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Losing lila, p.16
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       Losing Lila, p.16

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  There was no gauze. No wound. Nothing. Just clean, bare, unblemished skin.

  I lost my grip. The vase shot towards the floor. Jack reacted before I could blink, diving to catch it before it crashed into a million shards. He straightened up, throwing me a glare, and nodding his head at the door and the hulking shadow looming behind it.

  I didn’t follow his gaze. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his chest. From the place where there should have been a great big hole, or at the very least the bloody, puckered remains of a scar, and instead all there was to see was perfect eggshell skin.

  I found my voice. ‘What the—’

  Before I could say hell, Jack lifted a finger to his lips, returning me to my stunned silence. ‘Bugs,’ he mouthed. ‘Guard.’ He put the vase back on the windowsill.

  ‘You were shot!’ I mouthed back, enunciating each word into a silent vacuum. ‘Jack. You were shot. Where’s the hole?’ I pointed to his stomach for further emphasis, drawing a circle in the air to indicate a giant hole. I had seen the bullet hit him, had heard it smack into him. I had seen with my own eyes the blood gushing out and Jack falling to his knees in the dirt. I had not imagined it. So, where in hell’s name was the bullet hole?

  Jack bent his head to look and placed his hands over his stomach at the point the bullet had gone in. Then he looked back up at me and shook his head. He looked as confused as I was. He reached out and took hold of my hand and pulled me into the bathroom, closing the door behind us. He turned both taps on full. I had already disposed of the bug that had reappeared in my jeans – wedging it down the back of the seat in one of the Unit’s cars. Hopefully, they would think it had just fallen out. I sat down on the edge of the toilet seat. Jack knelt in front of me.

  ‘What the hell is going on?’ he said.

  ‘I was going to ask you that same question. You were shot. How are you walking around?’ I couldn’t take my eyes off his stomach.

  ‘What are you doing here? Where’s Alex?’ Jack asked. ‘I thought you guys made it out of there?’

  ‘We did. We came back. Alex is nearby. He couldn’t come back onto the base. The Unit are after him. You guys are in trouble.’

  Jack scowled at the ground then his eyes flew back to me. ‘How long have I been unconscious?’

  ‘About two weeks.’

  He frowned once more, his hands moving to his stomach. ‘Just two weeks?’ he asked in amazement. Then he seemed to register something. ‘Why’d you come back?’ he demanded. His tone was accusatory and I felt my temper flare in response.

  ‘For you, you idiot. And for Mum.’

  Jack’s eyes darkened. ‘Alex should have got you away from here. What was he doing bringing you back?’

  ‘Excuse me for having free will! It’s not up to Alex. Or you. It was my decision to come back. The others are coming too.’

  ‘The others?’

  ‘Yes, the others – Demos and the others. We all came back to rescue you and Mum.’

  I noted the familiar grinding of his jaw, though I couldn’t tell whether it was the memory of Mum or Demos’s name causing it. He hadn’t exactly had long to process the news about Mum or about Demos before he was lying in the dirt with a bullet in his gut.

  ‘The others are in Washington,’ I said. ‘We have a plan. It’s complicated and I don’t have time to explain. The doctor’s coming to check on you in ten minutes . . .’ My gaze dropped to his chest again. I reached a finger and prodded him where the bullet had gone in. ‘This is weird.’

  ‘Coming from you . . .’ He looked at me, arching his eyebrows.

  Oh my God. My jaw unhinged itself. What was he saying? My mind had automatically been looking for a medical reason for the lack of scar or paralysis – a wonder cure or miracle drug, stitches that were invisible, some skin grown in a Petri dish that they’d grafted over the hole. But what if it was, in fact, none of the above? What if Jack had an ability too? What if he could heal himself?

  My eyes flew to his hand, the hand he’d used to punch a tree. It too showed no signs of bruising. His knuckles had been as swollen as balloons just two weeks ago and now they looked totally normal, not a scratch on them.

  No. No way. As if. Jack – one of us? A psy? It wasn’t possible. It would be the most ironic joke the universe had ever played.

