I stepped out of the shower and wiped a section from the steamy mirror to stare at the person I no longer recognized. Those were my eyes: mossy green and guarded, but they were framed by light eyebrows I almost couldn't see and hair that looked like the sun. It was bright for an undercover look, but it wouldn't be what they were looking for. For a moment I felt like an alien in my own body, and wondered how I'd come so far so quickly. Was I the same person anymore, or had I lost myself somewhere along the way? The scrapes and burns on my face, abdomen, and legs I'd gotten from the smoldering train tracks stung from the hot water and soapy scrubbing, snapping me back to the situation at hand.
Grabbing a small tube from the counter, I cautiously applied the cool gel to each cut and burn and watched in both disgust and fascination as blood congealed and turned into solid scabs as if I were watching a time lapse video where days turned into minutes. Yet, instead of being floored by the miracle of the technology, all I could think about was the fortune I'd just smeared onto my body, provided generously by the doctor whom I'd just met a minute prior to the luxurious shower.
I roughly brushed my shaggy bob with my finger tips until it looked as best as I could manage, got dressed in clothes laid out for me—black slacks and jacket with a white shirt, all too large for me—and emerged into a quiet hallway where I heard the quiet murmurs of Ryan and Dr. Kaylee Reynolds. The hallway, the room they sat in filled with supplies in every shelf, behind every closet door, none of it was visible when we'd entered the doctor's office. This was all just a small piece of another location on the globe, separated by both hundreds of miles, and by one, measly little dimensional Rip that connected two locations by an immeasurable, imperceptible piece of space we merely had to walk through to get there.
“What is this place?” I gasped out between breaths. I was vaguely familiar with dimensional Rips, but this place was something different. It was an outdoor restaurant by a set of train tracks that reminded me of quaint, suburban America, but there were pockets of charred, flaming, and smoldering remains everywhere, littered amongst the pristine architecture. Smoke penetrated my lungs and I coughed, teary eyed, desperately trying to keep hold of Ryan's arm.
He remained stoic, but I thought there might've been a glimpse of worry in his eyes. I didn't know if I should feel relieved that we felt the same way, or hysterical that even he was scared, which he never was. Operatives had been hot on our trail, and the Rips we were using were ones that they'd claimed. They weren't familiar to us, and they were guarded heavily. Well, they weren't familiar to Ryan. I had didn't know about any Rips. They were highly coveted secrets people guarded insanely possessively, and I was new to the game.
“Some Rips aren't clean cut, Alice. The locations overlap. Meaning this place is two places at once,” his icy blue eyes were scanning the area, but his hand came up and squeezed mine for a split second of comfort. “I just don't know where.”
Shouts of “There they are!” sounded behind us and there stood the Operatives in suits, glasses, and guns.
Ryan grabbed my arm and we ran—straight for the smoldering pockets of earth around the train tracks of the suburb. I could smell wood burning a second before we ran through it. Flashes of burning trees and brush fires filled my vision, like a movie reel where two movies were spliced together, each taking place on every other frame. I saw the outdoor restaurant against a blue sky and fallen trees smoking against a black, ashen foreground flashing together in my vision simultaneously until we entered the burning region overlapping with the suburb through the jagged Rip.
I had no idea where we were, but the world was aflame. The air felt like a giant, dry oven: staggeringly hot and inescapable. It was a forest, with giant flames licking the sky and smothering all life. My body was slick with sweat within seconds, and my eyes watered. Smoke burned my lungs.
“Come on!” Ryan demanded and we jogged as fast as we could manage through the burning world. We lept hand in hand over fallen branches and logs and piles of glowing coals. I coughed and staggered and hung heavily in Ryan's grip. I had no idea how close the Operatives were behind us, or if they would even follow us into this hell hole. As we ran a branch reached out and lashed my face. I knew I was moving far slower than Ryan could because he kept pulling, and for a the first time I thought he might leave me. We hadn't been work partners for long, but I'd been by his side for months. He was a different person at work—so different that I realized I didn't really know him at all during those months before—and it put doubt in me. Finally we hunkered down behind a large fallen tree that was a thin black shell, thoroughly done burning except in a few spots nearly burned out, in a fragile state before it would collapsed in on itself. I tried to catch my breath, but only coughed more. The air was so toxic it felt impossible to breath.
“There's a Rip just ahead, back to the tracks. They'll be waiting for us, but those two Operatives are sure to have followed us inside,” Ryan explained. I couldn't help but wonder how those men in full suits could stand the heat of this place, or why they wore something so expensive that was just going to get ruined. “When we don't come out, they'll come in from that direction, too. We need to catch both groups by surprise and take out one from each before their partners notice us. We only stand a catch if we each deal with these guys one on one.” He meant I only stand a chance against one. We both knew he could face multiple targets and come out unscathed; that was his profession, after all. And now it was to become mine, too.
