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‘Always?’ I whisper. ‘There’s no chance…?’

‘There is always a small chance of equipment failure. That things can go wrong with surgery, or with the implanted chip. Nothing is fail-safe. It is my job to minimise these chances, and if anything goes wrong, to determine why.’ She tilts her head. Is she thinking of the question she asked me last time?

Danger! Let in the pain.

But I can’t bear it…

You must.

I hold Ben’s face in my mind. How he looked when he laughed. Running like the wind. Holding my hand. Love Ben he said on his note. But overlaid on it all the last time I saw him, convulsing, in pain, and I left him. I left him and ran to save myself. Hot tears sting my eyes.

Bzzzz… 4.2.

Bzzzz… 3.7.

Dr Lysander pushes an intercom, speaks into it. A nurse appears. They talk over my head and the nurse jabs me in the arm. Welcome warmth slips through me, and my levels start a slow climb up.

The nurse leaves and Dr Lysander taps at her screen, glances at me a few times, then sits back in her chair.

‘That is enough for today,’ she says. ‘But, Kyla, believe me when I say: best to forget him. But if you can’t, it does get easier.’

The way she says the words…so like Mum.

‘Do you know?’ I whisper.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You do, don’t you. You’ve lost someone; something horrible happened.’

She twitches in her seat: a nerve has been touched. For an instant there is pain in her eyes, a flash of something real, then it is gone. Her face is blank. She has a poker face, too.

‘Go home now, Kyla,’ she says. Subject closed.

I get out of my seat and head for the door.

‘Oh, and Kyla? I haven’t forgotten what we were talking about last time. But we’ll leave it for today.’

A brief reprieve, then. Not an escape.

It’s not until late that night, lying in bed, hoping for sleep, that I realise my mistake. I’m not supposed to know that Ben tried to cut off his Levo. But when Dr Lysander started talking about it, I didn’t ask her why, or act surprised, or anything.

Oops. A mighty big oops.

Then I realise something else. If she truly knows nothing about Ben and what happened to him, she wouldn’t know about that, either.

She was lying.

Absolute darkness surrounds me. I open my eyes wide and wider, but it is inky, and black. I can see nothing. I hate it! I lash out at the brick walls, the tight circle that surrounds this space where I stand. There isn’t enough room to stretch my arms side to side, or to sit down. No finger holds to climb up.

There must be a way out.

Rapunzel’s tower had a window; she had long hair. All I have is darkness; fingernails, fists, and feet.

And anger. I hammer and kick at the walls, again and again: nothing. Until finally, exhausted, I slump against the wall. That is when I feel it with my hand.

A little mortar is loose! One spot, just below waist high. I scratch and claw, again and again, not worrying about fingernails or blood or skin. Hands heal, as I know too well.

Finally there is a tiny glint of light. I almost cry with relief. It tantalises, but is too far down for me to look through, to see what is out there. No matter how I try I can’t squish down low enough in this confined space.

Enough! I howl in rage.

Let me out!

CHAPTER FIFTY ONE

* * *

I sleep late, and when I finally open my eyes I’m surprised Mum has let me alone, Sunday or not. After my dream woke me last night I’d had to leave the light on, darkness too thick and heavy to tolerate, and lay there, thinking, then finally got out my sketch pad and drew for hours. Only letting myself drift back to sleep once the sun was up.

What does my dream mean?

If my anger is in a prison, it needs to stay there. It won’t take away the pain, just delay it. I can’t stop feeling what I feel about Ben or anything else. Any more than I can stop being who I am. Or deny who I once was.

All these dream fragments: wispy truths and half-truths, real or imagined events. How can I tell them apart? I can’t.

I also couldn’t tell Dr Lysander was lying. How can I even be sure that what Ben wanted to do was really wrong?

Aiden is right. If Ben died, the blame lies square and certain on the Lorders and their hospitals. The government, and doctors like mine. They are the enemy. Not Aiden.

Yes! Focus your anger on them, instead.

No. That is where Ben was wrong. He wanted to join the terrorists. He was careful what he said; he didn’t want me to know anything that could get me in trouble. There was nothing there to link me with anything he had done or was planning to do, but I am certain: that is where he was heading.

Not me.

Aiden’s answers are dangerous. But the way he wants to do things is right.

I take out my sketches from the dark hours, and there they are, the Missing. Ben, Phoebe, even Lucy. I can’t turn my back on them. The world needs to know. And most of all, I need to know: what happened to Ben?

Downstairs, Amy is in the kitchen doing homework; Dad is still away; Mum is making soup.

She smiles when I come in. ‘Awake, at last. I can see the extra sleep has done you some good.’

I smile back at her. It wasn’t many hours of sleep. It is more that instead of fighting within myself, I think I know what I want to do now. What I need to do. That makes me look rested in a way I haven’t since I first met Aiden.

‘I’m going for a walk,’ I announce.

Mum peers out the window. The sun is shining, but heavy, black clouds are creeping in from the west, covering half the sky. ‘Better make it a quick one, then.’

‘Shall I come along?’ Amy asks.

‘No. I want to go alone.’

‘Stick to main roads, Kyla,’ Mum calls out.

