‘What’s with you?’ I say.

‘You should have seen your face! “Let me go”,’ she mimics, a plaintive tragic whisper.

‘You enjoyed that way too much.’

She sits up. ‘Maybe. But I had a grudge to settle. You, and Ben,’ she says. ‘But now we’re even. Friends again?’ She holds out her hand, but I ignore her, stomp out of the building. Her laughter follows behind.

I walk into the woods, suddenly afraid letting me go was the act. That Nico really does mean to kill me where I won’t make a mess. That he’ll send them after me. But just Katran follows, gun not in sight. Not that he’d need it if those were his instructions.

‘Rain?’ he says. I don’t answer. ‘Is this the silent treatment, then?’ he asks a moment later.

I shrug.

‘What specifically are you pissed off at?’

‘I’m too cold, too tired, too empty to even take a stab at it,’ I say, then cringe at my choice of words. I slump against a tree.

‘I couldn’t tell you,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Couldn’t tell me which bit? That it was an ambush, not waiting for my signal? That I was being taken prisoner, too? That being a prisoner was all just a pretend? What?’

‘Any of it. If you’d known, Nico would have been able to tell. You know what he’s like.’

I shrug, but I do. He sees all.

‘You must know I would never have gone along with it if it was for real.’

‘Really? After what you did today, I think you could do anything.’

The pain in Katran’s eyes is real. He reaches a hand for mine, but I flinch, pull back. That hand held a knife, pulled it across a throat. Ended a life.

‘Did you have to kill him?’ I ask.

‘Rain, he was a Lorder. The enemy. Apart from he saw us, and could identify you, yes: I had to kill him. We are fighting a war. People die.’ He shrugs, and there is nothing in his eyes that says he regrets it, or felt a life end. Just pushed him away as his blood spilled on the ground, like so much rubbish.

My throat twists again. ‘Take me home,’ I whisper.

‘Come on.’

We have to double, since my bike is by my house. He puts me on the bike behind him. We sit close and I’m greedy for his warmth, but the space between us might as well be to the moon.

When we get to the junction of this path and the one behind my house, he stops. I get off, walk away, saying nothing.

That night, a hot bath and dinner cannot dispel the cold inside. Covers wrapped tight around and the radiator all the way up in my room, and still I shiver. The day flits around my mind, in and out of order, again and again. I so want to banish it all, go back, forget it, yet—

If I do, how can I go forward? I have to remember; have to work out why. Have to stare at fear, and see what stares back.

With so many things fighting for attention, one thing repeats, again and again, inside: Dr Lysander’s why. She doesn’t waste words or thoughts; she says what is important. It flies around in my mind looking for a place to settle. I start to fall asleep, so tired, body and mind swaying in a rhythm, like running, or being on the back of a horse galloping over fields, jumping fences.

Why…?

I scream again and again.

Until my door opens, light spills in from the hall.

‘Sweetie, what is it?’ Daddy sits on the side of my bed.

At first I just cry. And then I point. Down.

‘What is it?’

‘I heard something. There is something there,’ I whisper.

‘Where?’

‘Under my bed.’

‘Oh, dear. I better take a look.’

‘Be careful!’

‘Don’t worry, I will be.’ He finds our monster-hunting torch in my cupboard, switches it on. He bends down, shines it under the bed, swings it back and forth. Looks up again.

‘I checked very carefully. No monsters.’

‘But I heard it! I did.’

‘There is nothing there, I promise.’ He sits back on his heels, still on the floor, thoughtful look on his face.

‘You know, the best way to be sure is to look for yourself.’ I shake my head, but bit by bit he persuades me out from under the covers.

‘Look, Lucy. Then you’ll know for sure. Face your fear, and it won’t be so scary.’

I tremble, kneel down and shine the light under the bed. A few shoes, a missing book.

No monsters in sight.

CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

* * *

It is still dark when I wake. I hug the dream close, try to hold onto how Lucy felt with her dad. I know who he is, though his face is never clear in these dreams. To Lucy, the child I was all those years ago, there were no monsters her daddy couldn’t deal with. A memory, or just some made-up fantasy? No. Everything in me says it is real. But the more awake I become, the more it slips away.

Yet if I try to remember anything about Lucy, I can’t. I know some things, facts: her birthday, just weeks ago, being one. No matter what Dr Lysander said about cell testing for age, I know they must have got it wrong: my birthday is November 3. But feelings, or faces? Nothing.

Lucy is meant to be gone forever. In Dr Lysander’s terms, I was fracked into layers – Lucy, and Rain – and Rain hid inside when Lucy was Slated. So what of these dreams?

And then there is Dr Lysander’s why. I force myself to think back over yesterday, and all we said. Before, on the horses, I told her my secrets. As I know them. The thing she seized on then was why was I Slated?

Is this the same why she called out as I left?

I pull at strands of memory, try to follow them, but like tangled wool all is in confused knots. Lorders Slated me because they caught me: simple. I have no memory of that at all. Slated away or banished in a place I can’t find; either way makes no difference. I don’t know what happened.

But maybe she doesn’t mean her question that way, not the specifics of events. Maybe, she means what led me to that place.

