Where am I?
Diana spun in complete and total darkness. Had it been seconds since her journey began? Minutes? Months? Time had lost all meaning since she’d grabbed the metal bar fragments of an Underworld cell from her nightstand. The world around her had blurred into an endless expanse of inkiness. Gone were the walls of her room in the palace at Themyscira. Her bed. The soft white rug spread across her marble floor. Gone, too, was Cylinda, who’d scrambled from her guard post, racing to rescue Diana before she vanished. She had not succeeded.
Diana clenched the glimmering fragments from the cell tightly in her hands as she hurtled deeper and deeper into the inky abyss. At midnight each night, these enchanted bars had transported caged children to parts unknown. Diana had lashed at the cage with the Lasso of Truth when she’d gone to the Underworld to rescue her friends. She’d managed to break a hole in the bars that was big enough for her friends, Imani and Sakina, to slip out of the enclosure and escape through Doom’s Doorway to Themyscira.
Diana never imagined she’d voluntarily grab on to those same bars, which she’d carried home with her, to send herself straight into the clutches of evil--but no one knew where to find Zumius. And no one knew who or what he was. But with each passing day, they did know that the powers of the gods who ruled the world grew weaker and weaker because of him. Diana had decided to take the risk: to clutch the fragments when they began glimmering on her nightstand at midnight--and see for herself where they took her. It was an impulsive decision, she knew. But she hoped that maybe by holding on and transporting herself, she could find the kidnapped children. Maybe then Zumius could be taken down once and for all.
But as she hurtled onward, Diana’s mind filled with doubt. Were the bars, in pieces as they were, malfunctioning? Might they leave her suspended in this darkness for eternity?
Suddenly a burst of warm air wrapped around her. Heaviness pressed in from all sides, squeezing her like a vise. Then Diana began to free-fall. Her heart somersaulted as she spiraled down, down, down. Curling into a ball, she braced for impact.
With a painful thump, she landed on hard concrete. She opened her eyes, wincing, and rose to her knees. She was in a cage in a windowless room. The walls were painted maroon, with golden trusses along the ceiling. What is this place? Diana wondered. How far was she from Themyscira? Were the other children here? Was Zumius?
Inching a hand forward, she brushed her fingers against the rounded bars. They were sandlike and grainy in texture, similar to the cage she’d broken her friends out of in the Underworld. Pressing her hand to her side, a touch of relief went through her: the Lasso of Truth was still attached to her belt, as was her emerald-encrusted sword. She’d helped her friends get out of a cage exactly like this once before, Diana reminded herself. She’d help herself out now.
Diana gingerly stretched her arms and legs. Her head throbbed like a drum. Her entire body ached, but, to her relief, no bones seemed broken. Craning her neck, she peered out through the bars of the cage. Most of this tiny room was taken up by the enclosure itself. She could make out the edge of a skylight above, from which moonlight shone into the otherwise windowless room. Across from her was the only door, metal and locked with seven enormous bolts.
Diana strained her ears for the sound of footsteps or any sign of life outside the door, but all was eerily silent. For now. Soon enough, someone would arrive. Maybe Zumius. Diana shivered. She needed to act fast. She had to break out of this cage. Get out that door. Leave before anyone found her. The children who’d been kidnapped had to be trapped in other parts of this building. She’d heard that these children, unlike Diana herself, had special abilities. All she needed to do was reach them and help them get free. Using all their powers collectively, they could take down Zumius once and for all. There was no time to lose.
Diana gripped a bar of the cage with one hand. With the other, she reached for the lasso at her waist. She rose to her feet, ready to strike at the bar, but as her head grazed against the low ceiling of the enclosure, an alarm blared within the room. A whirring noise sounded from above. Diana winced and looked up--had she triggered this siren when her head touched the ceiling? The blare grew louder. But the whirring sound terrified her more. Dread filled her body. She’d heard that sound before: in her bedroom back on Themyscira, when the green-cloaked Targuni had tried to kidnap her. The creature had jutted out its arm and whirred with a noise much like this before launching a stream of golden powder into the air, obliterating a book into dust. The same powder had wreaked havoc on her people. It had toppled statues and pockmarked her homeland with craters. And now, with the same mechanical whirring buzzing above her head, she was trapped. Diana pressed herself against the back wall of the cage as a warm mist burst from above and sprayed down. She coughed. The room filled with the scent of mint and crushed cloves. Pinching her nose, she tried not to gag, but the smell was overwhelming. Mist dampened her hair and coated her cheeks and nose.
