‘Don’t push your luck.’ She stomps to the door, looks back. ‘I’ll get something brought, though.’
‘Can you get the new lad to bring it?’
She looks at him curiously, then nods.
And she’s gone.
‘She’s tetchy,’ I say, glad she’s gone, but even more glad to be alone with Aiden. My hand seeks out his again, and he smiles.
‘She has reason. It was her father who started MIA, decades ago. His identity was exposed with the computer stuff up. Covers were blown and he’s dead, and she’s in hiding here. As am I.’
‘Oh no: how awful.’
‘But let’s not dwell on problems. There’s reasons to be cheerful here today.’
‘You’re safe and well. Despite our tech setbacks, we’re nearly there, Kyla. We’re ready to unleash our truth on the Lorders’ world once our systems are up and running. You are the nail in their coffin.’
‘What a lovely image.’ But I smile. ‘Aiden, you were right about everything.’
He grins. ‘I do like to hear that, but about what in particular?’
‘Things will only change if everybody knows what goes on, and stands together. I want to do anything I can for MIA. Join you completely.’
‘Being a witness is good enough.’
‘No, it isn’t. There must be more I can do,’ I protest. And inside I’m starting to gather all the rest that I have to tell him: everything I didn’t before, and what I’ve learned since the last time we were together. But before I can begin there is a tap at the door.
‘This is your third reason to be cheerful,’ Aiden says. But he’s not looking that way any more himself; his eyes are sad, and he lets go of my hand.
I look at him, not comprehending.
The door opens.
I blink, look back at Aiden, not believing what I see. Not trusting my eyes.
I look back at who stands in the door, a tray of sandwiches in his hands. At the way his too-long dark hair is tucked behind his ears, his chocolate brown eyes. The way he stands. A smile takes over my face, my whole body.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
* * *
I stare, transfixed, then glance back at Aiden. ‘But how…what…’
‘I’ll let Ben explain,’ Aiden says. He stands and heads for the door. ‘Get reacquainted; I’ll be back later. We need to talk some more.’ The door shuts behind him.
Ben smiles, a little uncomfortably. He puts the tray on the table. ‘Kyla, isn’t it?’ he says.
I nod, trying to stop the wave of disappointment that sweeps through me from showing on my face: he still doesn’t remember me, or what we were to each other. When he first opened the door, for a moment I’d thought somehow he was my Ben again, that that is why he is here. But his memories are still gone.
He sits in the chair next to me: inches away, but it feels a gap of miles when it is all I can do to not reach out and touch him. Instead I just let my eyes drink him in, every bit of him that I was afraid I’d never see again.
Amusement crosses his face. ‘There is something I need to say to you, but it’s hard when you’re staring at me like that.’ A trace of Ben’s humour. No matter if his memories are gone, it is Ben.
‘Sorry, I’ll try to stop. What is it?’
He runs his hands through his hair, the way he always did. ‘It was you that got me out of that training place. With the Lorders.’
‘I thought I wanted to be there, that I wanted to succeed. To become what they wanted. But all the time there was this little voice in my head, doubting what they said, questioning things. Your voice.’
‘What I said to you worked? I thought I’d got through, for a moment. But then, after, I doubted it. I thought maybe I saw that because I wanted to. But it actually worked?’
‘Yes, thanks to you I’m on the run from the Lorders with you and all the rest of the crazies.’ He grins, teasing.
‘Do you know what they did to your memories?’
He shakes his head. ‘Not really. Aiden’s setting up for me to see a doctor, to get scanned and stuff. Don’t know what they’ll find.’
His sleeves are long and I reach out, pull them up, his skin warm under my fingers. ‘No Levo.’
‘No.’ He grins a wicked grin. Takes my hand and holds it between his. ‘You don’t need an excuse to touch me.’
‘You don’t even remember us together! You’re a total flirt,’ I say, feeling both dizzy with the feel of his skin against mine, and confused. To Ben, is mine the hand of a stranger? This feels weird. He looks and feels the same, but do I know him?
‘Maybe I am. But I know we were close once. You must have really cared for me, to risk coming to that Lorder place. Seeking me out so close to danger.’
I shrug. ‘I’m just stupid. I do stuff like that.’
‘Well, I’m glad you did.’
‘How’d you end up here with Aiden?’
‘Long story. It was more that he found me. I ran away; someone from MIA spotted and recognised me. Aiden tracked me down to where I was hiding out. He had a difficult time convincing me he wasn’t with the Lorders.’
‘Of course; you wouldn’t have remembered him, either.’
‘No. I’m afraid I kind of hurt him a little. Until I worked out he was telling the truth.’
‘Not sure his pride has got over being in a headlock. Actually, not sure he or Flo know what to make of me. They want to work out what’s been done to me, but they always make sure someone is with me. Not quite sure what they think I’m going to do.’
