Authors: Teri Terry
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Action & Adventure, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction, #General
If you liked this you’ll love…
It doesn’t look much from the outside. But what you get outside is often like that. People, especially, can be so different from what you can see that you’d never guess what goes on in their secret places. What they are capable of. In my case, what lurked within was so well hidden even I didn’t know about it.
Aiden pulls the car down the side of the rundown building. He glances at me. ‘Don’t look so scared, Kyla.’
‘I’m not,’ I start to object, but then I glance at the road, and all at once, I am. ‘Lorders,’ I hiss, and scrunch down in the seat. A black van pulls in behind, blocking us in. Leaden dread pools in my veins, holds me still and numb even as everything inside is screaming
. The fear takes me back: another time, another Lorder. Coulson. The gun in his hand, pointed at me, and then—
Katran’s blood. A sea of hot red that covered us both, and took my friend away, forever. So like my father’s death years ago that it wrenched up that most buried memory. Both dead. Both my fault.
Aiden puts a hand over mine, one worried eye on the mirror and the van, one on me. Doors open, someone steps out. Not dressed in Lorder black? A slight figure, a woman, hat pulled down low to shield her face. She walks to the door of the building. It opens from the inside, and she disappears through it.
‘Look at me, Kyla,’ Aiden says, his voice calm, reassuring, and I tear my eyes away from the van behind us. ‘There is nothing to worry about; just don’t draw their attention.’ He twists in the driver’s seat, slips his arms around me and tries to pull me close, but I’m rigid with fear. ‘Play along,’ he says, and I force my body to relax into his. He murmurs into my hair, ‘Just giving them a reason why we were lingering. In case they’re getting curious.’
I breathe in slow.
They’re not after me
. They’ll go away now.
They’re not after me
. And then I’m clinging to Aiden and his arms wrap around me even tighter. There are vehicle sounds behind; tyres crunch on gravel. And keep going.
‘They’re gone,’ Aiden says, but he doesn’t let go. And the relief is so strong that I sag against him, bury my face in his chest. His heart beats fast, drumming a
of safety, warmth, and something
But this is wrong. He’s not Ben.
My fear is replaced by embarrassment, then anger: anger at myself. I pull away. How could I be such a total wimp and let them get to me like that? How could I cling to Aiden just because I was scared? And I remember what he said on the way earlier: that Lorders come here. Lorders, government officials and their families. People with money and power who can make others look away and keep quiet. That woman is probably a Lorder’s wife. She is probably here for the same reason as me. I flush.
Aiden’s blue eyes are warm, concerned. ‘Are you sure you can pull this off, Kyla?’
‘Yes. Of course I can. And I thought you weren’t supposed to call me that any more?’
‘It’d be easier if you’d make up your mind what your new name is going to be.’
I don’t say anything, because I sort of have, but I don’t want to share it yet. I’m not sure he’ll like it.
‘Walk in like you own the place, and no one will look at you twice. It’s all anonymous.’
‘Best get going before anyone else comes.’
I open the car door, step out. It is cold, a grey January day. The chill is reason enough for the scarf wrapped around my head, obscuring an identity that will soon change. I square my shoulders, walk to the door. It opens, and I step inside.
My eyes widen; my feet almost falter until I remember:
walk like I own the place
. This shiny place, with enormous plush chairs, soft music and a smiling nurse? A discreet guard in the corner. The woman we saw come out of the Lorder van moments ago is ensconced in a chair with a wine glass in one hand.
The nurse approaches, smiles. ‘Welcome. Do you know your number?’
‘7162,’ I say, the number Aiden gave me earlier. Even though my name is best kept quiet, I wasn’t sure I liked being known by a number, not after being Slated. Not after having a Levo around my wrist with my number carved into it, classifying me as a criminal for all to see. It’s gone now: there are no visible marks left behind, but the scars remain.
She checks a handheld screen, smiles again. ‘Have a seat for a moment. Your IMET consultant will be with you very soon.’
I sit, startled when the chair moves, adjusts to my body. IMET: Image Enhancement Technology. Barely whispered about, hellishly expensive, and totally illegal. I’m here courtesy of favours owed to Aiden’s organisation, MIA. MIA may stand for Missing in Action, but it turns out they don’t just find missing people and campaign for the truth about the Lorders to be revealed. Turns out they also sneak people out of the UK who need to disappear, and others in at the same time: IMET consultants who know a good black market opportunity when they see one.
The woman in the other chair turns towards me. She is attractive, fifty or so. If the rumours are true she’ll look twenty years younger before she leaves this place. There is an inquisitive glint to her eyes, a
what are you here for?
look. I ignore her.
A door opens and footsteps approach. She starts to get up, but the steps continue past her, and a man stops in front of me. A doctor? But not like any doctor I’ve seen before: he is in scrubs, but they are a bright purple shimmery fabric. It matches his streaked hair and purple eyes to perfection, unnatural shimmer and all.
He holds out both hands, helps me up and air kisses my cheeks. ‘Hello, darling. I’m Doc de Jour, but you can call me DJ. This way.’ His words are a lilting drawl, an unfamiliar accent: Irish?
I follow him and suppress a smirk at the indignant look on the waiting woman’s face. She must wonder who I am, why I take precedence. If she only knew.
she knew, she’d go straight to her Lorder husband.
Doc de Jour is disappointed in me. ‘Are you
that is all you want doing? Hair. In
.’ He says it like brown hair is the ultimate crime of mediocrity. But blending in is what I need.
He sighs. ‘Such lovely hair you have, and so hard to match. Like sunshine on early daffodils 12. With highlights 9.’ He runs fingers through it, a measuring look in his eyes, like he is copying it for his next patient. Then he studies my face. ‘How about eye colour?’
‘No. I like them green.’
‘They’re distinctive: it’s a risk,’ he says, and my eyes widen. What does he know?
He winks. ‘They
an interesting shade. Almost apple green 26, but more intense,’ he says, then spins the chair I’m sitting in around and looks me up and down. I squirm. ‘Wouldn’t you like to be taller?’
I raise an eyebrow. ‘You can do that?’
‘Of course. It’ll take a while, though.’
I bristle. ‘What is wrong with my height?’
‘Nothing. If you don’t mind jumping to see over things.’
‘Just the hair.’
‘Brown. You know IMET is accelerated gene-tech: it is permanent? Brown hair forever. It’ll grow that way; no more blondy ever again, unless you come back to see me.’
He hands me a mirror and I look in it. So weird to think next time I do this I won’t see the hair I’ve always had. The colour is okay I guess, but it is so fine – I always wanted thicker hair. Like Amy’s gorgeous dark hair, the first thing I’d noticed about my new sister when I was assigned to live with them as a new Slated, just months ago. ‘Wait a minute. I wonder if…’
He spins the chair back so he stares into my eyes with his purple ones. They’re hard not to look at. ‘Yes?’
‘Can you make it longer? And thicker. Maybe…some streaks in it. Not anything weird: natural-looking.’
He claps his hands. ‘Consider it done.’
Later I’m told to lie back on a table that is like the chairs in the waiting area: it moulds and grips my body. Flutters of panic fight to keep me awake. Is this how it was when I was Slated? Then, I had no choice – I saw the file photograph. I was tied to a table like any other criminal. The Lorders and their surgery stole my memories, put a chip in my brain that could’ve killed me before my Levo was taken off. This isn’t the same. This is just hair. And it is my choice: I don’t
to do this.
There is faint music. Everything is misty and vague, and my eyes start to close.
Just hair…but it is
hair Ben slipped his fingers through when he kissed me.