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       The Enemy, p.30

           Charlie Higson
 

  They looked up from their plates as Achilleus came in, wearing a bathrobe. He was a mess. Limping. His face and chest bruised and bandaged. A young boy they didn’t recognize was with him, a stocky, bullet-headed kid carrying a shield and a collection of weapons in a golf bag slung across his back.

  “There you are,” said Achilleus. “Been looking all over for you.”

  “What’s up?” said Ben.

  “Nothing. I just need to know where everybody is. Can you make sure you’re in the dormitory by eleven o’clock with everyone else?”

  “Why?” Bernie asked. She’d never much liked Achilleus, and resented his bossy manner.

  “Why? Because I say so. I need everyone to stay together.”

  “What is it, like a curfew?” said Ben.

  “Dunno,” said Achilleus. “What’s a curfew?”

  “Doesn’t matter.”

  “We’re busy anyway,” said Bernie. “Might not be able to make it by eleven.”

  “You will be able to make it,” said Achilleus. “I’m not asking you—I’m telling you. If you’re not there, things’ll go bad for you.”

  “What about Maxie?” said Bernie. “She gonna be there?”

  “She’s in the sick bay,” said Achilleus.

  “She all right?”

  “Yeah. She’s looking after Blue.”

  “Good job in the fight, by the way,” said Ben, trying to stop the situation from getting heavy. Achilleus merely shrugged.

  “You look like you should be in the sick bay,” Ben went on. “I heard your ear got messed up.”

  “That loser nearly cut it off.”

  “So when’s Blue coming out?”

  “Do I look like a doctor?” said Achilleus.

  “No,” said Bernie. “You look like a patient.”

  “I ain’t neither, darling. I’m a fighter, and right now that’s the most important type of person around. You got it?”

  “If you say so, big man,” said Bernie with a slight mocking sneer. Ben flashed her a warning look. Bernie was one of those girls who didn’t watch what they said to people, which meant that the boys with her quite often got beaten up.

  Luckily, Achilleus only grinned.

  “If you two losers hadn’t made life bearable back at Waitrose I’d have given you both a good slap a long time ago.”

  “Yes, well, I think you’ll find that you need losers to make the world go ’round,” said Bernie.

  “You said it.”

  “So you concede that we might be of some small use as well as a big tough fighting man like you?”

  “Small is right,” said Achilleus. “Now just make sure you’re in the ballroom by eleven. We’re going to be checking everyone. Got it?”

  “Sir, yes, sir!” said Bernie, standing up and saluting, and Achilleus laughed before sweeping out with his caddy and leaving them to their cold potatoes.

  Maxie lay on her bed and stared up at the patterns of light that the candles were making on the ceiling of the sick bay. She felt flat. Physically flat, like a sheet of paper, with no room inside for any emotions. She’d exhausted herself worrying about David and how Ollie and Achilleus had betrayed her. She’d gone through anger, shame, fear . . . She’d felt stupid and abused and mocked. There was nothing left to feel anymore except the oddly comforting ache in her side. She’d even gone beyond tiredness. Resigned herself to whatever lay in store for her.

  A blank sheet of paper.

  “I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” she said.

  “I know how that feels,” said Blue, who was also lying on his bed staring at the ceiling.

  “I think some pharaoh had that carved on his tomb,” Maxie added.

  “Yeah? Times don’t change much, do they?”

  “I don’t know about that,” said Maxie. “I can’t think of any other time in history when most of the population of the world was wiped out by some unknown illness.”

  “What about the Black Death?” said Blue. “The plague. I think about half the people in Europe died during that one. We still made it through, though. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.”

  “You’re optimistic, aren’t you?”

  “Why not?”

  “It’s just that life’s been pretty crappy lately, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

  “Yeah. I noticed.”

  Maxie looked over at Blue just as he looked over at her. He smiled.

  “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll get outta this jam. We’ll be okay.”

  “You know,” said Maxie, still looking at Blue, “you’re much nicer when you’re away from everyone else. You don’t try to keep up such a front.”

