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The whisper, p.24
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       The Whisper, p.24

           Emma Clayton
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  “Good,” her mother said. “But you’re very quiet today. Are you feeling all right?”


  She followed her mother up the lawn to inspect the marquee. This contained adult fare: a string quartet, champagne, and a buffet. There were always more adults than children at Grace’s parties.

  It got busy. Her mother took her to the terrace so they could welcome the guests. Lots of people arrived at once, and soon Grace was surrounded by a heap of gifts and everyone was talking at her, telling her how pretty her dress was.

  Where were they?

  The games would start soon and the only guests she wanted to see had not arrived.

  She looked wistfully up the lawn, unable to listen to the people talking to her. Soon her mother was telling her off for not saying “Thank you” nicely enough, and the lawn was covered with people drinking and laughing as if nothing was happening on the other side of The Wall.

  The rush eased off and most of the men disappeared into the house. Then her mother began to talk to a group of friends. Grace was just thinking about joining the other children on the lawn when she found herself facing an old lady, the only old lady at the party and one of the few old ladies Grace had ever seen. She was most peculiarly dressed. Instead of wearing a pretty garden dress like the other ladies at the party, she was wearing a long brown skirt, yellow Wellington rain boots, and a sun hat with faded plastic fruit hanging off it. Grace had never seen anyone like this before, but the lady’s light was so warm and friendly, she smiled for the first time since the party began. The lady placed a box of colored pencils in her hands and said, “I’m sorry they’re not wrapped in pretty paper, but I was in a hurry and I didn’t have time.”

  “Thank you,” Grace said nicely.

  Her mother and friends had stopped talking. Grace realized that everyone on the terrace was staring at the old lady as if she were a witch who’d come to the party to turn them all into frogs.

  “Helen!” her mother said in a high voice. “What a lovely surprise! How nice of you to come!”

  “Thank you,” Helen said. “You invite me every year … and I’ve been looking forward to meeting Grace. She reminds me of some of my new friends. I brought them with me. I hope you don’t mind.” She looked at Grace and whispered, “Mika and Ellie chose the pencils. They said you like drawing.”

  “I do,” Grace whispered back. “They’re coming, aren’t they?”

  “Yes,” Helen said. “I just thought I’d warn you first, so it wouldn’t spoil your party.”

  “It won’t,” Grace said. “I’m waiting for them.”

  “I see,” Helen replied, with twinkly eyes.

  Her mother was now brittle with irritation. She didn’t want this scruffy old woman at her daughter’s party. Helen clashed with the décor and she made everyone nervous. She’d only been invited because she was a Gelt, one of the richest people in the world, but everyone knew she was mad. And who were Mika and Ellie? She didn’t know anyone called Mika and Ellie. And they weren’t invited. It was very rude of Helen to bring uninvited guests.

  “Whom are you talking about, Grace?” she asked. “I’m not sure we have room for more people.”

  “Yes, we do,” Grace said. “We have lots of room.”

  “But I don’t know who they are,” her mother hissed.

  “I want them here,” Grace said, her eyes darkening. “They’re my friends. They’re like me.”

  “What do you mean?” Her mother’s eyes suddenly glittered with fear. They’d tried to make Grace “normal” before they began to ignore the bottom half. They’d spent millions on healing chamber development that only seemed to make Grace’s eyes more spooky. Their daughter was a satyr. Sometimes, in the twilight, when they saw her walking at the end of the garden with the dark forest behind her, they felt afraid. They loved her, but they did not want any more like her.

  There was a bright flash at the end of the garden and a silver craft appeared.

  “It’s them!” Grace cried. “They’re here!”

  “No!” her mother shouted. “Make them go away! Someone get Raphael! Waiter! You! Go and get my husband! He’s in his study! I am very annoyed, Helen! You should know that you can’t just bring a bunch of strangers to Grace’s party!”

  A man in a rabbit costume ran into the house. All the guests stared up the lawn, and when they saw the mutant children climbing out of the Stealth Carrier, the adults put their glasses down and began to walk toward the house.

