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       The Whisper, p.8

           Emma Clayton
 
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  “OK,” Gorman said. “I’ve seen enough. Go upstairs now.”

  They found the staircase in the great hall. It had a grand, shallow sweep and a carpeted tread.

  “Nice,” Gorman said. “I like it.”

  They climbed the staircase and took the last few steps cautiously. Now they were mere steps away from Raphael Mose, and after seeing pictures of him, they did not want to meet him.

  They found themselves facing a wide landing and a long line of doors. They turned right and looked through each one without opening it. These were guest bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. The children looked at the beds and furniture in lines of blue light but moved quickly on from one to the next because there were no small objects in these rooms, no boxes or bottles that might contain Everlife-9.

  At the end of the landing, they found themselves facing an ornate oak door. It was significantly larger than the others, and the frame was carved with a beautiful pattern of wildflowers and butterflies. On the main panel was a goat kid, standing in a meadow of grass. It was beautiful. Mika touched the warm wood, admiring the carving, and Awen sniffed along the gap at the bottom of the door.

  They got a shock when they looked through it. Sitting up in bed was a child, alert, scared, and listening.

  Frag, Mika thought. She’s a mutant. She can see us through the door.

  They backed away.

  “What are you doing?” Gorman said. “What’s in there?”

  “Nothing,” Ellie whispered.

  Their hearts pounded. They knew there was a child in the house, but they hadn’t expected a mutant child, especially one so young and powerful. She was surrounded by plush toys and dolls. She couldn’t have been more than seven years old and yet she’d seen them, easily. And if she decided to wake up her parents, they’d be in serious trouble. But they couldn’t tell Mal Gorman. They remembered what happened when they encountered the bear; they were pretty sure he’d tell them to kill the girl just because she’d seen them.

  We have to get out of here as quickly as possible, Mika thought.

  Awen remained by the oak door, wagging his tail. As Mika and Ellie walked quickly away from it, his tail dropped and he followed.

  At the other end of the landing, they found themselves facing another oak door. This one had a mulberry tree carved on the main panel. Through it they saw Raphael Mose and his wife sleeping in a four-poster bed. There were many objects around them, including a collection of bottles.

  Gorman was talking at them impatiently, but they ignored him. They didn’t have time to listen. The door swung open quietly and they crept into the bedroom and began to search frantically, with Raphael Mose and his wife sleeping right next to them. Although the children couldn’t be seen, they knew they could be heard and that the slightest sound would wake Mose and his wife. It was a very tense search and every vessel they looked at contained beauty products, nothing more.

  “Where is it?” Gorman said with urgency. “It must be there. You’re not trying hard enough. Find it! Find it!”

  They opened doors and drawers with their eyes. They searched every corner of the room. Awen began to circle nervously, sensing impending doom. Now there was only one place to look — the en suite bathroom. They gazed through the door and saw an old-fashioned bathtub and a pair of sinks, a mirror, and a cabinet.

  Immediately their eyes fixed on the cabinet. Inside they could see three rows of small bottles filled with clear fluid.

  That’s it, Ellie thought.

  They entered quietly and closed the door. The cabinet looked sharp and modern compared to the other fixtures. Mika opened it and a bright white light blinked on inside. The bottles were made of clear glass. Each had a silver cap and a white label on which was printed: EVERLIFE-9 and an expiration date.

  “How much should we take?” Mika whispered.

  “Take three bottles from each row,” Gorman replied greedily, then thought better of it. “No, actually, take two. They’ll miss three.”

  The children removed the bottles as quickly as possible and put them in the pockets on their belts. Then they spread out those remaining to hide the gaps. All they could think about was getting out of there.

  But just as they turned, the bathroom door opened and they found themselves facing the child.

  They both jumped with shock, not just because she’d crept up on them so quietly but because they’d never seen such a startling mutant before.

