Vy slid her hands around steel bars, searching for a way out of the cage. She tried not to think too hard about the weird fogginess beyond the cage. It looked like a foggy day, but it hadn’t dimmed or brightened in more than ten hours, which was about how long had passed since she’d awoken in this trap. No visible ground, and no obvious sky. If not for the catwalks that receded into that fog—and the cage—she might have assumed that she was in some kind of afterlife, or that she was the victim of an alien abduction. But catwalks and a steel cage had to mean humans.
“I wish you’d stop.” Lynn sounded ragged. “We don’t know what’s out there.”
“Thomas might be out there.” Vy inched along an upper part of the cage wall, testing each bar. “He probably needs help.” She was his caretaker; she should have protected him.
“Or he’s dead,” Lynn snapped. “Maybe that knock-out gas overdosed him. He’s not exactly in wonderful health. You won’t be either, if you break your neck.”
“I won’t fall.” Vy was sure of it. Her hair and parka flared whenever she moved, and she was as light as a feather, able to cling to the cage ceiling with almost no effort. They had awoken to a falling sensation which never stopped. She had already tested every steel bar of the lower cage, so she might as well test the upper bars and grid ceiling.
Anyhow, what kind of a sadistic work crew would seal four innocent people into a cage without any way out? There must be a hidden gate.
“Just sit down, Vy.” Lynn enunciated each word, as if speaking to a dull child. “What if you accidentally trigger some kind of trap?” She made a sound of frustration. “Has it occurred to you that we might be safer inside the cage?”
Vy eyed the chains, and the trough of water. Metallic choker collars wrapped around each of their necks. She wanted to point out that only animals got treated this way, but she could see how scared Lynn was. “I don’t like feeling trapped.” Unlike Lynn and Ariock, she never would have imprisoned herself. She slapped the bars. “This makes me feel the opposite of safe.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she could have kicked herself in shame. Ariock had probably never felt safe in his life, and now, of all of them, he had the most reason for complaint. Gigantic shackles and chains fastened him to one wall. Vy had tried to lift one of the chains, and it had been impossible for her to budge. Those chains must weigh as much as anchors.
“Sorry,” she told him.
Ariock looked resigned. He shrugged, and the chains moved up with his massive shoulders, then clanked down. He might be strong enough to bend or break the cage bars—which was probably why their unknown captors had trussed him up like King Kong. He had to strain just to adjust his position.
“I can’t believe our visit turned into this,” Vy said.
“Thomas will get us free.” Cherise’s voice was as soft as the misty light.
After hours of listening to Lynn’s despairing diatribes, Vy had inwardly wanted someone else to speak. But this was ridiculous. Cherise looked downright relaxed, lying on the grated floor as if Thomas was nearby and working on his laptop. Not a care in the world. Perhaps her abused childhood had trained her to cope with stress by waiting for a miraculous rescue.
“I hope so.” Vy tried to hide her worry that Thomas was in danger or dead. He acted invincible, but Vy fed him, dressed him, bathed him. He couldn’t sit up without assistance. “Thomas might need our help,” she said cautiously.
“He’s an expert at surviving.” Cherise sounded like an adult comforting a worried child.
Lynn made a disgusted noise. “He’s the reason we’re in this mess. Am I the only one who will acknowledge that he fell for a trick?”
“We all fell for it,” Vy said. “That woman with the map . . . she sent us to your house specifically. There must have been a reason.”
Lynn’s tone was dangerous. “What reason would that be?”
“I don’t know,” Vy said. “But they lured us to you. Maybe they wanted something from your house. Or someone.”
“Give it a bit more thought, Vy.” Lynn sounded derisive. “Your neighborhood was too populated for an abduction, so they lured you to an isolated spot in the woods.”
“My backyard is in the woods,” Vy said pointedly. “There are woods all over New Hampshire. She could have lured us anywhere, but she chose the Dovanack mansion.” Vy studied Lynn and Ariock, wondering what facts she was missing. “You live near where Thomas was born. And there are other coincidences. Thomas said someone in your family was a mind reader.”
Lynn blew air through her lips. “We’ve been over this. I told you, there’s no way that Thomas can be related. And our family is utterly normal. Completely normal.”
Vy resisted her impulse to glance at Ariock.
“Whatever you think about Ariock,” Lynn said, as if sensing her restraint. “He’s not an escaped science experiment or anything like that. If you knew him at all, you’d understand. He just happens to have a growth disorder. It’s random. He is the most normal young man you’ll ever meet, otherwise. That’s all there is to it.”
