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The whisper, p.19
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       The Whisper, p.19

           Emma Clayton
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  Then the pace cranked up again. Lilian yelled in Mika’s pocket. “Mika!! Mika!! Kobi Nenko’s calling! He’s begging you to help him! His father is planning to build a bomb and blow a hole through The Wall!”

  The seven children looked at each other.

  “Well,” Leo said. “They’re not going to get through it with their fists.”

  “Let me talk to him,” Mika replied.

  Kobi sat on his father’s bed. Although he’d told Oliver not to worry, he was panicking so much he could hardly hold his companion. The whole Future Communication Building was full of adults packing bags and preparing for the journey to The Wall. He could hear them all around him. Hear roars of rage from The Shadows as the fire spread. And here he was stuck right in the middle of it, having promised Oliver he would get help. That the army was out there somewhere and would come to help them. When he heard Mika’s voice, he almost cried with relief.

  “Mika,” he said. “I’m in The Shadows. It’s a fragging nightmare here.”

  “I know,” Mika replied quickly. “Just tell me everything. We know The Secret’s out; now we need to know about this bomb so we can figure out what to do about it. Don’t worry, we’re all here and we’re going to help you.”

  “Good,” Kobi said. “I’m going nuts here on my own.”

  He explained everything, about the boy and the bolt borgs and his father. And as he quietly uploaded all this to Mika, he felt his head lighten and his muscles relax. His thoughts had been there before, coursing through The Whisper with the rest, but channeled through his friend, they became loud enough for everyone to hear.

  When he’d told Mika everything, Mika said, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out how to make this work for us. The best thing you can do for now is tell the adults you’re going to help them. Tell your father you’re sorry and stay close to him. That way you’ll know exactly what’s happening. How long do you think it will take before he has all the parts to build a bomb?”

  “A day,” Kobi said. “It usually takes him a day to source all the bits when he’s building something. As soon as he’s got them all, we’ll follow everyone else to The Wall.”

  “Then I’ll come to you tomorrow morning,” Mika said, “while you’re still in The Shadows, and we’ll talk about what we’re going to do. I’m so glad we’ve found you.”

  “So am I,” Kobi said. “You have no idea.”

  The call ended.

  Kobi lay back and closed his eyes, feeling relief although his world was burning around him.

  At last he was part of the army.

  26 The Eyes in the Trees

  Helen sat by the fire in her hut, with the blanket over her knees. She’d been dozing on and off most of the night, but she couldn’t sleep properly and hadn’t gone to bed. She was worried about the children, she had a Northern Government minister imprisoned in her boar house, and their world teetered on the brink of war. There was far too much going on to sleep.

  As she dozed she dreamed of light, of the beauty she’d seen enshrouding her house. And humbug piglets, snarling wolves, patterns in leaves, burning trees … Between these dozes, she stoked the fire and wondered how long it would be before the children returned.

  She did not expect them so soon.

  She heard a noise in the clearing outside the hut. She sat up and gripped the arms of her chair. She wondered if it was Ralph, but he could speak to her via the mansion com. It didn’t make sense that he would walk through the forest in the middle of the night to talk to her. When she heard a knock on the door, she rose and opened it cautiously.

  But it was the children. Seven wet, filthy children and Puck, who was fast asleep in Ellie’s arms as if he’d spent the past six hours on a bouncy castle.

  “Why are you back so soon?” she said.

  “Everything’s got difficult,” Mika replied exhaustedly. “We’ve come here to get away from the noise and talk. Is that OK?”

  “Of course,” she said. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

  She did this expecting them to gather around the fire. They looked cold. But they sat at the table and leaned on it, with their heads in their hands. She opened the kitchen cupboard and ordered a large fruit cake. They looked as if they needed cheering up. No one spoke for ten minutes.

  The fire crackled.

  In its dancing light they looked like two things: children who needed to go to bed and mythical beasts.

  Helen placed cups on the table and warmed the teapot.

  “So,” she said. “Have you taken the fortress?”

