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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7. ALINA

Silas lowers the anchor for the final time. He wipes his brow with his forearm and ties the ropes in place. The deck moans as the boat collides with the jetty. We’ve come as far as we can over water: the river winds west and it’s time to head north.

Song unbolts the gate in the railing, slides a narrow gangplank between the boat and landing and steps ashore. ‘Mind your step,’ he says. His eyes are dull.

We haven’t talked about The Grove, and with Holly gone we have something else to blot from our memories. Not that we can.

‘You’re sure it’s north?’ Silas asks Dorian.

Dorian nods. ‘Not far now. A couple of days at most.’ It doesn’t sound like much, but we left The Grove over a week ago. We’re freezing and hungry and our air is dwindling quicker than we thought.

‘Make sure we’ve got all the air tanks and weapons,’ Silas says. He stands with his hands on his hips, his chin raised. He’s good at this – appearing unbreakable. And that’s what we need now: someone to pretend everything will be OK.

Maude steps up to the gangplank and holds the rail. She coughs loudly. ‘Haven’t you got anything warm to put on?’ I ask her. A persistent drizzle has replaced the pouring rain.

‘What do you care?’ she asks, elbowing me out of the way. She totters down the gangplank, then pulls an old, damp blanket round her like a cape.

‘You don’t look too toasty yourself. Stick that on, love,’ Bruce says to me, holding out his coat.

‘I’m fine,’ I tell him, even though I’m so cold I can no longer feel my toes or the tips of my fingers. He shrugs and puts on the coat himself.

I follow Maude down the gangplank and on to the jetty where the solidity of the land makes me wobble.

‘I wish we could hide it,’ Dorian says, looking up at the towering masts of the boat.

Silas tuts. ‘Let’s get a move on. Everyone stay close,’ he says.

We march along the jetty and on to the riverbank.

‘It looks the same everywhere,’ Song says. We’ve left behind the city’s high-rises and cathedral spires that seem to pierce the clouds, but all along the riverbank is the usual desolation: tumbledown buildings, smashed-up cars, warped roads and toppled lamp posts. Bones are scattered among the debris – animal or human, it’s hard to tell. In the distance are folds of hoary, barren fields.

I used to think that if I travelled far enough and walked quickly enough I’d find a cluster of untouched trees. It was a fantasy, and a childish one; beyond the city’s devastation is more devastation. It just happens to be of the rural variety.

‘What if they won’t let us in?’ Bruce wonders aloud.

‘Do you have a better idea?’ Silas snaps. His mood has been increasingly prickly.

‘Take it easy.’ I place a hand on Silas’s arm. He flinches and kicks the wheel of a rotten baby pram, which spins and squeaks. Then he storms ahead, carrying a bag of guns, a full rucksack of supplies and several air tanks. Part of me wishes we could talk about what’s happened. Everything we’ve seen. But it’s too soon, and Silas isn’t one for talking anyway.

‘People who go to Sequoia never come back,’ Song says, turning to me, his voice as gentle as ash.

‘Petra didn’t want defectors. If you went to Sequoia, you had to go for good. You had to choose a team,’ Dorian reminds him.

Song bites his bottom lip and I stop to look at the sky. The sun is up, but thick, white clouds make it impossible to locate. I sigh and try to wiggle my toes. I still can’t feel them.

‘Hurry up,’ Maude says, pushing me from behind, ‘I’m freezing my berries off ’ere!’ Bruce smiles and links her arm through his.

‘They’ll let us in because we’re all on the same team,’ I say loudly, so Silas can hear. ‘We all want the trees back. We all want to breathe again.’ He doesn’t turn round or stop walking. Maybe he doesn’t hear me, but I don’t think that’s it.

‘You’re a drifter now. No better than me,’ Maude says. She laughs. No one else does. And a thread of fear trickles through me.

 

We rest only once, at dusk, when we find a stranded bus along a stretch of open road, frozen scrub poking through the cracks in the tarmac. We climb aboard, the vehicle creaking under our weight, and I choose a spot at the back where I throw off my rucksack. Then I check the gauge on my air tank. A little over a quarter tank of oxygen remaining. Maybe I should ask Silas for the particulars on our air supply as he’s the one carrying the spare tanks, but if we don’t have enough air I’d rather not know.

I’m too tired to care that the bus seat is stippled black with mould. If it kills me, it kills me. I lie down and curl up, my air tank between my legs.

Maude has chosen a row behind me and hacks until she spits up.

I close my eyes and wait for sleep to creep towards me.

Maude is restless. She bangs the back of my seat. ‘Oi, you,’ she croaks. I sit up. Everyone else is already lying down, only their feet poking off the edges of their seats visible. ‘You reckon Bea’s OK?’ she asks, frowning.

‘I know as much as you do.’ General Caffrey only retreated from The Grove because fighting broke out in the pod. I wish I could be certain Bea was nowhere near it. Or Quinn. Is it possible that their return and the civil war were completely unrelated?

‘You lied,’ Maude grumbles. ‘I only rounded up all them drifters to help yous fight cos I thought Bea would be in trouble if I didn’t. That were a dirty trick.’ She points a finger at me, the nail broken and black.

‘Technically, Petra lied to you,’ I say. Then I add. ‘Bea’s tougher than she looks.’

‘She ain’t the sort you meet every day, tha’s for certain. A real doll.’ She studies the cracked window.

This is the closest we’ve ever come to a real conversation.

‘Get some sleep, Maude,’ I say, using what I think is a kind voice.

Maude glares at me anyway. ‘You ain’t my boss, missy. I’ll do what I bloody well like.’

‘Well, I’m going to rest.’ I turn away and curl up into the seat again. After a minute I hear Maude lie down too.

I listen to the others snoring and try to picture something calming to help me sleep, but all I can see is Holly’s face as she let go of the railings. And then Abel’s face is next to her in the water. They are both being swallowed by waves. This wasn’t how it happened for him, of course; the Ministry murdered him. Probably turned him out of the pod without an air tank.

It’s been days since I thought about Abel, but now all the guilt and shame about his death steal back in: how he was only on that mission in the pod because I wanted to spend time with him; how I was too stubborn to abandon it even though he begged me to. He probably lied to me about who he was, but it doesn’t change the fact that I cared about him. And, because I did, he’s dead.

I tuck my knees up under my chin. I feel so cold. Colder than ever before.

 

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