Lexa's mouth felt dry. She tasted a bitter metallic tang on her tongue. For a few seconds she lay, hurting, with her eyes closed. Her head ached as she sat up. She didn't remember much at first, but then the horror of Dom's death and her sham of a trial came rushing back in a torrent.
She groaned and opened her eyes. The room was small. Bright light shone down from a single fixture in the ceiling. She was dressed in a dark brown leather corset and matching -- too tight -- leather pants. She ran her hands over her backside. The horrible pants weren't ass-less, and she was glad of that, at least. There was a black nylon utility vest over her shoulders. A row of silver and gold sequins sparkled on the hem of the vest. The combination of style and material was strange. Glam survivalist?
She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose in an attempt to clear her foggy mind. Her stomach rolled. Someone had seen her naked when she'd been at her most vulnerable. Shivering, she forced herself to stop thinking about how dirty having been stripped made her feel. Pushing herself up, using the wall, she managed to get to her feet.
The door slid open with a whoosh. Whoever designed the room had hidden the door so well she'd never even noticed it until it opened. A tall woman watched her mutely.
Lexa flinched under the scrutiny. "Why are you here? What's happening to me?" Lexa screamed the questions at the woman as her hysteria rose.
"You'll have a ten second head start. Go right to avoid the desert. Get to the trees, and you'll have a better chance. Here is your pack. It's all any of the contestants start out with. Inside you'll find a utility knife, canteen and matches. Millions of fans will be watching you. Take solace in knowing you won't die alone." The woman spoke without any hint of emotion or remorse.
"I don't plan to die at all," Lexa said. She hated how this woman had written her off. She wasn't doomed. She wasn't going to give up. Just because wealthy men had paid for a license to hunt her didn't mean she was automatically condemned. "I'm going to serve my time and return home."
Sympathy flickered across the woman's features, but she quickly covered the expression with a scowl. "Few have lived long enough to serve their time. No woman has left this place alive. Many find it easier just to walk out and wait for the end."
"I've never been good at taking the easy way out. I'll take my chances with the woods. Why are you giving me advice?"
"It's been a long time since we've had a woman as young as you on the show. I'd like to make the most of your time." The tall stranger's words held the ring of truth.
Lexa shrugged. "I'll do my best to outlast my sentence. I'd hate it if Interplanetary Broadcasting lost ratings due to my untimely demise. How bad can a month be?" Lexa spoke as sarcastically as possible. She didn't know if the cameras were already watching her, but she had a feeling they might be. Hatred for the mindless people watching her injustice boiled in her core. Until now, she'd been just like them.
The reality of how meaningless human life was hit her with shocking force.
The woman's eyes darkened. "May the enlightenment of justice guide your path."
Her sentence had begun. The cameras were watching. The woman's use of words made that clear. "Um, thanks, I'll make my own light. I've had a taste of justice, and it wasn't for me." Her new reality was a terrifying example of how deep a lie could burrow to masquerade as truth. She glared at the woman. No matter how afraid she felt she refused to let her fear show.
The emotionless expression taking over the woman's face made her shiver. "What happens now?" Lexa asked.
"Now you survive, or not. Either way, it'll be good TV."
Lexa's eyes widened as the woman shoved her out the door.
She ended up on an elevator and not in a hallway as she'd expected. As her brain kicked in, she realized it was now or never. With shaking hands, she took the items from the pack and shoved them in the few pockets her thin vest offered. She'd seen this show a few times -- enough to know the bright orange backpack was a good way to die.
Now she wished she'd watched more often. Her mother hated the show and always said it was low class and not what her daughter should watch.
Just as she put the last item into a secure place and dropped the bright bag, the elevator stopped. Her heart raced. Her heavy breathing was the only sound she could hear.
The doors opened and bright sunlight flooded the dark space to blind her. She took a shaky step and saw trees in the distance. She took the woman's advice and ran toward them.
In her mind, she started to count. One... two... three... The ten seconds would be over long before she reached the trees. She didn't look back, afraid of what she'd see. They'd be waiting. Men had paid for the privilege of killing her for the entertainment of bored television viewers back home.
A breeze ruffled her hair. Everything felt so real here, but it wasn't a planet. It was a space station. Terror hit her in the stomach so hard she stumbled. Horrified, she watched the ground coming at her face as she fell forward. She was giving her life to those bastards too easily. Her eager executioners would be upon her in seconds.
Eight... nine... ouch. She landed as her ten seconds ended. Rolling to her back, she sat up only to see three well-armed men wearing body armor aiming old-fashioned high-powered automatic rifles at her.
Death. She wasn't ready. Hands grabbed her roughly. The brutality of their grip caused her shock to turn into terror. She didn't scream or struggle. The raw panic kept her still. She was standing because those large hands hand pulled her to her feet.
She spun around and her breath hitched in her throat. He was glorious.
Roan of the Northlands, one of the sexiest men on TV, was rescuing her. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward just as the first shot rang out. Dirt erupted next to her foot. "Go!"