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Jazz puts an arm around my shoulders. ‘Kyla? What’s wrong? What happened?’

Another siren joins in, as if attempting two part harmony, but the sound is discordant, harsh, loud: and heading this way.

Lie.

‘B-b-b-ben. He cut off his Levo,’ I whisper.

‘But I thought that was impossible.’ ‘It’s supposed to be. Even if you don’t black out, any damage to your Levo, and the pain kills you.’ Or the seizures. I try to blank it out of my mind, but cannot. Ben…

Out the front window there are now not one but two ambulances in Ben’s drive. What does it mean? If Ben… I swallow. Even my thoughts falter, can’t grasp the worst of what might have happened, can’t find words for images I cannot banish. All I can see is Ben’s body lying on the floor, convulsing, his face contorted with pain.

Another siren begins to wail in the distance, but this one is different. The pitch, the tone are not the same as the ambulance vehicles, and the sound resonates in my head, makes my heart beat faster, my skin crawl. Hide! Do it now.

But I hold my ground at the window. The source of the noise appears around the corner: a long black van. Unmarked, but with a flashing blue light in the front. I jump away from the window, and push back Jazz and Ian who were coming up behind me.

‘What is it?’ Jazz asks.

‘Lorders,’ I say, feeling faint, sick. The paramedics called Lorders. They can’t be trusted.

‘We’ve got to get you out of here,’ Jazz says. ‘Now.’

So cold: I’m trapped in ice from head to toe. My Levo buzzes, and Jazz grabs my wrist to look.

4.4.

One Happy Pill not enough.

‘Dammit, Kyla, what can I do to help?’ Jazz says, real worry in his eyes.

‘Nothing. It’s too late,’ I say.

4.1.

I wrap my arms around myself, shaking. I should have stopped him. It’s all my fault.

3.8.

I left him, just left him there…

3.5.

Bleeding, dying, and I just ran away. Ben…

Jazz curses. ‘No Kyla; not here, not now. Come on.’ He drags me to the back door, swearing Ian to secrecy that we were here.

‘That who was here?’ Ian says. ‘I’ll let you know if I find out anything about Ben.’

Jazz half carries me to the fence, through the gate to the path.

3.2.

‘Run!’ Jazz says.

‘…what?’

‘Run as if your life depends on it.’ Maybe, it does.

Run? Now? I look at my feet, will them to start, and stumble into a walk, a jog. Then the rhythm starts to take over.

‘Faster!’ Jazz says, following behind. ‘I know you can go faster.’

Run like Lorders are after you. Full tilt, flat out as if every Lorder that ever was is right on my tail; as if Wayne Best is about to catch me. I focus on Wayne’s ugly face and some flicker of energy finds my feet.

Jazz grabs my wrist: 3.9. ‘Not good enough. Keep going.’ We run and run. He breathes hard, not used to it. I keep going but still the images flood my mind: Ben. Hurt, or worse. If hurt, taken by Lorders: worse might be better. What has happened? What could I have done to stop it? Not knowing what happened to him is grinding through my core. I want to stop, collapse and cry, but whenever I slow down, Jazz prods me from behind and makes me go on.

Ben’s beautiful, gentle eyes; and this. They don’t go together. What has happened to you?

Ian will find out for us.

Yes.

Keep running.

The light is going by the time we head back for the car.

‘Levels?’ Jazz asks.

I check. ‘5.2. How’d you know to make me run?’

Jazz shrugs. ‘Something Ben said once.’

Ben.

‘Come on. Let’s get you home.’ Jazz peeks out on the road, standing in the shadows. No signs of ambulances or Lorders. ‘Looks clear.’

Ben.

By the time Jazz pulls in front of my house, my Levo is vibrating again.

‘Hang in there, Kyla. Come on, you can do it.’

I shake my head, helplessly; it is dropping too fast.

‘Time to face the Dragon?’ Jazz says. ‘Come on.’

He half carries me to the door. It opens before we get there.

‘Where the hell have you…’ Mum starts to say, then she sees my face. ‘In, in,’ she says. Jazz helps me to the sofa.

Bzzzz…

3.1.

Ben…

CHAPTER FORTY SIX

* * *

Agony. My world is filled with pain, there is nothing else. Pulsing, dripping red pain, a vice clenched tight around all that I am, all that I was, all that I may be.

Slowly, other things become tangible. The floor: I’m lying on the floor. Voices. Ben…

A jab in my arm. Warmth drifts through my veins, all over my body. It doesn’t take the pain away; nothing can take this pain away. It more makes me care less about it. I open my eyes.

‘Hello there,’ Mum says, and smiles. ‘You’re back.’

‘Hmmm?’ I say. Then everything goes black.

‘Ben! You came.’

He smiles. ‘I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.’ He kneels down.

‘Don’t leave me. Don’t go, please…’ My eyes run with tears.

‘I can’t stay, it’s too late.’ He smiles again. It is on his lips but his eyes are sad.

‘Be strong, Kyla.’ He leans down, his lips brush mine, gently: our third kiss.

He pulls away, insubstantial. Light shines through him.

‘Goodbye, Kyla,’ he says, voice soft, words drifting away into silence. Then he is gone.

Our last kiss.

‘Ben!’ I shout his name, try to sit up but fall back. I’m in bed. My bed. Sebastian is at my feet; faint light leaks in from the open door to the hall.

