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The whisper, p.13
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       The Whisper, p.13

           Emma Clayton
 
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  “Helen Gelt,” she replied. “I called myself Helen Green in Barford North, but on this side of The Wall, I’m Helen Gelt.”

  “So Gelt is your real name,” Mika said.

  “Yes,” she replied.

  He nodded again and looked at his hands.

  “I was married on this side of The Wall,” she said, “and I have a son here. My husband was Victor Gelt, who owned Unistore, the food corporation that ran the supermarkets before The Wall was built. This room is my son’s room. His name is William. He’s grown up now, but he spent his childhood in this house.”

  Mika tried to imagine Helen’s son, but he could feel no warmth for William Gelt.

  “So you’re one of them,” Mika said.

  “Yes.”

  “And your husband was Victor Gelt of Unistore.” He sat silent for almost a minute, then stood up and moved away from her.

  “This is difficult,” he said.

  “I know,” she replied.

  “You should have told me,” he said. “You should have told me before. I told you everything about me. You knew exactly who I was. This isn’t fair.”

  “You know why I couldn’t tell you before,” she replied. “I couldn’t tell you who I was without telling you The Secret. When I realized what you were seeing in your dreams, I was so excited, Mika. I wanted you to know you were right and I wanted to help you find Ellie, but telling you The Secret would have been a death sentence then. I wouldn’t have been much of a friend if I’d put your life in danger, would I?”

  “No.”

  “So I tried to help you without putting you in harm’s way. And that meant I couldn’t tell you the truth of who I was.”

  He closed his eyes and pressed his eyelids, trying to ease the pressure behind them. “OK,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my head around it. Victor Gelt … Unistore … It just doesn’t seem very you.”

  “That’s because it’s not very me,” she replied.

  “But” — he cast his hand around the room — “you own all this?”

  “I own the whole of Brittany, in what was once France,” she said. “I’m the ninth richest person in the world — or at least Helen Gelt is the ninth richest person in the world. Helen Green knows none of it belongs to her.”

  Mika had faced many difficult challenges over the past few weeks while he was searching for Ellie, but this had to be one of the worst, because it made him feel so torn. One of his best friends had been responsible for The Wall, and now he had to decide whether she was guilty. The evidence stated YES, but her light and her eyes said NO. He thought of his parents. He remembered how tired and unhappy they were. All that suffering on the other side of The Wall had been caused by people like Helen Gelt.

  He looked her straight in the eyes. “You need to tell me how Gelt became Green,” he said. “Because I don’t want to feel this way about you.”

  “I know,” she said. “I don’t like Helen Gelt any more than you do. We were all broken back then, Mika. Every single one of us. Come downstairs. And then I’ll explain how I changed.”

  He followed her, Awen trotting ahead, nudging the hem of her skirt. She led them down to a large room with three long windows overlooking the garden. It was bursting with books. Newspapers and magazines fell like stuffing out of the shelves and lay in piles on the floor. Mika wandered through them, touching paper warmed by sunlight.

  “I was born rich,” Helen said, watching him. “And I grew up rich, surrounded by rich people and expensive things. I was given every privilege a child could wish for and I can’t remember a single day when I felt like you did in Barford North — cramped and cold and hungry. Do you wish you had a childhood like mine? Instead of yours?”

  He shook his head.

  “Of course you don’t,” she said. “Because you understand what sort of person it made me. I had no idea what it felt like to suffer, because I had never suffered. I did not feel empathy for those who did, and I never questioned the justice of our world. During my childhood I believed what my parents believed. And when I married I believed what my husband believed. I grew up being told I was better than most people, and I was surrounded by people who believed they were better.”

  Mika walked toward the window and looked out at the overgrown garden. “So when The Wall was built …” he said.

  “I had no idea what we were doing to people like you. I wasn’t … myself. My best self.”

  “Did you think The Wall was a good idea?” he asked.

  “Not exactly,” Helen replied. “But I did think it was necessary, because that was what everyone around me was saying. It seemed a fact plain as day that there were too many people, and that if they kept on using up and fighting over resources, the natural world would die. And it would have. Yes, The Wall felt necessary, necessary to save nature. I believed we were building a Brave New World. Containing the overpopulation in the North, planting forests and breeding animals in the South to replace all those that had been killed. Even the fold-down apartments looked nice on the plans I saw. But I had no idea how much greed was involved. I believed what our politicians told us and I didn’t understand how the people on the other side of The Wall would suffer. Helen Gelt was very naïve, Mika.”

  “Tell me what made you change,” he said.

  “My husband died,” she answered. “That’s what started it. He died of cancer caused by the drug Everlife-5. There I was, living in this Brave New World, breeding boar for the forest and raising my son, and then that happened.”

  Mika knew it would be polite to say he was sorry her husband had died of cancer, but he couldn’t.

  “It’s OK,” Helen said. “I’m not expecting you to be sorry.”

  Mika just looked at her.

