Friday, 11 December 2009 - 7:23 pm

Fire on glass

Iona was right – the fields of glass are beautiful. The stretch over a roll of hillside is like a ripple in a frozen wave. Reflecting the low orange sky, it looks like it’s on fire. A river of molten sand, sliding down to pool at our feet.

We stopped in a spatter of whoops and cheers. Masterson might think I keep searching for the gold at the end of the rainbow, but here it is, right in front of us. Here’s our hope for full bellies and building something to survive the end of canned goods and freeze-dried packets.

It couldn’t come at a better time for me. After the uncertainty and agonising of the past few days, I needed this. Not as much as I had needed Matt’s reaction – which was so much better than I had dared to hope for that I’m still reeling – but it’s still a weight off my chest. We can make this work. We can get through all this, through everything.

The pragmatists among us didn’t join in with the cheering, though I saw smiles on a couple of them. Of course, we couldn’t know if it would work until we got down there and saw first-hand and up-close what we had to deal with. But we wanted to enjoy just getting here. We wanted to celebrate that we had got this far, and the knowledge that our dreams might not be so far out of reach after all. Sure, it was going to be a struggle and lots of hard work to make it happen, but it’s possible now.


We were like kids when we made it to the end of the drive and into the front yard of the flower farm. We piled off and out of our vehicles and ran around, checking things out. Opening doors and sticking our heads inside, checking in cupboards, filtering dirt through our fingers, poking at questionable-looking mounds to see if they twitched. We were back in the yard in record time, reporting our findings in excited voices.

Most of the glass looks intact. Certainly at this end of the long rows of greenhouses, the panes are all whole and seemed sealed enough. There was dirt and the remains of flowers long-dead in the troughs. They had died with no-one here to water and care for them. That’s okay – we can use the remains for compost. It’s a good sign: they haven’t been melted away, so the acid hasn’t snuck in. We can assume that the soil is poison-free, though Kostoya is determined to test it before we go growing any food in it.

That led us to the question of what we need to do next. We split ourselves up into three groups: housing, supplies, and greenhouse examination. I wound up with the latter group, fixed on figuring out just how much of the greenhouses was usable, what tools and equipment there was here, and what else we would need to get started. We knew it would take a trip back to the garden centre to get ourselves properly set up.

The housing group went over the other outbuildings to see where we could set up beds and other necessities. The supplies gang was the largest, with part of it helping Kostoya to set up the water filter and the others looking for any signs of food in the area. I think the professor is going to set up his lab equipment in the barn, so he can run tests on the soil and plants to make sure they’re safe.


All this activity is bewildering. Our vehicles are suddenly stationary and useless, our feet no longer seeking another road to travel down. We’re here. We’ve stopped. Now we have to make this work. All this running around in circles feels more frantic than productive, even though I know that it’s not.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about it all. What if it doesn’t work? What will we do then? Where can we go next? Is this our last, slender thread of survival? A less paranoid and skittish question is: will we find enough food to carry us through until the first crop is ready to eat?

I was outside considering all of this when I spotted Iona. She was sitting inside one of the cars, her chin tucked down behind hugged-in knees. She was a big pair of eyes, blinking and seeing nothing. In all of the activity, no-one had noticed that she was still in there. I went over and let myself into the other side of the vehicle, closing the door with a solid thunk.

I can see why she liked it in there. There was no little breeze to fuss at her hair, no sound of feet hurrying back and forth, no voices lifted in query and answer. It was a peaceful pocket of air, shivering in time with the curled-up girl.

I’ve never seen her so upset before. She has been quiet and increasingly unhappy as we headed down this way, but now we’re here, she’s almost catatonic. I tried to get her to speak or at least look at me, but she wouldn’t. She kept murmuring something when I asked her a question, over and over between snatches of breath. I had to lean in to make out the words.

“They’ll come. They’ll come and you’ll see. You’ll all see.”

I sat back with a lump of ice forming in my belly. Whatever happened to her, it happened here or a place just like it. I think it was the thing that broke her. I hadn’t stopped to wonder if that was going to be a problem for us until that moment.

Leaning over again, I took her face in my hands and turned it so that she was looking at me. She avoided my eyes but at least I forced her to put some effort into it.

“We’re not going to let anything happen to you,” I said. “You’re protected now, Iona. You’re safe with us.”

She murmured at me again, the same answer as before. I don’t think she heard me. With a sigh, I let her go and told her that I was going to arrange a watch. All I could do was hope that some part of her heard me and was eased, even if it wasn’t the part currently in charge of her face.


I grabbed the boys as they passed me in the yard. Thorpe, Jonah, Matt, Masterson, Dale. Jersey came along too – she’s never far from Jonah these days. I think there’s something going on there.

I told them about Iona. She believed there was a threat here. I got the arguments I was expecting – she’s disturbed, she isn’t connected with reality, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and she hasn’t been here for months. I shrugged and said the only response there was: can we take a chance on her being wrong?

A watch was a good idea anyway. Shamblers are likely to be roaming around somewhere and we might not be the only mobile group. As lean and hungry as the world is getting, its inhabitants are only getting harder in their search for survival. Jonah supported the idea – I thought he would – and most of the others were on board too. Masterson was dismissive but that’s nothing new.

Now we have another group in our mixed pod of peas: security. There are people on post now, looking out towards the road and across the fields as the rain slides off the glass. We’ve left Jonah and Bobby in charge of arranging the watches, though I think Thorpe is keeping a close eye on them. There’s still a lot of distrust floating around.

We’re here. We’ve started. Now let’s see what we can make of it.

Saturday, 12 December 2009 - 3:20 pm

Rude awakening

I was woken by shouts this morning. Yanked out of my bed, I pulled on pants and a vest and ran out to see what was going on. Matt stumbled out behind me, just as mussed and sleepy.

Someone was calling for Masterson and I snagged Estebar as he wandered past me and sent him off to find the doctor. I didn’t know what was wrong, but if Masterson was being called for, it had to be something serious. Then I broke into a run to head outside, where all the voices were.

The first thing I saw was a confusion of bodies in the yard. People were running through the smatter of vehicles, most moving towards the centre of the fuss, a couple heading outwards on errands to help. Most skittered around the cause of all the mayhem, like ants with nowhere to go. I dove into the maelstrom and pushed my way into the centre of that circle, nudging less certain bodies out of my way.

There were a couple of Seekers lying on the tarmac: Bree and Conroy. Bree had blood all over her face and was slipping into shock. Conroy was ash-pale and unconscious; it was hard to tell what was wrong with him at first glance, apart from the sleeping part. A couple of others were kneeling next to them, hands hovering without a clue about what to do.

This I could do. This I knew. I remembered the fights we’ve survived and Simon’s efficiency after the Converter’s accident. Even Masterson’s gruffness helped me as I shifted people out of my way and tried to assess the damage.