‘Kyla?’ Mum says. She’s sat in the chair next to me. ‘Hello there.’ Her face is tired, pale. I try to sit up again, but the movement sends waves of agony through my skull. I gasp.

‘Stay still,’ she says.

‘What happened to Ben?’

‘Don’t worry about it now.’

I try to concentrate; it makes the pain worse. But there is something, just out of reach, I need to know.

‘Tell me,’ I plead, and feel wetness on my cheeks.

‘Hush. Jazz brought you home; you blacked out as you came through the door. That is all I know.’

‘Paramedics were here?’ I whisper.

‘Of course. They gave you an injection, and then another; you came to for a second and then passed out.’

Danger. I close my eyes. They’ll know. The Lorders: they’ll know I was there, at Ben’s. The paramedics will tell them I blacked out, and Ben is my friend. They’ll put it together.

I slip back to black.

When I open my eyes again the sun is peeking through the curtains, and I am alone. This time I manage to sit up, the throb in my skull dull and insistent, the nausea in my stomach urgent. Not now. I swallow and breathe deep until it passes.

There is a murmur downstairs. Voices? Mum, and someone else.

I slip out from under the covers; somehow manage to stand, and walk on rubbery legs to the window. Down below a black van is parked in our driveway.

Lorders.

Adrenalin rushes through my body, says run. But it is all I can do to stand up. I ease myself back into bed. The best I can do is play dead. Moments later there are footsteps on the stairs, and the door opens.

‘Kyla?’ Mum says, voice soft. I stay still. ‘I told you, she is asleep. Can’t this wait?’

‘No. Wake her, or I will do it for you.’ A cold male voice.

There are footsteps across the room, Mum’s hand on my cheek.

I flutter my eyes half open, whimper. Mum is staring into mine, her eyes an urgent message: saying what? Two grey-suited men tower in the door behind her, make the room seem small. Close your eyes. They flutter closed once again, while my insides swirl. What has she told them; what do they know? If our stories aren’t the same…danger.

‘I can’t see why you need to speak to her, poor thing. She’s been through enough. I’ve told you what happened: that she was worried about that Ben not being in school, so they went…’

That Ben: said in a certain tone, disapproving.

‘Quiet!’ one of them says. ‘Wake her.’ A note of warning creeps into his voice.

‘Kyla, love; wake up now. There’s a good girl.’

More messages: she is telling me how to play it. I’m young and daft, they know we went to Ben’s, she doesn’t like Ben. Thanks, Mum.

I stir, this time. Open my eyes. Smile a sleepy Slated smile at Mum, then wince. ‘My stomach hurts,’ I say, plaintively.

‘Poor darling. These gentlemen just want to ask you a few questions now, all right? Let me help you sit up a little.’ Mum fusses with my pillows. ‘You tell them exactly what you told me happened,’ she says. Another message? Tell the truth as she knows it. And I scramble in my brain to remember what she knows, what she doesn’t.

Poker face, you’re on. I hold Sebastian in my mind, and imitate Phoebe’s face: open, blissful. Smiling with an occasional wince of pain when I move my head.

‘Yes, Mum,’ I say, and turn to the impatient men in the doorway. They look unused to waiting. Is it Mum, being her father’s daughter, that has them behaving as they are? A cold certainty says if she was anyone else I’d have been yanked away for questions, not answering them here.

The younger of the two men consults a netbook. ‘You are Kyla Davis?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why did you black out yesterday?’

Not asking what happened? I banish surprise from my face. ‘I was very upset. My friend Ben wasn’t in school, and my other friend took me to his house to see if he was all right.’

‘Your other friend?’ Still it is the younger man who speaks, who takes the lead; he glances at Mum now and then with a look of awe. But it is the other one to worry about. He stands in a certain way that says he is in charge.

Do I answer, don’t I? Mum knew.

‘Jazz MacKenzie: Jason. He’s my sister’s friend, really. But he looks out for me.’

‘And then…?’

‘Ben wasn’t all right, at all.’ I allow distress into my voice. ‘There were ambulances, and Jazz said we shouldn’t get in the way, and I had to go home. But I was worried about Ben, and I guess I blacked out.’

Mum snorts. ‘That Ben: the cause of so much trouble.’

‘Mum and Dad told me not to run alone with Ben any more,’ I say. ‘I like running.’ I smile a great Slated grin.

‘Did Ben ever show you any pills?’

‘Pills? I don’t think so.’ Amy saw his pills. ‘No, wait. He had some headache tablets in his bag. He took one when he wasn’t feeling well on Sunday.’

‘Surely that is enough questions,’ Mum says. ‘The poor girl isn’t well at all.’

On cue my stomach starts spinning again, but this time I don’t calm it and breathe deep. I can feel what little colour is there draining from my cheeks.

‘Mum, I think I’m going to be sick.’ She grabs the bin round just in time. Waves of nausea tear through me and each shudder slams into the pain in my skull. My stomach is mostly empty, but the Lorders back away with looks of disgust.

‘That is enough for today,’ Mum says.

The younger man starts to back out of the room; the older tilts his head to one side. Raises his hand and the other stops. ‘Not quite,’ he says. He looks at the other Lorder. ‘Search this room.’

Mum raises her shoulders. ‘Is that really necessary, Agent Coulson?’ she says, ice in her voice. Emphasis on his name that says she knows who he is if he steps out of line.

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