  “Victor was a lot older than me,” Helen continued, “and he took Everlife-5 to stay young. But Everlife-5 was a terrible mistake. It killed lots of people on this side of The Wall. And as I stood by my husband’s grave, watching clods of earth land on his coffin, I saw the first crack in my Brave New World. And then, because I was suffering, I began to ask questions. I wondered how such a thing could have happened when we were supposed to be so perfect. And the more I found out, the more cracks appeared. After I took control of Victor’s business affairs, I realized his company, Unistore, had been selling this stuff called Fab Food to the people on the other side of The Wall. I’d never heard of it before, Mika. So I asked for some and I discovered just what we’d been feeding you. I will never forget my first mouthful of Fab peas — my tongue was green for days!”

  She began to stomp through the piles of magazines.

  “Imagine!” she snorted. “Finding out the man I’d lived with half my life, the father of my child, was the stinking rogue responsible for that monstrous muck Fab Food! And making a profit out of it! I was furious, Mika! Absolutely furious!”

  Mika watched as she knocked over a heap of magazines, then crouched down to tidy them up. Red light fizzed around her.

  “The cheap scoundrel!” she raged on, making a worse mess in her fury. Mika crouched beside her and helped straighten the stacks of paper.

  “Then guess what I found out,” she said.

  “What?” Mika asked.

  “That the directors of Unistore were stealing money from him. Stealing from him on his deathbed! So Victor was swindling the poor people in the North, and the directors of Unistore were swindling Victor. Suddenly I realized I was surrounded by scoundrels and liars. And how stupid I’d been … and how awful life was for you … for you poor people in the North …”

  She stood up creakily. “The next day I packed a bag and moved to Barford North. I wanted to see what life was like there. And I wanted to figure out how we’d all gotten so broken. And that was the first sensible thing I ever did in my life. I took books with me. Lots of books: For years I’d had this library and never used it. I thought of books as decoration, until I started asking that question — how did we all get so broken? — and I couldn’t find the answer. I sudd
enly realized how much knowledge I had all around me, all along.”

  Mika ran his fingers along the books’ spines. “How many have you read?”

  “Most,” Helen said. “Some were boring. That’s the boring pile over there where the ducks have been nesting. I read for years. First novels and biographies, then the heavy stuff: history, philosophy, science. And all these magazines.”

  “And did you find an answer to your question?” Mika asked.

  “I may have,” she said cautiously. “I don’t want to say ‘I did’ because that would be incredibly arrogant, but I’ve got an idea what broke us.”

  “Tell me.”

  “We forgot what we are. We forgot we are animals and that our feelings are controlled by instincts. Instincts were useful in ancient times, when we were living as hunter-gatherers, trying to find food for ourselves and avoid becoming food for other animals, but in the age of science we don’t need these instincts so much. We battled so hard against nature, inventing things to keep ourselves alive, that we forgot we were part of nature.” She looked at him. “Does that make sense?”

  He nodded.

  “And I think it’s dangerous to forget we are controlled by instincts,” she said. “It makes us do things without understanding why. It makes us destructive, angry, and cruel.”

  She picked up a magazine about kitchen gadgets and handed it to Mika.

  “I’ll give you an example,” she said. “Humans like to collect things, don’t they? Like squirrels collect nuts.”

  Mika flicked through the pages. It was full of strange devices invented during the twentieth century to cut vegetables.

  “In ancient times,” she continued, “the instinct to hoard was useful, because it meant we were able to survive through the winter. But since we invented cans and freezers, we didn’t need to hoard loads of stuff. But we continued to do it anyway: We’d forgotten why we did it, but we still followed our instinct to do it. Like broken squirrel borgs that couldn’t stop squirreling, we filled our houses with things we didn’t need.”

  Mika was looking at a picture of a food processor that boasted over a hundred ways to slice and dice potatoes.

  “We almost turned the natural world into one gigantic junk pile,” Helen said. “By the time every home owned a chocolate fountain, there were almost no trees left. And,” she went on, “one of the most painful things I realized was that it wasn’t the fault of the poor, like your parents, who were forced to pay for this mistake. It was the fault of the rich who ran the corporations like Unistore. Because these corporations understood human instincts and took advantage of them. We actually encouraged people to buy things they didn’t need. I felt so guilty when I realized that. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

  Helen sighed deeply and hung her head.

  “Most humans,” she said after a long pause, “live only for love. To love and be loved. That’s what novels taught me. All the rest, all the food processors and leaf blowers and chocolate fountains, are just the scenery for love.”

  Their eyes met. Hers were searching; his were calm and steady.

  “Can you forgive me for what I once was?” she asked.

  “Yes,” he replied. He could understand now how her life of privilege had shielded her from the truth. But she had learned to think for herself, and she had changed her ways. He felt immensely relieved.

  “And can you forgive me for leaving you in Barford North?” Helen continued. “I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay and help.”

  “I know you did,” Mika said. “I saw Gorman’s men in your apartment. It was too dangerous for you to stay. But what happened when you came back here, to the other side of The Wall?”

  “My son locked me up in his house,” she said. “And hired dementia nurses to look after me. He thinks I’m senile because I refuse to take Everlife-9 or live in this mansion. Can you believe it? It’s not easy being different in this world, as you know …”

  “At least you weren’t born with webbed feet,” Mika said.

  “So we’re still friends?” she ventured.

