‘Just so. We’ll leak plans of a proposed attack at the hospital, but this time, when they are ready for us there, we will be elsewhere.’
Elsewhere…elsewhen. ‘Armstrong Memorial Day.’ I say it as a statement, not a question. ‘At Chequers. That is the place and the day things will start, isn’t it?’
He stays silent.
‘My family will be there.’
‘We are your family.’ A mild reproach. I flush.
‘Nico, you don’t understand. Mum isn’t pro-Lorder; at least, not any more.’
‘No! They Slated her son.’ And I tell Nico about Robert, with guilt at confidences broken, but I have to make him see. ‘She tried to find out what happened to him; she’s not one of them.’
‘Yet if she doesn’t support us, her feelings about the Lorders are not relevant. She can be a martyr for our cause.’ He puts a hand on my chin, tilts my face up. The horror must be in my eyes. ‘Rain, I know this is hard. But you must be strong. We have to strike at the Lorders where it hurts the most. She is a symbol for their cause – she allows this. No matter her feelings on it, she is a Lorder tool.’
I clench Emily’s ring in my pocket.
I must be strong.
He kisses my forehead. ‘That is enough for your curiosity. Time for you to get back home before you are missed.’
‘Why can’t I stay here?’ I say, without planning to say it, but yes, why? Because when I am here, with Nico, and even Katran, I belong. I believe in their plans: our plans.
He puts a warm hand on each of my shoulders. ‘Stay strong a little longer, all right? We need you on the inside. You can’t disappear from that life, not yet. Go on, Rain,’ he says, gives me a little push towards the door. I walk through it. Leaving Nico’s presence it feels as if the temperature drops.
Tori isn’t in sight, but Katran is back. He follows me as I head through the trees.
‘I don’t need an escort, you know. I remember how to get there.’
Katran ignores my words, continues to follow.
‘Did you hear me?’ I turn and face him at the bikes.
He smirks. ‘I did, oh special girl, but this is an order from above. To see you safely home.’
‘I won’t tell. Go slink behind some rocks and take a nap, instead.’
He ignores me and extracts our bikes from their hiding place, and we set off, Katran in front. Going much too fast for the need for quiet, but that was always him, wasn’t it? More guts than sense, Nico used to say in the early days, but eased off when he saw Katran was always just within an edge of control. Close to the precipice, never going over. But soon I am exhilarated by speed, by remembering past times and using it to not remember all that happened today, and I don’t care about the risk.
It takes me back to other days. With an edge of danger. Slips of memory come and go, make me feel alive; tantalise, then are gone.
And I don’t understand. I study Katran, ahead: who is he, really? Who was he to me all those years ago? Questions burn and tumble inside.
The hide a few miles from home appears in the distance. Katran slows, stops, turns his bike on the path to take off back the other way.
‘Wait a minute,’ I say, then hesitate. ‘I want to ask you something.’
‘What: can’t find your way home after all?’
I scowl, clench my fists; why even bother. ‘Why are you such a jerk sometimes?’
‘Do you really want to know?’ There’s anger behind his question.
I turn away, yank my bike through the trees to the hide and conceal it. Katran stays, watches: probably checking I do it right. I pull the tarp and camo over and start marching up the path.
‘Come back. I’m sorry,’ he says.
Katran, apologising? I’m so stunned I stop, turn back. He’s off his bike now, and I walk up to him. Challenge is in his eyes and I face him, unflinching. But with his dark eyes staring into mine, the words are gone.
‘Well?’ he says, finally.
I swallow. ‘My memories are a little…messed up. Can I ask you about something? From years ago.’
I cross my arms. ‘I had these really bad dreams. Nightmares. I still get them.’ I sigh, stare at the ground. Not wanting to say it out loud, but needing to find out what he knows at the same time. ‘Being chased. Running, on sand, absolutely terrified. And…’ I look up. ‘You used to wake me, hold me when I was scared.’ I say it, don’t ask it, because somehow I know it is true.
And there, in his eyes: confirmation. He turns, the angry red of the jagged scar on his right cheek hidden. Sometimes, like now, when he isn’t angry to match the scar, you can see a different person. The one who had an arm around Holly’s brother.
The one who held me at night, years ago.
‘Thanks,’ I say.
‘It’s okay.’ He looks embarrassed. ‘We used to be friends, you and I. Things…changed.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I don’t really understand, myself.’ He sighs. ‘When you first came to train with us, you were different. You were scared, cried a lot. You didn’t want to be there, not like the rest of us. But every now and then, you changed. Into this angry, crazy girl: Nico’s puppet, dancing on his strings. And it was something to do with Nico and this doctor who took you away, sometimes for days. Each time you came back you changed more often, until the girl I first knew almost never appeared.’
A doctor? A flash in my mind: a special sort of doctor, not the kind who mends bones or cures illness. I was afraid of him, so afraid. I try to push it away; his face and then his name swing into view. Dr Craig. In that dream I had, the doctor who said I would be sick.
‘And Nico told us when you were this changed person to treat you like one of us, and to ignore you when you were the other one. Bit by bit the other went, until the only time she came back was when you had nightmares.’
