As awareness began to seep back into Elizabeth's psyche, images flashed past her mind's eye. Brief, fleeting images of things she'd seen, things she'd done, things that had been done to her.
That third category had racked up an impressive catalog over the last few days. This latest affront, the outdated and clumsy "chloroform cloth over the nose and mouth" trick, had pretty much clinched her basic and deep hatred of all things that had Jason's fingerprints on them.
She opened her eyes to brightness. Blinking, she tried to fathom why the light confused her so. There was something odd about it.
Then she suddenly understood. The light was natural. She was located somewhere that sunlight could actually reach.
It astonished her.
Her blurred vision began to clear somewhat, and her sense of balance kicked in as well, informing her that she was again lying down on her back. This time, however, she felt no restraints.
She blinked again and shook her head.
"How do you feel?" a voice asked. It came from her left.
Elizabeth turned her head and squinted through the last of her visual fuzziness. Someone was sitting on a chair near the bed.
Bed? Elizabeth propped herself up on her elbows, an act which brought a wave of nausea down upon her, and looked around.
She was in a bright, sunny bedroom. The bed in which she found herself was comfortable, the mattress firm but yielding, the sheets soft and colorful. The walls were a bright yellow, and the furniture was made from a blond-colored wood. Nothing she looked at was shabby or cheap. And nothing was grey.
She looked at the figure sitting in the chair. More light colors. More blonde. The woman smiled at her.
"How do you feel?" she repeated.
Elizabeth cleared her throat to test its usability. "Well enough," she replied with only a slight croak, "but you might want to mention to Jason that knocking someone out over and over again is not good for the brain."
The blonde woman smiled. "From the sound of you, I'd say your brain is undamaged."
"Yeah, well, no thanks to Jason."
Elizabeth's mind slipped into analysis mode. The woman had a very slight accent. She pronounced her "s" a little bit harder than most English-speakers.
"Scandinavian," Elizabeth said.
The woman's eyebrows went up slightly. "Not bad for someone who just came to." She stood and stepped to the bed. "My name's Anya. Anya Tortenssen." She extended her hand.
Elizabeth sat the rest of the way up and took the woman's hand. "I don't suppose I need to introduce myself."
Anya smiled. "You're right. We've been told all about you."
"We?" Elizabeth narrowed her eyes slightly.
Anya's smile broadened. "Your suspicious nature is also well known to us. Personally, I think it's healthy. Especially considering your circumstances."
Anya stepped back from the bed and surveyed Elizabeth. "You look healthy enough," she said. "Do you feel up to a little walk?"
Frowning slightly, Elizabeth swung her legs to the floor and carefully stood up. She shifted back and forth on her feet for a moment and then nodded.
"Looks like nothing's going to give out on me," she said. "Where are we going?"
"Not far." Anya stepped to the door and opened it.
Outside the room, Elizabeth stopped and gawked. They stood in a circular structure with a glass domed ceiling. Brilliant sunlight poured in, illuminating a large open area filled with chairs, tables, and couches. Around the outside of the circular stone floor were more doors like the one Elizabeth had just exited.
"This is our dormitory," Anya said.
"Area Fourteen," Elizabeth whispered.
Anya chuckled. "That's what Jason calls it, yes. In here, we just call it The Campus."
Elizabeth gave her a quick glance. "Oh. So I'm working for Microsoft now, am I?"
Anya looked back at her. "No. Google."
Elizabeth laughed. "Just as long as it's not AOL."
"Bite your tongue. Do you think they could put together anything this creative?"
"Good point," Elizabeth said with a nod.
The only thing Elizabeth found more confusing than the sunlight and the lush surroundings was the odd ease she felt talking with Anya. There was nothing threatening about the woman, nothing sinister, nothing even off-putting.
That in itself was cause for concern.
"So are you, like, one of the faculty here or something?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, I'm in the same boat as everyone else here. I've just been around a bit longer. Seniority, so to speak."
"So who runs the training?"
"We all do. We all design training programs, test banks, exams. We keep each other on our toes."
Elizabeth looked around again, nodding. "Interesting."
"Come," Anya said. "Let me introduce you around."
She led Elizabeth deeper into the common area, towards a table where two young men were playing chess. One was fair-skinned with long brown hair and a beard, and the other was an Asian youth with a purple faux-hawk.
The Asian man looked up. "Hey, Anya."
"Elizabeth, I'd like you to meet Tom Chen and Gerhardt Müller, two of our brightest minds."
Tom extended his hand. "Hey, Elizabeth. Nice to meet you."
Elizabeth shook his hand. "You too."
"Hallo, Elizabeth," Gerhardt said, his thick German accent evident from even those two simple words.
"Hi." Elizabeth shook his hand as well. "Sorry to interrupt your game."
"Don't worry about these two," Anya said. "They're probably coming up with new integral calculus problems for our test bank while they're playing."
"I'm also writing a script for a superhero movie," Tom said.
"In your head?" Elizabeth asked, incredulous.
"Sure," Tom replied. "My memory's incredible."
"Shut up und play, Herr Spielberg," Gerhardt grumbled.
"Hey, did you hear that?" Tom asked, his eyes wide with wonder. "Gerhardt's developing a sense of humor."
"Ve can make zis chess a physical sport if you like," Gerhardt said, picking up a fallen pawn and raising it over his head.
"Come on Elizabeth," Anya said. "Let's get out of here before it gets ugly."
As Anya moved towards a corridor that led out of the circular area, Elizabeth suddenly understood why she didn't feel fearful or uncomfortable here.
She already possessed a great deal of knowledge about the place.
"This leads to the kitchen, right?" Elizabeth asked.
Anya stopped in her tracks and turned to face Elizabeth. "How did you know that?"
Elizabeth just smirked.
Anya nodded. "Oh. Right. Swapna."
"Good ole Swapna."
Anya sighed and began walking again. "I'm beginning to understand why Jason requested a particularly tough exam for you."
"Oh, did he, now?"
Anya nodded. "By the time we get you something to eat, I think it should be just about ready."
They emerged into the kitchen area, another large, brightly lit, lushly appointed space.
Anya turned to her again and put a hand on her shoulder. "Daria is preparing your exam. She's over in the lab complex as we speak."
"You make that sound ominous."
Anya's eyebrows slid up. "You haven't met Daria."