The Lorders are alert; her words are getting close to the line now.
Her eyes flick to them. She turns around to Amy and me, smiles.
A Lorder moves towards the camera technicians.
Time is running out! Say it now! I plead inside. Say what happened to Robert.
She turns back and faces the camera. ‘Thank you,’ she says.
I’m frozen. That is all? It was in her eyes, that moment when she turned to Amy and me. She wasn’t going to do or say anything to put us in danger. That was it. She still holds my hand, the hand that should be slipping up my sleeve, now, reaching for the means to end her life. Mine as well.
An official steps up. We are in front of the camera next to him; still transmitting live. He thanks Mum, starts to explain the order of the day. And all the while I could let go of her hand. Reach inside my sleeve. There is time. The seconds are slowing down, each tick of the clock sounds further apart, each an eon of decision.
Cut the heart out of the Lorders. That is what Katran said; parroting Nico, without doubt. His words I recognise.
We need popular support: Katran again. But how could killing Mum, the daughter of the Lorder hero, achieve this? The hole in logic is gaping in front of me. It could have the opposite effect, swing opinion away from us. Surely Nico realises this.
Nico says we must strike at the Lorders wherever and however we can: show their vulnerability…?
I push their words away. It is just me, alone, in this moment.
Here, now: I decide. I’m not who I was, or who Nico wants me to be. I almost gasp out loud when I realise:
Who I am is what I choose to do.
Just like Mum. Who she is, at her core, is made up of all the decisions she makes. She did what she thought was right: pushed the boundaries of what she said, but not too far. To protect us.
I can’t do it.
I won’t do it.
The camera light goes out. Too late. It is too late for her to say what she should have said.
Too late for me to do what I never could.
‘Are you all right, Kyla?’ Mum says. ‘You look all in.’
‘I’ve got a headache,’ I say, truthfully. People have spilled into the Great Hall now for tea and cakes. A few familiar faces, but many more that are not. And Lorders, everywhere: watchful eyes that will take more notice of Mum, now.
Everything is shifting, shaking inside. She couldn’t do anything to put us in danger, no matter what she thought. I couldn’t hurt her, either. All this feeling: is it a trap? The ties that tangle our loyalties, Nico would say. He was wrong about me: I couldn’t do it.
‘Go if you want,’ Mum says. ‘You don’t need to stay for the second ceremony. You only really needed to be here for the first one, the family photo op.’ She rolls her eyes. She beckons to Cam. ‘Why don’t you two go now?’
‘Sure,’ he says. ‘This suit is itchy. Come on, Kyla.’
We are told to follow an official: down hallways, out a door. Across a lawn to the car park with Cam’s car.
As we walk, thoughts tumble inside. What happens now? Nico said the Free UK attacks were timed with Mum’s speech that the Lorders Slated her son, or her death. Neither happened. Is it all off?
Nico will be livid at my failure. I sigh. Not just angry; lethal. I’m dead.
Maybe Katran will try to stop him. But—
Katran. He said the attacks were timed for when the treaty was signed: the second ceremony. Nico said for the first. Did I hear one of them wrong? I frown to myself. No, I’m sure I didn’t. What did Katran say? Attacks and assassinations timed together, at the second ceremony: it takes place at 4 pm.
Assassinations…does that include Dr Lysander? Pain twists inside.
We’ve reached Cam’s car now, and get in. An official signals us to wait. Another state limo is coming up the drive, motorbikes in front and behind. It stops and the door is held open; we catch a glimpse of untidy blond hair before security flank the Prime Minister, hiding him from sight. They walk up the steps and into Chequers. Once the door shuts we get the signal to go.
‘You’ve missed your chance to meet the Prime Minister,’ Cam says, as we head down the drive and out the gate. I don’t answer. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asks.
I shake my head, close my eyes, lean back against the seat. Dr Lysander has been pushed out of my thoughts by everything else. Or maybe I was avoiding thinking what would happen to her.
All along, even when I didn’t understand what she was doing, she has protected me. To the point of falsifying hospital records. She has broken rule after rule to tell me what I needed to know. And the biggest of them all in meeting me outside of the hospital. Nico said, that to her, I am the child she never had. Yes, she is part of the whole Lorder regime that I hate. But because of me, her guard is dead, and she is a prisoner.
Dr Lysander is part of my family in the ways that count. She, like Mum, would protect me if she could. Mum’s words earlier, at home: look after the people you care about, who are here, now.
I glance at my watch: 2:20.
‘Cam? Do you remember when you said if there was anything you could do to help, you’d do it?’
‘Can you drive home really fast so I can change? Then drop me off someplace else. But the really important bit is, no questions asked.’
He grins and hits the accelerator.
Racing up the stairs at home, I kick off my heels and unzip the dress as I go. I chuck the dress on my bedroom floor, yank on jeans, a dark top. I hate the feel of Nico’s gun on my skin, but leave it strapped to my arm. I might need it. I start racing for the door, then pause.
Nico’s com. It might be a tracker as well as a com, and I don’t want him to know where I’m going. I pause, fiddle under my Levo to try and find a release on it. Curse, about to give up, when my nail finally finds an edge. A pinch and it is off. I chuck it in a drawer of clothes and sprint downstairs.
Cam is already at his car, changed as well. ‘That was quick,’ he says. ‘Is there some kind of emergency?’
