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Losing lila, p.19
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       Losing Lila, p.19

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  I felt Jack tugging at the gun and turned back to him. ‘Jack, he’s OK. He’s not one of the Unit. You don’t need to use the gun.’

  The doctor raised his arms slowly and stepped into the room. I glanced at the door and silently pulled it to.

  ‘Lieutenant Loveday,’ Dr Roberts said in a low, even voice, ‘I think you should listen to your sister, you don’t need to use the gun. I’m not going to hurt you.’ He took a step nearer Jack, his eyes falling to his abdomen again. ‘I would like to examine you, though.’

  ‘No time for that, doctor,’ Jack said, letting go of the gun. I only just caught it before it hit the ground. It hovered at knee-height by Dr Roberts. His eyes flew to the gun dangling in mid-air, as though it was attached by invisible puppet strings to the ceiling, then his eyes tracked to me and his mouth fell wider open. Jack didn’t give him a chance to say anything. He grabbed hold of the doctor’s white coat and dragged him towards the door to the visitors’ room. I snatched up the gun and then ran round them both and blocked their way.

  ‘We don’t need to lock him up,’ I said to Jack, hoping my instinct was right. I turned to face the doctor. ‘Dr Roberts, I know this looks really . . . weird . . . and you have no reason to believe me . . . but please, just listen . . .’

  He said nothing. His eyes kept flitting between Jack and me. I hurried on, ‘The Unit aren’t trying to arrest Jack. They want to experiment on him. And on me. And I’m not talking about a simple blood test and an eye exam. Do you understand? They’re not what you think they are.’

  The doctor’s eyes flew to Jack’s stomach once again and I saw the questions start to ignite and flare in them.

  ‘My dad is going to be here any minute. And the Unit too. Please,’ I asked, ‘can you help us?’

  Dr Roberts’s eyes flashed to the gun I was holding as though doing a rapid calculation of odds times risk times likelihood of family insanity. I realised the nurse’s outfit and the gun weren’t helping us any. His brows drew together, knotting in the middle, and my heart sank. I was going to have to knock him out and just when I’d thought we could count on him.

  ‘What do you want me to do?’ he asked.

  I breathed for the first time in about sixty seconds. ‘Um, when they get here, stall them so we can get away with my dad?’

  Jack shook his head and stepped forward. ‘We need to get clear. They have a weapon that can take us out. We need to put as much distance between us and them as quickly as possible.’ He turned to me. ‘Where’s the getaway car?’ he asked. ‘Tell me there is one. Please tell me that.’

  I nodded, grateful finally for having done something right. ‘Yes, there’s a van. It’s out the back.’

  Jack turned back to the doctor. ‘OK, we’ll take the stairs, then. When they get here, can you send them up to another floor and—’ He was interrupted by the sound of stamping feet thundering down the hallway.

  Speak of the devil, I thought, and he appears.

  32

  Jack hauled me backwards into the visitors’ room. I tripped over Jonas’s head and he groaned in response. I ignored him, scrabbling into a crouch at Jack’s side, edging the knife that Jack had dropped across the floor and into my outstretched hand.

  ‘Where is he?’ a muffled voice demanded. It sounded like the Robocop one who’d taken me to see Richard Stirling. There was a moment’s pause. I felt a tiny movement as Jack shifted his weight to better balance the gun.

  Then Dr Roberts’s voice came – quiet, calm, convincing. ‘I sent him up for an MRI. His blood pressure was spiking. I needed to make sure we hadn’t missed something before you moved him.’

  ‘Is he OK?’

  That was my dad. He was just on the other side of the door. Beside me, Jack tensed.

  ‘What floor?’ the same guy from the Unit demanded.

  ‘The third,’ Dr Roberts replied.

  Angry footsteps beat a path out of the door and down the hallway, shouts accompanying them.

  ‘Dr Loveday?’ we heard Dr Roberts call out. There was a pause. ‘Do you mind staying for a moment. I need you to sign some release papers.’

  Footsteps headed towards us and Jack stood up just as Dr Roberts pulled open the door.

  My dad took a few seconds to take everything in. He blinked at us both in confusion as though trying to place us, then the expression on his face transformed into a frown as he took in my nurse’s outfit. The smile that had started to split his face at the sight of Jack standing faded into a slack-jawed horror mask as we watched his gaze slowly track to Jack’s stomach.

