The first thing Charlie Moore felt when she woke up was pain. The second was confusion. She couldn't remember where she was, when she was, or even who she was.
The chaos of traffic outside was drowned out by a slow, steady beating in her head. Every inch of her body ached in what felt like the mother of all hangovers, although she was very sure she hadn't been drinking the night before. Blinking against the stinging sunlight, Charlie stumbled out of bed, but her legs were too weak to support her and she fell to her knees, leaning against it. She closed her eyes and tried to regain her bearings. She was in her apartment. The bright sunlight told her it was sometime between late morning and early afternoon. Her name was X089. She shook her head. No... No, her name was Charlie.
She wiped a hand over her face, and that was when she first noticed the large cut on the outside of her forearm.
-Arm poised to shield her face, crashing through a car window, wrist striking the handbrake. Pain.-
The wound was surrounded by other minor cuts and scratches, but surprisingly, someone had cleaned it and applied butterfly bandages to it. She had no memory of anything after she came home the night before, and she was certain she'd been fine then. Fully awake now, Charlie pulled herself up and climbed down the vinyl woods stairs that connected the small bedroom loft to the rest of the apartment. Slowly, steadying herself against the walls, she crossed the small distance between the living room area and the bathroom. What she liked most about the studio apartment was its sharpness, the white, grey, and black, the sparse splashes of orange, hot pink and violet blue. But today, the clean brightness stung her eyes and made her headache worse.
Charlie bent over the bathroom sink and stared at her reflection, trying to make sense of it. Pushing her dark brown hair out of the way, she traced a faint but sore bruise on her cheek.
-A powerful fist swinging at her, her head exploding in pain as it connects.-
The memory was confusing; a brief flash of recognition in the midst of a void. Unattached and incomprehensible, like pieces of someone else's dream. She shook off the feeling of uneasiness, pulling her pyjama top over her head. She flinched involuntary at the sudden stab of pain the movement brought to her ribs.
-A strong, precise kick to her side almost brings her to her knees.-
Something was obviously wrong. What had happened to her last night? The more she tried to remember, the stronger her headache got, until even the dim light in the small bathroom was too intense for her eyes. She shut them and hunched over the sink, certain she was going to throw up. The pain brought with it more pieces of the dream, blurry and faded at first
-The smooth, cool weight of the gun. The feel of the trigger on her finger.-
Gaining substance until
-The clean snapping of metal on metal.-
She knew what was coming, even before she saw it-
Charlie fell back against the wall and slid to the ground, the pain in her head making it difficult to stand up straight. Nothing was making sense, and she stopped trying to remember, because she wasn't sure she wanted to anymore. She laid her head on the floor, feeling the cool tiles against her cheek, waiting for the pounding in her head to subside.
WATERVLIET, NEW YORK
Nathan Hunter sat on his sofa, an ice cold root beer bottle in his hand, already drained half way. His late morning run had left his heart beating in his head, his skin hot and in need of a shower, but for now he just sat there, head back and eyes closed, ignoring the flickering light coming from the muted TV screen. His mind had been drifting through thoughts he barely registered when he heard the footsteps.
He opened his eyes to see Miles standing at the foot of the stairs.
‘There’s something you should see,’ the young blonde man said, in his clipped, British tone. 'I think I picked up a Glitch report on their mainframe.' Nathan got up and followed him up the stairs, to where Miles had set up his own personal geek pad, as Katie called it.
'It's been a while,' he said. 'I was starting to think we'd have to change occupations.'
'Yeah, well, they're working mostly with X series Sleepers now,' Miles explained. 'They've had no Glitches with those until now.'
When they arrived at his computer, Miles tapped a few keys and tilted the screen towards Nathan. It showed photo of a grey eyed, rosy cheeked brunette, whose small nose was sprinkled lightly with freckles.
'Charlotte Lee Moore,' Nathan read, and then raised his eyebrows at Miles. ‘And she’s X series?’
'Yep.' Miles tapped a few more keys and a different set of information filled the screen. 'They're going after her tonight.'
Nathan frowned at the screen. 'Looks like we're back in business.'