Sunday, 13 December 2009 - 7:22 pm

Uncomfortable answers

I was sitting there, looking at Bree, trying to figure out what to say to her. I opted to go for the big question that burned in the group lingering around us.

“What happened?”

Bree blinked at me, apparently having trouble focussing. “I’m not sure. Someone hit me.”

I throttled down the urge to snap at her, or maybe shake her a little bit. She was concussed; I should be kinder. “You’re sure it was a person?”

“Yes.” She was gathering herself towards being angry with me, and that’s when I saw that the Bree I knew was still in there. Knocked but not knocked out.

“What happened, exactly? Why were you down here?” A shadow fell over us and I glanced up – it was Thorpe. Jonah was a half-step behind him, along with a few of the others. They wanted to hear this, too.

“I was… going to fetch some water. To bathe the baby.” Bree lifted a hand to gesture towards the water filter and the tank it fed into. “Someone came out from behind a car and hit me.” Her gaze lifted to implore the faces surrounding us. “I didn’t do anything. He just hit me.”

“Who?” Thorpe asked before I could.

She hesitated. “I don’t know. It all happened so fast, I didn’t see.”

“What happened after he hit you?” I said. When I first examined her injury, she had said that she hadn’t lost consciousness, so maybe she saw more of it.

She started to shake her head, then stopped the motion and closed her eyes. Her throat worked for a moment before she could speak. “He ran away. I heard feet, and he was gone by the time I looked up.”

“What makes you say ‘he’?” That was Matt, crouching down on the far side of her.

Bree shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed–” She blinked. “His boots. I fell, and I saw his boots.”

“What kind of boots?”

“Men’s boots.” Her expression turned helpless, knowing that wasn’t useful but not being able to fix it. “Um. Heavy.”

“Did you see Conroy?” I asked.

She aborted another attempt to shake her head. “Not until after it happened. I got up, walked a little way… and there he was.” A hand gestured towards where he had been lying.

So Conroy had been hit first. I looked at the others around us, grim faces on all, and then at the yard around us. What had someone been doing out here that they were afraid of being caught at? Was Conroy involved? Or was the scientist’s assistant the target? So many questions, and so few answers to be found with the other victim unconscious.

My gaze tripped over the vehicle twice before I realised what was out of place. The rear door of one of the offroaders was open. We’re careful about that kind of thing – the vehicles have to stand out in the rain, and an open door would leave the innards vulnerable to the acid. Not to mention allowing it to pool in the footwells.

“Which car?” Mira was helping Bree to her feet but I asked anyway. The girl held my old friend up and Bree blinked at me blankly. “Which car did he come out from behind before he hit you?” I asked.

Bree gazed around at the yard. “It was over there.” She pointed towards the water filter and the open offroader. She had been hit over there and then tried to make it back to the main building, before the head injury had crumpled her knees and help had arrived.

I left her to Mira’s care and went over to the offroader. A group of Seekers were with me: Thorpe, Matt, Dale, Jersey, Jonah, Warren and Bobby. We fanned out to encircle it, looking for any clue about what someone was doing here. It was Dale who leaned in the open door first, only too quickly yank himself back again.

“Stinks,” he said. “It’s soaked.”

Thorpe took a look, then closed the door carefully. “Diesel.”

I stared at them. A car’s innards covered in diesel could only mean one thing. “Someone was going to set fire to it.” I glanced at Thorpe’s hands, still bandaged while his burns healed. We have been here before.

So it wasn’t about Conroy or Bree. It was about sabotage. But this wasn’t about slowing us down: we weren’t going anywhere any more, except to find supplies. And we have more vehicles than the doused one; we checked, but none of the others had been tampered with. Not a splash of diesel on any of them. The can that had been used to pour fuel over the offroader was found wedged under the passenger seat.

“Why only do one?” I asked after we’d been over the whole yard and reassembled in the centre next to the object of our consternation.

“A fire like that creates a lot of smoke,” Thorpe said. He was grim and rubbing the back of one hand with the other.

“A marker?”

“Leading right to where we are,” Jersey said. She sounded as unhappy as we all felt.

“Who was on watch?” Jonah demanded.

Dale and Bobby lifted their hands. Both of them were reluctant, and Dale was the first to offer an apology. He had been on the other side of the main building, watching up towards the road, while Bobby had been checking out the periphery of the greenhouses. They hadn’t known anything was wrong until there was a scream – Bree, we think – and shouts. They had been looking for threats outside the farm, not inside.

Jonah started to berate them about not being careful enough, we have to watch everything now. Thorpe swelled up defensively, rounding on Jonah heatedly; he didn’t take kindly to Dale being accused of carelessness. Dale tried to hold him back, but the big fella was determined.

“We all know it’s one of you. Is it all of you? Huh? Trying to ruin us?” Thorpe batted Dale’s hands off.

I felt sick. I know we’ve all been thinking it: the ex-soldiers are the ones most likely to be sabotaging us. But putting it into words only makes it worse. It makes it more real. It turned Jonah’s face red with fury and I had to do something. I had to step in.

“We don’t know anything right now,” I said, stepping quite literally between them. Matt’s hands plucked at my arm, trying to tug me out of harm’s way, just like Dale was trying to do to the person he loved. I ignored him, same as Thorpe was doing. “Except that someone is trying to hurt us. Until we know who that is, we have to be more careful. We can’t tear ourselves apart like this.”

“Why not?” Thorpe wasn’t so easily appeased. “We might find the truth.”

“Or nothing at all. What if we’re wrong? What if we’re so busy looking in one direction, we miss what’s happening in another? Again?”

“You never wanted us here,” Jonah said to Thorpe. “You’re just looking for an excuse to get rid of us.”

He wasn’t helping things. Bobby had his arms folded beligerantly and his jaw thrust forward. Warren was trying to calm Jonah down, telling him to let it go, let it go. It’s not worth it. Thorpe was only too ready to agree with Jonah’s assessment and I suppressed the urge to sigh. I interrupted, to stop them from escalating into blows.

“Jonah, did you do this?”


“Do you know who did?”


“Okay. Until we do, we have to work together. If only because we’re here together.” I shot Thorpe a look and he grumped back at me, folding his arms over his chest. It wasn’t enough. Words weren’t going to make this work, not even in the short term. “We should double the watches. Mixed pairs,” I suggested. I didn’t mean mixed genders – I meant mixed origins, Seekers and ex-soldiers.

“No-one goes anywhere alone,” Dale added.

It was a reluctant consensus, but it was there. A tentative agreement laced with caution. It will have to do for now. Until yesterday, I had forgotten about the threat of a saboteur, but clearly the saboteur hadn’t forgotten about us. Somehow, we have to figure out who is doing this, before they bring Haven – or worse – down on us.

We can’t run away from this; there’s nowhere to go. We’ve got nowhere left to hide.