Sat, 21 November 2009 - 8:01 pm

Seeking affirmation

I managed to get everyone together last night, and keep them together long enough to talk. It wasn’t easy – we were all tired and yearning for our beds, as hard and uncomfortable as they might be.

When I gathered my courage to start, the flutter in my chest knew it wasn’t destined to go smoothly. Maybe I should have listened to it, but I think I’m glad that we went ahead with it anyway. It needed to be done.

After dinner was the best time – everyone was grouped together anyway and relatively comfortable. I stood up and they all looked at me in that way they always used to – the Seekers to listen and the cutouts with their impatience and wariness. I’m not sure which of those expressions was the hardest to face.

I explained why we needed to talk: we had to decide whether the three soldiers were going to stay with us or not. I turned to Jonah first and asked him whether they wanted to stay – that was the first hurdle we all had to get over. There was no point in us all arguing about it unless the men actually wanted to become Seekers in the first place.

Jonah looked at his friends, then stood up.

“You all know why we left Haven,” he said. I was afraid that he was going to stop there but, to my relief, he continued. “It didn’t have the future it claimed and it was starting to come apart. I don’t know if any of you saw it, but there was a lot of unrest in the ranks.”

I hadn’t seen that, not until I found out that I was Jonah’s punishment. The soldiers did a good job of being faceless cutouts, homogenous in intention and action. I wondered how many unhappy soldiers hadn’t come with us.

“We’re sick of the ‘accidents’ that kept happening. We’ve all been caught up in it.” He gestured to his friends to clarify his ‘we’. “Or know someone who was hurt by it.”

I looked at the scar on his jaw and wondered if that’s how he got it: some fake accident to hide the fact that the Converter is nothing but a device to keep everyone too busy to notice the end of everything. I wondered if they knew the guys killed in the last Converter ‘accident’. They must have.

“We’re looking for something better. You were leaving anyway, so we thought we’d come along.” Jonah shrugged. “We might find that something better on our own, but we’re far more likely to find it with you. We have a lot to offer the group.”

He didn’t list their abilities; he didn’t need to and we all knew it. Everyone was perfectly aware of what they could do.

He gave me a pointed look and said clearly, “We’d like to be equal members of the group.”

It was a dig at me but I let it go. He said what needed to be said; personal stuff could wait for later. Instead, I looked around at the Seekers, trying to gauge their expressions. They were mixed, showing doubt and distrust, and a hefty share of wariness. Iona was smiling blissfully but that’s nothing unusual.

“We’ve all seen what Haven’s soldiers do outside of its walls,” Jersey said. Trust her to be the first to weigh in with something negative. “How do we know you won’t be like that?”

The soldiers were confused at first – we had to explain the incident by the food depot, the gunning down of innocent people.

“We don’t do that,” I said and gestured to Iona. We had no children with us this time, but she was a good example. “We protect those less able than us.”

She nodded cheerfully and responded by saying something about lambs and lions. I wasn’t really paying attention.

The trio on trial scowled. They said they weren’t keen to do stuff like killing innocents – it wasn’t what they were here for. They didn’t say if they were involved in the food depot incident and I thought it best not to ask. This was about the future. Our future.

“So if we tell you not to attack something, you’ll listen?” That was Thorpe, doubt riding on his words.

“Listen, yes,” Warren said. He’s older, senior to Jonah, I think. He has an indistinguishable age about him and an air of experience.

“And act anyway?”

“When it comes to battle tactics, I really think–”

“We’re not talking about when we’re in battle,” I said. “We’re talking about before then.”

“We don’t want any of that pre-emptive strike crap,” Jersey put in.

The trio closed their mouths and considered it. There was reluctance in their nods. They thought they knew better than all of us when it came to violence, and maybe that’s true, but we’ve fought hard to keep our morals intact. It’s all about when we let ourselves do violence and how far we let it go – that’s what makes the difference between us and the Pride, and even the Wolverines. When we find mirrors, we’re able to look ourselves in the eye. We’re trying not to succumb to the dog-eat-dog nature of the After. We don’t want to be dogs.

Even with all that struggling, I have trouble looking myself in the eye. Even us Seekers do things we hate sometimes, when we’re forced to. When there’s no choice. But we’re not lost yet. We want to stay as free of that burden as we can be, even me, as bloodied as I am.

So we can’t have them shooting up everyone we meet. There’s always that risk of them turning on us, deciding that we’re not worth the supplies and killing us in our sleep. Or maybe siphoning off the weak ones, picking off those who can’t pull as much weight as the rest. We have to believe that the risk of that is small if this is going to work. We all have to make compromises to live in this world – the question was whether this was a compromise that the soldiers were willing to make.

Finally, they agreed to our restrictions. That had to be enough. It wasn’t long before another issue cropped up, and another. Each one came back to the same thing: you’re dangerous and how do we know we can trust you? With our lives, our loves, our futures? Are we safe with you?

It’s strange – none of the Seekers have talked about this before the cutouts. Not in so many words. We’ve never laid out our ethos so thoroughly before, placing words on the ground in the middle of the group as if scratching out a contract. This is what had grown between us over the months. This is the basis of the lives we’ve chosen to live.

I’m more than a little proud of it. Things don’t always go the way we want them to. We try, we slip, and sometimes we fall down. But we keep trying. We look after each other and we try to hold onto the shards of who we were Before. We try to be something better.

In that meeting, we laid out the people we want to be and asked everyone to agree to it. With each round of questions and answers, the Seekers solidified behind the banner of words. Our own manifesto.

 

What it came down to is that the three soldiers agreed to our terms. They weren’t comfortable with all of it and I don’t think it will go smoothly, but they’ve agreed to try. We have agreed to let them stay and be Seekers.

We’ve given them their rifles back – possibly not the smartest move, but after all the talk about truth and trust, we didn’t have a whole lot of choice. We kept the handguns with various Seekers, so everyone is armed. I haven’t got a gun at all – I don’t want one – but I’m now guardian of the ammunition. For now, it’s working well enough.

Today, we were due to show them one of our secrets: the people we left behind at the University. One of the bikes lost a tyre – almost disastrously for Bobby, but he managed to skid to a stop before bike and rider tumbled into a mess of metal and limbs. We lost time putting more gear into the car and rearranging passengers. Now, we’re three bikes carrying double and the car bearing three injured, stopped only a few blocks away from the University by the rain.

Tomorrow, we’ll reach the others. They don’t know we’re coming and with the cutouts sorted out, I’m starting to get nervous about what we’ll find. Who we’ll find.

I wish it was a better kind of homecoming.

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