My head aches, pounds. Two people, like Nico said. Lucy, and Rain. They split me into two people…that doctor? I feel sick inside. I turn away but Katran follows. Turns me and holds my shoulders in his hands so I can’t look away.
‘Listen to me. Nico is up to something with you, and it started years ago. I don’t get it and I don’t like it. Don’t let him use you. You don’t belong with us; you never did. Run while you still have the chance.’
I shake my head. ‘No,’ I say, faint, then: ‘No.’ Stronger. ‘You just want me out of the way. You’re jealous of me and Nico. Of how important I am to him and the cause.’
He laughs, anger behind it. ‘Yeah, sure: that’s it.’ He turns away, gets on his bike.
I start to walk off.
‘Wait,’ he says, and I pause. ‘Listen to me, Rain. I believe in what we are doing. That ours is the way, the only way, to get rid of the Lorders, to free ourselves. Make our lives better. But it doesn’t have to be your fight. Not when you don’t even know who you are: how can you make a choice? Try to get your memories back where they should be. Don’t block them out.’
I watch him disappear up the path, shaking with confusion. Anger, and fear. Memories lurk at the edges, threaten to overwhelm, but I don’t want them. I push them away.
Somehow I stumble back to the house, let myself in and slip upstairs in silence. Curl up on my bed.
It is late afternoon; no one will be home for an hour. I need to shower, change, look ordinary by the time anyone gets in, but my thoughts are in turmoil.
Try to remember?
But of what Katran said, about how I was those years ago, there is little trace. It is like a song I half recognise, can whistle along to the tune but don’t know the words.
I thought my confusion, and how my memories come and go, was because I was Slated. But according to Katran it started long before the Lorders got their hands on me.
I try to concentrate. Nico said he protected me from Slating, that I was split into two people: but how did he do that? I know he made Lucy be right-handed, and that Rain hid inside when the Lorders got me. They Slated me as if I was right-handed. Lucy is gone, and the memories that were Rain remained after I was Slated, hidden inside, waiting for the right trigger to let them out.
That is what Nico wanted to happen. But that isn’t the whole story. Some wisps of Lucy and her memories – her dreams, fears – still remain. Buried deep. A squirm in my guts says Nico wouldn’t be happy if he knew it. He was wary when I mentioned Lucy, surprised I even knew who she was.
And then I’m angry, so angry, at Katran. I’d been sure earlier of being in Free UK, and part of it all: of belonging to them. So that I belonged somewhere, and knew who I was. Katran spoiled everything.
Now all that is left is confusion.
That there is something wrong with my memory is an understatement.
Is it just down to choice? Forget Kyla and her life, and be with Free UK. Do it completely, not holding anything back. I grip Emily’s ring so tight in my hand that it forms a circle in my skin.
But I don’t want to forget Ben. I focus on his face, on holding it clear in my mind, but it is not enough. Never enough. I get out my sketch pad, pencil, and draw him over and over. Concentrate. I hold onto the look in his eyes, the way he stands. The way he runs. Katran defies the natural world as he moves through it. Ben is part of it.
Ben is part of me.
I long to see him, to touch him. When I was with him, I always knew who I was. Together, we can work out what to do.
Aiden said he would get in touch once he found a way to get to Ben that was safe, but it can’t wait.
I can’t wait.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
* * *
Heavy frost glistens on grass in the moonlight. I shiver in equal parts with cold and excitement as I slip quietly through our sleeping village to the footpath. I hope I am right; that Ben will be there. Maybe it is too cold, too dark this time of year for an early morning run?
Once I get to the trail bike, I wish I’d thought to wear gloves. The cold makes my hands numb and clumsy as I work out how to get into the hide in the dark. I finally pull the bike out, and start up the canal path.
Once past familiar territory, I struggle to pay attention, to find my way from the map I’d memorised, when all inside is Ben. Now and then I have to put my torch on when the way is unclear, worried I’ll go wrong in the dark.
At one point miles from home, I stop and take Emily’s ring from my pocket. I can’t keep it: it is too dangerous. What if someone sees it? I kiss it, and try to throw it into a deep part of the canal. To let it disappear into the muddy bottom. But I just can’t bring myself to let it go. I climb a tree, instead. Slip it round a twig not visible from below. My eyes note the place, the bend in the canal. One day, I’ll come back for it.
Miles on again, something niggles, pulls me out of my concentration. Something not right. Faint, distant behind me, too far away to be certain; whispers of sound. Very like another bike.
I stop, pull mine into the trees and creep back the way I came; slow, quiet, stealth. Shadowing the path rather than on it, and—
A figure waits on the path. On a bike. There is the faint flash of a tracker on the handlebars: what he tracks is stationary. Indecision plays across his face: stay a safe distance, or go on to see why it has stopped?
I step out in front of Katran.
He jumps. Guilt crosses his face, then is gone.
‘Hi,’ I say.
‘So, do you want to tell me, or should I guess?’ I say, and he shrugs, doesn’t answer. ‘There is a tracker on the bike. You’re following me, checking up on me.’
Katran flushes enough that even in this light I can see.
‘There is a tracker on the bike, yes. But it isn’t like that. They all have trackers, for safety, yeah?’