‘Fine,’ I say, and think of Sebastian. It must work – my poker face – she moves along. Sally goes with her; they start checking everyone as they go.
I back up and sit on a chair at one of the tables. There is a girl strapped in a wheelchair next to me, brown hair cascading forwards over her face. Her Levo vibrates. I look about for a nurse, wave at Sally to come over but she doesn’t see. The girl is slumped down in her wheelchair, trying to reach for something…
Ah. There, on the floor. I pick up the soft toy she must have dropped: a floppy eared bunny.
‘There you go,’ I say, and put it in her hands. She looks up, and smiles. A beautiful wide smile of perfect joy.
I recoil. No; it can’t be. That smile doesn’t belong on that face. She is gorgeous with it, it suits her, but it is all wrong.
‘Phoebe?’ I whisper.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE
* * *
Something sharp jabs my shoulder.
Warmth slides through my veins. Almost instant: my heart rate slows, my fists uncurl. Ah… Not just Happy Juice. Something stronger.
I fade in and out.
At some level I am aware, but not.
The lights are back on. I’m in a wheelchair, going down a hall but I don’t know where; all I see is the floor. I can’t lift my head to look.
There is the warmth of a shower. A nurse holds me upright while another scrubs my skin. Blood washes away so easily when it belongs to someone else. I watch as my skin is perfect and white again. Pretty.
Fluffy towels, clean clothes.
Hospital issue clothes. This is wrong. I fight to focus on why, but cannot.
I’m tucked into a bed, but it isn’t my bed. The sheets are cool, my skin feels feverish against them. Not my bed? I try to keep my eyes open. They flutter, then shut.
‘Kyla, come on, now. Wake up. Kyla…’
I’m warm, and happy; floating; unconnected to my body. I don’t want back. Leave me alone. I slip through layers of darkness, the voice fades away…
Bricks are all around me. Above, too, as far as I can see. I scratch at the mortar. It is starting to crumble. Bit by bit. It won’t be long, now…
Soon, I’ll be free.
Another voice. ‘Come on, Kyla. It’s time to go home.’
My eyes snap open.
We spiral out of the hospital car park to the exit.
Mum seems completely unruffled. She told me on the way to the car that she’d been in her friend’s office when the first blast hit. They locked themselves in and hid under a desk.
When it was over, she couldn’t find me. No one knew where I was. The floor where I’d been, and the one below – doctor’s offices, meeting rooms – had been targeted. No key personnel were hurt, though. They were all whisked away like Dr Lysander. But when I pressed her she admitted that some nurses and a few Lorders died. And all the AGT.
Eventually I was tracked down: away in la-la land by the time she found me. Delayed reaction and shock, they thought, had caused my levels to plunge. They just caught me with an injection before I blacked out. And since I’d been sedated, they didn’t want to release me without a full going over and scans.
Mum said she pulled strings. Called a few friends in high places to get me out and take me home. Said everyone at the hospital was in so much of a tizzy that they went along with it to make her go away.
I sleep some in the car, then pretend to sleep. The injection is wearing off. Things are starting to come back: in pieces, at first, then all in a rush.
And I am unable to even believe that the terrorists got into the hospital, let alone what they did, the people they killed. Don’t waste the bullet. If they had more bullets, maybe I’d be dead now, too. All that blood; the nurse whose face I cannot remember…
I force my mind away from her, and it slips back to Dr Lysander’s office. On her computer, it said Board recommends termination; Dr Lysander overrules. What does it mean?
Strangest of all: somehow, through everything that happened, I’d stayed level, or near enough. It makes no sense.
It was seeing Phoebe that finally pushed me over the edge.
With some sort of serious delayed reaction of her own, Mum’s iron nerves wait until we get home and through the front door, then collapse. She rolls into a ball on the sofa and dissolves in tears.
‘What should we do?’ I say.
‘Call Dad,’ Amy suggests. Mum shakes her head no from the sofa.
‘How about Aunt Stacey?’ And she seems okay with that, so Amy calls her.
Soon Amy is playing with baby Robert while telling me how to make dinner, and Stacey and Mum are well into a bottle of red wine.
By now Amy has gleaned a little of the story: that terrorists attacked the hospital. I haven’t told her – or anyone – that I saw two of them in Dr Lysander’s office, or that one nearly shot me. Or about the nurse who died. Amy is fascinated and wants every detail, and that is enough to keep them to myself.
On the news that night there is a five second mention: earlier today, armed AGT attempted to mount a vicious attack on dedicated medical staff at a major London hospital. They failed.
Tell that to the nurse whose blood was all over the floor.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
* * *
‘Quite an adventure you had yesterday,’ Dad says, one eye on me and one on the road.
‘I guess so.’
‘Were you scared?’
I look at him in surprise. ‘You’d have to be completely mad not to be scared,’ he says. He stops at a red light. ‘Did you sleep all right?’
‘No.’ I’d been afraid to close my eyes, but if I dreamed, I remembered nothing.
