Chapter Three:

Night had always been her favorite time of day. There was something strangely calming about its darkness, as if the whole world had shrunk down and nothing existed beyond what her eyes could see. The moonlight wasn't as glaringly oppressive like the sun's noon rays. Night wasn't as complicated.

Tom had once told her, in his gruff voice, that night made him nervous with all its uncertain dangers and unseen evils. She had asked him why he didn't just stay inside then, to which he had laughed at her innocent curiousity and replied, "Because it's my job to be one of those evils." For a nine-year-old, she was very perceptive and knew he was only kidding and trying to rile her fears, but as she looked back on it, she realized her mind was not privilege to the bigger picture that comment had tried to paint.

Walking towards the circle of shadows sitting huddled around a growing fire, Alex swallowed past a lump of disapproval that always formed at these meetings. After sixteen years, she still couldn't fathom why these people felt it necessary to torment and determine the fate of the infinite number of prisoners they made it their duty to capture. It wasn't a burning animosity she felt, just a helpless need to understand. But with no answers forthcoming and no allies on her side of the argument, she had no choice but to follow along. It was all she had ever known.

No one really payed her much attention when she squeezed her way in amongst them, perching easily on the edge of a halved and aged log. Only Bea gave her a slight indifference acknowledgement before turning back to Henry, as he had introduced himself to their prisoners, who finished whatever he had been discussing. With his pale blue and unblinking eyes that always made her stomach twist, he turned to stare at her. She hated his eyes.

"She give you any trouble?" he asked.

"No," she replied. Her answer was abrupt but not rudely so. It was a well-known fact that Alex was not a girl of many words. Maybe that was the reason she was so perceptive.

"She ask you any questions?"

Again, a short reply. "Just about her friends."

"You didn't answer, did you?"

She shook her head and let out a relieved breath as he dropped his scrutiny after hearing the answer he was looking for. She had wanted to. All that poor girl wanted was confirmation that her friends were nearby and safe. But Alex had done her duty and simply pretended she was not privy to that information.

She'd never admit it to anyone here and wasn't even sure why she was admitting it to herself, but Alex sort of felt a connection to her captive. If she had to explain it, she considered it might be due to Kate's quiet albeit steely assuredness. During Henry's interrogation, Alex admired the way the other girl had regarded both of them with vigilant suspicion and her determined bravado in the face of an uncontrollable situation. In the short moment after when she had delivered Kate's dinner, she had the weirdest feeling that under any other circumstances she and Kate would have been friends.

Feeling a nudge at her side, Alex realized she had faded into a trance and mentally shook herself back into focus.

"Tomorrow morning, we'll start this whole process," Henry began, his nasally voice sounding especially hard on her tired ears. "To prove we're not barbarians, take each one out separately for a few minutes of air and put them straight back. These people are smart. They are determined and I want someone with them at all times. Do not let them see each other. Do not let them ask questions. Do not turn your back on them."

He paused and looked each person gathered in their eyes, letting his instruction sink in. A few assenting nods was all that interrupted the silence.

"Tom and Pickett, you can take care of Shephard and Ford. Now the one who's going to be the loudest and most obnoxious is Ford, but he's more bark than bite. Still keep an eye on him. Shephard is the one you can't let up for one second. He's a sleeper. When he knows he's defenseless, he waits and he has patience that he will use. If he gives you any trouble at all, threaten her. That's his weakness."

Alex felt a sick plummeting in her stomach when she saw Tom's grin and knew he was remembering his confrontation with the doctor two weeks ago in the jungle. It wasn't fair, she thought, that Kate had to go through this only to be used as leverage.

"Alex, you stay in charge of Austen. She's less combative around women but she's another sleeper, even more so than Shephard, so watch her. Now, I wasn't able to determine her weakness so watch for that too."

"After they've been let out, we'll draw blood and begin. Let's start with…" He paused again, his eyes losing focus and clarity as if he had to retract from the present to see his answer. "Shephard. I want Ford bound and gagged and Austen heavily sedated but alert. Understood?"

Another round of nods and soft affirmations and he stood and smiled, his sign to dismiss the gathering. Alex rose too, anxious to leave, but Bea's question dragged out the meeting for one more second.

"When exactly should we start?" her slow smooth voice asked.

Henry smiled his cold unnerving smile before replying, "Sunrise."

If that sensation in her stomach had been only plummeting, it was a drilling dread now. She had the surest certainty, she was going to regret this assignment.