Bree was the easiest to sort out, so I started with her – pressure on the head wound and have someone fetch a blanket to put around her. Mira was there, so I told her to keep Bree talking and not to let her fall asleep. The wound didn’t look serious, despite all the blood, but you never can tell with heads. I didn’t like the vague way she blinked at me – there was a distance in her eyes, and I’m used to seeing sharpness there. I hoped it was just the shock. She didn’t seem to be hurt anywhere else.

By the time I got to Conroy, Masterson had arrived. The doctor went to deal with him first and I kept out of the way, lending a hand when he needed something held or removed. There was a nasty bump on the back of Conroy’s head and a few scuffs on his limbs – from being dragged, it looks like – but he was breathing steadily enough.

After the examination, Masterson instructed a few of the boys to take Conroy inside and to settle him on a bed. Carefully now, and for god’s sake, don’t jostle his head. Gently does it.

Then the doctor turned to Bree, and after a cursory check-over, gave Mira the same instructions that I did. That was gratifying, even if he didn’t look at me once the whole time. Apparently, pretending I’m not there is the best thing for him to do. He asked Mira three times if she understood what she needed to do, until the poor girl nodded so vigorously her hair nearly shook itself loose of its ponytail. Her eyes were wide as she watched him get up and stalk off, feeling chastised as if she couldn’t be trusted with this.

“Let’s get you inside,” I said to Bree once Masterson had gone. He went to check on Conroy and make sure that no-one had damaged him when he was taken inside.

Bree shook her head, then immediately regretted it. She closed her eyes and swallowed convulsively, holding up a hand for patience. “Not yet,” she said, her voice a torn murmur.

I felt sorry for her, but deep inside, there was a part of me that didn’t mind. She had hurt me too. I scrunched down on that urge; she’s had her share of pain here in the After. I shouldn’t wish more on her, not even in the dark, hidden places of myself where resentment hides.

The others were milling uncertainly, peeling off slowly at the edges as the emergency seemed to be over. I saw Matt standing nearby, watching me with concern. He knows I have complicated feelings about Bree; I’m not sure if he was more worried about her or me.

Bree didn’t want to move, but there was a lot we still needed to know. So I settled on my knees beside her and sat back on my heels, and prepared to question her.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 - 7:22 pm

Uncomfortable answers

I was sitting there, looking at Bree, trying to figure out what to say to her. I opted to go for the big question that burned in the group lingering around us.

“What happened?”

Bree blinked at me, apparently having trouble focussing. “I’m not sure. Someone hit me.”

I throttled down the urge to snap at her, or maybe shake her a little bit. She was concussed; I should be kinder. “You’re sure it was a person?”

“Yes.” She was gathering herself towards being angry with me, and that’s when I saw that the Bree I knew was still in there. Knocked but not knocked out.

“What happened, exactly? Why were you down here?” A shadow fell over us and I glanced up – it was Thorpe. Jonah was a half-step behind him, along with a few of the others. They wanted to hear this, too.

“I was… going to fetch some water. To bathe the baby.” Bree lifted a hand to gesture towards the water filter and the tank it fed into. “Someone came out from behind a car and hit me.” Her gaze lifted to implore the faces surrounding us. “I didn’t do anything. He just hit me.”

“Who?” Thorpe asked before I could.

She hesitated. “I don’t know. It all happened so fast, I didn’t see.”

“What happened after he hit you?” I said. When I first examined her injury, she had said that she hadn’t lost consciousness, so maybe she saw more of it.

She started to shake her head, then stopped the motion and closed her eyes. Her throat worked for a moment before she could speak. “He ran away. I heard feet, and he was gone by the time I looked up.”

“What makes you say ‘he’?” That was Matt, crouching down on the far side of her.

Bree shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed–” She blinked. “His boots. I fell, and I saw his boots.”

“What kind of boots?”

“Men’s boots.” Her expression turned helpless, knowing that wasn’t useful but not being able to fix it. “Um. Heavy.”

“Did you see Conroy?” I asked.

She aborted another attempt to shake her head. “Not until after it happened. I got up, walked a little way… and there he was.” A hand gestured towards where he had been lying.

So Conroy had been hit first. I looked at the others around us, grim faces on all, and then at the yard around us. What had someone been doing out here that they were afraid of being caught at? Was Conroy involved? Or was the scientist’s assistant the target? So many questions, and so few answers to be found with the other victim unconscious.

My gaze tripped over the vehicle twice before I realised what was out of place. The rear door of one of the offroaders was open. We’re careful about that kind of thing – the vehicles have to stand out in the rain, and an open door would leave the innards vulnerable to the acid. Not to mention allowing it to pool in the footwells.

“Which car?” Mira was helping Bree to her feet but I asked anyway. The girl held my old friend up and Bree blinked at me blankly. “Which car did he come out from behind before he hit you?” I asked.

Bree gazed around at the yard. “It was over there.” She pointed towards the water filter and the open offroader. She had been hit over there and then tried to make it back to the main building, before the head injury had crumpled her knees and help had arrived.

I left her to Mira’s care and went over to the offroader. A group of Seekers were with me: Thorpe, Matt, Dale, Jersey, Jonah, Warren and Bobby. We fanned out to encircle it, looking for any clue about what someone was doing here. It was Dale who leaned in the open door first, only too quickly yank himself back again.

“Stinks,” he said. “It’s soaked.”

Thorpe took a look, then closed the door carefully. “Diesel.”

I stared at them. A car’s innards covered in diesel could only mean one thing. “Someone was going to set fire to it.” I glanced at Thorpe’s hands, still bandaged while his burns healed. We have been here before.

So it wasn’t about Conroy or Bree. It was about sabotage. But this wasn’t about slowing us down: we weren’t going anywhere any more, except to find supplies. And we have more vehicles than the doused one; we checked, but none of the others had been tampered with. Not a splash of diesel on any of them. The can that had been used to pour fuel over the offroader was found wedged under the passenger seat.

“Why only do one?” I asked after we’d been over the whole yard and reassembled in the centre next to the object of our consternation.

“A fire like that creates a lot of smoke,” Thorpe said. He was grim and rubbing the back of one hand with the other.

“A marker?”

“Leading right to where we are,” Jersey said. She sounded as unhappy as we all felt.

“Who was on watch?” Jonah demanded.

Dale and Bobby lifted their hands. Both of them were reluctant, and Dale was the first to offer an apology. He had been on the other side of the main building, watching up towards the road, while Bobby had been checking out the periphery of the greenhouses. They hadn’t known anything was wrong until there was a scream – Bree, we think – and shouts. They had been looking for threats outside the farm, not inside.

Jonah started to berate them about not being careful enough, we have to watch everything now. Thorpe swelled up defensively, rounding on Jonah heatedly; he didn’t take kindly to Dale being accused of carelessness. Dale tried to hold him back, but the big fella was determined.

