CHAPTER 32

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The first sense to return to Phoenix was that of smell. The remnants of a sharp and intense odor lingered in his sinuses like he'd inhaled a ton of wasabi from a sushi joint. His nostrils and throat burned which aroused more of his senses. His head felt detached from his body, strangely floating in zero gravity. His skull tingled and a dull pain throbbed behind his eyes like a growing pressure that wanted to escape. But he still couldn't see. A black void surrounded him, an impenetrable darkness. He wasn't wearing a spacesuit of any kind, at least not that he could tell. Oddly enough his face didn't feel like it was about to freeze and crack like a block of ice. There were no stars. No planets. Only his conscious mind, and that pain in his head that wanted to vent through his eyeballs into space.

As time crept by, he felt the blood in his face rushing toward his scalp. Was he upside down? His shoulders and arms came into play, hanging and jostling in the air. His legs and feet dangled too. It was like his body was draped over a moving concrete wall or barricade, which didn't make sense. Somewhere below him, an object or objects clopped along, raising and dropping into a loose and gritty material, reminding him of a mixture of gravel and sand.

Wait. Those sensations could only be experienced in gravity, not in a vacuum. Where in the universe am I?

Phoenix opened his eyes. Dark, intersecting lines crossed his vision for a millisecond before he winced and closed them. Disoriented, he didn't know which way was up or down, or sideways.

In that brief moment, the mounting pressure forced its way out through the slits in his eyelids and lashes, but that minor relief didn't help much at all, and it didn't give him a frame of reference to calculate his whereabouts. As a matter of fact, the throbbing intensified, building into a sharp stabbing pain that spider webbed out across his forehead. He tried to shake it away but the vibrations rattled his brain. The whole head in a sack thing was beginning to irritate the fire out of him.

His cheek bounced off of something that was as hard as a rock. Phoenix opened his eyes again. His head had collided with the back of one of those dark-clad soldiers, his body carried over a shoulder like a sack of dog food. His gaze vibrated and shifted, revealing a foot trail of sand, small rocks, sparse grass and weeds. The man's shoulder blade pressed into Phoenix's chest like he was resting on a piece of steel. Evidently, nothing about this guy was soft.

Phoenix's chin struck the man's hardened back muscle. "Aww, could you ease up a bit, buddy?"

"Commander Drake is conscious," a voice said that sounded deep and strong. "What should we do?"

The question came from one of the other soldiers, the one carrying Ariel's curved form slumped over a shoulder, a hand on her backside. Hiked up high on her thighs, her skirt revealed a pair of slender legs. Normally, the sight of a nice set of female legs would stir up a wave of inordinate desire inside Phoenix. But the sight provoked another reaction...a rumbling caldron of nausea in the pit of his stomach. As great as Ariel's legs were, the view only made him think of Nova's missing limb.

Phoenix wrenched his head away and cast his gaze to the ground.

"Our orders are to stow them on the plane and stand guard during the flight," the dark figure carrying Phoenix replied. "It doesn't matter if the subjects are awake. That does not violate our orders."

With the pain in his head subsiding into a mild ache as they continued on, Phoenix now had to focus on the uneasiness in his stomach. And staring down at the ground was not helping. He raised his chin up as much as he could from the guy's shoulder blade and craned his neck for a view of the retreating scenery behind him. In the dark, a bank of exterior lights illuminated an air traffic control tower and another pair of one story structures with flat roofs. So...they were at a secluded airfield, headed who knows where. The destination didn't matter because Phoenix knew they were going where ever the soldiers went. Why they were abducting them was the most important question? He didn't bother asking because he knew they wouldn't answer him. But at least he could take solace in the fact that they were still alive.

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