Meagan was not sure how much time had passed when she grudgingly opened her eyes. Though her body was slack with fatigue she felt no actual pain. Just the cold horror of knowing that she had actually been kidnapped. Or something. Now when was the last time that had actually happened? Well, counting kidnapped occurrences should be the last thing on her mind. The floor on which she lay was cold cement and the room was dark. Everything smelled faintly of Windex.
"Are you okay, Meagan? Wow, I had no idea that chemical was so powerful. I didn't expect you to go unconscious just like that."
A flashlight blasted into Meagan's eyes.
"Good grief, Mary!" Meagan sat up quickly, blocking her eyes with one hand. "Are you trying to blind me? And where are we?"
The light of the flashlight bounced back to Mary. "Oh, here."
"Obviously. Where are we? And… Did just you admit to kidnapping me?"
"With chloroform," Mary said proudly. "I've always wanted to use it."
Meagan laughed dryly. "You? The little angel? You thought you could get away with using chloroform? On me?"
"I just did, Meagan. But you're all right? Because you seem all right but I wasn't really sure how much to use…"
Meagan nodded. "I'm fine… I just can't get over the thought of you using chloroform! Why would you do that?" The first question in a huge tumbleweed of sought knowledge blowing through the confused desert landscape that was her now her mind. Always with the why. She was never going to recover from being that teenaged brat she had been.
"Oh. Because." Mary did not sound the least bothered by what she had just done. "These really nice gentlemen came up to me in the parking lot. I at first thought they were missionaries, but it turns out they work for the government. They needed me to kidnap you in order to test Apollus. Did you know that Apollus worked for the FBI?"
Oh boy. So much for government secrets. "Yes. He just started."
"How exciting! And what a great career for him! He'll do a wonderful job, I'm sure of it."
"Yeah, I'm sure he will. So again, where are we?"
"Some basement." For the first time Mary's voice seemed less than confidant.'
"Mary, what are you not telling me? What basement? Whose basement?"
"Just… some basement. Under an abandoned building."
"Well, that just sounds like all kinds of foreboding." Why had she decided she needed to go grocery shopping? Why? And why did Mary have to be so… Mary? "What is going on? How are we being used to test my husband?"
Mary cleared her throat. "Well… I guess there is some sort of bomb or prepared fire or something… I'm still learning all these modern weapons."
"The nice government men said it would be perfectly safe and nothing would happen to us. It's just… a test."
"What kind of stupid test is this? Does Harry know?"
"No, he was fiddling with his phone while I was talking to them."
Meagan wanted to faint back to the floor. But she had to be calm. She had been in countless worse situations before. "So… they had you kidnap me?"
There was a long time before Mary spoke again. This time, her voice was dead serious. "Meagan, you are treating me like I'm some naïve idiot. Again. They explained everything."
Now she had just offended Mary. "I'm sorry. I'm just a little surprised by all of this."
"So am I, but I think it's kind of fun. Now, they gave me the bottle and the rag to make you go unconscious. Then I dragged you out to a truck out back. Which I then drove here. They were waiting, the agents, I mean. They put us in the basement and gave me a clock." Blue digital numbers lit the darkness, revealing a full eight minutes left until something went down.
"We have eight minutes to live before my idiot husband rescues us?"
"We're not locked in here, Meagan. The door is over there. It's actually open.
"And if the raging fire blocks us?"
Mary laughed hard for a surprisingly long time. "That's… that's the fun part."
"A raging fire?"
"The building across the street is set to blow up."
"You can't find them, can you?"
Apollus turned to see Agent Weatherston standing right behind him in the grocery store parking lot. He had gone out there to see if Mary had perhaps gone to her car. Maybe she had forgotten her lipstick or whatever other make-up Mary cared about.
"Them?" he echoed.
"Your sister-in-law and your wife."
His heart skipped a beat. "Meagan? She's gone?"
"Oh, they're both in the same place. Here." Agent Weatherston handed him a card. A simple card, just one of those little ones for notes that all the kids uses for school. "This is an address."
"You kidnapped them?" Suddenly the thrill of the new job was gone, replaced by the rage that was automatically made to build up inside of him. "Why would you do that?"
"Oh, don't worry, Mr. Severillus. They're both fine. And I'm sure they'll stay that way. Assuming you hurry."
"I hate you."
"Just don't attack me again." Agent Weatherston pulled out a gun. "I got this this time. And I'm a quick draw."
This was insane, Apollus thought. "All right. I'll go."
"You had better be quick."
