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Losing lila, p.13
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       Losing Lila, p.13

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  We sat thinking in silence for a minute, the waves slamming into the struts of the pier below us as if they could sense my own feelings of frustration and anger.

  ‘What about Jack?’ I finally asked. ‘They’re going to transfer him to prisoner holding even if my dad takes the job. They said they’d still need to process him even if they’re going to drop the charges.’ I looked at Alex. ‘Do you really think they’ll let him go like my dad says? Do you think they’re telling the truth?’

  ‘No.’ Alex shook his head. ‘There’s no way, not if they think he might know the truth about what they’re really doing. It’s too dangerous for them to risk it.’

  ‘So, shouldn’t we try to spring him now while we still can?’

  Alex shook his head again, grimacing. ‘I think we might have to let them transfer him to prisoner holding. It’s easier having just one target. If we’re trying to break Jack out of the hospital and your mum out of headquarters, our focus is split, as are our resources. And there just aren’t enough of us. It would be easier to mount just one offensive against the headquarters.’

  He saw the look on my face. ‘Lila, this was my job. This is what I’m trained for, remember?’

  ‘But what if we can’t get inside the headquarters?’

  ‘We will,’ Alex answered calmly. ‘When the time’s right. You need to trust me.’

  I leaned into his shoulder. ‘I do trust you,’ I whispered. It was all just so frustrating. I didn’t know how he could stay so calm.

  ‘Do you trust Sara?’ Alex asked.

  I turned to him. ‘I don’t know. For the most part I think she’s genuine. I really want to trust her, but . . .’

  ‘But what?’

  ‘I don’t know. I just don’t know.’

  ‘Always listen to your instincts, Lila. If you aren’t sure, she stays out of this. Don’t tell her anything, OK?’

  I nodded and buried my head once more in his shoulder.

  23

  ‘I think you should take the job, Dad.’

  My dad looked up from his papers and put his mug of tea down on the table. ‘You do?’ he said.

  ‘Yes.’ I took a piece of toast and started spreading butter on it. ‘Like you say, Demos needs to be stopped. If you can help, you should.’

  Lying, lying, lying. I was actually getting better with all the practice. My face was no longer turning as red as a stoplight and my voice no longer went up a pitch in tone.

  ‘Well, I still don’t know,’ my dad said. ‘It would mean moving over here and I’ve not given any notice back in London and—’

  ‘You could ask for compassionate leave. For Jack. I’m sure the hospital would understand.’

  He paused. I knew he would already have done the maths on this. I was just giving him my endorsement.

  ‘Well, if you’re sure. I don’t want you here, but on the other hand, I actually think we might be better off near the Unit, with the security they can offer us. And I’m not going anywhere until Jack’s on his feet again—’ He broke off abruptly, realising what he’d just said.

  I kept spreading butter. ‘You should tell them today. You know, get the ball rolling. Keep busy,’ I added, taking a bite of toast which instantly got lodged like a burr in my throat.

  My dad nodded to himself then swept his papers up into a loose pile and walked through into the living room to make the call.

  I watched him go then put my toast down and sat with my head in my hands.

  ‘Will you be OK if I leave you here for a moment?’ my dad asked. ‘I need to speak to someone about starting work. I need to get into a lab. There’s some things I need to set up.’

  ‘I’ll be fine,’ I answered weakly. ‘I’ve got an armed guard on the door, remember.’ I glanced at the opaque glass of the hospital door, through which the wavy black shape of a Unit soldier could be seen.

  My dad came and ruffled my hair. ‘I like your hair by the way. Suits you,’ he said before he turned to open the door. ‘Back soon.’

  I swivelled to face Jack. Same old, same old. The damn beep of machines and wheezing hush of the ventilator.

  ‘Wake up, goddamn you,’ I hissed. ‘I need you to hear me.’

  Nothing.

  ‘You need a shave.’

  Nothing.

  ‘Dad’s working for the Unit.’

  Nothing.

  ‘He’s looking for a cure for people like Demos.’

  Nothing.

  I sighed then bent forward until I was right by his ear.

