Michelle runs from the room, leaving me still staring down at my lap. How could I have done that to her? I know that breaking up must have hurt her really badly, yet I still went ahead and blurted it all out like the idiot that I am. This ability to read people doesn't seem to be going away, so I really need to start thinking about what I say before I say it, especially if it is pertaining to me having just read somebody.
I think that I should probably go downstairs. If I don't, the lady who runs this care home will come up here and try to get me to come down and eat something. I'm not hungry, I never am. However, I just want people to leave me alone and stop pestering me, so maybe going downstairs is the right option.
I get up from my chair and walk down to the main room. I can hear the doorbell ringing. It's probably just the pizza boy coming with the pizzas. I wander into the mess and sit down on one of the squishy leather sofas. The boys are engaged in a rather raucous game of table football. I watch them for a while because they make me laugh. After a little while, I start to get bored when the score is still nil-nil. I look over at the gaggle of girls sitting in the other corner.
Images flash through my mind again. Why does this keep happening. I see Maria's thoughts. She is thinking about how cute Jamie (a boy from our carehome) is. She keeps trying to impress him by wearing fashionable clothes and cutting back on her meals so that she is slimmer. It all seems so silly to me. I stay slim. Boys still don't give a damn about me.
Bella, the care home lady comes in. She has the pizzas with her. I wonder why she's been so long. I have to stay sitting on the sofa for a moment to get my bearings again. Rooting around in someone's thoughts can be quite disorienting. It's like having a quick blast of time in a zero-gravity area, then being thrown back into the normal world, it takes a few moments to re-adjust.
“Are you coming Adele?” Bella calls over to me. She looks tired and fed-up so I decide not to argue. If I could be bothered, I'd read her to see what's wrong, but frankly, I haven't the energy. I swing myself up off the sofa and sit down at the table. The other girls all try to make a fuss, but I don't. It's the same every mealtime. I just chew all my food carefully and eat it. It doesn't even taste that bad. I finish the meal off with a nice glass of acidic ginger beer, that settles my stomach just the way I like it.
When mealtime is over, I head upstairs. I need to do some homework. I can't focus though. All I can hear is the thoughts of everyone in this god-forsaken place. They all think that I'm a freak. I may be different, and that may make my life incredibly hard, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. Me being different is what makes me who I am. Why should I have to change that because someone thinks I'm a freak.
Everyone should have the right to be who they want to be. This whole saga, my whole life is like a roller-coaster. One moment, up, happy, on cloud nine, then the next moment plummeting towards the ground. I don't like not being in control. How can I even begin to think about controlling my life when I don't even know who I am.
I need to take back some control now though, or I'll go inside. I head across to the communal bathrooms. I go to the grotty ones at the other end of the landing so that nobody will come in. I go to my favourite toilet cubicle – the one on the end – and lean over the toilet bowl. I coax up my food and throw up into the toilet. I feel more peaceful. I feel better because I now know that I have power over at least one aspect of my life. Because of this habit, I can decide how my life will go. I can regiment and order it, and that makes me feel calm.
I haven't been in here since just after lunch. The same thing happened, followed my the same feeling of power. I flush the loo, wash my hands and wander back downstairs. Only a couple of people seem to notice that I am paler than earlier, and a little listless too.
I stare at the girl collapsing onto the ground in front of me. Can she really be my sister? Her eyes close as I finally get my head together. Whoever she is, I just hurt her pretty badly, so I need to get her inside and get a bandage and dressing on that head laceration. However, there is no way that this girl can really be who she claims to be. Yes, I had a sister called Alison Galloway, but I saw her die in front of me. I saw Unity's top agent, Jason Myers put a bullet through my sister's stomach. I held her head in my lap as she bled. I was there when the life drained from her. I was there when she breathed her last breath. I saw her die. Whoever this girl is, she cannot be my Ali.
I pick her up, supporting her head very carefully. I push the front door with the toe of my boot. It squeaks open on obviously unoiled hinges. Walking through the corridor, I realise how light the girl is. What do they feed them on back at Unity. It can't be much. She looks as thin as a rake. I lay her head down on a fresh pile of newspaper and stand up.
“I'll be back in a moment,” I say. “I just need to go and get some medical supplies. Everything is ok.” Not many would speak to an unconscious person, but I've heard it can be like water – sometimes deep, sometimes shallow – only there's no way to tell which it is.
I walk out of the room where she is lying, to the one where I dropped my rucksack when she knocked at the door. Pulling the zip back, I look inside to collect my portable medi-pac. I grab it and stride back to where the girl is still lying. The clip on the medi-pac is stiff, but I manage to open it. I pull out the sterilising cloth, and wipe it across the cut on her forehead. Then I wrap a field dressing around her head. It's not perfect, but it's a start. I hope it will do, because it's all I've got.
Sitting down next to her, I wonder what Unity did to her to convince her that pursuing me was a good idea. Is it possible that she could be Alison, my little Ali. That would mean that she'd be nearly fourteen, the girl in front of me only looks about twelve. Her eyelids start flickering… she's waking up!
