Breathe 2


Sarah Crossan

Dedication To Aoife With love Always





We didn’t think sailing to Sequoia would be easy, but we hoped for better luck than freezing rain and winds. The slightest miscalculation and we’ll end up at the bottom of the river.

“Help me!” I shout, throwing my weight into my heels and tipping backward to keep the rigging from slipping out of control. The rain hits us horizontally, and makes ice of the deck. The boat creaks and lurches forward. The sails flap wildly as my cousin, Silas, stumbles toward me and grabs the cable. Almost effortlessly he pulls it taut, and I quickly tie a stopper knot to keep the sail from ballooning out and capsizing us. “That should do it,” I say, my voice thinned by the storm.

Silas pulls up the hood on his coat. He hasn’t said much since we set sail. No one has. What is there to say now that The Grove’s a ruin—now that everything the Resistance ever fought for has been destroyed?

At least the storm keeps us too busy to wallow in memories: the screams and blood; the tanks; soldiers rushing at us with guns; our friends lying dead. And the trees, our whole forest, shriveling while we watched.

I can still taste the toxic foam in my throat.

I follow Silas to the cabin where our tiny group of survivors is taking shelter from the squall. My hands burn from the cold. I rub them together, then tuck them inside my coat and under my armpits.

“We did everything you said,” I tell Bruce. I never thought I’d be so grateful to have a drifter on our side, but whatever harm the old man caused on behalf of the Ministry all those years ago, doesn’t matter now. Without him, we wouldn’t have known how to get the boat going, let alone save it from the storm.

“You young’uns did good,” he says, scratching his gray beard and keeping his eyes on the view out the filthy window, where the outline of city buildings on the shoreline is barely distinguishable through the haze of spray and rain.

The boat dips and the wheel rips out of Bruce’s gnarled hands. My stomach reels. I adjust the valve on the airtank buckled to my belt, and the tank hisses as more air is released into the tubing. I inhale deeply through my nose. As Silas steadies the wheel with Bruce, I squat next to Maude. The old woman has a blanket wrapped around her like a shroud; only her head and one scrawny arm are exposed. “Did you manage to collect all the airtanks from the deck?” I ask. Without air, we may as well jump into the river—finish ourselves off quickly.

“You think I’m some kinda nitwit? I put ’em over there.” She points to the corner of the cabin where the tanks are untidily piled. We have ten, and there are seven of us. How many days of oxygen is that? How many hours?

A sob comes from the opposite corner. My fellow Resistance members, Dorian and Song, are bending over Holly, one of The Grove’s gardeners. I don’t know her well, but I’m glad for everyone who survived.

I grab an airtank and go to them, keeping my stride wide to stay balanced. Holly is shivering so fiercely her teeth are clacking together. Although she lived at The Grove with Song and Dorian, and learned to survive on low levels of oxygen, her breath is quick and shallow. “She’s hyperventilating. She needs this,” I say, holding out the airtank.

Dorian stands up and runs his hand through his hair. “She won’t take one.”

I try to put a hand to her forehead. She swipes me away, scratching my hand with her nails.

“She’s gone loopy,” Maude crows, rubbing a hard scab on her elbow.

Keeping his hands on the wheel, Bruce peers at Holly from under his thick eyebrows with an expression that tells me he’s seen this kind of thing before. I’m sure he has. The Switch sent people mad as the oxygen levels plummeted and everyone slowly suffocated. And he and Maude lived through it. But maybe this is worse. What’s happening now feels like the end. “She’ll be okay,” he says quietly. Maude tuts, but she doesn’t contradict him; she isn’t that heartless.

Holly mutters something. “What is it, Holls?” Song asks. He doesn’t touch her. Instead he presses his own slender brown hands to his heart like he wants to feel what she feels. His eyes are watery and filled with aching. Is it possible they’re an item? Romantic relationships between Resistance members were always forbidden, but maybe that rule was ignored more than I knew. Silas was with Inger, after all.

“Air,” Holly moans. Song reaches for an airtank, but Holly shakes her head. She turns to the cabin door. “Fresh air,” she says, as though there’s such a thing.

Dorian sighs. “We’re sailing through a storm.” The boat pitches backward in answer to his warning. At the wheel, Bruce and Silas grunt and struggle to keep us upright.

“Let’s wait until it passes,” Song says gently.

Holly gazes at her boots, which are flecked in hardened black foam. “I want to go out and feel the air.” She bites her bottom lip and picks invisible lint from her pants. “Then maybe we can go back to The Grove and take showers to warm ourselves up.”

I envy Holly’s retreat. If I could pull away from reality a little bit, what we’ve seen might not hurt so much. “I’ll take her out for a minute,” I say. “Might clear her head.”

Holly stands, pulling her hood over her short, frizzy brown hair. Her nose and ears are already red from the cold. “Where’s Petra?” Holly asks.

I take her hand and lead her to the cabin door. “She’s back at The Grove taking care of the trees,” I say. It’s not untrue. Our leader clung fiercely to a doomed tree as we ran. Petra couldn’t leave behind her life’s work. And she paid the ultimate price.

And then my throat tightens as I remember Jazz scampering up a tree to be with her. Jazz was only a child. She didn’t deserve to die. No one did. “Alina?” Dorian says. He’s behind me.

“We’ll just be a few minutes,” I say, and force the door open against the wind.

Holly and I turn our backs on the lashing rain and head for the bow. I let go of her hand and she clings to the rimed railing, leaning forward and smiling. She allows the biting surf to spray her face and water to trickle down her neck. The boat rocks against a heavy wave, and I grab the railing with my ungloved hands, but Holly lets go. Maybe it was a mistake bringing her outside. “Let’s go back in,” I say.

Holly squints into the bleary distance, and her bottom lip quivers. “I knew we’d lose the war,” she says. Over the roiling of the waves and wind, it sounds like a whisper.

I don’t tell her we haven’t lost because it would be a lie. We’re no better than drifters now, refugees heading for Sequoia and hoping they’ll take us in. All we’ve been left with are our lives, and I’m not sure that’s enough anymore. As though reading my mind, Holly steps on the bottom rung of the railing, and hoists herself onto the other side, so she’s suspended over the prow like a living figurehead. I throw my arms around her.

“Holly, what are you doing? Get your ass back on the deck.”

The boat dips forward, and she begins to cry. “Let me go.”

My feet slip. “Help!” I scream.

Within moments, most of the others are on us and Song is helping me drag her back over the railing. Once she’s safely lying flat on the deck, he shakes her. “What the hell’s wrong with you? How dare you do that? How

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