‘They have to be careful, I suppose.’ I frown. That isn’t the way to help someone get better, though. Maybe he’ll start getting some memories back, like I have? ‘I still can’t believe you’re here.’ And I’m grinning that crazy happy grin and staring at him again.
He smiles, self-conscious. ‘I heard you were hungry; I made them just for you.’ He nods at the forgotten tray on the table, lets go of my hand.
‘Thanks,’ I say, and grab a sandwich, a poor substitute for Ben’s hand. Cheese and pickle, and I don’t like pickle, but why would he remember that? When there is so much more important stuff that he can’t remember, either.
Ben stays, I eat sandwiches, he makes me laugh a few times, and I try not to stare so much. Can this really be happening? Ben: he’s really here. Aiden found him, and he’s safe and well.
There is a knock on the door, Aiden peeks in. ‘Hello, all right if we come in?’
I nod, mouth full of biscuit. Aiden walks in and with him is Florence, who looks pointedly at Ben. He rolls his eyes, stands up. ‘Well, I’ll be off, then,’ he says. ‘See you tomorrow?’
‘Hope so,’ I say. He goes out the door and I hear him speaking to someone in the hall before it closes. They really did have somebody outside the door the whole time?
‘Are you having Ben watched every minute of the day?’
Aiden shrugs, looks at Florence. ‘Ms Cautious thinks it is necessary.’
She bristles. ‘We don’t really know what makes him tick, do we? I don’t think even he does. Until we work out what has been done to him, it is a reasonable precaution.’
‘You’re too careful, with Ben and everything else. We should release the evidence we have, now. Together with Kyla’s testimony—’
‘Testimony? What is that, exactly?’ I interrupt.
‘We are taping witnesses – filming them, when we can – for first-hand accounts of Lorder atrocities,’ Florence says.
‘All you need to do is talk about your story to the camera, just tell it like you told us,’ Aiden says. ‘Then when we release the evidence – if we ever do, that is,’ he says with a pointed look at Florence, ‘it will be part of it.’
‘We will get there, Aiden,’ she says. ‘But to avoid being discredited and ignored, we have to make sure we have first-hand evidence for everything. It isn’t good enough if it’s all he said/she said. We need to back everything up with evidence: hearsay doesn’t cut it.’
‘But the Lorders must know how close we are to releasing our evidence: otherwise, why play their hand with this cyber attack? They’ve been aware of the website for years. Why else now? They must realise the risk. We have to get word out before they stop us.’
Florence glances at me. ‘Enough of that now, Aiden,’ she says, as obviously as if she’d said not in front of the children. I bristle, but then remind myself what Aiden told me about her father, and try not to let it show.
‘Do you feel up to doing this now?’ Aiden says. ‘We always try to record evidence at first opportunity.’
I swallow, scared of being committed to a recording, sound and image, but unwilling to let Florence see my fear. ‘Why not? They’re all after me, anyhow; giving them one more reason will hardly matter.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ Florence says. I have just enough time to wonder if spending most of the day squashed in the floor of a truck does much for my hair when she has set up a camera on a small tripod on the desk. ‘When you’re ready,’ she says. ‘Just say who you are, and what you saw.’ She hits a button and a green light comes on.
‘What name do I use?’
She makes an impatient noise, stops the camera. ‘Have you got a selection?’
‘As a matter of fact…’
‘Use Kyla,’ Aiden says.
‘All right,’ I say. It is just as true as any of the others, isn’t it? She starts recording, and I stare at the camera, say that I am Kyla Davis, that I was walking in Cumbria, that I saw a care facility that houses orphans. What was different about them. I project the photos from my camera; she records them also.
She flicks the camera off. ‘That should do. I’ll check it and let you know tomorrow.’ She packs up the camera, sweeps out of the room and leaves us alone.
‘Sorry. Flo isn’t always as polite as she could be. Thanks for doing that. I know it was hard for you.’
‘It’s fine,’ I say, shrugging off his words, but it did feel crazy to be saying stuff Lorders wouldn’t like, and if that isn’t bad enough, to let somebody record it. ‘It might move me up on their most-wanted list, but does that really matter? I’m already on it.’
‘That’s the way.’
‘I want to thank you for finding Ben.’
He shrugs, uncomfortable. ‘It was the least I could do. I always felt that it was my fault, what he did.’
‘It wasn’t,’ I protest. ‘If it was anyone’s, it was mine.’ Or Nico’s, I add silently, but Aiden doesn’t know about Nico. I sigh. There are so many things I haven’t told Aiden. Should I? The main thing that would be grist for MIA is Stella’s story: that her mother, a Lorder, was behind the assassinations. But despite that I promised not to tell, it is what Florence called hearsay, isn’t it? What value would it be for me to tell something somebody else said, if there is no way to back it up?
‘You look a million miles away.’
‘There is one other thing we need to talk about.’
‘What is that?’
‘Be careful with Ben, Kyla. We don’t know what has been done to him. But no matter what that may mean, he isn’t the boy you used to know. Without his memories from when you knew him, he’s changed.’