  “You gotta be tough to survive, girl. Don’t show no weakness to no one.”

  “Yeah, well, it’s easy for you. You’ve been tough all your life. I was just an ordinary girl before. Nothing special. I wasn’t even that athletic.”

  “You don’t know me at all, girl.”

  “Oh yes I do. I knew loads of boys like you before the disaster,” said Maxie. “They used to strut around, intimidating people.”

  “You know what my nickname was before all this?” said Blue.

  “I dunno,” said Maxie. “Killer? King Dude? The Boss?”

  “Bookface.”

  “Bookface?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s a crappy nickname.”

  “Don’t I know it.”

  “What does it mean anyway?”

  “A lot. Not a lot.”

  “No, come on, what does it mean? Like you always had your face in a book, or that your face looked like a book?”

  Blue sighed. “Everything that happened, you know, it changed people. It’s changed me. I had another nickname as well.”

  “Surprise me.”

  “Fat Boy.”

  Maxie laughed. “You’re not fat.”

  “I used to be. I was a fat nerd.”

  “No!” Maxie came up on her elbow and leaned toward Blue with a shocked smile on her face.

  “Straight up.” Blue laughed. “I had two brothers and two sisters. You know how families are, everyone finds their space. My oldest brother, Akim, he was trouble. My next brother, Felix, was into sports. My big sister, Lulu, was obsessed with fashion, looking good and all that. My other sister, Sissy, she was into boys. My thing, I was the brainy one of the family. I was always good at school. Didn’t really try, just came easy to me. Because I was good at it, I really liked it, homework and all, though I couldn’t tell anyone back then. They found out that I read lots of books, though. Gave me a hard time for it. I didn’t much care. I didn’t get out much. I spent hours on my computer, and not just playing games. My mom used to go on about me not getting enough exercise, but at the same time, she liked the fact that I was learning stuff. She wanted me to go to college. I didn’t know about all that. Akim, he was into gangs. Mom didn’t want me having nothing to do with that way of life. Some kid from our school was stabbed. It was big news, Mom was scared. But I was never part of that world. Never got in a fight or nothing. When it all kicked off I had to learn fast, man. You know what? The first to die were the tough kids. They went out there on the streets. No more cops. No more adults telling them what to do. No more rules. All the gangs just went crazy and fought each other. Killed each other. Stupid jerks. For a little while it was like a war zone out there. Soon those that didn’t kill each other began to realize who the real enemy was. So then the gangs went up against the grown-ups. Most of them died early on. Not all, though. Me, I kept my head down. I watched, I learned, it was what I was good at. Who lived and who died. Was a lottery. Just raw luck. Like in a war, the first to get it are the regular army, the trained soldiers. After that the army takes whoever they can get. I’m who they got. The disaster made me tough, Maxie, and that’s why I have to try hard when there’s people around. Because it don’t come easy for me.”

  “Aren’t I a person?” said Maxie.

  “You’re different. You un
derstand all this stuff.”

  “Sometimes I think I do, sometimes I think I don’t.”

  “It’s funny,” said Blue. “Lying here, I feel I can talk to you about anything. It don’t matter no more.”

  “I’m glad you told me all that,” said Maxie.

  Blue rolled onto his back and looked away. “Maybe I just want you to like me,” he said.

  “Oh yeah?”

  “I know we haven’t always agreed on stuff, Max. But you know what it’s like. With no adults around to tell you what to do all the time, you’d think we’d all just want to stay up late and drink and smoke and take drugs and make out. And I know a lot of kids did do that at first. But when you’re scared, struggling just to stay alive, those thoughts go right out the window. Sometimes, though, you get feelings.”

  “What are you trying to say, Blue?”

  “I like you, Max. Always did. That’s why I act the way I do. I know you liked Arran. I didn’t think I had a chance at first. I’m Fat Boy, remember. Bookface, the computer nerd. Girls never used to go for me. Well, not in that way.”

  Maxie looked over at Blue. He was staring fixedly at the ceiling. Might even have been blushing.

