‘No. She wouldn’t have,’ I say, and realise he’s right. I’ve changed, so much. I’m still changing. My head is spinning. The room is a kaleidoscope, everything shifting, moving inside. I blink, and the world, Nico at its centre, snaps into sharp focus.
‘Yet something isn’t quite right.’
‘What’s wrong?’ I say. ‘I’ll fix it.’
‘Will you?’ He smiles. ‘That whole thing with Tori. Now, the Rain I knew wouldn’t have risked any exposure to Free UK for the sake of one girl. She’d have dealt with it, and there’d be no Tori, and no problem.’
The safety of the group is paramount: any risk of drawing Lorder attention must be dealt with by any means necessary. But could she – I – really have just twisted Tori’s neck? Or smashed her skull. A vision of Tori, head bashed against a tree, floats into view, and I flinch. No. I could never have done that. Could I? But I almost did; I just stopped when I recognised her. With wondering, memories stream in my mind – guns, screaming, blood – they say yes, Rain could have done anything. And I never really even liked Tori: why help her?
‘Tell me what you are thinking,’ Nico says, in a voice that doesn’t allow evasion.
I try. ‘My thoughts argue with each other. Like there are two voices inside my head, and they see things differently.’
He nods, his eyes thoughtful.
‘Please explain what has happened to me,’ I plead. ‘I don’t understand.’
He hesitates. Smiles. ‘I have some things to ask you still. But I will explain a little. Sometimes you are more Kyla, and sometimes more Rain. That makes sense. Things are reordering. In time, Rain will take over: she is stronger.’
A vision rises unbidden in my mind: Lucy, with bloody fingers. And Nico…holding a brick.
I gasp, hold out my left hand, wonderingly. Turn it side to side. ‘Did you do that? To make me right-handed?’
‘Hurt my fingers.’ I hesitate. ‘Lucy’s fingers.’
His eyes withdraw, look away. There is a pause: one beat, two. He looks back. ‘Do you remember being Lucy?’
‘No. Not really, just a few bits of dreams that don’t make sense. Please, Nico: everything is such a confused mess inside. What happened to Lucy?’ What happened to ten-year-old me.
He hesitates, considering, then nods. ‘All right. You were special to me, Rain. But being on the side of freedom, there was always the risk of getting caught. I knew I had to find a way to protect you if the Lorders got their hands on you.’
‘By separating you into two parts, inside, so one could survive if you were Slated. Rain was stronger than Lucy; she survived.’
As he says the words, I know them. I have always known them. I was one who became two: Lucy, with her childhood memories, and Rain, whose life was with Nico and Free UK. The pieces of the puzzle slot in together. Lucy was made to be right-handed: she wouldn’t cooperate, so Nico forced her to be. Rain was left-handed. And how Slating is done depends on handedness: memory access is hemisphere dominant, and linked to handedness. But who was I when I was Slated?
‘I still don’t understand. If Rain was stronger and in control, why didn’t the Lorders Slate me as her, as if I was left-handed?’
‘That’s the beauty of this. Rain hid inside when you were captured; you were trained to do this. So the part of you that was Lucy was dominant.’
‘So. As far as the Lorders knew when they Slated me last year, I was right-handed. And they didn’t know about Rain. When they took my memories they only took part of them.’
‘Exactly. Lucy is gone, she was weak. But you, special Rain, survived Slating: hidden inside. Waiting the right moment to fight your way out.’
‘And this,’ I say, spinning my Levo, ‘doesn’t work any more now because I’m Rain again: left-handed. It’s linked to the wrong side of my brain.’
‘Just so.’ He catches my left hand in his. Gently kisses my fingertips. ‘I’m sorry I hurt you all those years ago. But I did it because it was the only way to protect you.’
Lucy: gone forever. That is why I can’t remember her life. The ache of loss fills me, spreads into the emptiness inside. So much of my life destroyed, forgotten. But part of me is still here: Nico saved me. If it wasn’t for him, I’d be gone completely. I wouldn’t even know what I missed.
‘Thank you,’ I whisper. And I wonder: does Rain being stronger mean Kyla is disappearing, too? All that she hoped and cared about? Like Ben. I can feel tears pricking at my eyes, and blink furiously. Don’t cry. Not in front of Nico. Don’t! And then fear wars with pain: Nico doesn’t like weakness.
But instead of anger, he takes my hand. ‘What is it?’ he says, his voice gentle.
I cling to his hand. It is much bigger, stronger. He could crush mine in an instant.
‘Ben,’ I whisper.
‘Tell me. I know a little: but you tell me. What really happened to him?’ He stresses really, as if he knows there is more than the official story.
‘It was all my fault. I did it.’ I say out loud, at last, what has been haunting, festering, inside.
‘What did you do? Tell me.’
‘I cut his Levo off. With a grinder.’
And as I tell him the facts, the events, Nico shifts his chair around next to mine, slips a warm arm over my shoulders. And the images fill my mind. Ben’s agony. Me running away, leaving him to his fate. And what was that, exactly? What became of him? Did he die because of what I did, or later? With the Lorders.
‘What happened to him?’ I ask, my eyes pleading for a chance, a hope.
