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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2. BEA

Sometimes I wish I believed in God, like people did before The Switch. Knowing there was a grand plan and that someone you loved wasn’t gone for ever must have given them a lot of comfort. But even if my parents are in a better place God couldn’t reverse time and bring them back, and that’s what I want: the chance to hug my parents, to smell my mother and father again.

When I pined for Quinn, I thought I knew what people meant when they talked about having broken hearts. I didn’t know a thing. Now, my insides are all eaten up. My heart pumps what little oxygen I have around my body, but the breath doesn’t make me whole.

Even though it’s covered in slush and lumps of ice, Quinn, Jazz and I are following an old railway line from The Grove into the centre of the city. From there we’ll track the river west. I have the old map Gideon gave me before I slid out of the pod, and Jazz has fingered a place on it she thinks is Sequoia. We have to trust she’s right because we don’t have another choice.

Quinn puts an arm round my waist and squeezes me. ‘Maybe we should rest,’ he says. He must hear me wheezing through my face mask, but this isn’t a safe place to stop. The temperature is dropping with the sun, so we need shelter, but the graffiti-covered buildings around us look like they’re about to topple. I shake my head and, without asking me, he turns the valve on my air tank to allow more oxygen into my mask.

But there’s no knowing how long it’ll take to get to Sequoia. When he looks away, I turn it back to fifteen per cent.

‘A tunnel!’ Jazz chirrups, pointing at an underpass a few hundred feet ahead. She bounces away, kicking up the slush with her feet as she goes.

‘Be careful!’ I call out. I pull the map from my coat pocket and unfold it for what must be the hundredth time. ‘There should be a train station after the tunnel. Saint Pancras,’ I tell Quinn. He takes our moment alone together to hold me. Without meaning to, I stiffen.

He steps back. ‘You all right?’

‘I wish we’d found more people alive,’ I say, diverting his question. I don’t want him to worry, and there’s nothing he can do to sweep away the cinders of grief.

‘We’re going to get through this,’ he says. I nod, pull the beret Old Watson gave me over my forehead, and smile weakly.

‘Stop smooching and hurry up!’ Jazz insists. She’s already way ahead. She pulls her face mask down over her chin – having grown up at The Grove and spent her life training her body to subsist on low levels of oxygen, she doesn’t need to wear it all the time. She spins in circles, opening her mouth to the sky. Her spirally red hair, singed at the ends, blazes like fire against the snowy backdrop. You’d never know she was the one survivor we found in the rubble that was once her home.

Quinn takes my wrist and forces me to look at him. ‘Against the odds, we got out alive and found each other.’

‘I just wish . . .’ I think of my parents’ motionless bodies, their blood spreading across the stage as the fighting broke out. I was all they ever had and they worked every day of their lives just to pay the air tax, so I could breathe. Thank goodness I have Quinn . . . but I want them too.

‘Do you think Maude made it?’ I ask.

‘That scrappy lunatic? Of course. Jazz said as much, didn’t she?’

I am about to say that Jazz can’t know for sure that anyone made it when there’s a shrill scream followed by a thud. We spin towards the sound. ‘Jazz?’

She’s gone.

In a second, Quinn is off. I trail after him, unable to keep up. He halts on the tracks and desperately glances around.

‘Jazz!’ he calls. ‘She was right here,’ he says as I catch up. We stand and listen.

Silence.

We zigzag back and forth over the track, stopping when we reach a barbed wire fence on one side with old bits of plastic bags caught in it, and a procession of rusting train carriages on the other. Then we inch towards the tunnel, calling Jazz’s name into the dusk. After everything awful that’s happened, I brace myself for the worst.

I pick a red hair from my coat, and it floats to the ground. ‘Let’s split up. We’ll find her quicker,’ I say.

‘And lose each other? No way.’ He takes my hand and we peer into the tunnel without going inside. The light at the end is a semicircle of grey.

‘Do you have a torch?’ I whisper, so my words won’t rebound.

‘I don’t have anything.’ He sighs, and I touch his hair with my gloved hand.

‘You have me,’ I tell him. ‘And we’re going to find Jazz.’ I peer into the tunnel. ‘But there’s no way she’s in here. She wasn’t that far from us. Let’s go back.’

He puts a finger to his ear. ‘What was that?’ he says. I stay as still as I can, but all I can hear is my own breath and the faint ticking of the air tanks.

Quinn turns and charges back along the tracks.

‘Careful!’ I tell him, following and almost tripping. Quinn stumbles and circles his arms wide at his sides to steady himself. As I get to him, I see what he almost fell into: an opening.

The manhole is protected by a heavy, circular metal plate, which is tilted slightly. Quinn clutches one side of it, while I take the other. On the count of three, we haul the covering away from the hole and it lands with a clang. And there she is, several feet below.

