Resist

RESIST is the sequel to the brilliant and compelling BREATHE. Sarah Crossan is the Carnegie short-listed author of THE WEIGHT OF WATER.
In a world in which the human race is adapting to survive with little air, the stakes are high. Resistance to the Pod Leadership has come apart. The Grove has been destroyed but so has the Pod Minister. Quinn, Bea and Alina separately must embark on a perilous journey across the planet’s dead landscape in search of the rumoured resistance base Sequoia.

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1. ALINA

We didn’t think sailing to Sequoia would be easy, but we hoped for better luck than freezing rain and winds. The slightest miscalculation, and we’ll end up at the bottom of the river.

‘Help me!’ I shout, throwing my weight into my heels and tipping backwards to keep the rigging from slipping out of control. The rain hits us horizontally, and makes ice of the deck. The boat creaks and lurches forward. The sails flap wildly as my cousin Silas stumbles towards me and grabs the cable. Almost effortlessly he pulls it taut, and I quickly tie a stopper knot to keep the sail from ballooning out and capsizing us. ‘That should do it,’ I say, my voice thinned by the storm.

Silas pulls up the hood on his coat. He hasn’t said much since we set sail. No one has. What is there to say now that The Grove’s a ruin – now that everything the Resistance ever fought for has been destroyed?

At least the storm keeps us too busy to wallow in mem­­ories: the screams and blood, the tanks, soldiers rushing at us with guns, our friends lying dead. And the trees, our whole forest, shrivelling while we watched. I can still taste the toxic foam in my throat.

I follow Silas to the cabin where our tiny group of sur­­vivors is taking shelter from the squall. My hands burn from the cold. I rub them together, then tuck them inside my coat and under my armpits.

‘We did everything you said,’ I tell Bruce. I never thought I’d be so grateful to have a drifter on our side, but whatever harm the old man caused on behalf of the Ministry all those years ago doesn’t matter now. Without him, we wouldn’t have known how to get the boat going, let alone save it from the storm.

‘You young uns did good,’ he says, scratching his grey beard and keeping his eyes on the view out of the filthy window where the outline of city buildings on the shoreline is barely distinguishable through the haze of spray and rain.

The boat dips and the wheel rips out of Bruce’s gnarled hands. My stomach reels. I adjust the valve on the air tank buckled to my belt, and the tank hisses as more air is released into the tubing. I inhale deeply through my nose. As Silas steadies the wheel with Bruce, I squat next to Maude. The old woman has a blanket wrapped round her like a shroud, only her head and one scrawny arm are exposed.

‘Did you manage to collect all the air tanks from the deck?’ I ask. Without air, we may as well jump into the river – finish ourselves off quickly.

‘You think I’m some kinda nitwit? I put ’em over there.’ She points to the corner of the cabin where the tanks are untidily piled. We have ten, and there are seven of us. How many days of oxygen is that? How many hours?

A sob comes from the opposite corner. My fellow Resistance members, Dorian and Song, are bending over Holly, one of The Grove’s gardeners. I don’t know her well, but I’m glad for everyone who survived.

I grab an air tank and go to them, keeping my stride wide to stay balanced. Holly is shivering so fiercely her teeth are clacking together. Although she lived at The Grove with Song and Dorian, and learned to survive on low levels of oxygen, her breath is quick and shallow. ‘She’s hyperventilating. She needs this,’ I say, holding out the air tank.

Dorian stands up and runs his hand through his hair. ‘She won’t take one.’

I try to put a hand to her forehead. She swipes me away, scratching my hand with her nails.

‘She’s gone loopy,’ Maude crows, rubbing a hard scab on her elbow.

Keeping his hands on the wheel, Bruce peers at Holly from under his thick eyebrows with an expression that tells me he’s seen this kind of thing before. I’m sure he has. The Switch sent people mad as the oxygen levels plummeted and everyone slowly suffocated. And he and Maude lived through it. But what’s happening now feels like the end. Maybe this is worse.