‘You know the ultimate answer to that question,’ Nico says. ‘You know what the Lorders will have done to him if there was any life left.’
I nod through the tears.
‘And you know what they did to his parents.’
‘Do you feel it, Rain? Inside. The anger.’
And it springs to life, a fire, as if Nico had tossed a match of his own. The bonfire burns in my mind, hotter and angrier than the blaze that consumed their house. Than all the fires Lorders set that night combined.
‘Now, listen to me, Rain. This doesn’t mean you have to forget about Ben, or what he meant to you, or what the Lorders did to his parents. Any of it. Just use it; use it the right way.’
Use the rage.
And it rolls through me, like a wave – a searing heat that ripples through every muscle, every bone. Every drop of blood that burns in my veins.
I grip the arms of the chair. ‘We must make the Lorders pay for what they’ve done. They must be stopped!’
Nico cups his hands around my face, tilts it up. His eyes study mine, searching, assessing. At last, he nods. His eyes are warm. A flush on my skin tingles, travels up my body.
‘Yes, Rain.’ He smiles, leans down. His lips lightly brush my forehead. ‘But there is one question you still haven’t answered. When did you get your memories back?’
The attack in the woods. Wayne. The words are working their way up my throat to tell him what happened, but I stop. He’ll deal with Wayne if he knows. But why am I protecting Wayne? Isn’t that what he deserves?
‘It really should have been when you left Ben, and the Lorders took him. That should have done it; it is exactly the right sort of trauma to break through. So why didn’t it happen then?’ Nico says the words almost like he is talking to himself, as if he has forgotten I am there.
I squirm, uncomfortable with his analysis, his sifting through my ‘trauma’ to evaluate its effects. But if my memories didn’t return that day, why didn’t I black out and die? I look at my useless Levo.
Then I remember. ‘I know,’ I say. ‘It was the pills.’
‘Happy Pills. Ben got them from someplace,’ I say. Holding back just where he got them, and unsure why. They came from Aiden, who is in MIA: they run the Missing in Action website I saw at Jazz’s cousin’s place.
Nico nods. ‘That makes sense. They’d block the full experience. Then, when they wore off, Rain made an appearance.’
He grins widely. Laughs. ‘Rain!’ He hugs me. ‘You were always my favourite, you know.’
My heart sings. Nico never had relationships with girls in training camps – not that I saw. His power was absolute, but we all wanted him.
He pulls back. ‘Now, listen. There is something you can do for me. You’re still going to hospital appointments in London, aren’t you?’
I nod. ‘Every Saturday.’ New London Hospital where I was Slated is a symbol of Lorder control, and a frequent Free UK target; it is where they took me, and countless others like me, and deliberately erased our memories.
‘I want plans. As accurate as possible, of every bit of the hospital you know. Inside and out. Can you do that for me?’
‘Of course,’ I say, eager to help strike against the Lorders, even in such a small way. I can see the layout in my mind without trying, my memory and map ability so ingrained inside, that…
And a memory comes back. Long and tedious training. ‘You taught me that,’ I say slowly. ‘How to memorise positions and places, how to draw maps.’ Consequences were dire if we made a mistake: I remember, and quail inside. But I don’t make mistakes any more.
He smiles. ‘Yes. That was part of your training. You will do it.’
‘Yes. I will.’
‘Now get going.’
I stand, and he unlocks the door, looks both ways. ‘All clear. Go.’
I run around the school track, not trusting myself to meet Cam for the drive home until I calm down. All the moments with Nico I hold to myself, inside.
I was his favourite!
He hugged me. My forehead still tingles where his lips touched.
He saved me.
So many reasons he could have been angry, but he wasn’t!
But most of all: I know who I am. I know where I come from, and where I belong. What I must do. The Lorders failed. I remember.
Joy threatens composure, and I pound harder and harder around the track, until a wolf whistle pierces my reverie. I spin round.
He claps, and I slow my pace, do another lap to cool down, then walk over to him.
‘Geez, you can run. Is this what you so desperately needed to do after school?’
I’m breathing hard. I shrug. ‘Sometimes, I really need to run,’ I say, not answering the question directly. And it is true enough. It used to be that I’d run to keep my levels up. Curious, I look at my Levo. Still hovering around 6: running used to put it up into the 8s, but it really is a useless bit of kit now.
‘Time to head home?’
I nod. ‘Sorry I’m all sweaty,’ I say, and grin, then try to remember to tone down. At least I have running as an excuse for being giddy.
* * *
‘Are you ready to go?’ Mum asks.
I look up from the homework I am pretending to do at the kitchen table.
‘Where?’ I say, my mind a blank.
She laughs. ‘What day is it?’
And all I can think of is Guy Fawkes. Hard to believe this is still the same day that started before the sun came up with a burning house, and Tori.
‘It’s Thursday,’ she says.
‘Thursday?’ I stare at her blankly.
‘Oh. Sorry.’ I dash to brush my hair, grab shoes. How could I forget? Too many other things floating through my mind. Group is every Thursday night. All the Slateds from the surrounding area get together with Nurse Penny to support our transition from hospital to society. Huh. More like to spy on us and watch for any deviation that needs to be dealt with. Then I squirm at my thoughts. That may be true in some ways, but Penny is all right.