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Losing lila, p.22
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       Losing Lila, p.22

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  He smiled, a little smile, but the sight of it made my breathing speed up. ‘I’ve always needed you. For my entire life,’ I said in a whisper, ‘and I’m always going to need you.’

  His smile widened, his thumb stroked my jaw.

  ‘Oh, and also Suki and Nate feel the same.’

  He raised his eyebrows. ‘Are you going to push me out of the way again if I argue with you?’

  ‘I’ll try not to.’ I grinned at him. ‘I’m so sorry. I’m working on the whole control thing.’

  He smiled back and it was like a shot of pure adrenaline with maybe some helium thrown into the mix.

  ‘What did Jack say to you?’ I suddenly asked. ‘Why’d he ask you to come back? He sounded pretty mad earlier.’

  ‘Well, it wasn’t as eloquent as your speech.’ I pulled a face. ‘He said he’d reconsidered. Didn’t explain why.’

  ‘What’s with that?’

  ‘No idea. But he apologised.’

  ‘Jack apologised? Are you kidding?’ I tried to stop the choking laugh from erupting out of me.

  Alex nodded, smiling. ‘Yeah. He apologised for the things he said. He’s still mad with me about not trusting Sara, but he asked me to come back.’

  ‘And us? Did he mention us?’

  ‘Yeah, he said it was OK by him.’

  ‘Are you joking?’ I pulled away to check if he was trying to be funny.

  ‘Nope. But he said it through gritted teeth and he warned me if I ever hurt you, he’d kill me.’

  OK. That was progress.

  ‘I can live with that,’ Alex said, looping his arms round my waist and pulling me close against him. ‘Besides, I think the only person doing the hurting is you. You’re getting strong.’

  ‘Yeah, you wouldn’t believe what I can do.’ I wanted to tell him all about the water, but Alex cut me off with a kiss, just a gentle, soft touch of his lips against mine.

  Someone cleared their throat behind me. ‘Oh, excuse me.’

  I threw myself backwards out of Alex’s arms, dancing across the deck. Alex took a few steps away from me too, clearing some distance, rearranging his T-shirt, running one hand through his hair.

  ‘Dad!’ I cried out. ‘Er . . .’

  ‘Sorry to . . . um, interrupt . . . I . . . um . . .’ My dad’s eyes were flitting all over the deck. He turned three hundred and sixty degrees as though looking for something. His glasses perhaps.

  ‘I just . . . I just wanted to talk to you, Lila, if that’s OK?’ My dad looked over his shoulder at Alex.

  Alex took the hint. ‘I’ll go find the others.’ He ducked his head and disappeared down the stairs. I looked after him, feeling the smile lighting up my face. He was staying. He was mine. And my dad had just walked in on us. Hmmm. Awkward. I turned to face him, feeling the burn of the blood that had been in other parts of my body retrace a path to my face.

  ‘So, you and Alex, then . . . that’s, um . . .’

  ‘Yeah . . .’ I interrupted before he could finish the sentence.

  ‘OK, he’s a nice boy.’ I saw him stumble a little on the word boy. Alex clearly wasn’t a boy anymore. Was he going to say something about the age difference?

  ‘Has Jack said anything?’ my dad asked with a little edge of concern in his voice.

  Oh yeah. Plenty. ‘He seems OK with it,’ I said.

  My dad nodded. ‘Anyway, that’s not what I came to talk to you about.’

  I waited. My dad took a deep breath. ‘Er, I don’t really know where to begin.’ He sat down with a heartfelt sigh and indicated the seat next to him. I sat and waited.

  ‘I’m sorry.’ I looked up at my dad.

  ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted like that when I found out about your ability.’ I bit my lip in answer.

  ‘It was a shock. I didn’t suspect. I mean, I always thought it was a possibility seeing how it’s genetic, but I thought I would know. That you would tell me.’

  I caught his eye and looked away.

  ‘Your mother . . .’ His voice broke. I looked up. He had his eyes closed. ‘I can’t believe she’s still alive. I just can’t . . .’