  “Are you saying you like-like me, Blue?”

  Now Blue looked embarrassed.

  “No. Yes. No. Not like that.”

  “Like what, then?”

  “I don’t know like what. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

  “It’s all right. I’m confused right now, Blue. I don’t know what to think. About Arran, about you, about me. Until we can get out of this mess and I can get my head together and think about things, then I can’t think about anything. Does that sound dumb?”

  “No more than anything I said.” Blue sat up. Smiled. “You didn’t yell at me. Does that mean that if we get out of here I might have a chance?”

  Maxie laughed. “Let’s get out of here and we’ll see.”

  “But say we did get out, yeah? Where would we go?”

  “We’ve got the whole of London to choose from.”

  “But we don’t know it around here, we don’t know where’s safe.”

  “There must be other kids,” said Maxie. “This can’t be it.”

  “Nowhere else is going to be as well set up as this,” said Blue. “Nowhere else is gonna be as safe. David’s the only one around here who’s organized.”

  They both jumped as a voice came from across the room.

  “David’s a liar.”

  They had forgotten all about the girl with the bandaged face in the other bed. The one they’d rescued at Green Park.

  They both sat up and looked over at her. Her eyes were glinting in the half-light.

  “What did you say?” Blue asked, even though he had heard her quite clearly.

  “David’s a liar,” she repeated. “He’s been lying to you all along. Why do you think he’s been keeping me out of the way up here?”

  “Because of your injuries?” said Blue. Wasn’t it obvious?

  “They’re not as bad as they look,” said the girl. “When you cut your face there’s a lot of blood. Rose fixed me up pretty well. I’m going to look like hell, but it’s only skin. David didn’t want me mixing with you all, though. He didn’t want me talking. Once it was clear they were keeping me prisoner, I made sure I didn’t speak, hardly even moved. Just listened.”

  “I don’t get it,” said Blue. “Where are you from?”

  “The museum.”

  “Museum?” said Blue. “What museum?”

  “Natural History Museum,” said the girl. “Loads of us live there. It’s better than here, there’re more houses around, more places to find food. Though we do grow stuff as well.”

  “Just like David?” said Blue.

  “Just like David,” said the girl. “But he didn’t want you to know that.”

  “For sure,” said Blue.

  “And it’s not just us,” said the girl. “There’s kids all over London, set up, in safe places. Surviving. We’ve tried talking to David before, about all linking up and sharing, but he wasn’t interested. He wants it all for himself.”

  “King David,” said Maxie.

  “Me and my friends from the museum,” the girl went on, “we were searching for some friends of mine who I’d split off from last year. We’d heard they might be on the other side of town. We thought it was going to be easy. We got careless. It’s mostly safe around here now. There’s a few adults, but it’s not like it used to be. Or so we thought. We hadn’t been going more than an hour . . . and then . . . we came across those ones ... hunting ...”

  The girl broke off. Stared at something a thousand miles away.

  “It’s all right,” said Maxie.

  “I just want to go home.”

  “To the museum?” said Blue.

  “Yeah. If you get me out of here, I’ll take you with me.”

  “If there’s kids everywhere,” said Blue, “nicely set up, why should we come with you?”

  “Because . . . well, just because . . . I can’t give you a reason other than a selfish one, other than I just want to get home.”

  “That’s good enough reason for me,” said Maxie. “If you’d given us a load of bull I wouldn’t have trusted you.”

  “We’ll do it on one condition,” said Blue.

  “Which is?”

  “That you don’t never tell anyone anything about what I was talking to Maxie about just now.”

  “It’s a deal.”

  “Okay,” said Blue. “We’re on our way.”

  “The only problem is,” said Maxie, “we do have to actually get out of here first.”

  On the other side of London, Sam was standing on the battlements of the Tower of London, staring out at the great swollen River Thames, a wide strip of silver in the moonlight. It had risen a few feet since the disaster, and the Tower once more had a water-filled moat around it, just as it had hundreds of years ago. Sam felt as if he were living inside a medieval story. When they’d arrived, he and the Kid had eaten some hot food and drunk some clean water and rested in soft beds. Sam still couldn’t quite believe they were here. Living in a castle, safe at last from all the dangers of London.

