Authors: Malorie Blackman
How much do you trust the world around you?
Years after a violent war destroyed much of the world, Kaspar has grown up in a society based on peace and harmony. But beyond the city walls, a vicious band of rebels are plotting to tear this peace apart. It is up to the Guardians – an elite peacekeeping force – to protect the city, without ever resorting to the brutal methods of their enemy.
When Kaspar joins the Guardians, he has a chance encounter with a rebel – a beautiful girl named Rhea. Haunted from that moment on by strange visions and memories – memories that could only belong to Rhea – he realises he hasn’t been told the truth about what the rebels really want, and what he’s really fighting for.
A powerful new story from the bestselling author of
Noughts & Crosses
For Neil and Lizzy,
with love as always.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
(It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country)
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Ode III, 2: 13
All war is deception.
Crusade – a vigorous movement or enterprise against poverty or a similar social evil; a personal campaign undertaken for a particular cause
Oxford English Dictionary
Nearly two centuries ago, the region on our Eastern borders was not the volcanic wasteland it is today. It was a land as beautiful as our own, but inhabited by another culture, the so-called Crusaders, whose very nature was intemperate and undisciplined. While we in the Alliance lived in harmony with the land, valuing and living at one with nature, their highly skilled scientists sought to control and subdue nature through their technology. While we lived in peace and were tolerant to all, they were aggressive and expansionist and viewed our lands with covetous eyes. While we respected nature, they sought to modify the very face of the continents, shifting the tectonic plates beneath their feet to create more territory for their ever-expanding population by triggering nuclear explosives deep within the Earth.
But in their hubris they over-reached themselves. Their nuclear devices deployed, triggering a massive outpouring of lava which turned their homeland into a barren desert. They very nearly annihilated themselves – and those few who survived lived as nomads in the volcanic wasteland they had created, a wasteland which came to be known as the Badlands. But in time, their numbers began to increase, and a group of their deadliest fighters – the Insurgents – turned avaricious eyes towards us once again, dreaming of the day when they would take our land by force and make it their new home.
Extract taken from ‘The Origins of the Insurgency’ by Brother Telem
‘I’m here. I actually made it!’
Kaspar Wilding shouldn’t have been grinning, but he couldn’t help it. In full dress uniform, he stood to attention with his fellow graduates of the Guardian Academy. Seated dignitaries, selected visitors and family members surrounded them on three sides, but none of them were there specifically for Kaspar. Uncle Jeff, the only family Kaspar had left, couldn’t make it.
‘I can’t just up and leave the farm, not when there’s work to be done,’ said Uncle Jeff’s holo-message in response to Kaspar’s invitation. ‘I haven’t got the time to spare to attend your . . . ceremony.’ Uncle Jeff had spat out the last word as if it burned his tongue.
Kaspar didn’t even bother to argue. Conclusive proof – not that any was required – that Uncle Jeff still hadn’t forgiven him for leaving the farm and signing up to be a Guardian. Kaspar doubted that his uncle ever would. But was he about to let that ruin even one minute of his big day? No way.
Brother Simon stood with his back to the graduates as he made his speech. It was a real honour to have a
member of the High Council officiating over the graduation ceremony and it was the first time Kaspar had seen anyone from the Council up close and personal like this. This was meant to be a solemn moment full of import and gravity, but for the life of him, Kaspar just couldn’t keep a straight face.
Keeping his eyes front, he whispered through rigid lips like a ventriloquist to the tall, red-headed girl with dark blue eyes on his left, ‘Hey, Janna, if Brother Simon waves his arms any harder he’ll take off.’
‘Shut up,’ Janna hissed in reply. ‘Or Voss will kick you so hard
be the one who leaves the ground.’
Voss was not only one of the most senior Guardians at the Academy, but also their formidable new boss. At well over two metres, their commander was a lean, mean fighting machine. He’d regularly taken them through a number of exercises during their training and the man took no prisoners. No way would Kaspar like to get on his bad side. He was bald as an egg, the only hair on his face being his jet-black eyebrows which framed his piercing brown eyes. His laser-beam gaze was renowned for missing nothing. Kaspar quickly stowed his smile and resumed his fixed stare at the horizon.
‘ . . . such a fine body of young people who have sworn to protect our way of life here in the Alliance and our communities from those misguided Insurgents who would seek to deprive us of everything we hold dear . . .’ Brother Simon droned on, still watering his dry words with the frenzied flailing of his arms. Kaspar found it more
interesting to concentrate on the High Councillor’s active limbs than his arid words.
