We get down to the lab; Aeiou doesn’t say a thing as I let him hook me up to pulse and blood pressure monitors then slap a thermometer onto my forehead.
It is only now that it occurs to me to wonder what he is going to do with me. From what I can gather, he wants to induce an emotion-attack. Great. I bounce the gumball beneath my tongue. Then almost choke.
From behind a curtain pads Tyler Matthews, a cub taking its first steps in the shadow of its father.
I gasp and my body immediately responds to the shock as Tyler throws himself down into a chair opposite and Aeiou hurriedly attaches wires that are twins of mine. Immediately, his pulse rate spikes, a mountain range on the black backdrop.
Amidst my own panic, I vaguely wonder what he’s feeling.
Tyler is rocking on his chair, moving it in tiny leaps away from me.
Aw, I think instinctively, he’s nervous. I must smile because he looks even more terrified than ever, sweat dripping down his round nose. Okay. Focus, Saffron, focus. Conjure the anger. I struggle to cast my mind to Ms Stapleton’s surprise attack on me yesterday. “I’ve never liked her.” I accidently blurt out loud, causing the two Matthews to look at me funny. They must not have realised what I said however, because within seconds the scene is rewound back to its previous frame.
I clench my fists, topping up my rage with thoughts of our prolonged deprivation of the cure and of Aeiou’s treating us like lab rats; the saliva in my mouth boils, hardening the gum like a kiln does clay. Now my mind is skipping towards the weeks without Kitty, Thom’s worry for Luca – even Helen’s well-established and undeserved reputation. Then to Cosmo, as good as dead. Then, finally, to all the lost love the cure will cause me now that the virus has taken root. Strangely, this is the most devastating, that one of the bundle of nerves that makes up my human nature will be cut from me.
My internal surfaces are being licked with fire; the misshapen sphere beneath my tongue is rock solid. This is it. I suck in, carefully, for what seems like a lifetime. Then, before I choke on my weapon, I let rip.
As I watch the tiny makeshift missile fly its path through the air between Aeiou and Tyler’s heads and collide with the shelved glass behind, my eyes cross so that I can barely make out the image. The sound of the container shattering is unexpectedly musical – like the tinkling of a music box – a perverse theme tune cheering me on as I grab the package of needles.
Fuelled by adrenaline, I make a dash for it before my company can begin to work out what has just happened. Halfway to the door I encounter Sam, rushing inside to hinder them enough to buy us an extra few minutes. He shakes a blurry hand at me as he passes. I trust that he has already alerted the others to break out through the upstairs window. My fingers cross, on both hands.
I am out in the dark hallway, glancing in every direction at rooms that might provide an opportunity for escape. The front door would be too obvious – bound to be watched by cameras and the guards behind them – and I’m pretty sure that I can see a keypad, which means it’s coded. To the background groans and thud of limbs next door, I spot a kitchen window, perfectly placed above a countertop and leading out to the side street from which we came. I mark it mentally as the one.
Now I am forced to focus on the matter of Sam’s safety. My heart starts up a buzz in my chest and I imagine him flitting out of that room, victorious, wiry arms raised in triumph. He’s done well to keep them busy this long; he’ll hold out ‘til the end for sure. I glance down at the needles I am carrying: the plastic tub has moulded to the shape of my sweating hands. We can pretend to be confident but our nervous system will always betray us – especially mine.