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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 left arm.