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       The Roar, p.22

           Emma Clayton
 

  ‘Without a doubt,’ Ralph lied.

  Ralph took away the tray of chocolate and returned to bed and Gorman stood up and walked towards the window and gazed at Earth wondering why he was scared of a memory in the mind of a twelve-year-old boy.

  And it isn’t even me, he reassured himself. But perhaps I should get rid of the boy just in case.

  No, I can’t do that, he might be one of the best.

  But how would he feel, knowing he had to deal with a boy who had an image like that in his head? Gorman needed these special children; they were the only ones who could do the job he had planned for them. But he had assumed they would be scared of him, not the other way round. How could he control a boy he was scared of? It would be like having a pocket full of fireworks that had started going off. He remembered what Ellie had done to him while she was lying in that coffin in The Shadows and felt his heart palpitate. But, he reminded himself, they’re just children, and until I tell him, Mika Smith will have no idea what he can do.

  I am Mal Gorman and that boy will be scared of me.

  32

  FLOATING PANTS

  Mika and Audrey went to the arcade the first night after they returned from holiday, but instead of the warm welcome they were hoping for from their friends, everyone rushed off to start Pod Fighter games without even saying hello.

  ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Audrey whispered. ‘We haven’t seen them for a week, why are they ignoring us?’

  ‘I dunno,’ Mika replied, watching them curiously – they seemed excited and he realized something must have happened while they were away.

  They played a couple of games on their own and still nobody invited them to join in and it wasn’t until the end of the night that they discovered the reason why: that coming weekend, there was a special event at the arcades for all the children who had not qualified in the competition. The YDF were giving away loads of prizes including a thousand credits and vouchers for real food, and clothes and sneakers.

  ‘So they don’t hate us,’ Audrey said, as Tom walked straight past as if they were invisible. ‘They’re just hopeful again.’

  * * *

  Mika and Audrey would be competing in the final round of the competition the next weekend so Mika decided to practise his new trick in bed at night, just in case he was asked to do it again. He didn’t have a marble so he used a frozen pea, which he smuggled from the freezer into the bedroom in his hand. He sat in bed for half an hour staring at it and willing something to happen and when nothing did, he began to wonder if he had just imagined doing it before, because the pea just sat there, defrosting on the cover. But just as he was about to give up because his eyes were getting tired, the pea began to glow inside. Feeling excited and a little afraid, he lost his concentration and it faded again. It was like trying to make a fire by rubbing sticks together over a bit of fluff – you had to blow on the ember very carefully so it made a fire but didn’t go out. It was another quarter of an hour before he made the pea glow again and this time he moved it, only a bit, it rolled once and stopped, but he did it. He jolted and hit his head on the bunk bed above him, then lay in the darkness with his eyes wide open feeling afraid of himself. But the next night his heart thumped with excitement each time the pea began to glow, and once he got the hang of it, his progress was fast; after a couple of hours he could make it roll through the valleys in Ellie’s cover. By the end of the third night, he could lift it into the air so it rolled in front of his face as if it was boiling in water, and by Thursday morning, he had progressed to larger objects. Asha walked into his room unexpectedly to find a pair of pants floating in the air. Mika panicked and broke eye contact so the pants dropped to the floor and tried to look busy with Lilian.

  ‘I swear I just saw your pants floating in the air,’ Asha said.

  ‘What?’ Mika replied, screwing up his face as if he had no idea what she was talking about.

  ‘Your pants . . .’ his mother said doubtfully. She stared at them on the floor for a moment. ‘I must be going mad,’ she muttered, and left the bedroom shaking her head.

  33

  CAPE WRATH

  When Mika awoke on Friday morning, he felt a pain in his thigh as if it was remembering what had happened to it. He got up and dressed and looked out of the window at the clouds feeling uneasy. He sensed something, an expectant stillness, tense and concentrated like a cat about to pounce and he felt tired and wanted nothing to think about, to just be a normal kid getting up on a normal day. But they were coming for him later, so it was far from a normal day and he was far from a normal kid; he could move things with his eyes. He turned to see Ellie smiling at him from a holopic. A seven-year-old Ellie with gappy teeth and a scab on her chin where she’d scraped it falling over. He took a deep breath, stood up and got ready for school.

