My words hung in the air, the silence growing uncomfortable as we both avoided each other’s gaze, unsure of how to proceed. After the momentary relief of my confession, the need to carry on with the poor charade I had attempted now obviated, my unease returned in full force. My future was now tied to Meredith, and a precarious future it was with the specter of the Seeker looming on every horizon, and I had no way to tell whether the trust I had given her was earned.
“I’m going to make some tea,” she said. “Would you like some? This could take awhile.”
“Sure,” I said, glad for the distraction. It was good to have something in my hands, something to do, otherwise I kept twitching my fingers, touching them together in weird patterns to get the feel and sense of them. Nothing about them felt like my own. While Meredith was making the tea I wandered about the apartment, picking up books off the shelves and glancing at them. All of them were about various religions, origins and histories, anthropologies and comparative studies. The words became a blur after a time.
When the tea was ready we sat beside each other on the couch again, Meredith curling her legs underneath her and wrapping both hands around the steaming cup. We were near enough to touch one another and her closeness felt deliberate, an attempt to establish a rapport with me. I told myself I was being unfair, that it was just my own discomfort, the totality of my confusion, which made me suspect her of manipulating me.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” Meredith said, blowing on her tea. I felt my hands tremble at her words, my whole body seeming to go cold.
“When was the first time?”
Meredith thought a moment. “Around eight months ago. And a year before that, right when you met Laila.”
The name felt familiar in a way Meredith’s never had. “Laila,” I said, savoring the sound of the name.
“Yes,” Meredith said darkly, watching my reaction. “She was trouble.”
I looked at her, a question in my eyes and she waved her hand. “It’s not my place. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Okay,” I said, my voice sounding higher than I would have liked. “So if this has happened before, I should get my memory back.”
“Yes,” Meredith said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “You did before,” she added, when she saw my face fall. “But it wasn’t a simple thing and it didn’t all come back. Less each time actually.”
“What did I do to get it back?” I said, trying not to let my desperation show.
“We tried a lot of things. I’m not sure any of them worked. Time I think is the only thing and we don’t have any right now.”
“Because of the Seeker?”
“Yes,” Meredith said. She seemed to go very still at the word, watching me carefully to gauge my reactions.
“Do we know what caused it?” I said.
“We were never sure what the cause was,” she said, hesitating for a moment before continuing, “Look, you should know that you and I were never close. We were not friends here. We were colleagues. So you may have known better than I do what caused it and how to fix it. But you didn’t tell me.”
“In a manner of speaking. Friends of convenience. Is that better? I don’t know.” Meredith said. I shrugged my shoulders and Meredith got up and began to pace a cramped path through the living room. I watched her, unsure what to say or do. She stopped, as if realizing what she was doing, and forced herself to sit down.
“I’m sorry, I can’t deal with this right now,” she said, waving her hands in my direction. “If we had more time…But we need to figure out what we’re doing.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said, anticipating my questions. “The world is not as it seems.”
“Evidently,” I said, wondering why she was so nervous now, after all that had happened. “Why don’t we start with the men who found us. How did they and why were they looking in the first place?”
“Right. Okay.” She took a deep breath. “The Seeker found us. Some call them Finders. They have a Society, like a guild, you know. People hire them when they want someone found.”
Doubt filled my thoughts and I’m sure was marked plainly on my face. The limited knowledge I had of the world in my current state did not include men like the Seeker or artifacts like the button. It was a world of certain laws, and though I had witnessed these things in action, still my mind rebelled against their very existence. My thoughts compelled me to another explanation and my instinctive mistrust of Meredith lead me to suspect her of orchestrating the entire situation, the better to control me. But to what end? It made no sense, I realized, and yet I could not stop myself from considering it.
“Look,” Meredith said, reaching out to put a hand on my knee. “I know this sounds incredible. There’s no way I can prove anything to you, you’ll just have to trust me. You have to trust someone, and I did save us from the Seeker.”