  She was dressed in a hand-embroidered nightgown. She had the look of those raised on real food and sunlight. She was cute, with wide dark eyes and coils of curly brown hair. In her arms she held a big brown teddy bear. But it was not these things that startled them. It was her legs. She had the hind legs of a goat, reverse jointed, with little hooves covered in coils of fine brown hair. She was a satyr from Greek myth. The most striking mutant child they’d ever seen. She tightened the grip on her teddy bear and a hoof clicked on the hard floor.

  In a paroxysm of panic, Ellie lunged for her arm and dragged her in and shut the door.

  “Kill her,” Gorman yelled. “Kill her now!”

  The child pulled against Ellie’s grip with a frightened sob. She was powerful enough to hear through their minds what Mal Gorman had said. Mika and Ellie deactivated their invisibility shields, yanked off their headsets to get rid of him, and crouched down.

  “Don’t kill me!” she sobbed.

  “We’re not going to kill you,” Ellie whispered desperately. “We’re not here to hurt you. Please don’t tell your parents we’re here. Please be really quiet and let us explain who we are and why we’ve come.”

  But it had all happened too quickly. The teddy bear the child held was a borg as sophisticated as the lions guarding the house. As soon at it sensed her fear, it began to cry out in a teddy bear voice, “Help! Help! Grace is scared! Someone help her!”

  “Frag!” Mika hissed. “Frag!”

  He jumped up and locked the bathroom door, but within seconds, Raphael Mose and his wife were on the other side, banging and shouting.

  The child didn’t seem to hear them. Now she gazed at Ellie and Mika with intense curiosity. She could sense they were like her. For the first time in her life, she was with her own kind.

  Can you hear us? Mika thought.

  The child nodded.

  Do you believe we’re not going to hurt you?

  The child considered this and nodded again.

  I hear in your mind, she thought.

  And we hear in yours. We’re not going to hurt you. Look at our light. Just take a deep breath and look at us.

  She gazed between them, deep into them, as her parents continued to bang on the door.

  We were sent to your house by a bad man, Ellie thought. The man who told us to kill you. He took us away from our parents because we’re mutants and he’s trying to use us to hurt people. But we don’t like the man. We don’t want him to use us to hurt people. We’ve taken Everlife-9 from the bathroom cabinet and we’re going to use it to get rid of the bad man. Do you understand? We want to get rid of him. We don’t want to hurt anyone.

  The child listened and calmed down. When Ellie had finished, Grace felt the rush of The Whisper pour through her mind. Somewhere out there were more children … like her!

  You come from the other side of The Wall? she thought.

  Yes.

  But it’s dust on the other side of The Wall.

  We were told the same thing, Mika thought. And look, here we are, talking to you. You can hear The Whisper, can’t you? There are thousands of us on the other side of The Wall, and you’re one of us. Help us.

  The child took a deep breath. Mika and Ellie watched her, admiring her. “Grace?” her mother yelled through the door. “What are you doing? Let us in!”

  Mika and Ellie activated their shields and vanished. The child opened the door and faced her angry parents.

  The twins stood behind Grace, praying their shields didn’t fail them.

  “Oh, Grace!” the wom
an gushed. “What were you doing in here?”

  “I had a bad dream,” Grace replied.

  “Then why did Teddy start to shout?” Mose asked, concerned.

  “I woke up in here,” she replied. “And I was frightened, so Teddy got frightened.”

  “She must have been sleepwalking,” her mother said wearily. She took Grace’s hand. “Come on, let’s get you back to bed.”

  Grace and her mother left, but Raphael Mose stayed and looked sharply around the bathroom. As he walked forward, the twins were forced back until they were squashed against the edge of the tub. He opened the cabinet and looked at his bottles of Everlife-9. As he did so, the twins saw cold aggression in his eyes. Here was a man more broken than Mal Gorman. And they would have to deal with him soon. If they were to stop this war, Raphael Mose was a man they would need to fix.

  He closed the cabinet door, admired his young reflection, and left.