  “Yes,” Mika replied.

  “Was anyone hurt?”

  “No,” he said.

  “Good. So then what happened? Did you manage to take the Queen of the North?”

  “Yes,” Audrey said. “We emptied it and parked it over the sea.”

  “Gosh,” Helen said. “Well done. Then what happened?”

  “We took The Wall,” Mika said quietly. “That was hard; the Ghengis borgs were difficult.”

  “I’m sure they were,” she replied, raising her eyebrows.

  “Then we told our government what was happening. Leo sent them a message telling them we’d taken over.”

  “I bet that spoiled their suppers,” Helen said.

  “I hope so,” Ellie replied.

  “Then Leo called Raphael Mose to negotiate,” Mika continued.

  Helen placed the teapot in the middle of the table. “OK,” she said. “That sounds promising.”

  “We haven’t finished yet,” Mika said.

  “Oh dear. So what did Raphael Mose say?”

  “Leo talked to him twice,” Mika said. “The first time he just got furious and hung up. The second time he seemed to listen for a while, but when he realized our parents didn’t know what we’re doing, he laughed at us. He told us we were crazy to believe we could control them. He called them knuckle draggers.”

  “Sticks and stones,” Helen said. “And you know that’s not true. You will be able to control them when you’ve shown them the light. It’ll take a while to fix them all, but it is possible.”

  “Yeah,” Mika said. “We know. But we were just about to call Mose a third time and tell him that, when The Secret got out. We were standing on The Wall, Helen, and suddenly it looked as if the North was on fire! And it leaked from one of us. An implanted boy ended up in The Shadows, so sick he was ranting his head off. Now everyone’s moving toward The Wall, and someone in The Shadows is building a bomb to blow a hole through it. We’ve got a day, Helen, just one day to get our parents under control and try to talk to Raphael Mose again.”

  “OK,” Helen said. “What can I do to help? I’ve ordered a fruit cake; is there anything else you want?”

  “Just sit with us,” Mika said. “You’re the only sane adult we know.”

  Awen stretched out like a hare on the hearth. The children began to talk.

  It was light when they finished.

  The morning was bright and the fire ash.

  None of them had slept, but they felt calmer.

  Mika and Audrey stood up and stretched.

  “OK,” Mika said. “So we’ll fly the Stealth Carrier to The Shadows and talk to Kobi. Then we’ll send it back for you and we’ll meet you on The Wall.”

  Mika kissed Ellie. He was going with Audrey, and leaving Ellie behind with the others. They’d decided it was best she avoid the city where their parents lived until all this was over.

  By the door, they hugged Helen and she gave Mika a piece of cake wrapped in a white napkin, for Kobi.

  “Say hello from me,” she said. “He sounds like a clever boy and he’s going to have a difficult day.”

  “He is,” Mika said. “But I’m so glad he’s with us.”

  For most of the night, Kobi forced himself to sleep, if fitfully, so he wouldn’t be too exhausted to cope with what was about to happen.

  Just after dawn, he got up and packed their bags. Then he left Nevermore on the desk pecking them, and searched fo
r his father.

  The building was almost empty. While he was sleeping, almost everyone had left. He passed messy rooms with open doors, where families had packed and joined the exodus to The Wall. Only a few adults remained to wait for his father and the bomb parts. Kobi realized Oliver was gone and felt sad. He hadn’t had the chance to tell the child that the army was on its way. He hoped to see him when they arrived at The Wall.

  He found his father in a room on the eleventh floor, surrounded by boxes of bomb parts. Abe had spent the past few hours gathering them from locations around the city with the help of The Shadows network. Now he was checking each part, making sure it was right. Once they got to The Wall, it would be a major problem if any bits were missing.

  When Kobi appeared in the doorway, Abe was counting a bag of micro screws. He looked up and his face hardened, ready for another fight.

  “It’s OK,” Kobi said. “I’ve come to help.”

  Abe’s features softened again. “Good,” he said. “There’s a list of parts on that tablet over there and I’m just checking the bits that have arrived. Those in red haven’t been delivered yet. We’re still waiting for them.”

