Officially, the explosions are blamed on a fraction of the occupiers with Nobody sympathies. Arrests are made and the protesters are forced off their turf.
This doesn’t go as smoothly as those in charge had hoped. Far from being afraid of the law, the people link arms. Hand in hand, they stand defiant. Songs of their ancestors are passed down and learnt by a new generation. A festival ground has been established with the rise creating a natural stage. Someone sets up a rudimentary sound system. People show up with instruments, no matter how hard the police try to limit the influx of new protesters. With a focal point, the occupation turns to voice their issues in song. The list of songs goes on, but the favourites are repeated again and again, in every style, from every angle.
The police aren’t sure how to react. The response is sluggish at best. Orders are relayed down the line but by the time they have arrived those on the ground are unable to implement them. They are overwhelmed by the shear number of people. Had they received the support they need to execute their commanders orders, it might have been possible to quell the excitement before it had erupted into what it has become. The rank and file are left in the square holding the people in and praying it doesn’t get too violent.
They made the national press last night. There has, so far, been little attention paid to the city’s problems, but after the explosions yesterday, public interest has sparked. Whether it is a morbid curiosity or a genuine concern, no one quite knows yet. In other cities there is electricity in the air, people are waiting to see how the rest of this turns out. Some people are already wondering if it is their turn next.
Interspersed throughout the crowd are the thugs that work for Cleaver. For the most part, they are watching proceedings, enjoying the atmosphere and having a good time whilst good times can be had. They sit near their tents and drink.
The bins haven’t been emptied for weeks now, and the smell has driven Cleaver’s men deeper into the crowd. They are given a wide berth. Even the police avoid them. Reflective jacket-wearing wardens patrol the groups of people, checking in on everyone, making sure nothing too bad is being done.
At the back, it is almost impossible for people to hear anything but beats and rambling. A thin line of occupiers divide the crowd from the riot-gear suited police. There is an anticipation present on both sides, concern that something big might be about to happen. The road that runs around the square is left empty. Cars have been diverted and the police are lined up on the far side, a wall of hardened, faceless warriors. A day or two ago they were wearing their usual blues and mingling with the crowd. Now they stand apart.
Hostility floods the air. News reaches the protesters that the official blame for the explosions has been placed on ‘Every Body’, a well known charitable organisation that supports Nobodies. They have been arrested and imprisoned without trial. A statement has been read in parliament condemning the group and their terror acts. The Crier has hastily put together an article on the charity and its anti-government activities that, whilst proactive, have never been violent. Their work has been building momentum, especially against the government. Not expressly linking the actions to the current situation, the article certainly leading readers to the conclusion that politics is involved, and a cover-up.
Once a good portion of the crowd discovers the news, they turn away from the music. Songs are replaced by the rumbles of angry murmurs. Finding themselves no longer facing the police and instead a battalion of riot-gear clad officers. Soon after that, they realise they are surrounded.
The crowd shrinks back and surges forward. Intimidated waves fall back to the centre of the square, looking for a way out. Others, presented with a challenge and ready for a fight, make their way to the forefront and square up against the foe, unperturbed by the forces against them.
Deathly silence, the kind that can only be heard in a city. Nothing. Nothing man made, nothing natural. Even the wind that usually whips the tops of buildings has died away. The air is filled with absent birdsong. With so much quiet, hearts begin to race, and suddenly their own heartbeats become the only sound to break the voiceless anger and fear.
Neither side moves.
A barrage of insults are thrown one way, a chorus of angry rants rise up, but they land on deaf ears. No matter how aggressive the mob gets, their opposition stands firm, an unmoving wall that takes in everything thrown at it. They don’t need to. The usual tactics have become unnecessary. The crowd is already contained, there is no need to move them. The dogs have been sent for just in case a full riot breaks out. Most of the officers remember the last riot, the juvenile rage against the machine. This time feels little different.