What is this? She wiped away the wetness with her hands.
Moments later, footsteps clicked in the distance. Then voices rose.
“Honestly, Serg! These things malfunction twenty times a day,” a woman’s voice said. “You act like it’s an intergalactic emergency each and every time.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Reid, but we gotta check, just in case. His orders.”
Diana tensed. Whoever it was, they were right outside the door. She watched as the first of the seven locks turned. It was too late for her to break out unnoticed. She glanced down at her sword; it was sheathed at her side, and her lasso was still in her hands. She couldn’t let them find her weapons. Not while she was still figuring out the best move. Without her sword and lasso, she’d have no chance against whatever or whoever was on the other side of the door.
Slowly the second lock clicked.
Then the third.
Diana slid her belt around until the sword was out of sight behind her back. After unfurling the lasso, she hastily wrapped it twice around her waist. She knotted it at the front into a bow, hoping it now resembled more a bulky belt than what it truly was.
The fourth lock turned.
Diana straightened nervously. Her head bumped against the ceiling again. The alarm blared louder. More mist rained down on her.
One by one, the rest of the locks opened.
Slowly, the door parted. She had no idea what was on the other side--and she was not looking forward to finding out.
Two people entered the room.
The woman wore a white lab coat, and she had short brown hair. Dark glasses framed her eyes. She had yet to look up. Her attention was singularly focused on a thin, glowing rectangular device in her hand. The man who accompanied her appeared to be at least seven feet tall. He had a thick beard. His helmet and outfit were black, with a yellow feather emblazoned across his chest. A menacing brown nightstick rested at his side. He stared at Diana like he’d seen a ghost.
“Uh, Dr. Reid . . . ,” the man said.
“Can we get on with it?” The woman tapped on the tablet-like device. “Let’s mark it and move on. Hand me the sign-off sheet.”
“Um, I think you might want to take a look.”
She pursed her lips and lifted her gaze. Her eyes met Diana’s. Startled, the woman took a step back.
“Well. I see,” she managed to say.
“Told you it wasn’t a false alarm!” Her companion grinned triumphantly.
Stay calm, Diana told herself. Play dumb until you can figure out what you’re going to do.
“Clearly, Serg,” the woman muttered. “Let’s get her situated if she’s coherent enough to speak.”
“I’m not sure the charm deployed,” he said slowly. “She doesn’t seem groggy at all.”
Diana looked at the beads of cool liquid trailing down her arms. She certainly didn’t feel groggy.
“Nonsense. She’s practically a walking zombie,” Dr. Reid responded curtly. “The records indicate the mist deployed not once but twice.”
“I guess.” The man eyed Diana uncertainly. “It’s weird, though, isn’t it? She came out of nowhere, and at this hour? We barely have a skeletal staff.”
“You scared? Serg, she’s a third of your size,” Dr. Reid said with a snort.
“I’m just saying. If she’s one of those kids, her size doesn’t matter. You’ve seen them,” Serg replied defensively. “The metal bender nearly ripped the door apart when the charm wore off a smidge. And Aiko had my arms go soft like jelly without even touching me before we got the second dose on her.”
Diana startled. The other kids. They’d been in this cage, too. So they were here!
“Be that as it may, she’s under twice the usual dose, and she’s definitely not one of those kids,” Dr. Reid said. “There’s a protocol to prepare for their arrival. Some sort of glitch must have occurred. It’s not the first time.”
“But what if she is one of them?” the guard insisted.
“Then I’m pretty sure we can handle her for a short while, until we send her off to the next location to join the other kids.”
The next location? As fast as her hopes had risen, they fell. If the kidnapped children weren’t in whatever building this was, where were they?
“Let’s get this going. I’ve got a mountain of work to get through,” Dr. Reid said. She looked up from her tablet and directly at Diana. “What’s your name? Identify yourself.”
Despite her greatest efforts to seem neutral, Diana glared at her.
“I’ll try again.” The scientist’s lips curled into a smirk. “Your name. What is it?”