  His classmates were excited because the new event was starting that night, and Mika noticed that Mrs Fowler was behaving strangely. She didn’t tell anyone off, even though they were shouting, and while they were drinking their Fit Mix, she welled up with tears and hastily left the classroom muttering something about needing to check the litter bins. In the afternoon, she wished them all good luck before they left for Fit Camp with a wobbly voice and a tissue crushed in her hand. Mika met her eyes and realized she was crying for them.

  ‘Good luck, Mika,’ she said, touching his arm gently as he passed her. ‘I hear you’re going away tonight to compete in the final round?’

  ‘Yes,’ Mika said. ‘Someone’s coming for me at six o’clock.’

  ‘Well, take care and have a nice time,’ she said, her eyes shining with tears.

  ‘Thanks, Mrs Fowler,’ he replied.

  He couldn’t be angry with her. Whatever happened, it wasn’t poor old Mrs Fowler’s fault; she had known them all since they were five years old. She loved them.

  * * *

  After Fit Camp, Mika’s classmates ran into town to the arcade. They were all so fit now, they sprinted the three kilometres and weren’t even breathless when they got there. Mika walked home in the opposite direction to pack his bag. His parents had left work early so they could spend some time with him before he left, but Mika wished they hadn’t; Asha talked incessantly, fretting over what he was taking with him, and David wouldn’t sit down and kept walking round the sofa.

  ‘They haven’t even told us how long the journey is,’ Asha complained, holding sandwiches in her hand. ‘How am I supposed to know how much food to give you?’

  Mika felt as if he had a big hole where his stomach used to be, so food was the last thing on his mind.

  ‘That’s plenty,’ he said, taking the sandwiches and putting them in his case. ‘They’ll probably feed us when we get there anyway.’

  ‘I wish they’d tell us where they’re taking you,’ David said, grumpily. ‘I don’t like not knowing.’

  ‘It’s only for two days,’ Mika said.

  ‘Call us as soon as you get there,’ David continued, firmly.

  ‘If I can,’ Mika replied.

  ‘And don’t talk to any strangers,’ added his father.

  ‘But they’ll all be strangers, Dad,’ Mika pointed out.

  ‘You know what I mean,’ David grumped. ‘And don’t do anything dangerous.’

  ‘I won’t,’ Mika said. ‘I’ve already promised. No harpoon guns or dangerous games.’

  ‘Remember to pack your wash bag,’ Asha said.

  ‘I’ve already done it,’ Mika replied. ‘I don’t want to get disqualified for smelling.’

  ‘There’s no need to be cheeky, Mika.’

  Their fussing got on his nerves and he didn’t want to have an argument with them just before he left, so he hid in the hygiene cubicle so he could be on his own, but just as the door slid shut, Lilian called out from his pocket.

  ‘What do you want?’ Mika whispered, irritably. ‘I’m in the loo.’ And he got her out of his pocket just so he could glare at her.

  ‘Sorry,’ Lilian said, looking sheepish in
a very pretty way. ‘Helen wants to talk to you.’

  ‘Helen?’ Mika said, disbelievingly. ‘My Helen?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Quick!’ Mika urged. ‘Put her on!’

  He was hugely relieved to see her face, but he was shocked by her appearance; she looked completely different; her witchy, long grey hair had been cut short and styled in neat curls and she was wearing pearl earrings and a flowery dress with a lacy collar. In fact she looked just like the normal old ladies who lived in her tower, who glared at him disapprovingly as if boys shouldn’t be allowed. He couldn’t believe she was looking like that by choice. She was also wearing an odd looking metal bracelet that didn’t match the rest of her outfit and she was crouching down as if she was hiding. Beside her was an ornate table with a frilly tablecloth covering its legs, and behind that Mika could see a few other old people with party hats squashed on to their heads.

  ‘Hello, Gorgeous,’ whispered Helen. ‘Good to see you.’

  ‘You too,’ Mika said, quickly. ‘Where are you?’

  ‘At a birthday party,’ she whispered. ‘But you’re not missing much. Half the guests are asleep and the other half don’t know they’re here. Did you get my letter?’

  ‘No!’ Mika whispered frantically. ‘My father opened the biscuits and it got thrown in the bin!’

  Helen’s face fell.

