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.