Previous: Chapter Two
Ethne woke with a headache. Gentle fingers pressed a cloth to her head and she could hear the murmur of an apology on a loop. She squeezed open her eyes to find herself on the sofa, a cushion behind her head, and Ana bent over her in anguish.
‘I’m so sorry, Ethne. I didn’t know what to do. Please forgive me, I’m so sorry-’
‘Will you stop apologising. It’s my fault for picking a fight with a troll. Two trolls.’
Ethne sat up and immediately wished she hadn’t. It took all her self-control, and not a little vanity, to prevent her throwing up into her own lap. She took the tea towel from Ana and looked at it. Blood.
‘It’s just a small cut,’ said Ana. ‘You’ll get a bruise. I’ll make a tincture. You need lavender, and I think we’ve got some lettuce.’
‘I’m not walking around with half a lettuce strapped to my skull.’
Ana wandered off and Ethne closed her eyes. The fight had been over in seconds. What had made her think she could stop them? She couldn’t just stand there and let them take Michael. A painful bruise was a small price to pay for self-respect.
Ana reappeared with her medical kit and a bottle of lavender oil and set about swabbing Ethne’s wounds. Ethne allowed herself to be nursed and scanned the aftermath of the fight. Moonlight bathed the wreckage in a blue glow. Books and CDs littered the floor, a chair and the coffee table had been reduced to firewood.
‘We should get out of here,’ she said.
‘Can you walk?’
‘I can try.’
‘We’ll go to Jack’s,’ said Ana. ‘We’ll be safer there.’
‘Pity he wasn’t here tonight,’ said Ethne, standing slowly.
‘You read my mind.’
They made it all the way down and out of the building before Ethne was hit by another wave of nausea. She staggered to the bench outside the entrance and sat with her head between her knees. It was a good thing she had walked to Byker this evening, she couldn’t handle the Softail in this state.
Ana sat beside her and ran a hand over her back. ‘Good thing you’re not on your motorcycle.’
Ethne straightened up and gave her friend a sidelong glance. In the last few months she had got used to the telepathy, but often wondered how much Ana picked up. There had been several embarrassing incidents and a couple of blazing rows before they had agreed to be kinder to each other, and Ana had promised to stay out of her head.
Ana’s attention drifted across the street to the black Lexus in the parking bay. Ethne had passed it when she arrived. She was always suspicious of men sitting in parked cars, and this pair looked distinctly unsavoury. Ana stared into the darkness, her expression blank, but Ethne could tell her friend was rattled. She tried to think of something reassuring to say, but the words sounded like bullshit, even to her. She said them anyway.
‘They probably only took Michael because of his film. You haven’t done anything, so why would they take you, Ana?’
‘They’re waiting for backup.’
‘How d’you know?’
Ana looked at her like she was a prize idiot.
‘Oh,’ said Ethne. ‘I hope you’re giving them a thorough probing.’
‘They’re coming for me because of what I am,’ said Ana.
‘That’ll be the paranoia talking.’
Ana sighed. ‘I need to tell you something, Ethne, and you have to promise to listen and not interrupt or make any of your quips or silliness.’
Ethne raised her hands in mock surrender. ‘Your wish is my command.’
‘Remember the blood tests we did at uni?’
Ethne nodded. ‘Phanes BioTech were building that massive DNA database. What happened to it? Did it go under with everything else in the storm last year?’
‘ARK bought it.’
‘Along with the kitchen sink,’ said Ethne. ‘Doesn’t surprise me.’
‘They found a mutation in the DNA. Michael has it and so have I. That’s why-’
‘That’s why you’ve got superpowers,’ grinned Ethne.
Ana looked at her sternly. ‘You promised.’
‘Sorry. Go on.’
‘I heard them talking,’ said Ana. ‘They call us Deviants. They want to take me to their lab for experimentation.’
Ethne grimaced. ‘Don’t like the sound of that.’
‘I think that’s why they’ve taken Michael too. But there’s more.’
‘Look, obviously I don’t know what’s going on,’ said Ethne, ‘but they can’t mistreat Michael, or you. There are protocols and whatnot. I read every word of that privacy and confidentiality agreement thing we had to sign.’
‘I know, but Patrick told them things about me.’
‘What does your stepdad know about anything? He was a trolley dolly for Speedy Jet. For the love of Thoth, Ana, you haven’t done anything wrong, okay? Just because you’ve got some mutation, doesn’t make you a menace. You need to stop worrying. Patrick’s dead. Leave him buried. Frankly, I think it’s poetic justice he was struck by lightning just after he stabbed you in the back.’
Ethne took Ana’s hand. ‘Listen to me, Anastasia Wilson. You are the kindest, most compassionate person I know. The day you do something diabolical is the day I join the Quakers.’
Ana smiled and squeezed her friend’s hand.
