I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. We were outside. I looked back and saw a hollow tree, still alive, but the trunk was curved in around the gap in its center. As I watched, the technicians carrying the prisoner emerged as though they’d been hiding in its shaded depths like some kind of pagan version of a clown car.

There was no indication, that I could see, of a portal on this side. Were we trapped here? Was it single-directional? The boss emerged with her guns in hand and she gestured me along with her chin. I fell into step beside her and we all moved through the trees.

“Where are we?” I asked.

She looked around. “Uh, New Hampshire?” I stumbled and she glanced at me. “Don’t make me catch you – my hands are full.”

“That’s… how many miles is that?”

She shrugged. “Probably two thousand or so?”

“No one can portal that far.”

“Good to know.”

“Where are we going?”

“There’s a safe house up ahead. Brigit knows the way and they’ll be expecting us after the alarm.”

“The alarm where a single person burst through the ceiling and killed a bunch of people?” I asked.

“Yeah, that one.”

“Even though they showed up as an ‘anomaly’ and you were actively tracking them?”

“Are you going to make your point?”

“I don’t even know who you are or what this place is or where we’re really going or anything and my friend was just murdered. I’m a little tense and very pissed off.”

“I recommend you burn off that energy, then. Run on ahead and catch up to someone who gives a shit.”

“Who died and crowned you Bitch Queen of the Assholes Incorrigible?”

She snorted. “That’s a good one.”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t just swerve off here and find a road to civilization and forget you?”

“Well, considering how easily our last visitor made a mess of things, it’s cute that you think they won’t do that again, only with more murder. Who do you want to be with when that happens? Me or your mom?”

I didn’t answer. We finished our hustle in front of a stump the size of a Volkswagen. It lifted on a disguised hinge and a ramp led us down into a dark passage. Once we were inside, Bitch Queen closed it behind us and a series of dim overhead lights came on. We passed two branching corridors, unlit, but arrived at a metal door and had to enter in small groups. Door closes and locks, next one unlocks, and there were four of those. I grumbled in the last one and Bitch Queen pointed out some barely visible vents where gas could be pumped in for security.

Finally through, we gathered in a brightly lit office space. It was somewhat disorienting after the trek through the woods and the spooky passage but I relaxed into the weirdness of it all when we were met by a woman in cargo shorts and a Hawai’ian shirt. Her hair, really all of her, reminded me of Brent Spiner in Independence Day and I liked her immediately.

She clapped her hands together. “Okie-dokie! Prisoner can be dumped there; someone will pick him up in a minute. Those in need of medical attention to the left and follow the signs. Those healthy enough to want a shower to the right. There are some one-size-fits-nobody clothes there for you and once everyone is settled, we’ll meet down in the ball pit for some debriefing of the not-as-fun-as-could-be kind. Chop, chop!”

The techs headed slowly to the left. Tower Goddess, Mathis, and Andromeda went right. I walked up to Brent Spiner’s sister and she gave me an expectant look. “Mathis needs to charge his legs; he doesn’t have his charger, though.”

“Ooh, fun one! I don’t think we have the right device, but we do have a couple of chairs he can choose from until we get the right cable and get him powered. I’ll see to it.”

I thanked her and headed right to follow the sound of water. It was a co-ed shower room and Mathis was in the Accessible area that had bars and a seat to help. He’d unlatched from his mech-legs outside of the splash zone. Andromeda was naked and standing under a hot spray, head down and hair hiding her face. She had some bruises coming in on her back.

Tower Goddess was keeping an eye on both of them as she undressed. When I entered, she nodded politely and stood over a drain to let the sensor know she was there. I relished the spray on my own skin. My hands had a couple of tiny cuts I hadn’t noticed, and I’d cut my calf at some point. It wasn’t too deep and the blood washed away with a bit of scrubbing. I watched the dust and dirt flow down my body and into the drain and saw Jin trapped under that desk. I didn’t know if he’d died on impact, but I sincerely hoped so.

The thought hit me, then: what about his trio? Did they know? Some people said they could tell how their trio was doing, but others disagreed; there were mixed results in testing. Maybe Mathis knew them and we could let them know. I glanced in his direction. Once he had a chance to recover. I’d only known Jin for about a day, after all. Poor Mathis.

When we were cleaned up and toweled off, Tower Goddess showed us the stacks of sweats and shorts, t-shirts and bras in standard sizing. We sorted ourselves out and TG led us out of the room to an elevator. We rode down in silence. On the way, Mathis’s mech-legs buzzed and he grimaced. “Um, I’m out of juice.”

“No problem,” Tower Goddess said. “Would you be okay if I carried you the rest of the way? It’s not far.”

He nodded.

“I’ll bring the legs,” I volunteered.

“They’re heavy,” he warned. The elevator let us out and Andromeda and I handled the legs while TG carried Mathis down the hall to a conference room. She set him in a spinning chair and left again. We put his legs beside him, out of the way, before taking our own seats.

“This sucks,” Andromeda said.

We nodded. “Mathis,” I ventured. He looked at me. “Do you know Jin’s trio? I want to let them know what happened.”

He swallowed hard. “Yeah. When I get my phone back I- I’ll let them know.”

“Okay.”

Brent Spiner’s Sister entered and opened a cabinet to reveal a large bowl of candy. She set it on the table. “Welcome to the ball pit!”

“Why’s it called that?” Andromeda asked.

“Because it makes me feel happier than constantly saying ‘conference room’,” she said with vigorous air quotes.

Andromeda crossed her arms. “Are we going to be told anything this time?”

“Probably. Do you have a list of bullet points to make sure I cover all of your topics sufficiently?”

“No, sorry, I lost it when the last place collapsed on us.”

“Shame. We’ll see what we can do without it.”

May 06, 2021

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