Freed: Chapter Two

 

Chapter Two: Nadira

Once upon a time a tall, bearded wild man with a tangle of dark hair, jagged tattoos spiraling over half his chest and a scarred throat would have scared me.

Once upon a time, back in my safe little world at the capitol, I would have crossed to another glide, stayed out of his way, never met his eyes.

Once upon a time was a long time ago.

“Please,” I whispered, and he frowned, as if confused that anything in this hellish place was still alive. “They’ll come for us soon. I’ve seen how they work.”

He glanced from me to one of the empty beds and his jaw tightened.

He knew.

The next time those faceless things in black came, they’d drag me out, strap me to the newly emptied bed. Start their work, whatever the purpose was.

I glanced down at the thin woman curled behind me in the cage, burning up with fever. They’d do the same to her, she just wouldn’t last as long.

I waited.  The giant knew what happened here. If that wasn’t enough to get him to save us, nothing I said would matter.

He glanced at the corners of the lab, at the shiny black half-domes mounted in each vertex. The panels around them lit and blinked during the experiments. I’d wondered if they were cameras, but at the time it didn’t matter.

The man reached for the door of the cage and frowned, his eyes looking behind me to Loree’s still body.

“You have to help us both. She needs me.” She was my patient. Which might sound ludicrous here, but it was all I had to hold on to anymore.

With a twist of his hand the lock on the cage door crumpled.

I reached for Loree to pull her out with me and winced.  Her clammy skin was dull, and she no longer responded to my touch.

“Move.” The word was a low rumble, and I flinched, eyes wide.

Our rescuer stood by the cage, waiting for me to get out of his way.

Come on, Nadira, you don’t have any other choices.  I stepped back and watched as he reached through the door and eased Loree out and into his arms with surprising gentleness.

He stood, bearing her weight on his left arm, her head and arms flung over his shoulder like a sleepy child, and headed toward the door.

“Wait, what about the others?”

I glanced back at six remaining patients. Patient wasn’t the right word. Victims. Sacrifices to some angry god of pain.

He disappeared with Loree, and I knew he was right. There was nothing I could do for them now.

“I’ll be back,” I whispered, tears stinging my eyes. And then I followed the stranger into the dark corridor.

At first I couldn’t find him in the dark hall, my eyes too used to the bright lights of the lab. I strained my ears, but heard nothing.

Fine. Left or right.  Right?

Turning sharply, I kept my hand trailing against the right side wall of the corridor.

Instead of the cold metal plating I’d imagined, soft fabric ran under my fingers, interrupted in places.  Any other time, I’d have stopped, curious to explore the mystery. Now I just wanted to put as much distance between me and the horror as possible.

My heartbeat pounded in my ears. Shouldn’t I be able to see the man and Loree ahead of me by now?

Two, three more tentative steps, then a warm hand engulfed my upper arm.

“No. This way.” He tugged me along and as we moved through the empty halls. Tiny lights flickered by our feet as we went and I began to make out some details of our surroundings.

Rich red fabric upholstered the walls, but it was ripped and stained, the pattern faded. I squinted at it as we passed, a distant memory tickled.

“Where are we?”

“Base.”

Right then. Not long on conversation. As long as he could get us to safety, I didn’t care.

Before long, a hatch blocked the corridor, lights flashing red and yellow around the seal.

“What are you doing?” I pulled back, but there was nowhere else to go. “There’s no atmosphere beyond there!”

Every child raised on a station knew that pattern, every passenger on every ship throughout the Empire was taught it.

Hull breach. Unsurvivable.

He muttered something, then sat Loree on the deck, leaning against the wall. I rushed to her, but she was the same: burning hot, unresponsive.

“Why would you save us from the cage to bring us here?”

He grunted, massive arms bulging as he wrenched the wheel of the manual release.

Even as I flung myself over Loree, I knew it was pointless. There wasn’t anything to hang onto, and after the cage, I wasn’t strong enough anyway.

But the rush of vacuum didn’t rip through the hall. Not a flutter.

Rolling off of Loree I sat, blinking. The man stood above us, and through the sliver of open hatch I could see a perfectly safe looking hallway, just like the one we’d been in.

“Coming?”

***

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