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Losing lila, p.25
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       Losing Lila, p.25

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘What are you doing?’ Sara asked, giving innocence one last try.

  ‘Cut the crap, Sara. I know you’re lying. Just tell me where she is before I shoot you.’

  ‘You’re not going to shoot me, Jack,’ she said, looking at him like he was being ridiculous. ‘Besides, it’s too late for that.’ She tilted her head to the camera in the corner of the room. ‘Put the gun down,’ she ordered in a completely new voice. Her eyes hardened, the softness in her face melting away, leaving only a brittle, hard-angled stranger in her place.

  I drew in a breath. Up until then I had been hoping that Amber had got it wrong – that the aura thing was perhaps just a load of New Age nonsense. I glanced at Jack. I could see he was just as shaken as I was. A part of him must have been hoping and praying that Amber was wrong too. But then his expression turned cold and he raised the gun so it was aimed directly at Sara’s head.

  She didn’t react. She just smiled casually. ‘You can’t get out, Jack. It’s too late,’ she said.

  ‘Why?’ Jack asked.

  ‘Because, Jack,’ she sighed, ‘your old team are just outside. Well, what’s left of them. The ones you didn’t shoot. They’re watching and waiting for my order.’ She nodded at the camera in the corner of the room. ‘You’re not going anywhere. Neither’s your mother. And I should thank you also for delivering your mutant sister to us too.’

  Jack weighed her up for a split second before shifting the gun a fraction and firing at the camera in the corner of the room, leaving an intestinal tangle of wires and smoking metal. ‘I meant,’ he said, training the gun on Sara once more, ‘why are you doing this?’

  She snorted. ‘Well, that’s done it. Now they’re coming.’

  ‘Answer the question,’ Jack demanded.

  ‘Oh, Jack, it’s not personal. It was never personal.’

  ‘It’s my mum,’ Jack growled. ‘It doesn’t get more personal.’

  ‘It’s science, Jack. It’s progress. You can’t stand in the way of it.’

  ‘Science?’ I screeched. ‘Science? You think that kidnapping people and torturing them is progress?’

  Sara looked at me and laughed. ‘Oh, Lila, you do make me laugh. Science is the future. And if one or two people are sacrificed for the greater good – well, so be it. We’re learning so much from your mother. We’re going to learn even more from you, Lila. And imagine how the world will benefit from that knowledge.’

  ‘Benefit?’ I stuttered, taking a step towards her.

  Alex stretched his arm out and caught me round the waist before I could reach her. She flinched a little, but tried hard to cover up her fear. I noticed that Alex too had a gun in his hand and that it was pointed at her. Out the corner of my eye I could see my dad, his face frozen, almost expressionless, his eyes unblinking. He seemed too stunned to even move.

  ‘It’s OK, Alex, let her go. Let her do her worst!’ Sara said quite calmly. ‘Go on, Lila,’ she taunted. ‘Use that power of yours. It’ll trigger the alarm. It was reactivated the moment you set foot down here. You’ll only hurt yourself.’

  I stared at her, loathing seeping from every pore in my body.

  ‘Oh, did you honestly think we didn’t know about you? About what you were? Lila, we’ve known about you for years. Since the scissor episode at your school – remember that?’

  I couldn’t hide my surprise. That was three years ago. How had they known about that? My lungs collapsed as though my ribs had punctured them.

  ‘We’ve known about you the whole time, Lila. About what you are. We’ve just been waiting for the right moment to bring you in. If it had been up to me, I would have contained you as soon as you stepped off the plane from London, but Rachel wanted to see what might happen. She wanted to see whether Demos would go after you, which he did, predictably. We knew where Alex was the whole time you two were off on your romantic little getaway; we could have swooped on you in Palm Springs, but we wanted to wait until we had you and Demos in one place before we made a move.’

  I felt Alex’s hand tighten its grip on my arm.

  ‘We hoped we’d be able to contain all of you at the same time back at Joshua Tree – make it look like you got shot in the fallout, Lila, and then contain you and no one would have known. You see, we need someone who’s telekinetic.’ She pursed her lips. ‘But you got away. Thank you, Alex,’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘But then you came back.’ She shook her head as though she still couldn’t believe my stupidity. ‘What were you thinking?’

