“You shot him in the face. With a shotgun,” said Miya. Olivia listened in, massaging her scraped knuckles with her eyes closed. She’d tried to punch the walls that had popped up around Rob after she and Miya hunted for a way in for a minute. The walls couldn’t have cared less. He’s back now. No need to dwell on it.
“Yeah,” responded Rob. Olivia settled in further in the beanbag. Wow this thing is comfy. This is great! Now I get the whole backrest thing, most are just annoying bits of wood, but if stuff like this exists it’s so worth it. Her small, contented smile slipped a bit. Wait, not real. Right.
Miya didn’t immediately respond. Olivia poked an eye open. No. Don’t pick a fight with him too. Even though he looks just like Ben. Don’t. “Did it kill him?” asked Miya. Oh, good. Cooler heads after all.
“Pft. No. That would be easy. Life is never easy.”
Miya sighed. “Point. We still need a way out. Out of here at the very least.”
They’d spent some time trying to consciously leave. After thinking about it really hard for a while, they got nothing for their efforts except looking somewhat foolish, sitting in absolute silence in concentration. Then Rob hammered away at a wall with a crowbar for a minute, until this lead to the discovery that the walls were invincible. Not a scratch on them, and Rob’s crowbar now bent at an odd angle down the middle. But this beanbag is so comfy! So much better than that bed back at the lair, or that ratty old couch in the apartment. And I don’t have to lay on my face, either.
“You got any ideas, Olivia?” asked Rob.
“I think she’s lost in her own little world right now,” said Miya. Wait, I’m right here and paying attention, sorry.
Olivia opened her eyes fully. “What?”
From what Olivia could tell from under the scarf, Miya smiled. “Like the beanbag?” she asked.
“Yes! It’s so soft and comfy.” I know we have other things to worry about, but come on.
Rob rubbed his forehead. “I can’t take it anymore. Olivia, Bri and Jimmy… boned on that thing. A lot. I don’t think they ever washed it, either.” Boned? What?
Miya started chuckling. Hang on… what does boned mean? Rob just stared at her. “What?” asked Olivia eventually. “What does boned mean?”
Rob blinked. He blinked again. “Sex. They had all the sex on that thing. And never washed it. Why do you think I never touch it?” Miya doubled over laughing.
They had sex. On this beanbag. That I’m now lying in. Right now. Olivia jumped out as Miya lost it.
“She… she… her face… bright red,” gasped Miya. “Connecting the dots… Oh god. That was great.” My face feels really warm, maybe that’s it.
Olivia turned back to the enormous white beanbag, almost the size of a normal mattress, off balance. She looked at Rob on the couch, also laughing at this point. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she blurted out.
“Oh,” said Rob, who at least had the decency to look embarrassed, looked off to the side to avoid eye contact and rubbed the back of his neck. “You looked super comfortable, so I couldn’t really bring myself to stop you. Then you practically rubbed yourself in the damn thing, snugglin’ it-”
“Stop it!” she cut him off. Ew. She tried to drop the subject, Miya having a fit wasn’t helping. It’s not that funny. And you almost sound desperate. Olivia threw herself on the couch opposite of Rob.
“It’s not real,” Miya managed. “Calm… calm down.” Miya appeared to take her own advice for a moment, before breaking down into snickers once again. OK. Now who’s blowing this out of proportion? “OK, question for you,” Miya said to Rob.
“Pure curiosity. How do you know they did it on there?” What? Is that… oh. Yep. Why are you guys laughing at this so much?
“Me an’ Sean walked in on them in the act out here. They’d dragged it out a week prior, were just waitin’ for the opportunity when everyone else was out.”
“Why?” asked Miya.
“Maybe they liked the danger of exactly what happened occurin’. You think I fuckin’ quizzed them on their sex lives? Jimmy kept it out here to be an ass ‘bout it, too.” This is kind of embarrassing. Maybe it’s just me, though. This is funny for everyone else, apparently. “An’ that’s not the worst part. Michael came in about twenty minutes later, we’d all gotten up an’ were just talkin’ at this point, an’ threw himself in like Olivia did, face first.”
“Oh no,” said Miya, the hilarity of it all having apparently subsided enough for her to simply shake in silent laughter.
“Just wait. Then Michael said, ‘Man, this is nice and warm.’” Miya smacked herself in the forehead with the heel of her hand. “Then he saw Jimmy throw away the condom wrapper. He got outta that thing so damn fast, I thought he’d developed teleportation.”
Miya smacked herself in the forehead. Then, after a pause, did so again three more times in rapid succession.
