I race to my room to grab a few things. Wendy isn’t there, so I can’t ask her to tell Ben I had to go out. I can’t leave a note with Aiden’s tell no one ringing in my ears; there is no time to run to his room, if he is even in it.
As I rush to meet Aiden, I wonder: is Ben going to think I stood him up?
‘How are we going to get to Dr Lysander? She’s always guarded.’
‘Bit of luck on that one. DJ found out she’s speaking at a medical conference tomorrow; we’ve got connections in the conference centre, so can get in to where she is staying. We hear she refuses guards in her own quarters, so they stay outside the door. We’ve checked the room for bugs and cameras: it’s clean.’
‘So what is going to happen?’
‘We get you in there tonight; she’s arriving early in the morning. She’s got a few hours’ scheduled rest time before the conference starts.’
‘Which is when I make an appearance.’
‘Exactly. Kyla, there isn’t much we can do if she sets off the alarm.’
‘She won’t. But I still don’t understand why we’re going to all this effort to find out about me. Even if she knows where I came from, which I doubt, why could it possibly matter?’
‘Not a clue. DJ’s really pushing on this, and we’re going along with it.’
‘Who is he?’
Aiden glances at me sideways. ‘Even I don’t know his real name.’
‘That’s not what I mean. How does he fit into MIA? I figured he just helped with changing identities like he did with me. But there is more to it, isn’t there?’
Aiden laughs. ‘It’s on a need—’
‘—to-know basis.’ I roll my eyes, and try another tack. ‘Is he from Ireland?’
‘That you can get from the accent, so I’m guessing it is okay to say yes.’ Aiden hesitates. ‘There is international support behind MIA, not just from United Ireland. They know some of what goes on here from people we’ve snuck out of the UK, and there is international pressure to get all the hidden stories out, to make them public, and do it soon. They want to stop the human rights violations. This is why the Lorder attack on our computer systems was timed so badly; it’s held things up.’
I stare out the window. Why would people in other countries far from us care about our human rights, when almost everyone here seems to turn away and pretend not to see? ‘I don’t think that is what is most important. It should be about taking the wool off everyone’s eyes here. Making them face up to what is happening in their own country, under their noses, so we can fix it on our own.’
‘Both are important. But the simple truth is, we can’t do it alone, not when the Lorders have all the power. Sometimes you need help.’
Aiden turns into a small village, then parks next to a van behind a hall. ‘This is where we part company until tomorrow,’ he says. ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’
‘Yes. DJ’s reasons for being interested in my origins might be different to mine, but I still want to know.’
‘Be careful,’ he says, and looks about to say more when the van driver’s door opens and a man steps out.
‘Evening,’ he says, nods, and opens the door to the back of the van. Reaches in, hands me a bag. ‘Clothes. Change into them.’ And with a wave goodbye to Aiden, I climb in the back.
The van soon lumbers up the road and I get myself into a uniform in the dim light; it looks like a maid’s? There were a few in different sizes and one seems to fit well enough to not draw attention. There are no windows in the back; we drive perhaps thirty minutes. Then I hear a faint beep and we drop down and around a circular ramp. The van stops, and I’m starting to feel nervous. What is this place? I don’t know what I’m doing. If anyone asks me anything, or—
The door opens.
‘There you are, lass. Now don’t worry about a thing, it’s all worked out. I’m taking you up tonight as no one is about until tomorrow. Best leave your coat and other things there in the van, they’ll be fine there until the morning.’
I take my coat off, extract the camera from a deep pocket. Maybe I should I have left it back at the college, but something tells me I’ll need it to get anywhere with Dr Lysander. There’s a pocket in the uniform and I slip it in.
I follow him through the underground lot to a lift. He puts a key in it to call the lift, and it is there in seconds. Up we go. ‘No one should get on, but if anyone does, nod but say nothing. I’ll handle it,’ he says.
I hold my breath but the lift doesn’t stop until the selected floor. The doors open, he peers through then gestures for me to follow.
We go down a plush hall, where all the doors have wire taped across them.
‘What is that?’
‘Security sealed electronic tape; the rooms were checked, cleared and sealed a short time ago.’
Then he opens a door at the end that leads to a narrow hall with little doors all along. He counts them along, and stops at one. ‘This is the service hatch into your friend’s room; they are normally used for breakfasts and so on. Listen very carefully. You can’t open these with the electronics on without setting off an alarm.’ He glances at his watch. ‘The electronics will go off shortly for one minute, the maximum possible without setting the alarms off. It should be just long enough to open it and for you to climb through into her room. I checked you were a little lass; I couldn’t do it. Once through, make yourself comfortable; there are spare blankets and pillows in the wardrobe. Stay out of sight of the door. Your friend is due tomorrow between 7 and 7:30 am, and you don’t want anyone to see you when she comes in and they bring her luggage. Speak to her, then come back out the same way at 8 am. The electronics will be switched off at exactly 8 am for one minute, and that is it. Here is a watch for you – it is coordinated with the hotel system so the time is exact. Understand?’
‘Yes,’ I say, slipping the watch onto my wrist. It is digital with hours, minutes, seconds shown by a faint green pulsing light.