  ‘I’m madly in love with Alex and while you’ve been sleeping he kidnapped me and took me to Mexico and we went skinny-dipping. And let me tell you – it was A. Lot. Of. Fun. I’m sure you want to kick his ass, but oh, what a shame, you’re in a coma.’

  Nothing. Then the machine, the beeping machine, started going faster. It was momentary, but the read-out showed a spike in his heart rate.

  ‘You can hear me,’ I said, blinking at Jack’s inert body in astonishment. Was I imagining it or had the peaceful expression on his face changed? Was that a muscle twitching by his eye? I bent down again so my lips were pressed against his ear. ‘Did I tell you about the double room?’

  The machine definitely hiked for a second.

  Beep. Beep. BEEP.

  I laughed under my breath, wondering if I should keep going to see if I could get him to wake up. Then I sat firmly back in my seat. I didn’t want to give him a stroke. I leaned forward one more time. ‘Please don’t kick his butt by the way.’

  ‘You must be Jack’s sister.’

  I very nearly fell out of my chair. I spun round. A man was standing in the doorway. He was wearing military uniform underneath a white doctor’s coat. I caught the flash of medals slung across his chest. He was early thirties I guessed, with short dark hair and quick brown eyes. He crossed to the bed and picked up Jack’s chart.

  ‘I’m Dr Roberts. Your brother’s doctor,’ he said.

  I studied him as he read the chart. He was about five foot ten, average build. He didn’t have the square musculature of the soldiers from the Unit, nor was he wearing black, but you never knew. I wasn’t going to trust anyone, especially not in this place.

  He unwrapped his stethoscope from where he had it looped round his neck and pressed it against Jack’s chest, waited a few beats then noted something down on the chart. Then he crossed to the machines and started checking the read-outs. After a few seconds he looked over at Jack then back at the chart.

  ‘Something the matter?’ I asked.

  ‘No,’ he answered, still studying the read-out. ‘It looks like he had a spike in his heart rate a minute or two ago. I’m not sure what caused it.’ He frowned at the read-out and then he frowned directly at me.

  I flashed him a wide-eyed, innocent smile and looked back at Jack. ‘How’s he doing?’

  ‘He’s healing well. Very well. We’ll take a look at how the wound is doing tomorrow. His vitals are fine, though. You should keep talking to him. There’s a chance he can hear your voice – it’ll help him come round.’

  Or induce a heart attack.

  ‘Will he be able to walk?’ I asked, clearing my throat.

  The doctor stared at me with what I imagined was the expression he wore when passing on bad news to relatives. ‘It’s impossible to tell at this stage how serious the damage is,’ he said. ‘The bullet went in here,’ he pointed to Jack’s stomach. ‘It nicked the rib here at the front and then lodged against his spinal cord here at the back. Until he wakes up and we can do further tests we won’t know whether or not he’s lost the use of his legs.’

  I closed my eyes for a moment. ‘When will he wake up?’ I asked.

  ‘Who knows? He was heavily sedated at first, but we’ve eased up on that. These guys,’ he said, nodding at the bulky shadow of the Unit soldier standing on the other side of the door, ‘they want him up and about last week already. They’re putting pressure on me to bring him round, but there’s little I can do – he’ll wake up w
hen he wakes up – his body needs time to recover from all the trauma. But now they’re talking about moving him soon to their headquarters. They don’t care if he’s conscious or not. I don’t know who these people think they are but . . .’ He muttered something under his breath.

  My heart was hammering. The Unit were going to move Jack? I knew that Alex had said it might be for the best – all that stuff about split assets and resources – but now it was actually happening it suddenly didn’t seem like the best idea. I realised the doctor was still talking to me and in a daze turned back to face him.

  ‘I’m just still a little concerned about the way his stats are spiking,’ he was saying. ‘If it keeps happening, I’m going to have to keep him here under observation.’

  He was staring at me intently, then just like that, he turned and walked out. I stared after him, blinking, wondering if I might have misheard or misinterpreted what he’d said or the laser-beam stare. But no, he’d clearly been offering a suggestion – a way to help keep Jack here in the hospital under observation. I smiled to myself. Maybe, with a bit more luck and a few more innuendoes whispered in Jack’s ear, I could find a way of getting my brother out of here before they transferred him. But was that the best plan? Or was I just panicking?

