Thursday, 24 September 2009 - 8:49 pm


I almost didn’t make it to see the General today. Matt insisted that I go, and though I didn’t want to leave him, I went anyway.

Last night, Matt wasn’t just flushed after his exercise around the room with the crutch: he was shaky too, though he tried to hide it. He keeps waving away my concern, saying that his leg hurts and he’s just recovering. He slept most of today and didn’t get up to move around again. I hope that’s not a bad sign.

I was going to stay with him this afternoon too, but he wasn’t going to let that happen. If he could, he would have got up and shooed me out. Instead, he just batted my hands away and said, “I’ll be here when you get back.”

I asked Peter to keep an eye on him on my way out. It might have raised some eyebrows, but I wasn’t going to leave him completely unattended. I slipped out before I could be questioned about where I was going.


The sky was darkening the way it does before the rain when I let myself into the admin building. I didn’t want to be turned away from the front and I didn’t know where the back door was, but it was a safe assumption that it had one. Unfortunately, it was locked, but there was a loose window – a brief scramble and a frantic attempt to avoid landing on my head, and then I was inside. I paused to listen, but the cutouts hadn’t heard me hit the floor. Small mercies, I suppose.

I waited for the rain to start before I tried to get to the office. The tap of acid water hitting the windows and the faint hiss as it slithered down the walls filled the building, and the eerie orange light dimmed even further. Elsewhere in the compound, a generator started up, sputtering a bare few bulbs into life.

I’m used to making my way around in half-light, so it wasn’t much trouble to sneak up to the floor where the General’s office lived. Standing in front of the panel, pale light painted my toes, sneaking out from under the door. I took a breath and knocked, and entered when permission came from the other side.

He was expecting a cutout and half-rose out of his chair in surprise when he saw me. He glanced at his window and demanded to know how I had got there. I just smiled and told him that my timing was good. I needed to talk to him and he’s a hard man to get to see – I kept being told that he was too busy. He gestured to the stack of papers on his desk as he sat down again and said that he was always busy.

“So now is as good a time as any,” I said, taking the chair opposite him. I hoped that he couldn’t tell how fast my heart was beating while I waited for him to decide whether or not to throw me out.

“If this is about what happened the other day, I really have nothing more to say on the matter.” As starts go, it wasn’t the best.

“I think you said enough. You made your position quite clear.” I didn’t like it, not one bit, but he’d had his reasons. I might not agree but I also didn’t think arguing with him would get me anywhere.

“So, what do you want?”

Now that I had finally come to it, it was hard to know where to start. I opened my mouth a couple of times as my brain kept trying to find the right question. Eventually, I wound up asking, “What’s the purpose of this place?”

He was surprised again and leaned back in his chair as he scowled at me. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” I think he expected me to attack him somehow. That wasn’t what I was there for. Do I really come across like that to him?

“This place. What are its aims? What is it we’re all working so hard for?”

“Well, survival, of course. It’s not easy out there, but we’ve made a safe place here.”

It was tempting to argue with him on that point – ‘safety’ is a sensitive issue for us right now – but I decided not to interrupt him. I just listened while he told me about how they’re building a new future here. Getting all the basics sorted out before they move on to the real rebuilding. Food, water, power. School, skills. Children to replace the numbers we’ve lost. I asked him about the resources problem, and he said that they have enough stocked up to get past this setup period. That’s what he called it: a setup period. Months after the bomb and they’re still just starting.

It was disheartening. Of course it’ll take time, but I had hoped they were further along than that. My hope of it getting better soon is dribbling away from me; this place isn’t going to get better for some time yet.

I asked him about the Converter they’re building, and he said that it will produce power and water when it’s finished. It’s at the centre of most of the work going on here, and at the centre of the future they’re building. It’s the key to Haven’s hope and future.

When I asked him why they weren’t out looking for survivors, he said that it was a resources issue. They have enough to sustain Haven, but not frequent trips out into the wild. It wasn’t worth the expense or the risk. I started to argue with him, but even while I vented my outrage at that idea – that saving lives wasn’t worth risking something – I knew there was no point. He was a rock that had already made up its mind.

He has a way of making me feel small and stupid. Everything he said made so much sense, even while my innards rebelled and I wanted to spew my thoughts all over him. We could both feel the pressure building; it was palpable in the air between us. His answers got shorter and sharper, more defensive.

“Is there anything else you’d like to criticise?” he asked eventually, bringing his hands down on the desk with a bang.

I jumped, then frowned at him. “Yes. Why can’t I see my friends? Not everyone is a bastard that needs to be watched.”

“If I start making concessions for you, I have to start making them for everyone, now don’t I?”

“That’s so backwards.” I hadn’t realised I had said it out loud. I hadn’t actually meant to; it’s the sort of thing I usually stew on silently, like most of my objections.

Then he started shouting at me. About how my group thought they were special and didn’t know how to get along with other people. I thought I knew everything and did nothing but try to tear down everything they’d built. We were lucky that they didn’t exile people as a punishment. We should toe the line or get the hell out, because he was sick of having to justify himself all the time.

I felt awful. I hadn’t meant to do that. I was a naughty schoolkid, a child in his eyes. As far as he was concerned, I knew nothing and was shitting on everything he’d built.

Once upon a time, a dressing-down like that would made me break down in tears. I felt it coming, rising in my chest and filling up my eyes. But I’m not a kid any more. Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my feet and shouting right back at him. They took everything we had and brought us here. We didn’t ask for any of this, and we didn’t agree to it. We were just dumped here and expected to toe the line. And we deserve to know what’s going on.

It was too much. I spilled myself, then I was empty couldn’t stand there any more. The door slammed behind me on the way out but there was nowhere to go. The rain was still dribbling down outside, so I couldn’t escape. I pushed past a couple of bemused cutouts and found an empty office on another floor to shut myself in. Then I was true to form and collapsed in tears.


I can’t tell if I’m just being stubborn any more. Everything I learn about this place makes my insides turn over, and every time I think I’ve come to terms with it, something else flops them back the other way. Every instinct I have resists. But we’re fed, and we’re defended, and there’s a future being built here. I’m twisting up into knots.

They haven’t bothered me since I left the General’s office. The rain is finally stopping; I’ll be able to go soon. Back to the infirmary, back to my best friend. I’d like to say that I’d be going back to somewhere I belong, but I don’t know if that’s true. If Matt wasn’t there, I don’t know where I’d go.

I feel like I’m slipping, but it’s so dark I can’t tell if I’m falling up or down.