Resist

RESIST is the sequel to the brilliant and compelling BREATHE. Sarah Crossan is the Carnegie short-listed author of THE WEIGHT OF WATER.
In a world in which the human race is adapting to survive with little air, the stakes are high. Resistance to the Pod Leadership has come apart. The Grove has been destroyed but so has the Pod Minister. Quinn, Bea and Alina separately must embark on a perilous journey across the planet’s dead landscape in search of the rumoured resistance base Sequoia.

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6. RONAN

Niamh is admiring herself in my bedroom mirror. She’s dressed in my father’s black mourning robe, and it should look weird, but Wendy’s taken it in so it fits, and Niamh wears it as though it were made especially for her. Usually I’d make a sarky comment, but I just watch her.

‘What do you think?’ she asks.

I climb out of bed, pulling on the trousers I left draped on the chair next to it. ‘I think I’d appreciate some privacy.’

‘You should be up. I don’t know how you can sleep.’ Today the ministers will pay their respects in the chamber, but that probably isn’t what Niamh means; ever since she found out our father died, she has spent all night in his bedroom, sobbing into the pillows. I let her grieve – someone should.

‘You feeling better?’ I ask.

‘No, Ronan,’ Niamh says. ‘Our dad is dead. I feel like crap.’

I stand behind her. My eyes in the mirror have dark circles beneath them. I look older than I did a week ago, which shouldn’t really surprise me.

I pull a jumper over my head and push my hair away from my eyes. Wendy bustles into the room with a tray.

‘Morning,’ she says.

‘Hey,’ I say. Niamh doesn’t bother looking at her. Wendy sidesteps Niamh, balancing the tray on her hip, and as she brushes past me I have a feeling she wants to give me a hug. Wendy brought us up after our mother died and was the closest thing I had to a parent. But my father didn’t want her trying to replace my mother, so she stopped cuddling us. Maybe my father threatened her, and I was too shy to admit that a hug now and then would have been all right.

Wendy puts the tray on the chest of drawers. ‘Toast and tea,’ she tells me. ‘Have it while it’s hot.’ On her way out, she stops in front of Niamh. ‘You look lovely.’

Niamh shrugs. ‘I know,’ she says, though Wendy is already out of the room. ‘And it would be nice if you made some effort too, Ronan.’

‘Give me a minute’s peace, and I will,’ I say.

‘Well, we leave in ten minutes, so hurry up.’ She blows me a theatrical kiss and sweeps out of the room.

 

Niamh and I make our way up the marble pathway to the senate. The whole area’s been cordoned off and stewards are lining the streets to prevent anything from kicking off, though the pod’s been pretty quiet since everyone was anaesthetised. No one’s interested in challenging the Ministry now – not when consciousness depends on compliance. I turn to Niamh, about to reassure her, but she has her head up and eyes fixed on the entrance. She doesn’t look one bit afraid. So why am I?

The antique wooden doors to the senate swing inwards and a group of stewards bows. A dimly lit lobby ends in a broad, winding staircase. ‘Ms Knavery. Mr Knavery,’ the stewards mutter, each one bending lower than the last.

We’re led up the stairs, down a pink-tiled hallway and into a sealed cavity between the outer door and the Chamber of Governance. Our fingerprints and faces are scanned, and we’re given swabs so we can provide saliva samples. It takes a few minutes for the screen to come to life: Niamh Jean Knavery, Ronan Giles Knavery – Authorised.

The Chamber is a golden walled amphitheatre with tiered seats set round a central platform. Down in the well of the gallery is a row of solemn officials perched in high-backed chairs. The room goes quiet as we shuffle along an empty row at the back. Anyone wearing a hat takes it off, and a few people stand. I recognise most of the ministers from dinners and parties my father dragged us to. Back then they were all smiles – not today. And the stoniest face of all is Lance Vine, the new pod minister, though why he looks so grim is hard to tell.

Jude Caffrey is one of the ministers sitting onstage. He catches my eye and nods. I nod back. It’s good to have a familiar face to focus on, should I need it.

Vine approaches the lectern and clears his throat into the microphone. When he’s satisfied everyone’s listening, he begins. ‘Welcome,’ he says. For such a thin man, his voice is surprisingly deep and any ministers still standing or murmuring quickly shut up. ‘I stand before you today as your newly appointed pod minister. Yet this position comes at a price. Today we honour the memory of Cain Knavery and, as a mark of respect, offer a moment’s silence in the presence of his children. Thank you for coming. We are deeply sorry for your loss.’

Niamh sits up straighter. I bite the insides of my cheeks. I’ve no interest in being eyeballed and even less in being pitied. Vine lowers his head. The ministers mirror him.

And the silence is underway: time to think about my father. How many nights he came home steaming drunk, needing to be placated to stop him from smashing up the kitchen. Or the times he had to be carried to bed. Or the day he chased me up the stairs with a belt for daring to contradict him. A tear trickles down Niamh’s cheek. What does she remember that I don’t?

‘Thank you, ministers,’ Vine says. ‘And now to today’s agenda. Item one is pod security.’

‘Is that it?’ Niamh hisses. ‘Our dead father gets one minute?’

I shrug, and Vine is continuing. ‘We must restore order. Our authority must not be challenged again.’ He bangs his fist against the lectern, and the chamber booms with the noise of it. The ministers applaud. ‘We have reports of RATS escaping via the rubbish chutes during the riots, and of new terrorist cells in The Outlands. We must not allow the grass to grow under our feet.’ He simpers. This is a joke, and the handful of ministers who get it titter. ‘We will deploy the army to finish the job.’

The chamber goes silent, and I freeze. I can’t go out there and kill innocent people. I won’t.

Jude jumps up. ‘May I address the chamber?’ he asks. Vine nods and steps away from the lectern as Jude approaches it. ‘The army was severely damaged during the last campaign. We lost too many soldiers, and depleted our fuel supply for the zips. I can’t vote for an immediate deployment of troops.’ The ministers shift in their seats.

‘So we let them get away with it?’ someone calls out.

‘We let the RATS escape?’ another voice adds.

‘We need to find another way,’ Jude says, and seems to stare at me. ‘We could send scouts on a reconnaissance mission. Young people the RATS would trust. I could have the junior Special Forces ready in days.’

Niamh prickles up. ‘Does he mean you?’

Jude keeps his mouth straight and his hands clamped to the lectern. I should have known better than to expect any compassion from him – a man who sent his own son into The Outlands to die. How could he do that? I know by now that Quinn was the one who started the riot in the pod – but even I didn’t want him dead, not when all he did was tell the truth.

The chamber is heavy with silence and all eyes rest on me. Some ministers look troubled, but most are beaming, delighted by the scheme. Jude’s expression is impenetrable.

‘Tell them you’ll do it, Ronan. For Daddy. Those bastards are responsible for this.’ Niamh tugs on her black mourning robe. I take her hand and squeeze it.

But I won’t advocate for this mission. Besides, I hardly think that what I say matters. They’ll send us whether I agree to it or not. Niamh pulls her hand out of mine and starts to cry again.

‘And in the meantime you’ll recruit and train a new army?’ someone asks. ‘If this is a reconnaissance mission, we have to be ready to attack once they’re found.’

‘Of course,’ Jude says. ‘I’ll begin recruiting today.’ Is he smiling? I want to tear on to the stage and throttle him.

‘Thank you, General,’ Vine says, and moves on to item two on the agenda.

Because item one has been resolved: I am going into The Outlands again, whether I like it or not.

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