I nodded in reply, as I felt talking would only send me into more coughing fits. Ryan looked deeply uncomfortable, removed his jacket, and began breathing through the fabric. We pointed to where we'd wait. I went over and hunkered down in my designated spot, only to lean against a section of burning stump to my right and burn a large section of my leg. I let out a quick yelp, then gritted my teeth in hopes no Operatives heard. I waited. Nothing.
To my left a log hid me from view. I peered over to cautiously to watch for the Operatives.
The room smelled of leather and sterile cleaning products. I was seated next to Ryan, with my hand placed protectively on his. This doctor friend of his was very pretty, and she was familiar with Ryan in all the aspects of his life that I was not. It felt petty, however, as there was no difference in the interaction between the two of them, and she and I. She was gracious, kind, calm, and generous, but I couldn't help but wonder how they'd met.
They were discussing our last mission, which was ultimately a failure, despite our survival.
“I have a rat in my crew, and he sabotaged us,” Ryan grumbled irritably. Our target was supposed to be eating at that restaurant, but he never showed and there were Operatives waiting for us. The payment for our services was the information and specific locations on the unusual Rips in that area. The price was always worth it if the payment was a new Rip. That's how Ryan knew about so many of them. That was his price, and he always got the job done.
“People talk, Mr. Husk. Even the most diligent of people have friends they talk to. I'm surprised this kind of thing hasn't happened to you sooner,” Dr. Reynolds said soothingly. She had a way of talking that always made her sound right without being pretentious. “Do you think Gustov told anyone?”
“No, I've worked with him in the past. He knows not to tell anyone,” Ryan murmured, his eyebrows drawn together in disturbed contemplation.
“I can vouch for him personally,” Dr. Reynolds agreed. I hated the way her eyes lingered on him even though I hadn't interjected yet.
“He does have those two close accomplices, right?” I finally found my voice, if only to assert myself as an important member of the team.
“Adrien and Frederick?” Ryan responded, turning to look at me, and not at miss Ph.D Kaylee.
“You think he said something to one of them?” Dr. Reynolds inquired to me. Her auburn bob was styled too perfectly, the tips of her hair a perfect line around her jaw bone. It was professional, sleek, and sophisticated, and I didn't care for it. My bob was a shaggy wet mess that resembled a mop made of hay.
“I doubt he would,” Ryan said, “but it seems like the only possible explanation.”
“Adrien knows about my doctor's office, Mr. Husk,” Dr. Reynolds said, her voice finally showing signs of stress.
“And the Rip leading to this room?”
“No. No one outside of this room knows about it,” she said implying the three of us, even though I had just learned about it today.
I stared at Ryan longer than I intended, but I could feel the anxiety growing in my chest like a stone. I lingered on his blue eyes, his strikingly dark hair, his pale skin, his faint stubble. He reached over and put a hand on my thigh, sensing my stress and knowing the physical contact would help. I mustered up a small smile in return.
Something caught the corner of my eye and I looked over at a small device sitting on top of Dr. Reynold's desk. I pointed. “Hey, what does that light mean?”
Dr. Reynolds stood up quickly and Ryan immediately sat straight up, looking alerted.
“What?” I insisted.
“It means someone's here,” Ryan said. “At the doctor's office.”
“It's a motion detecting speaker,” Dr. Reynolds added.
A knock on the doctor's office door came through the speaker.
Both our guns had been flung out of view as we struggled on the smoldering ground. The Operative was sitting on my chest, coughing against the intensely smokey air, his hands wrapped around my throat. I struggled to keep my eyes open as my lungs screamed for air and my head turned hazy. I mustered up as much energy as I could manage and threw a punch as hard as I could at the Operative's temple. He fell to the side on top of coals hidden under ash and I jumped on top of him only to see him at the last second pulling out a knife. I jerked to the side, but managed to get a deep graze in my ribs. As we stood up to face off again, my fists up, him with a knife out, suddenly there was a loud BANG! and half of the Operative's head went missing. He dropped like a bag of bricks and his skin sizzled. Ryan was standing diagonally behind him, gun in hand. He put it back in his belt and looked me up and down. I had burns all over my arms and legs from rolling around on the ground, and cuts in numerous places, both shallow and deep. He had a tuft of hair out of place. He held out his hand to hold mine.
“Well the good news is you killed one of them and stayed alive. But next time, your homework is to not get slashed.” He was trying to be good-natured, but I could feel a pout on my lips.
He kissed my cheek and said, “Don't worry about it, Alice. I think it's time you meet my friend. She mended plenty of wounds on me my first year on the job.”
This is my first crack at a true SciFi story. The idea actually came to me in a very vivid, exciting dream that I was sad to wake up from and had to write the outline for immediately. This calls for a much longer story with more world building, but I had to get it done for a class to get workshopped, so a mere section would have to do. Regardless, I'm pretty happy with it, and would love to go back and do a lot more with it.