Chapter 46

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A sharp, ringing headache pulsed down Zoe's spine as she woke up. She didn't even have to open her eyes to recognize the bright white hospital lights bearing down on her. Rolling onto her side sent a wave of dull pain around her torso. None of her ribs or other bones felt out of place. She opened her eyes slowly to adjust to the blinding light around her.

"Man, you must have really pissed someone powerful off," Erwin's voice said. "How many times have you been nearly assassinated?"

Zoe swung herself upright, biting down a jolt of pain running down her spine. "It comes with the job Captain Schmidt. You getting scared? I'm sure your mom could make arrangements to have you honorably discharged."

Erwin rolled his eyes. He was sitting across from her hospital bed, initially reading a magazine before looking up to meet her gaze. "Come on. This is serious. You're playing with fire and you're not even being subtle about it."

"Neither were they. What kind of idiot meets with a government official then sends assassins after her less than ten minutes later?" Even as Zoe was saying it, the question struck her. The entire attack seemed needlessly sloppy.

"Kohler Corp, apparently."

"Really? I have a hard time believing Frida Kohler is that big an idiot," she said.

"Well did you meet with her directly?" Erwin asked.

Zoe shook her head. "Just her daughter-in-law. I suppose I can't put it past that useless dolt to do something so brash."

"Well neither could the SWAT team that rescued you. They already have her in a jail cell on a ten million Mark bail."

"A pittance for a corporate executive. She'll be home by the end of the night and out of the country by morning," Zoe said.

"With an ankle tracker and a suspension of her passport," Erwin finished. "It's like you said. It's just too obvious."

"Well, in that case I'm sure all that's left for that spineless, money grubbing bitch is to confess and cooperate for some plea deal."

Erwin rolled his eyes and shook his head. "That's the damndest thing. No matter what kind of good cop bad cop, lawyer plea shenanigans they pull she insists she's innocent."

"Huh." Zoe furrowed her eyebrows but kept herself from saying anymore. "Let me have a chance to talk to her."

"Only if you promise not to kill her."

"Oh where would the fun be in a quick death? Now come on. I'm sick of waking up in hospital beds."

"You should quit your job then Major," Erwin deadpanned.

"Touché."

Changing out of her hospital gown proved more painful than Zoe had initially hoped. Once she'd stripped the thin sheet off her otherwise naked body, the bathroom mirror revealed a jagged bruise running along the entire right side of her body, running up from her hip to just below her breast. There were several scabbed over cuts and scrapes on her arms and legs but, as far as she could feel and see, all of her bones were connected and whole. Overall, it was definitely one of her less painful misadventures. If anything, getting back into her civilian clothes and grappling gear proved by far to be the most painful part of the ordeal.

Zoe's aching, bruised body made her keenly aware of every tiny bump and pothole on the road as their car made its way across town. She bit back the urge to rant about the nation's lackluster infrastructure, given how concerned Erwin already looked. He needed to stay focused on driving.

"Major, can I ask you something?" he said.

"Why not?" Zoe replied.

"Just what do you hope to get from Annie Weber? The best interrogators in the Federal government have all tried and gotten nowhere. And I don't think anyone wants to revive the old National Protection Squadron. Besides, even the NPS never had the authority to flay and torture Federal citizens without due warrant."

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