‘You, get in.’ He points at me. I don’t move and he bends over, grabs and twists my arm, pushing me to the van.
Cam struggles to his feet. ‘Leave her!’ he shouts.
The Lorder sighs as if an annoying fly is buzzing round his face, lets go of my arm and swings at Cam. His fist connects with the side of Cam’s face and makes a sickening sound. He crumples to the ground, slow. Something inside says run while the Lorder is distracted, do it now, but I can’t leave Cam, and I’m filling with rage, hands clenching into fists.
He is too big. Wait.
And the moment for running is past. Now it is not just me shoved into the van, but Cam, too.
Two Lorders. The mountain is in the back with us, while the other, a more normal-sized woman, is driving.
We drive up bumpy roads. Cam is groaning on the floor, eyes closed. I hold his head in my lap. His cheek is bleeding. He coughs, tries to say something.
‘Silence!’ the mountain says.
Where are we going? Why?
I always wondered what really happens to people snatched by Lorders. Looks like we’re going to find out.
I count the time. We’ve gone perhaps two miles on bumpy lanes, then eight or ten on fast smooth roads, when the van pulls off again onto a lane. No windows in the back: we could be anywhere in that radius.
Cam’s eyes are open now, looking at Mountain, judging. Back to me. I’d expect him to be blank with terror, but his eyes are calm. Pain twists inside: Cam stood up to this wall of muscle for me, and look what it got him.
‘Sir?’ I say, and Mountain turns, surprise registering on his thick face.
‘Please. Can’t you let him go?’ I say.
‘How sweet. Shut up.’
And a hand swings out, checks itself to stop last second before hitting my face, just as I feel Cam tensing to jump. No, Cam! Don’t be such an idiot.
We come to a stop. The door is opened from the outside, where there are more Lorders in black ops gear. Mountain gets out and has a few words with them, then disappears through a door. One reaches for me and another for Cam, pulling us out of the van. The rage is there, so much inside me. Mountain is gone and these look more my size.
I spin round and jump-kick one of them in the head. He crumples to the ground. Cam struggles with the one holding him and I swing round and chop his captor in the back of the head, but then there are footsteps, too many, running into the room. Arms holding me. I struggle, but then something jabs my arm. Everything starts going black. I fight to keep my eyes open. Cam is being dragged across the floor, not moving. There are four, no, more Lorders. Their faces blur in and out until each one looks a whole group of identical expressionless faces. I slip to the ground.
I wake slowly, but I don’t want to. As I do I start to remember. I was in a car, feeling it bump along the road the only clue because I could see nothing, couldn’t move. Head still so thick. It was that drink they gave me, wasn’t it?
I frown to myself. Before that, how did I get in that car?
Memory trickles in and I panic. I was supposed to meet Daddy, but it wasn’t him. Somebody else that I didn’t know said they were taking me to him, that it was part of a game.
Daddy is a secret agent. He is going to free the world, he said so. And not to tell Mum, like when I was drawing those signs for him. She got mad.
My head thuds, everything feels disconnected. My mouth is dry, and I try to swallow.
‘She’s coming round.’ A man’s voice. Who?
I open my eyes.
‘There you are, Lucy. Welcome to your new home.’
I sit up in a rush and everything spins.
‘Where’s Daddy? Who are you?’
‘I’m your doctor. Doctor Craig.’
‘I’m not sick!’
‘No. But you will be.’ He smiles, but it isn’t a nice smile.
I start screaming and a woman comes in, a nurse. She fusses, says I’ll be all right, to go back to sleep.
Soon after the door clicks shut. A key scrapes in the lock and turns. Footsteps thud down the hall.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
* * *
‘Wake up!’ a voice yells, and a cold shock follows. Wet. Bucket of water?
I crawl back from black through grey, slowly feeling my body and wishing I didn’t. Everything hurts. My hands are behind my back. I pull; nothing. Tied together. My head is flopped forwards. I’m sitting – on a chair? A hand yanks my head upright by the hair.
What is the point in dragging things out? I open my eyes.
‘Ah, there you are. Kyla, is it? Answer!’
‘No,’ I say, my voice feeling thick and wrong. My mouth is dry. Who is Kyla? I frown, concentrating. Lucy, the child: that was a dream, from before. But now I am Rain. Aren’t I?
‘It is definitely her,’ a second, quieter voice says. ‘But she shouldn’t be able to lie with that in her system.’
‘Who are you?’ the first voice yells.
Ah. Truth drugs can be overcome if you believe what you say. I am Rain. But I am also Kyla.
‘Kyla,’ I say. ‘Yes. I am Kyla.’
The yelling voice moves behind me, out of sight, and the quieter voice comes round. Pulls a chair in front of me. ‘Now Kyla, I’m just going to ask you a few questions, all right?’
‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Knock yourself out.’
‘I hear you like to draw things.’
I stare back at him.
I form my face confused. ‘Is that a question?’
‘Oh, sorry; you are quite right. Do you like to draw?’
‘Now, I’ve heard you like drawing pictures of the New London Hospital. Where you were Slated. Is that true?’
And I frown, concentrating. I don’t like drawing the hospital; I felt I had to. Ah. ‘No,’ I say.