‘So please don’t do anything diabolical,’ continued Ethne, ‘because I couldn’t stand being a Quaker. Or any other God-based nonsense.’
Ana chuckled. ‘Ready to move again?’
Ethne nodded and was about to stand when her leather jacket began to vibrate. She retrieved her phone and looked at the caller ID in confusion. She didn’t know whether to be pleased or worried or surprised or angry. She tapped answer.
‘Ethne?’ said a smooth Scottish voice she thought she would never hear again. ‘Is that you?’
‘William.’ She wanted to say more but didn’t know where to start. She waited for him to explain himself and give her time to regain her cool.
‘Sorry to call like this,’ he said. ‘But, I need you.’
Anger, she thought. Anger was the correct response. But before she could launch into one of her infamous tirades, he cut her off.
‘Don’t start, Ethne. Not like that. I have a job for you.’
‘Call someone else,’ she said, ready to hang up.
‘No,’ said Will. ‘You have to come to Greenland. We’ve found something and I need you to, well…You need to see this, Ethne.’
She could hear the excitement in his voice and, despite her better judgement, could feel her curiosity rising.
The sound of a car door slamming made her spin round. Another Lexus had turned up. A man was standing beside the car in the darkness, watching them.
Ethne and Ana sprang from the bench. They ducked behind the tower block and started to run.
‘This really isn’t a good time, Will,’ said Ethne as she skirted the burnt out car behind Albion Court. She switched on her torch.
‘It’s all arranged,’ he continued. ‘You just have to get to London tonight. There’s a charter to bring you over. Are you okay? You sound like you’re running.’
‘I am running, you infuriating wazzock. I’ll call you back.’
Ethne and Ana ran between boarded up terraced houses and slipped through a half-collapsed barricade blocking the road. They cut down a back alley, fleeing past stinking heaps of rotting bin bags, before careening into the next street. Jack’s street. They slowed to a fast walk, shooting anxious glances over their shoulders.
A car engine sounded behind them. Ethne startled and switched off the torch. She grabbed Ana and hauled her through the gate of the next house. They crouched behind a low brick wall, shielding them from the road, and waited as the headlights passed over them. Ethne held her breath and listened to the noise of the engine. It didn’t sound like a Lexus; it was too small. She peered over the wall. A Fiat trundled up the street and out of sight.
She breathed out in relief, then startled again and nearly fell over when her phone rang in her hand. She answered.
‘Are you going to explain why a geological expedition intent on raping the earth of all she possesses needs a linguist? I’m assuming it was my language skills you were after and not that your team of barbarians needs a little recreational massage to wind down after a hard day’s pillaging.’
Ethne listened to the silence coming down the phone. ‘Will?’
‘I was just counting to ten,’ he said. ‘Have you got that out of your system?’
‘Probably not. Why d’you want to drag me to the end of the earth? I don’t want to come to Greenland.’
‘Believe me, you do,’ he said. ‘You’re the only person I trust with this. Ethne, you’ve been waiting for this moment your whole life. If you don’t come, you’ll never forgive me for not making you do it.’
She wanted to protest, refuse, hang up and switch off her phone, but something made her pause. Here was an opportunity to do something more challenging than listen to affluent types complain about their so-called problems while she rubbed almond oil into their puffy, overfed skin. Plus, she might not get beaten up again.
Ana was watching her curiously. ‘What does he want?’
‘He wants me to go to Greenland and look at rocks.’ Even as she spoke, it sounded ridiculous. The phone crackled in her hand. She could hear Will breathing and it was making her feel strange, bringing back memories she didn’t want to remember.
‘Are you still there?’ he said.
Ethne heard another car engine heading their way. It was definitely the fake rumble and whine of an electric Lexus. She curled behind the wall and closed her eyes, willing it to drive past.
‘There’s someone chasing us,’ she whispered. ‘They’ve already taken Michael, and now they’re after Ana.’
The car pulled into the kerb on the other side of the wall and Ethne realised they must be tracking her phone. ‘Shit.’
‘Ethne, that’s Derek,’ said Will. ‘He’s going to drive you to London.’
‘Is he fuck.’
‘Listen to me. Unless you want to drive down on your bike, you have to go with him, okay? Trust me, Ethne.’
Ana put her hand on Ethne’s shoulder and whispered, ‘He’s telling the truth.’
Ethne peered over the wall at the Lexus and the passenger door opened. ‘What’s your name?’ she shouted.
‘Haywood, ma’am,’ said the driver.
‘Your first name. And don’t call me ma’am. It’s weird.’
‘Great.’ Ethne stood in bad grace and returned to the pavement. ‘You could’ve told me,’ she said into her phone.
‘You hung up,’ said Will. ‘By the way, ReSource are paying. Six figures.’
‘What? That’s…What on earth have you found?’
‘Get on the plane and you’ll see.’
Next: Chapter Four
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