Jeri first laid eyes on Robin when he was assigned as her bunkmate at the pre-breeder Center on the outskirts of Seattle. Her original bunkmate had just turned 13 and had gone to live in one of the teenager dorms.
She had known before he arrived that his name was Robin 1983-3. The information had been printed on the sticker attached to the end of their bed the day before. The “1983” indicated the year he was born, making him ten years old, and the “3” indicated that he was the third person their Syndicate had named “Robin” in the year of his birth. (The name was randomly selected from a database of approved names.) Jeri’s full name was “Jeri 1981-1”, meaning she was the first “Jeri” born and taken from her human mother by the Syndicate, in the year of her birth, 1981.
Aside from his Syndicate number, Jeri also knew that Robin was ten because he had just arrived. Until age ten, all of their Syndicate’s pre-breeders came from the infants and young children’s facility near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Now she could connect a person to the name. He had been born with the appearance of a human male and he had long, curly blonde hair. His clothing draped over his twigish frame. He was very small for his age.
Small and vulnerable, Jeri thought.
He had picked the top bunk and was playing chess with another kid in their dorm. Jeri walked up and watched them play. Robin moved a knight.
“Checkmate in three moves,” Robin declared. Then showed his opponent that he was right.
As they were putting away the chess pieces, the lights out bell rang, and the other kid hopped out of Robin’s bed and ran back to his own bunk. Robin looked at Jeri for the first time. His eyes were a pale blue, that was almost gray, and he had high check bones. Jeri had once read a book written by a human called “The Hobbit”. Jeri thought he fit the description of one of the elves.
On impulse, she reached up, and brushed his long hair to the side, and was disappointed when she saw that the resemblance to a Tolkien character did not include his ears.
“Why did you do that?” Robin asked, quizzical, but unperturbed.
“I thought you might not be human,” she said.
Jeri felt her face grow hot. “Why are you laughing?”
“We’re all not human, here!” he said between giggles.
Jeri began to smile herself. It was easy to forget what they were when they looked like the humans.
About a week after Robin had moved in at the Seattle Center, Jeri heard him climb down out of his top bunk several hours after the lights out bell. She thought nothing of it, assuming he was going to the bathroom, which was permitted. She had fallen back asleep, but was awoken again several hours later by Robin climbing back into his bunk. He reeked of mud and creek water.
The second night he left his bunk, Jeri saw Robin’s silhouette drop down out of their bunk bed, and slink towards the door to the playground, which wasn’t locked at night because no one could get very far. Unlike the other doors exiting their dorm, the playground door wasn’t monitored by CCTV. The preteens weren’t considered much of a discipline problem by the Syndicate, so they were only sporadically checked on by Security personnel, although Jeri knew that Robin would be punished if he were caught.
Jeri worried that if Security caught him outside, they might punish her as well. They would say that it was her duty, as his bunkmate, to know what he was up to and to report the infraction. Those who tolerate a breach of our laws are themselves law-breakers, was part of their daily oath of allegiance to the Syndicate prior to classes. Jeri decided she wouldn’t report Robin, but she would convince him to stop whatever he was up to out on the playground late at night.
Once Robin had shut the playground door, Jeri got out of bed, put on her shoes, and followed. The playground was about a quarter the size of a football field. It was enclosed by the building of the dorm on one side, two barbed wire fences on the north and south side, and a fifteen foot concrete wall, toped with razor wire, that enclosed the entire Seattle Center, on the side opposite their dormitory. Jeri saw Robin running towards a group of small trees that ran along a stream that meandered along the northwest side of the playground, next to the concrete wall. When Jeri saw where Robin was headed, she suddenly realized why he had smelt like mud and creek water the night before.
By the time Jeri got to the stream herself, it was only with enough time to see Robin’s feet snaking inside of a very small culvert that allowed the creek to travel under the concrete wall and back to the outside world. Robin was sneaking out of the Center at night through a drainage pipe that only he was small enough to fit through.
Jeri sat against a tree, and waited. She dozed off, but was awoken when a wadded up pair of boy’s shorts landed next to her, followed by a pair of shoes, a shirt, and a dirty towel. A few minutes later, she saw Robin’s blonde head emerge from the culvert. He wormed his way out, covered in mud. Jeri picked up the towel, stood up, and held it out to Robin as he climbed up out of the creek bottom. He looked at the towel, then looked up at Jeri.
“Are you going to turn me in?” he asked.
“No,” Jeri said.
“Why not? It’s your duty to turn in rule-breakers,” Robin said. He took the offered towel and began to clean himself off.
“What did you see out there?” Jeri asked.
They did go outside the Center periodically to interact with the humans. It was considered an important part of the educational process, but it was always with a teacher. They would be sent into various social situations, and told to interact with particular humans, and then their performance was graded.
Going outside without a chaperone, however, was unheard of. A major infraction like Robin’s would jeopardize his chances of ever being certified as a breeder. Those who weren’t breeder-certified by the end of puberty were of no use to the Syndicate.
Robin didn’t answer.
“Did you hear me? What’s it like?”
“Wonderful,” Robin whispered.