“Yeah,” said Rob nodding with exaggerated slowness. “That happened.”
They settled into amicable silence. Everything still sounds all fuzzy. This is weird, going the other way. I actually kind of have to pay attention. And it’s not to the level of overhearing random conversations in completely different rooms. This is really nice. Like that beanbag was.
Bad. No. Don’t think about the beanbag. Don’t think about… gah. I’m thinking about the beanbag. Make it stop. Though that story was kind of funny. I bet the others would like it too. Olivia frowned slightly. I guess we needed to take a break for a bit, but we still need to find the others. Should I say something?
She glanced at the others. Miya’s scarf still hid her face, but the way she slumped in her chair and propped her head up with an arm on the armrest suggested she was equally drained. Maybe she was just laughing because she needed something to laugh at.
Rob, meanwhile, tapped his leg with a finger as he arched his head over the back of the couch he and Olivia sat on. She missed the customary smile on him and Ben. He made a strange gurgling sound and jerked his head fully upright. You OK there?
Before she could ask, he said, “Need a way out of here before I lose my mind.”
Miya sighed and settled further into her seat. No mean comment? “I know. We tried. We still have no clue how to get the whole teleportation from one person’s world to another’s to work.”
“Lemme guess, it’s one of those things that can only happen when you aren’t payin’ attention.” Hang on…
Miya’s head snapped up. “Repeat that?” she said.
“One of those things that only happens when you aren’t payin’ attention?”
Miya sat upright. That actually makes sense. “I think you’re on to something,” said Miya. “This whole… thing,” she gestured emphatically to their whole surroundings, “has been based all on perception and shit. Kind of. I might be saying it wrong. But remember, that shotgun reassembled itself when you weren’t paying attention, Rob. Me and Ben popped into Olivia’s lair when she wasn’t paying attention to the spot. If we don’t perceive it, it can change.”
“Nah, nah, that makes sense. Nothin’ happens when we’re payin’ attention to it.”
“Yeah,” agreed Olivia. “When, um, when he was in the lair, he would… grab… someone when the rest weren’t, you know, looking.”
Rob leaned forward, animated now, “Alright! Now we just have to…” He trailed off, then started laughing. “Damn it,” he said between laughs.
“What?” asked Miya.
“You don’t get it? The harder we try to ignore somehin’ like this, the more we’re payin’ attention to it. We’re in a horrible catch twenty two scenario. Now that we’ve called attention to it, we’re gonna think ourselves in circles.”
Miya gave a frustrated sigh. “Fuck, this just won’t fucking end,” was all she had to say about that. Everyone fell silent again.
Well, I don’t think this would be too bad to be trapped in forever. I mean, I’m closer to normal now… wait, bad thoughts, bad. This isn’t real. And Chris and Amanda still need to get out, and I don’t know where Ben is right now. Stupid me, this isn’t a good place to be trapped forever. And Miya looks like she wants out. And why won’t she take that scarf off?
Should I ask? I don’t want to pry. But what if it’s important? She would have said, right? She isn’t wearing it for no reason. Probably.
“Um, Miya?” began Olivia, eyes flicking between Miya and the couch.
“Why are… why are you wearing that scarf?” I don’t want to bring up anything bad. I didn’t think about that.
Miya shrugged with forced nonchalance. “No reason.”
“So… um… why wear it?” No. This was a bad idea. Sorry. Rob chuckled a bit.
Miya’s eyes flashed in anger. “Because I want to. That should be good enough.” I messed up.
“Oh. Sorry. I, um, I didn’t… I mean, just… sorry,” Olivia stammered.
Miya paused for a moment, and tilted her head a few degrees. The scarf made it hard to tell her expression. “No, wait, no. Sorry,” she said. Why are you saying sorry? Miya continued, “It’s just… I don’t know. It looks like you guys got your heavens. Ben got his family, Rob got his old team, you got normalcy. I got hell.”
That doesn’t sound good. “Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Olivia.
“Because it’s my shit to deal with. I don’t exactly like sharing my own problems with everyone.”
“Yeah, but…” began Olivia. “We can help. I… just… you don’t have to hide stuff from us.”
“What do you intend to do, even if I told you?” asked Miya.
“I don’t know. Help.”
“Why? My problems, not yours.”
“We’re friends.” Right? “That’s what… that’s what friends do. Right? And you won’t even… even say,” Olivia finished with much less certainty than before.
“It’s all right, Olivia. Just… don’t worry about it.”
“But I am worrying. You started a fight with Ben. You won’t say what’s wrong and I don’t know why.”