“We all know it’s one of you. Is it all of you? Huh? Trying to ruin us?” Thorpe batted Dale’s hands off.

I felt sick. I know we’ve all been thinking it: the ex-soldiers are the ones most likely to be sabotaging us. But putting it into words only makes it worse. It makes it more real. It turned Jonah’s face red with fury and I had to do something. I had to step in.

“We don’t know anything right now,” I said, stepping quite literally between them. Matt’s hands plucked at my arm, trying to tug me out of harm’s way, just like Dale was trying to do to the person he loved. I ignored him, same as Thorpe was doing. “Except that someone is trying to hurt us. Until we know who that is, we have to be more careful. We can’t tear ourselves apart like this.”

“Why not?” Thorpe wasn’t so easily appeased. “We might find the truth.”

“Or nothing at all. What if we’re wrong? What if we’re so busy looking in one direction, we miss what’s happening in another? Again?”

“You never wanted us here,” Jonah said to Thorpe. “You’re just looking for an excuse to get rid of us.”

He wasn’t helping things. Bobby had his arms folded beligerantly and his jaw thrust forward. Warren was trying to calm Jonah down, telling him to let it go, let it go. It’s not worth it. Thorpe was only too ready to agree with Jonah’s assessment and I suppressed the urge to sigh. I interrupted, to stop them from escalating into blows.

“Jonah, did you do this?”


“Do you know who did?”


“Okay. Until we do, we have to work together. If only because we’re here together.” I shot Thorpe a look and he grumped back at me, folding his arms over his chest. It wasn’t enough. Words weren’t going to make this work, not even in the short term. “We should double the watches. Mixed pairs,” I suggested. I didn’t mean mixed genders – I meant mixed origins, Seekers and ex-soldiers.

“No-one goes anywhere alone,” Dale added.

It was a reluctant consensus, but it was there. A tentative agreement laced with caution. It will have to do for now. Until yesterday, I had forgotten about the threat of a saboteur, but clearly the saboteur hadn’t forgotten about us. Somehow, we have to figure out who is doing this, before they bring Haven – or worse – down on us.

We can’t run away from this; there’s nowhere to go. We’ve got nowhere left to hide.

Monday, 14 December 2009 - 4:23 pm

Fear and intimacy

Last night was awkward. The rain pinned us inside together, so the whole group sat around for dinner and surreptitiously looked at each other.

I didn’t notice anyone seeming particularly guilty among all the furtive glances. There were a lot of unhappy faces, particularly Kostoya who was worried about Conroy. I think he has enjoyed having an assistant, someone to talk to about the scientific stuff, and an able pair of hands that understand the work. Conroy has been in charge of putting the water filter together – they were talking about linking it up to the guttering of the greenhouses to capture more of the rainwater, and then building it into the irrigation system already lacing through the farm. So many plans to make this place work.

Conroy was unconscious for a few hours yesterday, and vomited as soon as he tried to sit up. The head injury made him lose some time but he hasn’t fallen asleep again. He’s on bed rest at the moment and Masterson insisted that someone sit up with him to keep him awake through the night. The doctor isn’t giving much away, but the rest of are are being optimistic anyway.

Bree is delicate but recovering. Mira’s looking after her – those two are very close, and some of the way they talk to each other reminds me of how Bree and I used to be. We were friends like that once. Bree used to suggest to me how to do my makeup just so and what might look nice in my hair. I used to be the person she told everything to, and I shared everything with her. Except that she didn’t tell me everything after all, not until I found out about her sleeping with my boyfriend. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t still sore about that. I wonder if the friendship between her and Mira will end the same way, with betrayal and lies.

When we parted company for bed, we were no closer to figuring out who hurt Conroy and Bree. I know most of the group is looking at Bobby, because he was a Haven soldier and on guard when it happened. But he was riding the bike when the tyre blew out and nearly had a nasty accident. He could have killed himself. If he was responsible for that, he’s either very smart, very stupid, or very lucky.

For my part, I have no idea who to suspect. I can’t believe it was any of the Seekers. Jonah always seemed like a friend, but he was good at keeping secrets. Warren spends half his time rubbing his right arm, which is still in a sling and causing him a great deal of pain. Who does that leave? No-one. That’s all of us. It’s definitely someone I trust.

I don’t think any of us got a lot of sleep. I curled up with Matt and we both felt safer. He has been very attentive since I told him about the baby – our baby – and last night he was all about holding me close and planting kisses in my hair. It felt good, sharing affection without it tipping over into sex. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the sex too, but it’s nice to know that even if he’s not in the mood, there’s still closeness and intimacy. I think he needed it as much as I did.


Today, we split up again to start the work of getting this place together. The supplies crew piled into vehicles – except for the diesel-soaked one – and went back to the garden centre to fetch the equipment we needed. They’re going to look for food on the way there and take the long way back to explore more potential sources of sustenance. The roads around here are pretty clear, so hopefully they’ll be back tonight.

Masterson, Bree and Mira are looking after Sally and the baby, and sorting out the domestic issues. We’re gradually making the place comfortable, though there’s a lot of us to cater for. Iona won’t come out of the main house, but she is helping with the cleaning and tidying effort. She works with a worrying intensity; I prefer her vagueness to the way she focusses on the tiniest thing now.

The rest of us are preparing the greenhouses for planting. Pulling out the dead plants and digging up the soil. We found some bags of fertiliser, and we’re working that through while we loosen up the dirt. Janice is building a compost heap with the detritus we’re taking out of the troughs.

I love the smell of the greenhouses. The more the dead plants are taken out, the more the scent of freshly turned earth rises up under the glass. I hadn’t realised how much that was missing under the rain’s poison. Sometimes, the changes in the After still surprise me, even though the time Before is drifting further and further away from us.

I hope the others make it back tonight – the rain hasn’t started yet, so there’s time. We’re hungry and I know that Matt gave me his share of rations this morning. He’s feeding me and the baby, and that’s touching, but I don’t want him to hurt himself. If he tries to do it again tomorrow, I’ll refuse.

He has started putting his hand on my belly when we snuggle up together. The silent acknowledgement of this thing we’ve made is adorable – he’d hug the baby if he could, and that’s as close as he can get. He does it when he’s thinking about the pregnancy and if I glance up at him, he gives me the silliest stunned grin. Seeing him look like that never fails to make me smile.

He’s so proud of it and growing fiercely protective of us both. He’s excited by the whole thing, and I can’t mind. The depth of his attachment is reassuring; it washes away all my fears of him running away from this, and away from me. He wants this. Matt, who used to distance himself from close relationships so he wouldn’t get hurt, is jumping in with both feet. He wants this baby more than I do; or at least, he doesn’t have reservations constantly popping into his head like I do.

