It's been a while since I last worked on this, so tonight I'm posting a recap while I redigest what I've been on about in it. New material tomorrow! If you need a more extensive revisit, check out the category view for the book so far.
When she awakened, she was in an unfamiliar location and had no idea how much time had just passed. Her room looked like a refurbished hospital relic from the 20th century, only with worse lighting and slightly run-down facilities even by the standards of the time. She repressed a shudder as she looked around. There was nobody else in sight.
She lay for what felt like half an hour before voices attracted her attention. She’d considered getting up and leaving, but a lethargy like she’d never felt kept her fastened to her bed more effectively than any restraint could.
The voices got closer and stopped outside the door to her room, where they remained for a minute. They were just muffled enough that she could make out that the voices were male, but not what they were saying. Footsteps retreated away just as the knob turned and a middle-aged man of dark complexion and warm, friendly brown eyes entered the room.
“Ms. Rush, I’m glad to see you’re awake,” he began. “I’m Dr. Toure. There were some … complications with your anti-radiation treatment.” He had a pleasant voice, low in timber and pitch. It was the sort of voice that was made for telling stories, or doing voice-over narration. She decided she liked him.
“Ah— … complications?” Her mind raced. She felt much better than she had before she’d been moved, though she still felt like she was suffering a mild sunburn over much of her body. It felt worse in her right arm, she realized, moving it for the first time since she’d awakened.
“I’m afraid so, yes. It looks like at some point during your trip into the ironworks, your right arm came into contact with electrite. The effects were relatively mild; the contact was brief, and through your clothing. You’ve suffered first degree radiation burns to much of your body; most of that has already healed. Your right arm suffered second degree burns. We transferred you to this facility as a safeguard. We’ll need to keep you under observation for a time.”
“But you said it’s first and second degree burns. Why couldn’t I have stayed in the hospital? What is this place?”
“We’re a lab that specializes in radiation, and we’re more experienced in treating it than the hospital staff.” For the first time, she detected a trace of hesitance in his otherwise pleasant bedside manner. He was keeping something back, she thought. “As for why we moved you here, electrite radiation is … unique. Prolonged exposure is known to affect the quantum state of the exposed matter. The effects of short-term exposure are temporary and largely unnoticeable. Your exposure was, as near as we can determine, short enough that you’ll probably not encounter any trouble. But we want to be sure. The brain … there are a lot of quantum interactions up there in our skulls, so it’s best to be sure of what we’re dealing with.”
She just stared at him for a moment. “You’re saying it could be affecting my mind?”
“I don’t believe it is,” he said. “It was hard to tell while you were unconscious, but if you’d suffered dangerous levels of exposure to your head, your behavior would probably be erratic. We’ll keep you under observation to make sure,” he smiled, “but I strongly suspect already that you’re okay.”
True to his word, Dr. Toure kept her overnight for observation. She’d been given a burn cream that she was told would be particularly effective in dealing with the burns she’d sustained. When morning came, she awakened early to find most of the pain had gone away; her right arm still pained her and still looked somewhat reddish. Elsewhere, the red had faded, leaving her arm to contrast beautifully with her otherwise ghostly skin.
She rose and searched about the room, quickly finding a set of clothing in the closet. She was in a double-occupancy room, but was the only occupant, so she had to assume the clothes were for her; her original clothes had been burned after her exposure. They weren’t quite what she would have expected. They were new, but they looked store-bought, not like something a hospital might keep on hand. She dressed and sat down to wait. She didn’t have to wait long; Dr. Toure himself stopped in to deliver breakfast. He nodded approvingly upon noticing the clothes. “Good morning! I see you’ve been looking around. That’s good. How are you feeling today?”
In the distance behind him, she could hear other voices, people arriving for work, greeting each other in the halls and labs. She smiled at him. “I’m much better, thank you, Doctor. Where did these clothes come from?”
“They were supplied by your employer, Ms. Rush,” he smiled. “We don’t keep such things on hand. Now we should really examine you and hopefully let you get on your way, no?”
The examination was brief, confirming Dr. Toure’s prognosis. The burns were healing. Her right arm was still fairly painful, but the redness was gradually fading. “So that’s it, then?” she asked.
“That’s almost it,” he smiled. “I’d like to give you one more treatment of the burn cream for your arm before you go. A little time should take care of the rest, provided that you rest.”
She sighed audibly. She’d been forced into an awful lot of resting lately. She was getting tired of it. The sounds of a group of people passing outside the door reached her. They were talking; one of the voices sounded subtly familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
“How long do I have to …” she trailed off, her head filling with a familiar buzzing, prickly dizzy sensation. She lost her balance and slumped where she sat on the edge of her bed, catching herself with her arm. Dr. Toure reacted with admirable speed, catching her by the shoulder to steady her, face a study in alarm.
“Ms. Rush. Jo! What is it? What’s wrong?”
She felt both drained and suffused with energy, the room around her transforming. She was in her room in whatever facility it was she’d been sent to, but she also seemed to be deep in a forest she didn’t recognize. It was very old growth, if the size of the trees was any indication. She could see them super-imposed over the room, over the doctor, over everything. She clutched at Dr. Toure’s hands; they were reassuringly solid. “Do you see it?” she half-whispered, gaze wandering up the trunk of a massive tree that must have been four feet around; nothing like it grew anywhere near the city.
“See? See what, Ms. Rush?” He tried to get her to lay back down again. She didn’t resist at first, thinking it a fine idea, until she saw him.
It wasn’t Archerd, of that she was certain. Nor was it the young man she’d seen under the ironworks. He was dressed wrong; he looked like he was from the present, her own time. He wore dark clothes, a t-shirt, black jeans and boots. His hair was dark brown and somewhat ragged and spiked. Her gaze was drawn to him like a magnet. He stood out clearly to her against the backdrop of the forest. His back was to her, but he looked familiar. A name danced on the tip of her tongue, frustratingly close but out of reach.
She sat up, pushing Dr. Toure’s arms aside as though he wasn’t there. He was shouting something behind her, but her attention was all on the young man ahead of her. He was looking around, apparently trying to get his bearings.
She tried to walk toward him, but slammed into the wall of the lab room and grunted in pain. Okay, that’s still solid, no matter what it looks like, she thought in a corner of her mind. She started making her way around the wall toward the door. On the way, she slammed into one of the trees of the forest; they were quite solid too. Dr. Toure tried to restrain her, but she slipped his grasp and darted out through the door and into the hallway.
The hall beyond was surprisingly long. She started running but was forced to slow to a walk when she found the forest floor uneven enough to protrude above floor level in places. She nearly tripped several times on tree roots and branches and simple unleveled ground. The young man was several dozen meters ahead of her, but not moving terribly fast; it still took her more time than she’d have guessed to catch up to him. “Hey,” she called out.
He turned, startled, and faced her. As he did, his head brushed a leafy tree branch; he knocked it aside. His eyes widened in shock. Hers must have done much the same. He was like a younger version of Gran, his face several years younger than hers but already weathered with scars and signs of hard living. “Philip?” she gasped.
At the sound of his name, he turned and bolted. She stood and stared after him, emotional confusion overwhelming the light-headed feel of her altered state. The forest faded around her; she settled back to the hallway floor off the root she’d been standing on. What was Philip doing here? He’d been moving like she had, seeing both the hall and the forest at once. He’d touched that tree branch. “What IS this place? What’s going on?”