Amy’s shocked face appears from the kitchen. Silent.
Dad walks over from the lounge, and looks me up and down. Smiles. Claps his hands: once, twice, again; slow and deliberate. He knows; somehow, he knows. Lorder, my mind processes. Not just an informer, but one of them.
Mum looks between him and me.
‘Kyla?’ she asks uncertainly. ‘What has happened?’
But I stare at Dad. ‘You didn’t just report me to the Lorders. You’re one of them.’
He doesn’t answer; his eyes shift uneasily to Mum, and back again.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I say, realisation sinking in. Cam was here, worming his way into my life before I even made that drawing of the hospital. They were keeping their eyes on me anyhow, like Coulson said. All Dad did by reporting me and getting us hauled in was tip me off that I was watched. ‘You’re a small fish, aren’t you? They didn’t even tell you what was really going on in your own home. Then when you finally noticed something, they told you to shut up and keep out of it.’
His mouth starts to open, then shuts again.
‘Kyla?’ Mum says again, but I can’t talk any more, not now.
‘Excuse me,’ I manage. ‘I need a wash.’ I walk up the stairs. Lock the bathroom door. Strip and chuck my clothes covered in a bit of mine and more of Katran’s blood into the rubbish bin. Moving stiff, slow, like a puppet. Not quite in control of my body with so much control required elsewhere. To stop me from curling into a ball in the corner and screaming, over and over.
Blood washes away, I know this: soon I’m clean, skin soft, smooth. A few new scars on the way courtesy of Cam. Half a dozen stitches in my shoulder, more on my side. Painkillers still in my system to help me go on, but they do nothing for the real damage, inside.
But I’m never forgetting anything, ever again. No matter what it is, or how bad it hurts. Nico and that doctor – Doctor Craig – in that place I didn’t even remember properly until this afternoon: they taught me ways to forget, to hide. And my missing years, between Lucy disappearing at age 10, and Rain taking over at 14? That is where I was. With them, being forced to split down the middle, so that part could be hidden behind a wall in my mind, and survive Slating.
And the brick, big enough to smash me in two: now I know what it was. Watching Nico kill my father. When Katran died in my arms, it brought it all back.
In my room I get into pyjamas, and wrap a blanket tight around myself. There is a light knock at the door.
Amy peeks in. ‘Want some company?’ she asks, hesitant. I shrug. She comes in, and Sebastian follows. He jumps up on the bed, climbs into my lap. Amy gets up next to me. Puts an arm around my shoulders. I wince and move her hand so it isn’t on my stitches, then droop against her.
There are echoes of voices downstairs. Heated voices.
‘They sent me upstairs,’ Amy says.
‘For telling Dad about your drawing. Mum got him to admit he reported it. I can’t believe it.’ Amy’s face is a picture of shock.
‘What else did he say?’ I ask, my voice sounding dim and distant to my ears, like I’m talking under water, and not really here.
‘Stuff I can’t believe. That you’ve been some sort of double agent for the Lorders. Mental.’
‘Yeah. Mental,’ I whisper.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
I shake my head and instead of asking twenty questions like I expect, she seems almost relieved, says nothing else. But she stays, warm and solid, next to me.
There is a sudden slam of door downstairs. A car starts out front, squeals up the road and is gone. There is a long pause, then footsteps on the stairs. The door opens and Mum stands there, quiet, taking in the two of us and the cat snuggled up together.
‘What a good idea,’ she says, and manages to slot herself in by my other side. A tight squeeze.
I must drift to sleep. Hours later when I wake, the room is dark, and the only one still with me is the cat.
The numb blankness is seeping away, leaving nothing but pain behind. I cry for the little girl I was, who I can’t even remember apart from the fact that she loved her dad. I cry for him, and all he did to try to rescue her, no matter how she ended up there in the first place. I cry that I failed him, utterly: never forget who you are, he said, and I did. I cry for Katran, whose flaws were obvious, but whose caring was not. When he could have run, got away like Nico, he came back for me. Trying to save me led to his death.
And I cry for myself, who I am now. Where is my place in this world?
CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN
* * *
A Lorder comes for me days later. Another black van out front early morning, and I suppress the urge to run, to hide. Where am I going to go? And I wonder if it is the back or the front of the van for me today. Have they worked out it was because of me that Dr Lysander was a prisoner in the first place?
But the Lorder gets out and opens the passenger side door, and off we go. Take me to your leader – a random thought I almost say out loud, and have to clamp down a hysterical giggle that works its way up my throat.
We drive on a while. ‘Where are we going?’ I try, but the driver stays silent.
In the outskirts of London we go through a secure, guarded gate, into an ugly concrete building with thick walls. Looks like it is meant to withstand angry citizens.
I follow him out of the van to an office door. He gestures, and I go in. I hear the click of a lock behind me.
There is a huge wooden desk, plush chairs. I stand, uncertain, then think oh what the hell, and give in to the urge to sit on the massive desk chair. It reclines and spins, and I’m giving it an experimental twirl around when the door opens.
Katran’s killer. He stares at me and I stare back, unflinching on the outside, unwilling to let him see the pain, the fear. Inside all I see is his hands, the gun in them, Katran, and—
He narrows his eyes, and I spring out of the chair.