He looks at someone out of sight behind. ‘Be more specific,’ a third voice says.
‘Did you draw the hospital yesterday?’
And I can’t see a way out of answering. Think.
It wasn’t a drawing of the hospital, exactly. Just a hall inside the hospital. My face clears.
‘No,’ I say.
‘Give her more?’
‘Any more and it will knock her out.’
‘Let’s try something more…painful.’ Another voice.
A face appears in front of mine. One eye is closed, swollen. He touches my eyebrow. ‘I’d like to do what you did to me. How’d a Slated learn to kick like that is what I’d like to know.’ He traces around my eye with one finger as if setting the place for a kick, and I feel sick inside.
There is a door opening somewhere behind, a movement of air.
The one next to me jumps straight to attention.
‘Sir!’ he says.
There are more voices but my head is too fuzzy to pick them out; it can’t concentrate, it wants sleep. One new voice is cold. There is something about it; I know who it is, yet I don’t. It is telling them to leave me, to go along, to talk. Footsteps retreat. It is silent. My eyes close.
When I wake again I am lying down. My head feels like a football in the middle of a game.
Don’t move; listen.
But there is nothing to hear. A ticking clock, that is all. I open my eyes cautiously.
An office. A desk. I’m on a sofa along a wall opposite the desk. There is a Lorder in a grey suit sat there, using a netbook. He looks up, sees my eyes are open.
‘Awake, I see.’
His face I cannot forget. Thin lips, almost as if his skin has just been slashed by a knife to make a mouth. It is Coulson.
So it was his voice I recognised earlier.
I struggle to sit, to face him. Pain everywhere, but things seem to be working. No lasting damage. I touch my face, around my eye: still whole.
‘This has been most regrettable today.’ He shakes his head. ‘Not the way things should have gone.’ He sighs. ‘Don’t worry, there will be an investigation. Punishments where necessary.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Well, I am going to explain things to you, Kyla. It is like this. I’ve been keeping my eye on you for a while. Something isn’t right about you. You’ve been up to things you shouldn’t. For a Slated, it is very worrying indeed.’ He sighs again. ‘We so want all of you to succeed, you know. Your second chance. Of course, my interest in you started with the Ben Nix situation. The Happy Pills he had. Obviously you have been taking them as well, or you wouldn’t have been able to withstand what has happened today. You’d have blacked out long ago.’
I say nothing. Blanching inside at Ben’s name.
‘Poor Kyla. I know you are a pawn. Being used by the AGT to draw the hospital that keeps all the dedicated medical staff and patients safe. But we wanted to follow you, you see. To the AGT and their plans. So I was very angry when I learned you’d been picked up today. It wasn’t time, and now, things have changed.’
He pauses, sips a cup of tea, and I stare back at him, mind numb. He knows about the drawing. Amy is the only one who saw it… No. She wouldn’t. Would she?
His thin lips curve in what might be taken for a smile, but it is all wrong. ‘But let’s make the best of things, shall we? This is what I think we should do. We’ll let you go. You continue along with the AGT. Find out their plans, and tell us about them. What do you think?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have anything to do with terrorists.’
He shakes his head sadly. ‘We know, Kyla. There is no point in lying. And what has this boy Cameron to do with things? What should we do with him, then?’
I panic inside. ‘Nothing! This has nothing to do with him. We were just cycling.’
‘Your desire to protect a friend does you credit, Kyla. Yet why should I believe you?’
‘Because it’s true.’
‘What about Ben?’
‘What about him?’
‘Wouldn’t you like to know where he is?’
So it is true: he is alive! Part of me sings inside, part is gripped by fear. If Coulson knows where he is, that can’t be good.
‘Where is he?’
He shakes his head. ‘I don’t give things away; they must be earned. Yet if you lie about some things, how am I to know when you speak the truth, and when lies? Now tell me again about the terrorists.’
Lying is useless when he knows, isn’t it?
‘I don’t know their plans. I don’t! I’m just drawing things. That is all.’
He nods his head. ‘I am inclined to believe they would not trust you with any serious information, yet I am also aware what a resourceful girl you are, Kyla. You will be able to find out more if you try. And despite all your wrongs, I’m inclined to be lenient. This isn’t an easy task we are setting you.
‘This is what I propose. We’ll let you and Cameron go home today. He will remain safe, for now. Just as your old friend Ben will remain safe. For now. You will find out what the AGT are planning and who is involved, and you will tell me. If you succeed, if you prove your loyalty to us, we’ll take you to Ben. You can start over. Tell you what: we’ll even remove your Levo, as Ben has done.’
He stares back, waiting, calm. The clock ticks, counting seconds down, and I’m frozen. Numb.
‘What do you say? Will you do this?’
There is only one answer, and the smug look behind his eyes says he knows it. Only one way to save Ben. Only one way to save Cam. And myself.
Not much later Cam and I are dumped by the side of the road next to our bicycles.
‘Your poor face,’ I say. Touch a hand to his cheek, cut and swollen.
‘It’ll heal.’ His eyes hold mine. Cam, who leapt to my defence when it was obvious he could only fail. Hurt and under threat because of me.