Lauren's group once more tries to sleep through a pre-dawn gun battle. Though Jill is sitting watch, two figures slip in among the sleepers and curl up among them.
In the morning, the whole group is stunned to find a woman and a child, who are dark-skinned, starved, and ragged. They curl up and cling to each other when the group wakes up and surrounds them. Lauren goes over to talk to them in a comforting, gentle way, and offers to give them food, which amazes the ragged pair. The other members of Lauren's group are not pleased with the intruders, but they offer them figs, oranges, walnuts, and other foods they have handy. The woman and the child - mother and daughter - eat the food quickly, as if they are afraid it will be taken away.
After eating, the woman begs Lauren to let her travel with them, offering to work and clean for the group. Lauren is moved by the child's weeping face, and consults the group about the decision. There is concern that the two may turn out to be thieves, but their ragged condition and desperation suggest that they can be taught to respect the rules of the community. Lauren also reveals the fact that Bankole's sister has a plot of land up north that can shelter all of them. Eventually, they decide to let the woman and her daughter stay.
The woman is Emery Tanaka Solis, and her daughter is Tori Solis. Emery is the daughter of a Japanese father and a black mother, who forced her into marriage at the age of thirteen to a Mexican husband (Tori's father), who promised to take care of her. Emery's father died in a gunfight and her mother died of tuberculosis. Emery and her husband did farm work and had three children - Tori and two boys. The farm was turned over to a large agricultural company, and the situation worsened: the farmers were paid in company credit and forced to work as debt slaves. When Emery's husband died, there was no doctor to try to save him and Emery became responsible for his debt. When the company took Emery's young sons without explanation or warning, she and her daughter Tori ran away. They survived on scraps, and fled to Lauren's group when the gang fight broke out on the highway.
Tori befriends a girl her own age named Doe on the highway, who is traveling with her father Grayson Mora, bringing both of them into the group. Grayson is a tall, quiet man who clearly loves his daughter, but Lauren is suspicious of the large amount of money he seems to have - is he a thief? Or might his quiet ways indicate he is an ex-slave like Emery?
Lauren shares her concerns with Bankole. They agree to keep a watch on the newcomers, but Bankole suggests that no one could be more loyal to the community than ex-slaves.
Emery and Grayson become lovers, and one day Emery goes with Tori and Doe as they urinate behind some trees. They are attacked by a bald man who grabs Tori, and the rest of the group runs to help when they hear her screams.
Doe runs to Grayson, who grabs his daughter and at first flees toward the highway, but then veers back to the camp. Lauren is able to shoot the man who has grabbed Tori. Jill grabs the girl and runs back toward the safety of the camp. Lauren is incapacitated by sharing the pain of the injured, but Harry and Bankole fend off the attackers.
Jill is dead, killed by a bullet in the back when she was bringing Tori to safety. Allie weeps for her sister; the rest of the community buries Jill under an oak tree and then rests.
Harry reveals to Lauren that Grayson, Doe, Emery, and Tori are all sharers: they have the same hyperempathy abilities as Lauren.
Lauren talks with Grayson. She is first displeased that he tried to flee, but then she sees the pain that he has endured - it is difficult to be both a slave and a sharer. She explains the rules of the community to him: no stealing from each other, no killing without cause, and they must help each other if they need it. Grayson accepts these rules. Lauren also comforts Allie, who is mourning her sister.
As the group walks onward, they see a fire in the distance. Emery says that this is the grove they camp in set aflame by the pyro addicts who attacked them. Lauren asks Emery if all the children of sharers have the same ability; Emery replies that some do and some don't, though slave owners like their slaves to have the ability because it makes them easier to control.
Large fires start to burn behind them, spreading quickly in the dry grass. Lauren's wound is bleeding profusely, which sets off Emery's hyperempathy.
