Chapter 1 - Another World
I awakened to a god awful pounding that prodded the back of my eyes. It hummed. Inside me something stirred, swirling, throbbing with its own energy. Moving as if living. It felt as if it was seeking something within me. A place it could not find.
"Oh, owwww," I croaked as rays of sunlight pierced my eyelids, making the horrid pounding intensify. Almost as if the light had excited the energy within me.
The foreign energy felt heavy, filling my head with a damp, viscous mist that clung onto my thoughts and senses as it pooled there. In my mind I imagined that this energy, this mist was a hideous green vapor.
It had invaded me. Soaked in through my pores and was now swelling my skull, threatening to burst it open. yet instead, the green vapor hissed as it escaped out of my tearducks and my ears and snaking out of my mouth like a breath of air on a cold night.
This image startled me, giving me clarity for a brief moment. With a deliberate yank I heaved the heavy woolen blanket up over my face. I had hoped this would help. That without the offending sunlight I could return to the bliss of slumber. As I laid there, however, I found that my head kept moving, sloshing about like a rickety sea vessel caught out in open waters. Like one of those boats that were used back in the 21st century.
As a child I had ridden in a boat like that. I had been thirteen, touring the old United States of America's sunken capital with my elder brother Gideon. We learned the second I stepped onto that plastic farrier that I could get sea-sick.
Being ill along with all the other problems that plagued that trip, I never considered it one of my favorites.
Taking a few deep breaths, I willed the horrible sensations that reminded me of sea-sickness away. Allowing the comfortable, warm bed to lull me into a semi-awake state. To simply be. Feeling the pulsing, swirling force within me and my bare legs against the soft fluff of wool.
I should have started questioning my surroundings there. My bed, while I had the state-of-the-art bed, this one was too comfortable. And wool? Sheep had long been extinct before I was even born. In the age of synthetics atomic re-assemblers (or atomblers as my father jokingly called them) could recreate nearly anything.
Synthetic wool was rough, itchy stuff. Nothing so soft as that blanket.
But I didn't question it.
What's wrong with me? Was the question I finally asked when the pulsating discomfort subsided. Am I having a Tathira attack?
It was a constant worry in my life. And it had been almost seven months since my last attack. My whole life would be halted for at least three days, at worst a week. Terrible, mind crushing head pains. Seizures. Blood that would drip from my nose or be brought up in ragged coughs. These were a few of the worst symptoms I faced.
A deadly terror that I've had to live with and endure in the lue of normal menstrual cycles since I hit puberty when I was thirteen. That trip to the old capital had not been pleasent.
When most women complained about the monthly visit of the red flow, I only get the painful reminder that I can't be like them. I'm not normal. I'm one of the Afflicted.
Painful cramps? They didn't know true pain, the pain of every cell attacking each other as toxins tried to escape through unnatural ways. They didn't fear that with each visit could mean death. They didn't have to live a childless life.
These thoughts would only lead to darker ones. I couldn't allow myself to dwell on them, least I fell into the darker, more twisted caverns of my mind. If I could have I would wish them to be forgotten. Erased.
If only things could be that simple.
Besides, there was no need for me to fear. The pounding in my head and swirling energy couldn't be a Tathira attack. If it was my whole body would be in utter agony. I would have begged anyone within sight to kill me. Just as I had every other time before.
I am okay, I chanted to myself over and over.
As I did, I listened to the sounds around me. The stillness of the room and crackling of a fire was peacefully, more calming than my own frantic inner voice could ever be. I allowed myself to merely exist, breathing slowly, first in through my nose and then out through my mouth.
I found myself worrying over my schedule then. I was a busy woman after all. I couldn't simply lay there in bed all day if it wasn't an attack.
And yet I thought, Maybe I'll allow myself this small reprieve. Jessika has probably already canceled all my appointments, and if Pa needs me in the labs he will send for me.
What day is it?