‘No questions, remember?’ I say, then relent. ‘You could say I’ve just got to help a friend.’
I give him directions as we go, all the while wondering: what am I doing? Do I dare? Can I oppose Nico?
For too long I’ve been pulled one way, then another; between who I was, and who I am. But who do I want to be?
Who I am now and what I do, now, will be decided by me, and me alone.
There are so many big questions: political ones. The sort embroiling Katran and Nico. The Lorders are wrong, so wrong, but is cutting their throats one at a time any sort of answer? I’d convinced myself that Nico was right; that, as Rain, I’d already made this choice, long ago; that we should use any means necessary. But I was wrong. It isn’t my answer.
I direct Cam down the single-track road, the way Nico took me the first time, and then feel a sudden constriction of fear: what if he comes this way today? But it is too late to turn back.
‘Stop here,’ I say, finally. ‘You’ll have to reverse a bit before you can turn around.’
‘Here? Are you sure?’ Cam peers out at the overhanging trees.
‘Yes. Here. Thanks.’
‘Isn’t it about time you told me what is really going on?’ He pauses, peers closer at my face. ‘Hallelujah! You actually are going to tell me something, aren’t you?’
‘One thing,’ I say. ‘You know those Lorders we were introduced to the other day? They might be pissed off at me, and I really hope that it doesn’t extend to you. I just wanted to warn you. I’m sorry.’
‘Pissed-off Lorders I like, though not in my immediate vicinity. But if they’re going to be that way anyhow, let me come with you. Maybe I can help.’
He sighs. ‘Are you sure you’ll be all right?’
‘Positive,’ I lie, hand on the car door, poised to run if he tries to follow.
‘Good luck,’ he says.
‘Bye now, Cam,’ I say, and get out, slip into the trees. I linger out of sight to be sure he goes. He reverses back up the lane, disappears from sight.
That felt wrong. Why, I can’t quite work out. Did he give up too easily? I listen until the engine sounds fade away and are gone.
And Cam is one of the worst of many points of guilt in all of this. It isn’t his fault he came to the Lorders’ attention; it was purely because of me. I hope, so hard, nothing will come back to bite him. If today works, if Dr Lysander escapes, Coulson will know soon enough what I’ve been up to. I can’t imagine he’ll be too happy about it.
CHAPTER FORTY TWO
* * *
At Katran’s hide, where bikes were hidden the first time I came this way, the tarp is lower than I hoped. I pull it back to be sure, and sigh: no bikes here today. They must all be at the house: I’ll have to walk. Fast.
The air is damp and heavy, still, wet. The sky is darkening. And I fancy muffled sounds, someone or something hidden inside it. Imagination on overtime, I keep turning, sure I’ve heard a distant twig snap or something in the trees. But if I double back, silent and careful, nothing is there.
As I walk, I consider the weak point of the plan: who is guarding Dr Lysander? If Katran has things straight with the 4 pm attacks, everyone who can be should be deployed; it may be just one guard outside her locked door. How do I get them out of the house and distracted enough to free Dr Lysander? I have no illusions on an all-out battle: the only way I could really hurt anyone is in self-defence. Like with Wayne. I wince inside: I can’t feel sorry, exactly, that he is dead. It may have been at Nico’s hands, but it is still another death that is my fault.
If Nico is at the house, I’m in real trouble. He shouldn’t be; he should be coordinating the attacks.
Unless he is the one to kill Dr Lysander at 4 pm.
You could always back out, run away. Hide.
No. It is time I faced up to the trouble I’ve caused. I hurry up the path, half walking, half running. One eye on my watch: 3:15 now, and I go faster, examining and rejecting plans on the way. There are too many unknowns.
I reach the place the bikes are stashed near the house: nearly there. Again overcome by a feeling of being watched, so strong, I stop, hold my breath and listen, but can hear nothing. The only movement is a red kite circling overhead, eye on some prey far below. Fear and imagination: that is all.
Silent, I slip through trees around the house, under cover, out of sight. No cars: Nico isn’t here! The relief is so strong I sag against a tree. As much as I try to keep up the pretence that I could stand up to him, could I? Really? Apart from the usual hold he has on everyone, there is another on me, until recently buried so far down I didn’t know it. He is my terror. The black stuff of nightmares.
There is a movement at the door: I scrunch down. A dark-haired figure steps out, chucks the remains of a cup out on the ground and goes back inside: Tori. She is the guard? And perhaps executioner as well.
Otherwise the house still looks abandoned, empty. My eyes can search out the little details that say otherwise only because they know where to look. I see and avoid the tiny tripwire that encircles it, hidden in the undergrowth: a warning system for those inside.
Yet – something still feels wrong.
A silence, not from the house, but around me, as if the trees hold their breath. Birds are silent. The wind itself, and—
I retrace my steps. There is a slight crack, left. I spin around, foot up for a looping kick, but pull it back at the last second.
‘Cam? What the hell are you doing here?’ I say, in a fierce whisper, and pull him back into the trees.
He grins. ‘I couldn’t let you go without making sure you were all right. What’s going on?’
‘Don’t look so pleased with yourself. This isn’t a game!’ And I am angry: at myself for taking the easy way, letting him drive me; at him, for following; at myself, for not catching him at it sooner.