  “OK,” Kobi said.

  They worked in silence, checking the parts and packing them into a box. When they’d finished, his father told him to go to one of the kitchens and eat breakfast. Kobi returned to their room and waited for Mika.

  Half an hour later, he heard a quiet tap on the door.

  He jumped up and opened it, but there was no one there.

  Then he heard Audrey giggle.

  “Audrey?” he whispered. “Where are you?”

  He heard a whoosh and a flash and she appeared with Mika, right in front of him.

  “Nice trick,” Kobi said. He waved them into the room, looking up and down the passage.

  “Kobi!” Audrey cried as he shut the door. “We’ve missed you so much!” She hugged him and bounced with excitement.

  “I’ve missed you too,” he said. “I shouldn’t have run. I knew within hours it was a mistake.”

  “No,” Mika insisted. “Don’t think that. You’re in exactly the right place. You’re going to be a massive help. Here” — he held out the cake — “This is from our friend Helen. I’ll explain who she is. I’ll explain everything.”

  They sat on the beds and Mika told him the details of what had happened in the past few days. Kobi listened carefully and watched Audrey play with her kittens.

  When Mika had finished, Kobi said, “So what do you want me to do?”

  “Help make the North and the South listen to us,” Mika said. “At the moment, Raphael Mose thinks we’re a joke, and our parents are so blinded by anger, they don’t even see us. So we’ve decided to let them shock themselves. I learned something last night while I was fighting with Ellie. Sometimes you need to shock yourself to understand what you’re doing wrong. So we’re going to let our parents start the war and then we’re going to stop it.”

  “What?” Kobi said.

  “It’s the only way to make them listen,” Mika said. “When the war starts and both sides have had a chance to realize how terrible it will be, we’ll stop it, we’ll save them from themselves. Then they’ll see us. Then they’ll listen to us.”

  “But are you sure you can stop the war once it starts?” Kobi asked. “That sounds dangerous, Mika. What if you can’t?”

  “We can,” Mika said. “As long as we know exactly where the bomb is being built and what time it will detonate. The berserker borgs will attack as soon as a hole appears in The Wall, but we’ll be there, all of us, in Pod Fighters. We’ll let our parents see the berserker borgs attack and then we’ll stop them before they do too much harm.”

  “OK,” Kobi said. “What’s my role in this?”

  “Stay close to your father. Help him build the bomb, and stay in touch with us. You start the war, we’ll stop it.”

  “Right,” Kobi said. “It’s a deal.”

  Ellie and the others waited in Helen’s hut for the Stealth Carrier to return. Helen ordered breakfast and watched them eat. They were quiet now that they’d decided what to do.

  She ordered pancakes and fruit and tried not to look astonished as the syrup and butter and raspberries floated across the table. She was part of them now, so they used their powers around her without even thinking about it.

  Helen thought of butter and it landed in her hand. She looked up to see Colette smiling at her.

  “Thank you,” she said.

  The girl’s silver hands glinted in the morning light.

  A monkey sat in the middle of the table, eating raspberries.

  It was a doom-laden, magical breakfast.

  As the children were helping Helen clear the table, Ralph called from the mansion. Stones slid back and his face appeared on the screen above the fire. He looked tired. He’d taken his tie off, had bits of straw in his hair, and his face was shadowed with stubble.

  “Morning, Ralph,” Helen said. “How are you?”

  “A bit worried, madam,” the butler replied.

  “Oh dear,” Helen said with her hands on her hips. “What’s Gorman been up to?”

  “Freaking out, madam,” he replied. “I had to stay with him in the sty; he wouldn’t let me leave.”

  “All night?” Helen asked. “Remember, Ralph, you’re not his slave. He’s lucky to have you there. And there was a nice warm bed in the mansion for you.”

  “He was scared, madam,” Ralph replied.

  “Of what?” Helen asked.