My first thought was that it was Monday. A week before GESO - the Galatic Earth Science expOsition. Then, no, that could not be right because I clearly remembered going to bed early Monday night so I could wake up and finish...
The answer came to me like a drop of acidic rain upon my skin. Jarring and stinging.
I sat upright. Only for the abrupt movement to make my head sway. My vision blurred. I think I'm going to hurl. I held a sweaty palm to a fevered cheek and closed my eyes against the sloshing assult.
I went to bed Monday night, then... nothing. Careful not to move too quickly, I shifted to the edge of the bed. Why can't I remember anything else?
I swung my feet over the side, expecting soft flooring. Instead my feet dangled from the high bed. Beneath my pale toes was dark hard wood floors and a tasteful ancient Victorian style rug. Or maybe it was Medieval. Gideon would know. He loved all things historical.
I leaned over my pale legs, elbows propped up on my thighs, and held my pounding head in my hands.
"Do I even own a rug?" I asked the still room.
The answer to that was no. No I didn't. But before this realization could startle me, something else did. I gasped, eyes focusing on the curtain of hair that fell around my head. A curtain of blue hair.
I reached for it, pinching a wavy strand between middle and forefinger. I went cross-eyed as I brought the strand before my nose.
I began to tremble.
My once beautiful ashen blonde hair that I had gotten from my mother was a rich, shimmering sapphire. The hair my papa would brush as I sat upon his lap as a little girl whilst he told my favorite story of 'Alice in Wonderland'. Or he would tell me stories about the mother I never really got to know.
Tears swelled in my eyes.
I knew of only one terrible devil who could dare torment me so. His dastardly tricks always seeming to mark me the victim.
My voice shattered the silence, "Axiom! Y-You chimerian reject!"
I shook my head. Both in rage and hoping to clear the strange pressure that inflicted me. I hopped off the bed, my body shaking.
Over and over I muttered, "I'm going to kill him."
My balance wavered and I fisted the whool blanket as I forced my trembling legs to keep me upright. He had gone to far this time. How could he?
Being on the receiving end of his jokes and pranks wasn't something new for me. I had almost a decade to put up with my twin brother's antics. We were the youngest of five, the third oldest brother being nearly seven years are senior. We only had each other.
Axiom's pranks on me ranged from shaving off one of my eyebrows the night before school pictures or putting cayenne pepper in my eye shadow before a date. But never had he dared to touch my hair.
I though Axiom understood. How could he not have? He was like me, never really knowing our mother. Unlike our three elder brothers, we had been raised only by our sweet, but most times absent-minded father who tended to disappear day on end into the labs.
"Axiom?" I hollered, getting angrier when he still refused to answer. "The jokes over. Get in here so I can kick your..." my voice trailed off. I whispered, "...ass."
Through the blur of unshed tears I finally noticed my surroundings for what they were. Foreign. Mysterious. Not mine.
This was not my room.
I glanced back at the elegant four poster bed with a decorative canopy.
I glance back at the elegant four poster bed with a decorative canopy.
That was not my bed that I'd been sleeping in.
I hastily brushed the tears away. My gaze traveled the room. I was at a loss for words. The room was just that foreign to me. Something I might find in a museum. A model for an ancient Dark Age living quarters belonging to a nameless noble. From the cold grey-stone covered in what I could only guess to be woven tapestries, to the extravagantly carved heavy wood furniture that made my mouth go dry at how expensive such rare pieces would be.
Even my father, the head scientist and owner of the renowned WonderTech Corporation would be pressed for funds if he bought one single piece. I counted four bookcases, a massive desk filled with odd knickknacks, bone, and crystals and stones, two elegant chairs with a small table before a fireplace, a vanity, an amour, and of course the bed and end-table.
I did a double take, eyes going back to the fireplace. The flames were violet-blue. It danced and crackled just like a normal flame, and yet, it consumed... Is that fungus?