  ‘Oh no,’ she said, looking worried. ‘So you don’t know The Secret?’

  ‘No!’ he said hungrily. ‘Tell me now!’

  ‘There isn’t time,’ she said hurriedly. ‘Are you still in the competition?’

  ‘Of course!’ he replied. ‘You’re scaring me, Helen. What do you know?’

  ‘You’re in terrible danger,’ she said.

  ‘Yes, I know that bit, tell me more!’ he insisted.

  ‘You must drop out of the competition,’ she said, looking nervously over her shoulder, ‘. . . and stay away from the arcades!’

  ‘I can’t!’ Mika replied frantically. ‘I’ve reached the final round and they’re coming for me in less than an hour. If I don’t go I won’t find Ellie!’

  Suddenly two pairs of chunky legs in brown tights and white skirts appeared behind Helen and she looked over her shoulder.

  ‘Drat!’ she hissed. ‘I’ve got to go!’

  ‘No!’ Mika said, desperately. ‘Tell me The Secret! Tell me where you are!’

  A beefy hand appeared and grabbed Helen firmly by the shoulder and Mika heard a voice. ‘Tut, tut, Mrs Gelt. What are you doing hiding behind the table? Now let’s get you back to your chair, there’s a good girl, and we’ll see if there’s a lovely piece of birthday cake for you.’

  ‘Get off me, you brute!’ Helen said, slapping the beefy hand that was holding her shoulder in a vice-like grip. ‘How dare you!’

  ‘Now, now, Mrs Gelt,’ the voice said, threateningly. ‘If you don’t do as you’re told you’ll have to sit on the naughty step. Be a good girl and give me the companion.’

  ‘No!’

  Mika could hear a tussle and a lot of swearing, then Helen’s companion flew through the air and landed in the middle of something white and squidgy and he realized it was the birthday cake because he could see a mess of iced flowers and broken candles.

  ‘Mrs Gelt!’ an outraged voice shouted. ‘My goodness! What disgusting behaviour! You’ve just ruined that beautiful cake! That’s ten minutes on the naughty step!’

  ‘Save yourself!’ Helen yelled as she was dragged away. ‘Get away from them!’ Then the screen fizzed and blanked and she was gone.

  For thirty seconds, Mika stared in bewilderment at the blank screen. Where on Earth was she? And why were they calling her Mrs Gelt? Her name was Helen Green, not Gelt. He was really worried about her but he couldn’t help feeling annoyed too, because for the second time she’d tried to help him and just made him feel more afraid without telling him anything useful. He wasn’t going to the arcade anyway, and he couldn’t drop out of the competition, because that would mean giving up on Ellie. He would rather she’d told him other things, like this secret she kept going on about and where she was. Why did she tell him to stay away from the arcades? What was going to happen there? He thought about the new event taking place that weekend and felt a surge of panic. He stuffed Lilian in his pocket and left the hygiene room and ran past his parents towards the door.

  ‘Where are you going?’ Asha asked, sharply. ‘You can’t go out now! They’re coming for you soon!’

  He could hear his mother yelling as he ran down the stairs, but he blocked it out and ran faster. He had to speak to Kobi before he left to make sure he stayed away from the arcade. He tried to call him, but there was no reply.

  ‘How much time have I got before they come for me?’ he asked Lilian.

  ‘Fifty-three minutes,’ she replied.

  He began to run towards Kobi’s tower, pounding along the walkway. It was the quiet time of night when most people were at home. There was no wind and in the stillness he felt as if the clouds were pressing down on him and the low buzz of pylons made the air feel like gas. Everything felt primed for a huge explosion. On the other side of town, he saw a solitary figure on the walkway and as he got closer to it, he realized it was Tom walking towards the arcade. He skidded to a halt, but Tom’s feet didn’t miss a beat and he walked on as if he hadn’t even seen him.

  ‘Tom!’ Mika shouted after him. ‘Wait!’

  Tom turned and his light darkened which made Mika feel uncomfortable.

  ‘What do you want?’ Tom asked, impatiently. ‘I’m on my way to the arcade.’

  ‘Are you competing in the new event?’ Mika asked

  ‘Yes,’ Tom said. ‘And I’m already late because I had to help my mum; she’s in bed, sick. What do you want?’