  Why no way, though? I’d seen stranger things. I’d witnessed people astrally projecting to the other side of the world while their bodies flopped in front of me. I’d seen church-going, Oprah-worshipping ladies removing memories from drug lords, and I’d suffered a tiny Japanese girl spying on my most intimate, graphic thoughts. For crying out loud, I had personally made water fly against the laws of gravity. Why was I, of all people, having an issue over the reality of my brother being able to heal himself?

  Maybe it was because this was the same person who had spent five years trying to hunt people like us down, the guy who had been so mad when he found out what I could do that Alex had had to form a human barricade between us so he didn’t kill me. The person who’d used a pine tree as a punchbag to take out his frustration. I didn’t see him punching any trees now, though. On the contrary, he looked as though he’d won the lottery and the size of the cheque was just starting to sink in.

  Jack stood up, leaving me staring at him like a sea bass from the toilet seat. ‘OK, let’s get out of here.’ He reached out a hand to grab me.

  ‘No!’ I yelled, throwing his arm backwards with a glance. I basked in the surprise that lit his face. ‘You can’t go!’ I blurted. ‘We have to wait. The Unit’s guarding you. And they know all about me. Richard Stirling threatened me. And Dad. We can’t go without Dad.’

  ‘Dad?’

  ‘Yes, Dad.’

  ‘What are you talking about?

  ‘Dad. He’s here. He’s working for them. I told you all this.’

  ‘Unless it escaped your attention, I’ve been in a coma, Lila.’

  I flushed the loo again with a blink of my eyes so the water gurgle would cover Jack’s shouting. ‘Dad’s been here the whole time. He came as soon as he heard something had happened to you.’

  Jack hung his head. ‘I heard him talking to me. I just thought . . . I thought I was dreaming.’

  ‘No, not dreaming. It was real. He’s working for them . . .’ I paused, trying to look innocent. ‘Did you have any other dreams?’

  Jack was staring at the floor, but now he glared up at me through his lashes. That was a scowl. Definitely a scowl.

  ‘Oh yeah,’ he said. That was anger. Definitely anger.

  ‘When I’m done sorting out the Unit, Alex and I are going to have a little chat.’

  ‘Over my dead body.’

  ‘I’m thinking more over his dead body.’ He glowered at me some more then held up a hand to stop me in my tracks. I thought about making him slap himself. It wasn’t like it would cause any damage. Tempting.

  ‘Look, hold up,’ Jack whispered. ‘Did you just say Dad’s working for the Unit? What are you talking about?’ He took hold of my shoulders.

  ‘It’s not what you think, Jack. Dad’s been trying to find a way of stopping Demos this whole time. He doesn’t know about Mum being alive. He has no idea what the Unit are really doing.’

  His eyes popped. ‘Well, why the hell didn’t you tell him? How could you let him work for them?’

  ‘Because Alex said he could be an asset. He thought it would give us a way into the headquarters.’

  Jack ran a hand through his hair and started pacing the tiny bathroom. ‘OK, we can discuss this later,’ he finally said, turning to me. ‘Let’s just get out of here first.’

  I jumped in front of the door, barring it with my body. ‘We can’t just waltz out of here,’ I said, frustration mounting on top of my irritation. ‘We’ll never get off the base – half the Unit are waiting for me outside. With guns. We’ll get caught and then what?’ Jack looked like he was about to open his mouth and argue back. ‘It’s OK,’ I hurried on, ‘I’m meeting Alex in a few ho
urs and he’ll have figured something out. A plan. He said he was working on a plan. We need to trust him.’

  Jack narrowed his eyes at me while simultaneously cocking an eyebrow. He shook his head finally. ‘I don’t like this. I don’t want to wait till the morning for Alex to come up with a plan. I say we leave now, you get off the base and I’ll head straight to the Unit and break Mum out.’

  I rolled my eyes at him. ‘For one – you’re not doing anything without me. And for two – are you insane? You and whose army? You think you can just walk right in there and they’ll hand her over? You – we – can’t go now. Besides, you’ll set off the alarm. If we wait for Demos and the others then we’re more evenly matched. And those guys are in Washington right now. Demos is setting something up there with Stirling Enterprises. It all needs to coincide or it won’t work.’

  ‘What won’t work? What’s Demos setting up in Washington? What are you talking about?’