Or at least it did. There are some things that the higher-ups hadn’t taken into account. This isn’t a recreation of the last riot, it is a continuation. There may have been a period of peace but nothing has been forgotten. The tension has been left unrelieved, a wound up people have been left tense. In the moments that have passed, the people have been reminiscing about the last time, how good it was before it wasn’t. The children have grown up and discovered that the world is exactly what they thought it was. They are where they are and there is no chance of change.
Unspoken secrets are revealed. Truths that have been noticed. The life expectancy gap between the Shambles and the richer areas of town has been growing. The paint is flaking. The schools, those attended, are understocked and crumbling. Last year, three rows of housing were pulled down to expand the complex of high-rises on the border between this borough and the next.
These were the warning shots, though no one knew it. The issues bubbling beneath the surface, and never quite making it up and out through the cracks.
People wanting to join the protesters are stopped in their paths by the police. A second occupation flares up some 500 yards down the pedestrian zone near the shopping centre. They keep in touch with the mother-occupation online, but a dead zone is soon put in place. New officers arrive from other cities, armed and ready.
Charlie and Nina are called back to the relative safety of the safe house. Jenna waits for them at the long side of the dinning table, reading through the transcript in her hands. This is it, she will do something that will be remembered for generations. Her mark on history. A scuff, she knows, but a mark nonetheless. The feels the shallow pitting of the paper on her hands, the quality reaffirmed in it’s steadiness. She has already sliced her skin with it’s corner. The tear in her skin is dry,
Emily puts Micah to bed. He has been moody today, taking in the emotions from all those who’ve been in. The few customers who have been in have been much quieter than normal. Whereas a couple of days ago there had been open gossiping, people seem to have lost their nerve. People still bring in the news with them, eagerly letting Michael know everything that’s going on.
Since they got back from the detention centre, he has acted differently around her. After they close up at night he pours them both a drink and they sit and talk. He doesn’t tell her everything he’s thinking but it’s still enough to worry her. Mostly, they talk about the riots. Emily’s memories are distant. It was the first time she had lived on the street and she didn’t understand any of what was happening. She kept out of the way of the looters, but she remembers the violence and she remembers being afraid. The men in black armour rounding people up, and her, little her, finding the smallest of cracks to hide in.
Michael remembers the anger he felt, and the betrayal.
He doesn’t drink at work, but these after hour drinks are knocked back in quick succession. Some of the stories he tells her each time he gets drunk. Repeating them again and again. Each repetition unveiling new truths. She drinks and listens, and she tells him that what’s happening now is different.
“Yes, it’s different,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it’ll end well.”
An hour or so after closing, they go upstairs. Michael sleeps in Cleo and Maxine’s old bed, Emily sleeps in Micah’s room.
Micah is finally settling down. Emily leaves him to sleep.
Michael is waiting for her. “Go upstairs and pack a bag, only what’s necessary.”
“They’ve started taking Nobodies away,” he says under his breath. “They’re taking them away. I’m looking for somewhere for Micah.”
“You’re sending him away?”
Michael shakes his head. “I don’t know what to do.” He isn’t looking at her, his eyes are set on a group of people near the window. “There are rewards for information.”
“You think someone’ll dob him in?”
“I think it’s a lot of money,” he says. Emily goes back upstairs. She does her best not to wake her brother. Micah murmurs softly but doesn’t open his eyes, already fast asleep. She takes a couple of pairs of trousers, a few t-shirts and jumpers, his spare pair of shoes and several pairs of underwear and socks. She places the photos of their mother in an envelope and into the bag. She puts in his favourite teddy and his book.
She packs a bag for herself and Michael and places both bags on the floor under their coats.
It’s getting late, she goes down and helps turf out the stragglers. Michael grabs a bottle of gin and pours them both a glass. He lies down on the bench for a moment,, covering his eyes with the back of his arm. Emily sits down on the chair opposite and takes her drink.
“You going to tell me what’s going on?”
His arm falls from his face. The last few hours have been playing heavily on him. He refuses to admit defeat. He doesn’t want to leave; he likes it here.
“They’ve started taking people, Nobodies, out of the houses. They’re arresting people harbouring them, and,” he can’t find a delicate way to put this, “executing the Nobodies.”
