“You saved the wrong girl.”
Emma opened her eyes drowsily and stared at the solid metal ceiling with blank incomprehension. Her body ached and every time she tried to focus, her vision swam sickeningly. Where was she? What had happened?
“There was no other girl to save.” The second voice was smoother, more a steely tenor than a rumbling baritone. Neither voice was familiar. Emma closed her eyes again. Slow, deep breaths. There was a dull thudding pain at the back of her head. Was this a hospital?
“You have put the entire operation at risk, King,” the first man snapped. “You should have brought Lilith, or nothing.”
It was the sound of a familiar name that tugged Emma into consciousness. She opened her eyes again, gingerly turned her head to the side. She was lying on a cot in the corner of a rectangular room. Large screens covered the opposite wall, showing surveillance footage of countless bodies crawling and twitching, or worse—not moving at all. One camera had been knocked askew and was pointing at a wall instead, directly at a large, dark liquid smear.
The memories returned in a rush: the theatre, the spatter of blood, the sharp grins of the vampires. She’d passed out, hit her head, and Lilith . . . Lilith had been kidnapped, no doubt eaten, her best friend gone forever because Emma had been too weak to fight. It could have been her to die, and yet here she was, bruised but safe, watching the silent carnage on-screen like it was just another horror film. Emma tore her eyes away, her stomach churning.
The blood did not have any effect on the two men standing in front of the monitors. The first was tall, in his late forties, wearing a white lab coat that only highlighted his broad shoulders. His clothes beneath the lab coat were plain but there was a confidence to his stance that exuded power. His companion, on the other hand, was in all-black clothing, his body thin and angular, with features that fell just shy of pretty to seem, instead, masculine.
The thinner man turned to the screens, tapped a few buttons on the console below them. One of the lower monitors faded into a radar display. There were two pulsing dots on the map: one at the very centre, and one on the right, moving towards the edges of the screen.
“There she is, Dr Gray,” the thin man said, pointing, and Emma dared to hope that Lilith was okay. The man crouched lower, traced the dot with his finger, his black jacket riding up to reveal a tranq gun holstered in the small of his back. “I can track her down, bring her back.”
“And lift your topside ban, King?” Gray scoffed. “I think not. No, you will deal with this little mess you’ve created.”
Meaning her. Emma closed her eyes, tried to even her breathing. Best to feign sleep while she thought through her options. She’d been rescued from the theatre, by mistake, it seemed. Were these men secret police? Terrorists? And what could they possibly want from Lilith?
“No use pretending,” King said, loudly now. “She’s awake, Doctor.”
Emma’s eyes slid open reluctantly. King barely glanced up from the console, but Gray turned, his gaze trailing over her like he was measuring her worth. The thin, disapproving line of his lips was an indication of his conclusion.
“I want her gone,” Gray said to King, staring at Emma as if she were nothing more than an infected. A chill crept up Emma’s spine: lab coat or not, this man was no ordinary doctor.
She sat up, swung her legs over the edge of the cot. The only exit was a door by the monitors, too far for her to make a dash for it. And her shoes were missing, the cold of the metal floor seeping in through her socks. Even her phone was gone; her wrist felt bare and vulnerable without its reassuring weight.
Emma swallowed past the fear. “What are you going to do with me?”
Neither man answered. Gray had unsnapped his phone from his wrist and was scrolling down the screen. “Three targets down,” he told King. “One missing.” He turned away to make a call.
Targets? Emma stood up, approached the console slowly, her legs weak. She risked a glance at the screens, saw dark figures moving purposefully through the theatre, crouched low, guns in hand. One of them walked past a surveillance camera, his face briefly filling the screen. Only the narrow strip of his eyes was visible, the rest of his face covered in black cloth.
She frowned. “Who are they?”
King threw her a sharp glance. “DEI agents.”
King was dressed in a similar fashion to the soldiers on screen, without the face covering. Then she noticed the small, inscribed logo on the collar of his shirt: a hand-stitched PH.
“Precision Horizons,” she breathed.
King’s gaze snapped to hers, but Emma was looking through him, her mind piecing the puzzle together.
“Lilith’s father is the company chairman.” She glanced over at Dr Gray, who was snapping terse orders into his phone. The nose was different but there was a certain similarity in the jaw line, in the curve of his lips. “He’s Lilith’s father, isn’t he?”
But why would the chairman of a technology company end up in a secret surveillance room, commanding the DEI? Unless. . . . She took in the room, King’s hunched figure at the console, the uniform he wore which matched those of the DEI agents in the theatre.
“PH is a government agency, isn’t it?” she asked. “It’s all a front.”
The tiny smirk made a reappearance. “Close. No cigar.”
Was he leaning towards her, or was the concussion making her dizzy? She turned her head away, was about to speak when Dr Gray all of a sudden cursed loudly.
“What do you mean, lost her?” he bellowed.
King tapped hurriedly on the keys of the console. “No trace of Lilith’s signal. She’s gotten too close to magic; the tracker’s fried.”
“Dammit!” Gray paced in front of the screens, rubbing his face. There was only one pulsing down left on the radar display: the one in the very middle.
“Let me go after her, Doctor,” King said. “The werewolf was headed northeast. There’s only one place they could be going.”
“No: I need you here.”
King stiffened. The movement was barely perceptible, but when she glanced down, he’d clenched his hands into fists.
“Your daughter could die,” he said, softly.
Dr Gray closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. “There is nothing more we can do.” Then the moment of weakness was gone, and his back straightened. “She has all the defence we can give her.”
“But no training, Doctor. This wasn’t supposed to happen until—”
“Supposed to?” The question escaped before Emma could think to censor it. Both men looked at her as if surprised by her presence, but this time, rather than feel intimidated, Emma only felt a mounting anger. “You thought this would happen?”
“That is none of your concern,” Gray snapped.
Emma’s mouth dropped. “Nearly dying is very much my concern,” she snapped, the flush of anger spreading across her cheeks and ears. “Watching dozens of other people die is very much my concern!”
“Hundreds,” King said wryly.
“Shut up,” Emma snarled, surprising herself more than anyone else. She pointed a finger at Gray. “I’ve heard about you. Lilith hates your guts, and now that I’ve met you, I’m not surprised. You’re a murderer!” She looked past him, to the horror on the screens. “I don’t know what you’ve got her involved in, but if you don’t send someone to rescue her, I’ll . . . I’ll . . . .” Words failed; she could not think of a threat big enough. Then it hit her: “I’ll tell the news everything you’ve been doing.” Her eyes fell on the logo on his lab coat, the curling PH. “Everything Precision Horizons has been doing,” she said.
The long silence that followed was more effective than any reply. Under Dr Gray’s dispassionate stare, Emma’s arm lowered slowly, until her hands hung uselessly by her side and all the fire had gone from her cheeks.
“If you’re quite done,” Dr Gray said icily, his condescending tone making Emma want to wither on the spot. He turned to King. “Take her to a containment cell. I’ll deal with her later.”