I walk through the village, past the footpath Amy and Jazz always take. Where Ben and I walked – no, ran – ahead of them, and so many things followed.

I continue, to the end of the village: past a farm, up to some woods. I’m just thinking of going back when movement catches my eye.

I turn. Unable to see anything at first, I scan along the fields, the trees…and there he is. An owl, perched on a fence post. Snowy white and looking back at me, surveying the world like he owns it. But it is daytime, not night, and even I know owls are night creatures.

But no one has told him about it.

Fascinated, I stare.

He stares back, and I step closer, off the road and along a faint path between the fence and the woods. I get near enough to see his eyes, the definition of his feathers. Then he flies off. Flapping great white wings, so like the metal sculpture. He swoops, lands again. On a gate at the end of the field this time. Maybe twenty metres on. He looks back, eyes fixed on mine.

Waiting?

And so I step towards him. We repeat this dance, again and again. Each time I halve the distance between us, he flies on, then waits until I follow.

This goes on for a while, until we are well into the woods, and I begin to realise that I am hopelessly lost. My usual map sense is gone. I haven’t been paying attention to where my feet travel as I follow the owl’s flight above. The sky rolls in, black and furious now, covering the sun. Rain will soon follow. He rests on a tree branch, this time; high enough up that he doesn’t fly away when I draw close.

‘Thanks,’ I say to him. ‘You got me, what do you want to do now?’

He stares intently, turns his head to one side. Looks behind me and then launches into flight, high above the trees. He vanishes from sight.

‘What do I want to do with you now? Well, well.’

I spin around.

It’s him: Wayne. The bricklayer.

I blink, unbelieving.

‘Did you follow me?’ I say, and start backing away.

‘Well, yes; I did. Seems you’ve stared at me often enough; thought I’d stare at you a while.’ He smiles, but it is all lips baring teeth, not in his eyes. He steps towards me.

I step back again, turn to run but stumble as my foot catches against a tree root.

He moves faster than I expect. Hands grab and twist my arm. Push me into a tree.

‘No one is here to help you this time,’ he says in my ear, and gropes at my clothes. I struggle.

‘Silly girl. Just go along. You know you want to. Besides, if you let yourself get all upset and angry, you’ll black out. You might even…die.’

He yanks my hair and pulls my head towards his.

Muscle remembers. Instinct takes over. I relax, stop struggling.

‘That’s the way,’ he says, and leans down and kisses me, bruising and scratching, forcing his tongue in my mouth until I want to gag. I twist slightly and jam my knee, hard, between his.

And something…snaps. Inside me.

Almost audible, a crack, a split. A glint of light shines through where none could reach before.

The wall.

He curses and falls, still holding tight to my hair, my arm, pulling me down with him.

‘Slater Slut. You’ll pay for that,’ he snarls.

I don’t think so.

He is a foot taller. Maybe twice my weight. But my arms and legs and muscles all know what to do.

I lash out.

It is over soon.

I stand back. This man who dared touch me now lies still, bleeding on the ground. Jaw smashed; blood pours from a cut on the back of his head. Is he…is he dead?

I step closer, afraid to know; afraid not to know. I lean over him, not wanting to touch him but trying to force my hand to his neck, to feel for a pulse.

His eyes snap open. I jump back but his hand grabs my ankle. A scream works its way up my throat and I pull away, hard. Kicking my foot again and again but his hand is a vice, clamped tight. I reach down and peel his fingers off one at a time, and run.

Headlong through the woods. Branches snap in my face and my feet trip on roots, but I push as fast as I can through trees and tangled bushes until they suddenly give way to a path. The path; yes. I came this way. I remember now. The logical, planned part of me takes charge of my feet, slows them down.

My Levo says 6.

How can this be?

My head begins to pound wildly, my hands shake, my feet stumble.

‘What have I done?’ I whisper to the trees. ‘How?’

Hush.

‘Who said that?’

I spin around, but I am alone.

Somewhere inside, I am calm. A new wall is being built, blocking that which connects my Levo to my thoughts and feelings, and it is strong.

‘What have I done?’

But my questions are quashed as soon as they form.

Let it be.

I spin around, once again; no one is here. The voice is in my head. The voice that has always been in my head.

‘Who are you? Are you Lucy?’

No! That snivelling weakling is gone, forever. I am…you. The you that was.

‘What do you want?’

I want us to be together.

‘No.’

You have no choice.

‘No!’

I fall to the ground.

And this intruder inside me pulls a brick. The crack widens, cement crumbles and bricks shatter and fall. The whole tower collapses.

A kaleidoscope floods my mind, images first slow and then flashing fast through my brain, whirling and spinning. I’m dizzy, my head will explode, but I can’t stop it. My guts twist and I vomit, again and again, until there is nothing left in my stomach but still I heave on the ground.

How can this be? My memories should be gone. What has happened; what is happening, now?

I stare at the darkening sky, heart thudding wildly behind my ribs. Gradually my head stops spinning; the memories stop screaming for attention, and settle down. Scurry away and slot themselves in where they fit, where they don’t.

How can this be? What does it mean?

Pale, ice blue eyes; they know. They always know. His face appears in my mind: angelic when he smiles, when I do as I should. I shy away from thinking about when I do not.

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