The first rays of the day peeped over the horizon as I parked the Land Rover near to the camp. The engine wheezed to a stop, coughing in protest at the rough treatment it'd been given in the past few hours. Peace and quiet descended upon us, I wiped my face with my hands, massaging the skin, trying to push some life back into myself and looked across at the others. Prez was still staring straight forward, bolt upright, a look of rage still etched on her young face. Ahlaam was asleep, quite how I don't know but she was gently dozing with her head resting on Zee's shoulder. Zee looked how I felt, drained. white faced and shocked. Her hood still was in place covering most of her head, her hands tightly clenched.
All of a sudden and without warning, Zee hit out at me with one of her clenched fists connecting with the side of my nose. A painful blow that knocked me sideways and almost off my feet.
'Damn you Squonk, that was my favourite longboard, I've had that years and now it's lost'
'Sorry, I didn't want to leave you behind', I said sheepishly trying to avoid eye contact with her.
'Oh, It's OK you oaf,' Zee replied, 'I'm glad you did, that was quite hairy back there. Is it always that bad ?'
'No,' Ahlaam said waking up, 'it's usually a milk run. Never met any Border Patrol before tonight. It bears out what Auntie has been telling us about them getting more active in preventing the flow of material across the border.'
We got out of the cab and stood stretching our legs in the early morning sun. A light dew covered the grassy floor soaking the bottom of my jeans as we stood. The air smelt fresh and clean, a touch of flower pollen in the air caught up my nose catching me unawares. I sneezed involuntarily, unable to raise my hands up quick enough to my nose.
'Squonk, you'll give us all your germs if you carry on like that', Lily said emerging from the trees followed by Sinead and Tay.
Ignoring us, they walked around the Land Rover with shocked looks on their faces. They took in the smashed rear window, the pock marks that covered a large part of the back. Sinead looked from the bullet holes to me and back to the bullet holes. I could see the scared look in her green eyes. She moved towards me slinging her arms around my body.
'Are you Ok?' she said looking me over, 'what happened out there?'
'It was a set up,' Prez said, 'someone knew where we’d be, knew that JK was coming across the border, they were waiting for us. Those bastards killed Rubeus'
Lily and Tay looked at each other in horror. Then as if acting as one they rushed over to Prez hugging her slim petite body. Prez let them hold her for a few seconds before shrugging them off.
'They'll pay for what they did last night' she said with cold steely determination. The tone of her voice sent shivers down my spine. This girl meant what she said, I was so glad to count her as a friend and not an enemy.
'They've got JK as well Lily,' Ahlaam said.' those creeps have captured her.'
I saw Sinead looking across curiously at Zee. Looking at her again, she looked scary, looked as though she was serious trouble. I smiled. That wasn't the Zee I'd come to know, this was a front to hide her true identity.
'This is Zee', I finally said
Zee was enveloped by Lily and Tay now. Sinead stood back unsure of what to do. After a while Zee faced Sinead. I saw both of them eyeing each other up.
'You must be Sinead?' Zee spoke quietly, 'Yes Squonk, she's as beautiful as you have made out'
I saw Sinead smile at the compliment. We all wandered away from the vehicle. Looking back I saw that we wouldn't be able to use this again, it would draw too much attention to us. I put my arm around Sinead as we wandered back. I felt her slip her arm around my waist and her head lean on my chest. We stopped letting the others wander on.
'Don't ever leave me again and come back nearly shot,' she said slowly. 'We need to escape this mad camp or you'll end up dead.'
I looked ahead at the others.
‘There’s no way that I can do that now, I’m staying’ I said forcefully.
I looked into her eyes and saw the look of fear. I felt a slight tremor running through her body and then suddenly all life dropped from her as she collapsed towards the ground. Try as I may, I couldn't stop her inevitable slide onto the ground. I yelled to the others, who had now disappeared into the treeline. I knelt by her side, feeling her pulse for signs of life. Her wrist felt limp and cool to the touch. She had a pulse, faint though it was. I screamed again for the others.
Looking up I saw Lily peering through the trees towards us. I saw the expression of her face change and her start to run towards us, the others quickly followed sprinting across the gap. As they arrived Sinead's eyes started to flicker as her conciseness returned. There was no colour in her cheeks at all, she looked dreadful. I cradled her in my arms trying to put some heat into her body. Slowly and steadily she started to recover, a slight colour returning to her cheeks.
It must have been a weird sight, all of us leaning over her. The worried look on their faces could be seen clearly. We all sat in silence waiting for Sinead to recover enough.