‘She’ll be OK,’ Bruce says quietly. Maude tuts, but she doesn’t contradict him; she isn’t that heartless.

Holly mutters something.

‘What is it, Holls?’ Song asks. He doesn’t touch her. Instead he presses his own slender brown hands to his heart like he wants to feel what she feels. His eyes are watery and filled with aching. Is it possible they’re an item? Romantic relationships between Resistance members were always forbidden, but maybe that rule was ignored more than I knew. Silas was with Inger, after all.

‘Air,’ Holly moans. Song reaches for an air tank, but Holly shakes her head. She turns to the cabin door. ‘Fresh air,’ she says, as though there’s such a thing.

Dorian sighs. ‘We’re sailing through a storm.’ The boat pitches backwards in answer to his warning. At the wheel, Bruce and Silas grunt and struggle to keep us upright.

‘Let’s wait until it passes,’ Song says gently.

Holly gazes at her boots, which are flecked in hardened black foam. ‘I want to go out and feel the air.’ She bites her bottom lip and picks invisible lint from her trousers. ‘Then maybe we can go back to The Grove and take showers to warm ourselves up.’

I envy Holly’s retreat. If I could pull away from reality a little bit, what we’ve seen might not hurt so much.

‘I’ll take her out for a minute,’ I say. ‘Might clear her head.’

Holly stands, pulling her hood over her short, frizzy brown hair. Her nose and ears are already red from the cold.

‘Where’s Petra?’ she asks.

I take her hand and lead her to the cabin door. ‘She’s back at The Grove taking care of the trees,’ I say. It’s not untrue. Our leader clung fiercely to a doomed tree as we ran. Petra couldn’t leave behind her life’s work. And she paid the ultimate price.

And then my throat tightens as I remember Jazz scam­pering up a tree to be with her. Jazz was only a child. She didn’t deserve to die. No one did.

‘Alina?’ Dorian says. He’s behind me.

‘We’ll just be a few minutes,’ I say, and force the door open against the wind.

Holly and I turn our backs on the lashing rain and head for the bow. I let go of her hand and she clings to the rimed railing, leaning forward and smiling. She allows the biting surf to spray her face and water to trickle down her neck. The boat rocks against a heavy wave, and I grab the railing with my ungloved hands, but Holly lets go. Maybe it was a mistake bringing her outside.

‘Let’s go back in,’ I say.

Holly squints into the bleary distance, and her bottom lip quivers. ‘I knew we’d lose the war,’ she says. Over the roiling of the waves and wind, it sounds like a whisper.

I don’t tell her we haven’t lost because it would be a lie. We’re no better than drifters now, refugees heading for Sequoia and hoping they’ll take us in. All we’ve been left with are our lives, and I’m not sure that’s enough any more. As though reading my mind, Holly steps on the bottom rung of the railing, and hoists herself on to the other side, so she’s suspended over the prow like a living figurehead. I throw my arms round her.

‘Holly, what are you doing? Get your arse back on the deck.’

The boat dips forward, and she begins to cry. ‘Let me go.’

My feet slip. ‘Help!’ I scream.

Within moments, most of the others are on us and Song is helping me drag her back over the railings. Once she’s lying safely flat on the deck, he shakes her.

‘What the hell’s wrong with you? How dare you do that? How dare you!’ He rests his head on Holly’s stomach and sobs. Holly strokes Song’s tight curls and gazes at the clouds.

‘We’ll carry her inside,’ Dorian says. He glares at me through the driving rain.

‘How was I to know what she was planning?’ I say.

Dorian shakes his head and puts his hand under Holly’s arms.

 

Although the rain is still drubbing the boat, the wind has settled, making sailing smoother. Dorian, Holly and Song doze in their corner. Bruce and Maude are whispering and caressing one another’s wrinkly hands. Silas is at the wheel. I go to him and stare out at the river through the cracked window of the cabin. Dilapidated buildings along the embankment have spilled into the river after decades of neglect.