  When they were sure he was back in bed, Ellie and Mika walked quietly past him and out of the bedroom. On the landing, they paused and watched his wife close Grace’s door. Then they walked quickly down the stairs and through the house toward the kitchen. Mika primed the house alarm and they left, locking the kitchen door behind them.

  Awen ran ahead up the sloping lawn, and the twins followed quickly. When they reached the copse of trees, they looked back and saw a gold light in Grace’s window. She was watching them leave.

  I feel sorry for her, Ellie thought. Her father’s Raphael Mose. She’s going to get mixed up in this.

  We’ll look after her, Mika replied. If she needs looking after. I get the feeling she can look after herself.

  9 Dangerous Friends

  Kobi’s first night in The Shadows was cold. He’d forgotten how cold it could be. The damp permeated everything, and nothing ever dried. Clothes rotted in drawers, carpets rotted on the floor, and curtains blackened and fell to bits at the windows. The platform was to blame, and the burst river, and ultimately, the adults who had made this mess.

  A couple of hours after they arrived, his father decided to go and find John, who’d moved his old pub in Soho to the eleventh floor of the Future Communication Building. He invited Kobi to join him, but Kobi didn’t feel like it. He felt strange, a little sick, and he didn’t understand what was wrong with him. So he said he felt ill and stayed behind.

  But although he tried to sleep, he couldn’t. His clothes and the bed were damp, and through the walls he could hear all the people around him. Children fretting, adults talking, doors opening and closing, and people walking up and down the passage. The room had no window, so it felt like a cardboard box left in the middle of somebody else’s house.

  He tossed and turned in the bed, unable to get comfortable and vaguely aware that he was missing out on something. He was also starting to feel guilty. He was in a safe place, but where were his friends? What had happened to Mika and Audrey … and Tom? Tom had been left without a game partner when Kobi stopped playing the game. Kobi hadn’t cared at the time, but he was starting to care now.

  He tried to call Mika but got no reply. Mika’s companion had been taken away by Mal Gorman, but Kobi didn’t know this.

  He lay in the darkness feeling stifled and restless. Wondering if coming to this place had been a mistake.

  His father returned after a few hours, looking warmed by beer and good company. He brought the bustle of the building with him. He talked loudly and filled the small room with movement. He didn’t seem to care that everyone around them could hear what he was saying through the walls.

  Kobi lay with his hands behind his head, watching his father change into his pajamas.

  “John’s really landed on his feet here,” Abe said. “The bar was packed. He’s got the old pub sign on the wall and they even salvaged his chairs and tables. Real wood. Two hundred years old. It’s good in there … a really good atmosphere. You should come next time.”

  “I’m not old enough to drink beer,” Kobi said.

  “True,” his father replied. “But you’re old enough to be sociable. They let kids in.”

  “They’re all younger than me.”

  His father looked at him, with one leg in his pajamas. “Do you still feel ill?” he asked.

  “Sort of,” Kobi replied. “And guilty,” he admitted. “All my friends are gone.”

  His father finished putting his pajamas on and sat on the bed, next to his son. “Have you spoken to any of them? Have you tried calling Mika?”

  “Yes. His companion’s switched off.”

  “They’ve probably taken it away,” his father said.

  “That’s what I thought,” Kobi replied.

  “We were talking about it in the bar,” his father said. “You mustn’t feel guilty. Everyone believes you did the right thing. They’re all saying what a smart boy you are. You’re a hero, Kobi.”

  “No, I’m not,” Kobi replied.

  “You are,” his father insisted. “You were smart enough to realize that the government was lying to you, and you refused to let it exploit you. They tricked you into playing a game that was training you for war! They can’t get away with that, Kobi. I don’t regret coming here for one moment.”

  Kobi was quiet.

  His father tried to see his son’s eyes through his hair. “Are you regretting coming here?”

  “Maybe,” Kobi admitted. He felt compelled to admit it now that the feeling was so strong. “I feel weird. Like I’m in the wrong place.”

