Reluctant is the second dystopian novel to the Resistant Series questioning how much one is willing to sacrifice in order to do what is right.
Awakening in a testing facility in which she previously escaped, Jennifer finds herself in the hands of a ruthless examiner that will stop at nothing to find the cure to the SA8 virus. Coerced into a sinister game of her willfully complying to resistance testing in exchange for knowledge about her past, Jennifer confronts the dark truths about the exploitative history of human existence and begins to blame herself for the death of so many. Can she find the strength and determination to carry on as she is faced with a new pathogen created by her captors or has she given up on a society and its continual efforts to destroy itself?
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The woods surrounded me, their green canopy blocking out most of the sun’s rays, yet enough light crept through to see a figure moving in the distance. Moving stealthily, I inched forward, not knowing who it was, not knowing if he were friend or foe. As my heart hammered, the form turned around. Happy and relieved, I smiled to see Michael clad in camouflage, staring at me, a small grin on his face.
He advanced and I stepped out from behind the tree. There was no reason to conceal myself any longer, and I felt the fear in my stomach turn to longing, as I slowly walked towards him. I might not be able to remember my past, but I knew who I wanted in my future.
Michael didn’t raise his arms as I approached, but he never did. We had both seen too much cruelty in the world to give in to the playfulness of being young. Still, sheepishly I walked toward him, hoping for his embrace and to feel his lips upon mine.
But as I took my final few steps, his demeanor changed and his expression dimmed. I don’t know how I moved so quickly, but when I saw his hand reach for the pistol in his holster, I dove in behind the closest tree, hearing the bullets hit on the other side. Not looking back, I fled as fast as possible, not knowing what had happened. More bullets ricocheted off the trees around me, and I knew that he would eventually find his target. No one could shoot as well as Michael, who had survived the hell the world had become.
His superior force and speed threw me to the ground, jolted the air from my lungs, but I continued to struggle with him. I wasn’t going to give in. I wasn’t going to stop until my last breath had been taken. When I reached up towards his eyes, pushing my finger deep in one of the sockets, he slapped me hard across the face. After another punishing hit, I felt the warm blood ooze out of my nose. He wrestled my hands down and tore at my clothing, making me cry out for the first time.
I looked up at him as he leaned over me, shouting.
“Say my name! Say my name!” he implored.
“Damien,” I whimpered.
* * *
A horrible odor jolted me from my sleep and I jumped when a hand came down against the side of my face, holding me in place as I pulled at the cuffs.
“Stay calm, it’s just a smelling salt,” the voice said, but I couldn’t see who it was. The blindfold that had been placed over my eyes was too tight and it pinched the side of my head. I could hear the chopping of the helicopter blades and felt the sinking feeling as we were slowly falling. With a small bump, the skids sat down.
Rough hands leaned in and grabbed my hands and I felt the cuffs unlock, then refasten before I could react. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. When we took flight, I had been injected with a drug that had put me to sleep, and even though they had awoken me, I was still very dizzy.
“You two, wake up the old man and we’ll take this one inside.”
I had forgotten that I was not the only captive. The Mayor, or at least that’s what those infected with the SA8 virus called him, had also been taken by these agents. He had led the infected group, which we called Deracines, against us, striking the prison compound twice within a matter of days, but when we captured him, he swore he was resistant to the dreaded SA8 virus that had ravaged humanity.
That’s why they had abducted us. They wanted to find a cure they said would be used to save everyone, but I could only think about how they had killed all those innocent people. The buses were full of innocent men, women and children. They were supposedly headed to a new home to start over again, but never made it.
As I stepped off the helicopter, I was pulled along a concrete walk. Counting the steps in my mind, I tried to remember anything that would help me escape again. It was thirty-six steps when I finally heard a door shut behind me.
“Let’s get her down first. That shot put the old man out good.” I felt a thump against the side of my head. “And you, watch out, because we are about to take a few steps downward, understand?” I nodded, too scared to make a noise through my gag.
A man grasped my arm and we moved forward. Some machines turned on that made me pause, but I wasn’t allowed to stop. A swift gust of air blew against me, and I ducked my head as I took my first step down the staircase, the metal reminding me of the stairs back at the prison compound. I could only think that the air was a way to clean the room before we descended further down into an underground chamber. It was another twenty-two steps before I was pushed roughly and felt a cool, slick metal wall against my shoulder. The man laughed.
“Sorry about that.” When he reached for my arm again, I pulled away, but he pushed me into a corner, putting a hand up to my throat. “You want to be nice to me, C1, or I’ll make your life a living hell down here.”
I wanted to tell him that my worst fears had already come true, but all I could do was whimper through the gag and hope that my sobs would allow me some sort of relief from the man. He let go and I stood there, motionless.
A bell chimed, and before I knew what was happening, the floor slowly began to descend underneath me.
“Elevator,” the man explained.
Again, a large gush of air hit me and I pulled my head lower against my shoulder, unable to get away from it. When the elevator finally stopped, a woman’s calm voice came on a speaker above us.
“One hundred percent clear,” she said. Another bell rang and the man once again grabbed me by the arm. I didn’t resist this time, but walked beside him as he pulled me along. I counted my steps, but didn’t know if it would matter anymore. I figured I would never see the light of day again.
I heard another metallic unclasping noise, like something had become unhinged.
“There,” the man finally said. “Now I can get out of this suit.” I could tell that he was removing the Hazmat suit, as the plastic crinkled against itself.
