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‘What?’

‘It’s in the boot.’

We get out of the car, and he kicks the boot, hard, until it pops open. ‘Better than a key,’ he says.

There is a cardboard box inside: a big box.

‘Go on,’ Jazz says, and I open the lid. There is paper wrapped around something, and I tug at the top pieces, and see metal. Metal feathers! It is the owl. She must have finished it. I run my fingers along a wing.

‘She said Ben asked her to make it for you, so she wants you to have it,’ Jazz says.

‘I didn’t know that,’ I whisper. She brought this creature to life, based on my drawing. It’s so beautiful, and it is from Ben: she still gave it to me, even though she must wonder if I had anything to do with what happened. She never would have if she knew what I did. Tears prickle behind my eyes, and I blink them back. You can’t keep it. My face falls. ‘I can’t take it home. How can I explain where it came from?’

‘I figured as much. That’s why I brought it today. I bet Mac can keep it for you, here. Let’s ask him,’ he says, and grabs the box out of the boot. ‘Come on.’

I follow him to the house. Ben’s mum wouldn’t have given it to me if she knew where Ben got the pills. If she knew the part I played. He is dead, and it is all your fault.

Jazz opens the door. ‘Hello?’ he calls out.

Mac appears from the kitchen. ‘Hello. How are you, Kyla?’ he says. He half smiles, but his eyes are sad. He knows about Ben. ‘Want some tea?’

‘Tea?’ Jazz says, in mock outrage. And heads for the cupboard with the beer. Mac fills the kettle, and while it boils sends Jazz out back to look at some new car he is working on.

I lean against a cupboard. ‘Is Aiden here?’

Mac nods. ‘In the back room,’ he says. ‘I’m so sorry about Ben. He was a nice bloke.’ His face is full of sadness, but if it wasn’t for him, Ben would never have met Aiden and got those pills. If it wasn’t for me.

‘Is there anything…’ Mac starts to say, and puts a hand on my shoulder, but I shrug him off. I want to rage at him, but I hold it in for now, and back away.

‘I want to talk to Aiden.’

‘All right. Jazz is best not to meet or know about him, all right? I’ll keep Jazz out back a while. I’ll tell him you wanted some time alone.’

‘Sure. Whatever.’

I stalk down the hall to the computer room, and open the door.

Aiden is sat at the desk, head in hands.

He looks up. ‘Hi,’ he says, his eyes wide, round; dark blue startling against pale skin. ‘Mac just told me about Ben. I can’t believe it.’ He gets up and reaches out a hand towards me, but I turn to shut the door, and it drops.

‘What do you know?’ I ask.

‘Just what I heard from Mac, which I guess he got from his cousin. That Ben cut off his Levo.’ He shakes his head. ‘Why would he do that?’

‘You mean you really don’t know?’ I say, disgusted.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You gave him those pills; they did something to him. And you told him about the AGT cutting Levos off and that it worked. You did this to him!’ I say. My voice is getting louder, shrill.

‘Not so loud,’ he says, glancing at the window.

‘I’ve been hushed for days, not able to say anything. I will say what I want now, and you will listen.’

‘I’m listening,’ he says, his voice quiet, drawn in.

‘Those pills weren’t just Happy Pills, were they? They didn’t just make his levels go up. They did something else.’

Aiden inclines his head forward. ‘That is true,’ he says. ‘They help stop the Levo from dominating how you think.’

‘They made him do it!’

He shakes his head. ‘They don’t work like that. What they do is more let you think for yourself.’

I shake my head, denying his words. But it sounds so much like what Ben said.

‘I understand your anger about what happened. But it’s not my fault. I don’t understand why he would have done that. Just thinking for himself wouldn’t do it. Something must have happened, something that pushed him. Made him feel it was the only option.’

I stare back at him in horror. The something that happened…was Wayne, and Ben being unable to protect me. It’s your fault.

I wrap my arms around myself, the anger and the misery getting mixed up in themselves. ‘No,’ I say. ‘That’s wrong. If you hadn’t given him the pills it never would have happened.’

Aiden flinches. ‘I’m sorry, Kyla. So sorry. But think this through. It’s not my fault for giving him the pills, or Mac’s for bringing me here, or Jazz’s for bringing you here.’

I stare at him, freaked out. It is almost like he is reading my thought processes through, following where my mind is going. And he can’t take away my anger. I need it. And the only one left to blame if they are all taken out of it is me.

‘Then whose fault is it?’ I whisper.

‘Think about it. Who Slated Ben? Who gave him a Levo, and booby-trapped it against removal. Who did these things?’

‘The Lorders: they did it.’

‘Now you see why what we are doing is so important. We have to expose what they do. Help me with MIA.’

Danger. I shake my head, back away. No. After everything that has happened, he is still twisting words around, manipulating things to try and make me do what he wants. Everything he says sounds so reasonable, but it is wrong. Without Aiden, nothing ever would have happened to Ben. And what will become of me if I help him? Any step out of line and Dad will return me; he said so. He, Coulson and his Lorders, and Mrs Ali: they are all watching my every move. And Dr Lysander and her tell me what is different about you, Kyla. They and Aiden are all crowding in on me. This is the hunt; I am the prey.