“What about his father?” Vy asked, cautious. “Your husband?”
Lynn spoke through clenched teeth. “What are you implying?”
She sounded like a kettle ready to scream. Vy searched for a way to calm her down. “I’m only trying to figure out—”
“Stop!” Lynn said. “I don’t want to hear it. My husband was normal in every respect. Whatever you’ve heard about the Dovanacks, it’s gossip. We had bad luck. That’s all. There’s no such thing as a family curse.”
Now Vy did glance at Ariock. Many people would consider him lucky, with his inherited wealth.
He gazed at his mother with doubt and pain. Vy thought of all the unused rooms in the Dovanack mansion, fuzzy with dust, which probably needed a household staff to clean them. The adjacent garage was large enough for a fleet of luxury vehicles. It seemed like a waste of space. All of the oil portraits in the mansion implied that it had once been a much larger family.
“What is the curse?” Vy asked.
“It has nothing to do with our situation,” Lynn seethed. “We’re not dead.” She gave her son’s chains a helpless glance.
“It’s a death curse?” Vy asked.
Ariock gave her a confirming nod.
“A lot of our relatives died in a short amount of time.” Lynn sounded as if she was discussing filthy laundry. “Unfortunate accidents. But that was twelve years ago. Whether it was bad luck or a curse, it’s all in the past.”
Twelve years ago. Vy wondered if those deaths had coincided with Thomas’s birth and abandonment.
Lynn’s tone softened. “Ariock and I are the only ones left.” She gazed at him with concern, and Vy saw her buried love. “It’s a miracle he survived.”
Vy suppressed her urge to ask for details. The memories were clearly painful for Lynn and Ariock, and this was not the time or place to dredge up trauma. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to bring up something painful. I’ll just concentrate on trying to get out of here.” She tugged the bars near Ariock, wishing she could offer more than a lame apology. “If I can get you free, I will.”
Ariock watched her with hopeless hope. That was the only way she could think of to describe his expression.
Each bar felt as unyielding as the collar around her neck. To Vy, the seamless gray circle was worse than any other aspect of imprisonment. They’d all awoken with collars, even Ariock. Someone must have manufactured a giant-sized collar just for him. Vy kept trying to remove hers. It felt oily, so it slid across her skin, but there was no latch. She couldn’t loosen it. A part of her body had become inaccessible, and if she thought about that fact too much, she might burst into tears.
Ariock’s voice was a deep rumble. “I should have said ‘no.’”
Vy studied him, looking down from her vantage point near the cage ceiling. “’No’ to what?”
He raised his gaze to her, then quickly looked away, as if ashamed to meet her eyes. “No to meeting you. If you’d gone home, you’d be safe.”
Maybe he regretted meeting her. Vy slid down until she could prop her boots against one of his massive shoulders. “Are you kidding? Do you think you’re the reason they attacked us and put us here?”
Ariock gave a dejected shrug. It seemed he was just guessing.
“Of course not,” Lynn said from the other side of the cage. “Ariock always takes responsibility for things, but in this case, he has it backwards. Thomas led them to our house. If not for that, we’d be safe.”
Vy glared at her. “Can we please stop blaming each other? We’re all wearing these.” She pointed to her collar. “I’d like to save the blame for whoever put these on us. It obviously wasn’t Thomas or Ariock.”
Ariock looked impressed, although it seemed he was trying not to stare at her legs, which were right near his face.
“Anyway.” Vy swung back onto the grid of bars. “They built extra-large shackles for Ariock, which means this whole thing was planned. I know Thomas comes across like an egomaniac, but he’d never be part of something this evil.” She tried to think of a better way to explain why she trusted her foster brother, but just then, the plummeting sensation became a lot worse. Vy flailed in surprise at the violent roller-coaster sensation, and lost her grip on the bars.
She floated in mid-air. Zero G, she realized in disbelief, seeing her hair plume in front of her face. I’m in zero G.
Gravity returned with brutal suddenness. There was no sensation of a collision, but Vy was flung downward. She grabbed the cage wall and slammed against it.
There must be a non-alien explanation. There must be. Vy clung to the bars, trying to assure herself that she was in a laboratory on Earth, because at least people could be reasoned with. She couldn’t hope to reason with alien monstrosities.
She nearly wept with relief when figures appeared out of the mist, on the catwalks. They looked human.