“Bounty,” a novella, is the final piece included in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.
Cole, the protagonist, is a thirty-year-old living and working in Bounty-Land, a medieval-themed amusement park. He's a “Flawed”—a member of society who displays some form of mutation that deviates from traditional human anatomy, relegating the bearer to a lower social caste. Cole’s flaw is a set of claws where his toenails should be.
When Mr. Corbett, a frequent guest of the park, pays off the administration to let him take Cole’s sister, Connie, away, Cole is deeply upset. The two are incredibly close and have been since their parents deposited them at the park in childhood. It’s one of the only safe places left for Flaweds—society outside Bounty-Land has deteriorated and become incredibly dangerous.
Intent on rescuing Connie, Cole decides to brave the world outside the park’s walls. With the help of a doctor from inside the park, he has his Flawed bracelet removed. Without the identifying marker, he can pass as Normal as long as he keeps his toes covered. At the doctor’s insistence, he stops to ask advice from a man who has spent time on the outside:
“It's beautiful and wild and not worth the risk. . . . Listen: Don’t budge from here. Learn to enjoy what little you have. Revel in the fact that your dignity hasn’t yet been stripped away. Every minute that you’re not in absolute misery you should be weeping with gratitude and thanking God at the top of your lungs.”
Undeterred, Cole climbs the wall bordering the park and jumps down the other side. For the first time in his adult life, he’s free. He begins to roam the countryside, encountering itinerant communities and arcane cults on the way.
At a market, Cole sees a young boy wander into a herd of cattle. Realizing nobody else has noticed, he hops the fence and rescues him, and a wealthy man who witnessed his good deed takes Cole aside and offers him a job. He accepts and joins the man’s crew.
After working alongside them a while, Cole meets a nice girl who takes an instant liking to him and invites him on a walk in the woods. After they become intimate, however, she sees his toes and realizes he’s an unmarked Flawed. She begins screaming, and he runs—he’s violated the Disclosure of Flaweds legislation and is now a fugitive.
Hopping a train, Cole escapes. Soon, other itinerants enter the same car, and tensions are high. A fight breaks out, and Cole is caught in the fray. He falls out of the train car, hitting his head and falling unconscious.
When he wakes, he’s strapped to a stretcher in a family’s home. They found him by the tracks, the family tells him, and they know what he’s worth. The family takes him to Slavetown, and before long, he’s in the hands of a slave trader.
After a few miserable days, the trader brings Cole to another market, and he’s sold yet again. This time, the buyer is a very different sort—Cole and the other Flaweds will be treated with comfort and dignity, given their own cottages, and put to work as shepherds tending the man’s beloved flocks. “I consider myself to be working for change from within the system,” the buyer asserts. When they reach a river and must cross a few at a time, Cole remembers his goal and sees an opportunity. Despite the idyllic, utopian lure of the sheep farm, he runs.
Cole is soon captured again, but before he can be sold to a brothel, a fortuitous explosion offers cover: a Flawed resistance group, working to liberate their people, has targeted the brothel. He escapes with them and is taken to their camp. Meeting with their leader, he learns her secret: she’s Normal and is pretending to be Flawed in order to aid the resistance. Impressed with Cole, she invites him to join the ranks, but Cole declines, as he still hopes to rescue his sister.
Finally, Cole finds himself within walking distance of Mr. Corbett’s farm. Approaching, he finds Connie on the porch and is surprised twice: she’s...
(The entire section is 1,092 words.)