  ‘Hey, Dad,’ Jack smiled. ‘We’ve got to go. Coming?’

  My dad faltered, his mouth opening and shutting. ‘But – you—’ he stammered, glancing at the doctor. ‘I thought – you said he was having an MRI – what the hell is going on?’

  ‘Dad, there’s no time to explain,’ I interrupted. ‘You have to come with us now.’ My dad stared at me blank-faced and unmoving.

  ‘Now!’ I yelled, taking him by the arm and pulling him towards the door.

  Down the fire-exit steps, my dad asking at every turn where we were going. Jack’s white coat flapping, bare feet slapping; my heart combusting, breath coming in shallow waves. Expecting any minute for my head to be skewered and barbecued when the Unit discovered our escape and fired one of their weapons.

  ‘Where are we going?’ my dad asked.

  ‘This way, come on,’ I said, taking him by the hand and breaking into a sprint.

  At the end of the hallway I pushed the door back with my mind and it flew open ahead of us, crashing against the concrete walls. I almost sobbed with relief when I saw Key standing by the open doors of the van. He looked hyped on speed, his eyes round balls of worry in his head, his feet dancing on the sidewalk. His face dissolved with relief when he saw us.

  Then out the corner of my eye I caught sight of a dark shape. I twisted round just in time to see Jack raising the gun high above his head. What the hell was he doing? He looked like he was about to smack it down over Key’s head. I caught hold of the barrel in mid-air just before it cracked Key’s skull open and twisted it out of Jack’s hand. He made a grab for it, catching it before it hit the ground.

  ‘What are you doing?’ I screamed. ‘That’s Key! He’s our getaway driver. You idiot.’

  ‘How was I supposed to know?’ Jack hissed back.

  ‘In! In! Get in . . .’ Key, ducking his head, was waving us into the back of the van.

  My dad clambered in first then took a reeling step back. ‘Why is there a—’

  ‘We’ve got to get off the base,’ I cut him off as I climbed in next to him. Jack jumped up beside me and Key slammed the doors on us, entombing us in the gloom.

  ‘That for me?’ Jack asked, nodding towards the coffin.

  ‘Yep,’ I answered.

  ‘Nice idea,’ Jack said, striding towards it. ‘Alex, right?’

  I nodded. It had been Alex’s idea. But I was kind of insulted that he assumed all the good ideas had to be someone else’s.

  ‘Buckle up!’ Key yelled from the driver’s seat. The engine revved to life. Jack threw one leg into the coffin and climbed in, taking the gun with him for company.

  ‘All set?’ I asked him.

  He flashed a smile at me. ‘See you in the afterlife.’

  ‘What are you doing?’ My dad swayed towards us as the van started to move.

  Jack looked at me and winked. ‘OK, do it.’

  I was aware, so aware, that my dad was standing right beside me and that what I was about to do was going to rocket him through the Richter scale of shock from the four he was on to maybe a twenty. But what choice did I have?

  ‘We’re coming up to the main gates. Get ready,’ Key called to us. I took a breath and flipped the lid onto the coffin, locking Jack inside.

  There was a graveyard silence. I edged round slowly. My dad was staring at the coffin. Then his eyes rose slowly to meet mine and a long look of recognition passed between us. It was
n’t as bad as with Jack. Jack had been brainwashed to hate us and Jack had a temper. And there had been trees present. My dad, well, I wasn’t sure what my dad thought exactly, but I knew he thought people like me were sick and could be cured. And my dad didn’t really do anger. He did do shock, though. He did it really well. His face drained of colour, becoming so pale that I thought he was going to faint.

  The car swung round a bend and he fell hard onto the bench. I sat and put my arm round him. This would work. This could pass for a grieving father being comforted by a nurse. We slowed. I held my hand tight round my dad’s shoulder, keeping my head angled towards him and my ears tuned to the conversation between Key and the guard at the exit gate.

  ‘We’re on alert, sir. If we could just look inside.’

  ‘Well, Lieutenant . . .’ Key started to remonstrate.

  ‘I’m a private, sir,’ the Marine interrupted.