This room... It was too spartan to be a girl's room. And there lingered the faint smell of a man's scent among the books musk. No tombs. I realized, eyeing them. I had never seen books let alone such massive tombs before. It's hard to make paper with sickly, stubby trees that sometimes try to eat you.
"Okay, Alissa. You have gotten yourself into something strange again. There's no need to panic."
I couldn't help my heart rate increasing, the pulse at my neck fluttering. I felt almost faint. The times I've waken up in an unknown man's bed I could count on one hand. And other than that one horrible time I dare not think about, the other times had been pranks by Axiom and his friends.
This wasn't a prank.
I fisted my shirt. The motion bunched it up and I felt a shiver of dread. Looking down I cursed my life. At least you are wearing something, Alissa, I offered. It didn't help much. What I wore was little better than being naked.
A crimson shirt. A man's crimson shirt. Instead of buttons a black silk thread held the front closed. It had only been tied up to the top of my ample breasts, revealing the curve of cleavage. The bottom of the shirt barely covered my ass.
I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath.
Stay calm. This doesn't mean anything like that happened to you.
Slowly I opened my eyes. I wished it was all just a dream. But the foreign, strange room remained.
It is fine. You have trained yourself, you're not defenseless. You are fine. I am fine.
Gaining some confidence in myself I looked around for a weapon, or anything pointy. Pointy worked. It was with my second look at the room that I noticed the wadded oily black mess near the fireplace and the wooden bucket of water that could, perhaps barely, fit my tiny body. I stepped towards it, hand on the back of one of the cushioned chairs. The water was dark, murky.
The tar covered object and bucket of water was completely at odds with the neat room. It didn't fit. I momentarily stopped my search for a weapon, my curiosity at the oddity winning as I headed for it.
There was also this strange pull on me. As if I needed to see what it was.
Squatting down I realized it was clothing. Hesitantly I reached out, grabbing the cleanest part and held it up. What is this? I couldn't shake the feeling of familiarity. I tilted my head.
My eyes widened. the air whooshed out of my lungs. My arm holding the object started to shake. What dangled before me, caked in a slimy tar-like substance, was the RedQueen. My latest invention. The project that I had gone to bed early to work on.
The RedQueen was supposed to be the next technological jump in... everything. I marketed her as a war suit, but the truth was she could be so much more than a suit meant for war. The metal flex-fiber was to act like a second skin. So strong it could deflect most projectiles going the speed of a level four hurricane. It also protected against the most extreme temperatures. The one who wore it being able to walk an hour in lava and if the static field was on, space walk indefinitely.
Frantic I seized the flexible material and opened the front. There was hardly any of the tar inside. But that wasn't what I cared about. What made my heart sink was the fact that the network of advanced circuitry and veins that pumped the complex nanobots throughout the suit had been fried.
No, this isn't fried. I realized, rubbing my fingers over the small golden networks.
All of the nano-tech portions had simply vanished. As if it had been ripped away, or perhaps dissolved was a better word. Other than the main component that powered the suit and acted like a nervous and blood system, the suit itself was intact. If not for that it would still function normally.
"Blast it!" I cursed. I dropped the suit and plunged my hands into the murky water besides me, scrubbing angrily at my hands.
All that work, gone. I couldn't believe it. The RedQueen was supposed to be my great invention that helped me get away from creating war tools. I had no doubts she could and would be used as one herself, but I had made her with the hope of rebuilding Earth's ecosystem through her. A way for scientists to go out into the danger zones and start working on a solution without fear of a painful death.
Shaking my hands dry, I stood, glaring down at my failure. Even if I had my lab and the tools, fixing her would be near impossible. it would be easier to start from scratch. That was if the materials were readily available. Which they weren't. That was why I marketed her as a war suit. I needed those funds to mass produce the RedQueen and improve her.
I ran a hand through my hair. Then I froze. The hair at the base of my scalp was wet. I glanced between the suit, the small tub of dirty water, and the crimson shirt. Understanding slowly came to me.