Emily takes a drink.
“Where would we go?”
Michael’s mouth opens and hovers there for a second before closing. “Any ideas?”
Emily lets out a breathy half-laugh at the absurdity of him asking her. She shakes her head, “no.”
“Locals are holding them back, but it won’t be long before it gets worse.”
“But people are standing up for us?”
“Kind of.” Emily looks at him questioningly. He sits up and faces her. “Some of them are just up for a fight. Others just don’t like the cops. They’re using it as excuse. The looters are out and they want to get their hands on everything first.”
“How long do you think we have?”
Michael shrugs. “I honestly don’t know,” his hands close round his glass. “I can’t think of anywhere we can go where Micah would be safe.” He stares at the drink. “You should probably go. You’ve got a card, if you stay away they probably won’t arrest you.”
“And where would I go?”
Emily laughs. “Nobodies’ don’t have any friends.”
Michael smiles crookedly. Emily has a prickly enough character at the best of times, add that to the natural distrust she’s acquired and it isn’t any wonder she doesn’t have friends. He wonders if they are friends, and if she considers them friends.
“Well,” he says. “You’ve got me.” He drinks and pours himself another glass.
“Why did you take on Micah?”
He should have prepared an answer for this question, it was bound to be asked at some point. He could tell her he only did it to get the bar. She’d accept that as an answer. That Micah’s a good kid and deserves some happiness on this earth before he’s inevitably taken from it.
“He was nice to me,” he says. “And he didn’t ask for anything in return. He was just happy to with me. I don’t think anyone’s ever treated me like that. So when they asked me, I said yes because this is the only place I’ve felt happy in a very long time.” He tops up his glass. “How come you stay here? Cleo and Max said that you hardly ever stayed over.”
“I didn’t use to.”
“They took on Micah, no one had ever mentioned me. They didn’t know I existed until I turned up for Micah’s birthday.”
“They told me about you. Cleo asked me to look out for you.”
Emily hums. “Did she?” Michael nods. “I didn’t know that.”
“Did you not?” She shakes her head. “They did care about you, you know.”
“I know they did, but,” her heart sinks. “they loved Micah.”
Michael knocks back his drink. “Siblings, eh.”
She smiles. “I’m off to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.” She takes her glass to the sink.
He nods. “Na-night”
The rapid knock at the door comes as a shock, but also relief to Leela. She opens the door and welcomes Cerys in.
“Where’ve you been?” She asks forcefully.
“We’re fine. Kit’s bringing him,” says Cerys, as the technician pulls the doctor up the stairs. Cerys dumps the bags on the floor by the kitchen table and helps the technician lift Rrawley’s body onto the table. His left arm ripped open and held together by blood soaked bandages. “You need to get him a doctor.”
Jack takes out his phone and makes a call. Leela gets out the first aid kit and starts cleaning the wounds. She’s talking, but her face is turned down. Kit answers and Cerys goes off to the next room. There is a cut on her forearm she wants to deal with before it turns. She picks up a bottle of vodka and gently pours it onto the cut. Her nose turns up at the pain and she sucks in air between her teeth. She finds a needle in an old Quality tin, picks out the bits of dirt before dipping the thread in the vodka and stitching up the skin. She takes a t-shirt out of her bag, cuts a long strip and wraps it round her arm.
She takes a swig from the bottle and sits down on the sofa.
“The doctor’s here,” says Jack. “Do you want him to have a look at that?” Cerys looks at him but doesn’t answer. She is aware of a big discussion going on in the hallway. They have suddenly become animated, more so than she has ever seen. Something someone said, or did, something that has made both Leela angry. Something that shocks Kit. He has been taken aback by what they have said. Leela is holding a pen drive, but with her back to her, she has no idea what the woman is saying.
She lies down on the sofa. Now’s as good a time as any to sleep. She’ll be woken if someone needs her.
“What are you going to do about it?” Kit asks.
