After a distressing week, the group spend a morning discussing Earthseed. They are in a state of shock, exhaustion, and mourning. The previous Tuesday, Emery took Tori and Doe to pee in the bushes while the rest of the group ate. Suddenly, the group heard screams, and rushed to find Emery fighting a bald man, who was holding Tori. More bald people ran over from the freeway, holding weapons. Lauren shot the man holding Tori, and knew immediately that he was dead. Lauren got up briefly, before collapsing when someone else was shot and killed. Bankole rushed over to her and pointed out that she was bleeding, something Lauren herself had not noticed. He assured her that it was over. Lauren urged him to give her gun to Natividad just in case, before passing out again.
The idyllic moment of the previous chapter is violently interrupted in this scene. The addition of more children to the group appears to have made it more vulnerable to attack, particularly because the adults must focus on defending the children as well as themselves. Note that Lauren’s hyperempathy makes it almost impossible for her to distinguish between her own injuries and those of other people. This further endangers her, yet at the same time the fact that she is used to feeling other people’s pain appears to have allowed her to develop a higher tolerance for pain and more courage in general.
During this incident, Jill was killed. She had been carrying Tori and running toward the woods when she was shot. The group digs a shallow grave for Jill while Lauren is still unconscious. Lauren was also shot, but the bullet only grazed her, and Zahra assures her that Bankole won’t let it get infected. Zahra points out that there was “something funny” about Emery, Tori, Grayson, and Doe; at that moment, Lauren realizes that they all have hyperempathy. Grayson comes over and asks Lauren how many times she “died” during the conflict. Lauren asks him if he would be willing to shoot people after learning how; she warns him that it “hurts like hell.” Grayson mentions that the people who attacked them were pyro addicts. Lauren then briefly explains the rules of the community and asks if Grayson will follow them. He agrees.
In the midst of an intense moment of violent destruction, the community continues to grow. While they lose Jill, they gain an additional member in Grayson. This is particularly significant to Lauren, who earlier in the novel wrote in her diary that she wished she could live among other people who also have hyperempathy. Without realizing it, she has added four members to the community who all have the same condition. For the first time, Lauren is among people who understand what it is like to feel other people’s pleasure and pain. This provides a moment of hope and relief in the midst of tragedy.
After leaving Grayson, Lauren goes to comfort Allie. Despite Allie’s initial hostility, Lauren hugs her. Allie resists at first, but eventually gives in and begins moaning. After a while, Allie breaks away from Lauren and picks up Justin, carrying him as the group continues their walk. Later, Lauren discusses the incident with Emery and Bankole. Emery warns that the addicts will keep burning things until they use all the pyro they have. Lauren tells Emery that she knows she has hyperempathy, and asks if parents always give the condition to their children. Emery replies that this does not always happen; some children do not inherit it, and some “sharers” cannot have children at all. She adds that “bosses”—slaveholders—like when enslaved people have hyperempathy.
This passage provides a fuller image of hyperempathy, but also raises some important further questions about the condition. Emery’s explanation that slaveholders like it when enslaved people have hyperempathy seems counterintuitive at best, and extremely sinister at worst. Do slaveholders want their slaves to experience extra pain for purely sadistic reasons, or is there another explanation? It is also worth noting that all the characters introduced so far with hyperempathy have black heritage. Although this doesn’t mean anything definitively, it is still a significant fact.
The fires raging in the distance get nearer, and the group hurries away from them. They are unsure about whether they can outpace the encroaching smoke, but Lauren persuades them to stop and eat and drink a little in order to have enough energy to keep going. Lauren is careful to hide the fact that her wound is hurting, knowing that Grayson, Emery, and their children would feel her pain if she let on. The adults put the children in Bankole’s cart and wrap wet fabric around their faces to avoid breathing in smoke. The hot flames, ash, and smoke draw nearer, and Lauren becomes convinced that they’re all going to die. However, a wind starts to push the fire in a different direction, and the group emerge coughing and choking, but alive.
It is striking that after experiencing a large number of different attacks by people, the moment at which Lauren becomes convinced that the group are actually all going to die is when they face an environmental threat. On the other hand, it is also an environmental force that saves them from this fate. The fact that it is a gust of wind is particularly significant. On a symbolic level, wind represents a constant change—neither destructive (like fire) nor nourishing and soothing (like water). In this sense, wind can be seen as a representation of Lauren’s idea of God.
When they stop to sleep, Grayson tells Lauren that he will watch with her, as her pain is keeping him awake anyway. Lauren refuses to give Grayson a gun, as he doesn’t know how to shoot, which angers him. The next morning, the group passes a woman’s corpse, which Emery strips in order to wear her clothes. Emery also finds cash in the woman’s boots—the first real money she’s ever owned. Later that day, the group reaches Clear Lake, where they buy more food. Emery splurges on pears and walnuts for the group, and Lauren notes that they would have to teach her about “the value of money.” The next time Lauren writes, the group has reached Bankole’s land. As Bankole promised, the property is very isolated. This is good for security, but will make earning money difficult. They reach the spot where the house is supposed to be, and find nothing; only the charred remains of a building.
The group has survived a series of trials befitting the Old Testament, only to find that their promised land is little more than a pile of ash. This tragic conclusion to their journey illustrates precisely what is so devastating about the destruction of people and land by fire—fire destroys the evidence of what was once there and how it met its demise. The group is now left with the same devastating sense of uncertainty regarding what happened to Bankole’s family as Emery experienced with her sons and Lauren with her father. Are Bankole’s family alive? Will they return? Will whoever burned down the farmhouse come back and attack the group again?