He’s the only reason I can be at all comfortable with this. He soothes me. He murmurs to me at night about how wonderful our family is going to be and he makes me look forward to it too. He makes me feel lucky. It’s only when we’re not together that the doubts and fears creep in.

Our family. When I’m alone, I think about my father. He would want to be here for this. He should be here.

When we’ve got this place sorted out, when this saboteur is found, I need to fix this. I need to bring our family together properly.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009 - 9:36 pm


This morning, I was pulling on some clothes when Nugget appeared by my elbow. She’s good at that – suddenly being there without anyone seeing her arrive. She’s a pair of big eyes looking up through a tangled nest of dirty-blonde hair. Not even Bree and Mira’s influence has been able to convince her to keep her hair brushed and neat. She still doesn’t speak but she had something to tell me this morning. Her own way.

She tugged on my sleeve, making me hurry awkwardly because I was still getting my pants on. She was very insistent, pulling and pulling until I followed her out of the little room Matt and I share, still stamping my boots on. It’s rare to see her so eager to share something, so I didn’t mind entertaining her. Matt was off finding out if there was anything for breakfast, so it was just me.

She led me outside and pointed at the diesel-soaked car. It sits in the middle of the yard, looking lonely with all the other vehicles parked a little way from it, shunning its fuel-soaked presence. Then the little girl tugged me onwards and over towards where the water filter tank was sitting. Everything looked normal until we came around the tank and I saw someone fiddling with the pipes. At first, I thought it must be Conroy, but then I remembered about the injury and bedrest. It couldn’t be Conroy. My feet stuttered to a stop. He stood up and turned around.

“Warren?” I was so surprised that it took me a moment to notice the gun. I yanked Nugget behind me and gave her a shove without looking around. “Go get Thorpe,” I told her. “Now.”

She ran off in a patter of slapping footsteps and I stepped sideways so he couldn’t get an angle on her. Warren’s eyes narrowed as he looked at me and he wetted his lips nervously. His jaw tensed and I could see him counting up his options. They were sadly few.

Warren. The one cutout we never thought capable of the sabotage because he was so badly injured. He’s only had one usable arm since we escaped from Haven, thanks to the bullet in his back. Since Masterson removed the bullet, his arm has been in a sling. We’re not even sure he’ll ever be able to use it fully again. Possible nerve damage, the doctor said. Now I think Warren let us believe that to hide what he was doing.

We were stupid. It only takes one arm to knock someone out. It only takes one hand to point a handgun at someone, too, but he wasn’t even pretending anymore. The sling hung limp and empty around his neck, his left hand propped against the side of the tank by its fingertips while the right pointed the gun at me. I stared at him and swallowed, and suddenly regretted sending Nugget off. I was alone with him and that made both of us vulnerable. He was the only one of us with a weapon. I knew his secret. I looked him in the eye and there wasn’t any doubt any more: we both knew he had been behind the sabotage. There wasn’t any point in questioning it.

“Why?” I asked him. I didn’t really have much to lose by that point and I wanted to get him talking. Anything but focussing on the gun. Any delay would do.

“Because you had no right.” That was apparently the wrong question, because it made him lift the handgun higher, pointing at me more intently.

“No right to do what?” I didn’t want to ask, but we were in the subject now and I wasn’t sure how to get out of it.

“To leave. To take from Haven. We helped you, we gave you everything you needed.”

“Not everything. And Haven took from us, too.” It occurred to me a little bit late that it might not be smart to argue with the guy holding the gun. Maybe I should appease him, agree with him, perhaps even apologise. Maybe that would have been the smart thing to do. The problem was, the threat of the weapon was making my heart beat too fast and loosened my tongue.

“What did Haven take from you?” His tone didn’t believe me at all. This wasn’t going well. I wondered just how long it was going to take Nugget to get Thorpe. I needed the big fella to come and fix this. I wondered if he would think to come armed.

“Our vehicles, our tools, all our supplies. Our personal gear. Everything we had when we arrived.” Well, he did ask.

“Not everything. You kept your secrets. You conspired against Haven the whole time you were there.”

“We did not. The whole place is a lie, and we wanted something better. Why shouldn’t we go and find that?”

“It’s not up to you. It’s not your right. The General knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, I think he does. And that’s the saddest part about it.” I was getting angry, and a part of me was aware that it was a reaction to the fear. I wanted to be smarter about it. But I couldn’t stop my mouth – it was running away on its own.

“It’s what?”

There was a little metallic click and for a moment I thought he’d fired. I thought that was the trigger and I was shot. I was waiting for the bang and the pain, and the flare from the barrel, but it didn’t come. There was no bullet punching through me. My heart felt like it was trying to beat me into submission, stop, stop. No more.

“You ungrateful bitch!”

I had to rein it back. I had to do something, even though I couldn’t move.

I saw his gaze flick over my shoulder and knew there was someone coming. There was a surge of hope in my chest that almost broke painfully free. I didn’t dare look around, couldn’t take my eyes off the man in front of me in case I missed it. In case I missed when he shot me. I couldn’t lose my grip on this moment. I had to say something, anything.

“So, what were you doing? Messing with our water? Not happy with hurting people, you want to have a go at killing us all?”

“Love to know, wouldn’t you?”

I heard footsteps and the light changed around us. Shadows stretched over the scene, darkening and softening it at the same time. More than two pairs of feet approached – who had Nugget fetched? I saw Warren look even more nervous and hoped that it wouldn’t tip him over into something stupid. A tiny part of my brain wondered how many bullets the handgun’s clip could hold. How many of us could he do away with if he needed to?

“Put it down,” a voice said from behind me. Thorpe. I couldn’t see a little shadow, so I didn’t know where Nugget was.

“Get away from her.” That was Matt, with a tremor in his voice sounding like he was barely holding onto his self-control. I hoped silently that he wouldn’t lose it; that wouldn’t help anything right now and I think we all knew it. But he was there; I was surprised by how much that mattered.

“Warren, stand down.” Jonah. He sounded furious and firm, giving the order in that way that makes you want to snap to attention and obey. Maybe it would appeal to Warren’s military training. I could only hope.

“I don’t take orders from you,” Warren said. I suppressed a sigh; the military angle wasn’t going to work, then.

“Warren, there’s no way out of this,” I said before any more men could growl at each other. “Put it down. It’s over.”

“So you can kill me?”

“We don’t do that.”

“Really? And I’m supposed to just believe you?”

“You know us. You’ve seen us. We don’t do that.”

Warren was quiet, belligerently moving his gaze between us.

“Put it down,” Jonah said.

Then something moved behind him. I had to make an effort not to look at it – someone was creeping up there, aiming to catch him off-guard. I didn’t want to alert him. I didn’t dare move and was nearly vibrating with the tension.