Her eyes are opening – groggily – but still opening. She lets out a faint groan and struggles to sit up.
“No, don't try to sit up. I'm stronger than I remember. I got you pretty hard.” Although my words are serious, her mouth quirks up at the corners into a little smile.
“Max? Is it really you?” she asks. I can hear the hope in her voice.
“I don't know what Unity have told you, or made you believe about who I am, or about who you are, but I'm not your brother. My sister is dead.”
“No she's not. I'm right here.”
“I know,” she says. You held me in your arms as I bled out. What you didn't know is that the bullet that shot me, was covered in a tranquilizer serum that made me appear dead. You thought I was dead but I wasn't, and that's why you didn't come looking for me. I understand that. But I'm not dead. Quite the opposite in fact, I'm back! Unity hurt me for years and years, and it's time to make them pay…”
I'm sitting upstairs in my room, when there's a knock at the door.
“It's open!” I call out.
Two people in formal attire enter and Bella is with them. She looks up at me.“These people are here to see you. They want to talk to you about… about…” she grasps for the right words, “your special… special… abilities.” She finally finds the word she wants. “Just call if you need me.” She leaves the room, and instantly the atmosphere tenses.
The man that just came in is tall, with dark skin, and a large crop of raven-black hair. The quality and cut of his suit tell me that he's not only in a very well-paid job, but also quite a serious, important, high-up job. The woman is a few inches shorter and is wearing a skirt suit rather than trousers. The look on her young face is even more foreboding than that of the man. The feeling of predator/prey creeps up on me again. The hairs on the back of my neck begin to prick and a shiver runs down my spine.
They walk into my room and look around. I'm slouching on my beanbag, but I decide to sit up because they look like there here to talk to me about something important. I want to know what's going on, so I try to step into the woman's mind, but I stop dead. It's like there's something stopping me. All that I can see is blankness. I pull myself back into my own thoughts, a look of puzzlement spreading across my face. Why can't I do it? As long as I can remember, I have been able to Read people, but I just can't manage it. What's wrong with me?
“There's no point trying to get inside my head again,” the woman says abruptly, dragging me harshly out of my reverie. “I'm Blocking you. I'm a Blocker. Graham here is a Sensor. We've been searching for you for a long time Adele.”
Pure, untainted terror surges through my body. They've been looking for me for a long time, and now they've found me. I didn't try to hide from them because I didn't know they were coming. The lion has pounced, and I am being dragged into it's jaws.
The man stands up and comes over to me. “We can help you. We can help you to understand and control your powers. We can even give you a job that allows you to use them for the greater good. We can even take them away from you if that is what you wish.”
“What's the price?” I ask. “What's the catch?” I am extremely suspicious. There must be a hidden clause, some sort of small-print that I have yet to notice.
“There is no price. We just ask that as a gesture of goodwill that you help us with something. It's nothing important. Just a small matter. Nothing to worry about at all.”
“What if I say no? What if I don't want to go with you? What id I want to keep on living the way I have been living so far?” I question.
“I'm afraid, Miss DeWinter,” he says, “that you have no choice in the matter.” He pulls out a cloth that smells bitter, with and overlay of sweetness, like medicine. He clamps id down over my nose and mouth. I struggle against him, kicking and punching for all that I am worth, but I can already feel myself slipping away, being dragged off by that oh so enticing darkness…
Horror sweeps through my body. My sister has spent nine years trapped in Unity, being treated as a guinea pig for all of their new power-enhancing drugs, and new weapons, but she has been failed by everyone. They have failed to notice what was really happening. No. The truth was far, far worse. I have failed. I have failed her by letting Unity take her from me. They tortured her for nine whole years, while I have been free. On the run, but free.
“Alison, what did they do to you?” I ask her, my face full of pity and sorrow for everything that she must have been put through.
“They used my powers for their own ends. I was one of their most powerful Observers. They made me describe the future over and over again every time it changed until my head felt like it was going to explode and blood was dripping from my nose, my ears, even my tears were mingled with blood.
“Then they tested a new drug on me. The radioactive contents scorched my veins and made my blood run black. It still does. They injected me with it three, four, five times a day, I don't know any more. The minutes of unending, excruciating pain turned into hours, which turned into days, then weeks, months, then even years. I was trapped in that hell-hole with no escape.”
“Alison, I'm so sorry for everything that happened to you. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry,” I say.
She looks up at me. “It isn't your fault. Besides, if you had tried to rescue me, then they would have only captured you. It would only have made things worse instead of better.”
“But surely having someone with you, someone you knew would have helped. What if I had been there to hold your hand through the pain?” I ask.
“Trust me, you not being there is better. I wouldn't wish what happened to me on anyone. The things that went on in that place will be a scar on my soul forever.
It's better that you don't know about it.”
“Please. I want to know. I want to be able to share your pain. I want to be able to lesson your pain. How can I even begin to help you when I don't know what is troubling you?”