'Come on,' lily said, 'lets get her back to the camp, we all need some rest after last night'
Lily and EH helped Sinead to her feet and led her gingerly back through the trees. Ahlaam and Prez wandered off behind them discussing just how they were gong avenge Rubeus's death. I stood up and looked at Zee.
'She'll be fine Squonk,' Zee said, slipping her arm though mine, 'you two still going strong then?'
I nodded my head as we wandered after the others.
'Yes, I think I love her'
'That's good then, you can tell she loves you'
I smiled at Zee, I couldn’t help smiling, I always thought that one day we’d meet but the distance involved were so great and we were so young. I wondered as we walked back what had made her leave Iowa and head for the UK.
It was late afternoon and the light was dropping in the clearing when we emerged from our tents and made our way to the communal dining area. It was a lovely summers day now, the heat of the day was at it's height and insects buzzed around between the trees, their wings occasionally glistening in the light like shards of glitter caught on the wind.
Earlier Lily and EH had been talking to Sinead. I don't know what they were talking about but when Sinead came back to our tent she had a smile on her face and looked better. We'd slept for most of the day, as everyone had.
Lily was stood by the fire, her face streaked with the smut from the smoke. Her hair was down over her shoulders and she swept it back from her eyes as she looked up from the pan, smiling.
'It should have been Prez who was cooking today, but when I saw the animal that she brought. I offered to cook again. No meat in here, I'm afraid.' Lily explained.
'That's Ok,' Sinead replied, 'I didn't much want to eat anymore squirrel anyway'
The rest wandered over slowly, each stretching and wiping the sleep out of their tired eyes. The gloom that had descended over us last night hadn't lifted much, there was an air of despair around us. You could tangibly feel it, hanging over the site like a pallor mixed in with the wood smoke. Even Zee, a relative outsider could feel the tension, her eyes flitted anxiously from one of us to the other, probably wondering why she had joined us.
'Jacqueline is coming later. She's got information she can't leave to the communications systems', Lily said whilst lifting the pot off the fire.
It struck me that although Ahlaam was possibly in charge of things here, Lily was the real person who kept things going on the camp. To look at her, she didn't look strong, but you sensed there was an assured confidence beneath her appearance. We trailed behind her into the cool of the mess tent. She dished the food out into bowls, while EH poured the water into mugs
We ate in silence, our thoughts still no doubt on last nights events. The food was once again really good. Without the meat it seemed to take your taste buds in another direction. Prez was picking at hers before she stood up and walked towards the exit.
'I'm off to barbeque that squirrel now, I can't cope with this'
Lily's expression dropped, obviously stung by the complaint.
'Don't worry Lil, it's just Prez being Prez. She doesn't mean it. I prefer it without the meat', Ahlaam stated.
We all nodded our agreement to the statement. It did actually taste better without the meat. Lily brightened up and smiled.
'Prez is right about one thing though', Ahlaam said, 'we need to do something. The Govians are getting serious about the resistance. We need to play a bigger part in this whole revolution. I get a feeling that they think we're too young for this and are quite happy to go camping'
I saw EH and Lily purse their lips at the thought. I could see that they didn't really want to get involved much more than they were already. Zee, Sinead and I were the newcomers to this little band. I had sympathy with Prez and Ahlaam. They were both firebrands that wanted to be at the centre of everything. I think I was inclined towards Lily and EH, I wasn't naturally aggressive but wanted to be part of the great struggle. Sinead, I knew, was like me in that respect. She hadn't really wanted to come with me initially, but when I explained that I might be arrested she'd agreed to accompany me.
'But if we do that then they'll attack us even harder. One of us may be killed' Lily argued.
The tent flap opened again and Prez walked back in followed by Jacqueline.
'Sorry Lily,' Prez said hugging her, 'I'm just ..'
Lily hugged her back, a tear coming to her eye.
'I heard what happened last night' Jacqueline said sitting down, 'I can't believe they did what they did'
'How did those bastards know about the drop?' Prez said cradling her knife as one might a treasured child.
'That's the easy one to answer,' Jacqueline replied, 'Megites has been arrested and interned in Wallow Woods camp. Just got the information from Auntie in the ministry. There's a leak somewhere in the organisation and they're turning us in one by one. It seems that Megites may have been coerced into giving away information.'
The words hung in the air above us as we comprehended just what they meant.
'You mean they … tortured her?' EH finally said, a look of horror etched on her innocent face.
'Well, not exactly tortured. They use powerful drugs these days, there's no way anyone can keep a secret. however sometimes the drugs have an adverse effect on a person and it can addle their minds, turning them into vegetables.'