‘Are you all right, Kyla?’ Aiden says, finally realising what he has missed. That my Levo hasn’t vibrated once through all of this. He looks curiously at my wrist but I cover it with my hand. Hold the anger.

I head for the door.

‘If there is ever anything I can do, anything…’ His voice trails off.

I pause. ‘There is one thing. Find out what happened to Ben.’

He says nothing. I turn back.

His face is sad. ‘Kyla, I’m sorry. It is unlikely Ben survived. But if he did, the Lorders had him. It wouldn’t be for long.’

‘Find out,’ I repeat.

‘If I learn anything, I’ll pass it along to Mac.’ But he stresses if, like it is a closed book.

I leave him and shut the door.

Mac and Jazz are out back still but I don’t join them. Not yet. Sadness is threatening the anger; it won’t focus, wobbles, and my levels are on the way down. I wander into the kitchen, and there, on the table, is the box with the owl. This won’t help.

I pull the rest of the paper away and pull it out on to the table.

It is magnificent. The last time I saw it the wings weren’t finished; they are, now, and span several feet across. It is amazing how all the disparate bits of metal have been joined together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. I lightly touch the wings, the sharp talons, beak. A beautiful, lonely creature, but deadly if you happen to be a mouse. I run my fingers across the back of the owl’s body. What was that? A slight noise, a rustle, as if something is loose. I turn the owl around for a closer look.

It is hard to see. One very tiny corner of white. I just manage to trap it between two finger nails, and pull; out comes a small square of paper.

A note?

My hands start to shake as I unfold it.

Late that night, sleep eludes me again. My levels hover around 4, and my stupid Levo keeps vibrating every time I nearly drift away. I want blackness, dark, silence; no feeling or thought or anything. But it won’t come. I’m alone in the night; not even Sebastian is here to keep the demons away.

Finally I can’t stand being still any longer, and head for the stairs, and a drink. But there is a light on in the front room. I peek through the door; Mum is there, a book in her hands, Sebastian on her knee.

‘How do you live with things?’ I say.

Mum jumps a little, looks around and sees me in the door. She puts down her book. ‘Things?’

‘Bad things happening to people you care about. Like your parents. And your son.’

‘Come here,’ she says, holds out her hand, and I walk over, sit next to her on the sofa. She links her arm in mine.

‘I should be able to answer that, but I can’t. There isn’t an answer. You just go on, one day at a time. It does get easier after a while.’

Mum makes us hot chocolate, finds a blanket and we stay on the sofa. She reads, Sebastian purrs, and, eventually, I sleep.

CHAPTER FIFTY

* * *

Today I must act like I have never done before. And it isn’t just the official story about Ben I need to stick to, the people and events surrounding what happened to him that I need to hide. Last time, Dr Lysander said she wants an answer: why am I different to other Slateds?

And I know. I have finally worked it out: how I am different that is, though not why. When I woke up in the morning, groggy and stiff from sleeping on the sofa, the answer was in my mind.

It all relates to anger.

My Levo does its job if I am sad, upset, or distressed for any number of reasons: my levels drop as expected. They can even drop so far I black out. But when I get scared or angry, they don’t. It seems to almost protect my levels. Yet the main purpose of a Levo is to stop the Slated from acting in anger, to prevent violence against self and others.

Mine doesn’t work.

There is no doubt in my mind that if anyone else figures this out, I’m history. Dr Lysander might be curious and want to fiddle about in my brain to determine how or why this happened, but even she can’t keep the Hospital Board away, the Lorders. No more Kyla.

My poker face is much improved, but it isn’t enough. No matter what happens, I can’t get angry. Not here at the hospital, not at school where eyes are watching. Not at all. Good luck with that.

Huh.

The only way I know to do this is to let in the pain, the misery, the loss. All the things I’ve been trying to block, ever since Ben…I swallow.

Bzzzz…

I look down at my Levo: 4.4.

Too much.

‘Come in!’ Dr Lysander calls, and I go through the door.

‘Have a seat, Kyla.’ She half smiles, and taps at her screen. I sit.

She finally looks up. ‘I won’t ask how you’ve been; I see, on your records: not very good.’

‘No.’

‘Tell me about Ben,’ she says, her voice soft, encouraging. A strange set to her familiar features: sympathy.

‘Ben was my friend at school. And he was in my Group also. My only friend, really.’

‘And what happened?’

‘He didn’t come to school, and I was worried about him. I got Amy’s boyfriend to take me to his house, but there were ambulances and Lorders there. He took me home, and I blacked out. And Ben hasn’t been back to school, or to Group, and nobody said anything about him! It’s like he never existed; no one even cares.’ My blood quickens, my hands involuntarily start to form fists, but I make them relax, force my breathing to stay even.

‘I care, Kyla.’

‘Then can you tell me what happened to him? Please.’

‘Honestly, I don’t know. It doesn’t concern me unless he becomes a patient at this hospital; otherwise, I have no idea.’

‘Can you find out?’

‘No, I cannot,’ she says, gently. ‘But Kyla, you know what you were taught about Levos. They cannot be removed without causing pain, seizures and death: levels would plummet too fast for the Levo to be destroyed in time to stop it from causing death to the wearer.’

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