Well, Nico did, of course. If I wasn’t with Free UK I’d never have been Slated. But we all take that risk: whatever the case in the past, this time, I chose this cause. Chose to ignore Coulson’s deal and oppose the Lorders.

Yet there is something in Dr Lysander’s why that aches deep inside like a rotten tooth. One you know must be pulled, but you can’t bring yourself to go to the dentist.

And worse. Even there, in Nico’s custody and the worst possible danger, danger she was in because of me, was she still trying to help me?

Downstairs, a surprise: Mum and Dad having breakfast together.

‘You’re early this morning,’ Mum says.

‘Yep. Woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.’

I pour myself some tea, sit down. Amy wanders in later, squeals with delight and gives Dad a hug. She is like Lucy and her dad, and inside there is a swirl of jealousy. Amy found a family with her assigned parents after Slating. She is really close to Dad in particular. With me, he has always been weird: sometimes so friendly; sometimes, cold and threatening.

Something niggles, something about Dad and Amy. Mum bustles about the kitchen looking everywhere but in Dad’s eyes. Dad makes all the right noises in reply to Amy’s tales, but his eyes are on me. Watching, assessing. Curious, even, but holding back, and that isn’t like him.

There is a little click inside. Maybe, I got things wrong.

Upstairs I knock on Amy’s door, go in as she hunts around, stuffing things in her school bag.

‘Amy, you know that day you found my drawings. Of the hospital and stuff. Did you tell Dad about it?’

A flash of guilt crosses her face. ‘Sorry, he called, and yeah, I told him. He’d asked me to look out for you and make sure you didn’t get in any trouble. Did he give you a hard time about it?’

‘No, no; it’s fine,’ I say, not wanting her to run back to him. ‘What about Mum? Did you tell her?’

She frowns. ‘No, I don’t think so. Why?’

‘Nothing. Don’t worry about it.’

I wander back to my room and brush my hair, staring unseeing into the mirror.

Well. I had that so wrong. I thought it couldn’t be him; he wasn’t even here. I didn’t bank on Amy spilling over the phone.

So: it was Dad who went to the Lorders. It was because of him that Cam and I were picked up that day.

Poor Mum. I want to rush downstairs and give her a hug, apologise for how I’ve been shutting her out. But it’s too late for that. Lines have been drawn. Dr Lysander is a captive because of me, and her guard is dead. I can’t let Mum into my life, not any more. I’ve chosen my path with Free UK, and there is no turning back.

If I could be so wrong about Mum, what else could I have got wrong?

Why was I Slated?

‘Amy, Kyla,’ Mum yells up the stairs. ‘Jazz is here.’

As we drive out of the village there is a queue of traffic. We inch along, and eventually reach the reason. There is an ambulance, a few Lorders. The road is blocked one way, a Lorder directing traffic, and we wait our turn to get past. There is a sheet thrown over something on the ground. And a burned-out white van smashed into a tree.

I go cold inside. Because I know what it says, I can just make out the remains of Best Builders painted down the side of it.

I slip into Nico’s office at lunch. He locks the door.

‘Rain!’ He grins as if ecstatic to see me there, and gathers me in for a hug. I don’t hug back.

He lets go. ‘Ah. Are you upset about yesterday’s little charade? Sorry about that, Rain. All for the cause, yes? Sit,’ he says, and pushes me into a chair. ‘It’s my last day in this place.’

‘In school?’ I ask, surprised.

‘Too many plans afoot to spend time here.’ He winks. ‘Between us, tonight I will have a family emergency that takes me away.’

‘How is Dr Lysander?’ I ask, unable to stop myself. ‘What will happen to her?’

‘She is a fascinating woman,’ Nico says. ‘Such strength of character.’

He says nothing else. Maybe he couldn’t get whatever he wants from her. Has he done something to her?

He must see it on my face. ‘Rain, remember: she is the enemy. Though she is quite safe, for now. But enough of her: we need to talk about what is happening at Chequers. If your adopted mother doesn’t do what is right and tell the truth, what then?’

‘You said there is another plan. What is it?’

‘You, dear one, are plan B.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Either she tells the world the truth, or she dies. And it has to be on that broadcast, live to the country.’

I stare back at him, stunned. ‘I’m plan B…me? I have to do it?’

‘There is no other way. Only you and your family will be present at that ceremony. And you go together in a state car, like the Prime Minister: they aren’t security screened. You are the only one who can get a weapon in.’

I start to panic. Me, kill someone? Not just anyone….but Mum?

‘Nico, I—’

‘You are the only one who can do this, Rain. The only one who can stop the Lorders. Freedom is there, in your hands: take it!’

‘But I—’

‘Don’t worry. You won’t let me down.’ He says it with complete assurance, his eyes boring into mine. Eyes that must be obeyed. If Nico says I must do this, that I can do this, it must be so.

Lurking somewhere inside me still, behind the horror: what brought me here today? The why behind everything.

‘Can I ask a question?’ I say, barely daring, but somehow the words come out. ‘Will you answer it with the truth?’

He holds himself still. ‘You imply I don’t always answer with the truth,’ he says, a dangerous note in his voice. ‘You should know better by now. I may not answer every idle curiosity, but when I do, it is always the truth.’

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