Sophie was five minutes, ten at the most, but I can’t tell you how long that felt in that freezing room with its puddled concrete floor. At first I could focus on nothing but my leg, but when the blood soaking the tourniquet began to darken, my heartbeat slowed a little and I began to think of other things. Like how the hell we were going to get out of there. My addled brain couldn’t get any further than the question though. It had been a long time, long enough to forget how to think under pressure like this.
She came back, breathing hard from the effort of necessary speed, and I felt bad for wondering in a moment of weakness if she’d leave me there. Believe me, I wouldn’t have blamed her this time.
“It’s surrounded,” She said, not minding about the echo; we wouldn’t be heard way down here, which of course was partly the problem. She flopped down against the wall next to me. There was a new cut on her arm that she hadn’t noticed, and I opened my mouth to tell her, then thought better of it. I let her get her breath before asking her what had happened, but there wasn’t much to tell; apparently she hadn’t got far.
“I’d been hoping maybe they didn’t know about those stairs, God, no one ever uses ‘em, but…” She threw her hands up helplessly, then looked at me with something close to an apology. “They’ve got around you know. Everywhere.”
I’d been trying not to think about that little fact but I knew it might help to know why. What had happened to them?
“S’ok, you’ve got guts I’ll give you that.”
“For a girl?”
“Of course for a girl.” I tried a smile. “Any more ideas?”
“I’m all out.” She looked at me, a little surprised. “Shouldn’t you be the one to come up with the genius plan anyway? I mean you are the one who’s been here before.”
“Not like this. Last time I had the whole team with me, we were in and out in under an hour, this is completely different and you know it. I mean, Christ…” I looked at my leg in despair. “I don’t understand Sophie. They’ve changed, wouldn’t you say? Do you think they’re acting differently?”
Sophie considered this for a moment, then began checking her pack for more ammunition pretending my words didn’t affect her. The funny thing was that she had been saying this exact same thing right up until the point we found ourselves sitting ducks on floor zero-twenty.
“There’s a perfectly decent explanation and you know it,” she said with more conviction than I’m sure she felt. “Here’s a for instance. When’s the last time they had their Blue?”
I looked at her in disbelief as she rummaged in her pack, frowning with concentration.
“You know we stopped giving them that crap years ago, Soph.”
“Oh, is that what they told you?”
“What, have you been reading too many conspiracy sites? Of course we did – why do you think this round has been so hard? Jesus, usually they don’t even look up, don’t pay any…you know…attention. None at all. Let alone…” I looked at my leg. “Something’s going on, and it’s not what you think, it’s different this time.”
She wouldn’t look at me, and again I wondered if she’d heard. We sat for a full minute without speaking, then a sound like the slamming of a door made us both jump. My skin went cold as I realised it was a door banging open.
Sophie looked me full in the eyes. “Well, it looks like they’re paying attention now,” she whispered shakily, “so we’d better be ready.”