  “Yes,” he replied.

  She smiled. It made her happy to see him in her library, looking at her books. Somehow he had survived all the training and mind games without losing his independent thought.

  “You mutants are different from us, aren’t you?” she said. “Us old, broken humans.”

  “I think so,” Mika replied. “We know what we are.”

  “So what now? What next?”

  “Take over the North,” Mika stated. “Negotiate freedom with the South. Help people fix themselves so they can live in a natural world without destroying it.”

  She gulped. These children weren’t messing about.

  “We hear things you can’t hear,” he told her. “We call them The Roar and The Whisper. The Roar is the sound of emotion and The Whisper is the sound of thought. We mutants see a light too. I see what you’re feeling in your light. And I see what the forests mean. We see us all, atom-deep, as one being, connected. Your answer makes perfect sense to me.”

  “Does it?” Helen said.

  “Yes,” he replied. “Can I use you for an experiment?”

  “Of course,” she said, a little nervously.

  “It won’t hurt,” Mika told her.

  He opened a window and helped her climb out into the garden.

  “Well, this is interesting,” she said, her yellow wellies deep in the green uncut grass. “What do you want me to do?”

  “Touch one of the vines covering the house,” Mika said.

  There were plenty to choose from. They could hear the birds nesting in them, tweeting and rustling among the leaves. Helen grasped a length of wisteria and looked at him.

  Mika stood behind her and put his hand on her arm.

  “Your eyes have gone weird,” she said. “They’re all black and oily.”

  “Don’t look at me,” Mika said. “Look at the house. And relax.”

  “I can see the swallows have come back this year,” Helen said. “That’s their nest up there in the eaves.”

  “Stop thinking about swallows and concentrate,” Mika said. “Or it won’t work. Let your mind relax.”

  Another minute passed.

  “I think I feel something,” she said tentatively. “But I’m not sure. My fingers are a bit tingly.”

  “That’s it,” Mika said. “Relax.”

  The feeling intensified. Soon her fingertips buzzed where they touched the bark of the wisteria.

  “I can see it,” she whispered. “Yes, I can see it!”

  Gold light grew in her fingertips and coursed into the bark. It ran like fluid up the vine and into all the other vines, until the whole house was covered in a twisted mass of golden light.

  “Look at your feet,” Mika said.

  Helen looked down and saw the light running through the grass. It was coursing through her like electricity. Showing her that she was connected to all living things.

  “What does it feel like?” he asked.

  “Amazing!” she said, almost crying. “Absolutely amazing!”

  17 The Wrong Place

  The boy Luc breathed steadily.

  His face was calm.

  His arms were out of the blankets, hands open and relaxed at his sides.

  Oliver sat on the chair by the lamp, and Kobi sat at the end of the bed. He tilted his chair back so he could lean against the wall and huddled down in his coat with his hands in his pockets. They were both silent. Oliver stared at the implant, as if he was trying to understand the adults who’d done such a thing. Kobi listened to The Whisper, which now flowed through his mind like a story. After sitting with the boy for a couple of hours, he knew everything the army knew: where they were, why they were taken, and what they were trying to do.

  Then he had to pass through all the emotions they’d felt while he sat there in silence, with Oliver. The shocking truth about The Wall hit him like ice. The outrage that followed made him want to punch somethin
g.

  His mother had been killed by the rich living on the other side of The Wall, and by a corrupt government that knew the truth but still left them to rot in darkness!

  Kobi burned in his black coat, waiting for his anger to pass. For that implanted boy wasn’t sleeping so peacefully for nothing. The army of children was about to rise and set this mess straight.

  When his rage passed, he began to feel the more subtle emotions, the wonderment that forests still existed and the fear that they would burn before he saw them. And he felt a sense of alignment too. He’d come from a similar mold to Mika’s; he’d always felt there was something wrong with his world, and now he knew he was right. That he could trust his instincts and stop wondering if there was something wrong with him. Beyond The Wall were forests and rich people.

  It made sense. Perfect sense.

  Then something else occurred to him. This boy was waiting to wake up in the wrong place.

  In the worst place.

  If he woke up here, in The Shadows, alone, the adults would pounce on him and pump him for information.

  He must not wake up here, Kobi thought.

  Now he was desperate to speak to Mika.

  He felt in his pocket and realized he’d left his companion upstairs on his bed.

  “Oliver?” he said.

  “Yeah?”

  “I’ve got to go back to my room for a minute. Will you stay here and watch the boy?”

  “OK,” Oliver replied.

  “If he wakes up, run as fast as you can and find me. But don’t tell any grown-ups, just me. Do you understand? It’s really important.”

  “OK,” Oliver said gravely. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

  Kobi sprinted up the stairs to his room and grabbed his companion.

  “Call Mika again,” he told her. “It’s really urgent now, Anais. I have to speak to him.”

  He paced up and down while he waited.

  “I still can’t get through,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

  “Frag it!” Kobi cursed.

  18 A Sad Supper

  Mika stared thoughtfully at the screen of his companion. Lilian’s battery had gone flat. She’d been lying in Gorman’s desk for several days and he didn’t have her charger.

 
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