Exhaustion alone enabled Gale and Deb to sleep through the night. The floor of the cage left bruises on their skin, a bed of cold steel. Fortunately for Gale at least, she lacked the strength even to dream. She slept as hard as one comatose or one dead, a period of deep slumber without interruption or nightmares. But the nightmare returned when she awoke.
A guard kicked the front of the cage, jolting them awake. Another unlocked the cage door.
“You, doctor, come with us,” he barked. Gale hesitated and the guard grabbed her arm, pulling her out. Deb made a whining sound.
“It’s okay,” Gale said to her. “I’ll be back. Don’t worry.” The words were for Deb’s benefit. Gale faked the confidence needed to speak them.
They led her outside, where the day had grown scorching and humid, to the private building which Konrad Selivanov and his assistant called home. Once more she was granted access to the former’s private chambers, where she found the blind man waiting for her.
“Ah, come in, doctor, come in,” Selivanov said as the guards closed the door behind her. One of them remained in the room, claiming a spot in a corner, as immobile and mute as a statue.
On a small table, arranged on a silver tray, a breakfast had been prepared. Toast, scrambled eggs, fruit and jam, pancakes, a glass of orange juice and steaming black coffee.
“For you, doctor,” Selivanov said, as though he had seen her gaze settle on the food. “I’ve already eaten.” Gale eyed him, wary. “It isn’t poisoned, my dear,” Selivanov said. “I assure you. And my private cook is quite capable. I know you haven’t had anything to eat or drink since your arrival here. You must be famished. Please, eat.”
Thirst overpowered caution and Gale grabbed the glass of juice, emptying it in several loud gulps.
“Good girl,” Selivanov said.
“My friend hasn’t had any food or water, either,” Gale said.
“For that matter, she can’t eat with that thing you put on her!”
“Thing?” Selivanov asked.
“That awful mask.”
“Ah.” Selivanov smiled. “I see that Charlie has been a bit premature. I apologize, my dear. As you know, I wasn’t feeling quite myself when you and Ms. Ashemoore first arrived. I will see to it that Ms. Ashemoore is freed and given proper nourishment. For the moment, however, I wish to speak with you while you have your breakfast.”
Gale couldn’t help herself. She began to eat.
“I have use for a medical doctor here,” Selivanov said. “Not just for myself and Charlie, but for my men, and my guests as well.”
“Your prisoners, you mean,” Gale said, swallowing. “What, you want to keep them in good health until you can torture them to death?”
Selivanov smiled. “Something like that, yes.”
Gale stopped chewing.
“I am not like Charlie, my dear,” Selivanov said. “I do not experience any sadistic sexual thrill from killing. For me, it is economic. My captives are a commodity, pure and simple. Too valuable to be wasted.”
“My God,” Gale said. “Why?”
“Because I must,” Selivanov answered. “The world is ending, you see. And I have been chosen to serve an important function as that happens.”
Gale shook her head. “You’re insane.”
“Oh, I am quite sane, I’m afraid,” Selivanov said. “The world is ending, my dear. You have yourself witnessed the grave reality.”
Gale paused, letting his words sink in. “The camp!” she said. “You caused that!” “In a way, yes,” Selivanov said. “A preview of coming attractions, if you will.”