Five

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The stench of the Thames and rotting refuse made Vita wrinkle her nose, before she jerked awake. She pushed herself off the ground as fast as she could, ignoring the aching in her limbs. Her heart racing, she flattened herself against the wall, and took in her surroundings.

She stood in a deserted alleyway leading to a dock. The passage was littered with decomposing waste, and rats scurried away from her moving form. It was dawn, the district beyond the leaning brick walls still quiet.

She was in East London, and she was alive.

Both realisations stunned Vita.

The last thing she remembered was a jolt of electricity hitting her. She had thought of Archie and expected never to wake up. Yet there she was, alive.

This fact made her wonder if the whole episode at the warehouse was just a nightmare brought on by too much gin and stress. After all, the possibility she had wandered off from the jazz club, got lost in her semi-drunken state, and fallen asleep in a heap in an alley sounded far more plausible than her shredded memories of mad scientists, men in cages and winged creatures turned to ash by an electric current.

Vita looked down at herself: her dress torn to dangling shreds, her throbbing leg, and her lost shoes weren't a strong enough evidence of what had happened to her. She checked her face and hair with her fingers, finding them sweaty and dirty, but whole. But her hands and forearms were blackened with soot, and when she tried to rub them off on her dress, she couldn't get them clean.

Blood rushed to her ears. The man in the cage – Holden - had been covered with soot too. This was too much of a coincidence. As much as she wanted to, she couldn't dismiss the images that filled her mind as parts of a crazy dream.

An errant dog barked at her from the nearby street, making her jump and reminding her of her vulnerability. She might be alive, but she was still a rich girl lost in a dangerous district, with very little clothing on and no means to defend herself in her weak state. She needed to get out of here.

Supporting her weight on the grimy wall, she limped away from the foul-smelling river and into the street. She had no clue where she was and where the nearest police station might be. Banging noises and shouts rose somewhere down the street, alerting her that some people were awake and about. She started walking in the opposite direction. The sun peeked above the rooftops, dispersing the morning fog in its wake.

Vita winced in the light, trying to control her breathing and to keep going despite the pain in her joints and muscles. She stopped at a drinking fountain and gulped water with relief. She splashed her hands and arms, but didn't get rid of much of the black substance covering them.

Her mind kept going back to waking up in that alley. Now that she'd established that her hazy memories were real, questions swirled in her head. Why would her captors abandon her there when they knew she could recognise them? Had they let her go because she was a girl of means, unlike the flapper they had planned to kidnap? Maybe they'd contacted Archie and received a ransom in exchange for her life. Or maybe their mysterious boss had told them sparing her life was a safer course of action than killing her, even if she could point them out to the police.

She set off again. Hopefully she'd meet a policeman before she encountered any of the district's more dubious inhabitants. Shielding her eyes against the sunlight, she kept to the pavement to spare her bare feet from the muck on the road. The street was lined with old tenement buildings, but on her left it suddenly opened up on a small garden flanked by an individual house.

Jews' Orphan Asylum, a large wooden sign announced.

Vita didn't hesitate. She walked up the front steps of the house and knocked as loudly as she could.

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