Fri, 13 November 2009 - 10:22 pm

The calm before

We think we’ve lost the Haven cutouts. It’s possible we’re finally free of them. We’re keeping our course as it is at the moment, though we’ll reach the coast soon and have to choose a direction: north or south. Hard to say right now which way it’ll have to be.

 

At the ditch, clustering together to prepare to bust out of Haven, we were a mixed group. Intentions, hopes, confidence – all muddled, all standing in the dark peering at each other. Words were exchanged in strained whispers.

All of the Seekers were there except Tia, Terry, and Dan Wu. Dan had decided not to come, I was told. He had had enough of scraping for a living in the ruins and thought that Haven was worth a chance. Tia and Terry’s absence was not a surprise, but that was the moment when I realised I hadn’t said goodbye to either of them. Not even Tia. Jersey hadn’t woken the girl at all; she wouldn’t know we were gone until the morning, like everyone else. It felt unfair. What if she was going to change her mind at the last moment? She never got the chance and we’ll never know now.

Iona hovered on the edges of the group, her fingers plucking at her sleeves restlessly. She was nervous and constantly gazing around with wide eyes, but she kept quiet and that was the important thing at the time.

Dad was a solid presence in the group – I handed him the guns I had taken from Jonah’s friend as soon as I saw him. I didn’t want them any more. I didn’t want to touch another gun again in my life and it was an effort not to remember that it had been Dad’s rifle that I had used on Ben. He gave me a quick, one-armed hug before we turned to the cutouts.

The four men were relieved of their burdens and made to kneel in the centre of our little group. Questions circled around again – what, why do you want to come, why should we take you. They didn’t jump up and raise an alarm, or shout for the nearby sentries to come arrest us. There were no flares, no sudden breaks for freedom away from us. They just answered us, their answers consistent with what they had said earlier, words murmured so that they settled in the bottom of the ditch with us.

I didn’t know what to think. I trusted Jonah, even though I barely knew him at all – it was a gut instinct and I knew it. I wanted to ignore it but we had so little to go on. I didn’t know the other guys at all, though Matt knew one of the others. His familiarity didn’t help much either.

There was no time for a proper discussion. We had to get out of Haven before we were discovered standing here, deep is conversation. It would have been the most ridiculous and useless escape attempt in the world.

We didn’t have many options. I thought about poor Jaye who was going to wake with a wicked headache. We could do to them what we did to her: knock them out, lash them together and leave them here in the ditch. No-one would know until the sun came up. Unless they fought us and shouted for help – that would undo everything. I talked about it briefly with Matt, Thorpe, and Dad, and saw Jonah watching us. The cutouts would get in trouble if we did that. There would be questions about why they were out here, how they got caught by us – us – how we got their weapons and disabled trained soldiers…. It wouldn’t add up and we all knew it.

And we owe Jonah. I owe him, for keeping quiet when he could have got me in trouble, twice now. I couldn’t let that decide us, but I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. Maybe the debt wasn’t this big, maybe it didn’t include our friends too, but I was beholden to him. It niggled at me even while I tried to stay distant and detached. Besides, trained soldiers might be useful for us.

There were dangers. Questionable motives and a further strain on our stolen supplies. Weapons, so many weapons. We didn’t have enough information to make a smart choice, so all we had left was the emotional ones. No-one in the group had the stomach to kill them, and leaving them behind would be too dangerous. So many things to think about and no time.

We decided to give them a chance and take them with us. It was safer for everyone. If they were going to raise the alarm and betray us, they could have done it by then and got us all caught – we were close enough to the sentry posts that shouts would be heard. Sounds carry far in the silent dark.

And if worst came to worst, we could deal with them outside of Haven.

 

The decision made, we turned to load the supplies onto the vehicles. I was expecting to see the hulks of vehicles crouching in the darkness, but there weren’t any. Instead, the bottom of the ditch where the Seekers sheltered held the slim lumps of motorcycles. I didn’t know what to think about it – riding those, we would be exposed, to bullets and the rain, painfully so. I had been told that the boys had found some unused vehicles, and I guessed that this was it. It was a case of making the best of it.

We had to lash the packs to the motorbikes and make room for weapons. There weren’t many bikes, and we were nearly done with the loading when I realised that it wasn’t going to work. Until then, I hadn’t had the chance to count bodies and vehicles. The numbers drew themselves together in my head while I wrangled a heavy pack into place on the back of a bike and I almost let the damned thing thud onto the ground. I struggled to lash it down and then stood back to count again.

The snake of fear in my stomach was still there, and I could feel its coils moving when my numbers were confirmed. There were five bikes, and eleven of us. Two per bike was already pushing it, especially with the supplies, but there were too many people. We would have to leave food behind to make room but the slender bikes still didn’t look like they’d take three.

I didn’t know what to do. Should we draw straws to see who would stay behind? Whoever it was would take the blame for all of this. Blame and punishment.

I was staring at the quiet motions in the ditch, frozen in place. Then Dad touched my arm and jolted me out of it, so he could ask me what was wrong. I told him in a soft, helpless voice and his expression clamped down into grimness. The snake moved in my belly; he already knew. He knew the numbers didn’t fit.

“Don’t worry, Faithy,” he said, not making any sense at all. How could I not worry about that? “Everyone will fit.”

“How?”

His gaze was avoiding my face, even in the dark. “I should have told you this before. I’m sorry.”

The snake had fangs made of ice. It bit deep. “Told me what?”

He looked at me finally, so I’d know he meant it. “I’m not coming with you.”

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