  But the children remained. The rich children in their hand-stitched clothes, with baby rabbits in ribbons hopping around their feet, stayed exactly where they were, eyes glued to the uninvited guests as they formed a line before them.

  Seven children in white uniform … and a monkey.

  The rich children didn’t know these other children had learned how to tape up their sneakers when they were five years old. Had been bullied, starved, deprived of light, taught by cartoons, and force-fed Fit Mix. Had flown Pod Fighters, overthrown their government, and won the respect of their people. But they did know this, that these were the coolest kids they’d ever seen and they wished, immediately, they were like them.

  Grace tried to run toward Mika and Ellie, but her mother grabbed her by the arm.

  “Help!” her mother yelled. “Where are the lions? Get guns! Wolves! They’re from the other side! Someone HELP US!”

  Bodyguards ran out of the house. Grace fought against her mother’s grip.

  “Grace!” her mother shouted. “Stop it! I want you to come inside while Daddy gets rid of them!”

  “No!” Grace yelled. “I don’t want them to leave; they’re my friends! They’ve come to stop you from poisoning everyone!”

  Her mother froze as if Grace had struck her. “Poisoning everyone? What are you talking about?”

  “You know what I’m talking about!” Grace yelled. “All those people on the other side of The Wall! Stop pretending you don’t know about them! I saw through Daddy’s door. I watched him press the second button!”

  Her mother’s eyes glazed over and she released Grace’s arm. Immediately the child ran away from her, up the lawn, and toward Mika and Ellie. When she reached them, she stood between them and held Ellie’s hand. She could feel Awen sniffing at her fingers and Puck playing with her hair.

  She looked at the house and waited for her father to come out.

  Raphael Mose led the World Conservation Club down the terrace and up the lawn, surrounded by bodyguards and guns. They were not afraid. They walked with deadly confidence, their light bristling with territorial fury.

  When they faced the children, Leo said, “We’ve come to talk.”

  “I don’t want to talk,” Raphael Mose replied. “I want you out of my garden, now. The negotiation ended when your stupid parents blew that hole through The Wall. Grace, come here.”

  “No,” she said, moving behind Ellie’s legs.

  “We haven’t come to negotiate,” Leo told him. “We know that time is over. We’ve come to tell you that you can’t continue with this war. You’re wasting your time even trying. You can’t win it because we won’t let you fight it. Now that we know our parents will listen to us, the only choice you have is whether or not you listen to us.”

  Raphael Mose stared at Leo with an incredulous smile on his face. A thirteen-year-old boy was telling him that his hands were tied behind his back. That they would not let him fight … the leader of the World Conservation Club, the richest and most powerful man in the world.

  “I do admire you,” he said. “It must have taken a lot of guts to come here and say that when there’s a poison grid hanging over your parents.”

  “No, there isn’t,” Leo said.

  “Er … yes, there is,” Mose replied. “You know those black boxes in the sky? They’re full of poison.”

  “They don’t work,” Leo told him.

  “Yes, they do,” Mose argued. “You’re in the South now. Things work in the South. We don’t ha
ve vacuumbots that make more mess than they clean up. If we build something, it works.”

  “We broke the poison grid,” Leo said. “We looked at it and broke it. Tell your bodyguards to fire their guns at us.”

  “Do it,” Mose said. “Shoot them. But be careful with Grace. Not my Grace.”

  Without a moment’s hesitation the bodyguards pointed their guns at the children and pulled the triggers. Nothing happened.

  “Where are your lion borgs?” Leo asked. “Why haven’t your lions killed us?”

  Mose turned and looked toward the mansion. The boy was right; the lion borgs were nowhere to be seen.

  “Summon them,” Leo said.

  “They’re only programmed to guard and kill,” Mose replied. “I can’t summon them.”

  “We can,” Leo said. “Grace, you do it. Show your dad how smart you are.”

  Grace crept out from behind Ellie’s legs. Her father watched her eyes darken, and for a moment it felt as if the whole garden was dark. He heard the bass note of the forest and felt vibrations through the lawn as the lions dropped from their plinths. Then Mose turned and watched in astonishment as they sauntered around the side of the house, their great haunches rising and falling. At the edge of the lawn, they paused and roared so loud, the marquee trembled, then they loped through the party tables, sending baby rabbits scarpering.

