Chapter 8

Emma’s fingers tightened around the edge of the cot as King stepped towards her. Deal with her? Did it mean—?

“Certainly, Doctor,” King said, betraying none of his intentions. He grabbed Emma around the bicep, pulled her to her feet. She stumbled forwards, wincing as he guided her none-too-gently to the door. Dr Gray had turned his back on the proceedings, typing calmly at the console as if kidnapping were an everyday occurrence.

King swiped his thumb on the door lock. There was a soft series of clicks, then the door swung inwards on well-oiled hinges. Outside there was only darkness.

“Come on,” he said, pulling Emma across the threshold. She followed hesitantly, squinting. The light from the surveillance room revealed the first few metres of a narrow service tunnel which disappeared on either end into blackness. As King pulled the door closed, the long shadows on the walls crept closer, until only a sliver of light remained and the darkness was lapping at their feet.

King unstrapped a long glow stick from his leg. He shook it briskly till the surface began to glow, then pulled the door fully shut. She looked away, blinking, waiting for her eyes to adjust as King finished recharging the glow stick. When she looked back, the green light had lent a sickly cast to his face, making his cheekbones seem even sharper.

“Come on,” King said again, more gently this time.

They followed the service tunnel downwards, around curving bends, the walls on either side a continuous stretch of concrete turned green by the glow stick. King walked slightly ahead, his strides long and unhurried. Studying him in the half-light, Emma was struck by his loping grace and the way his hair curled at the nape of his neck, a touch of boyishness against his combat uniform.

She glanced back, saw nothing but shadows and afterimages of light, as if they were alone in the universe. It seemed, then, that nothing but this moment existed, that the massacre in the theatre hadn’t happened, and that any minute now her mother would wake her for school. But the ache in her head and the cold creeping in through her socks revealed the lie for what it was. And with the pain came the unsettling certainty that nothing would ever be the same again.

Emma kept walking, left foot, right foot, each limb raised with mechanical precision. “Is it much further?” she asked.

King glanced at her. “Not long now.” He slowed, fell into step beside her. “It’s just a room with some cots. We bunked there earlier before the surveillance room was done.”

“Not a—” what was the word Dr Gray had used? “—a containment cell?”

A headshake. “He was trying to scare you.”

“It worked,” she said, hugging her arms to her body. “I can see why Lilith has always avoided him.”

King only shrugged, and Emma fell silent, uncomfortable. Lilith. Who knew where she was, whether she was safe?

“You . . . .” Her voice came out smaller than expected, lost in the sound of their footsteps. She cleared her throat, started again. “You will rescue her, right?”

King sighed. “That’s not my decision to make.”

Emma stopped walking. “But she’s his daughter.”

“I know.”

“His only child,” she clarified, but King shook his head.

“Doctor Gray is not like other men,” he said, reaching towards her. His fingers, when they found her arm, were slightly cold. “I’m sorry, but we need to keep moving.”

She bit the tip of her tongue, blinking back a few tears, and let him lead her onwards. It was hard to keep track of the long, twisting passageway, but King knew where they were going, and eventually stopped in a stretch of tunnel that looked, to Emma’s untrained eye, entirely unremarkable.

He placed his hand against the concrete, and after a few seconds a section of the wall swung inwards. As King stepped into the room the lights flickered on, harsh halogen strips against the ceiling. The room was a square box with two cots on opposite walls and a small sink between them. On one side of the sink was an internet socket.

“If you’re thirsty, the tap has a purifier,” King said, pointing. “There’re no glasses but I’m sure you can manage.”

“Thank you.” Emma walked further into the room. For all his reassurances, the room felt like a prison. The internet socket in the wall was a mocking reminder of how little freedom she had. If only she had her phone, or her laptop . . . .

King leaned against the door. “There’s no food, but I’ll bring some later.”

She wiped her hands on her jeans. “That’s fine. I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat, Emma.”

The platitudes never made it past her lips. She frowned. “How do you know my name?”

“Your citizenchip.”

Of course. Anyone with a scanner could ID you in minutes, which was why their use was highly regulated. A secret service agency like the DEI would have no qualms breaking government regulations. But a supposed technology company like Precision Horizons?

Emma eyed King’s uniform, her eyes lingering on the PH logo on his collar. “I don’t suppose PH have methods to ID someone so quickly . . . ?”

He clasped his hands behind his back. “It’s three o’clock,” he said. “You’ve been out nearly two hours.”

Two hours? It seemed only minutes ago that she’d fainted in the theatre. Emma sank down onto one of the cots, her line of questioning derailed by King’s seemingly casual comment. Lilith had been above ground for two hours. Who knew what had happened in that time? Who knew how many people had died?

“The theatre has been secured,” King continued, “and all vampires exterminated.”

Emma bit down on her tongue—bit hard—using the pain to push through her emotions. There was no time for shock or disbelief; she shoved the feelings into the smallest corner of her mind and focused on what truly mattered: uncovering the truth.

She swallowed, forced her voice to remain even. “Who do you work for? Precision Horizons, the DEI, or both?”

“You should rest,” he said. “It’s been a long afternoon.”

That he avoided the question only made her more determined. Emma crossed her arms. “You have the DEI uniform and the PH logo. I’m thinking you work for both, which leads me to believe that PH isn’t quite the innocent technology company it pretends to be.”

He shrugged. “There are many conspiracy theorists who would share that opinion.”

“And what is the truth?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes!” She stood, the adrenaline making her legs tremble. “You may not care but I do, Mr King. I’m in prison and my best friend’s in danger. Of course it matters!”

This time he looked at her—properly looked at her—and seemed to finally see her as something more than a schoolgirl. “King,” he said, abrupt. “Just King.”

But Emma was done. “Speaking of Lilith, why are you so interested in her? She wasn’t even supposed to come to the theatre because her mother forbade—”

The dawning realisation was a bitter taste at the back of Emma’s throat. The special ops, the surveillance room, the tracking device they’d implanted in Lilith. . . . “You knew,” she accused. “You didn’t just think the attack would happen, you knew it would.”

King’s face grew cold. He stood still, back straight, head tilted to one side. He had enviable cheekbones, a delicate nose and generous lips, but the hard edge in his blue eyes belied the femininity of his features. His was an alien, frightening beauty, and Emma could not help but shrink away.

“You’re jumping to conclusions,” he said slowly, eyes flat as he appraised her. “I thought you were cleverer than that.”

She flushed, didn’t know how to answer, her legs weakening until she sank back down onto the cot. King was right: she had no proof, merely suspicions.

“It just doesn’t add up,” Emma said, but the protest was weak.

King’s phone beeped. He glanced down, read the message without unsnapping the phone from his wrist. He’d opted for the latest model—a thin, flexible strip of smart plastic which could be worn almost anywhere—and the sight of it made Emma long for her own phone, as inconvenient and bulky as it was. She felt naked without it, defenceless. The thought of being locked up in this tiny room, cut off from the world with no means to call for help, was terrifying.

“Stay here,” King said, stepping back out into the hallway. “I’ll be back soon.”

Their eyes met, and something about her expression must have given her away. He paused, one hand on the door. “We’ll let you go as soon as it’s safe.”

But, Emma thought, watching the door close, that meant she could be in here forever.

One response to “Chapter 8”

  1. WA_side says:

    Much more realistic than in the first draft, and I rather like feeling worried for her and wondering what is going to happen. Does this mean the newspaper article disappears?