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I gasp out loud as I remember his name. Nico. That is how I knew him then, back when he was the centre of my life. He controlled it: pain, pleasure, how one can become the other. Much like love and hate. He taught me how to be two people at once: pathetic Lucy, and her alter ego. The wimp and the warrior. Lucy is gone; only the other remains. Nico is the one who smashed Lucy’s fingers with a brick when she resisted the separation. But he did it for me, to protect me: to make me safe if Lorders got their hands on my brain. And they did. I was Slated. So everything he did to Lucy saved me in the end.

How did he find me?

Not as Nico. But even in different clothes and a new role as teacher, his smile was the same. Just for me and me alone, ignoring the other girls in the room, finding his special one with his eyes. His slow wink. What a bitch, he’d said that day, about Mrs Ali. Still on my side. No matter that I couldn’t remember who he was, then. He tried to push me, I see now, being so horrible about Ben. He was trying to make my memories come out from where they were hiding.

However he found me, he or some terrorist friend of his must have put Miss Fern in hospital so he could take her place at my school. Nico – or Hatten, as he is now – has gone to a lot of trouble, and there could only be one reason. To be in Kyla’s world. My world. But why?

My eyes widen.

What does he want with me?

The question barely forms before the images begin, tumbling through my mind one after another, faster and faster. Death and instruments of death: explosives and blasting agents, guns and incendiaries, where best to aim a hidden blade. Nico taught me so many ways to end life. Even with my bare hands.

No!

Yes. Just ask Wayne.

I spring up and start to run through the trees, away from Wayne’s body and back towards the road. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO screaming through my brain, pounding with my feet. I won’t! I can’t. I’m not that person, not any more.

What about Ben?

Ben. My steps falter. I look down at my Levo, so like the one we cut out of his life; perhaps taking his life along with it. 6.2? I twist it, hard, on my wrist: nothing. It should at least cause pain. With what I did this afternoon, I should be dead, zapped in my brain by this thing that has ruled my life ever since I was Slated. It is still on my wrist, but somehow blocked by new barriers in my mind.

What Ben tried to do was be free of his Levo, so he could make a difference. Do something.

And here I am. Free of my Levo.

Goose bumps tingle up my arms.

I lean against a tree and close my eyes. There are his: warm and brown. The ones that cared for me, no matter who or what I once was. Would he feel the same if he knew the truth?

I can’t believe he is stopped, has gone forever. Still and silent like the metal owl.

I WON’T believe it.

Nico might think I’m here to do what he wants, but he is in for a surprise. There is a price he must pay. He will help me find Ben, or I’ll have nothing to do with him or his schemes.

I whisper a promise to the trees and the wind, to the rain starting to fall from the sky, to the owl whose flight brought me to this place.

‘Ben, I’m going to find you.’

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