Then, as if he remembers I’m still here, he turns back. Takes my hands in his. ‘Rain, just promise me. Think about it. Think about what happened today, and before, and every time you see blood. Think about it, and remember.’ He pauses, his eyes intent on mine. Unwavering, and I want to look away, but I can’t.
Without thought, I reach up: trail my fingers across the scar on his face, with a sense of wonder: I’ve done this before.
He yanks away as if my fingers burn his skin. Gets back on his bike, and I follow. The rest of the way home my mind spins: is what he says true? Am I a total failure as a terrorist?
Everything inside screams no. It is what I’m good at; all the things Nico taught us. I fought to be the best at everything we did, and I often was.
This makes no sense. If what Katran says is true, why would Nico even want me to be involved? Tracking me down couldn’t have been easy. And I’d always wondered how he found me after I was Slated. If that van driver is his plant in MIA, that may be how. And that must be how he knows I went to see Ben. My memory may fail in some ways, but I do remember this: Katran never lies. If he had done it, he would say so.
Why would Nico go to such an effort to find me if I’m so useless? He couldn’t have known ahead of time that I’d be placed with Mum. Who she is. And I am meeting with Dr Lysander, but he couldn’t have guessed that would be possible.
I grit my teeth. Okay, blood is beyond gross, fair enough, but I’ll overcome it, by sheer force of will. If Nico believes in me, I can do it.
I must do it.
Anyhow, getting Dr Lysander for Free UK has got to be worth something. A whole lot of somethings.
Late that night, I try. A sharp kitchen knife, a shaking hand: just one drop of blood. But I can’t do it, I can’t. I throw the knife across the room and it sticks in the wall.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN
* * *
‘Kyla! Wait.’ Cam’s voice calls out behind me, in the most colossal case of bad timing.
I consider ignoring him, but he is as likely as not to give chase if I do. I turn on my heels. ‘Yes?’
‘Aren’t you going to class?’
‘You’re walking the wrong way.’
Students stream past us in all directions, racing to the first class of Tuesday morning. Providing cover that will soon be gone.
I concentrate. Smile. ‘I’ve got some homework to drop off, first. Art project,’ I say, picking a subject I know he doesn’t take. ‘I’ll see you later,’ I lie, and hurry on, but he walks along with me. I curse internally.
‘Is everything all right?’ he asks.
‘Just fine.’ I smile. ‘How’re things with you?’
He shrugs. His face isn’t swollen any more from that Lorder’s backhander; the purple bruises have faded to brown, but still have a way to go. The hit he took standing up for me. I thaw a little inside. Poor Cam. Will the Lorders go after him once they find out I’ve ignored their deal? I should warn him.
No time: not now.
I stop. Smile. ‘Sorry, I’ve got to run, or I won’t make it back. See you later?’
‘All right,’ he says.
I bolt up the path and go straight for the art building across the grass in case he watches. Then I shrug inside. Why would he? Still, I don’t deviate until I’m at the door, then dash round the building. I’m just in time out the side gate to follow behind some agriculture students going to the school allotments. To the casual observer, I’m catching up to my class. But once out of sight of the school grounds, I drop back and hit the footpath, then dash up the road.
I should be hurrying, but my feet begin to slow. She wants to talk to me today, to find out my secrets. She is going to learn the biggest of them all, isn’t she?
My stomach feels sick. Nerves?
No! She is part of this whole Lorder system, Slating and everything that goes with it: Emily. And Ben. I can’t feel sorry for her. I can’t.
I won’t. I have to show them all: Katran, Nico, Tori and the rest. That I am part of their fight against the Lorders. It is my fight, too.
The bridleway is rutted tracks of mud, and slows my progress. She is waiting, and I see her before she sees me. Her horse is beautiful, and that isn’t all: there is another, and on it, the same Lorder who guards her at the hospital.
I groan. Nico said she would probably have someone with her. I’m to try to separate them, then signal when they should come.
I wave as I walk up the bridleway. The Lorder’s eyes widen when he sees me: I am a surprise? Good. Dr Lysander says a few words, and he seems to argue with her, then nods. Gets off his horse as I walk up.
‘Glorious day, isn’t it?’ She grins, and she looks different. Her dark hair, loose with fine streaks of grey, hangs down her back. Her riding clothes look more her than the white coat I’ve never seen her without before. The heavy glasses are gone: contact lenses, or are they a prop? ‘You did mean it when you said you could ride?’
‘Agent Lewinski has kindly offered you his horse, but says we may only walk, and not let him out of sight. Do you need help?’ I shake my head. My foot barely reaches the stirrup, but I manage: up!
The horse shifts on his feet, and I get the feel of him, the saddle. Blinking again at the memories, swift and sharp. Horses, but where, when? Eyes closed, I am some other place and time. There are no details; it is more a feeling than anything else. Of joy! Speed. A certainty that I am safe, that nothing could ever happen to me, so long as…what? Childish knowledge that knows nothing of the world.
‘Are you all right, Kyla?’
I jump, look around me: back to here and now. ‘Yes, fine. Who is this?’ I say, stroking his mane.
‘Jericho,’ she says. ‘And this is my Heathcliff.’ She pats the neck of her horse: he stamps and snorts.
