“Yeah,” Adam says. Nods. Studies his hands. “But we really need to figure out what we’re going to do. I don’t know how much longer we can live like this. We’re going to run out of food in a few weeks at the most,” he says. “We’ve got ten people to feed now. Plus, Brendan and Winston are still hurting; I’ve done what I can for them using the limited supplies I have here, but they need actual medical attention and pain medication, if we can swing it.” A pause. “I don’t know what Kenji’s told you, but they were seriously messed up when we brought them in here. Winston’s swelling has only just gone down. We really can’t stay here for much longer,” he says. “We need a plan.”
“Yes.” I’m so relieved to hear he’s ready to be proactive. “Yes. Yes. We need a plan. What are you thinking? Do you already have something in mind?”
Adam shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he admits. “Maybe we can keep breaking into the storage units like we used to—steal supplies every once in a while—and lie low in a bigger space on unregulated ground. But we’ll never be able to set foot on the compounds,” he says. “There’s too much risk. They’ll shoot us dead on sight if we’re caught. So . . . I don’t know,” he says. He looks sheepish as he laughs. “I’m kind of hoping I’m not the only one with ideas.”
“But . . .” I hesitate, confused. “That’s it? You’re not thinking of fighting back anymore? You think we should just find a way to live—like this?” I gesture to the door, to what lies beyond it.
Adam looks at me, surprised by my reaction.
“It’s not like I want this,” he says. “But I can’t see how we could possibly fight back without getting ourselves killed. I’m trying to be practical.” He runs an agitated hand through his hair. “I took a chance,” he says, lowering his voice. “I tried to fight back, and it got us all massacred. I shouldn’t even be alive right now. But for some crazy reason, I am, and so is James, and God, Juliette, so are you.
“And I don’t know,” he says, shaking his head, looking away. “I feel like I’ve been given a chance to live my life. I’ll need to think of new ways to find food and put a roof over my head. I have no money coming in, I’ll never be able to enlist in this sector again, and I’m not a registered citizen, so I’ll never be able to work. Right now all I’m focused on is how I’ll be able to feed my family and my friends in a few weeks.” His jaw tenses. “Maybe one day another group will be smarter—stronger—but I don’t think that’s us anymore. I don’t think we stand a chance.”
I’m blinking at him, stunned. “I can’t believe this.”
“You can’t believe what?”
“You’re giving up.” I hear the accusation in my voice and I do nothing to hide it. “You’re just giving up.”
“What choice do I have?” he asks, his eyes hurt, angry. “I’m not trying to be a martyr,” he says. “We gave it a shot. We tried to fight back, and it came to shit. Everyone we know is dead, and that battered group of people you saw out there is all that’s left of our resistance. How are the nine of us supposed to fight the world?” he demands. “It’s not a fair fight, Juliette.”
I’m nodding. Staring into my hands. Trying and failing to hide my shock.
“I’m not a coward,” he says to me, struggling to moderate his voice. “I just want to protect my family. I don’t want James to have to worry that I’m going to show up dead every day. He needs me to be rational.”
“But living like this,” I say to him. “As fugitives? Stealing to survive and hiding from the world? How is that any better? You’ll be worried every single day, constantly looking over your shoulder, terrified of ever leaving James alone. You’ll be miserable.”
“But I’ll be alive.”
“That’s not being alive,” I say to him. “That’s not living—”
“How would you know?” he snaps. His mood shifts so suddenly I’m stunned into silence. “What do you know about being alive?” he demands. “You wouldn’t say a word when I first found you. You were afraid of your own shadow. You were so consumed by grief and guilt that you’d gone almost completely insane—living so far inside your own head that you had no idea what happened to the world while you were gone.”
I flinch, stung by the venom in his voice. I’ve never seen Adam so bitter or cruel. This isn’t the Adam I know. I want him to stop. Rewind. Apologize. Erase the things he’s just said.
But he doesn’t.
“You think you’ve had it hard,” he’s saying to me. “Living in psych wards and being thrown in jail—you think that was difficult. But what you don’t realize is that you’ve always had a roof over your head, and food delivered to you on a regular basis.” His hands are clenching, unclenching. “And that’s more than most people will ever have. You have no idea what it’s really like to live out here—no idea what it’s like to starve and watch your family die in front of you. You have no idea,” he says to me, “what it means to truly suffer. Sometimes I think you live in some fantasy land where everyone survives on optimism—but it doesn’t work that way out here. In this world you’re either alive, about to die, or dead. There’s no romance in it. No illusion. So don’t try to pretend you have any idea what it means to be alive today. Right now. Because you don’t.”
Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures.
No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh.
I swallow, hard
and steady myself to respond quietly. Carefully.
He’s just upset, I’m telling myself. He’s just scared and worried and stressed out and he doesn’t mean any of it, not really, I keep telling myself.
He’s just upset.
He doesn’t mean it.
“Maybe,” I say. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to live. Maybe I’m still not human enough to know more than what’s right in front of me.” I stare straight into his eyes. “But I do know what it’s like to hide from the world. I know what it’s like to live as though I don’t exist, caged away and isolated from society. And I won’t do it again,” I say. “I can’t. I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I’m not afraid to speak. Where my shadow no longer haunts me. And I don’t want to lose that freedom—not again. I can’t go backward. I’d rather be shot dead screaming for justice than die alone in a prison of my own making.”