  The adults panicked and backed away, wondering if this would end in an attack. But when the enormous silver lions reached Grace, they lay down on the grass before her. She walked forward on goat legs, in her rabbit party dress, and stroked one down the side of its face.

  Raphael Mose looked at her as if she were an alien.

  “You made us,” Leo said. “We’re your children, in the North and the South. We are the future, so you made this future. You can’t fight it. Listen to us. Let us show you things you’ve never seen.”

  33 We Are the Future

  Helen stood in the mansion’s kitchen, making a pot of tea. When this was done, she opened a hermabag and removed three rabbit cakes. They were a bit squashed; the rabbits ears were bent, but she arranged them nicely on a plate, then put them on a tray with the tea things and hobbled up the stairs toward one of the bedrooms.

  The door was ajar. Leaf green light filtered through the window. It was another beautiful, bright spring day. She looked around the room and thought how much nicer it was with a guest staying in it.

  “How are you?” she asked, turning to the bed.

  Ralph was propped up on pillows, wearing her son’s pajamas. Along the side of the bed was the healing chamber that had returned him from the brink of death.

  Mika and Ellie had proved themselves experts at multitasking on the day of the war. They’d taken down Ruben, unbound Helen, put Gorman back in his sty, then crouched beside Ralph on the dusty path and seen a glimmer of light within him, the faintest light, a mist of gold, but enough to bring him back.

  “Get a healing chamber,” Mika told Helen quickly. “He’s still there.” Then, in a flash, he and Ellie were gone back to Amiens to deal with the berserker borgs.

  If Helen had any doubts that these children could change the course of a river that had run for thousands of years, or stop the boulder of war rolling down the mountain, they vanished as she sat on the path beside the dusty butler, holding his hand, waiting for a healing chamber to be delivered. Far beyond her the war was having its three minutes and fourteen seconds of horror, but she sat on that path, feeling such hope and happiness, her heart was bursting with it.

  That black-eyed boy. That tortured child who’d come to her fold-down in Barford North was a truly spectacular upgrade on the human design.

  And evolved out of this! she thought, looking at the forest around her. And concrete and floodwater and mold! A child forged in darkness out of particles that had been stardust millions of years ago. Out of stardust had evolved children born to know what they were.

  Their universe, for its chaos, was very beautiful.

  From her son’s bed, Ralph smiled at her.

  She grinned back.

  “I’m very well, thank you, madam,” he said.

  “You don’t have to call me madam,” Helen replied. “Please call me Helen.”

  “Yes, madam,” he said. “I mean, Helen.” He looked at the tray in her hands. “I hope you haven’t gone to too much trouble.”

  “No trouble is too much for you, Ralph,” she said. “Grace gave me some of her birthday cakes. And I know you like cake.”

  She arranged the tray on his knee and he looked at the tea things and the rabbit cakes. No one had been so kind to him before.

  “Things are going to be different now,” Helen said. “The rest of your life will be different.”

  “How is Gorman?” he asked.

  “Still frightened by the spiders,” Helen said. “But he’s more polite since Ruben’s visit. He asks me nicely to get rid of them. Mika and Ellie are about to take him out and show him something interesting. Something they hope will fix him.”

  “What are they going to do with Ruben?”

  “Well,” Helen said. “They’re not sure what to do about Ruben. They’re still thinking about him. At the moment, he’s in the fortress with a mutant guard and he might have to stay like that. It’s most unfortunate. That’s the thing about nature: Every now and then, it throws a wild card and there’s nothing we can do about it. You just have to accept and adapt.”

  “So I ought to feel sorry for Ruben,” Ralph said. “Being the wild card. He could have been like Mika and Ellie, but he’s not.”

  “Well, I suppose we ought to feel sorry for him,” Helen said. “But it’s not easy, is it, after what he did to you? Doing the right thing is so very complicated.”

  She poured a cup of tea, and Ralph ate a rabbit cake, then they gazed out of the window and watched a bird build its nest in the ivy.