“I guess you don’t know anything about these, do you, being resistant and everything?” I didn’t move, but finally felt his hand under my chin, attempting an acknowledgement from me. “I don’t care if you are gagged and blindfolded. When I say something, you can nod ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Is that understood, or do I need to teach you your first lesson down here?”
I shook my head back and forth this time and he slung my head away. Again, I heard the plastic material moving and then felt his hand on my arm again. He pulled me and forced me down in a chair. Slowly, he untied the cloth gag that was in my mouth, leaving me there, vulnerable and anxious.
“It will be a few minutes before they’re able to get the old man down here, so let’s take this time to get acquainted. My name is Trevor. After your escape, I was assigned here to oversee your every move once you were returned. For the past couple of months, I have been extremely bored, waiting on your arrival, but when they found you at that prison, I began getting the place ready.”
“H ... how did they find me?” I asked timidly.
“There, you see, you can ask questions and answer mine. We can be very civilized towards each other if you will just allow it. But I digress. Really, it was only a matter of time before they found you. There’s only so many safe zones and we knew which direction you were headed. You were going to pop up on our radar eventually. The last facilitator here chose not to put you on a tracking system, which was stupid.”
“The last facilitator?”
“Yeah, some idiot and his subordinates. They practically befriended you from what I read in the reports. Maybe he felt bad for you or something. Last time they were seen alive was flying a helicopter out to find you. We found it crashed in the city a few days later. Both pilots were killed, but we never did find the gunner or the program facilitator. The biters probably ate them, but who knows.”
I struggled to think and the memory of the helicopter crash came to mind. The man who had recaptured me, Alex, and I had used the tether to jump to safety moments before it exploded against the trees below us.
“Was the captain’s name Alex?” I questioned. Again, I heard Trevor give a small chuckle for a second.
“Well, the idiot must have told you his life story or something.”
I heard something pour in the background.
“How did you know his name?”
I hesitated, not knowing what to say or if I should say anything at all. Still, he was being nice to me while I was talking, so I continued to do so. “He was in the Deracine prison with me until they took off his mask and discovered he was SA8.”
“I guess Deracines are what you call the infected. And did you get to watch him turn?”
“It’s an ugly thing. Too bad you can’t remember when this virus ripped through the country. That was, well, probably the most amazing thing to see. Everything we knew stopped within a matter of weeks. Coffee?”
I nodded my head as I heard a cup being placed in front of me, but I was astonished that Trevor used the word amazing to describe the pandemic that had killed so many. I could feel a shiver run up my spine as he placed his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m going to unlock your cuffs just for a moment so I can put them in front of you. If you try anything stupid, I’ll knock you unconscious on the floor in no time. Do you understand me?”
He pulled the cuffs back and unfastened them, then guided my hands above my head before placing them back on.
“There, now you can reach your own coffee. I put some creamer in it for you; I hope you don’t mind.”
“Thank you,” I said, not exactly knowing what coffee was, but remembering Stacey saying something about it back at the compound. Slowly, I reached my hands out and felt the top of the glass with them. Grabbing the cup, I held it up towards my mouth and took a sip. I winced as I forced myself to drink it and heard Trevor laugh.
“You must not be much of a coffee drinker.” I shook my head to his amusement. “Well, Alex and his team thought they had covered all of their bases by keeping you medicated all the time. However, they should have known better. Your friend up there escaped years ago, and they didn’t realize how smart you were or how your body became resistant to the drugs over time. So, we’re not going to make the same mistake twice. This time, we’ll let technology make sure you don’t go anywhere.”
I heard him move around again and before I knew it, he had grabbed my arm and twisted me in my chair, telling me to stay calm, but I flinched when his hand fell upon my knee.
“I’m not one of those animals,” he said bluntly. For a moment, I thought about kicking him, but knew that if I tried he would still have the advantage over me. The moment passed when I felt the thick, metal cuff surround my ankle.
“There we go.” He laid a hand upon my shoulder. “Now, let me tell you what will happen if you think you can escape again. This pretty, little bracelet also detects the virus, so if you ever get out of here, it will go off and send some two hundred thousand volts through your body until you are unconscious or back inside. Is that understood?”
I nodded, but for a moment, I thought I was about to break down and cry. I was drugged so quickly after the attack on the buses that I hadn’t shed a tear for the loss of my friends. My heart began to race as this began to feel like a finale for me and that once they found the cure from my resistant body, that I would be no more use to them. Somewhere deep down inside, I knew I was going to die down here in this subterranean lab.
“You don’t have to do this,” I mumbled.
“What was that?”
“Please, you don’t ... I won’t try to escape.”
I heard Trevor laugh again. “C1, you don’t get it, do you? You are the best chance of finding a cure for this virus. Your blood carries it and your sacrifice down here will make sure that society starts to thrive again in the way that we want it to.”
I felt his hand on my shoulder again.
“And I bet the person that helps these scientists find the cure will be given a wonderful bonus in the new world order.” His hand left my shoulder and I heard him walk away. My breathing intensified, but I wanted to remain strong.
“I’ll never help you. I won’t.”
“C1, do you really think you have a choice? And you won’t be needing this when you do.”
I felt him unsnap the necklace and slide the chain from around my neck, taking the medallion with the infinity symbol. Before I could protest, he abruptly grabbed me by the hair and pulled me from my seat as I cried out in pain. We moved across the room quickly and I heard a door slam behind me.
“You may remove your blindfold and you’ll find the key to your cuffs on the pillow of your bed.” It was Trevor’s voice, but it was coming through a speaker above me now. “Dinner will be served in two hours. Welcome home, C1”