She shakes her head, eyes still wide and staring. Then Tori is there. ‘She needs Happy Juice, they must have some!’ Tori says, and we help the girl inside the door.
Katran has a doctor in a death grip.
‘Happy Juice: where?’ Tori demands.
Katran eases his grip. The doctor gasps for air, points at a cupboard unit. At a gesture from Katran the doctor pulls a syringe out of a drawer. Hands it to Katran. ‘It’s illegal to use it on that one. Not that you’d care.’
Katran turns towards her but the girl holds out her hands. ‘No, you mustn’t; no.’ Her hands are protective in front of her belly. ‘You can’t. The baby.’ She’s pregnant?
I look at the doctor. ‘It’ll kill the child if you use it,’ he says.
Her Levo vibrates again. ‘3.2,’ I say.
The doctor shrugs. ‘She’s dying, anyhow. What difference does it make?’
Tori punches him, hard, in the face. ‘Give it to her!’ she says to Katran.
‘We can’t force her.’ Katran kneels next to her, takes her hand. ‘What do you want us to do?’ he says. Her eyes are wide, panicked. Like a deer that wants to bolt into the woods but is caught, a leg held in a trap.
‘No. No drugs,’ she says, her words clear.
He hands the syringe to Tori. ‘She says no.’
It happens. Her levels drop that bit more. Her body arches with seizures. She cries out, her body twisting in pain.
‘Give her the Happy Juice! The baby will die anyway if she does,’ Tori says.
‘It’s too late for that now, and we haven’t got anything stronger here,’ the doctor says. ‘That is more painful than our way.’ He reaches back to the cupboard, a different drawer, and holds up another syringe. ‘Give her a full shot of this and it will be over quickly.’
‘She said no drugs,’ Katran says, voice barely controlled.
I hold her. She doesn’t know where she is any more but her face is a rictus of agony. Her body arches one last time: rigid, then limp.
Tori looks at the doctor, then at the knife in her hands. ‘Let me?’ she says to Katran. ‘Slowly.’
Katran shakes his head. Takes the second syringe from the doctor’s hand. ‘No. Give him what he uses on others.’ He hands it to Tori.
Katran holds the doctor; realisation on his face now, he struggles. ‘You can’t do this. It’s murder.’
‘What about what you do here? What do you call that?’ Tori says.
‘Laws are there for a reason. That one – if she has the baby, what then? Either she dies from seizures in labour, or we give her drugs to stop that and the baby dies. She broke her contract getting in that condition. Contract breakers over sixteen have their second chance terminated according to law. It is there when they sign!’
‘Like we have any choice but to sign,’ I spit out, and hold my wrist in the air. His eyes go wide when he takes in my Levo. ‘They could have taken her Levo off so the baby could live, so they could both live!’
He shakes his head. ‘What then? Every Slated girl in the country would get pregnant on purpose to get out of her sentence.’
Tori smiles at the syringe still in her hand. ‘So. You say a full dose of this is a quick death. What about half a dose?’
The horror that crosses the doctor’s face answers the question well enough.
Tori moves towards him but I can’t stay, I can’t watch. The spinning is back, everything going grey. I stumble out of the building. Past bodies I try not to look at, but there, at the periphery of my vision, they register. Blood. Dead. No more.
I reach the trees, loop an arm around one and vomit on the ground. There are screams from the building behind.
I struggle to clear my mind, to process what I learned. A Levo would kill a Slated in labour; the drugs to stop this would kill the child before it could be born. Is this the real reason why Amy and Jazz aren’t supposed to ever be alone together? Why I wasn’t meant to be alone with Ben? I didn’t know. Did that girl?
Lorders Slated her, and now, no matter what we could do, she died. She looked older than Amy. How close was she to 21, and freedom? I open my hand. Inside it, a ring I’d slipped off her finger at the end: a silver band. There is carving on the inside: Emily & David 4ever. Was he the Slated boy with her? They’re together forever, now. I clench my fingers around the ring, tight.
Emily. I’ll remember her. I’ll remember this moment.
Including Holly, three of us dead, and the Slated boy and girl. Five Lorders and one doctor. One termination centre out of action: Katran sets the place on fire before we go. We melt into the woods in pairs to run to pick-up points, me and Katran together.
‘You idiot,’ he hisses as we run. ‘What did you think you were doing, running at that Lorder with a knife in your hand? I told you to hide.’
‘You told me stay where I was! I did. He ran straight at me.’
He shakes his head in disgust. ‘If I wasn’t babysitting you for Nico, maybe we wouldn’t have lost three.’
‘What? You were babysitting me?’
‘You heard me. What are you playing at? Look. I know you want to help, but you’re useless. You’re a danger to have around.’
‘What about Holly?’
‘What about her?’
‘She shouldn’t have gone in on her own.’
‘She volunteered. Drawing them out of the house was the best strategy.’ He looks uncomfortable.
She had something to prove to Nico after breaking the rules, and she’s proved it. Permanently.
We stay silent the rest of the way. What happened? I wanted to kill that Lorder. The knife was in my hand; the opportunity, there. But the mere thought of using it, pushing the blade in, cutting into skin, veins, and muscle – and I froze. I couldn’t do it.