  “Well,” Ralph said. “First he was scared of a spider, so I had to catch it and take it away. Then he said he could see a weird face looking at him through the trees at the end of the enclosure. He’s delirious. I can’t reason with him. I was hoping you’d come down and talk to him. I don’t think he likes the trees.”

  “Silly man,” Helen huffed. “I thought he wanted a mansion surrounded by a forest. He’s not going to get that without trees and a few spiders.”

  “I think he’s changed his mind, madam,” Ralph said. “He’s not enjoying himself much.”

  “I’ll talk to him,” Ellie said. “Don’t worry, Ralph, I’m coming now.”

  “I’ll come with you,” Helen said. “I want to see this.”

  The path through the forest looked pretty. But it was quiet and the silence felt heavy, making the forest flowers look as if they’d stuck up their heads in the wrong place.

  “The birds are quiet,” Helen said.

  “Yeah,” Ellie replied. “And Puck’s behaving himself.”

  They walked on uneasily.

  When they reached the overgrown mansion, they could hear Mal Gorman yelling. Ralph opened the door to the boar house, looking very relieved to see them.

  “Oh dear,” Helen said, tilting her sun hat to look at him.

  In the feeding room, Gorman’s face appeared at the glass of his door. He’d aged overnight. He was now about thirty and looked even more ridiculous in the Pod Fighter T-shirt.

  “We’d better let him have some more Everlife-9 soon,” Ellie said.

  “I’ll find out the correct dose,” Helen replied. “He can’t just swig it out of the bottle or he might vanish altogether.”

  “Let me out!” he yelled. “You can’t leave me in here! This is abuse! This is TORTURE!”

  Ellie looked past him into the sty. The sun was slanting through the door on the other side. The sty looked warm, dry, and light, a million times more comfortable than the little room she used to live in on the Queen of the North.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Ralph’s had no sleep because of you.”

  “It’s staring at me!” he cried. “And it won’t go away!”

  “What’s staring at you?”

  “The eyes in the trees!”

  “Stand back,” Ellie said. “I’ll come in and you can show me.”

  Gorman took a few paces away from the door and she entered. Then he crouched down and crawled through the little door lea
ding out into the enclosure. Ellie followed him over ragged grass, past the muddy hollow, toward a clump of trees at the end. Then he stopped and pointed with a shaky finger. Ellie peered through the fence into the forest beyond. For a while she saw nothing but shifting light through leaves, then she spotted a pair of eyes staring through the foliage.

  “OK, I see it,” she said, backing away. “I’m going to walk around the outside of the enclosure and find out what it is.”

  She returned to the sty with Gorman on her heels, scared to be left alone. When she’d locked the door, he sat on his camp cot, pale and trembling.

  Ellie told Helen and Ralph what she’d seen.

  “How curious,” Helen said. “Come on, let’s go and have a look.”

  They left Ralph watching Gorman and walked down the path, along the line of the enclosure. When they reached the end, Helen said, “I think I know what it is. Come on, I’ll show you. There’s an old chapel down here.”

  She left the path and began to walk through the trees. At the end of the enclosure was a dense, dark area, choked by bracken and ivy.

  “There used to be a little graveyard here,” Helen said.

  “Really?” Ellie replied, looking at her feet.

  “You’re not scared of a few old bones?” Helen asked.

  “No,” Ellie said. “I’ve just never been in a graveyard before.”

  She wasn’t scared of the bones, but she didn’t like it there. It felt too quiet and cold and she looked forward to returning to the path where the sunlight cut through the trees.

  The chapel was hidden. It was shrouded in climbers like the mansion. There was a mossy path leading up to the porch, and inside this, a black door with a pile of old gravestones leaned against it.

  “No one’s used it for years,” Helen said.

  It felt cold, as if the chapel stone radiated it. Ellie followed Helen around the back of the building, shivering as the bracken brushed her legs.

  “There,” Helen said. She stopped and looked up at the rear wall of the chapel. Poking through the ivy, under the eaves, was a large stone face. The eyes were wide and staring. The mouth gaped, vomiting a rush of foliage.

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