  The Kid was standing next to him. His chin resting on his arms on top of the wall.

  “What are you thinking about?” said Sam.

  “Cheese.”

  “Cheese?”

  “The Kid used to like cheese. Hasn’t eaten any for a wicked long time. Tasty cheese. Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese . . . Did you spot it? Down there?”

  “What?”

  “They got a genuine hundred percent cow. A living breathing lawn mooer.”

  “I saw it, yeah,” said Sam. “And chickens and pigs and a goat.”

  “Well, if there’s a cow, there’s milk, ain’t there?” said the Kid. “And if there’s milk, there’s possible cheese.”

  “Could be,” said Sam. He didn’t want to disappoint the Kid, but he was pretty sure you needed a bull if you wanted a cow to make milk, though he wasn’t quite sure exactly how it all worked. Who knows? Maybe they had a bull as well.

  “What you thinking about, over there yourself, Babybel?” the Kid asked. “If not cheese.”

  “My sister, Ella.”

  “You think she’s all right?”

  “I hope she’s still alive somewhere,” said Sam. “I hope she made it to the palace and they’re looking after her like we’re being looked after here. I mean, if I can make it. Me. Small Sam. All the way across London all by myself—”

  “Hey! Don’t I count?”

  “You know what I mean,” said Sam. “If midges like us can do it, then surely Ella, with all those other kids—Akkie and Freak and Josh and Arran and everyone—surely she can do it too.”

  “I’m sure she’s hunky-dory,” said the Kid, and he put an arm around Sam.

  “Is that a good thing?” said Sam.

  “The best.”

  “You’re quite weird,
you know?” said Sam.

  “I’m different,” said the Kid. “My gran always said I was half clever, half stupid, and half crazy.”

  “That’s three halves,” said Sam.

  “Yeah. I told you I was different.”

  “When we’re strong enough,” said Sam, “will you come with me?”

  “Where? To Bucko Palace?”

  “Yes. To find Ella.”

  “’Course I will,” said the Kid. “It’ll be a new grand adventure of the old school. They’ll write books about us. Long books. Nothing’s gonna split us up, small fry. We’re a team. Like Batman and Robin Hood.” And he sang. “Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-Batman!”

  Blu-Tack Bill was sitting on his bed, playing with his lump of Blu Tack, molding it into shapes. One moment it was a horse, then it was a house, then it had become a tree, then a little man, then a bomb. He was playing a game and the Blu Tack became anything he wanted it to, any toy he could imagine. Sometimes he would pull it apart and turn it into two figures, or more. He was never alone as long as he had his Blu Tack. It spoke to him in the voices of the characters in his story. He could sit like this for hours, lost in his own little world.

  It was late, and all around him the other kids were settling down for the night. Even though the ballroom they were using as a dormitory was huge, it smelled of dirty clothes and sweaty feet and bad breath. Bill tried to shut out the smells by concentrating on his game. But a short sharp bark distracted him, and he looked over to the next bed, where Alice and Ella were playing with Godzilla. The puppy was tired; Bill could tell he wanted to sleep. He was irritable, so he snapped at them, but they didn’t know when to stop. When Godzilla got bigger they’d have to be careful. He’d bite their hands off.

  Bill saw Ollie go past. He was counting each kid, muttering the numbers out loud to himself. Blu-Tack watched him move along the row of beds, and when he got to Whitney, who was also counting, they had a quiet chat. Whitney nodded. They looked very serious. Blu-Tack could have saved Ollie the bother. He could have told him how many kids were in the room without counting, just by looking. He had a good head for numbers and his memory was perfect. His brain didn’t work like other kids. He’d always known that. He could tell just by glancing around the room that everyone was there—forty-eight kids in all. Everyone except Maxie, Blue, Lewis, and Achilleus.

 
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