Nothing Comes For Free
Distant screams ring out from the neighbourhood. Another soldier raid must be happening. The raids are becoming much more frequent since Slash announced that now not only children over the age of 12 can be conscripted to join the Authorian army, but any child over age 8.
I glance across the room to where my little sister Lizzie is sleeping. The past month has made the life we lived before the brutal regime of the Authority seem like another world. The screams intensify and I think the raid is getting closer.
Whispers of a rebellion have whirled around. A place free from the Authority, where you are safe. I remember my neighbour said they were going to try to make it to the Dublin mountains where, rumour has it, the Resistance were. At the time, I wouldn’t risk trying to escape as the punishment was so severe, but the tension has only escalated and I fear Lizzie and I might be taken someday soon.
I gently wake Lizzie and tell her to get dressed. Searching for food has become a daily struggle of mine but I manage to gather two tins of beans, some apples, and a handful of other items from the deserted house next door. Lizzie keeps asking where we’re going but I don’t know what to tell her. I sweep my eyes over our house one last time. My memories of happiness with my family engulf me, but we must go. We sneak along the walls of the estate. The rumble of a truck forces Lizzie and I to hide while the truck of children are taken, never to be seen again.
After a couple of hours of sneaking through estates, we reach the refuge of the forest. The trees are like a safety blanket and the harsh lights of the Authority trucks are nowhere to be seen.
Lizzie won’t stop complaining that her feet are sore. I have to remember that she is only 9 and must be scared. I agree to carry her but this soon becomes too hard. We sit on a damp rock and eat a bit of bread and an apple. I freeze. Someone is coming and as we don’t have somewhere to hide, I whisper to Lizzie to stay silent. My heart is beating so hard, I thought it might burst from my chest. A dim light from a torch lands on us. However, it is not the uniformed black mask with a red mark I am facing, but two faces. They ask why we are in the forest and for some reason, I trust them. I tell them we are looking for the Resistance and heard it might be in the Dublin mountains. Relief washes over me when they tell us they are part of the Resistance and will bring us there.
A short while later, the sound of people and the smell of food is a sign that we are here. We are brought to meet the leader of the Resistance, Commander Marcus. His serious expression is not what I expected. He barks a command at the two men who helped us to search us for weapons. Undoubtedly, they find none. He questions us relentlessly regarding how we found them, why we are here, and then he wants to know if we can fight. When I tell him that we can’t and that we are seeking refuge, he grunts. He tells us that nothing comes for free and that everyone must contribute to the camp. This surprised me as I envisioned more of a commune where we would be away from any conflict. The Commander says he will speak to us again in the morning and I am glad as we are exhausted after walking all night. A man shows us to a tent where two sleeping bags are empty. I am surprised that another girl is there as well. Lizzie and I fall asleep instantaneously from exhaustion.
Several days pass and I become more and more disillusioned with the Resistance. Their demands are frequent and no one questions what Commander Marcus commands. One day while I am working in the make shift camp kitchens, I am summoned to the main tent on camp. Although most of the tents are small, this one is large and sturdy as it is where Commander Marcus runs the camp. Uncertainty surrounds me as I see Lizzie is standing beside the edge of the tent. I force myself to give her a weak smile of reassurance. Upon our entry, we are surrounded by maps and lists of names. Commander Marcus welcomes us and ushers us over to a table covered with a map. The Commander begins to inform us that a resistance spy has discovered that Authoritarian vans will be crossing the bridge near us to bring weapons into the city. I wonder why he is telling Lizzie and I.
He smiles at us, this is probably his attempt at reassuring me that all is well. He says that as Lizzie is the only child at the Resistance camp, we must use her as bait to lure the Authoritarian vans to stop whilst on the bridge so that we can cause an explosion. Even though I can barely think straight, he continues saying that we don’t have enough explosives ourselves to blow up the bridge frequently used by the Authority to transport their ammunition into the city. This is why we must take the opportunity to close the route.
At last, silence engulfs the room. The Commander looks at me expectantly for an answer. The only reason I risked my life to come here was to save Lizzie form the violence a life in the Authority’s child army would bring. I promised my parents I would protect Lizzie and being used as bait for Authority ammunition trucks is the furthest thing from safe. However, refusing the Commander could be dangerous and so I smile gently and ask when this scheme was scheduled to happen. The Commander informs me that it would be tomorrow. I now see that his behaviour all along was focused on his personal safety and ego. Commander Marcus just wants to be thanked and to be celebrated by people, that’s why he wants to bomb the bridge. This plan doesn’t take into account the fact they want to use my sown sister as a trap to draw the Authority in, with the promise of another child soldier for their brutal regime. Has the Commander not thought of the fact that my sister would be on the bridge as they blew it up? Almost certain death.
My stomach feels as though thousands of wasps are stinging it and I lie telling him that of course he could use Lizzie if it meant helping the resistance. This evokes a smile and I would almost trust him if I didn’t know what he was capable of. At least with the Slash, she doesn’t try to hide her selfish, evil ways yet Commander Marcus acts like he would do anything to help all the while, he creates dangerous plans, risking any life but his own. I take Lizzie’s hand and we leave after he tells us we are relieved from work to rest. Although I want to run away immediately, I guess that someone like the Commander would have people watching for deserters especially us as we are now involved in one of his plans.
As we had to leave our home quickly, we couldn’t bring much and so I hastily pack our meagre belongings. Once the sun sets and the darkness engulfs the camp, Lizzie and I sneak out of the camp. Once we can no longer hear the river, I breathe out the breath I didn’t know I was holding.
The hum of water is reassuring and the moon casts a silvery glow on the river. Uncertainty about the future threatens to overwhelm me. However, I know that I have Lizzie and I will keep the promise I made to keep her safe.