“I will tell you only a little bit then. They would come into the place where we lived and take one of us away. We would hear screams an screams going on endlessly till…”
“Till nothing. Just silence. Suffice to say we never saw that person again,” her voice was wavering and getting higher. I looked up at her and realised she was crying. Silent tears streaming down her face. We said more to each other in those few moments of silent tears than we had throughout our whole conversation.
“What happened then?” I ask her gently. I can see clearly she is struggling with this subject, but I am here for her. And if crying is what she needs to do to help her get through this, then that is what she needs to do. My shoulder is here, and I haven't had someone to cry on it for just so long.
“I'm so sorry, I just can't.”
“That's fine,” I tell her. “You've done incredibly well to tell me about this much. Just tell me when you're ready to keep going.”
She nods her head and her soft golden curls bounce gently. They frame her delicate face beautifully. She is so slight and dainty. When she left, she was slender, but they clearly didn't care much for proper meals at Unity. She is so skinny that I can see her ribs individually through her high-necked t-shirt. Her legs are as thin as pencils and her hips look to pointed and bony. I stand up.
“I think we could both do with a good rest, but first, we should have a decent meal.”
I go over to the other side of the room and start making us a meal of beans on toast. I use my extra rations to give Alison a properly-sized meal. She sits up on the makeshift bed and crosses her legs. She looks so angelic with her golden curly bob and delicate features. She watches me closely as I cook the meal. But as I stand still waiting for the beans to cook, her eyes drift off me to the room. She seems fascinated by the tattered lacy curtains that hang by the window.
I walk over to her. I assume the curtains remind her of our old home. I reach out my hand to touch her lightly on the arm. She flinches away from me.
“Ali?” I ask. “You know that I won't hurt you.”
“I know,” she says. “It's a protective reflex. After everything that happened at Unity, I don't like people touching me. Especially when I don't know they are going to do it.”
“Please don't be. Just promise me you'll never have anything to do with Unity.”
“I promise I won't.
“Good. Because once they've got you, you're never coming back...”
Ring ring! Ring ring! Alison's phone rings, startling us both. She picks it up.
“Who is it?” I ask her. Her phone flashes up saying NUMBER BLOCKED.
“Number blocked?” she says. “It'll be Unity then.” She hits the green button and pulls up the phone to her ear. “Hello?”
Is that Special Agent 42?
“If that means Alison Galloway, then yes.”
When you are on an assignment, Special Agent 42, you will refrain from using names on a hackable phone.
“Sorry, commander. This is the commander isn't it?”
Yes. How is the assignment going?
“On track, sir.”
So have you infiltrated the suspect's hide out and apprehended them?
“Well, not exactly sir.”
So how can the assignment possibly be on track?
“I have completed step one of the briefing.”
So you have infiltrated the suspect's hideout and gained his trust?
Good, good. Has the suspect been apprehended?
“Not as yet sir.”
“I don't think I'm physically strong enough, especially after everything that's happened.”
I hear a note of uncertainty in your voice. Are you starting to doubt what we are doing?
“Not what we do. What you do. It's wrong. What you do is wrong.”
You seem to have forgotten something.
“What? What have I forgotten?”
Something that I would have thought would mean a lot to you, what with your strong morals.
Summer, Courtney, do you have something to say to Alison?
Alison? Is that you? This is Summer! Please, Alison. Help us. They've increased the strength of the drugs. We burning from the inside out. Please, help us!
Enough of that. If you don't bring to Max to us by midnight tomorrow, then your friends will pay the price.
“What are you going to do to them?”
Their death will become an internet phenomenon. It will be posted all over every social media site, chat room and forum with your name and photo attached to it. You will be hunted for their murders. So, do we have a deal?
“Fine. I'll do it, but please! Don't hurt Summer and Courtney.”
I'll try not to let the agents spoil the goods too badly.
“No!” The phone goes dead.
“Alison? What happened?” I shake Alison by the arm to try an initiate a response. “Alison? Who was it? Alison, talk to me? Ali, please?”
She looks up at me. She almond-shaped eyes growing in fear and shock. “Unity. Summer. Courtney. Midnight. All over.”
“What? Alison, talk to me? What happened?”
Alison manages to get to grips with what happened. “It was Unity. They want me to complete my assignment by midnight tomorrow. Or...” she tails off.
“Or what?” I prompt.
“Or they'll kill my best friends Summer and Courtney. They'll kill Summer and Courtney, and post a video of the murder all over social media with my name and photo attached. Everyone will think I murdered my friends, and everywhere I go, I will see my friends being killed over and over again. Oh, Max, I can't bear it. I can't take it. I can't take it any more.”
I try to reach out my hand to her but she shrugs it off. “We'll think of something.”
“No, Max. You don't understand. If you try to outsmart Unity, you and everyone you love will end up dead.”
“You can't know that.”
“Oh, I can, Max. I've seen it happen.”
“Fine. Who are Summer and Courtney?”
“They were my best friends at Unity. We helped each other through the hard times.”
“Then it's time to get them out of there.”
“If we're going to come up with a plan, and we need to do it fast. There's a noose around their necks and we're running against the clock. Tick, tock, Max. Tick tock...”