity of the question that shocked him most.
“We got to eat, baby,” he said. “Without these people…we’d not have bread, corn, beans, potatoes, cabbage…all the things that’ll make you grow up big and strong.”
“But slavery is bad,” Makara said simply. “Nobody at Bunker One was a slave. They could do whatever they wanted.”
They had the luxury to, Raine wanted to say.
“Out here, Mak, things are a bit different.” How to explain that to an eight-year-old?
“They taught us in school that there used to be slaves in America a long time ago,” Makara said. She looked at Raine strangely, and Raine could guess the reason: he was black. Not all kids these days knew that, in the past, black people were slaves in America. Makara had had at least something of an education in the Bunker, and this brute fact put Raine in something of an awkward position, even if this present form of slavery wasn’t tied to race at all.
“This is different,” Raine said, trying to sound more sure than he actually was.
“They live a good life here,” Raine said. “They got food, water, a place to lay their heads for the night. That’s worth a lot these days.”
“But why can’t they be free, too?”
None of us is free, Makara. None of us. Not even me.
Raine lifted Makara from where she sat behind him, and lifted her until she was sitting on his lap. She looked up at him with big, green eyes.
Raine was surprised to see she was almost shedding tears.
“Don’t cry,” he said. He smiled wide. “It’s like this. This might sound kind of strange to you, but sometimes, I envy them.”
Makara’s brow scrunched up in confusion. “Huh?”
“They don’t got to worry about anything,” Raine said. “They just wake up, work a few hours in nice weather like this, and go home. Spend time with their families. They get off two days a week.” Raine chuckled. “Even I don’t get that, and I’m Warlord.”
Makara laughed, too. “So, why don’t you become a slave?”
Raine shrugged. “That’s a fair question. You might be right; it’s better to be Warlord than slave. But not everybody can be me.”
“That doesn’t mean they have to be slaves. Why not make them free?”
Makara’s tone was argumentative. She was so sure she was right; her green eyes looked up at him in challenge.
Not too many people found the courage to argue with Raine these days, but this eight-year-old girl sure did. Raine found the difference to be refreshing.
He also found that he didn’t have a good answer for her.
“Say I free them,” Raine said. “What then? How do their lives change?”
Makara thought for a moment. “Then they can leave.”
“I can’t let them leave, Mak,” Raine said. “If they leave, they die.”
“Then they will stay,” Makara said. “Why does it matter if they are free or not? If you give them a good life, they will stay. Right?”
Raine frowned in puzzlement; it was a thought that had never occurred to him before.
And just from those words, he saw everything laid out before him.
“That’s it, Makara,” he said. “We’ll free them!”
He lifted her and kissed her on the cheek, an action which caused Makara to giggle.
“This is our way to survive,” Raine said. “If we free them, they won’t leave. They’ll fight for me. And the word will spread. More slaves will come, and when they do, we give them their freedom. And they fight for us.”
This was just what Raine needed. It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but already the Reapers’ raids were making him bleed. The Angels had everything – good territory, the will to survive, plenty of guns and ammo. The only thing they lacked was manpower.
“We can save a lot of people,” Makara said.
“Yeah,” Raine said. “I think this is it. This is how we are going to grow.”
Makara probably didn’t understand what she had just done, but with a single question, she had done more for him than all of Raine’s lieutenants combined.