  ‘I know.’ I took his hand. We stayed like that for a good five minutes. The water was slapping the side of the boat and we were rocking gently against the wooden jetty where we’d moored.

  ‘I wish you could have told me,’ he said eventually.

  ‘I know. I wanted to, Dad, I really did, but we thought it would be better if we kept it from you. We were always going to tell you eventually. Alex thought it might help if you were on the inside. And Richard Stirling threatened me. If I told you, they would have hurt you and Jack.’

  There was a loaded pause while we both considered what we’d escaped. There was no relief because the fact remained that we’d also left my mum behind.

  ‘Have you seen Demos yet? The others?’ I asked, my gut twisting painfully. There was still so much to figure out.

  ‘No.’ My dad’s face darkened.

  ‘He’s nice, Dad.’

  His expression turned even darker. ‘I still don’t see why he needs to be involved.’

  ‘Dad, whatever you think of Demos, whatever went on between him and Mum, it was years ago and he’s on our side. He’s been fighting for her this whole time. Like you have. Like Jack has. We’re all trying to achieve the same thing – it makes sense we work together. Besides, you should see what he can do.’

  ‘I know what he can do. I had the pleasure of meeting him once.’

  Oh. Demos hadn’t told me that part.

  ‘Are you coming? ’ I said, standing up.

  He sighed and stood up. ‘I don’t think I have much choice.’

  37

  Suki and Nate were curled like kittens at Alex’s feet. No. More like Sphinxes I realised. Guarding him. Probably making sure I didn’t say anything else that might make him leave.

  That wasn’t going to happen. Suki’s eyes narrowed in my direction when she saw me. Nate winked at me and gave me a thumbs up. I shook my head at them. But I couldn’t stop smiling. I could breathe again. I could breathe deep without it feeling like a fish-hook was caught in my diaphragm. And then I pulled up short. Amber was sitting in the corner. She looked thinner than before and there was a coldness about her that made me stop from running over and hugging her.

  ‘Amber,’ was all I said in surprise. ‘What are you doing here?’

  ‘I thought about what Ryder would want me to do,’ she said quietly. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. I just nodded and went and sat next to Alex.

  It was only then that I noticed the silence in the room and the tension, so heavy it was almost tangible. I turned. My dad, who had come into the room with me, was now standing in front of Demos and neither man was speaking. Neither man was smiling. They were just staring at each other like two opponents weighing each other up before a prize fight. I had to hand it to my dad – I wouldn’t weigh myself up against Demos.

  Alicia was standing in the corner of the room. She looked nervous, kneading her hands as she watched them. I dreaded to think what she was reading in their minds, but from the anxious expression on her face I could tell none of it was pleasant.

  Harvey was sitting at the table, coffee mug in hand, observing it all with an amused expression on his face. I wondered suddenly whether it was such a good idea bringing my dad and Demos together and was about to stand up and say something – anything to break the tension – when Alex suddenly jumped to his feet.

  ‘Dr Loveday, this is Demos,’ he said, stepping over Suki and moving to stand at my dad’s side.

  ‘We’ve met,’ my dad said, not taking his eyes off Demos.

  ‘Michael,’ Demos said, nodding at my dad in greeting.

  ‘You had to bring my kids into this?’ my dad asked. I cringed.

  Demos arched a dark eyebrow. ‘They’re not kids anymore, Michael. And besides, Jack was already a part of it.’

  ‘Maybe we should agree to let the past lie and move fo
rward,’ Alex interrupted, stepping between the two men and shutting down the conversation. ‘We need to move fast,’ he said, ‘before the Unit discover what we’ve done in Washington. We need to time it so they raid Stirling’s house and office at the same time we break into the headquarters on the base. It’ll create another diversion for us.’

  ‘We need a plan,’ Harvey said, licking the edge of a cigarette paper.

  I was so sick of hearing those words. Why couldn’t there just be a blueprint already in existence? Why weren’t we able to just google a solution? Why always this hashing together of crazy ideas – usually stolen haphazardly from my head – until we came up with something suicidally stupid and bound to fail?