I could see it rising in him: a wave of frustration and anger, covering the desperation caused by the situation. It was coming, any second – that moment when he made the final decision. Fire or give up. Fight or submit. Die now or later. Some part of me was peripherally aware that there were weapons behind me – I was in the middle, sure to be caught by one side or the other. The ground was looking like the perfect place to be, but I still didn’t dare to move.

“Warren, please.” It took me a moment to realise that the words were mine. I wasn’t above begging. “Please don’t do this.”

His glances roved around the group behind me, but his aim hadn’t moved an inch. His gun was pointed at the centre of my chest, as if there was a wire stretched between me and the weapon, pulled taut. It felt like every breath tugged it closer to firing. He focussed on me and I stopped. I had no more moves to take. It was his turn.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009 - 7:44 pm

Slaves to the after

Where did I get to? There are so many demands fighting for attention right now, and people still come to me to fulfil them. Warren is one of those demands: Warren and what we decided to do with him. I wish there had been a better answer.


Warren didn’t get to take his final turn. It was stolen from him. I pleaded for him not to do it and he hesitated.

Between one heartbeat and the next, Bobby was on him. He grabbed Warren’s arm and yanked the gun up to a safer angle. It punctured the air, once, twice, and everyone behind me was moving. Someone snagged my arm and tugged me away from the tussle. It was Matt, of course, getting me out of range of flailing limbs, out of danger.

People were grabbing at the saboteur, the gun was pulled out of his hands, and they bore him to the ground. He shouted in pain, the sound lost in all the raised voices.

Matt put me behind him, keeping a hand latched around my arm, wanting to stay in contact. I curled fingers in the back of his shirt, needing to hold onto him too. I was only too glad to be out of the middle of the situation, peeking out from behind his shoulder.

I suppressed a wave of tremors as I watched the boys subduing Warren, and swallowed back a sudden urge to throw up. I wasn’t sure if it was the stress or the unfortunately-timed start of morning sickness. They were rough. Someone kicked him, making him cough for air, and I flinched.

The stillness was abrupt and balanced delicately on a line drawn across the air. It was time to decide if we were Seekers, or if we would kill him.


We were all furious and scared, and that’s never a good combination. It swirled around us like a smell that made our eyes smart.

Warren was whimpering with pain when they hauled him back to his feet, out in the dust of the yard. His shoulder wasn’t as seriously injured as he had led us to believe, but it was still barely healed and painful. We tried to feel bad about that, but I don’t think any of us succeeded. He spat blood onto the ground and cried out when someone yanked on his injured arm, almost falling back to his knees. I think that’s what saved him in the end: a show of pain and the moment when someone might use a gun in anger passed.

We weren’t sure what to do with him, but we had some plastic ties from the supplies of the flower farm and that was enough to lash his hands together behind his back. For the time being, we put him in one of the small storage sheds, where he wouldn’t be able to do any damage while we assessed the damage and figured out what we’re going to do with him.

Kostoya said that there wasn’t any damage to the water system. The pipes had been fiddled with, but some tightening was all it took to make it right. Whatever he was going to do, he didn’t have time to do it before I got there. That was a relief, though there wasn’t any sweetness in it.

We don’t have a policy for this kind of thing. The smart thing to do would be a kill him, just like he assumed we would. But we don’t want to be that kind of group. I’m not the only one who thinks so – Kostoya was openly horrified by the notion, as was most of the group. Of course, certain voices called for it: Jersey, Masterson, even Thorpe. Estebar and Nugget hovered around the edge of the gathering as we discussed it, watching the exchanges with wide eyes to see if we would betray their trust and innocence. I wasn’t the only one who felt the weight of their attention.

We don’t want to be murderers. We subdued him without fatality and we’re past an excusable death now. Hot blood has drained, pooled and cooled. Cold blood isn’t something we like the taste of.

So what choices do we have? We don’t have enough food to go around as it is, so should we continue to keep him alive by feeding him? Letting him starve is murder, too. We could let him go, but he knows where we are – he’d run back to Haven and tell them. Bring them down on us, if he hasn’t already. We can’t trust him again; he’s very set on our evil and the righteousness of his own actions. Even if he made apologetic noises and promised he’d seen our light, we can’t ever take a chance on him again. There are too many lives at stake. Out on the road, he almost killed Thorpe and Bobby, and the former is still healing from his encounter with the bike’s burst fuel tank. Here, Bree and Conroy are healing too, and we don’t know the extent of the damage there yet.

There are no easy answers. It’s either going to cost us a lot to keep him locked up and alive, or we have to kill him. When it comes to him or us, we choose us; there’s no contest there. But we’re not killers. We won’t become killers.

Except for the soldiers. Jonah and Bobby – they’ve killed people before. They admitted as much, and I’m not counting shamblers. They’d do it, they said. Even though they knew him. They had trusted him enough to let him in on the secret of the escape and brought him along, and he had betrayed them. It was their error of judgement, theirs to fix. Many thought it and a couple even said it, putting the onus on them.

But all of us took him in. If we let this happen, cold-blooded murder by soldiers’ hands, then it taints all of us. Jonah and Bobby are Seekers now. We won’t be unsullied by making them do it for us. It’s an easy option for most of us, but it’s not a clean one. And so we circled again.


We kept coming back to the same place. There was only one other idea that came up: slavery. We couldn’t let him go and we couldn’t let him be a drain on our supplies, but we could make him work for his keep. Indentured servitude. It meant he would have to be guarded at all times, and we’d need to find a way to bind him so that he couldn’t sneak off and do any more damage.

It feels like a step backwards, but the After has put us back so far that perhaps it’s suitable. It’s certainly more humane than taking him out the back and shooting him. Or worse, if we wanted to save the bullet.

We’re going to try it. We’re going to be slave-keepers, and prison guards, and whip-crackers, though we don’t have any actual whips. I don’t know how Warren will react to this yet. I don’t know if it’s going to work.

It’s a small step towards becoming one of the lean, hungry dogs prowling in the After. Just a small step in a long scale of grey. Let’s see how it tastes, if we can swallow it and if it’s enough. It has to at least be enough.

I just hope we can stay Seekers.

Thursday, 17 December 2009 - 12:15 pm

Anniversary, part one: blog

It has been a year since I started this blog. A year to the day exactly.

A year ago, I was shuffling books into alphabetical order and smiling at the faces of rude customers. Today, I found a copy of The Little White Horse tucked away on a shelf among the flower farm’s records. It was my favourite book when I was a kid – I read it so many times that I could quote it, could picture the strange house in my head in perfect detail. When I found it, the surprise was sharp, like knives in my chest. I hadn’t expected to see it again, this shard of who I used to be.

I’m twenty-three now. Three months ago, I missed my own birthday. I feel older. I feel like the time between me and that girl is a gulf too wide to step across. I look back and I can’t see the path from her to me.

