There are two other men with the man-in-a-suit, and they get me out of the car. They're gentler than I expect, and one of them even catches me when I forget myself and try to stand up. Pain flows over me in waves, and it's the trough between peaks that keeps me going. For moments I can hold myself apart from the pain, almost function normally, almost work out what's going on. But then the next wave of pain washes over me and everything in front of me swims and goes hazy. The tide must be coming in, the waves are getting more frequent, and stronger.
They escort me to another car, a little distance away, on the roadside at the edge of the wasteland. Another besuited man sits in the driver's seat. I'm sat behind him, and voices drone, saying something, but I can't get myself out of the waves of pain long enough to hear what they're saying. It's so frustrating. I just want to hammer my fists on this glass prison in my head that's keeping me apart from the outside world, shatter it, break down the barriers, storm the Bastille, and declare myself free.
I'm shocked for a moment, this is how I felt when I started the Rebel Voice. Have I really changed so much that I forgot that?
The men come back, all three, and they get in the car, and we drive off. I can't stay awake, the waves of pain have become too much, and I go under. I think drowning has to be the worst death.
"Sweetheart, can you hear me?"
My eyelids flutter, they're sticky and I have trouble opening them, but I know that voice. It's Joel. Finally I get my eyes open, and -- I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- I'm looking at the ceiling.
"Dzhhhoel?" I slur, my mouth is dry. A hand appears in my vision, holding a white squeezy bottle, and I feel water dripping into my mouth. I swallow eagerly, and lick my lips. They feel dry and cracked.
"Emma, what the hell happened out there? What were you doing in that car?"
"How did you find me?"
"It's my car, Emma. Well, it's a hire car, it had a GPS tracker in it. We were expecting it to be taken, but not by you. What happened, Emma? It's important."
I tell him, though it takes a while, and he gives me water as my mouth dries out. Halfway through I struggle into a reclined position, and he stacks the pillows behind my back. I'm in a pleasant room, flowery wallpaper, old-wood furniture, support mattress and clean sheets. Oh, and I have a lot of bandages around the top of my leg.
"Emma, there's no way to say this nicely. You're a complete and utter idiot."
I should slap him, but he's perched on the edge of the dresser, too far away to reach.
"You're marked for certain, and probably your -- friend? colleague? -- Red 5, whoever he may be. We've been hunting Grozhny for a while, but he's far too smart to put himself in our picture. We know he's in the shadows, hiding in the wings, but he stays there and has other people do his dirty work. You're interfering, Emma, and look where it's got you."
"Joel." My voice is low and calm, but my heart is pounding. "Don't give me the secret agent routine. We're past that, remember? We split up because your mother thinks I'm a shiksa, not because I can't hold my own here."
"Emma." Is he being condescending? If he is I'll get out of bed and slap him, bad leg or no. "Emma, I know all that. But it doesn't change that you're in the sights of Viktor Grozhny. The man treats his own daughter like a dog. He's not going to find a soft spot in his heart for a plucky little fighter like you, and he's not going to let the Rebel Voice alone if he thinks it might cause him any trouble at all."
"So what, Joel?" I can't help sounding a little bitter now. "I can't exactly go back to the day job and pretend nothing's ever happened, can I? Damn, I may not even have a job to go back to."
"Your job is safe, Emma. The police have found the burned wreck of my car by now, and they've been told that you were picked up and taken hostage. You're going to have some awkward questions to answer, but you'd hate it if I did everything for you."
He's laughing now, I can see it in his hazel eyes. I beckon him closer, just close enough to slap, but he's not buying it. Damn him.
"Find Red, Emma. Keep doing what you're doing. We'll be keeping an eye on you. Who knows, you might just lure Viktor out of the shadows for long enough for us to get a mark on him."