  ‘Well, private, I have a grieving father in the back with his son’s coffin. I think it would be more appropriate if you just let us drive on.’

  ‘Orders, sir. I can’t disobey orders. We’re on high alert. Is the back open?’

  Oh God. My heart was so loud it was audible. It surely sounded like someone hammering on the coffin trying to be let out.

  Key hesitated. Think of something, I yelled silently. Don’t let them open the back.

  ‘Yes,’ Key said.

  Oh great.

  ‘Don’t move,’ I murmured to my dad. He didn’t appear to hear me. His head stayed bent, his elbows on his knees. I switched to his other side, so I was further back in the shadows, and straightened my nurse’s cap. We might be able to pull this off. So long as they didn’t open the coffin.

  The back doors suddenly flew open, letting in a swathe of light. I blinked at the silhouettes of two Marines, in full combat gear, guns in hand.

  ‘Excuse us, sir,’ one said to my dad. ‘We’re sorry for your loss, but we’re under orders to check every vehicle leaving the base. Apologies once again . . .’

  He made to shut the doors on us. I realised I was squeezing my dad’s knee so hard it was as though I was trying to crack open a walnut.

  ‘Hold up!’ a voice called from somewhere outside.

  There was a commotion. I heard Key swear under his breath. My dad looked up. I peered round him. The Marine turned back to us, his stance changing as I watched. His hand dropped from the van door and moved to the butt of his rifle. I didn’t wait to see where it was going next. I slammed the door in his face, yelling simultaneously to Key, ‘Go, go, go!’

  He didn’t hesitate; the engine whined as he stepped on the gas and my dad and I went flying down the bench, grabbing onto the coffin to steady ourselves. There was a loud retort followed by a crack that I recognised as gunfire. A dent the size of my fist hammered into the side of the van less than two centimetres above my head.

  I stood up and threw myself forward so I could see out of the front window. There was a wooden barrier about five metres ahead of us on the road. Key was aiming straight for it. I hurled it to one side with a quick glance before switching my attention to the two Marines manning the other barrier, ripping the guns straight out of their outstretched arms and into the bushes behind them. Key was praying. His hands were rigid on the wheel, his head bent forward almost on top of them, his foot flat to the floor, the van protesting noisily.

  I put my hand on his shoulder. ‘It’s fine. Keep driving. Just keep driving.’ He just kept praying.

  We had maybe half a minute’s head start and it was a ten-minute drive to the jetty, I estimated. I needed to create a roadblock. I stumbled my way to the back of the van, tripping on the metal runners, and threw one door open. The wind took hold of it like a sail, trying to slam it back into my face. I blew it outwards, directing the wind to back the hell off. It worked. The door hung limply, and the wind tunnelling through the van died down. For a single second I stood there, feeling a current of energy surging through my body.

  ‘Lila! They’re on our tail. Do something . . .’ Key’s voice was loud and clear, echoing through the van.

  I stopped marvelling at what I’d just done and looked up. Three jeeps were spinning after us out of the road from the base. I sighed. I was getting tired of destruction. There was a stream of trucks in the far lane. We were drawing parallel to one now. I saw the driver, cap pulled low against the morning sunshine. He was staring out of his side window at me, gesticulating wildly with his hand.

  ‘Sorry!’ I mouthed to him before shifting my focus to the wheels underneath his cab. I watched as the back of the truck jackknifed beautifully across four lanes of traffic. The cab turned a hundred and eighty degrees, the tyres leaving black slashes across the road. There was a single beat of silence followed by the squeal of dozens of brakes being slammed on, followed by the violent shriek of metal creasing and ironing out. Then finally came the crunch and tinkle of glass hitting the asphalt. The crash seemed to lift us into orbit before slamming us back to the ground.

  ‘What the hell is going on?’ I heard Jack yelling and banging from inside the coffin and turned my head to lift the lid off. He sat bolt upright, the gun clasped in both hands and pointed at me.

  ‘Just a little distraction,’ I called over my shoulder, my attention already back on the carnage I’d left in our wake. ‘They were right behind us.’

  I looked at my dad. He was staring at me like he’d just witnessed a poltergeist in action. The wind had started up again; it was trying to get my attention, snapping at the van door. I let it take hold of it and bang it shut, ignoring the look on my dad’s face. Instead I wobbled my way to the front and spoke to Key who was veering the van across three lanes like he was drunk.