I should be wiser, but I don’t think I am. I still kid myself about a lot of things. I still want to believe that things are better than they are. I’m scarred, and my left arm is weaker than my right because I cracked the bone once. I try not to learn too much from my scars. Sometimes, I’m scared that I’ll stop caring about people because we lose so many.

I think I’m grieving for the girl I was once, the one who loved that book and went looking for a little white horse hiding in the trees. The one who made a new blog a year ago today.

They say there are five phases of grief, but I don’t know what they are. I’ve probably been through all of them, in the wrong order or all at once. All I know is that it hurts when I think about that girl and all the changes in between.


I look back at those first posts and it feels like someone else’s life. Was it really me, whining about how unfair everything was, how hard it had become? I read those words, those thoughts formed on the screen, and I can barely remember what was so important.

I remember the morning of that day, even though I didn’t write about it. I stumbled downstairs still brushing my hair because I was running late. Dad had made me pancakes. He had that look about him: the vague, helpless one he got when he wanted to do something but he didn’t know what the right something was. He’d had that look since Cody broke my heart, and I had been too upset to look him in the eye. I had been avoiding him and his sympathy for a month. That morning, he made me pancakes, and there was dismay when he saw me rushing.

So I sat down and ate them. I should have left, but I was already late and the pancakes smelled so good. We made jokes about how they were all misshapen and we agreed that he would have to work on his pancake artistry, but only if I promised to eat them. By the time I got to work, I didn’t care about being late. When I got home, I created this blog and tried to start a new phase of my life.

Now, I feel like I’m at the beginning of the last new phase of my life. We’re at the last place we can think of to go, with one last thread of hope for a future left. This is our last chance to get it right.

And my dad, he’s a gold ring that I wear on my right thumb now.


Back then, I was struggling out from under a broken heart and trying to find new friends to make connections with, because the old ones had betrayed me. A week later, I was struggling out from under falling buildings and trying to find anyone who was still alive. I was thrown together with strangers who are now my friends. Some I’d even call family. We don’t have a good time together – we keep each other safe and alive, and occasionally manage some support. Somehow, that’s enough.

In that long-ago week, I had slightly drunken, ill-advised sex with my best friend. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had sex with him again – a lot – and it is anything but ill-advised. Then, I was terrified that I had ruined everything. Now, I’m carrying his baby and looking forward to making a family with him.

The girl I was back then would have laughed if anyone told her that she’d bear Matt’s baby and be anything other than mortified about it. She would shake her head and say that it was ludricrous. Neither of us want that. Neither of us are capable of it. But here we are and I’m not laughing.

I don’t really know how it happened. I mean, I know how I got pregnant: my mother gave me a cursory explanation when I turned twelve, and Dad offered me an awkward talk the first time I came home late after a night out with a boy. I don’t know which one of us was more embarrassed.

It’s the love that’s the surprise. Sometimes I think it snuck up on me and squeezed my heart while I wasn’t paying attention. Other times, I realise that it has been building for a long time.

In a way, I guess I’ve always loved him; the kernels of it have been there since he first tugged and braided my ponytail. When we were teenagers and he was going through a really bad time with his family, we were always together. He all-but lived with us, and sometimes it felt like it was him and me against the world. In that way, we could do anything we wanted. We knew everything about each other, even the things we never wanted our girlfriends or boyfriends to know.

Back then, we never strayed into being a couple, didn’t even mess around with kissing. Now, I’m reminded of that time: the two of us against the world, taking refuge in each other’s company. But this time there are promises and intimacy. This time, we’re not going to let new friends distract us. Now we know more clearly what we mean to each other, what our loves feels and tastes like, and we wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

Over the past year, we finally took those last few steps and tripped into being in love. It sounds sappy and silly to put it that way, but that’s how it feels. He makes me feel loved. He makes me want to love. And we do, despite our scars.


A year ago, I was floating free and searching for a direction. Now, I am anchored and I know where I’m going. I don’t know if it’s progress, but there’s no going back.

Friday, 18 December 2009 - 7:40 pm

Everything to me

Matt here again. Faith’s off fetching dinner and said I could do this today. I need to feel like talking.

I did a bad thing today. I can’t tell her about it – she’d be mortified, and if I’m honest, so am I. It’s not like me. I hope it’s not like me.

It happened when I went to find some breakfast. I passed the room that we’ve been keeping Warren in and heard something move behind the door. I couldn’t tell what it was, that tiny shuffle, so I paused to listen. It didn’t come again. As if someone was holding their breath, hoping to not be noticed, hoping I’d pass on by and fail to check.

I wasn’t going to let anyone get away with that. I yanked the door open, my fingers strangling the doorhandle, tensed and ready for anything. If he was trying to escape, I was going to stop him. I’d make sure he didn’t hurt anyone again.

He wasn’t escaping. He lifted his arms towards me from his position on the floor and the metal bands around his wrists caught the orange light from the window; someone had got handcuffs from somewhere. A chain snaked around to lash his handcuffs to a pipe anchored solidly into the floor and wall. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Warren. Until that moment, I hadn’t realised how much I hated him. It surged up my gullet and made my teeth clench.


Yesterday, Faith told me off for giving her my food. We’re still on short rations. I can’t remember the last time we had a full meal. Faith’s eating for two now, but she doesn’t want everyone to know, so she’s only getting one person’s portion. Someone has to make sure she’s getting enough to eat and I want to take care of her. Of course I gave her my share.

It’s true that I haven’t been feeling great for the past couple of days. She says I’ve lost weight and not in a good way. I told her why I was doing it, but that didn’t help. She was too caught up in the damage it was doing to me – that’s how she put it: damage.

She was trying so hard not to be angry with me. She failed, but the effort made her crumble at the edges, so upset she barely made sense. Then she did make sense and I felt worse. As if I had let her down in some fundamental way.

“You can’t do that, Matt,” she said. “We need you. We need you here. I can’t do this by myself. We’ll make sure there’s enough. There has to be. Don’t make yourself sick, please don’t. I can’t lose you. I love you, and there’s the baby, and… I need you.”

It’s not like I was trying to kill myself or anything. Of course I want to be around. But she has to come first. She always comes first. That’s how this stuff works, right? What else am I supposed to do?

“I want to take care of you, too,” she said. There isn’t any stopping her when she gets upset, so I just let her keep going. Her hands plucked at mine, restless in her agitation, and tears made clean streaks on a face smudged with dirt from the troughs. “Please, let me. We’re supposed to look after each other. Can’t we just take care of each other?”

That’s when I started crying, too. I’m not too proud to admit it. It’s been a long time since anyone took care of me in any way I wanted, and I’m not just talking about the After. I love Faith – I want to take care of her and the baby. But I wasn’t prepared for her to want to do the same. Which is silly, now that I think about it. I know her, I know what she’s like.

It’s not like when I was sick. That’s different. It’s okay to need looking after when you’re sick or hurt. But I’m all right now – not even limping any more. I can look after myself.

