The nurse was twenty-three years old, blonde, and nervous. This
was only her second week at St. Dominics, one of Londons most
exclusive private hospitals. Rock stars and television celebrities came
here, she had been told. There were also VIPs from abroad. VIPs here
meant very important patients. Even famous people get sick, and the
ones who wanted to recover in five-star comfort chose St. Dominics.
The surgeons and therapists were world-class. The hospital food was so
good that some patients had been known to pretend they were ill so that
they could enjoy it for a while longer.
That evening, the nurse was making her way down a wide, brightly lit
corridor, carrying a tray of medicines. She was wearing a freshly
laundered white dress. Her named. meacherwas printed on a badge
pinned to her uniform. Several of the junior doctors had already placed
bets on which of them would persuade her to go out with them first.
She stopped in front of an open door. Room nine.
Hello, she said. Im Diana Meacher.
Im looking forward to meeting you too, the boy in room nine replied.
Alex Rider was sitting up in bed, reading a French textbook that he
should have been studying at school. He was wearing pajamas that had
fallen open at the neck and the nurse could just make out the bandages
crisscrossing his chest. He was a very handsome boy, she thought. He
had fair hair and serious brown eyes that looked as though they had
seen too much. She knew that he was only fourteen, but he looked older.
Pain had done that to him. Nurse Meacher had read his medical file and
understood what he had been through.
In truth, he should have been dead. Alex Rider had been hit by a bullet
fired from a .22 rifle from a distance of almost 250 feet. The sniper
had been aiming for his heartand if the bullet had found its target,
Alex would have had no chance of surviving. But nothing is certainnot
even murder. A tiny movement had saved his life. As he had come out of
MI6s headquarters on Liverpool Street, he had stepped off the
sidewalk, his right foot carrying his body down toward the level of the
road. It was at that exact moment that the bullet had hit him, and
instead of powering into his heart, it had entered his body half an
inch higher, ricocheting off a rib and exiting horizontally under his
The bullet had missed his vital heart structures, but even so, it had
done plenty of damage, tearing through the subclavian artery, which
carries blood over the top of the lung and into the arm. This was what
Alex had felt when he was hit. As blood had poured out of the severed
artery, filling the space between the lung and the thoracic cage, he
had found himself unable to breathe. Alex could easily have died from
shock or loss of blood. If he had been a man, he almost certainly would
have. But the body of a child is different from that of an adult. A
young persons artery will automatically shut itself down if
cutdoctors cant explain how or whyand this will limit the amount of
blood lost. Alex was unconscious, but he was still breathing, four
minutes later, when the first ambulance arrived.
There wasnt much the paramedics could do: IV fluids, oxygen, and some
gentle compression around the bullets point of entry. But that was
enough. Alex had been rushed to St. Dominics, where surgeons had
removed the bone fragments and put a graft on the artery. He had been
in the operating room two and a half hours.
And now he was looking almost as if nothing had happened. As the nurse
came into the room, he closed the book and settled back into his
pillows. Diana Meacher knew that this was his last night in the
hospital. He had been here for ten days and tomorrow he was going home.
She also knew that she wasnt allowed to ask too many questions. It was
there in large print on his file:
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