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Losing lila, p.26
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       Losing Lila, p.26

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  My attention was diverted by Jack who marched over to Robocop. He dropped the clip from Robocop’s gun into his pocket. ‘What about the men downstairs?’ he asked, crossing to the door that we’d come through, his gun aimed.

  It was a good point. They should have broken through the door by now.

  ‘They’re trapped down there. I activated the lockdown on that floor,’ Harvey said with a little cough.

  ‘But we can’t just leave them in there,’ I said, ‘they won’t survive.’

  ‘It’s a nuclear bunker – they’ll be fine,’ Jack replied tersely.

  I stared at him. ‘What?’ he replied, shrugging at me. ‘They will be fine. The fire department will find them in a few days’ time once it cools.’

  ‘He’s right,’ Alex spoke up, looking at me reassuringly. ‘They will be fine down there. It’s built to withstand a whole lot more than a fire.’

  ‘Everyone happy, then?’ Demos interrupted. ‘Great, then get out of here and off this base before the entire military figures out what’s happening in here. I’ll hold these guys until we’re all set.’ He nodded at Richard Stirling and his bodyguard. ‘Lila, are you ready?’

  ‘Yes,’ I answered, stepping forward.

  ‘I’m staying with her,’ I heard Alex say behind me.

  ‘Me too,’ Jack said.

  Of course they were.

  I watched as Alex hefted Sara off his shoulder and it was only then that I noticed the drips of crimson raining down onto the tiles and pooling by his feet. My eyes flew to his face, my heart lurching. His T-shirt was stained dark over his left shoulder and for a moment I thought he’d been shot, but then he handed Sara over to Harvey and I saw that Sara’s white top was soaked through with blood.

  Harvey stared at her like she was roadkill, his lip curling in distaste. He took a long drag on his cigarette and finally nodded. Alex let go and Harvey held her, letting her hover half a metre off the ground, her fingernails scuttling on the marble floor, her head almost bent double on the slender stalk of her neck. Alex strode to me, his eyes holding mine, checking I was OK, trying to read me.

  ‘Be careful.’

  I turned in a daze to look at my dad, his arms locked round my mum. ‘Be careful,’ he said again. I nodded at him in response and he smiled at me. I watched him leave, following after Harvey.

  A few seconds after they disappeared, someone else appeared in the doorway. A flame-haired ghost wearing sleek black jeans, boots and a black sweater. Amber scanned the room quickly and then strode straight towards us, her heels clicking on the floor, her eyes shrouded dark grey. She stopped in front of Richard Stirling.

  ‘What are you doing, Amber?’ Demos asked quietly.

  ‘I wanted to see the man behind the Unit,’ she answered, not taking her eyes off Richard Stirling. ‘What are you going to do with him?’

  ‘We’re going to walk him out of here and hand him over to the police.’

  Amber wheeled round to face Demos. ‘That’s it? That’s your big revenge? After everything he’s done. You think that’s justice?’

  ‘Amber,’ Alex said in a voice as smooth as rain. ‘Amber, we talked about this. This will destroy him.’

  She looked at him almost pityingly, like he couldn’t possibly understand. ‘It’s not enough, Alex. How can you think that’s enough?’ She looked at me for back-up and my breath caught in my chest. I couldn’t argue. I was on her side. I wanted revenge too. I glanced at the gun in Alex’s hand. It would be so easy to flip it up and fire one shot. Just one shot. That’s all it would take. Just the lightest pressure in my mind and it would be done. All that pain Richard Stirling had caused, all the badness, wiped out with just a thought, the smallest of intentions.

  My eyes met Amber’s – the grey swimming like a wet, winter sky. I could do it for her, for Ryder. And for my mum. And for Thomas.

  Then I felt the warmth of Alex’s gaze on me. I felt his hand rest gently on my arm and my eyes were drawn to his face. He knew exactly what I was thinking. He could see it in my eyes and more than that – he knew me. He knew how my mind worked.

  He wasn’t trying to stop me, though. There was no judgement in the way he was looking at me, only calm assurance that he was there. That he was leaving it up to me. But his touch did what it always did. It balanced me. It brought me back. Alex was right. I wasn’t going to let Richard Stirling turn me into something I wasn’t. I knew who I was now – what I was. I wasn’t going to be hunted anymore. But neither did I want to be haunted by memories.

