Saturday, 14 November 2009 - 9:44 pm

Storming the gates

Where was I? Our time is so fractured right now – so many little things to take care of. Everyone’s lending a hand with few complaints now. There’s always one, though.

We’re still running. Most of us are still in one piece and we haven’t seen any signs of pursuit for a day or two now.

We’re in sight of the coast. There’s the tang of salt on the air and we’re up against that choice. Do we dare turn south, to head towards the University at last? Or should we be cautious and head away from it, in case we’re still being followed?

Either way, we have to keep pushing on, though I don’t think I’d mind being caught. Not entirely.


Being told that my dad wasn’t coming with us was like being punched. I was winded, my eyes pricking as I struggled to breathe. If anyone else had said they weren’t coming, I would have hit back, argued with them, but it was Dad. He’s solid and sensible, he knows what he’s doing, and he’s more stubborn than I am. He wasn’t coming. It filled my ears, trying to drown me.

“But-” All I was capable of was single bitten-off words. “Why-”

Dad shushed me, stepping closer to put a hand on my shoulder. “I have to stay,” he said. He had obligations in Haven, and he was too old to go running around the landscape. He’d only slow us down. He didn’t want to say goodbye to me, but it was for the best. We should leave, we should find somewhere better to be than this, and we didn’t need him. Besides, someone had to explain things to the General, and someone had to create a distraction while we got out. He’d sort all that out. He’d make sure we got away clean.

I tried to argue with him. He wouldn’t slow us down – but we were taking the girl with the disturbed brain with us, weren’t we? We’ve travelled with kids and people older than he is. We can’t leave him behind to take the blame for this. They’ll punish him. We can’t let that happen. We can’t. And he’s wrong; we do need him. “I need you.”

I was struggling not to cry and he cupped my face in his hands, making me look at him. “You’ll do fine without me,” he said firmly. “Same as you did before you got here. No tears now, Faithy.”

“But I only just found you.” I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t upset. Of course I was. I felt so small in his hands.

“We’ll find each other again.” He sounded so sure about that but I couldn’t believe it. In the After, it only takes the tiniest slip to lose someone. Finding him once was amazing enough. I knew I wouldn’t change his mind but I couldn’t be okay with it. Every part of me wanted to fight it.

“It’s not fair.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I hugged him then, burying myself into his chest and holding on as if that might make a difference. I breathed him deep and fought back the sobs that were making my chest tight. I wanted to break down, but this wasn’t the time for it. I needed to be clear-headed if we were going to make it out. I had to shut it away, shove the feeling down to where the treacherous snake in my belly could make it cold and numb. I drew in Dad’s smell, trying to fix it in my memory, and held him tight.

His voice had a rough edge to it when he finally took me by the shoulders and stepped back. “Go on, now.”

I felt Matt limping up to my side but I couldn’t look at him. I was barely holding myself together as it was; if I met the sympathetic look in his eyes, I knew I’d crumble. I had to keep myself in one piece until we were clear of Haven. I pulled myself straight and tried to remember how to breathe. It was harder than I thought it would be.

Dad tucked something into my jacket pocket – for later, he said – and asked Matt to look after me. Then he said he would go and create a diversion for us and said goodbye.

“I’m coming back for you. Someday,” I said.

He looked at me and touched my cheek, nodding solemnly. Then the darkness swallowed him and I stood exactly where I was, numb.

“Come on,” Matt said softly, tugging on my arm. “We have to go.”

There wasn’t anything else to do. Dad was gone and somehow, I had let him go. All that was left to do was figure out how to work the damned motorbikes and get out of there. Abruptly, I couldn’t wait to get it over with – I wanted to be gone, to run far away from this place. And maybe, to forget what we had found there. It seemed like it would be easier than remembering.


Thorpe gave me a quick tutorial on how to drive the bike. How to start it; what the levers did. I had to sharpen my attention to take in what he said and that helped me block out everything else. Focus, Faith. There was no room for mistakes – if I stalled the engine, there wouldn’t be time to start it again. Luckily, our time riding the scooters were of some use, even if they weren’t exactly the same.

