It’s Always Nice to Make New Friends

The airlock door hissed and began opening, startling him awake. He winced, waiting for the shooting pains to wrack him. Instead of pain, it was just itchy. Maybe a little ticklish. Experimenting with moving his arm, he breathed a sigh of relief. He had begun to believe he’d never be able to move freely again.

The door finished its process and swung open on what had to be some well-oiled hinges. The door probably weighed half a ton, literally, yet opened by itself, smooth as butter. He expected a nurse in another cutely patterned hazmat suit. Instead, he got a tall woman in a dark gray suit. She stood just inside the doorway, studying him. For the first time he felt naked in his blue-checked cloth gown. Everything about her was stern, from the sharp cut of her short black hair to the way she held her chin. Her hands were in her pockets and she leaned back on one heel as she looked at him, black eyes looking straight into his without a hint of embarrassment.

“Well, now I feel underdressed,” he said. “You should have told me you were coming, I would have put on something nice. Wait. You’re not wearing a hazmat suit.”

She gave him a single nod. “Our doctors indicate you’re clear.”

“Clear?”

“No foreign diseases. And you’ve been fully vaccinated for our native ones.”

That’s what all those jabs were?” he asked, rubbing his arm. Every time a nurse had come in they’d stuck him with another needle.

The woman didn’t move save for raising a single eyebrow. “You didn’t ask?”

“Every time I moved, even to talk, my nerves would light up like the fourth of July. It’s only really worn off this morning.”

She had frowned a little at fourth of July. Just a slight downturn at either end of her lips. But he’d noticed it.

“I apologize for that. The trap was not meant for you.”

His mouth fell open. “I thought it was part of the hole in the sky. You did that to me?”

“Again, we weren’t expecting you.”

They stared at each other for a few seconds. She stood in the same position, barely moving. He wondered if it would be more awkward to begin pulling his blanket over him.

“Don’t you have any questions?” she asked finally.

He threw up his hands. “Lady, I am so in the weeds here, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“Then you won’t mind if I ask some questions first,” she said, moving to the chair between his bed and the airlock door.

“You’re welcome to ask, but I don’t know what I can even tell you.” He wanted very badly to ball his hands into fists and fought it.

The woman sat and adjusted her suit. “What’s your name?”

“I don’t know.”

She glared at him like it was a joke, and he held up his hands.

“I really don’t. I mean, I don’t remember.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Sitting in a bed.”

“I mean, why did you come here?”

“I don’t remember.”

“We were expecting someone else. Where is he? Where is Damon?”

Now he did let his hands clasp into fists, as he sighed with exasperation. “Do you want me to start making shit up? Is that what you want? I could probably tell you a story. But if you want real answers, you’re looking in the wrong place.”

The first sign of emotion played on her face – wide eyes, crinkled brow, and her own short sigh.

“Well, what do you remember?”

“I remember falling from a hole in the sky. That’s the first thing I remember. I don’t remember why I was up there, or why I was falling from it. I remember pain, and lots of it. Let’s see…I remember the fourth of July, I guess. I remember the United States and Kansas, although I don’t remember a city the size of a mountain in the middle of it. Um…I remember what I look like. At least, I’m not surprised when I see my reflection. Oh, I don’t remember how I know this, but I can tell just looking at you you’re a g-man.”

“G-man?” she asked.

“Yeah. You work for the government, right? Some federal bureau or another.”

“How do you know that?”

He wordlessly shrugged. He really didn’t know how he knew. But it felt right. Everything about her – the way she dressed, her demeanor, the way she held her face, even the watch on her wrist – all of it screamed federal agent to him. And he had no idea why.

“Can I ask a question, now?”

The woman held her hands open in front of her.

“What’s your name? I don’t know mine, I may as well know somebody’s.”

A hint of a smile, and then it was gone. “You can call me Agent Park.”

He smirked, leaning back on the bed. “FBI?”

“No. FBG.” He looked back at her, and her eyebrow raised again. “Federal Bureau of Gateways. This isn’t your world, Mr. Whoever You Are. Maybe it’s so similar you haven’t noticed, or maybe it’s so different you’ve already figured it out. You fell through an interversal gateway, and landed into a trap that was not set for you.”

None of it should have been surprising. He’d known something was wrong the second he looked out the window and saw nothing but various shades of blue. Still, hearing it said to his face, as plainly as the traffic report, made his vision tunnel and a buzzing rise in his ears. When he was sure he wasn’t going to pass out, he swallowed.

“Like I said, Agent Park. I don’t remember a city the size of a mountain in the middle of Kansas.”


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