  The Stealth Carrier rose from the meadow with Mal Gorman, Mika, Ellie, Puck, and Awen inside it. They flew south toward the Loire Valley, which in the days before The Wall had been called the Garden of France, with many pretty towns on the banks of the river. Now the towns were gone and it was overgrown with forest. It was the perfect place to show Mal Gorman the light.

  They found a spot on the top of a hill, where they could see the path of the river twisting gently south. The valley rose in soft, green peaks, and the spring sun shimmered through its leaves.

  Mal Gorman was still shaken by his encounter with Ruben, and his jump from the Stealth Carrier was messy. He was now scared of everything around him: The children, the monkey, the forest and its creatures, even the river and the sun all seemed very dark to him, very threatening.

  Mika and Ellie walked ahead, looking for a spot where they had a clear view of the valley through the trees. When they found one, they waited for Gorman, who tramped toward them in sneakers, looking as if he’d rather be eaten by a wolf borg than see this thing they wanted to show him. Helen had found him a shirt so he didn’t have to wear a Pod Fighter splattered across his chest, but she didn’t have a pair of shoes that fit.

  “Show me this thing, then,” Gorman said. “Let’s get it over with.”

  “Touch a tree,” Ellie said.

  “Why?” Gorman asked suspiciously.

  “Just do it,” Ellie replied. “We’re not going to hurt you. Trust us.”

  Gorman tramped up to a tree and placed his hand on it. Mika and Ellie stood on either side of him and touched his back. He flinched.

  “Keep that monkey away from me,” he snarled.

  “I will,” Ellie replied. “Nothing bad is going to happen. Just relax and be quiet and watch your hand.”

  The wind gusted warm. The canopy stirred above. A falcon flew over their heads and dove into the valley to hover over the bank of the river. The children focused and waited. It was a quarter of an hour before Gorman stopped fighting against them.

  “I feel something in my fingers,” he said.

  “That’s good,” El
lie replied. “Don’t be scared of it, just watch and see what happens.”

  Gorman watched his hand. The tingling in his fingers felt warm and he was beginning to believe that the children wouldn’t hurt him.

  Then he saw it.

  A golden light kindled in the tips of his fingers!

  And once it started, it spread until he felt it rush right through him. He could feel it in his veins, coursing into him through the earth, rushing right through his body and into the tree, then it spread beyond him, rushed beyond him, like gold blood flowing through one great being, from tree to flower to bush to bird and down the hill until the whole valley was alight with it. The fish in the river, he could see the fish, and the falcon hovering over the bank. The gold light rushed through it all, including him.

  His jaw dropped.

  “You can see it now?” Ellie asked. “Do you see the light?”

  “Yes,” he replied. “I can see it.”

  Mika stood on the south side of no-man’s-land, facing the hole in The Wall.

  He was part of a large group of children and adults who had gathered there on a warm summer day.

  While they talked, he observed.

  Only a few months ago, he’d lain in Ellie’s bed, feeling grief-stricken, lonely, and confused. Now he was surrounded by people who understood him and he felt calm and connected to everything: the children, the adults, the dead leaves beneath his feet, the sun overhead, even the concrete wall that loomed in the distance, with its giant war-torn hole. He felt connected to it all. As if in the past few weeks, all matter on Earth had shifted and settled, connected.

  He felt its gravity.

  He felt its beauty.

  The people gathered around him were a ceremonial party, waiting for the first people to pass from north to south through the hole in The Wall. The key players involved in the starting and stopping of that three-minute-and-fourteen-second war had gathered.

  Mika stood with Ellie, Puck, Audrey, Leo, Iman, Santos, and Colette, and Kobi, Oliver, Helen, Ralph, and little Grace. A short distance away stood Mal Gorman and a few other members of the Northern Government. And next to them, Raphael Mose and the World Conservation Club. The forest shimmered behind them. In the distance, on The Wall, was the whole implanted army, lined up and facing south. Tom, Ana, and the red-haired boy, Luc, were standing up there looking down on them. On the other side of The Wall were their parents.

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