Light and darkness spun around her crazily. Althea stumbled out into space. She slipped out of control, falling forward – reacted automatically – legs and arms extended, palms flat; fingers outstretched.
She felt sudden solidity. The vertigo and freefall spinning slowed, stopped.
Althea collapsed on a hard, cold surface, shuddering. Her body curled up in defensive instinct. Lights still flashed around her, chimes of the portal’s roaring sound, mind saturated with Mirror Maze visions.
…“Your Consortia crutches!” …“Who will save you?!” …opponent is playing …taunting …earth shakes …taller than buildings …puppets …corpore …beyond arrogance! …thoughtless amusement …so fast …blow after blow …again and again …taste of blood …swing and kick …fist against flesh …measure and lunge.…
Breathing deeply, harshly, she willfully calmed her racing heart and mind. The transit had been so long, the experiences this time so – vivid – so shocking. Thankfully, the air, sharp and cold, brought her quickly back to reality.
Althea pulled herself to her knees, fought the vertigo, turned to look at the silvery light beaming from the active portal looming over her.
“Oneness,” she breathed. “That was…”
Memory returned. She had no time to waste. Vital, essential actions came to mind. She thought of Dorian – and the Macro risk – breathed in again, deeply.
“Transmissions?” she asked, voice haggard.
Standard portal responses, Dorian told her, voice comfortably inside her head.
She felt relief – he was still with her. Althea checked herself. Everything seemed in its proper place. Slowly she brought her cold hands up from the freezing floor, waited a moment for her NANs to send warming blood to them. Around her, the lights flashed a kaleidoscope in monochrome from the still active portal. She rubbed her face, tried to focus.
The transit had been almost unbearably long. Filled with experiential fragments so intense she struggled to shake them out of her mind. But that might mean she had reached her destination. Elysium was a long way from home.
“Good… good,” she finally forced out. “Check for Macro fragments in the control system’s foundation code.” The last thing they needed was an active, alert Macro responding to their arrival when she was in such a vulnerable, dizzied state.
“Does– does it know we've arrived?” she stammered a demand.
….click click …clang clank …robots …Hissing …Cutting burning …surface warming shaking …vibrations stronger and stronger …what programming? …eyes into eyes ….sorrow …predatory hunger ….not kind …he believes …empathy …must not be abandoned …nodding agreement …shifting mirrors …portal winks …pounding behind her… pounding through her …heart pounding …legs pumping …metal screams …thrashing metal …last steps …push off …shattering glass.
“What did you say?” she was sure that Dorian had replied, she just couldn’t make out the words.
There are traces of code, he repeated, but I am not detecting any queries. The code is surface embedded an inactive.
She smiled, relieved. It didn’t mean that they were clear yet, but it did mean that they had time. She needed time.
"Are you all right?" he added.
It was such a long…” she started, but couldn’t finish. “There was so much. Didn’t you feel anything at all?”
"No", he replied. "I felt nothing".
Even with that he’d felt nothing. Still not human, no matter how much she wished.
She brushed her hair away from her eyes, willed the sensations away.
“Begin shutdown,” she commanded.
Althea’s sight was clearing as the portal lights began to slow their dancing, sharp chimes turning to low, treacle bubbling. The hall darkened, the glow from the columns and portal controls now dominating the growing gloom. The air was still harsh and cold. She was beginning to feel the chill all over; alarms in her mind rang about circulation, heat loss, hypothermia. Her adaptive clothing wasn’t enough to compensate. That wasn’t right at all. It was too cold!
She tried to stand, but vertigo and flashes of images, sounds, stopped her again.
…the mirror leans …pressing …staring down …deep …in the depths …woman …older …her …not her …behind another …and another …find us …all of us ….who you are …you must …”How?” …”How do I get through” …fists beating cold glass …harder and harder …will not break …each blow hurting …fists throbbing …figures fading … disappearing …crying out ….hot tears streaming …Falling …sliding down ….clutching fists …pain.
Althea was back again on her knees, looking down at her outstretched hands pressed against freezing solidity. How could she not think that was her? Straight black hair, smooth adult features with brown eyes and brown skin – that was who she was. She gritted her teeth.
Follow the plan!