She doesn’t want me to have to. She wants me to lean on her, the way she leans on me. I don’t think she understands what she’s asking.

It’s not because I think I should be the man of the relationship. I’ve never been one of those macho assholes who think that the women need to stay in their place with the kitchen and children. It’s not like that. It’s because… it’s hard. I want to put her first, but she won’t let me. She just keeps telling me that she needs me here.

“I can’t do this without you,” she said. I almost argued with her. She can do all of this without me. She’s strong like that.

I’m not. I’ve never had that kind of strength.

I couldn’t do any of this without her. Not now, not with how much I love her. I saw Warren pointing a gun at her and I knew that he’d kill us both if he fired. I saw it, I saw her lying there, covered in blood, staring sightlessly at the sky. She was going to die, our baby with her. And there was nothing I could do. If I jumped in, he would have shot her. When I spoke, I said the wrong thing, only made things worse. I was standing there, looking at her about to die right in front of me, and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.

I almost snapped right there under the pressure. It felt like I was bursting with it, but I knew we’d end up in a bloody mess on the ground if I let it go. All I could do was hang on until my knuckles went white.

If she dies, that’s it for me. I don’t think there’s any way back from that.

She tried to tell me that she feels the same about me today. At least, I think that’s what she was getting at. I don’t know what to do with that. I’ve been very good at avoiding that kind of thing – letting someone get this close, needing and being needed; they’re not what I wanted. Now here I am, and it hurts. I’m terrified of losing her and the baby, and one of them hasn’t even been born yet. I feel that black hole opening up behind my heart every time I think about it.


Today, standing in that little room with Warren, that was all I could see. Blood and a black hole. I don’t even remember starting to hit him.

Next thing I knew, Dale was grabbing my upper arms and hauling me backwards. I stumbled but didn’t fight him. Warren was curled up on the floor, his arms over his head to protect it. My hands hurt and my pulse filled my ears.

“What the hell are you doing?” He had me outside of the room by then and shook me to make me look at him. It worked.

“I don’t know.” I didn’t have enough in me to lie. I looked at my hands, at the blood dripping down my fingers. My knuckles were split; I didn’t know if the blood was Warren’s or mine. Probably both.

I felt sick. I guess Dale saw that.

“Go clean yourself up.”

I nodded and walked out. I was halfway to the water filter when I threw up.

After I had washed the blood off my hands, I went to Masterson for something to bind them with. I had to put gloves on so Faith wouldn’t know. No-one has mentioned it, not even the snarky doctor. I guess no-one cares that much about Warren any more, except me.


That kind of thing, it’s not like me. Every time I remember why my hands hurt, I wonder what kind of person I really am. It scares me that I’m capable of something like that.

I wish I didn’t love her so much. I wish this didn’t mean everything to me. But it does.

Saturday, 19 December 2009 - 4:54 pm

The weight of maybes

Now that the saboteur has been found and dealt with, attention in the group is turning outwards. The foraging party is going out armed. Of those who stay behind, we have to spare a couple of bodies from the work to keep watch on the roads.

Everyone is wired tight. It doesn’t help that we have a constant reminder of the threats around us, as one of the men strong-arms Warren around the greenhouses. The ex-soldiers aren’t trusted to watch him; there’s an under-riding suspicion that he didn’t act alone.

The saboteur is unhappy and resistant, but he works when he’s instructed to. He has bruises today that he didn’t have yesterday. I haven’t asked where they came from, and if I’m honest, I don’t want to know.


He pulled a gun on me. I thought he’d do it, I really thought he’d kill me. The intention was right there in his face. Warren would have killed three of us with one bullet – me and the baby, and the part of Matt he had allowed to love us.

I heard the tremor in Matt’s voice: he was scared, truly terrified that I was about to be shot in front of him. I’ve seen him hurt before, I’ve seen the roughness of his scars and how he armours himself. This will be worse. This is so much more than that. He talks about family like it’s something he wants, and he hates his own. He always has.

It hurts every time I think about that. All the damage that might have been done piles up and tries to suffocate me. Even though it didn’t happen, the weight of maybes is there, waiting for me.

I don’t think I’m dealing very well with what happened.


Whenever I look at Warren now, there’s an odd flutter in my chest. There’s a memory caught inside that wakes up in the face of the reminder. When he looks at me, it pounds and I can’t move. Someone has to come along and pull me out of it.

The first time I froze, Thorpe shook me by the shoulder and asked if I was all right. Then he saw who I was staring at and scowled as he manhandled me out of the greenhouse.

“You all right?” he asked. He looked honestly worried, beneath the frown and the grip on my arm. He let go when he realised he might be leaving marks.

“Yeah. Yeah,” I said. I don’t think he believed me; I barely convinced myself.

I gave him a little smile, then stepped in and squeezed him around the ribs. He wrapped a big arm around my back and I felt safe. Better. I breathed out and something inside relaxed. There was awkwardness in the way he patted my shoulder and that peeled me off him in the end; he doesn’t handle this stuff well. It pleases me no end that he lets me do it, though. Even Dale doesn’t get hugs in public.

“You’re the best big brother,” I told him. He blinked at me, startled, but it’s true. He is like a big brother to me. I’ve never had one of those before.

Poor Thorpe didn’t know what to say to me, so I thanked him and went on my way. I couldn’t think about work; instead, I went to find Matt and surprised him with a kiss. He asked me what was wrong and I didn’t know what to tell him.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” I said finally. He gathered me up and I held on tight.

“We’re all right,” he said into my hair. “We’re both all right.” It was something more than mere bodies to hold onto.


We’re still waiting for more maybes. We caught our saboteur, but now what? We don’t know if Haven’s coming after us or not; Warren was prevented from sending any signals, but we can’t be sure that’s enough. We’re still waiting for Iona’s nebulous threat to turn up as well – we haven’t forgotten about them. Between moments of comfort and levity, the waiting presses on all of us in heavy silences. In a way, we wish they would get here already, so that we can get it over and done with, one way or the other.

I guess there’s nothing we can do to hurry it along, though. We could let Warren go, but we don’t want Haven here, so that would be crazy. All we can do is wait and watch. Watch and wait.

And hope that somehow, we escape everyone’s notice.

Sunday, 20 December 2009 - 7:24 pm


Despite all the tensions and intrigue, things at the farm are coming along well. We have most of one of the long greenhouses dug out and rigged up to the water system, and the first seeds were planted a few days ago. We’re getting them in as quickly as we can and patching the rest up as we go, because we don’t know how long we’ll have supplies to last us.

There’s plenty of work to keep us all busy. The foraging party goes out every day to search for food, and it’s a chance for tense parties to spend time apart. The rest of us delve into the greenhouses and blot out worries and fears with mind-numbing exhaustion.