Somehow that seemed to be far worse than actual physical torture. I guess each of us was thinking about Meg and what may become of her.
'Anyway, the resistance has found a use for you movellians. We've a reconnaissance mission we'd like you to undertake. It should be right up your street Squonk and Sinead.'
I glanced to my side at Sinead and she shrugged, wondering what was coming
'Why Sinead and me,' I asked the inevitable question. Jacqueline smiled and played with the rings on her fingers.
'You're all going on a hike,' she said eventually, 'dressed as scouts, you won't attract too much attention. I'm right in thinking that both of you two are involved in scouts, aren't I?'
We nodded. The scouts were one of the few organisations that had escaped the Govians clamp downs. Some said they were trying to turn the hundred year organisation into some Hitler Youth type organisation, others said that they daren't mess with it, such was it's world wide standing.
'All of us ?' Prez asked ?, 'who'll stay at the camp?'
'It'll look better if there's a few of you around, we're putting out the story that there's a sponsored walk in the area on that day. That way the GS will be expecting to see a group of teenagers wandering around.' Jacqueline said, 'I'll stay here until you come back to monitor the operation. What we need is some photos of the camps defences. it's pretty near to the tracks so hopefully you won't look unusual.'
'What's the step after that?' Ahlaam asked.
'Well, this is the camp where they're holding Megites and quite a few of other young writers,' Jacqueline replied, ' I think the plan will be to try to break them out, but only if it's possible'
I sat back and glanced around at my fellow campers. They were all listening intently to Jacqueline explain how we were going to get to this writers camp. Lily looked the most excited. From talking to her earlier, she somehow resented that she was left behind every time while the rest went off.
'Where is this camp?' I asked suddenly aware I'd been not paying attention.
'Squonk, don't you ever listen?', Ahlaam said, 'Its located at Barnsley, just around the corner from where you live, I believe.'
We sat talking for the next hour planning the logistics of the operation. The light in the tent dropped perceivably during that time as night fell over the camp. A coolness entered the air as the tent without the suns rays cooled down. Jacqueline eventually left explaining she had to get back home for her cats.
'Anyone want a drink?' Lily asked us.
We wandered out into the gloom of the clearing and sat around the fire as EH made the hot chocolate. Prez busied herself adding more wood to the fire. The embers soon burst to life and sparks lept up into the air before burning out. There's always something comforting about a wood fire, especially in the forest. Slowly people wandered off to bed, eventually leaving just Sinead, Lily and I sat.
'I'm going to leave you two and turn in,' Lily said after a while.
'Don't go, on our account Lily,' I answered
She smiled and stood up.
'No, it's OK, I'm tired. I found out today my sister's joining us soon,' Lily continued, 'see you two in the morning. Be nice to get out of here for a couple of days'
With that Lily turned and walked into the dark towards her tent. I watched her disappear into the dark. I placed my arm around Sinead and felt her lean into me. I looked down into her eyes. I don't know what it was that had first attracted me to her. It was like a kindred spirit. Love had blossomed from those first moments. As I looked down I realised how much I did love her. She made me complete in a way I'd never known before. When she smiled, sunshine came into my life, when she talked it was as though birds were singing in the trees of my mind with joy. It wouldn't have mattered what her physical appearance was, it wasn't her body I'd fallen in love with, it was her mind, and she had an extremely beautiful mind.
'Is this going to be safe ?' Sinead asked me.
'Sure, it's just a walk in the woods,' I said trying to make light of the forthcoming operation. The truth was, I wasn't sure after last nights fracas.
'I'm frightened Tom, I don't know if we're going to come out of all this alive. I'm scared of losing you. Can we leave and go away somewhere together?' Sinead said. I could feel her tremble slightly. I thought of the pain of losing her. I couldn't comprehend life without her, she was such an enormous part of my life. When I went to sleep at night I thought of her, when I was asleep she'd come to me in my dreams and I'd wake up thinking she was lying next to me, even when she wasn't. Her image would fade slowly merging into pillows. When we didn't talk, I'd miss her like crazy, unable to function properly, her image in my head.
'I don't want to lose you as well' I said kissing her forehead. We sat quietly both looking into the flames. I knew what I needed to do, but I wondered if it was the right time.
'Sinead, I've been wondering. This whole thing might go horribly wrong. The Govians are really after us now. Last night proved that they will even shoot at teenagers now. These girls and you, are all the family I have now. I can't leave them now. You know you told your mum we'd eloped? How about we get married?' I asked.
She looked up at me scanning my face as if searching for something. I smiled down looking at her face reflecting the colours of the fire. There was a slight nod and then it became stronger as she pulled me closer towards her.