  ‘If you think you’re going to touch her, you’ve got another think coming,’ Alex snarled, taking a step towards her.

  ‘Oh, Alex,’ Sara said, laughing. ‘You don’t really think you’re going to stop us, do you?’

  The bullet whizzed past my ear. I heard the zip before it smacked into the tiled wall behind Sara’s head.

  ‘Enough!’ my dad roared. ‘Where’s my wife?’

  My jaw swung open. My dad was holding a gun. I wasn’t sure where he’d got a gun from or whether he’d missed Sara’s head accidentally or on purpose.

  Sara seemed just as astonished. ‘Dr Loveday, put the gun down,’ she said in an uneven tone.

  ‘She’s here.’

  I turned my head. Alex was leaning over the bank of monitors in the centre of the room. He’d turned them all on. Every screen displayed a black-and-white portrait of a cell. I scanned across them – all of them were empty and for a moment my heart seemed to tear through my chest. I couldn’t breathe or see – black-and-white dots were dancing across my vision – then I realised that was just the jumping static of the screens and there – there was movement. On the far screen. A thin white shape, jerking and juddering in front of the camera, looking upon first glance like a ghost hovering or a smear on the camera lens. I pushed closer, leaning across the desk, clutching at Alex’s arm. Even through the jumping static, I could make out the eyes. My eyes. Staring at us. I could see her mouth making shapes. Michael. She was saying Michael.

  ‘Dad, Dad, it’s Mum. It’s Mum!’ I yelled.

  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of movement. Sara had thrown herself sideways, and as I watched, her fist smashed through a square glass box attached to the wall and punched down on the red button inside.

  Splinters of glass pierced my brain. I felt my cheekbone smack the tiles and a bolt of pain slice open my head. I heard shouting and the whisk of a bullet past my ear.

  Jack was lying by me, his knees bent up to his chest. I tried to reach my hand out towards him, but I couldn’t locate my fingers. Vague thoughts, like drips of acid on an open cut, shrieked through my brain. The alarm. Harvey and Demos hadn’t been able to deactivate it.

  Another bullet whistled by my ear. It seemed to ricochet inside my skull. I tried to force myself to stand, to open my eyes at least. To fight. I couldn’t give in now. I wouldn’t give in now.

  A hand started to haul me upright. ‘Lila, come on! I need you. Lila!’

  I opened one eye, squinting through a film of tears, and saw Alex had his arm round me and was trying to get me to stand. My feet were dragging against the floor, my body hung limp against his side.

  ‘Come on!’ he yelled again.

  My head tipped back in surprise at his tone, but my feet found the ground and I stood shakily, feeling my head wobble as though it was attached by a fraying thread to the rest of me. The pain was foggy now, less piercing, throbbing in my temples, sending shockwaves coursing down my spine.

  ‘Lila, focus!’

  My eyes snapped open. I hadn’t realised I had shut them again. The room flipped the right way up. The walls zoomed back in. Sound blasted my ears. The pain was sucked away like a syringe drawing blood. I saw Jack kneeling at my feet, his head bent over, hands splayed on the floor. I bent down towards him, wanting to help him stand, but Alex shook me once more, hauling me round to face the door.

  ‘Lila, I need your help here, please.’

  I forced my eyes to focus. But all I could mak
e out was a black mass pounding down the corridor towards us like a huge swarm of bees that slowly pixelated into a solid form. It was them. It was the Unit. They were coming for us – at least half a dozen men stampeding towards us.

  ‘Do something!’ Alex yelled.

  Then I realised what he was asking me to do and tried to focus. There were splashes of red decorating the walls of the corridor they were running down. Fire extinguishers. I ripped them off the walls, feeling a sharp blast of pain in my head as I did, and mustering the last reserve of energy within me, hurled them like skittles into the mass of men. Two of them doubled over and hit the floor, but the others were already at the door, punching in a code. I scanned the room quickly. Sara was lying sprawled on the floor by Jack’s feet and my dad was nowhere in sight, but my brain didn’t have time to process that. Alex fired at the control pad, leaving a smoking box dangling from the wall.

  The door made a sputtering noise in response. A man on the other side kept punching futilely at the keypad. He gave up and stood aside as another man wedged the butt of his gun into the hinge of the door, trying to force it. A third man fired at the glass.