‘I’ve been calling and calling,’ Jazz groans.

‘We didn’t hear you. But we’re here now,’ I say. I sit and swing my legs over the manhole.

‘Are you joking?’ Quinn says, grabbing me.

‘It isn’t far to jump,’ I say. He snorts. I shrug him off and feel my eyes harden, but I don’t know why; he’s just trying to protect me.

I’ll go,’ he says. He sits, then uses his arms to lower himself slowly into the hole, careful to avoid landing on Jazz. He adjusts her face mask, so she can breathe easier. ‘I’ll lift her and you pull her.’

Jazz’s bruised face appears through the opening. I sit in the snow, take her under the arms and lean back, using my full weight to drag her out. She whimpers the whole time.

‘Now me!’ Quinn calls. I stroke Jazz’s forehead, leave her lying on the snowy ground and bend over the hole. Quinn raises his arms towards me. I strain against his weight, but he’s so much heavier than Jazz he doesn’t budge when I try to lift him.

My temples throb. ‘I’m not strong enough,’ I mutter, crumpling at the edge of the hole. I hate having to admit this, even to Quinn. ‘I’m going to find something for you to stand on.’ I might be weak, but I’m not stupid.

I rush towards the decomposing train to my right. When I step aboard, the floor buckles under me. I hold on to a rusting fire extinguisher attached to the wall, then creep inside. Most of the seats have been ripped out of place or knifed open, their frothy green innards spilling on to the floor. Only two seats are intact. I shut my eyes, but it’s too late; I’ve already seen the parched bones, one set significantly larger than the other. And on the floor next to them are two skulls: a large one, and a small one. And a knife.

They probably took their own lives: one slice to the throat is all it would have taken, and I learnt in history class that people resorted to worse during The Switch, when they were gasping for air and starving to boot. But who were they? A parent and child, perhaps? No one will ever know. Two lives wiped from the face of history as though they meant nothing – like so many before and after them.

Quinn calls my name. I need to focus.

I reach for a seat, mildewed and broken, and tow it from the train, my arms burning.

I force the seat down the manhole, and it lands with a whump. Quinn puts it on its side and, wobbling, uses it as a stool. After two attempts he pulls his chin and elbows above ground before finally crawling out. He lies on the ground and breathes heavily. ‘I need to start doing more press-ups,’ he says, and I can’t help smiling.

But beside us Jazz’s whimpers have turned into sobs.

Her corduroys are ripped open below the knee. ‘You have to be quiet, Jazz,’ I say. We can’t know who’s lurking. The whole area could be crawling with drifters. Or the army could be out hunting for me already.

I pull at the flap of Jazz’s trousers, then turn away so I won’t be sick. She isn’t just bleeding: a deep, jagged gash runs all the way up her leg to the knee and a piece of bone is sticking out.

Quinn appears at my side. He stares at the wound, his jaw slack. I untie my scarf and bind Jazz’s leg tightly. She bites on her fist.

‘It hurts . . . so . . . much,’ she says.

‘What are we going to do?’ I ask.

‘We’ll get her to the station and then . . .’ He trails off. ‘Do you have the strength to carry her?’

‘I have to.’

‘And we can’t stop, even if she screams,’ he says.

‘I won’t scream,’ Jazz says, through tears. But she does scream. And scream and scream and scream.

 

By the time we’ve carried Jazz through the pitch-black tunnel, and all the way into St Pancras station, she’s unconscious. And I’m barely able to walk myself. Our oxygen is never going to last all the way to Sequoia if we keep exerting ourselves like this.

We set her down beneath a marble clock and slump next to her. She doesn’t stir. I slide my hand into her coat and place it against her chest. I relax when I feel the heartbeat.

‘It’s bad,’ Quinn says. I can’t speak through my panting, so I sit, catching my breath, and gaze at the station’s vaulted glass ceiling. Stars speckle the night sky. It’s beautiful.

Quinn bends towards me. ‘We’ll make it through this, you know,’ he says. He’s trying to be positive, but what way out have we now? But Jazz’s leg will get infected, and then what? We leave her here to rot and move on?

‘She’ll die, and then we will,’ I say.

He shakes me. ‘Why are you talking like that?’

I push him away. ‘Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, everyone dies, Quinn.’

We’re alive.’ He removes his face mask, then pulls mine from my face so he can kiss me quickly on the lips. A few weeks ago, I wanted nothing more than to know Quinn loved me. When he kissed me for the first time, it was like an elixir – but today his lips don’t revive me. ‘You have to be strong,’ he says firmly, sliding both face masks back into place.

And he’s right. Mum and Dad wouldn’t have wanted me to give up. They would have wanted me to fight, like they did in the end. Even if the fighting kills us.

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