‘Interesting. There you have something real to be scared of for a change, and you sleep like a baby.’ He looks quite fascinated, like I’m a puzzle he is trying to figure out. I get the feeling he doesn’t like not understanding things, people; anything.
‘Maybe the injection I had at the hospital hadn’t worn off yet,’ I suggest.
‘Perhaps,’ he says, but I get the feeling he knows they don’t last that long. ‘What did you think of the terrorists?’
Does he somehow know that I saw two of them, face to face? No. How could he? His eyes are on the road now, as he navigates a twisty narrow stretch.
What do I think about the terrorists… I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. Blowing up bus loads of students, and killing nurses. ‘They’re evil,’ I say.
‘Some people think they have a point. That the Lorders go too far; that they are the evil ones. That what happens in that hospital and others like it is wrong.’
My eyes widen, shocked he’d dare say that, even as something that some people – unidentified and faceless – may think. ‘But the AGT kill people, innocent people, who don’t have anything to do with anything. It doesn’t matter why, it is still wrong.’
He tilts his head side to side, as if considering what I said. ‘So, it isn’t so much their point of view, as their methods, to which you take exception? Interesting.’
He pulls into the school. I was going to ask him to wait a moment, unsure if Ferguson has been told by Mrs Ali to exclude me from Sunday training as well as keeping me off the track at lunchtimes. But suddenly I just want out of the car, away from Dad, his questions. His saying interesting in a way that says so much more is hidden in every word.
And this time Ferguson is already here. He tilts his head in a hello as I get out of the car; doesn’t register surprise that I am there. Dad gives a half wave and pulls away.
Mum had been adamant I should stay home today, but Dad said she couldn’t keep us under her eye all the time, and might as well let me go. She was back to being herself this morning; last night, too. By the time Aunt Stacey left and we had dinner, she was all contained. When Dad got in hours later, you wouldn’t have known she’d ever been upset.
Dad certainly says the strangest things.
‘I know what happened to Phoebe.’
‘What? I mean, how could you?’ Ben leans back against a tree, breathing heavily. I’d run as if Lorders were after me, from the course beginning to the top of this hill; he barely kept up. Until I was exhausted enough to stop, to be able to talk, and know our levels would be in check.
‘I saw her.’
‘At the hospital. She’s been Slated.’
Quickly I tell Ben the events of yesterday. I skip the worst bits – not so much not wanting to tell him, as not wanting to think about it enough to describe it – like they are hidden behind a little door, slammed shut, in my head. Some things want to stay in a dark corner and never come out, and that is just fine with me. I’d visualised this in my mind before I went to sleep last night: pushing the memories behind a door and locking it with a key. Maybe that is the real reason for no nightmares?
‘Terrorists actually got into the hospital? I can’t get my head around this,’ he says, looking very like he wants to dash up the path. I grab his hand to hold him there, and he holds mine tight.
‘And don’t forget about Phoebe,’ I say.
‘Are you certain it was her?’
‘Yes.’ It was her. Because despite her smiling a grin of joy I’ve never seen on her face before, I had no doubt.
‘So, she’s been Slated. But she was just taken by Lorders, what: a week and a few days ago? There couldn’t have been a trial or anything.’
We walk along the path. We should have ages before anyone catches us up: there was no rain to slow things down today, and with last week’s mud mostly dried up now, we went at speed. When we reach the rock, the place we sat last time, Ben stops, sits, pulls me on to his knee. Wraps his arms around me tight. Says in my hair, ‘I’m so glad you’re okay. I don’t know what I would do if you disappeared, too.’
Disappeared, too…like Tori. Though being blown up by terrorists isn’t quite the same as Lorders taking you. At least if you are splattered, your fate is obvious. Not if no one knows about it.
We just sit like we are, not moving. It’s a frosty October morning, but the sun is warm on my back, the rest of me warmed by Ben, so close. My face is against his chest, breathing in damp, and sweat, and something else that is just Ben. His breath is on my hair; his heart thuds along with mine, and I want to stay here, in this moment, forever.
Finally he pulls away a little. Face serious.
‘Listen. Phoebe was fifteen – I checked with a friend of hers. So when they took her, they Slated her. But what about Tori? She was seventeen. And Gianelli – decades older. What happened to them?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘We have to do something about this,’ Ben says, and fear swirls through my guts.
‘Tell people – about Phoebe, at least – since we know what happened to her. What they did to her is illegal. Others might guess, but they don’t really know, do they?’
I shake my head. ‘You can’t say anything! Or you’ll be the next to go.’
‘But how will things change if no one knows?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘No!’ I jump up, start stalking down the path.
Ben follows. ‘Kyla, I—’
‘No. Promise me you won’t.’
We argue back and forth, and, in the end, the only promise I get off Ben is that he won’t do anything without talking to me about it, first. Then we take off running once again before anyone can catch us up. Thudding along the trail, to the place where all I am is running, and I can think about anything or nothing and both are okay. When the end is in sight – our bus and Ferguson ahead – I pull Ben’s hand.
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