  I got up and walked to the door, feeling frustrated. I threw it open and the man guarding it turned to face me, barring my exit with a gun the size of my arm held against his chest. I looked up, glaring, ready to demand he moved when I stopped short, drawing in a sharp breath.

  ‘Jonas?’ I stuttered.

  The man in front of me was actually a boy. He was only a year or two older than I was. He had chestnut eyes and skin like burnished copper. In another lifetime, in a world without Alex, I might have found him hot.

  ‘Lila,’ he said, smiling. He gave a quick look up and down the corridor which was empty for the moment. ‘I didn’t want to disturb you.’

  ‘So, you’re what? On duty?’ I asked.

  He flashed me a smile that showed off the white of his teeth and made him look about six, playing dress-up in commando clothes.

  ‘Yeah.’ He looked embarrassed, which was something I supposed. ‘This whole thing with your brother and Lieutenant Wakeman, it’s kind of big. They’re just wanting to make sure he’s secure.’

  Right. Until they could transfer him to prisoner holding and keep him there indefinitely. That kind of secure.

  He saw me wince because he started to mumble. ‘I mean, I don’t think Jack did anything wrong. It wasn’t like he had any choice . . . what with you being taken and then Demos and . . . what else could he do . . . ?’ He started scuffing the floor with the toe of his boot.

  I didn’t want to hear it. Making small talk with a boy holding a gun, who would shoot me without a second thought if he knew what I was, wasn’t exactly high on my list of priorities.

  I squeezed past him. ‘I’m going to get a coffee,’ I said as politely as I could before starting to walk fast down the corridor.

  ‘Lila,’ he called out after me. I turned round, plastering a smile on my face. ‘I was just thinking, wondering really, would you like to get a coffee with me later?’

  I stood there, in the middle of the corridor, trying to process his request. It seemed such a bizarre question given the circumstances. We were in the hushing lull of an intensive care unit. He was effectively guarding my brother, who was lying prisoner in a coma on the other side of the door. And I could, if I so wanted to, snatch the gun from his hands before he had time to react and turn it on him. Was he seriously asking me on a date?

  I started to open my mouth, my brain formulating a weak excuse about Jack and my dad not letting me date anyone in uniform, when I realised I was staring a gift horse in the mouth. A gold-plated, diamond-encrusted gift horse. I was meant to be gathering information after all. Jonas was maybe the chink we were looking for.

  ‘Sure,’ I said to Jonas, smiling widely, ‘that would be nice.’

  24

  At lunchtime Sara arrived. She looked stressed. She was wearing a pale grey silk blouse and a pencil skirt with black high heels. She went straight to Jack and followed her usual routine, stroking his brow and taking his hand before kissing him. I was being so sceptical and unfair. Maybe she genuinely was the tragic girlfriend. I really hoped so because I didn’t want Jack to wake up from his coma and discover his girlfriend was an evil, two-faced psycho. It might affect his rehab.

  ‘Sara?’ I said, taking the chair opposite her.

  She looked up at me and I saw again with a pang of guilt how tired she looked. The circles under her eyes were darkening, making her face look grey, while her eyes themselves were pink-rimmed. She looked like she’d been up crying all night. I felt my words catch in my throat. It would be so good to tell her everything. I pressed my lips together to stop myself. I was being impulsive. I’d promised Alex no reckless behaviour.

  Aside from the fact Sara could be one of Richard Stirling’s evil minions, we were bugged. I had found the little metal splinter inside my jeans again. God only knew who was breaking into the house every day and rooting through my clothes – hopefully not Jonas – because despite my daily laundry missions, they kept on reappearing.

  I needed to weigh my words carefully. ‘Do you think Jack will be OK?’ I asked.

  ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘yes, he’ll be fine. He has to be.’ There were tears glistening in her eyes. She suddenly let out a sob which startled me. ‘You have no idea how scared I was, Lila, when they brought him back to the base. When he disappeared, I was terrified. He didn’t tell me where he was going. I guess he didn’t trust me.’ She wiped her eyes with a tissue and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

  ‘And then, when we found out they’d broken out the prisoners and taken Rachel . . . I came under so much scrutiny. They thought I must have known. That I was a part of it. I told them I didn’t know anything. I’m not even sure they believe me now.’ She rested her head in her hands.

