A pulsing whine, like tinnitus, fills Elena's head. She can't tell if it's coming from the inside or the outside. She opens her eyes, then closes them immediately as the sodium orange light in the room triggers a pain in her head. Her saliva tastes like children's aspirin and metal. Memories of the beach at night and a violent struggle ebb into her subconscious, and then she remembers where she is and how she got here.
Doctor Hammond ... Thomas ... Sabre. Besides the persistent whine, Elena hears no other sounds. She has to find out if anyone else is in the lab. She forces her eyes open again; when they're used to the light, she tilts her head slowly to survey more of the room. The whining sound intensifies, then subsides slightly. Fighting the urge to jump up and run, she keeps the rest of her body still.
She spots a conical floodlight bulb up in one corner of the room. Its distorted reflection floats in the reflective tile of the adjoining wall. The light has a queer quality, permeating the space more than illuminating it. Everything she can see - the row of empty chairs, the imposing display screen, and a few oblong consoles - looks either black or dull orange. She sees the outline of some metal stairs against part of the floor. The room feels perfectly still. Before she can plan how to find her way out, she hears two voices from somewhere above her.
"What did he say?"
"We're to hold this position. Said a military strike team might be coming to smoke us out. The others're gonna try to stop them on the way in if they show up."
"Hope to hell they do. Military? Get yer head blown off."
At the word "military," Elena remembers Carter with relief, but no thought of how he knows where she is. She wonders if the men waiting for him even know she's here, and if they can see her. Their voices are unfamiliar. After a slow, deep breath, she raises her head and turns it to the other side as quickly as she can. There, less than a yard from her, she sees the legs of a metal desk chair. Behind them lie the remains of a set of plastic restraints. They're shredded. The first thing that comes to Elena's mind is that they've been chewed. A cold trickle of fear worms through her stomach, then dissolves.
The sensation of tinnitus finally fades away, leaving a soft, constant buzz that's definitely coming from the room ... probably the lights, Elena thinks. The pain in her head is gone. When she flexes and relaxes her muscles, they feel strong. Her hands and feet are free. She realizes that her disorientation and fear are the only things holding her in place. She still can't see a door, though. Too much of the room is dark. She tries to remember if she saw any doors when they brought her here, but she's distracted by the sound of shooting from outside.
One of the men above her says, "Let's go down here!" Glancing up, Elena discovers that she can see a higher section of the stairs from this angle. The silhouettes of four feet appear amid the gridwork, at the landing. One of the men seems to crouch.
"Sorry, Mal. This is nuts. I ain't buying him more time for nothin'."
The second man comes clanging down the steps rapidly. The first one calls, "Isaac, you snake!" Elena tenses, but stays motionless. The man reaches the bottom of the steps and makes for the other end of the lab at a flat run. There is a soft bang, then a loud one that echoes through the room. When the man runs past her, Elena shoots out her arm and grabs his ankle. He sprawls forward, and the momentum jerks her sideways. Three quick gunshots ring out. Elena gets to her feet quickly and kicks the goon straight in the ribs. He groans and rolls to one side. She punches him hard on the side of his face, knocking him out. With a thunder of boots, a small parade of soldiers in dark uniforms run down into the lab.
Disturbingly exhilarated from punching Isaac, Elena reaches behind her head to pull off her ponytail holder. As she shakes out her mane of hair, something stiff whips against her cheek. It's a thin wire, taped to her temple with a square of black electrical tape. A twist of copper wires pokes out of the other end. She'd like to get rid of it, but she can't let go immediately. The back half of her scalp tingles.
One of the soldiers runs up to her while she's rubbing the adhesive gunk off her skin. It's Carter, wearing a beret and plastic goggles. The other six or seven men fan out into the room.
"Are you all right, Elena? What happened?" Carter looks at the man at her feet, then back at her, glancing at the wire pinched between her fingers on the way.
Their eyes meet in a moment of mutual recognition. "I'm ... fine, yes. Thomas kidnapped me at the warehouse and brought me here. Doctor Hammond was here also, but they've disappeared."
"At least two more likely still in the facility," Carter tells his men. They've found a door at the other end of the room, Elena notices.
"Carter, is this close to Thomas' bar?"
He thinks briefly, then says, "It's just around the corner."
"When Thomas brought me to your ... office, or complex ...." Elena pauses, waiting for Carter to supply the word.
"Yes?" he barks.
"He told me that there was some information about Jack's research stored there, at the bar."
Carter lifts his eyebrows. "It wasn't part of our project."
"Could Sabre have something there, though?"