  A Mexican drug lord, I thought, millions of dollars of stolen cocaine and drug money. A big-time set-up operation. You know, that sort of thing.

  ‘I don’t have time to go into it,’ I gabbled. ‘You need to get back into bed and fake like you’re still asleep or something.’

  ‘I don’t like this plan,’ Jack muttered, squaring his shoulders.

  ‘Well, tough,’ I said. ‘You’ve been sleeping. I’ve been having to work things out. I’ll come back first thing in the morning. I promise.’

  ‘What about Sara?’ Jack interrupted. ‘Where is she?’

  I got ready to restrain Jack, dropping my gaze to his hands. ‘I don’t know if we can trust her.’

  ‘What are you talking about?’ Jack’s eyes flared wildly. ‘Of course we can trust her. Why haven’t you told her already? She’ll help us.’

  ‘No, Jack! You can’t go telling her anything. We don’t know if she’s part of this or not. She might be . . . she interrogated me when I got back. She acts like she doesn’t know, but how can she not?’

  ‘Are you crazy? I worked for the Unit and I had no clue. This is Sara we’re talking about.’ He tried to grab the door handle. ‘I’ve got to see her.’

  ‘No, Jack.’ I dodged sideways, blocking him, locking the door with a silent click. ‘It’s just too dangerous.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘Don’t say anything to Sara. Promise me.’

  He scowled some more at me, his mouth twisting into a grimace. But he didn’t argue, which was the closest Jack ever came to acquiescing.

  ‘Look, I’ll tell you everything tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Just right now get back into bed. Please. Before the doctor comes around. You have to fake it. If he sees you, he’ll freak.’

  ‘You think it is me, then? That I did this?’ Jack asked, his eyes huge, his hand stroking his stomach like it was a newborn baby. He looked up at me suddenly. ‘Do you think I really am like you?’

  I raised an eyebrow. What other explanation was there?

  ‘I mean,’ Jack went on, shaking his head, ‘it’s weird. I can sort of feel it happening . . . inside . . . but it’s just crazy. I mean . . . how? I wasn’t like this before.’

  I shot him a death stare. Not two weeks ago he’d thought that people like me were sociopathic nutjobs who needed to be contained, but now he could do something cool it was a totally different story. It made me want to scream.

  ‘It’s genetic,’ I said. ‘You knew that. It can be triggered by traumatic events, I think. Look, I’ll explain later.’ I unlocked the door. Yeah, I’d explain all about that, and about Mum too. Happy mutant families.

  ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘whatever you do, don’t let them take you to prisoner holding. The doctor said the Unit wanted to transfer you, but if they take you there then they’ll find out about you and they’ll probably start cutting you open to find out what exactly you can heal from.’

  Jack started to frown as the reality of the situation dawned.

  ‘You need to pretend like you’re dying – make your stats keep bouncing. The doctor said if they kept spiking, he’d have to keep you here. Can you manage that? Do some sit-ups or something when no one’s looking. And whatever you do, don’t talk to Sara. I mean it. Not until we know for sure we can trust her.’

  He opened the door and took a step towards the bed, then he turned and darted back towards me. In silence he grabbed me into a bear hug, then he dropped me just as suddenly and dived onto the bed.

  The door to the corridor started to open. I glanced back at the bed and the sheet pulled itself over Jack’s inert body and the IV reattached itself to the plaster on his arm. The pads and wires suckered back onto his chest in a polka-dot formation that didn’t alter the flatline read-out one bit.

  ‘How’s things going in here? All quiet?’ Dr Roberts asked, closing the door behind him.

  ‘Mmmm, all quiet. Nothing to report,’ I said. ‘I don’t think he’s waking up any time soon.’

  The doctor smiled at me and walked over to the bed. He paused a second, staring at the horizontal line on the monitor and then at the randomly suckered wires.

  ‘Why are his wires all over the place?’ he asked, looking at me. ‘Have you moved them?’

  I chewed the inside of my cheek. ‘Um, I was just trying to figure out how they worked.’

  ‘Want to be a doctor one day, huh?’ he said, unsuckering them one by one and placing them in the right positions. The machine started up its rhythmic beat.