  ‘But you didn’t have anything to do with it,’ I said.

  ‘I know. But I wish,’ she paused, looking up and holding my gaze, ‘I wish that Jack had trusted me. I’d do anything for Jack,’ she said, her bottom lip trembling. ‘Anything.’

  I felt my heart ratchet up a notch. ‘Do you know about my mum?’ I asked, taking a deep breath. It was innocuous enough as questions go – I wasn’t asking her straight up whether she knew my mum was being held and experimented on. I wanted to see if there’d be some kind of spark, something registering on Sara’s face that she knew about Mum being alive, but her face stayed blankly innocent and she simply asked, ‘What about her?’

  ‘About what happened to her?’ I said.

  ‘I know why she was killed,’ Sara answered guardedly, frowning at me as if she wasn’t sure she understood the question. ‘I know that Jack and Alex joined the Unit to find her killers. And that Jack would do anything to stop them. As would I.’ Again with the long stare.

  I sat back in my chair and looked at Jack. If Sara did know about my mum being held by the Unit, she deserved an Oscar for this performance. It was flawless. But why, then, was my instinct fighting against my desire to tell her everything? Was it just because there was too much at stake? Or because we were bugged? Or was it simply that I didn’t believe her?

  25

  My dad was staring at me as if I’d just waltzed into the room speaking fluent Japanese and wearing a clown costume.

  ‘He asked you for coffee?’ he spluttered.

  ‘Don’t have an aneurysm, Dad, it’s just a coffee.’

  ‘Er, well . . .’

  My dad had never had to deal with the issue of me and boys before because I’d never had a boyfriend – until now. But he didn’t know about Alex. True, we’d skipped the whole movie, popcorn, first base, prom thing, but Alex still qualified as my boyfriend. Maybe. It wasn’t as if we’d had time to discuss it. Perhaps one day we’d get to do something normal like go on a real date. And act like we were a normal couple as
opposed to a mutant teenager with mind-control issues and a special forces operative trained to kill me.

  ‘It’s not serious,’ I whispered to my dad, aware that Jonas was stationed on the other side of the door.

  ‘Yes, right, well . . .’ I could see my dad was struggling to cope with the idea of me and boys in the same sentence let alone in the same room, drinking coffee. ‘I guess that’s fine. I mean, at least you’ll be safe. You’re not going off the base, are you?’

  ‘No, Dad, we’ll stay right here. Just the cafeteria.’

  ‘OK, then.’ He nodded at me and I squirmed like a worm in a Petri dish. I wondered what kind of a reaction I’d get from him if I told him where I’d been and what I’d been doing with Alex just a few days ago.

  I bent to say goodbye to Jack. Still beeping. Still unresponsive. Then I opened the door. Jonas was there waiting, gun slung across his chest.

  ‘Hi, Lila,’ he said, beaming at me. Again I was struck by the contrast between his boyish smile and the huge black machine gun he was holding against his chest. He looked like a five-year-old wearing a GI Joe costume. Why did they need to recruit someone so young? Then it struck me that Jack and Alex had barely been older when the Unit had recruited them.

  ‘Hey,’ I said back.

  ‘I just have to wait to be relieved,’ he said, pointing at the door.

  ‘OK, I’ll go and order coffee. See you down there,’ I smiled. I hoped the smile was warm and flirty, but I had a feeling I looked more like I’d swallowed my own vomit.

  The cafeteria was on the ground floor. Ten or so plastic tables and a coffee concession stand to one side. I saw Dr Roberts at a far table. He smiled over at me before carrying on a conversation with a couple of nurses.

  I bought some coffee and then on a whim some cookies. I didn’t think I could actually find the words to flirt with Jonas so I’d just give him the cookies – like a third-grader. I didn’t know how to flirt. That much had been proved with regards to my failed attempts to seduce Alex over the last few years, not just the last few weeks. And besides, it felt wrong. So wrong. Even with the mitigating circumstances it felt like a betrayal.

 
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