Carter jogs to the door, where a couple of soldiers are waiting to go through. "Fataar! Take Arkesyan and go back out and around to the other side of this block, on Winston. There's a pub called Three Monkeys. Look for a back room or basement that could be connected to this. The targets may have left that way. Two men, one's white, this tall -" he marks an approximation in the air - "broad face, strong." He looks at Elena and says, "Hammond?"
"Er ... white, and rather mousy. He has brown hair and glasses. He was wearing a short-sleeved blue Oxford and oxblood loafers. With tassels."
"Ping me every thirty seconds," Carter says, "by signal only. They could still have ears."
Fataar nods. He and the man beside him mount the stairs and disappear into the darkness above.
Elena stuffs the bit of wire into her pocket absently, then follows Carter into an unlit hallway. A yellow light a few yards ahead of them blinks on and off twice. Near the center of the hall, a soldier materializes and opens a door to their right. They step into a cramped room, lit only by bright beams from two soldiers' headlamps. One of them is flipping through folders in a filing cabinet. The other is coiling up a bundle of power cords attached to a computer.
Carter approaches the second soldier, who says, "It's bricked, sir."
Carter scowls. "Take it and anything else you can carry back to the Land Rover."
Moving quickly again, he leads Elena back through the hall to the stairs in the eerily quiet lab. The man she tackled a few minutes ago lies in the middle of the room, an unavoidable and discomforting sight.
"You've had a long day. I'll have someone see you home." Elena can see the concern in Carter's face, despite his stiff tone.
"Will you find what they took from Jack?" She is suddenly reluctant to leave.
"Nothing is definite, but I'm confident that we will. Otherwise, we regroup. I'll contact you tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, Carter. Thank you for helping to settle all of this."
His voice softens. "Of course. I loved Jack. Not like you, but he inspired me to never stop trying to get down to the truth of a thing. Even if it's a shock when you find it."
They shake hands, and Elena makes her way up the stairs. At the top, she opens the door back to her own world, happy to be above ground again.
The following Tuesday night, Elena emerges from the back door of a television station wearing a pinstriped suit. A woman walks out behind her and stops to hold the door with her foot.
"Thank you for coming to the studio," the woman says. She gives Elena a quick hug. "The producers were so chuffed."
"I was just glad to get out of the house," Elena answers.
"So ... I couldn't ask you about this in the interview, but what was that bombshell you slipped in? Are you disbanding your investment group?"
"Yes. We're already in the process. I'll make sure everyone has a soft spot to land."
"Why, though? One of the top women in finance ...?"
Elena puts a hand on her friend's arm. "Sandy. I've been thinking a lot since Jack died about how I got here, and other things. I wouldn't have admitted it before, but I've made a lot of enemies, because I only saw those people as means to an end. Now I'm having one of those moments where you re-evaluate your life ... stretched over several weeks, in my case."
"Do you have a plan?" Sandy asks, still incredulous.
"I think I just need to be myself for a while. I've got to find a place to live where I'm not jumping at the shadows, for one thing. I'm thinking seriously of relocating to the States, in fact. New England, or maybe upper New York."
"Well, I'm sure a smart, pretty Englishwoman with your credentials could do quite well there."
"Yes, I know there will be opportunities, but I want to get out of this space where everyone's shouting because the loudest voices win and try something genuinely collaborative."
"I'll look for you in next year's Boston Marathon," Sandy jokes.
Elena grins, enjoying the idea. "Maybe!"
"We would miss you, though. Truly."
"Don't worry, Sandy. There are plenty of other heroines around."
"Well, I owe you one for coming down tonight."
"How about drinks on you Friday night, so I can hear about your life?" Elena flicks open her purse and pulls out her car keys. "Unless you're working?"
"No, Friday's good!" Sandy steps back into the doorway and waves. "Ta!"
Elena waves back. "Call you tomorrow!"
In a few minutes, she is speeding along the highway with the top down. The wind in her face is refreshing after the hot lights of the studio. She doesn't really jump at the shadows any more, she reflects. Carter's team captured Thomas and Doctor Hammond at Three Monkeys on the night of her unscheduled visit to Sabre's headquarters. He assured her that neither of them would ever get within spitting distance of any classified government information again. She's slept peacefully since that night, feeling only well-rested when she wakes up. No more fading nightmares hide in the morning shadows of her darkened bedroom.
When Elena turns off the highway toward home, she spots the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, in the sky. She's spent some time watching these stars through binoculars for the past few nights. One of them has a yellowish tint that's caught her eye. It seemed to twinkle at her when she first noticed it, and whenever she looks at it now, she has the feeling that something out there is watching over her. Part of her dismisses the idea as superstition, but seeing the yellow star tonight makes her feel undeniably alive and free.