  ‘The door, hold the door. It’s bulletproof,’ Alex yelled at me.

  Just then the door made a groaning noise. It juddered and wheezed and started to open. I seized hold of it, forcing it shut and holding it there with every bit of strength I possessed. I watched helplessly, gritting my teeth as the Unit’s soldiers fired their guns repeatedly at the wall of glass in front of us. The glass bloomed with snowflakes and I felt the tears start to trickle acid-hot down my cheeks. How long before they were through? Even if the glass held, I knew I couldn’t hold the door for much longer and certainly not if they fired the alarm again. I had what? Thirty seconds before another one hit me perhaps. What were Demos and Harvey doing? Had they been captured?

  ‘Alex . . . I can’t hold it long,’ I cried over the noise of the cracking glass.

  I was dimly aware of Alex helping Jack to stand. Jack shook him off, steadying himself against the desk, still woozy. It was the first time he’d experienced one of those shots – he wasn’t as able as I was to shake it off.

  ‘Let’s go.’ Alex’s hand was suddenly on my shoulder.

  I risked a glance sideways. My dad was standing in the doorway of the cell and he was carrying something in his arms.

  ‘Lila, the door!’ Alex shouted.

  I slammed it closed again, catching an arm and hearing a high-pitched scream. I ignored the sound, struggling to keep my attention on the door when what was behind me was all I cared about.

  ‘Come on, this way!’ Alex was pulling and tugging on my arm. I stepped backwards, through the far door, and into yet another corridor, the whole time keeping my focus on the bullet-riddled glass door in front of me.

  ‘Wait here,’ Alex said, running past me at a crouch and back into the room. With a fluid movement, he bent and hefted Sara over his shoulder. Then he ran in a crouch back towards me.

  Jack waited until he was through then sealed this second door shut before shooting out the control panel. With a gasp, I let go of the first door. The Unit burst through in seconds, sprinted across the room we’d just been in and started hammering and firing at the second door.

  Jack took my arm and we started running. I didn’t dare glance over my shoulder to see. Every single step I braced myself for the pain and for the fall, my attention on my dad, up ahead of us. Just so long as he got out. Just so long as he got my mum out, it wouldn’t matter.

  Jack’s grip on my arm tightened as he forced me into a sprint. We slammed through the door at the end of the corridor just behind Alex.

  ‘Dad?’ Jack yelled, pounding up the stairs ahead of us both.

  ‘Here!’ my dad shouted. We flung ourselves up the first flight and found him on the landing, kneeling over a body. I threw myself towards him and he caught me by the shoulder. ‘Careful, careful.’

  She was dead. My mum was dead. She was lifeless, whiter than white, her lips as colourless as glass. She was lying across my dad’s lap, wearing a white hospital gown that blended with the colour of her skin. Jack dropped down next to me and took her hand.

  ‘Mum?’ he said, his voice choking.

  Her eyes flashed open, startling me. It was as if all the colour within her was concentrated solely in her eyes. They were burning green, filled with life, with memories, with hope, with relief and joy.

  ‘Jack,’ she whispered, and a smile flitted across her lips. Her eyes travelled over Jack’s face and then to me.

  I threw myself forward, feeling Jack at my side, my dad’s arms coming round us both.

  ‘Mum, Mum, Mum, I missed you so much,’ I sobbed.

  Her hand reached up and stroked my hair, my cheek, and gently brushed away the tears that were falling. And then I felt another tug on my shoulder pulling me backwards.

  ‘Lila, come on, we’ve got to get out of here,’ my dad said, leaning down to scoop my mum up once more.

  I realised only then we were still in the stairwell. Alex was leaning against the wall, resting Sara’s weight. His face was tight; beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead. His focus was on the stairwell below, the gun in his free hand trained on the door.

  Jack pushed me up the stairs behind my dad. ‘Go, go!’ he ordered.

  I started running, pausing to make sure the others were following. Jack had dropped back behind Alex and was covering him. I wished he’d just drop Sara on her head so he could go faster.

  At ground level, I heard Alex yell at me to wait, but it was too late, I’d already thrown the door back. It hit the wall and my dad who was ahead of me stepped through into the wide-open space of the lobby.