Except there was a problem. Meagan had the car keys.
Apollus released a favorite ancient Roman curse of his and took off at a run.
He wound up taking a bus. A bus, of all things. Apollus had never liked them. They were big and slow and crowded and ugly. It was like driving people around in a cart. But he took one and sat down next to a nice old lady who unfortunately smelled of cats. He all but jumped to his feet to get away from her when the bus finally pulled up to his stop. How much time had he wasted on the darn buss? Was Meagan okay?
He would take on the entire Federal Bureau of Investigation plus whoever was in the White House if she had so much as a scratch.
He darted from the bus stop's corner through a peaceful looking neighborhood. It should have made him feel better with its kid running through sprinklers and fathers barbecuing. Except Apollus was a programmed warrior and really couldn't care less about such things. He pulled out the address card again. He was going the right way. Just had to find the right street.
And, as often happened, he turned a corner and found absolutely nothing. Why did Utah have to exist that way? Empty lots of dust and random old buildings in the centers of perfectly nice areas.
And yet… he could not help but be strengthened by the site. It just screamed of adventure.
It was also, according to the directions, the right place.
A chain-link fence lined two sides of the lot, a dilapidated paved road running through the center before stopping at one chain-link fence where a "Dead End" sign declared the obvious. Three buildings inhabited the lot. One seemed to be an abandoned beauty shop, the next something that looked like a box, and the other a red brick building claiming to be a cannery. He shuddered. He hated it when all the women in the family made him volunteer at the church cannery.
But it had the right address. He cursed again. He didn't want to go into a cannery.
He did want Meagan back.
The front door was locked. There was no time to look at the back door, so he stepped back aways and thought of all the training he had ever learned from his father. Then he ran forward and kicked.
Yes. He still had it. The door fell away in a crash of dust and splinters.
Taking a deep breath, he dove inside.
It looked like… a cannery. There were a few giant vats and walls lined with empty jars. He hated the site.
"Meagan?" he called. "It's Apollus!"
"Meagan!" he tried again. "Mary!"
There had to be a basement somewhere. Actually, there was, and the staircase to prove it.
He ran down and threw open the next door.
Immediately a fist punched into his side. Apollus gasped for air, but his body was ready and his hands of their own accord flew to the fist. It took a moment, but then they had the grip and moved up to the arm. The attacker was fighting, but Apollus was strong. He found himself trapped in a grapple, but one he was sure he could win. His arms pushed down, and he forced the attacker to the floor.
The attacker was not yet done. He responded with a kick. Apollus took it, then sunk down to the attack. He could make nothing of his face in the darkness.
"Where's my wife?" he demanded.
The man laughed. A pained laugh, but a laugh just the same.
Apollus did not like to be laughed at. He punched the man in the jaw.
That ended the laughing.
He stood up, panting. "Anyone else?" He wished he could see.
Then he remembered he was in modern-day America. He felt on the wall for a switch, hoping there was some electricity still flowing through the dump. He found the switch, flipped it, then waited as the light buzzed before finally agreeing to turn on.
The room was empty.
Empty, except for another note card on the floor.
"Try the beauty shop."
A third curse.
The light stopped flickering then and settled on a glow.
Outside, Apollus heard an explosion. A definite explosion.
He dashed back upstairs, heart pounding. No, no, no. This could not be happening.
But the beauty shop was on fire. He could see the flames through the cannery window before he was even out what remained of the doorway.
Meagan and Mary were in there.
A little fire never hurt a Roman centurion.
He knocked open the door of the beauty shop, screaming Meagan's name the entire time.
The voice came from outside. It couldn't be.
"Meagan!" He ran back out.
She was standing a safe way from the burning building with a distinct mix of laughter and fear on her face, which was at least pale with the latter.
"Meagan," he whispered, throwing his arms around her.
"You ran in there! For me! I mean, you've been in scrapes so much worse, but wow. That was so sexy!"
"What happened? How did you escape?"
"We were over there," she said, pushing away from him and pointing to the drab white box building. "Just sitting in the basement. I'm sorry, I didn't think they were going to force you into a burning building."
Realization hit him. "What? I was tricked? Set up?"
"Training. If it makes you feel any better, I was tricked, too."
"But you passed. You took out one of the best brawlers in the system and braved a burning building," Mary said.
Apollus had almost forgotten he was supposed to rescue Mary as well. "So you all knew?"
"Oh, I helped set it up," replied Mary. "I've been working with the FBI for about a year now. It's a lot of fun."