  ‘To help you,’ Mika said.

  Tom blushed and looked away.

  ‘I want to give you some money,’ Mika said. ‘We’re going to sell the hover car I won.’

  ‘You hardly know me,’ Tom said, uncomfortably. ‘You can’t do that.’

  ‘But I want to,’ Mika said. ‘If it wasn’t for you pulling me on to the train that day, I wouldn’t even be in the competition. Just think of it like chips or noodles. You really want them when you’re starving hungry, then halfway through, you’re full up, so you offer them around.’

  ‘Money’s not like chips or noodles,’ Tom said. ‘Anyway, I don’t need your help, I can win a thousand credits this weekend on my own.’

  Tom began to walk on, but Mika grabbed him by the arm and held him back.

  ‘Please don’t go to the arcade,’ Mika said. ‘Take the money from me and go home to your mum.’

  ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Tom replied angrily, shaking Mika’s hand off him. ‘You’re being weird.’

  ‘Please,’ Mika said.

  There was an awkward silence and Mika felt the cameras on the walkway watching them. It was awful. He wanted to tell Tom he was in danger and to stay away from the arcade, but he didn’t dare. One wrong word spoken in haste could make him disappear, like Ellie.

  ‘You don’t think I’m good enough to win, do you?’ Tom said.

  ‘Of course you are,’ Mika replied adamantly. ‘That’s not what I’m trying to say.’

  ‘Well, what are you trying to say?’ Tom asked. He looked offended and confused and didn’t wait for the reply that Mika was unable to offer him. ‘I’ve got to go,’ he said. ‘I can look after my mum; I don’t need your help.’

  And Mika watched him walk away with the horrible feeling he would never see him again.

  * * *

  Kobi opened the door with his hair tied back and a light strapped to his head. For the first time ever, Mika saw his eyes, nose and mouth all at once. He had a noble look about him and for a second Mika pictured him riding like a prince across a desert on a horse.

  ‘Hey,’ Mika said.

  ‘Hey,’ Kobi replied with a surprised smile. He had a strange-looking pen tool in one hand and a half-eaten
bagel in the other. He stepped aside to let Mika in and Mika walked past him, picking his way through the rubble of borg bits strewn across the floor. He’d never seen so much stuff crammed into one fold-down, even Helen’s looked tidy compared to this. There were heaps of dismantled borgs everywhere, even in the kitchen all over the work surfaces, and instead of a sofa and a television, there was a table with a bright work lamp shining down on it.

  ‘I’m making those kittens,’ Kobi said. ‘For Audrey.’

  ‘Is your dad home?’ Mika asked, looking towards the bedroom door.

  ‘No,’ Kobi said, ‘he’s at work.’

  Two of the kittens were finished and they were playing together, scampering across the table, while the third lay still, waiting for its head to be attached.

  ‘I don’t know how you do that,’ Mika said, admiringly, looking at the tiny borgs.

  ‘Patience,’ Kobi said. ‘My dad started me off when I was little. Apparently I wouldn’t stop screaming unless he gave me a bit of wire and a screwdriver. He was studying industrial robotics before the plague. Now he fixes Maid Maud borgs – you know, the ones that go round offices selling raspberry popperade.’

  ‘That’s a shame,’ Mika said.

  ‘Yeah,’ Kobi replied. He sat down at the desk and took a bite of his bagel. Something moved in the corner of the room and Mika realized there was a silver raven sitting on one of the piles of borg bits watching them with beady eyes.

  ‘That’s Nevermore,’ Kobi said. ‘He can’t fly yet but one day he will. Come here Nevermore.’

  The raven spread his wings and jumped across on to the table, then frogmarched around it proudly with the kittens trying to attack his feet.

  ‘Hello, Nevermore,’ Mika said.

  ‘Craaark,’ Nevermore replied in a friendly way.

  ‘So?’ Kobi said, watching Mika carefully. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be leaving soon?’

  ‘Yeah,’ Mika said.

  Kobi stared at him. ‘So what are you doing here?’

  ‘Nothing,’ Mika replied, shrugging. ‘I just wondered whether you were going to the arcade this weekend.’ He held out his finger and Nevermore gently nibbled it with his metal beak.

 
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