The problem is that Warren has been put to work in the greenhouses. Matt and I don’t want to be anywhere near him, so we opted to head out with the foragers today. It was good to get away from the farm for a while. Away from the familiar clutter of buildings and the endless troughs of the greenhouses. Open roads, clearer air. I felt like I could breathe deep for once.

Matt asked to write a post the other day but made me promise not to read it. “It’s just venting,” he told me. I’m respecting his wishes because we feel fragile right now. He hasn’t been right since Warren and the gun, but he won’t tell me what’s bothering him. He’s not usually secretive with me, so it’s either bad or something too deeply buried for him to know what it really is.

I keep wondering if the baby is freaking him out, but he was so happy about that. When I told him, my heart brimming in my mouth, his face lit up and he grabbed me in the biggest hug. He couldn’t have faked a reaction like that, even if he’d wanted to. He was bouncing on his toes, touching my belly with wondering fingertips; he had no idea how much he looked like a big kid.

No, I don’t think the baby is what’s bothering him. He won’t tell me, though. All I can do is hope that he comes out of wherever he is, comes back to me. I wish I could help him, but I can’t reach him in there.

The others are doing all right. Iona won’t come out of the house, but she takes care of everything in there. She even started doing laundry, by hand. I had to stop her the first time – she was scrubbing so hard that the shirt and her hands were being torn to shreds. I made her put everything down and drew her dripping hands out of the sink. They were raw and bleeding, but she hadn’t noticed. She just looked at me with wide green eyes.

“Need to make it clean,” she said. “Tomorrow the flowers must grow. Make it pretty like the flowers.”

“We can make it clean without hurting ourselves,” I told her, leading her gently to our makeshift infirmary. It’s just a room with a bench we can use as a bed to treat people and cupboards we’ve cleared out to keep the medical supplies in.

“I don’t think so.”

Her reply made me look at her face sharply. She sounded sad and her head had drooped. I started to say something, but she interrupted me.

“Hurts, always hurts. Have to make it clean.”

I asked her what hurt, but she wouldn’t answer me. She stood where I put her and let me bind her hands up. I was afraid she had hurt herself somewhere else, and she let me check her over. She didn’t flinch, not once, and I found myself overcome with awkwardness and embarrassment for her. My cheeks were burning by the time I was satisfied that ‘always hurts’ didn’t mean that she had another injury.

I think her hurts are a lot deeper than that.

I took her by the upper arms and tried to make her look at me. The third time I said her name, she finally lifted her gaze to my face.

“You need to look after yourself,” I said. “Don’t hurt yourself, not even to make things clean. All right?”

“It always hurts.”

“It doesn’t have to.” I didn’t feel like I was getting through, but I had to try.

She frowned and studied my face as if she’d never seen it before. Then she nodded with a trace of hopefulness; I’m not sure if she hoped I was right, or if she hoped that was the answer I was looking for. Either way, I let her go.

She has since soaked her bandages through while doing more laundry, but I don’t think she’s hurt herself again.

After I dealt with Iona, I went to see Bree and Mira. They take turns looking after the baby and helping out in the greenhouses. Bree’s head wound is healing – it’s a nasty red mark on her forehead now, just above her temple, stopping just an inch from her eye. The lump beneath it is fading slowly. She has been keeping out of Warren’s presence as well – we share that urge, her and I.

Things are still complicated between us. I tried to talk to the two girls about Iona, asked them to keep an eye on her. Mira started complaining immediately about having enough to do without babysitting yet another body, but Bree cut her off with a quiet agreement.

“We’ll check in on her,” she said. “We didn’t know she was hurting herself.”

Mira stared at Bree, but she didn’t argue.

I’m not used to having Bree agree with me. It felt wrong. It made me second-guess myself. It has been a long time since she betrayed me and set about destroying every part of my social life, but my defenses still come up every time I’m around her. I keep looking for the knife in her hands coming at my back, but it’s not there. I don’t know where she’s keeping it or when she’ll decide to get it out again. I have accepted that I can’t read her at all.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. “How are things up here?”

I haven’t been up to the room where Masterson has Sally esconced. He’s always prowling around up there, always ready to growl at me, and I haven’t wanted to face him. I hoped that Sally would forgive me. At the same time, I wanted to tell her about the pregnancy. I wanted to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to carry a baby in the After.

At first, the two of them fobbed me off, telling me that things were fine. I asked about Sally specifically, how she was and if we were likely to see her any time soon. Bree and Mira exchanged a glance, weighing up how much to tell me.

“David says she’s depressed,” Bree said.

I restrained the reflex to bridle at her use of the familiar name; no-one except Sally calls him that. Most of the group doesn’t even know his full name – he’s just Masterson or the doctor. I wanted to ask her if she was screwing him too, but the words didn’t quite make it to my teeth.

“He says it’s hormones,” Mira added. “And the infection.”


“She had an infection, after Felix was born,” Bree said. So, the name had stuck to the baby. I was glad about that, but worried by the rest. “David says it’s not uncommon. She was really sick for a while, but she’s over that now. He says she’s recovering, but now there’s post-natal depression to deal with.” She hesitated for a beat. “I don’t think we have any drugs for that.”

There wasn’t much for me to say. I told them to let me know if they needed anything, for her or the baby. They nodded and agreed in that offhand way that says they don’t expect to ever take me up on that. I left with empty hands and empty offers.

Bree has recovered from Warren’s attack, but Conroy hasn’t been so lucky. The lump on his head is shrinking slowly and his eyes are no longer uneven and out of focus, but there’s damage we can’t see. He doesn’t remember the incident at all, and he lost a few days before that, too. He has trouble recalling things now – if you ask him to do something, he’ll go off to do it, but when he’s finished, he sometimes forgets who asked him. Sometimes he forgets what he was supposd to do when he gets to his destination.

As far as I know, the doctor hasn’t put a label on it. Conroy is keeping to himself about it; I think he forgets more than he lets on. He’s scared to admit what’s really going on inside that skull of his and I don’t blame him: he’s lost something fundamental and he doesn’t know if he’ll get it back.

I don’t know anything about this kind of thing: all I know is that it’s complicated and no-one really understands it fully. Maybe it’s possible for him to heal. Maybe all he needs is time. Hopefully we can give him that much.

In the meantime, Kostoya is keeping a close eye on him. The biochemist is always nearby, chivvying Conroy on in his work, asking questions and wondering if he’s done yet. His questions are layered with reminders about what they’re doing; I’m not sure, but I think he’s doing it on purpose. If Conroy has noticed, he hasn’t said anything.

Maybe if no-one mentions it, they can carry on as if nothing has truly changed. As solutions go, that one’s pretty painless for everyone involved.

I wish there were more solutions like that for us. ‘Painless’ isn’t a word that I have had much chance to throw around. We make it work whatever way we can, and I guess that’s what matters.

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