If Katran hadn’t come running back, I’d be dead.
My fists clench. What was all the training I did with Nico and the Owls for? I know so many ways to end life.
I hold Emily’s face in my mind. She refused Happy Juice that could have saved her, for what? Now she and her baby are both dead. And Holly: neck snapped. The other two in her cell whose names I didn’t even know.
Lorders did that.
Next time I have a weapon in my hand and a Lorder in front of me, I won’t fail.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
* * *
‘Would you have done that, what that girl did?’ Tori asks. She inspects her knife as we walk the last steps to the house. She obviously didn’t have problems using it.
‘It was pointless. She didn’t save her baby.’
‘But maybe she couldn’t live, knowing that her decision is what killed it. Like, if I’d been there when Ben died, and hadn’t done everything I could to save him. I couldn’t live with that.’
I look at her carefully out of the corner of my eye. Does she know something about Ben? No. She’s just relating what happened to that girl to herself, to the one she’d do anything to save. I sigh.
Tori slips an arm around my shoulders. ‘At least they won’t be terminating anyone else there, not for a long while. Wasn’t that brilliant today?’
‘From what I could see of it.’ Which was more than enough.
Tori glances ahead; Katran, leading the way now, is almost out of sight. She lowers her voice. ‘It’s not fair. Talk to Katran, make him see you have to be in on the action next time. But you were still part of it, and we did something.’ She raises her voice again. ‘We showed them, didn’t we?’ The others around us shout a ragged cheer.
Nico steps out of the house as we walk up to it: the afternoon over, he is back from school. Where I should have been. He glances around, sees who is missing. ‘Did they die a good death?’ he asks Katran.
Holly’s brother bounds out of the house behind Nico. Not allowed on this venture today; not trained enough, Nico had said. ‘Where’s Holly?’ he asks.
No one answers. Katran holds his shoulder, while he shakes. We stand together: a minute of silence stretches out in slow seconds.
Nico looks up and nods; everyone starts to walk away. Katran with his arm around Holly’s brother now, speaking in a low voice into his ear. Changed, and gentle: like the Katran of my dream, who comforted me when I was scared. Did that really happen? No matter how crazy it seems, something inside says yes.
‘It is good to see you two getting along,’ Nico says, gesturing to Tori and me, next to each other, arms linked.
‘Why wouldn’t we?’ Tori asks.
‘It isn’t often two girls who shared the same boyfriend can be friends.’
Tori stares at me, eyes wide. Pushes me away. ‘Ben?’ she whispers. I look back at her, shrug helplessly. What can I say? She turns tail and marches away into the trees.
Nico smiles. ‘A word,’ he says, pointing at me, and walks into the house. I stand there a moment, too stunned to react.
‘Come!’ he calls.
I follow him through to the windowless room he has taken as office. Candles cast flickering light on damp walls.
‘Why did you do that?’ I ask, unable to stop myself.
‘Tell Tori about me and Ben.’
‘Rain, you know how we must work in a group: total honesty. Nothing hidden between us. Lorders lie; we tell the truth.’
‘Truth is freedom, freedom is truth,’ I say, words from the past tumbling out from some hidden place, inside.
He smiles. ‘Just so. Now tell me: how do you feel about what we must do after the attack today?’ His face is mild, but his eyes, watchful.
I banish the red of blood from my mind, and clench Emily’s cold ring in my pocket. Focus on what the Lorders did to her, do to others like her all the time. We must stop them. Resolve hardens inside.
‘I’m on the right side. Our side.’
‘Good. Soon there will be other work to do.’ He smiles, touches one hand to my cheek, and I am flooded with the warm glow of being in his favour.
‘I never had any doubt,’ he says, but he SO did. ‘What is it?’ he asks, alert as ever to any changes flitting across my face.
‘It is just… I don’t really understand. Why you even want me involved. What can I do?’
‘You’re one of us,’ he says. ‘No matter what happened to you when you were taken, or who you were after you were Slated, you will always be one of us. But more, you are important to me.’
He says no more, slips an arm around my shoulders. The glow becomes more. I belong here, with Free UK: this is who I am. What I must do. But what is that, exactly?
‘What is happening?’
‘Soon, Rain; soon.’
Disappointment must reflect on my face. ‘You don’t trust me,’ I say.
‘I do.’ He hesitates; smiles. ‘I can tell you this. Soon there will be concerted attacks, in London, other major targets.’
‘What were we doing today, then? That wasn’t coordinated with anything.’
He smiles again. ‘Clever, Rain. We don’t want to pull in our activities now. They must think it is business as usual, not know we are leading up to something big. And we have identified individual targets as well.’
My stomach twists. ‘Assassinations?’
‘Don’t be squeamish.’ His voice is cold. ‘You know what this government has done, is doing, to people like you. To Tori. Think of what happened to her. There will be kidnappings as well, high-profile, in a variety of sectors at once. We’ll get some attention in the right places.’
‘What about the hospital attack? It is heavily protected and guarded. It would take resources, and…’ I stop, realisation sinking in. ‘A diversion?’