  ‘Amber,’ I said, turning back to face her, drawing in a deep breath. ‘It’s not worth it. He’s not worth it. We’ve beaten him.’

  Her eyes flamed for a moment, as though my betrayal had torn through her and ripped a chunk from her heart. Then, with her bottom lip trembling, she turned back to Richard Stirling’s frozen face. For a moment I thought she’d ignored me and was going to shoot him anyway. The gun shook in her hand. I glanced at Demos. Would he stop her? But his gaze was focused on Richard Stirling and his guard, his attention on holding them frozen. I wondered if I could spin the gun out of her hand. But before I could, Amber dropped her arm and let the gun fall to her side.

  Jack was the first to move. He put his arm round Amber’s shoulder and bent to whisper something in her ear. She half turned, collapsing into him. Jack wrapped both arms round her waist to keep her from falling. He held her until her shoulders stopped heaving, one hand on the back of her head. Alicia then stepped forward and gently pulled Amber out of his arms before leading her out of the room.

  When she had gone, Demos spoke to me. ‘Lila, are you ready?’

  I took a deep breath. ‘Yes,’ I said, nodding. ‘But you should get out of here, Demos.’

  ‘I’ll wait until the others are clear,’ he answered. I was going to argue, but I felt Alex tugging on my arm.

  ‘Where are we going?’ I asked as we started jogging across the lobby.

  ‘Third floor. Where the labs and the server are.’

  I nodded. Jack joined us at the elevator.

  ‘I’m not sure it’s safe for you two to be with me when I do this,’ I said.

  ‘Yeah?’ Alex asked as the elevator doors opened. ‘Well, I think we’ll take that chance.’ He bundled me inside and pressed the button for the third floor. I stood there, pressed between Jack and Alex, and closed my eyes, feeling both their arms rubbing against my shoulders. This is where I always wanted to be – where I always felt safest. Between the two of them. It’s how it had always been, but I had a sudden sense of foreboding that it was going to be the last time.

  The elevator doors opened onto another corridor and I swept the thought away. We had come this far – we were almost in sight of the finish line. We were going to do this. I was going to do this. We ran down another long corridor, past a dozen glass-fronted rooms. I caught sight of stainless-steel worktops, banks of computers and futuristic-looking machines – something that looked like an X-ray machine, another that looked like an MRI scanner. The last room on our left made me stumble. It was empty except for a metal gurney. White straps hung down from each corner like zombie bandages. Next to the bed was a shining tray of metal instruments and a machine like the one Jack had been rigged up to in the hospital. This was the place they did their tests. My mum could have been strapped to that very gurney. Alex pulled me forward, past the room.

  Ahead of us was a door with a lock on it. Before we were five metres away from it, Jack blew the lock off. I kicked the door back with a quick glance. Inside was a room the size of my bedroom back at Jack’s. It was filled with blinking lights and towering stacks of computer servers. This was the heart of Stirling Enterprises, where all the data they had was kept. If we destroyed it, we would destroy all the data they had on us, all their findings. It was a start. Then I’d destroy the labs, starting with the one I’d just passed with the bed and the machines in it.

  Jack didn’t wait for me to get out a lighter and try to direct the flame. He fired a rou
nd of bullets into the server’s heart. It smoked and whined in protest.

  ‘That’s not going to work,’ Alex said. He turned and jogged down the corridor.

  ‘Are you sure you can handle this?’ Jack said, looking at me nervously.

  I turned my head slowly to stare at him. ‘Are you doubting my ability? Because, you know, it totally beats yours.’

  Alex was back at our side. He was holding a small glass bottle in his hand. It was full of a clear liquid – alcohol or something from one of the labs. I noticed the skull and crossbones label on its front. ‘Get back!’ Alex shouted, pushing Jack and me behind him.

  ‘Wait!’ I yelled. There were pipes latticing the ceiling inside the server room. Some kind of sprinkler system. I focused all my attention on them and ripped them free, bending and twisting them like pipe cleaners. They screamed in response and we all covered our ears.