  But nothing had failed yet, I reminded myself. Though yet did seem to be the operative word. We were hanging on a thread of good luck and at some point, with all the weight on it, it was going to snap.

  I looked round the room. Alex was chewing his lip. Suki and Nate were bug-eyed, watching us from the floor, Alicia was glaring at Demos and so was my dad.

  I wondered all of a sudden how Alicia felt – knowing that her boyfriend was on a mission to save his ex-girlfriend whom he possibly still loved. I cut the thought off before she could read it, but perhaps I wasn’t fast enough because she threw a dark look in my direction.

  ‘If you’d let me talk to Sara, we’d have a way onto the base,’ said Jack.

  ‘Jack, we can’t trust her. There’s too much at stake,’ Alex shot back.

  Jack glowered at him and I noticed Suki edging backwards as if Jack was an unexploded bomb.

  ‘Alex is right,’ Demos said, crossing to the table. ‘Can we draw this particular line of approach to a close? Unless we’re one hundred per cent certain of Sara we don’t go near her.’

  ‘Maybe Suki or Alicia could try to read her mind,’ Nate offered.

  ‘They can’t get on the base,’ I countered. ‘And if Sara is one of them and if what Richard Stirling said is true, then she can probably block them anyway so there’d be no point.’

  ‘She might not be able to block Amber,’ Alicia said.

  ‘What? You want me to walk onto the base and just ask her if she doesn’t mind answering a few questions while I check her aura to see if she’s lying?’ Amber asked caustically.

  ‘Wait up,’ Alex interrupted. ‘Maybe it doesn’t matter whether we trust Sara or not. We can still use her.’

  We all turned to look at him. ‘Think about it,’ he carried on, his voice low, making everyone lean towards him. ‘What if we made her think that we do trust her?’

  I looked at Jack. He opened his mouth as if to say no, but then he seemed to change his mind. ‘Keep going,’ he said.

  ‘Either way, Sara would let us inside the building. She’d take us down to prisoner holding.’

  There was a moment of chilled silence.

  ‘But if she is evil then they’ll set a trap. We’d walk straight into it,’ said Suki.

  ‘It’s not a trap if we have a way out of it,’ Alex grinned back at her.

  Suki looked puzzled for a moment then her eyes widened as she heard his thoughts. ‘Oooh!’ She clapped her hands together in glee. ‘Double-cross! I like this plan. It’s cunning.’

  What plan? I hadn’t heard any plan, just something that sounded like walking into a prison and bolting the door shut behind us. That wasn’t cunning. That was plain stupid.

  ‘Hang on, hang on!’ I burst out. ‘I don’t understand.’ Was I the only one who didn’t? ‘If Sara isn’t on our side,’ I said, flashing a nervous glance in Jack’s direction, ‘then they’ll be in there waiting for us.’

  ‘Yes,’ Alex nodded at me, still smiling, ‘but they’ll underestimate us. We’ll tell Sara that Demos and the others are in Washington and we’ll blow the lid there just before we go in so it tallies. The Unit will deploy at least three teams to the East Coast. But Demos and the others will be just behind us.’

  ‘Us?’ I asked.

  ‘You, me and Jack.’

  ‘No Lila,’ Jack interrupted, shaking his head. ‘Lila’s not coming anywhere near the base.’

  Alex turned to him. ‘I don’t think we get to tell Lila what she can and can’t do.’

  I beamed at him. Alex’s tone softened. ‘But at least this way we’re both with her,’ he told Jack.

  ‘And me. I’m going too.’

  I looked over at my dad. He was clearing his throat.

  ‘Dad . . .’ Jack sighed.

  ‘Don’t argue with me, Jack,’ my dad said, standing up. ‘I’m not letting you and your sister go in there while I sit here twiddling my thumbs.’ Jack ground his teeth and looked away.

  Then I processed. ‘The Unit will be inside waiting for us,’ I said again.

  ‘Yes. And they’ll lock us down in prisoner holding,’ Alex nodded, still smiling.

  ‘Yeah? And if they do that, how do we get out? Isn’t that the massive great flaw in this plan?’

  ‘They won’t lock down. You’re already acting like Sara can’t be trusted,’ Jack cut in.

