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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8. RONAN

I’m leaving for the pod in less than an hour and I haven’t even packed. Instead, I’m in my studio smearing thick black and white swathes of paint across a board. It doesn’t look like much – just a choked monochromatic muddle.

I thought that coming up here would help me figure out how I was going to get out of this bullshit mission, but all I have to show for the mulling it over are the paintings – no solution at all.

I’m not scared of The Outlands: we’re all being kitted out with enough food, air and medical supplies to last a month, and no half-starved drifter would be a match for me. But to hell with gathering information on so-called terrorists for the Minsitry and Jude Caffrey, just so they can cut down innocent people. And I’d refuse to go if it wasn’t putting Niamh at risk – I’m all she has left.

I go to the sink and wash the brushes. Then I take one last look at the painting, what will probably turn into a devastated football stadium, and lock the studio door.

Once I’m ready to go, I meet Niamh by the front door. ‘When will you be back? I’m worried,’ she says. I can’t remember the last time she’s said anything remotely affectionate, and it makes me gulp.

‘When I kill the bad guys, I suppose,’ I lie. I’m not killing anyone.

Anyone else.

I’m going to get out there and find somewhere to hunker down long enough that it seems like I tried, even though I’ll return empty-handed. If I do happen to find anyone, I’ll warn them.

‘You will be back, though,’ Niamh says.

‘Don’t be silly,’ I say, and heave my bulging rucksack up over my shoulders.

‘Be careful, you big arsehole,’ Niamh says. She leans in and kisses me awkwardly on the cheek. Her lips are dry.

I laugh. ‘You be careful,’ I reply, and without doing anything else that might trigger more emotion in either of us I head for the waiting buggy.

*   *   *

Jude Caffrey is standing next to the press secretary at the border. He raises his hand. I pretend I don’t see him and make my way to the gates where the rest of my unit is waiting. I have no intention of getting matey with him when he’s spent his life lying and embroiling his soldiers in the Ministry’s lies.

Robyn, the youngest member of the Special Forces, smiles as I approach. ‘Sorry about your dad,’ she says.

‘Thanks.’ I pause. ‘We’ve all been rounded up, huh?’

‘Everyone.’ She stands back, so I can see the others. Mary, Rick, Nina and Johnny all turn my way and wave. I raise a hand in greeting. ‘First time a junior unit’s been sent out alone. We heard you offered us up,’ Robyn says. She pulls her thick ponytail tight.

‘What? No.’ I sound more defensive than I mean.

‘Are we even ready to go out again?’ Robyn asks. She looks at me askance, and I think what she means is, do we want to? None of us had expected the trees at The Grove. And it’s changed everything. For some of us, at least.

Rick comes forward. He’s eighteen but looks thirty. ‘Nice one, dude. I was bored to death at home. Kept saying we were ready to get out there again. I’m pumped to be doing this. Pumped!’

‘I didn’t suggest it,’ I say. Rick is a thug. He’s always been a thug.

‘General Caffrey said you did.’ Mary is pointing at Jude.

‘We’re pleased,’ Nina says.

‘Better than spending the next year in the gymnasium,’ Johnny adds.

Their excitement is palpable. I turn to Robyn, who bites her bottom lip. The others might be pleased, but she isn’t. And neither am I.

Jude steps forward and without any kind of pep talk hands each of us a small pouch and launches into directives. ‘You’ve been issued new pads with long-range tracking devices for two-way communication. In case of a malfunction, you’ve also been given walkie-talkies. Primitive but functional. Make contact at least once a day, so we know you’re alive.’

‘Alive?’ Rick scoffs. ‘I don’t think you need to worry. A bunch of tree-hugging hippies won’t be a match for us.’ He punches his own abdomen in a gesture of stabbing someone in the gut.

What’s wrong with him? Hasn’t he killed enough people?

‘Oh, shut your mouth for once, Rick,’ I say.

Robyn gasps, and Rick scowls as he throws a punch at me. I grab his fist and twist his arm behind his back and up towards his neck.

He groans. ‘All right, all right, leave it out,’ he says, and I release him, pushing him away from me as the others look on, speechless. I’ve never turned on anyone before. But I should’ve shut Rick up a long time ago.

Jude shakes his head. ‘Lucky we aren’t sending you out together.’ He pauses. ‘If we did, you’d just be at each other’s throats. Besides, you’d be searching for ever, so each of you is being sent in a different direction. As soon as you find something suspicious, make contact. We need a location. Once we have that, the army and zips can get out there and do some damage. Hopefully we’ll be back up and running by then.’

‘Have we permission to kill?’ Rick asks. He gives me a sideways glance.

Jude pulls at the sleeves of his military jacket. ‘Your job is to find the RATS. Radio in for further instructions.’

Robyn scratches the tip of her nose. ‘How long have we got?’

‘As long as you can last,’ Jude says, and makes to leave as the press secretary rushes over, her heels clacking against the ground.

