It felt as though someone had broken a baseball bat across her face.
When Lady Alex Smith’s eyes finally opened, the throbbing in her cheekbone and around her eye was powerful – so strong she was surprised she’d managed to sleep through it. But the pain wasn’t the only source of her discomfort.
Realizing she was basically sprawled across a cold metal floor – a floor she didn’t remember landing upon – she quickly tried to take stock of her condition. Her mouth was dry and felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton. Her throat was sore and her eyes were burning. Her stomach was in the sort of knots that came when she failed to eat enough. Her legs were asleep. Her coat was gone.
And she was surrounded by darkness. A metal floor beneath her, cool air around her, some muffled noise that sounded like it was coming from outside… but it was impossible to have any notion of where ‘outside’ was – or where inside was, for that matter.
What had happened?
Planting her hands on the floor, Alex pushed herself slowly upward, then turned partway so she could sit up. Her eyes tried to sweep the space around her, but there wasn’t even a sliver of light for her Champion eyes to work with. No matter how big her pupils got, she couldn’t completely change the laws of physics.
Rather tentatively, she reached out her right hand, sweeping the darkness to see if she could come into contact with anything – anyone. Nothing but cool air greeted her. Once that sweep was complete, she tried again with the left hand. Nothing.
“Middle of the room,” she muttered to herself, her aching face not really enjoying the process of forming words. Someone had probably knocked her out, which was not an easy thing to accomplish – Champions were awfully difficult to punch. Indeed, only another Champion might fail to break his or her hand in the process…
Lady Emily, and Lord Duncan.
Blinking a few times against the burning in her eyes, Alex began to remember where she’d been. The airport… the plane, and Stephanie facing a man in tan, before Emily and Duncan had hauled her away. One of them must have knocked her out, but she couldn’t remember which one.
Not that it mattered now – not one bit. Much more important was the fact that Stephanie had been in danger, and there were no sounds of breathing to suggest she was in the dark room with her best friend.
Pins and needles were lingering in Alex’s legs, but she shifted so that she could get her boots under her, then did her best to rise. It was an awkward process – she could imagine she looked like a baby moose trying to stand for the first time. Her head felt a little funny as she rose to full height, but the joke was on her head trauma: even if the room was spinning, it was too dark for her to see it.
Still, she was cautious as she began to cross the cold floor, seeking a wall so that she could begin her search for a door. It was possible she was in a hangar, or a service building – maybe she’d been knocked out and left at Torbay Airport?
It took only a few steps to find the wall she sought… it was corrugated metal, with a shape and texture not unlike the skycruiser hangars. Palms against it, she began working her way to the right, seeking any clues, or better, a doorway. She found a corner instead, and stopped there.
The room was empty, and it didn’t seem big enough to be a hangar. Turning so that her back was against the wall, she swept the blackness with her eyes again. There were no signs of light – nothing coming under a door, or even through the seam around a doorframe. That might have meant it was night outside… or that her room was inside another dark room… or any number of other things.
Her face throbbed as the possibilities began to pile up in her mind, and her head trauma did its best to convince her that the room was spinning. Perhaps she’d stood up too fast… perhaps she was just trapped in a nightmare. Erring on the side of discretion, the coatless whitecoat gradually let herself slide down the wall, though she kept her boots planted beneath her just in case.
Where the hell was she, and where was Stephanie?
One thing was for certain: after two years of unanswered questions, she wasn’t likely to find out anything too soon–
The sudden eruption of light from the opposite end of the dark room hit Alex in the face like a bucket of cold water. At first she squinted, but her Champion pupils dilated quickly enough to detect something flying towards her through the brightness. Hands rising, she was able to get a grip around the projectile before it smacked her in the chest…
When her hands closed around the familiar, heavy, canvas-and-mesh kit, her eyebrows climbed in surprise. It was her gun belt –complete with Browning and magazines.
Eyes leaping from the familiar weapon to the rectangle of light that had appeared opposite her, the whitecoat watched as the silhouette of a person wearing a mid-length coat appeared. She’d been found and rescued by a Champion? Perhaps the situation wasn’t so dramatic as she’d allowed herself to believe…
“Come on, we need you,” the voice that echoed through her metal cell was distantly familiar, but not one that she immediately recognized. Frowning at the greeting, Alex gradually began to push herself upward. Instinctively, she untangled the gun belt and made sure her hand could easily get around the grip of her pistol. Just in case.