I was still disoriented by the cascades of memories assaulting me, trying desperately to cling to this latest revelation that had sprung forth, only to disappear into the ether, when a scream interrupted my thoughts. All my questions, whether Meredith and I had been lovers, the nature of her betrayal, and how I could have been in the other universe—for there seemed no doubt the palace where we had met was not located in this world—dissolved at the sound. Another scream followed—a woman’s voice—and I knew, with a terrible certainty, that I had to escape now or my life would be forfeit.
I summoned my remaining will, trying to push aside the constant buzzing of my thoughts, the lights ebbing and flowing like the tide in the corner of my eyes, and clambered to my feet. I stood above the chair for a moment, unsteady and feeling ill, before taking a lurching step toward the keypad. It seemed to take hours for me to cross the room to the door, each step a monumental effort from which I had to recover. My body still felt weighted by some obscene gravity—had I been transported somehow to another planet, I wondered—and my thoughts would not go quiet, leaving me to gather and orient myself from moment to moment.
Something like the aftershock of an explosion shook the room, sending me tumbling to floor. I lay cringing on the floor, waiting for the next rumble to overtake me. When none came, I regained my footing and went to the keypad, a burst of adrenaline washing away the numbness from my body, and entered in the code the woman had shown me. After a sickening pause, where I was certain I had been fooled, or simply dreamed it all, the door hissed open and I stepped out into the hallway.
It was empty and exactly as it had been when the High Regent’s people had brought me here. There was no sign of the pitched battle that I had imagined must be occurring between the Seeker and the High Regent. I closed the door to my prison behind me and stood listening, trying to gauge where everyone was and if there was anyone nearby. The corridor was quiet and dim, the building seemed to have gone absolutely still. I thought I could hear the traffic passing by outside on whatever street was nearest.
I tried to retrace my steps, though my recollection of that afternoon was clouded by all the new memories that had emerged, to the back alley, where I was certain the van I had been taken in would still be. I could use it to escape, although I was not sure I could trust myself to walk, let alone drive. Though my thoughts were still confused, unbidden memories paralyzing me at any given moment, my footsteps were steadier with each stride and my confidence in my chances of making good my escape soared.
My growing euphoria lasted until I came to the first intersection and made to turn down a hallway I was certain led to the back of the building, where I ran square into one of the Black Robes as he strode down the corridor. The force of our collision sent me to the ground, scrambling frantically away from him. He grunted in surprise and bent over to seize me by the collar of my shirt and, without breaking stride, dragged me stumbling along behind him. Surprising myself, I cursed him and my misfortune and he glanced down at me and laughed.
He led me to a room near the front of the building, where a wall pockmarked with empty window frames gave me a view of the foyer and the street outside. The sun was bright and I could almost smell the glory of summer and idleness that lay beyond. Such a life was not given to me though, for the Black Robe threw me at the feet of Seeker, who was crouched peering around a doorway from which I could see a corridor leading to a set of stairs.
“I have found the transgressor,” the Black Robe said.
“Yes.” The Seeker did not even glance at me, his alien eyes intent upon the corridor. “I fear they have killed Asdrubal.”
“Let us see them answer for it.”
The Seeker held up a hand. “Patience. They have an unbinder.”
The word sent chills through me, for somehow I knew the portent of doom they held. The Seeker and the Black Robe appeared unconcerned for the moment. They would be; being of the Travelers, it would take something monumental to inflict any damage on their person. The crimes the High Regent had committed were beyond measure here, I realized in a sudden insight. Not only had he transported himself and these others across the universes, he had brought a quantum weapon with him. We lesser mortals were not to possess such weapons, just as we were not to cross over, and to commit both acts at once was so unforgivable that the Society would ensure an example would be made of them.
Why take such a risk? For me, I realized, it was all for me. But what knowledge did I possess that could justify such an undertaking? I searched my mind, my fragmented and chaotic memories, and found nothing that could shed light on that. All I saw within was madness, barely contained, threatening to breach the dike of my carefully constructed being and overwhelm me.
The Seeker motioned for the Black Robe to take his place at the doorway and turned his empty gaze upon me. I flinched at his stare, wanting to turn away, but somehow was compelled to meet his eyes. They seemed to hold infinities.
“So you are with the Regent cult,” he said. “I did not know their infection had spread to this universe as well. What pitiful life did you lead here to cause you to fall sway to their fantasies?”
I swallowed. I did not know what to say but his eyes, his very being, seemed to compel an answer. “I do not remember.”
“Curious,” he said, looking me up and down, as though he had misjudged me and wondered how. “Curious. Why did you try to cross over?”
“I do not remember,” I said. Flashes of memories seemed to blur past and I tried to cling to the images, the scents, the words, but they all disintegrated at my touch. “They tried to get my memory back.”
“When time allows we will see what we can do on that front,” the Seeker said. I found no comfort in the offer. “For now we will deal with your compatriots. Any attempt to stop us would be unwise.”
I nodded, not bothering to tell him that, given I could hardly walk, I was not going to be thwarting anything.
The Seeker turned to the Black Robe and said, “Do you see anything?”
The Black Robe glanced back and shook his head. As he did something like a beam of light captured him and his body went rigid, his face contorting in agony. Moving faster than I had ever imagined possible, the Seeker leapt to the Black Robe and knocked him free of the beam, passing through it himself as he did. Both of them were left writhing on the floor in agony, their mouths open as if to scream or cry, but no sound came forth.
I stared at them in horror, wondering if these were perhaps their death throes. From the stairs above I heard a cry of triumph, cut short by a curt order from Osahi. I waited, but no other sound came from above. It seemed no one was willing to venture below to see if they had, in fact, delivered a killing blow, though the Seeker and the Black Robe remained contorted on the floor. Their convulsions gradually dissipated and the Seeker managed to raise himself to his elbow and looked up the stairs, which were still empty, before turning his gaze to me.
His visage was contorted by the agonies he was suffering, yet somehow remained without emotion, a terrifying combination, and I shivered to witness it. The beam, still visible, transforming the air it touched, divided the room, placing me on one side and him on the other, and our eyes linked through the shimmering air. He seemed unable, for the moment, to do anything and I, sensing my chance, got to my feet and made my way to one of the empty window frames, beyond which lay the foyer and freedom.
His eyes seemed to bore into me, though I could detect no change in their opaque lenses, commanding me to remain where I was. I found myself torn between competing compulsions: the need to obey the Seeker, and the sure knowledge that to remain here a moment longer would be to imperil myself. In the end it was the woman who decided it for me. The memory of her whispered encouragement propelled me forward. I had no idea if it had been her scream I had heard earlier, but I did not want her gift to be in vain. If it was important to her that I escape, then it was important to me.
As the Seeker watched, unmoving, I clambered through the window frame and made my way through the foyer and out to the street and the welcome glare of the sun. I breathed deep of the fresh air, luxuriating in the sensation of being outside. Parked on the street was the silver car I was certain the Seeker and the Black Robes had been driving when they had found Meredith and me in the apartment building. I walked around to the driver’s side and found the door unlocked and slipped inside.
From the outside the car had looked like any other car, but within the dashboard was unlike any I had seen, filled with gauges and screens I could make no sense of. There was no ignition, only a series of buttons where the stereo and dials for the heat and air conditioning would be. I pressed one, trusting my instinct, and the car started, ghostly silent, the engine barely humming. I pulled into traffic and drove away.
This is the sixteenth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.