The silence was deafening.
Emma turned to Liam, noticed now the similarities she’d overlooked. The green eyes so like Ms Gray’s. Lilith’s dark hair, her narrow chin. And he had his father’s nose, stern and straight.
But Lilith had always said she was an only child. Where had Liam been all these years?
With a wordless cry, Lilith’s mother launched herself at Dr Gray. He grabbed her wrists and held her away from his body, but still she struggled to land a hit.
“How could you?” she demanded. “How could you?”
Liam stood there, impassive, his face clear of all expression. No, not impassive—his fists were clenched, his nails digging into his palms. Emma took a step closer and put a hand on his shoulder, but did not know what she could say to comfort him.
“I had to have a back-up plan in case Lilith didn’t work,” Dr Gray said.
“And you didn’t think of telling me I had a son?”
“I was protecting you and Lilith,” he said, ” We’d only be granted the permit for one foetus and I was barely more than a lab technician then, with no clout to change the rules. But you and I knew the experiment better than anyone else. You yourself asked whether gender would influence the results. I had to cover every eventuality.”
“We were together for eight years after that,” Lilith’s mother snapped, withdrawing into herself, her voice going cold.
Dr Gray didn’t answer. His expression was troubled, his shoulders heavy with the weight of so many years. It was the first time Emma had ever seen him show weakness.
“PH shut down the programme a year after you left,” he finally said. “Lilith was two.”
“I remember,” Lilith’s mother said. “You said it was because the genetic modifications hadn’t worked.”
“I lied,” Dr Gray said. “The real reason the programme shut down was because all the other children died. Many in utero, the rest in infancy.” He paused. “We are the only viable couple, Arlene. The only one whose children survived infection. Lilith was safe with you, her paperwork was airtight, but Liam . . . “
Emma bit her lip, tried to breathe quietly. She was afraid to move, to breathe. It seemed that they had forgotten she was there. And Liam . . . poor Liam. He stood so still he could have been carved from stone, but Emma could see the pulse jumping in his neck. Dr Gray had to be lying: neither Liam nor Lilith were infected.
“Was it worth it?” Lilith’s mother said.
Dr Gray nodded. “Liam is just as gifted as Lilith,” he said. “And better trained.”
And then Ms Gray turned her cool, cutting gaze to Liam and said, “Then you should have sent him to the theatre to die.”
Liam’s only reaction was a quick, pained gasp, almost soundless, but Emma was already stepping in front of him, her fury aroused. “How can you say that,” she said angrily, staring down Lilith’s mother. “He’s your son!”
“My son would have gotten in touch with me the moment he knew how,” Ms Gray said coldly, turning to the door. Her high heels clacked loudly in the silence. She unlocked the door. “He is no son of mine.”
The door closed behind her with a gentle click.
“But I did,” Liam breathed, staring at the door as if any moment it would open.
Emma took his hand, threaded her fingers through his. “Come on, Liam. Let’s go.” She had to get him away from here, away from his poisonous parents. Was this what his childhood had been like, forever staring at closed doors? His hand was weak in her own.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Dr Gray said. He narrowed his eyes. “Not yet.”
Emma went cold, thought of the bleak walls of the holding cell she’d been imprisoned in before. “What are you going to do to us?”
Dr Gray ignored her and looked at Liam. “I don’t have to worry about you, do I? The consequences still stand.” When Liam shook his head, he said, “Good. If your sister makes it alive to the Guild, we’ll need you to protect her.”
“Yes, Father.” Liam kept his eyes on the ground, pulling away from Emma. He folded his hands behind his back, out of reach.
“Lilith’s alive?” Emma asked, looking between them. “But . . . ” Her brow furrowed. “She’s infected? What did you do?” she asked Dr Gray. “Modify their genes to make them immune?”
“Quite the reverse,” he said dryly.
“But genetic modifications are illegal,” she protested.
“Which is why you will not tell anyone about what you heard here. Not your friends, not your family, and definitely not the media.”
“Emma will not to tell anyone,” Liam said quickly, “on the condition that her family is granted a permit for a second child.”
It was a devil’s proposition.
Emma stared at Liam, unsure whether to be angry or grateful. It went against every fibre of her being to keep Dr Gray’s secret, to pretend children hadn’t died for some crazy experiment, but then she had a flashback of her mother sobbing at the kitchen table, staring at the sprawl of rejected baby application forms. Emma thought of the hidden stashes of booze, her mother stumbling through life behind a haze of alcohol. If a child could make things right again . . .
But that was a selfish wish.
And yet, if she exposed Dr Gray’s secret, she’d be exposing Liam and Lilith too. How could she be the one to make that choice for them?
“It wouldn’t be difficult to turn that rejection around.” Dr Gray’s smile was thin and sharp as he looked at Emma. “But if so much as a breath about this comes out, your entire family will vanish.”
“And Lilith?” Emma asked. “When is she coming back?”
“Not any time soon,” Dr Gray said. “But maybe one day, sooner than you expect, humans might join her above ground.”