“We…” Leela can’t get out what she wants to say. The idea has been in her head from the moment that she was given it. Describing what she intends to do with it is tantamount to treason, it is a direct attack on the government, but there is no doubt in her mind about what has to be done. After this there is no way back. “There is a TV and radio tower just south of here. It could be broadcast to the whole region from there. Copies have already been made and the other cities will be doing the same thing.” She looks up at the technician, her voice gentle but persuasive, “Is it something you’d be willing to help with?”
Kit nods in contemplation, repeating the last few lines in his head and marking each on with the dip of his head. “Have you got a plan?” he asks directly.
“We’re working through it now. Charlie Wassman and Nina Feeney are putting together a statement, and we’re gong to put it out under the The Crier’s title, and we know one of the guards so getting in shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
“Who’s the guard?”
“Benny Swinholme,” says Jack, folding his arms.
“And he’s definitely on your side?”
“We don’t have any reason to doubt him,” says Leela, looking at Kit with a renewed suspicion. Narrowing her eyes she considers his relationship with him. She hasn’t looked at him with these eyes since he started working with her. She doesn’t trust anyone in the beginning. He doesn’t like the distrust in her eyes. It makes him feel more guilty. He nods as if to agree with her, and goes through to the lounge where he sits down in armchair and considers his actions.
Jack and Leela stand in the corridor silently for a moment. The doctor arrives, knocking on the door and taking them by surprise, but saves them from an uncomfortable conversation.
The doctor takes a look at Rrawley Howe.
“Why did you bother calling me?”
“Just stitch him up.”
“He isn’t waking up,” says Leela. “He was in that explosion last night.”
The doctor frowns, gives him the quick once-over and shrugs. “Well, I don’t know what to tell you there’s nothing wrong with him that I can see. I can make him comfortable and I can stitch him up, but there’s nothing more that can be done.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look,” the man says pointedly. “I can only do what’s within my limits. There’s not much I can do for this man. There’s not the medicine.”
Leela nods and provides the doctor with towels and warm water. She considers sending a note to the Criers, but decides against it. What would it change, anyhow? She busies herself with the assault on the radio tower. She is fortunate enough to have the floor plans for the tower, the rota, and more than enough information to keep them all safe, though she hasn’t told Jack where she got them from.
The boys remove themselves from the room as soon as the cutting begns. Leela stays to stem the tide.
Kit leaves the house and heads back to his own flat. He needs a break from everything. Things are moving too fast and he isn’t sure what he should do. He needs to contact one of this superiors and ask for advice. They will probbly tell him to continue with Leela’s plans, as they seem to fit in with his overlords own plans, but he doesn’t wish to step on toes. He runs the mission she wants to send him on in his head. He is committed to their ideals, he always has been, but he doesn’t want to put cart before horse and run away with the idea.
No. It is better to wait for orders.
He flicks on the coffee machine and brews himself a long one. Dark, rich, and kicking with power he downs it before sending a message. What that guidance will be, he cannot say. But he hopes that there will be something positive he can do to help. That he will be able, in his small part, to do something great.
He hears a beep in the living room and goes in to find a man sitting in the armchair.
“Hello, Christopher,” he says, fiddling with his cuff links. A compass with two arrows that move independently sometimes pointing up against gravity for an unnatural amount of time before swinging down and pointing in another direction.
“I got your message,” he says holding up his phone. Kit sits down on the chair opposite. “I understand that the months have got their hands on some information.”
His father looks at him. “And, it must be made public.”
Kit regards his father with the same anger he felt when he left. Always giving orders, always preparing for what’s coming, and never giving any hint or clue as to his reasons. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
The man looks at his watch, stands up and does up the button on his jacket. “Do what you’re asked.” And with that, he leaves, closing the door firmly behind him. Kit waits a moment, his hand gripping his mug, until he can be sure his father has left the building. He arches his arm back, and with all his might, he throws the mug at the wall with an angry roar, then watches as the dark splatters on the wall drip down to the carpet. He grits his teeth and waits for his jumping heart to calm.
He never gets a reason.