"I was wearing the RedQueen," I voiced my thoughts. "Probably testing it and something... something went wrong." I looked around the room again, feeling more relieved as I spoke. "Then this man found me and cleaned this tar crap from me. I wonder how he knew how to open the suit?"
With a sigh I stared at the RedQueen, a sad lumpy, sticky mess on the wood floor.
I could have come up with many guesses as to what had happened, but to do so was pointless. I needed to know more. The who and what would go far into answering the how and why.
I walked away from my project, giving it one last bitter look. There was nothing I could do about the sting of failure I felt. It just was, and would have to be. Even though I knew this I could not help asking myself what had gone wrong. Could I have done anything better?
I headed for the vanity.
When I came to stand before it, I blinked at my reflection. Not surprising it was my own. But it hurt seeing that I could no longer say I was my mother's mirror image. I brushed my hair back, staring at my heart-shaped face. The sapphire hair was stark and brilliant against my pale skin. Certainly beautiful. But wrong.
Then again, I had never been a true replica of my mother. I had my father's green eyes. At least my hair complemented them, making them brighter.
My eyes trailed down the rest of my body. Well, I look untouched. No bruises or anything. Of course that didn't mean this stranger couldn't have done something to me, but I like to be positive, see the good in people.
My gaze then fell upon a necklace resting just above my breasts. I held it up. Dangling from a leather cord was a smooth black stone with a glowing green rune etched upon the front. It pulsed with a quer, fascinating light.
I shook it, thinking maybe there was something inside. Some sort of mechanism that got it to light up. But I heard nothing. And it was solid. No seams or indents besides the rune itself.
"How does it work I wonder..." I mused over the problem.
Unable to think of a solution, I let it fall back to my skin. It was warm, humming happily.
I can't say why I didn't take it off. It wasn't mine. And it clearly was connected, in part, to the swirling energy that was throbbing in my head. But the thought that it could be the cause or that it may even be dangerous never crossed my mind.
I shrugged, tugging at the bottom of the crimson shirt. I need to find out more about this place. If I could, then maybe the situation would be clearer to me. I could decide what to do and it was not unreasonable to think I could find a way home from there.
Walking for the window to the right of the vanity, I came to a startled stop before the frosted glass. As I saw what laid beyond, I realized things might not be so simple.
"God's hairy ass," I breathed, leaning close, my hands cold upon the glass.
Below stretched a chasm that opened into a long narrow valley. On either side jagged mountains loomed, making me feel as if I stood before a yawning beast ready to devour me.
The valley was rolling plains blanketed with snow. Pure. White. Glistening like a sea of diamonds in the sun's radiant light. Massive redwoods towered at the base of the mountains, stretching higher and higher. Some as round as airships.
In the crystal clear blue skies beasts, creatures I could only describe as dragons, soared. They did aerial acrobatics, some with humans riding upon their backs. Flames, ice, and other elements were flung between them as they practiced battle.
My breath fogged the glass and frustrated I wiped the condensation away. Hastily trying to take everything in. I'd only ever seen gray snow. It was filthy. Gritty. And mostly acidic, though not nearly as toxic as the rain.
This snow, it was clean. Safe. Beautiful.
And the trees! I had only seen trees like these as CGI in movies. What would it be like to walk amongst them? I wondered, my heart yearning to know.
After minutes of staring in longing at the forest and the snow, I forced myself to watch the fake battle. Magic. Dragons. Snow and trees.
It didn't take long for my brain to grasp what was going on, to make sense of what had happened to me.
"I'm in some other reality." I licked my lips. "A reality that hasn't been destroyed by humanity."
I laughed. A little, almost too happy giggle escaped my lips.
"This is... this is wonderful!"
I fogged the glass again. Hurriedly wiping the glass, I beamed at my reflection, thinking of all the possibilities.
I can use this, I thought. A way to bring Earth back to life.