  “Try to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning. We’ve had a really difficult day. This situation will be much easier to cope with after a good night’s sleep. I’m proud of you, Kobi. Really proud. And so are the SLF. There are some of them living in this building. I met them in the bar.”

  Kobi sat up.

  “The SLF are terrorists, Dad.”

  “They fight for liberation, Kobi. They’re the voice of The Shadows’ people.”

  “Since when were you a supporter of the SLF?” Kobi asked sharply. “You hate politics.”

  “I’m not a supporter, I just happened to meet some in the bar, that’s all. One of them bought me a beer and we talked about you. They’re good people. They’re your friends, Kobi. They’re offering you protection.”

  “My friends are somewhere else,” Kobi said. “I don’t even know where my friends are.”

  “Look, just try to get some sleep. You’re very tired.”

  His father climbed into bed and turned off the light. Kobi listened to him trying to settle in the damp bed. A few minutes later he began to snore softly, and Kobi lay in the darkness, alone and longing for morning so he could get up and work and think about something else.

  But Kobi wouldn’t have to wait until morning to have something else to think about. A couple of hours before dawn, he heard people stirring in the rooms around them, doors opening and low voices in the passage. A baby woke up and started to cry.

  Kobi sat up and turned on the light.

  “What’s going on?” his father asked sleepily.

  “I don’t know. Will you go and ask them?”

  “You go.”

  “I don’t want to, I don’t know them.”

  His father sat up slowly and groped around at the end of the bed for his sweater. But before he found it, there was a hard knock on the door that made them both jump. His father clambered hurriedly out of bed and opened it. A man stood beyond, panting as if he’d just run up the stairs. “You’re an industrial robot engineer, aren’t you?” he said quickly.

  “Yes,” Abe replied. “What’s wrong?”

  “We need you,” the man panted. “Have you got any tools with you?”

  “Yes,” Abe said, pointing to his bag on the desk.

  “Then follow me.”

  Abe grabbed his bag, Kobi jumped out of bed, and they both followed the man out of the room.

  The passage beyond was empty. Everyone had beat them downstairs.

  “What’s happening?” Abe asked.

/>   “I’ll have to show you,” the man panted. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t even describe it, but you could save a boy’s life.”

  “Really?” Abe said, looking scared. They ran hard down the stairs. When they reached the eleventh floor, they followed the man into an area near the buffer zone. A large crowd had gathered there. It parted to let them through and they saw a strange black mass lying on the floor.

  “Oh my odd,” Abe said. “What is it?”

  “We don’t know. But you’ve got to get it off him or he’ll die.”

  It looked like a giant dead spider with its legs contracted around the body of its last kill. A big black cocoon. There was some kind of web stretched between the legs, encasing the body within, and a pair of bloody feet stuck out one end of it.

  Abe and Kobi crouched down next to the dark mass. Through the net they saw a pale face. The face of a boy with short red hair and a small silver disc in the middle of his forehead. One of the black legs was clamped over the bridge of his nose and he was coated in a viscous orange slime. His breath was shallow, as if he was struggling to breathe. The spider cocoon was locked fast around the child. Abe felt over a leg and tried to pull it back and cut his fingers on the barbs.

  “Get more light,” he demanded. “Get some lamps so I can see what I’m doing. Where did he come from?”

  “Sandwood Seven,” a woman replied. “It’s a town on the north coast of Scotland. We think he was trying to escape from the fortress in Cape Wrath.”

  “So he’s one of our children? One they took from the arcades?”

  “He must be. But he was found in a Tank Meat factory. He fell though a skylight in the roof. The security guards heard the glass break, but by the time they got there, this thing was around him and they couldn’t get it off. Apparently, the streets of the town were crawling with soldiers, probably searching for him. He must have escaped from the fortress. When the soldiers left, the security guards sent the boy to us. One of them had a daughter who was taken. He was very upset.”

 
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