I walked along the meandering path feeling sorry for myself. Although walked was not the operative word here, limped was more likely. I was in a dirty blue skirt that fell to my ankles showing calf length scratched high-heeled boots underneath. I wore a dusty blouse the arm of which was torn and a spare top wrapped around my arm as a temporary bandage. Across my shoulders was a backpack and slung at my hips was a canteen. I was a sorry sight with my body a mass of scrapes and bruises. Note to self never climb a cliff in a skirt and high heeled boots. It had been a stupid idea and now I was paying for it. I was lucky it hadn’t been worse. A wind blew through the waist-high grasses that lined the path. It was a peaceful scene too peaceful almost unreal. I was still sure even after my accident that it wasn’t real. I had heard about places like this from before the AI war. Places so perfect that they only existed in virtual reality. The war changed that. Those places, many had fled to escape the chaos became death traps killing all that used them.
I limped on a sprawling farmhouse surrounded by tall trees my goal. It looked as if it had come out from one of those ancient vids about westerns. It even had a picket fence skirting the edge of the property. I thought about a short cross to the farmhouse but that meant climbing over the fence. In my present state not the best of ideas. So I gritted my teeth and hobbled on I’d have to deal with the pain. The farmhouse loomed up in front of me. There was a porch and a set of steps up to it. On the porch were two rocking chairs and table between them. The front door opened to reveal a screen door. I opened that and stepped into a comfortable living room fitted out with a couch, armchairs and tables. It was a large room with a carpeted floor and cabinets lining the walls. There three doors leading off the living room two on the right one on the left. The left hand door led to the kitchen. I froze hearing sounds from the kitchen.
I cast around looking for something to use as a weapon, [The room was styled in late twentieth century furniture with a minimalist look] and could not see anything weaponlike I could use. I was supposed to be here on my own the Keepers had dumped me here and left promising to come back later. I edged to the door my aches and pains forgotten. The sounds were more distinctive closer to the door. It almost sounded like the clink of crockery. Stealthily I gripped the door handle and pulled it slowly down opening the door a crack and peered around its edge. The kitchen was in the same style as the living room with a cooker, refrigerator, cabinets and sink. In the centre of the room was an oval table surrounded by four chairs. A figure leaned over the sink washing my discarded crockery. I had just left them there unwashed when I decided to go on my little jaunt. Thirika would have had punished me with hard exercise for being slovenly. The thought made me feel a little melancholy.
The figure was tall with my colour hair to her waist. She wore a skirt and blouse in mauve. The blouse was long sleeved and currently had the sleeves rolled up as she washed my dishes. Even seeing her from behind I recognised Mouse. It suddenly occurred to me that it might not be. She didn’t have wings, these same wings I had stupidly thought were some elaborate cape. She had displayed them when she had confronted the Guardians little knowing what they had done to me.
“Mouse?” I hazarded unsure if it really was her.
The figure turned and relief filled my heart. Mouse was taller than I with an angular face that had my features as if she was me a couple of decades older. The Keepers had used my DNA to remake themselves so they all looked like a variation of me.
“Gwen Hunter,” she said then her eyes narrowed and she sighed. “Oh Gwen what have you done?”
Mouse using the same tones as my mother had done nearly broke me. A wave of homesickness threatened to overwhelm me. She strode over to me her hands wet and guided me to a chair at the kitchen table and sat me down.
“Are you ok?” she asked concerned.
I had to be truthful. “I ache all over.” I gave her a suspicious look. “You told me I’d be safe here?”
“You should have been,” Mouse replied studying my bruises and cuts in minute detail. “But I can’t protect you from your own stupidity.”
I choked on her comment she was right about that. I glared at her. “I wouldn’t be here if not for you?” I accused her.
“Ah Digger,” Mouse uttered.
I turned to see Digger standing behind me her expression hard. I wasn’t sure if she was angry with Mouse or me. “What have you been doing girl?”
I bristled at her comment. Before I could form a reply she pulled me out of the chair and had me standing straight. Her touch was firm but gentle.
“Now let me have a look at you?” Digger scowled her eyes on Mouse. “Clothes off!” she said to me.
I stared at her shocked. “What?”
“You heard me the first time. Don’t be a prude I’ve seen it all before?” Digger seemed to be taking on more human mannerisms. But that was a far as she went unlike Mouse she had retained her wings.
I knew I couldn’t win so I stripped off sure she would have done it herself if I didn’t comply. Which made me more uncertain of whether I was in a virtual world.
Standing naked on the kitchen floor Digger circled me taking note of my injuries as if they were some sort of personal affront to her.
“Nothing that can’t be fixed,” she said. “Be more careful in future.”
She reached out and touched the gash on my arm. I winced as she ran her finger down it. I watched it fade and vanish not even leaving a scar behind. She did the same to all my scrapes and bruises. I watched in amazement as they all disappeared before my eyes. This was faster than the cell stitchers the Confeds used.
“Better now?” Digger asked me in a softer tone than she had been using.
“Yes, thank you,” I replied flexing my formerly gashed arm and not feeling any pain or stiffness.
“Just don’t do that again. Now grab a shower. Mouse’s been dying to show off her culinary skills she’ll fix you something to eat.”
I noticed Mouse giving Digger a flinty look. I decided that I should have a shower it was better than listening to them arguing. As I bent down to pick up my clothes Digger spoke.
“Leave those, Miss Domesticated here will do them.”
I could feel the heat of Mouse’s glare at Digger. Mouse’s reply was in the odd language that they spoke. It sounded like something half way between birdsong and screeching sounds that could have never been mimicked by a human voice. I hurried out rather than get caught up in their heated discussion.
Stepping out from a refreshing shower I slowly regarded my reflection in the full-length mirror I had there. The image staring back at me looked like me and as hard as I tried I could find anything to tell me any different. Even though I couldn’t find anything I still had my doubts. With that thought in mind I crossed the short distance to my bedroom. It was a large room, with a double bed and closets and a dressing table the theme from the living room and kitchen carried on in here. I noted the bed had been made. I suddenly felt guilty about that since I hadn’t bothered making it when I decided to go on my trek. I selected clothes from my closet and dressed. Not that I had that much choice in my selections. The closet contained skirts and tops in a multitude of colours. That was that it was all there was. I had a drawer that contained underwear that had more variety. Dressed in a comfortable skirt and top in teal with matching underwear I headed to the kitchen.