  ‘Er, yeah, maybe. I’m not very good at science, though. And besides,’ I said, looking at Jack’s faking-it coma face, ‘I think Jack’s the healer in the family.’

  Dr Roberts looked up at me and smiled, but then the smile faded away. ‘Lila, someone from the Unit just called.’ He paused. ‘They’re moving Jack tomorrow.’

  My own smile died on my lips. ‘But you said if his stats kept bouncing, he’d be kept here – and they have – his stats have been bouncing – they’ve been bouncing a lot. See!’ I pointed at the read-out jumping all over the place. ‘They’re bouncing like crazy.’

  Dr Roberts shook his head. ‘I know. I’m sorry. I managed to keep him here as long as I could. They were going to transfer him tonight and I stopped them, but they’re moving him first thing tomorrow. There’s nothing more I can do.’

  I glanced at Jack. He wasn’t faking it so well anymore. His forehead was creasing, his lips pursing, the heart-rate monitor was spiking like a mountain range.

  ‘He’s not awake, though,’ I cried.

  The doctor pursed his lips and took a deep breath. ‘They don’t care. They say they have the medical equipment to be able to take care of him now. I really don’t understand why they want him so badly – but they do.’

  Sure they did. And they were going to want him a whole lot more when they found out what he could do.

  ‘Are you coming? Visiting time’s over.’

  I stared at the doctor who was holding the door open. Then I looked frantically back at Jack. I bent down, took his hand and whispered in his ear.

  ‘I’ll be back in the morning. I promise.’

  29

  Unsurprisingly I didn’t sleep. Instead I sat on the edge of my bed in the dark trying to put my thoughts in some sort of order. It wasn’t like they could be catalogued and filed, though. My mind was cartwheeling from one thing to the next like it was performing an Olympic floor routine. I kept thinking back to Jack. How was it possible? How could he heal himself? And why had it suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Maybe the shooting had triggered it. It was a possibility. Wasn’t it trauma that triggered whatever the hell kind of gene we both had?

  I really wanted to start experimenting – see if I could find out what kinds of injury Jack could sustain and still heal from. A bullet was pretty hardcore. What about an axe? Did he feel pain too? My head jerked up . . . could he die? Another unsettling thought followed swiftly behind – was his power better than mine? No way. It was so unfair. For the first time in my life I had been better than him at something.

 
; I pulled myself together. He might be able to heal himself, but I could control nature. Or at least water . . . Or at least I thought I could. I hadn’t had any further chances to experiment since flooding the bathroom.

  I sat up and pulled my knees to my chest, wondering what Key would have told Alex by now. Key wouldn’t have seen my meeting with Richard Stirling as it was inside the headquarters, but he would have been at the hospital and seen Jack was up and about so he would also know about Jack’s new-found ability and about the Unit moving him in the morning.

  And Alex would definitely agree that we couldn’t let the Unit take him now. So, we’d have to change the plan and rescue him from the hospital instead, and then go back for my mum and to kick Richard Stirling’s ass later. Whatever Alex had been planning, whatever he’d said before about split resources, the circumstances had changed, so the plan needed to change too. And Alex would figure something out. I didn’t need to worry. I’d meet him in a few hours and we’d make our move then. The Unit wouldn’t know what hit them. Hopefully Demos and the others would also be back by then.

  But where did that leave my dad? I mulled it over. I couldn’t leave my dad behind. But then, I pulled at the cover on the bed, bunching it between my fists, what about my mum? How was it possible to rescue her and Jack and my dad simultaneously from three different places – when they were all under guard?

  Oh God, I needed Alex’s help. I wasn’t known for my tactical planning. I was more of a rash, impulsive, just do it and worry about it later kind of girl. That’s why I was here in the first place, wasn’t it? Almost stabbing someone in the eye? Impulsive. Stealing my dad’s credit card and jumping on a flight to California. Also impulsive.

  I’d promised Alex I wouldn’t do anything else reckless – but what was the alternative: stand aside and let them take Jack and cut him into little pieces to see if he’d grow back?

  I looked up at the ceiling, hoping to God that Key was up there and not taking a pee or rest break. ‘If you’re there,’ I mouthed, ‘please tell Alex to figure something out. And fast.’

 
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