  Alex smiled at me in pride and then threw the bottle into the room, firing a bullet straight into it as it flew through the air. The bottle shattered loudly, exploding in a giant ball of fire. Instantly licks of blue, green and orange flames began streaking along the corridor and black smoke started to billow around us.

  The sprinkler system above us kicked in, drenching us in seconds. Crap, I thought, staring up at the pipes. I should have tackled these ones too when I’d had the chance. It was a lot harder to focus with water pouring into my eyes and soaking me.

  ‘Harvey couldn’t have disabled the sprinkler system while he was disabling everything else?’ I cried over the hiss of the water.

  ‘Can you stop it?’ Alex shouted back.

  I looked up, squinting through the lashing rain at the pipes above us, my hair plastering over my face. I tried to feel for the edges of the water like I’d done in the shower and when the tidal wave had ripped towards us. I tried to order it to go backwards or upwards or anywhere that wasn’t onto us and the smouldering fire. The flames were already sputtering, cowering back into the room. At this rate nothing was going to burn down. Back the hell off, I roared in my head, feeling the surge of energy start to build inside me as if thousands of cells in my body were waking up.

  The water stopped cascading on us all of a sudden. It was listening to me. It was sucking backwards down the pipes. I pushed it and pushed it as though I was jamming my finger up a hose.

  ‘OK, Lila, the fire! Focus on the fire. We need the fire to destroy this whole floor. We need it to burn fast and hard.’

  The flames were darting out of the server room once more, hissing where they were making tracks across the wet surfaces. A single flame sprang along the ground, racing blue and orange towards us. Jack dodged back out of its way and I took hold of it like a snake’s head and held it back, away from us, twisting it and forcing it back into the server room. Dense black smoke filled the corridor, throwing itself on top of us like a thick wool blanket that I couldn’t breathe or see through.

  ‘Come on, this way!’ Jack started pulling me back towards the fire exit.

  ‘Hang on,’ I said. ‘Hang on.’ I could feel the water starting to press again, like my mind was the dam and it was starting to crack. I shoved it backwards hard, letting the flames surge upwards. The pipes started to buckle and whine under the heat, scalding steam evaporating into the smoke. My face felt like melting plastic. I was aware of Jack and Alex calling to me, of someone pulling at my arms, but I dug my heels in and stayed where I was. I needed to make sure it burnt. That everything burnt. I wanted to make sure nothing was left.

  I hurled a spear of flame into the glass wall of the lab and heard the splintering crack of glass and the roar as the fire gulped down the air in the room. There was a bursting sound and another huge explosion which knocked me off my feet, throwing me onto my back and sending shooting pains down my arms and legs. Flames arched over my head and a ball of fire raced towards us. In the next instant I felt Alex fall on me, his chest colliding with mine, slamming me flat against the ground, his arms braced round my head. I closed my eyes, curled into him and forced the fire back, back, back. Away from him.

  A second later Alex was on his feet, dragging me upright as the flames licked hungrily over his head. Coughing and spluttering, he pushed me the last few steps into the stairwell.

  The fire door clanged shut behind us and I felt the cool blast of air hit me. I glanced at Jack and Alex. Alex’s T-shirt was clinging to him; the backs of his arms were scorched red with burns, streaked black with smoke. Jack was bent double, coughing, one hand pressed to his chest, the other clutching the banister.

  ‘Come on, let’s go,’ Alex said, drawing a rasping breath and taking my hand.

  ‘No, no!’ I said, pulling out of his grip and turning back towards the door. ‘I have to stay. We have to make sure it burns.’

  ‘It is burning!’ he yelled back at me.

  Jack’s hand was on my back, urging me down the stairs. ‘Lila, you did it. It’s burning. We need to get out of here.’

  I let them both pull me down the stairs, my eyes streaming from the smoke still, my lungs fit to burst, glancing backwards the whole time, wondering if the fire really was burning it all to ashes. We smashed through the door into the lobby, letting it slam behind us. Demos hadn’t moved. He was still standing in the centre of the room, his gaze level with Richard Stirling, his shoulders slightly rounded with the concentration it must have been taking to hold him and Robocop frozen for so long.

  ‘Did you do it?’ he called out to us.