We start walking up the path. Her guard hangs back as requested but looks unhappy about it. I can sense a large report filed on me coming soon, and am sure it will fly straight to Coulson. I shake myself internally. It will hardly matter after today, will it?
Gradually we start to walk a little faster. I urge Jericho with my knees, to put distance between the Lorder guard and us before I call Katran.
She glances at me sidewise. ‘That missing hospital record of your friend Ben? Not the only one,’ she says, voice low. ‘A little checking, and there are others. Gaps in the records. And worse.’
‘There are missing doctors, too,’ she says, her face a picture of horror.
Inside, I snort. A doctor going missing is far more worrying to her than a hundred Slateds, I bet.
‘What does it mean?’ I ask, but wonder: could the missing doctors be at that so-called school of Ben’s?
She hesitates. ‘I can only guess at the moment, and my guesses are all unpleasant.’
I stare back at her, and finally ask the questions that have plagued my curiosity for a while. ‘Why do you tell me these things? Why haven’t you turned me in, when you suspect I’m remembering things? Why have you met me, here? I don’t understand.’
‘Partly, I am curious. And I want to know what went wrong with you, so I can stop it from happening again.’
She hesitates, shakes her head. ‘Such sentimentality on my part. You remind me of a girl I knew at school, long ago,’ she says, and sadness crosses her face.
‘What happened to her?’
‘She got caught up in the riots. There were no other options then; she was executed.’ She looks back. ‘Enough of your questions, and the past. He is far enough behind us, Kyla, to truly put you at ease. It is your turn. Tell me now as you said you would do so. What do you remember? Why do you remember?’
I could push the com at my wrist to signal Katran, and end this conversation before it starts. Yet…her eyes. So curious. The one thing I can do for her is answer her questions truthfully. Maybe she can make sense of things I cannot. Or is it more that some part of me is programmed to answer her, and can’t easily stop doing so? Nico would be furious, but he isn’t here to listen.
‘I remember strange things: sights, sounds, feelings. People and places; unconnected, connected. It is hard to even explain. Like when I got on this horse. Feeling him move brought all these associations and feelings of another time, but I don’t know where or when.’
‘Fascinating,’ she says. ‘Every scan and test you had before you left hospital said everything was as it should be.’
‘It hadn’t started yet then, not really. Other than some dreams. When I left the hospital, things began to come back. At first just small things, in bits and pieces.’
I hesitate. And then, Wayne. ‘I had a fright. And they came back in a huge rush. And this?’ I point at my Levo. ‘Useless now.’ I give it a twist to demonstrate.
‘I don’t understand how that could be possible.’
‘I don’t understand it completely, either. But there are a few things I do know. I was born left-handed, not right. Free UK gave me some sort of training, conditioning. I don’t really know what. But it is almost like it made me two people, my memories split between them: one right-handed and one left. When I was Slated they thought I was right-handed because I was being that person. The other was hidden away, inside.’
‘Interesting. Extreme pressure of circumstances can sometimes cause a dissociative identity disorder. Essentially, a fracking of self into layers,’ she says. Her eyes turn inwards, musing. ‘It is theoretically possible to induce such a personality fracture, such that one personality keeps the memories the other discards. But only by extreme methods: deliberate trauma or abuse of a nature so severe that fracking is the only way for the self to survive.’
Her words send shivers down my back. What trauma would be enough to achieve this? What was the brick Nico held that did this to me?
‘But Kyla, I don’t understand. Why would this be done to anyone?’
‘So part of me could survive Slating.’
Her eyes meet mine in round Os of shock. Little wheels are spinning behind them as she thinks it through, the implications. ‘There have long been arguments on this; it was felt to be impossible.’
Something else registers on her face, in her eyes. ‘Kyla, why were you Slated?’ she asks, gently.
‘Lorders caught me. Wasn’t it in my records?’
‘Your records state you were captured in a terrorist attack. They list you as a Jane Doe: identity unknown.’ As she says the words, one eyebrow goes up, sceptical.
‘A Jane Doe?’ I say, stunned. ‘Isn’t everyone DNA tested at birth?’
‘They are according to law. But sometimes babies are born in quiet places, to parents who keep out of the way, and they slip through the cracks.’
My mind is spinning with this information. Is it really possible the Lorders didn’t know who I was? Even though I was reported missing on MIA? I can’t believe they don’t monitor that illegal website. But maybe it explains something else. ‘If they didn’t know who I was, how would they know my age, whether they could Slate me or not?’
‘Simple cell testing reveals age very accurately, Kyla, and was conducted according to law. You were under sixteen when you were Slated.’
‘But I wasn’t. I was sixteen. I know I was; I remember my birthday.’
‘You must be mistaken. Those tests are foolproof. But enough diversions: back to my question, Kyla. Why were you Slated?’ she asks again, and I am confused by the question.
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember what happened.’
Her eyes move, focus behind us, and widen. I turn in time to see her Lorder guard grappled to the ground by Katran. But I haven’t called them in yet. I’d meant for us to leave him behind first. What is happening? And then she is off the other way, urging her horse to a gallop, and I curse. Distracted by her questions! I should have grabbed her, done something, anything.