He is watching his watch, hurriedly explaining how the service hatches work. Telling me not to touch the windows or doors in the room as they’re all alarmed.
‘It is time,’ he says and yanks doors at the back of the hatch open; it’s like a mini lift. I climb through into a small box, struggle to open the door on the other side when there isn’t enough room to extend my arms properly, but manage to pry it open.
‘Hurry,’ he says.
I crawl through; the doors swing shut.
‘Good luck, child.’ His voice is faint on the other side.
My heart is beating way too fast; that wasn’t easy to do in a minute. I’m sitting on the plushly carpeted floor in Dr Lysander’s soon-to-be room, wishing I’d asked more questions – like, can I turn on the light? Is there anything to eat?
I feel my way around the darkened room: large bed. Desk. Chair. Wardrobe. I open that and feel along the bottom. Under the promised pillows and blankets, my fingers curve around something cold and round, with a switch: a torch. I flick it on.
‘Thank you, mystery man,’ I whisper to myself. I explore the room again with the torch carefully angled down, decide the only place I feel safe is actually inside the thankfully huge wardrobe. What if I fall asleep and don’t wake up until she arrives?
I arrange the pillows on the wardrobe floor, settle onto it with the blanket. I try with the door shut, but it feels too enclosed so I push it ajar. I’m sure I’ll wake before she gets here; I’m not convinced I’ll sleep at all.
For a while I stare at the wall, imagining what I can say to Dr Lysander to get her to tell me everything she knows about me; rehearsing the words. Finally I close my eyes. What is Ben doing now? I bite my lip: I hope he doesn’t think I’m avoiding him, or don’t want to be there. Would anyone tell him where I am if he asks?
I slip into uneasy dreams, of wardrobes: Stella’s wardrobes, full of photos and tissue-wrapped memories; college student wardrobes with narrow spaces, too small to hide in. Click…switch.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
* * *
The low thud of a door; footsteps.
I open my eyes with a start, glad to see I’d pulled the wardrobe shut in the night.
‘Yes, just put it there. Thank you.’ Dr Lysander’s voice? Another voice, male, asking if she needs anything. ‘No, thank you; just some peace and quiet.’ But you can’t always get what you want.
A door shuts, and there are footsteps in the room.
I struggle to shake sleep from my mind; it had been late when I finally drifted off. I squint at the digital numbers on the watch. 7:40? Oh no. She is late. We haven’t much time.
But I stay silent, unmoving. What if I’m wrong, and when she sees me she raises the alarm? She wouldn’t do that, not after everything we’ve been through. Would she?
I listen very intently to make sure she is alone. There is a faint zipping noise – a suitcase?
It’s now or never.
I nudge the door open and peer through the slit, just in time to see she is approaching: the door is pulled open.
‘Dr Lysander?’ She jumps about a foot in the air. ‘It’s me, it’s Kyla.’
‘What?’ She is half poised to run the other way, to her door, but looks, really looks at me this time. I hold my hands out to show I’m unarmed.
Her eyes are wide, face pale, but otherwise the same as always: thick glasses, long dark hair tied back with maybe a few more grey streaks than it had before. Eyes that can see through me. She takes one of my hands to pull me up from the wardrobe. I stand next to her.
‘Kyla?’ She smiles. ‘It really is you? Your hair. But it’s you!’ And she does something she has never done before: pulls me close for a quick hug. Then, like she realises what she has done, releases me just as quickly.
‘They told me you were dead.’
‘I’m sorry about that. I’m fine.’
‘Why would they do that?’ She shakes her head. ‘How are you here, hiding in my room? What is going on?’
‘I haven’t got very much time. I need to ask you a few things, but first I’ll tell you where I’ve been.’ I realised last night: if I don’t tell her what I found out, why I want to know, she’ll never reveal what she didn’t before. I have to give her a reason, and do what we always did: trade information.
‘I went to who I thought was my mother. From before I was Slated. You know how I told you the AGT took me from a young age? I was kidnapped from my mother when I was ten. I went and found her, to get to know her again. But not long after getting there I found out she wasn’t actually my mother.’
‘She was given me as a baby after her own died, and raised me from then to age ten. She didn’t know where I came from. Her mother is a JCO and gave me to her, so it may have been from an orphanage. Before I could find out any more, my cover got blown, and I had to leave in a hurry.’ This is the part of the story I’d struggled to formulate. I can’t tell her details of where I am now or who with: I can take risks with myself, but not with those who’ve helped me. ‘Since then, I’ve been with friends. One of them found out that at higher security levels, I’m not a Jane Doe: my DNA is classified. Who am I? Tell me if you know anything; I have to know.’
She looks back at me carefully, considering. ‘Why do you need to know?’
‘Wouldn’t you want to know who you were if you found out you were adopted?’
She shrugs. ‘Maybe less than you. My family was never close, and often difficult. Why seek out another?’ She touches my hair. ‘IMET, isn’t it.’ A statement, not a question. ‘Is this where the DNA came into it? I’m worried about you, Kyla. How much trouble are you in? Can you come back from it? Does learning more help, or hinder? What do your new friends really want with you? Are they any better for you than your AGT friends turned out to be?’