Then, there was nothing. No light, no sound, no feeling. As I stepped out of the Tube, the heavy feeling returned to my arms and through to my feet. But sound and sight did not return. I touched my face, searching for my eyes and ears. They seemed normal, at least externally. Had the Flashtube finally bungled a re-entry? I started shuffling around, hoping to bump into something when a hand gripped my arm roughly as another hand clamped over my eyes. I felt the person’s heartbeat, slow and steady, behind my own.
A sudden redness pulsed through the hand, trying to bite at my eyes. The pulsing stopped but the redness still bit. Slowly, the hand over my eyes retreated but the grip on my arm remained firm.
My eyes squinted almost closed; one was open just a crack. Slowly, I switched between one eye and then the other as the room came into warm focus. A soft hum reached my ears. The hand released me and the heartbeat pulled away. I crossed and rubbed my arms.
There was one black clothed, black hooded person leaning against the wall in front of me. A second form joined them. Their forms merged, whispering to each other. I heard soft hisses and murmurs just quieter than the room’s hum.
They stayed merged until my joints ached from stillness. Their heads turned towards me as I shifted stiffly. One figure removed her hood, her hair falling out and her smile spreading slowly. “Sorry about all this,” Maridel shrugged and gestured to the room. “Secrecy and all that.” She turned smoothly on her heels and stepped out of the room. Tor was holding his hood in his hand and waved me forward with it as he followed Maridel.
The next room was old and yellowed like the diner. The hums and hiccups permeated this room as well. Maridel was just settling into a chair next to a puny two person table that was hopelessly coated with ancient papers and bound pages. Tor was busy rifling through the stacks as Maridel pushed out the other chair for me.
Slowly and unevenly, I crossed the room and fell into the offered chair. Her hand steadied my shoulder. “It now seems fateful that you approached me when you did. I barely had any time to put three and seven together before the world collapsed.”
“Is that? Is that what that was? Those booms, bombs, they…you know?” I asked.
“Well, I can’t know for sure as there could be other players at the helm but I feel confident with my guess.”
I waited, my thumb tapping my hand. Maridel watched me, a patient smile flitting around her face. Finally Tor came to the table with a grey and tan ratty folder and handed it to Maridel.
“Your fiance, a political arrangement? Love? Convenience?” She flipped gingerly through the pages of the folder as she spoke.
“I, wha? My?”
“Your fiance, why are you engaged?” Maridel continued to scan through the documents in front of her. “It happened, so surely there must be some cause for it and I’m wondering what that cause is. It may or may not have bearing on my investigation, based on your response.”
“Um, political, I guess. Old prestige, new power kinda thing. My, my family, my parents, they, uh, wanted to be current again. That, or, uh, the discount on drones. Family…family and all.” I stared at the small crack in the rim of the table beneath my palms.
“Then that might just make 11,” Maridel said, closing the folder she was looking at. She handed it to me before opening another folder. “Take a look.”