  ‘We work from the worst-case scenario – that’s what we’re trained to do, Jack,’ Alex replied calmly. ‘If she is on our side then great, maybe we’ll breeze in and breeze out with your mum, but if she is involved then we need to plan for that.’

  ‘We can disable the lockdown. There might be a way from inside.’

  For a moment I didn’t know who had spoken because Harvey was usually so quiet. He paused to exhale a smoke ring. We watched it float and hang, just like we were doing, on his words.

  ‘From inside it’ll be easy,’ he said almost nonchalantly. ‘And if you can convince her to disable the alarm system to let you walk inside with Lila and Jack, I might have a way of getting in.’

  What? What was he talking about?

  ‘Harvey is a master thief,’ Suki whispered, hearing the question in my head.

  Harvey gave her a sideways glance. ‘Not that masterful, Suki. I got caught, remember.’

  My mind flashed back to what I’d read on Jack’s computer. Harvey had been in prison for bank robbery. And he’d also escaped. I stared at him. He was a bank robber. A fugitive bank robber. Well, we were all fugitives in a way. But still, I was associating with a bank robber! I glanced instinctively at my dad. He was staring at Harvey with barely disguised horror. He didn’t find it as exciting as me. But then again he hadn’t had the chance to get to know Harvey.

  ‘If you could get inside the building, would you be able to disable the alarm?’ Alex asked him.

  ‘Not if it’s already going off,’ Harvey said wryly. ‘Tell me more about the system and I’ll tell you what’s possible.’

  ‘OK,’ Alex said. ‘The alarm system triggers if it picks up changes to the electromagnetic field within a five-metre radius of the building. So, if anyone uses a power near it, it sends out a pulse wave that takes out anyone with a power and it locks down the building so no one inside can get out. No one outside can get in either. The system is set up so it can only fire one shot every minute and only in bursts of ten seconds because of the damage it can do to the computer systems. But for the same reason no one is allowed to carry one of those weapons inside the building. They will be carrying guns, though.’

  ‘OK,’ said Harvey. ‘Get me whatever information you have on the systems the Unit uses. I’ll need to do some research.’

  ‘Getting in and getting out is one thing, but how do we destroy the labs?’ Alicia asked. ‘I’m not leaving there without destroying every last piece of information they have about us. And all their damned research.’ She shot a venomous look at my dad.

  There were murmurs of agreement from the others.

  ‘What about Lila?’

  What about me? I looked at Key.

  ‘What about Lila?’ he said again. ‘That thing she can do with the water – is it in any way helpful?’

  ‘What thing she can do with water?’ Alex asked. Everyone was staring at me now.

  ‘Nothing.
I can’t do anything with water,’ I burst out.

  ‘She can move it.’

  Key was making it sound like I was Moses or something.

  ‘I can’t – not really!’ I spluttered.

  Alex had stood up and crossed to me. He stopped and knelt down so we were level.

  ‘Show me,’ he said, taking my hand and pulling me up. He led me to the table and set a glass of water down in front of me.

  ‘No pressure or anything,’ I muttered, shifting my gaze away from my silent audience to the glass. ‘I’m not very good at this.’

  I focused on the glass and the water inside shot upwards like a geyser. Only the ceiling stopped its trajectory. Alex hopped back out of its downward path.

  ‘Told you,’ I said, shrugging.

  Everyone was now staring at the pool of water on the carpet. There was a look of astonishment on most of their faces. I waited for some other reaction, but none was forthcoming.

  Demos was the first one to speak. ‘What about fire?’ he asked, a glint in his eye. ‘Can you do the same with fire?’

  38

  I flopped down on the bed, staring up at the circle of damp on the ceiling. Alex lay down next to me and a wave of energy travelled through my body. If Amber had been in the room, I was sure she would have been seeing rainbows. I instantly rolled against him and felt his arm come round me.

  ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ I mumbled into his shoulder.

  ‘You can do it, I know you can,’ Alex whispered back. ‘You’re the most stubborn person I know. You never give up on anything. You just need to practise.’

 
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