‘Can we have a picture of Ronan at the border?’ she calls. ‘Pod Minister Vine thought it’d be good PR if Cain Knavery’s son made a statement. The press are going back to work in a few days and they’ll lead with this.’

‘Sure,’ I say, and the press secretary opens her pad, snaps a picture, then smiles, waiting to record me. ‘After all the destruction we’ve brought about so far, I’d say that this mission is –’

‘Write whatever you think,’ Jude says, suddenly standing between me and the press secretary and cutting me off. He puts his arm over my shoulder and pulls me away. ‘Enough time-wasting,’ he says.

I look back at the press secretary, who’s still smiling despite not getting her interview, which is probably because the story’s already been written.

The border is guarded by armed stewards, who stand aside for us, and we walk unobstructed through the gates and down the glass tunnel. We attach air tanks to our belts and slip face masks over our mouths and noses. It feels different to the other times we’ve marched outside. Before, I was excited to save the pod. But the best way to do that now is to go out there and do nothing.

We push through the revolving doors at the end of the tunnel and into The Outlands. Six robust buggies, their engines running, are waiting.

‘I guess this is it,’ Robyn says. She wrings her hands. The others mumble agreement and adjust their air tanks.

‘We’ll drive you out about thirty miles,’ Jude says. ‘Far enough to save some time, not so far they’ll hear you coming. Good luck.’ And that’s it. Mary, Rick, Nina, Johnny and Robyn each pick a buggy and climb in.

I look up at the pod. I could leave now and never return. Disappear by choice. Jude’s made it clear that the Ministry won’t release me, and if I try to resist they’ll have me killed. But if anyone could survive in The Outlands I could.

The question is, do I want to? In training we met our fair share of drifters driven so crazy by loneliness they didn’t know what planet they were on. One old guy was so hungry he tried to eat his own arm. And what about Niamh? I can’t leave her to fend for herself. Who knows what they’d do to her?

‘Get a move on,’ Jude says. He throws my rucksack into the only vehicle without a driver.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m driving you,’ he says. ‘We need to talk.’

 

We don’t talk. We drive in silence for a long time over the rutty terrain, and I watch the wipers swish back and forth across the greasy window.

Eventually Jude brings the buggy to a halt and cuts the engine. He sits with his hands on his knees staring ahead for several minutes. I don’t try to ease the tension. If he has something to say, he should say it.

‘You know by now that Quinn was the one who almost brought the pod to its knees?’ He turns to me.

‘If you mean that he’s also responsible for the death of my father, then, yes, I know,’ I say. Our eyes lock. He waits for me to detonate. But I’m not really angry with Quinn. How could I be now I’ve seen what the Ministry was up to? If anything, I’m angry with myself for being so stupidly naive for so long and never standing up to my own father like Quinn did.

I wait for him to say more. ‘Quinn’s alive,’ he says. He rests his forehead on the wheel and sighs, and for the first time in a week I don’t despise him.

‘Go on.’

‘I did the wrong thing sending him out here alone, and I didn’t want the army or zips sent out because if they find him they’ll kill him. You on the other hand . . .’

‘You think I’ll help him.’

‘You want out of the Special Forces, and I can give you that.’

‘You said you couldn’t.’

Jude rubs his chin. ‘Everyone has his price, and I know the right people. I can get you and Quinn new identities – biometrics, the lot. It’s been done before. But it would mean becoming auxiliaries. It’s a high price. I can’t offer you any better.’

I gaze at the fogged windshield. I’ve been to Zone Three twice in my entire life. All I remember were the dirty faces of the children and the darkness. It was so gloomy. Is that what I want?

‘There was a tracking device in the coat Quinn was wearing, and this is the last place the signal came from before the battery died.’ He points outside. ‘All you have to do is find him and keep him safe. Then I’ll bring you both back to the pod with me. An auxiliary life won’t be much for either of you. But you’ll be alive.’

‘So the others are on a wild goose chase?’

‘They’re being driven far from here,’ he says. ‘They won’t find anyone besides drifters unless there really is another cell somewhere. But finding another cell is about as likely as finding another pod.’ We’ve been told since we were kids that there are other pods. Another lie. Another damn lie.

‘I’ll think about it,’ I say. I pull up the collar on my coat and tighten the belt.

Jude offers me a handgun. I take it and push it into the band of my trousers, then throw the semi-automatic I’m holding on to the back seat. I don’t want a gun like that. I won’t need it. ‘All I’m asking is that you do the right thing,’ he says.

‘I suppose that’s what you’d do,’ I say snidely.

‘Me? I wouldn’t even know what the right thing was.’

Jude leans across my lap and pushes open the passenger door. I climb out, lugging my rucksack behind me and throw it to the ground. The road we’re on is warped and covered in plastic traffic cones and the rest of the area is nothing but mounds of sad grey rubble and half-standing buildings with one or two walls fighting to stay alive.

‘Do this one thing and you’ll never have to compromise your principles again,’ Jude says. ‘You’ll be done with all the lies and killing.’

And without waiting for my answer he shuts the door, revs the engine and is gone.

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