  ‘Ahhh, there you are.’

  I staggered back a step. Richard Stirling was standing in front of us. At his side was Robocop. He was aiming a gun straight at my dad’s head. My dad stood frozen, holding my mum in his arms as though she was a sacred offering. Her head was thrown back against my dad’s shoulder, her eyes were shut and one arm was dangling so low it was almost scraping the floor.

  ‘Going somewhere?’ Stirling asked.

  The others burst through behind me. I heard Jack swear and then I felt Alex at my side, breathing hard, Sara’s body still hanging over his shoulder like a limp sack. I glanced over at him and our eyes caught for a second – his filled with a warning. Don’t do anything crazy, he was warning me.

  Alex turned back to Richard Stirling and the expression on his face shifted, darkened. He raised the gun in his spare hand and levelled it at Stirling’s head. As he did so, he took a step in front of me. Jack moved at the same time to stand in front of my dad, shielding both him and my mum. He had his gun pointed straight at Robocop. It was a stand-off.

  I took a deep breath. Then pushed past Alex.

  ‘Just let us go,’ I said, walking towards Stirling.

  ‘Lila,’ I heard Alex growl under his breath.

  ‘Let you go?’ Stirling answered with a bemused smile. ‘Why on earth would I do that? Right here in front of me I have several hundred million dollars’ worth of weaponry in the form of you and your anatomy. A few tweaks here, a little experimentation there and—’

  ‘And you can go to hell maybe?’ I finished the sentence for him.

  ‘Oh, Lila, quite the temper, haven’t we? It’s a struggle for you, isn’t it? Keeping control, I mean? We’ll need to look into that. I have to say, though, I am impressed. I completely overlooked you, but that’s some skill you have.’ He turned his attention away from me to Jack. ‘And you, Jack,’ he said, ‘now that’s something I never even imagined. When we finally got Dr Roberts talking, we were all quite intrigued and eager to get our hands on you.’ He shook his head, his eyes lingering hungrily on Jack’s chest.

  Jack’s reply made me wince.

  My dad’s response made me wince even more.

  I thought about Dr Roberts and what they might have done to him and suddenly felt like I was going to throw up.
  Richard Stirling just laughed. It was an eerie sound, rebounding off the high ceiling and marble floor. ‘Listen, you played your cards, you lost. I’m just a better poker player. When Demos and his little friends arrive in a couple of hours’ time, I’m going to have a full house.’

  Hope exploded in my chest almost igniting me. Richard Stirling didn’t know that Demos was in the building. He thought he was in Washington. Our bluff had worked! And the alarm hadn’t gone off again. I wasn’t writhing on the floor in agony. Which could only mean one thing – Demos and Harvey must have deactivated it.

  ‘The building’s in lockdown, Lieutenant,’ Stirling continued, ‘and right behind you coming up those stairs is your old team. So I think maybe you’d be wise to put your guns down now, turn around and walk back the way you came, down to prisoner holding.’

  Alex sighed loudly then took a step forward so he was standing by my side. ‘I’ve a suggestion,’ he said. ‘How about you turn around and walk back the way you came in and we’ll follow you out.’

  Richard Stirling looked at him, stunned, before smiling tightly. ‘Yes, OK, when you’ve finished being funny, you can do as I say or I can shoot you.’

  A sly smile began to form on Alex’s lips. ‘You could try,’ he said.

  Richard Stirling’s eyes narrowed again, confusion passing over his face. But then it blanked out. His eyes glazed. Beside him, Robocop froze.

  I looked up, startled. Demos was standing in the doorway. Harvey strolled out of the shadows behind him.

  ‘You took your time,’ I said.

  ‘Made it, didn’t we?’ Demos answered with a grim smile.


  Demos circled Richard Stirling and backed towards my dad, letting his attention slip only for a second while he dipped his head to look down at my mum. I didn’t miss the way his face softened when he saw her or the way my dad’s hands tightened reflexively round my mum. Then, with a grim face, Demos marched straight towards Richard Stirling.

  It was only then that I noticed Alicia standing halfway between us and the door, caught mid-step, her hands clutched at her sides. She was staring at Demos, looking like she’d just taken a bullet in her heart.

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