  ‘Yeah, we gotta get out of here,’ Jack replied, running past him. ‘Let them go,’ he said, waving his gun in the direction of Richard Stirling and Robocop.

  ‘You ready?’ Demos asked, pulling a gun from the inside of his jacket.

  ‘Yep, do it,’ Jack answered.

  Richard Stirling blinked then frowned. He opened his mouth, saw the gun in Demos’s hand and shut it again. Robocop fired off an empty round, his gun clicking feebly in his hand. He looked at it in disgust then spat a curse in our direction. He glared at Jack. Jack smiled warmly back at him.

  Demos held Stirling’s gaze for a few seconds. Then he marched straight over to Stirling and brought his gun up to rest against his temple.

  ‘Demos!’ Alex shouted. ‘No. We agreed. We’re bringing him with us and handing him over to the police.’

  Demos paused, his eyes drilling into Richard Stirling’s. His finger eased down on the trigger.

  ‘Demos!’ I shouted. ‘Come on! Let’s get out before the place burns down.’

  Richard Stirling turned to me, a frown creating a furrow between his eyes. Then he looked over his shoulder at the door. Black smoke was starting to slide underneath it, wisping its way towards us. The surface was starting to blister.

  Demos still didn’t move. Alex waited a beat then he took my hand and pulled me towards the door. ‘Come on, Jack!’ he shouted over his shoulder.

  Jack pushed his gun into Robocop’s back and nudged him towards the door. He looked over at Demos. ‘Are you coming?’ he shouted at him.

  Demos still didn’t answer. He continued to stand there with the gun against Stirling’s temple. The two men stared each other out as smoke started to swirl in clouds around them.

  I paused in the doorway. ‘We can’t just leave him.’

  ‘We’re not staying,’ Alex shouted back just as a huge explosion blasted open the fire-escape door.

  I stopped arguing with him. Plaster and concrete had begun raining down and the flames from the stairwell seemed to gather before leaping in bold streaks across the lobby, towards where Demos was standing, engulfing him in black smoke.

  Jack pushed Robocop through the doorway. Alex pushed me through after and I copied him, pulling my T-shirt up to cover my mouth, all the while craning backwards, trying to catch a glimpse of Demos through the flames. What was he doing? Alex was right behind me, though, urging me forward.

  The smoke in the corridor was heavy, leaking through the air-conditioning vents above us and making it feel as if we were r
unning through an underground tunnel. My eyes were burning; the air I was sucking into my lungs was as thick and acrid as tar. I could just make out Jack about ten metres ahead.

  I tried to blow the smoke backwards, force it to retreat, and it did a little, starting to thin in places, billowing out to the sides like a cloak. We could at least see where we were going now, the long corridor stretching ahead of us. The back entrance that Sara had led us through at the far end was propped open with something, letting in a sliver of light.

  Then we heard a crack, muffled among the roaring of the flames and the rising shriek of sirens from outside. Alex jerked to a stop, his arms flying out to the sides, grasping for me. I grabbed hold of his arm to keep upright. Ahead, I watched Jack stumble, then stagger, his shoulder banging into the wall. In slow motion, with a scream welling inside me, I watched him slide to the ground.

  ‘Jack!’ I shouted, my throat burning, shoving my way past Alex to get to him.

  The smoke swallowed Jack whole just then and I blew it back with such force that it swept like a hurricane down the narrow corridor, smashing the door wide open and letting in a flood of light. A shadow appeared, striding through the smoke, heading towards us. I barely registered that it was Robocop. I didn’t register the gun at all – not until I heard the second crack. Then it was automatic. I hurled Alex out of the way so hard and so fast that the sound he made when he collided with the wall behind me drowned out the sound of the bullet smacking home.

  44

  It was the force of it that shocked me. It felt like a spear had been hurled into my ribcage. It splintered through the bone, twisting and mauling until I felt its hot, fat body sink into the cushion of my lung.

  My knees smashed into the floor, graceless and heavy. Alex’s voice roared in my ear before becoming faint and tinny, as though he had been suddenly transported to another dimension. There was another crack; this one sent me tumbling forward, my temple smacking into the floor. Thick, cloying black smoke closed over me, filling my nostrils and my mouth.

 
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