Diana did her best to conceal her frustration and appear under the influence of whatever substance the mist had deployed. There was no way she was telling them anything.
“Probably useless to interrogate her now,” the woman told Serg. “Because of the extra dose, we’ll have to wait until it wears off a bit. Shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Once she’s come to, we’ll figure out what happened.”
A few hours! That was more than enough time, Diana hoped, for her to break out of here and figure out her next steps. If the kids weren’t in this building, she’d find them wherever they were. She’d broken these bars once. She’d do it again.
Dr. Reid lifted her tablet and pointed it toward Diana. Diana flinched as a bright light flashed, followed by a clicking sound. “I’ll send the photo on,” she told the guard. “It’ll take a moment for the feed to reach him, but he’ll give us answers if she can’t.”
“Should I take her to the interrogation room?” Serg asked. “That way she won’t keep accidentally triggering the mist?”
“Good idea.” She nodded. “But put on the heavy-duty restraints. If she has powers, there’s no telling what they might be.”
The guard reached into his pocket and fished out a metal ring of keys.
An interrogation room? Restraints? Diana’s heart sank. If he was going to tie her up, there would be no opportunity for her to break out, like she’d planned. She looked at the wide-open door. This would have to be it--her one chance to get away. This could be the best shot she’d have.
Can I fight both of them? Diana wondered. If it came down to it, she supposed she could. But the best plan would be to take the duo by surprise and slip out the door before they realized what was happening. They thought she was sedated. She could use that to her advantage.
“And if she’s not one of the kids?” Serg asked. “Then what?”
“Not our problem,” Dr. Reid shrugged. “That’s what the Targuni are for.”
Diana shivered. The Targuni. Those creatures didn’t run so much as fly. They had stopped at nothing to capture children on behalf of Zumius. They were here, wherever here was. Of course they were.
The guard fumbled the keys in his thick fingers. “We’ve got to color-code these,” he grumbled. “Too many to keep track of.” At last he brightened. “There we go.”
Dr. Reid lifted the tablet to her mouth and spoke into it.
“Subject is an adolescent girl,” she said in a dispassionate voice. “Unresponsive to questioning. Will be transferred to interrogation room, with extra restraints employed as a precautionary method. Will resume questioning in two hours, once the charm’s effects lessen. Press send.”
Serg unlocked the cage. The door creaked as he began to slowly open it. Within seconds, he’d grab her and take her away. Fighting him could be tricky. And if she did get out, where would she go? Stop, Diana told herself. She’d worry about the next step when it was time to worry about it. Right now, she had to focus on the task at hand. Diana tried to steady her breathing. Right now, the door was opening.
“Signal is bad here,” the scientist grumbled, tapping the rectangular device. “You got this?”
“Sure thing,” the guard replied.
Dr. Reid hurried out of the room. Her shoes clicked against the floor, growing more distant with each step.
“And now for you.” His hands rested on either side of the cage. “Let’s go, come on over.”
Diana pressed her back against the rear wall.
“Come on.” His voice hardened. “I know you can walk. The charm doesn’t render you immobile.”
Diana kept her expression as blank as possible.
“You’re frustrating, you know that?” He leaned in and reached out to grab her. His fingers were inches away. “I don’t get paid enough for this gig,” he grumbled to himself. He leaned into the cage. Moments later, he was climbing into the cage. On all fours, he made his way toward her and reached out to grab her by the ankle. Now was the time! Diana dove over his outstretched arm.
“What the--?” He startled. He swept a hand through the air to grab her leg but missed. Diana deftly landed on the floor outside the cage. She was out!
“Get back here!” He rose. “Hey! Ow!” The blaring alarm sounded again. A familiar whirring noise filled the room. Mist sprayed down, coating the inside of the cage. “You can’t . . .” His voice faded. His eyes grew heavy, and he fell to the floor.
Diana broke into a run down the empty hallway. As she glanced around, she felt worry rise within her. Now what? She’d completed the first step and escaped from the cage--but now she had to figure out her next move: getting out of here to reach the kids, wherever they were. Any moment now Dr. Reid or someone would discover the sedated man. They’d send guards and soldiers to hunt her down. She couldn’t get captured again. If she did, she might never find the missing children.