‘You should have let her jump.’ His voice is low.

‘Are you serious?’ A lump swells in my throat. Are our chances of survival that slim?

‘Dorian claims to know where Sequoia is, but when I showed him the map, he was pretty vague. As far as I can work out, we’ve a search radius of around ten miles.’

‘We’ll find it. We’ve done harder things, Silas.’

‘I’m not sure we have. How long do you think our oxygen’s going to last?’ he asks. I glance across at the stack of air tanks and then at Maude and Bruce wheezing in their face masks. Maude looks up at me and, for no particular reason, scowls. Despite what we’ve been through together, we still aren’t friends.

‘We have a few days,’ I say.

‘If that.’ Silas keeps his eyes on the burnt sun.

‘Do you have a better idea?’ I ask. I’m not being argumentative; I really hope he’s thought of something.

He shakes his head. ‘Sequoia’s our only shot at not being drifters. If we find it, we can resume planting and make contact with the pod, with my mum and dad.’ He stops and looks at me. His eyes are red-rimmed, though whether it’s from the foam the Ministry’s army used to destroy The Grove, tiredness or despair, I can’t tell.

I take Silas’s arm. ‘Harriet and Gideon are fine,’ I say. Even if a civil war has broken out in the pod, my aunt and uncle are too smart to be dead.

A blast of wind pitches the boat towards the bank and Silas pulls the wheel sharply to the left. I’m thrown off balance and fall on to my face. A thick, metallic taste fills my mouth.

‘Sorry,’ Silas says. ‘You all right?’

‘Fine,’ I say. I lift my face mask and wipe away the blood with my sleeve. Under the circumstances, it would be childish to complain about a split lip.

Maude starts up. ‘Stop!’

I am about to snarl at the old woman, tell her Silas is doing the best he can to keep the boat steady, and turn just in time to see Holly sneaking out through the cabin door. I dash after her. ‘Holly, no!’

She is already at the bow, climbing over the railing. By the time I reach her, she’s hanging over the water, jostling from side to side with the current. And she is smiling. Silas’s words rebound in my head – You should have let her jump. But I can’t. She isn’t in her right mind.

‘You’ll feel better tomorrow, Holly.’ I hold tight to one of her arms. Ice chips from the freezing river nick my face.

‘Nothing will be different tomorrow,’ she says. She turns briefly and catches my eye. ‘Everything’s gone.’

‘We have to hope,’ I say.

Holly laughs mirthlessly. ‘I’m all out of hope,’ she says, and lets go. The railing bites into my chest as I’m wrenched forward. I hang over the railing, gripping Holly’s arm, but she’s heavy and my hands slide to her wrist. A violent spray from the keel drenches her. She gazes up at me with a look of perfect serenity. My fingers burn.

‘You’re hurting me,’ she says.

And then it happens: her wet skin slips from my grasp.

Holly hits the water and is devoured. And all I can do is watch.

Heavy footsteps pound the deck.

‘Holly!’ Song cries. He leans over the railing and searches the waves breaking against the hull.

But Holly is gone.

I turn away.

Everyone but Bruce is on deck, staring at me.

‘I couldn’t hold her,’ I say.

‘Holly?’ Song howls.

Dorian puts an arm round Song and pulls him back from the railing.

‘We’ll dock for the night,’ Silas says. ‘Now, everyone, back inside.’

Silently, we file into the cabin. I slide on to the floor. One of Holly’s brown boots is lying next to the pile of air tanks, the laces loose and frayed.

I will not feel guilty. I couldn’t hold her. It was her decision to die. I close my eyes and press my knuckles against the lids.

I no longer feel cold. I feel nothing.

‘Poor girl lost the fight,’ Bruce says to no one in particular.

And I am left to wonder: what are we fighting for anyway?

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