  ‘Whoa, Key, hold it steady,’ I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. ‘That should stop them. For a while . . .’ I glanced in the wing mirror. The road behind us was empty thanks to the metal roadblock I’d created behind us.

  ‘You’re getting good at that,’ Key muttered with a nervous laugh, nodding his head at the destruction in the mirror.

  ‘Hmmm,’ I replied. Yeah, good at destruction. That was me. Something to be proud of.

  I glanced at my dad. It appeared he didn’t agree.

  33

  Footsteps made me turn my head. Alex was sprinting towards us up the jetty.

  The relief that flooded through me made me instantly weak-kneed – though that could also have been down to the litres of adrenaline leaching out of my body. I stumbled down the wooden steps onto the jetty, leaving my dad standing by the van with Jack and Key. I managed about three woolly-legged paces before Alex reached me. I waited to feel his arms wrap round me, for him to murmur something about forgiveness while scooping me up. I wanted him to kiss me and carry me back to the boat and . . . all he did was march straight past me and over to Jack.

  ‘Did they follow you?’ he demanded.

  ‘No,’ Jack growled back, glaring at him.

  Alex tensed and looked like he was about to say something else to Key, but then he turned to my dad. ‘Dr Loveday,’ he said, his voice measured and calm, ‘please, this way.’

  My dad just stared at Alex as if he was a ghost. I watched him contemplate the man in front of him. The last time he’d seen Alex had been three years ago. They’d been boys then, he and Jack, and now Alex towered over my dad. My dad took him in, having to tip his head back to meet his eye. Then he glanced round at his surroundings, obviously wondering what we were doing on a jetty. Finally he looked back at Alex and followed him wearily down the steps. They both walked past me without so much as a word or a glance in my direction.

  Key just shrugged and jogged after them with Jack bringing up the rear, still scowling. ‘Come on, Lila,’ he called over his shoulder.

  But I couldn’t move. Alex hadn’t even looked at me. There was a sob building in my chest threatening to crush me. I swallowed it down and forced myself to put one foot in front of the other until I was standing by the rungs up to the boat. I glanced up
and saw Alex hanging over the side, offering me his hand.

  The panic melted away as I took it. I smiled up at him. It was all a big misunderstanding. He wasn’t mad at me. He’d just been blanking me because Jack and my dad were there. That made sense. An instant surge of electricity shot up my arm as I took his hand and he pulled me up. I fell against him as he hauled me onto the deck, feeling the hardness of his chest and his warmth, and feeling suddenly like crying with relief. But in the next instant Alex pulled his hand out of mine. His lip curled in anger and his eyes, unlike his body, were devoid of warmth. It was as if he couldn’t stand touching me.

  My smile died. Alex didn’t even notice – he’d turned away and was already climbing another ladder to the wheelhouse above. A few seconds later the engines burst into life and we started to move, the boat edging out of the harbour, picking up speed as we made it round the harbour wall and out into open water. I glanced up and saw Alex giving Key directions on how to steer the boat.

  ‘Lila.’

  I turned stiffly round. Jack was standing next to me. ‘Dad’s downstairs. We need to tell him what’s going on.’

  Oh crap. I wanted to drop to the floor and curl up in a ball. I couldn’t handle this right now. My whole body felt like it had gone into shock – I could feel myself trembling and my head was all fuzzy. Every time I looked at Alex I felt a sharp blade of panic piercing my heart. Was that it? Were we over? Were we over before we’d even properly begun? I was back and I was safe. Why was he so angry still? I’d rescued Jack. We hadn’t been caught. Why wasn’t he glad?

  A shadow fell over me. I looked up. Alex had appeared. I watched his eyes dip to Jack’s stomach and saw him pull up short. I wished Jack would just put on a shirt and stop showing off. Jack squared his shoulders and narrowed his eyes in response to Alex’s stare. Alex lifted his head and met Jack’s gaze head-on, refusing to look away. I frowned, puzzled. What was going on? Was this about me? If it was, it was so ridiculous. I wanted to yell at them both. We had way more important things to deal with than Jack’s issues with Alex and me. Besides, it didn’t even look like there was an Alex and me. Not any more.

 
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