‘I still can’t believe they made a melon farmer like you Honour Cadet,’ whispered Dillon from Kaspar’s right. ‘You must have compromising photos of someone very important doing something really embarrassing with barnyard animals.’
‘Jealousy. Pure jealousy,’ replied Kaspar, but his grin was back with a vengeance.
Dillon had a point, though. To think that until eighteen months ago, Kaspar had been working on his uncle’s farm on the edge of the Badlands. But after brooding and stewing and agonizing about it for months, he’d applied to be a cadet at the Academy behind his uncle’s back . . .
He remembered every moment of his interview . . . ‘Congratulations on making it this far,’ the Inducting Officer had said. ‘But I warn you now, I’m not here to rubber-stamp your application. We only take those with the potential to become the best, the elite. So what makes you think you could be a Guardian?’
The IndO’s unexpectedly brusque manner threw Kaspar for a moment. He took a deep, steadying breath. ‘As you can see from my medical report, I’m fit. I regularly run and swim. And I’m strong. I’m used to hard work on the farm. Plus I scored nine hundred and eighty-four on the aptitude test,’ he answered, prickles of heat lancing his skin as he spoke.
He wanted to join the Academy so badly he could taste
it sharp and sweet on his tongue, reach out his hand and almost touch it.
. If he were to fail at one of the first hurdles . . .
‘It takes more than that,’ the IndO continued, distinctly unimpressed. ‘I see from your application that you’ve spent most of your life on your uncle’s farm. Even visits to Capital City have been rare. To put it mildly, you lack experience of anything but farm life.’
‘That’s true, sir, but I’m a very fast learner, I think quickly on my feet and I’m eager to serve,’ said Kaspar.
‘Blah, blah, blah! You seriously think you could face a mob of homicidal terrorists intent on death and destruction and still keep it together? Well, farm boy?’
The IndO turned away before Kaspar could even reply, his finger heading for the REJECTED icon at the bottom of the data screen.
‘Runs in the family, sir,’ Kaspar shot back defiantly. ‘My father was R. J. Wilding and my mother was Kristin Jaeger.’
The Inducting Officer froze momentarily before slowly turning to face Kaspar. For the first time since he’d entered the room, Kaspar had the IndO’s full, undivided attention, just not the way he wanted to get it.
‘Rob and Kristin were your parents?’
RJ and KJ, as they were known, had been paired up straight out of the Academy. Two years of stellar performance had followed as they had gelled into one superb unit that protected and served along with the best of the veteran Guardians. Their name and fame had spread
further and faster when they’d saved Sister Elena, one of the High Council, from an assassination attempt. Less than two years later they had got married, and Kristin became pregnant – but on the night she went into labour, RJ had been killed. Ironically, Kaspar knew it had been an accident – on his way to the hospital to be with his wife, a truck had slammed into RJ’s car and he’d died immediately. After Kaspar was born, Kristin had returned to work and successfully juggled being a mum and an Academy Instructor for seven more years until she too died. That death
been accidental. A terrorist attempt to sabotage a nuclear power plant had led to a release of lethal radiation. Kristin, her partner and two of the terrorists had been so badly irradiated that it hadn’t even been safe to recover their bodies. The Radiological Protection team had just poured in tonne after tonne of concrete and entombed them all together. After that, Kaspar had been sent to live with Uncle Jeff.
The Inducting Officer’s hand returned to his side as he sat back in his high-back chair and scrutinized Kaspar. ‘That’s quite a pedigree to live up to.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Kaspar tried desperately to keep his expression neutral. He sighed inwardly. So much for his promise to himself not to use his heavyweight parents as a battering ram to open doors. He had barely warmed the seat he was sitting on, before his famous parents were practically the first thing out of his mouth.
‘You seriously reckon you’re up to the task?’ the IndO persisted.
‘Absolutely, sir. I know I am. I’ve never wanted to do anything else or be anything else. All I need is a chance.’
The officer gave Kaspar an appraising look, then turned back to Kaspar’s application. ‘Congratulations, Cadet Wilding. You’re in.’ He stabbed at the APPROVED icon decisively.
Kaspar should’ve been happy, but he wasn’t. He headed for the door, but then lingered. The IndO was scrolling through Kaspar’s application. Kaspar could see his own 3D image projecting from the screen, turning slowly through three hundred and sixty degrees.
‘Yes, Cadet Wilding?’ asked the IndO, turning to face him.
‘Sir, could you not put down who my parents were on my application form?’ asked Kaspar.
‘Why ever not?’
‘I’d like to do this on my own merits, no one else’s,’ said Kaspar carefully.
The IndO studied him for several seconds. ‘Have you thought this through? Your parents’ names could open a lot of doors.’