“Then try to explain it to me. Those people, whoever they are, where did they come from?”
“Like I said, the world is not what it seems. There’s more than one. And the Seeker and the people who hired them came from another world.”
“And we come from that world too,” I said. The button she had used, as well as the fact that on some level I knew the language the men had spoken—and she did as well—told me as much.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Meredith said, “but yes, we do. Like I said, there are many worlds—universes–and we’ve ended up in this one. And now someone is looking for us.”
“Do you know who?”
“I can guess. We’re not here by choice, you and I. We’re living in exile, I guess you could say. You see all the worlds, the universes, are the same, but different, and there are an infinite number.”
“Parallel universes,” I said to her, the words materializing from somewhere.
“Yes. Exactly. There are versions of you and I in each of them, with different lives, different histories. The worlds in them are different as well. In some, life isn’t even possible and we never existed. Some are more or less the same as this, where people aren’t even aware of the other worlds. Some have advanced tech, like the Seekers, and have figured out how to travel between the universes. There was a battle over that, over who should be able to travel between. Our side lost and we were trapped here.”
I nodded as though I understood, but I just felt dizzy. It all felt so unbelievable and the way Meredith told it, so hesitant, choosing her words with such care, made me think that whatever truth might be there was only a part of the whole, the rest still to be revealed. One part did ring true though, that I was not of this place. Maybe that accounted for my sense of dislocation, the itch that worked at my being, the wound that was my flesh. Meredith, I saw, was watching me, a guarded expression on her face, waiting to see if I would accept all that she told me.
“Why are these people after us now?”
Something like a sigh of relief escaped her lips. “I don’t know. They call themselves the Society of Travelers. They were a guild, like the Seekers, but now they are much more powerful. They essentially rule the world we come from.”
“Because they control the gateways between the universes?”
“Yes,” Meredith said. “None but them shall pass. The penalty is death for people, like us, who’ve gone through without their authority. What I don’t understand is how they could know we’re here now. It makes no sense. Something must have happened, but I can’t imagine what.”
“So they’ll kill us once they find us.” The words, the thought itself, should have invoked terror in me, but I felt nothing.
“Eventually. They’ll want to find out why we’re here and what we know first.”
“And what do we know?”
Meredith shrugged. “Nothing that would be of interest to them.” Something about the way she said that gave me pause and for some reason I recalled the Seeker’s whispered threat.
“But there must be something we know, something about us that makes us a threat. They can’t just kill us for no reason.”
This sparked something within her and she responded vehemently. “No, you don’t know them. They don’t need a reason. They will hunt us down until none of us is left. And there’s nothing you or I can do. They won’t stop, and we can’t expect any help. We’ve been forgotten by the people who sent us here.”
I was taken aback by the bitterness in her voice and was left unsure as to how to respond. Meredith did not give me a chance to, standing up and saying, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be putting my burdens on you. Not when you’re in this state. We should go to bed. We can talk more in the morning and figure out what we’re going to do.”
I nodded my agreement and offered to sleep on the couch, but she pointed to the bedroom. “No, you’ve been through more than me today. Besides, this is more my size anyway.”
I did not offer any more protest, for as soon as she mentioned sleep the exhaustion I had been struggling to hold at bay overwhelmed me. I threw myself upon the bed, not even bothering to take off my clothes or crawl beneath the covers. In spite of how tired I was, my thoughts would not allow me to sleep, my mind continuing to reflect upon all that Meredith had said. Every expression, every pause she had taken, seemed a portent of some deeper truth that, as yet, eluded me.
The thought that kept returning to me was about our having been forgotten by those who had sent us here. Something about that didn’t ring true. How had she known the Seeker had arrived if someone hadn’t sent her a message? There were explanations she could offer, no doubt, but I suspected I would find them no more convincing than anything else she had said. I was the only forgotten one here, cast adrift from my person, without any bearings, and nothing to hold onto in a world that grew more turbulent by the moment.
This is the sixth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.