“When we get to the gates, go straight for the centre,” he said. I nodded and filed the information away with the rest of his instructions.

We didn’t trust the cutouts enough to let them take charge of the bikes. So they would ride pillion, as would Iona on the fifth bike. Each of the Seekers had to drive, even Matt with his weak leg. Jonah was going to ride with me, but I told him to make sure that Matt was all right – Jonah was the only one of the cutouts I trusted enough for that. I took a stranger on my bike – I didn’t care which one; there wasn’t time to be choosy. Bobby, his name is. I didn’t find that out until much later.

Abruptly, we were ready. Everyone was on their respective motorbike, poised ready, even the pillion riders. The sound of the engines would attract attention, so we had to be able to go as soon as they were started. It made things awkward when kick-starting the bikes but the compromise was worth it.

Silence fell. I could hear the cutout breathing behind me and the shift of Matt’s glove against the handlebar to my right. I wondered what we were waiting for, what our signal would be, and looked around. Three bikes away, Thorpe was twisted to look behind him, towards the compound’s buildings. I remembered Dad’s words about a distraction and the snake weighed my stomach down like a rock. What kind of distraction? What was he going to do?

Floodlights snapped on behind us, pointed inwards and looking for something within the compound. Voices carried to us across the night air, raised in controlled urgency.

Then sound shattered the space around us: Thorpe’s engine coughed into life. Then another, and another. Hurriedly, I lifted myself up and lurched down on the pedal. Once, twice before the damn thing caught. I muttered through the instructions, trying not to forget anything. Kick that out of the way, nudge this, rev the engine so it doesn’t stall, make sure it’s in gear and let the clutch out. Don’t stall, don’t fall. Go, go, don’t be left behind.

We were a roar tearing along the ditch. I didn’t remember to switch the headlight on until we rose up out of it, cresting the edge in a shower of dirt and slithering tyres. One of the bikes skidded wildly in front of me – I didn’t see who was on it. The engine screeched as it pulled the bike straight again and I swallowed down a nervous lump in my throat. I wished that we’d had a chance to practise this. I wished that we had helmets.

We barrelled down towards the gate. The sentries were shouting in their towers but I couldn’t make out the words above the noise of the engines. Probably warnings. We didn’t waver, notching up the gears as the engines hauled us on faster and faster.

The gates were closed. Closed and locked. Punching through might work in movies, but we were far from Hollywood. I was sure it wouldn’t work now. Whoever hit them first would be thrown off and hurt, or worse. How can we not have a plan for this? Still we accelerated.

Gunfire punctured the air and kicked up the dirt around us. I hunched low, desperately hoping the cutouts would be unlucky in their aim. It was the only protection we had.

We were only a short distance from the gates when I saw one of the guys stretch up from his bike. One arm swung up, then forwards, snapping a small ball at the closed portal.

The explosion was the loudest thing I’ve heard since the bomb went off over my head. Something hit the back of the bike and it wavered. I fought to keep it upright. I wanted to brake but didn’t dare. My passenger’s arms tightened around me as I struggled, making it harder to breathe. Hair and debris whipped at my face. My knuckles stung. Keep going. We had to keep going.

Heat and smoke punched past us. My eyes stung and the headlight was useless. Aim for the centre, Thorpe had said. I had no idea where that was. The roar in my ears drowned out the other engines. I aimed for where I thought the centre of the gates was and sped on. Hoped for the best. Hoped the hole was big enough for us and we would hit it. Instead, it swallowed us.


The rest is a blur of dark and dust. Burning eyes squinting and trying to make sure that the road was still in front of the bike. Bullets pecked around us. My hearing was shattered, full of revving and roaring. The air tasted of dirt and ash, scouring my throat.

We pulled ourselves out of the other side of the smoke and the puffs of dust from bullets hitting the ground stopped. We kept going. The hulks of the buildings at Greenberry Junction rose up out of the darkness, picked out in headlight beams, and then fell behind us. We skidded around ninety degrees when we hit the highway. Tyres bit onto tarmac and we sped on.

I didn’t look back, not once.