‘Lucky for you I’m in a good mood today,’ he says, though his words and the fact that I’m still alive are all there are to show for it. His features are as expressionless and cold as always. ‘Sit, there,’ he barks, pointing at a chair opposite his desk, and I scramble to obey.
‘We had an arrangement,’ he says. ‘You haven’t done things in exactly the way I would have preferred, yet the result is satisfactory. Shortly we’ll be transporting you to the hospital to have your Levo removed.’
I look at the useless thing on my wrist. Wow. What a great prize. Of course, he doesn’t know that my Levo is useless. He must think I’ve been on Happy Pills all this time to stop from going under.
‘But there is one other thing you must do for us.’
Everything twists and tumbles inside. ‘What is that?’
‘If you see or hear anything of Nico, let us know.’
If there is anyone I’d enjoy turning in to the Lorders, it is Nico, yet I’m filled with disbelief. ‘He’s not been captured?’
A quirk of annoyance crosses his face. ‘No. But we have dismantled most of his evil little plans.’ His lips curl up in grim satisfaction. ‘Much of that down to you.’
And I flinch, inside. Once I saw things clearly, I didn’t want to be part of Free UK, part of their explosions and death. But dismantled Free UK plans means captures, arrests. Slatings and death sentences. Because of me, the Lorder grip is stronger than ever.
My fault. And Nico, still on the loose, his plans in disarray, will blame me. ‘He’ll come after me,’ I say, in a small voice, hating myself for saying it, and like that: an unspoken protect me behind it. I don’t want help from Lorders.
‘We’ll be keeping an eye on things.’
But why haven’t they always kept an eye on things? ‘There is something I don’t understand,’ I start to say, then pause. He says nothing; permission to continue? ‘If you were watching me, why not on Armstrong Memorial Day? Why’d I just get in. No questions, no checks. Nothing.’
Is there a flash of anger in his eyes? It is gone so quickly I can’t be sure. ‘That is not your concern.’ There is a knock at the door. ‘Time for you to go to hospital,’ he says.
‘One more thing,’ I dare to say as I stand. ‘You said you’d tell me what happened to my friend. Ben Nix.’
He looks up. ‘Oh, yes. Ben. Unfortunately, he died,’ he says but there is nothing on his face that takes in ‘unfortunate’. At best, disinterest, distaste.
The ground feels unstable under me, my knees wobbling. No. It can’t be. Can it?
I pause at the door, look back. ‘What happened?’ I choke out.
‘Seizures when his Levo was cut. Don’t worry, that can’t happen to you today, not at the hospital.’
I stumble out after the Lorder driver, relief almost tripping me up. For one horrible moment, I thought something had happened to Ben in these last days since I saw him running at that school. But no, he said it happened when his Levo was cut off. He’s lying.
Soon I’m in Dr Lysander’s office at New London Hospital.
‘I’m sorry,’ I start, but she raises her hand, wraps it around her ear, mouths ‘later’. She must have found out her room is bugged.
‘Today we are removing your Levo. There are no significant risks having this done in hospital.’ She drones on about this, that and the other, while my mind wanders.
I grip my Levo at my wrist. It has been there a long time. Ruled my life when I first had it: too much misery or anger, and it caused painful blackouts; more, and it could have killed me.
Yet…some part of me still misses that control. It made it impossible to really feel pain past a certain level. And when it is gone, what then? Realisation floods in all at once.
‘Come along now, Kyla,’ Dr Lysander says, standing by the door.
We leave her office.
‘I don’t want it to come off. Does it have to?’
‘No. At least, I don’t think so; I could check how prescriptive is this Lorder request. But why keep it?’
‘Everyone will know. I can never be the person I was.’
‘After everything that has happened, could you go back to being her, in any event?’ she asks, gently. We get to the lift, and again she cups a hand about her ear, shakes her head. The lift is bugged, too?
We go down several flights to a treatment floor. Nurses bustle about, with patients in wheelchairs, or unconscious on gurneys.
She beckons me into a small office. A man typing on a screen looks up; she gestures, and he leaves.
‘Now we can talk properly,’ she says, and sits down. ‘What worries you about the Levo going?’
‘The only way I could get rid of it and not be taken by Lorders is if they did it. Everyone will know. They’ll think I’m some sort of Lorder spy.’
‘This is probably true. Yet do you think they won’t suspect that, anyhow?’
And I think of the Lorder vans coming and going at our house, and all the missing people linked to me, however unfairly. Watchful eyes and voices that whisper will put things together. I sigh. ‘You’re probably right.’
‘There is another consideration,’ she says.
‘What is that?’
‘Nico. Sources tell me he hasn’t been captured. As long as you have that Levo, you are a visible Slated. He could revive his plan to use you in an attack, to show the world a Slated can be violent. Without it, he cannot.’
‘No. I’d never do it. He can only use me if I forget what happened, and I’m holding onto every detail.’ Years ago I was forced to forget the pain of my father’s death at Nico’s hands: think how different things would have been if I’d remembered? I would never have fallen under his spell.