Smoke and ash surround the group, torturing the sharers and causing great pain to everyone else. They wet rags to try to keep out the smoke and heat, and they keep moving in this suffocating environment. They escape the worst of it, and set a watch to rest. Lauren is surprised when Grayson Mora volunteers to serve with her on the first watch. She refuses to give him a gun, however, which infuriates him. It is only his love for his daughter that prevents a major confrontation.
On the road, Emery takes the clothes and money from a dead woman, and finds a thousand dollars in her boots - a rather small amount. She uses it to buy pears and walnuts for everyone, delighting in finally having something to give back. Lauren likes her.
The group nears Bankole's sister's land, and excitement grows. The area is remote and the road nearly vanishes. However, they are stunned to find only charred ashes instead of buildings.
The group finds the bones of five people among the wreckage. Bankole insists on going to the police despite Lauren's warnings; he insists that he needs to pursue justice for his sister, though he insists that Lauren stay with the group at the farm. The police do nothing for Bankole except take his money.
Though scarred by the death of Bankole's family members, the land is good. There is a well and many fruit and nut trees. Lauren thinks they can live here safely. Harry is worried that whoever burned the place the first time will come back and destroy what they have built, but Lauren points out that the group can mount a strong defense. They can grow food to sell, and they can protect their children. Lauren asks each member of the community in turn if they will stay. Allie and Justin agree, as does Zahra, but Harry is more skeptical. He doesn't want to invest time and resources in land that might be destroyed. Emery notes that as a white man who can read and write, Harry might get a job as a driver - a slave driver, she means. The only jobs to be found in many parts of the country are slave or slave driver.
Grayson decides to stay with Doe; he wouldn't lose much, and besides, life in this world is hard for a male sharer. Natividad and Travis will stay, and so will Emery and Bankole. The whole group will set up a community here.
The group holds a funeral for the corpses in the burned out house. Natividad wraps them in one of her most beautiful shawls; Bankole says that something like that should serve the living, and Natividad replies that he is living, and that she wishes she could have met his sister. Bankole goes off to grieve.
Lauren suggests that they have a memorial service for everyone they have lost - the families of Lauren, Harry, and Zahra who died back in the neighborhood, Emery's parents and husband, and all the others they have lost. They will talk about their memories and sing songs, and plant acorns to grow oak trees to mark the spot. Bankole mourns the decay of the country, yet reflects that they haven't hit rock bottom yet.
The group holds their service, and decides to call their community Acorn.
Emery's horrifying story shows that the world has decayed even more than Lauren thought. Lauren's father frequently wondered what the effect of lax labor laws would be, and if slavery-like conditions would return. Emery's life experiences show that the worst aspects of slavery - dissolution of families, commodification of children, and lack of medical care - are already taking place.
All of the things that Emery describes do happen in the world - sometimes to migrant workers in rural California, and sometimes to sweatshop slaves in Asia. The horrors of Lauren's world are not very distant, but the novel brings them into our own backyard. Octavia Butler noted in an interview that many of the descriptions of the experiences of slaves were inspired by the sweatshops in Mexico and other South/Central American countries.
Lauren's little group demonstrates model community problem-solving: discussing the topic at hand, pointing out weaknesses in one's argument, and coming to a mutually agreeable conclusion. No one uses force or intimidation or bribery to establish rule; rather, things are decided democratically. Lauren generally does get her way, though.
Author Octavia Butler is renowned for her attention to nuances of gender and race, and the case of Grayson Mora encompasses this perfectly. Lauren is suspicious of Grayson Mora at first because she thinks he is shifty and untrustworthy. She eventually realizes that he is a sharer, a hyperempath like her. She realizes that a man - who is shamed for showing emotion - must have a particularly hard time sharing other people's pain.
At the end, the characters are horrified to find that Bankole's sister and her children were killed, and that the land is deserted. It is good land, though, and they decide to set up a small community there. Bankole marvels that money and the government still exist, and (rightly) predicts that things are going to get much worse. All of this sets the scene for the novel's sequel, Parable of the Talents.