“Well, what do you think?” asked Miya, impatience creeping into her voice.
“I don’t know,” stressed Olivia. “Bad… things? Maybe? I don’t know.” I’m tired of not knowing things.
“Guess. I think I told you a little about it before. Can’t think of anyone else who knows, anyways.” Miya’s hands clenched into fists on the armrests of her chair.
Bad things she’s told me about. There are probably better ways to say that but whatever. Um… “Well, it wasn’t…” You haven’t told me much about you. In the past, I mean. Hang on. “Do you mean… the… what’s his name again? Slave Lord?” That’s a nasty name.
Miya nodded. “Overlord. Used to be called Slave Driver.” Well those two aren’t much better. This is a very bad sign. “His old name probably used to mean something more impressive in Serbian but something probably got lost in translation. Not the point.”
“You were… captured, right? And so…” Bad. “That’s… not… good.” Where are you going with this?
“They weren’t nice about it,” said Miya.
“But… why the scarf?”
Miya sighed. Sorry. Miya stayed quiet a moment, then put her hands behind her head and untied the scarf knot. “This is why. Happy?”
Olivia took in her maimed face for a moment. Olivia’s eyes widened by a small fraction. She jumped to the edge of her seat, ready to either hug her or punch whatever was responsible or scramble for a first aid kit or do something, anything besides just sit there complacently on a couch doing nothing when her friend was hurt. Where is her cheek? Why didn’t you say anything about this? Why? What kind of logic possibly lead you to think that? That looks so painful.
“Why would I be happy? Why would someone do something like that?” asked Olivia. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why doesn’t that hurt? But… just… why? Or does it hurt and you’re just not showing it? Why didn’t you say anything?” This isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real.
Miya re-tied scarf back into place, not answering any of Olivia’s questions. Miya avoided looking at her, so she got up and stood in front of her. Do you need a hug? That’s helped me before. And talking.
“It’s my shit to deal with, I told you.”
WHAT? “That doesn’t make any sense!” Olivia resisted the urge to grab Miya’s shoulders and shake her to make her see reason. That worked in that one movie.
Miya stopped whatever it was she was about to say. And, strangely, her shoulders drooped in relief. “Where’s Rob?” He’s been quiet, actually.
Olivia twisted, looking back to where Rob sat. Had sat. There was no one behind her, and no way to leave the room walking directly into Miya and Olivia’s view. “Did he…” began Olivia. Did he what? Teleport?
“Did he find a way out?” asked Miya, finishing Olivia’s question. “Is that what’s going on?”
He’d better be OK. So help me, I’ll… I’ll… do… something. Something bad to them. “I… don’t know. I hope so.”
Miya gave a mirthless chuckle and leaned back in her chair. “Bastard didn’t take us with him.” He wouldn’t do that.
“Hey,” said Olivia. “Maybe he just-”
Miya sighed. “Relax. I’m joking.”
“Why are you so calm about this?”
“Because at least someone got out. Finding it hard to give a shit anymore.”
Miya closed her eyes. Fine then. Olivia crashed back on the couch. Hey, no tail or wings to bend. I wonder. Would I have met Miya if I hadn’t… triggered? I want to help her, and I don’t know what to do. But… would I have even known about her without the wings and everything? I do kind of miss flying. No, no getting sidetracked. That looked super painful. Why didn’t she want to talk about it, or say anything about it at all? She’s still being evasive.
Olivia’s turn to sigh. I hate this place. Miya’s really hurt. I haven’t even seen Amanda or Chris. Rob just disappeared, so did Ben. I miss the city. It wasn’t so bad when there wasn’t a riot or fight or anything going on-
With nothing underneath her, Olivia fell back onto what felt like concrete. She caught herself, and the feeling she got from beneath her confirmed her concrete suspicions.
Wait, what the… oh, new place. She blinked a couple times, then jerked her head around a bit to take in the new surroundings. I really don’t like this whole complete lack of transition between places. A ruined building. Someone dug with their hands at a rubble filled doorway on the side opposite of Olivia. Light came in through glassless windows. Something crumbled off to her right. Many big somethings.
“FUCK!” screamed Rob approximately half a second later off to Olivia’s side. Rob is here? She turned and rolled out of the way, the chunk of concrete missing her by a hair.
The collapse kicked up dust into the air. Miya started coughing to Olivia’s other side. Olivia focused on the guy, Rob, lying on the floor, one leg trapped under the rubble. Wait, completely different clothes. Do they change when we go different places here? She looked down at herself for a moment. Same blue shirt. Same dark brown pants. Ben, then. I hate not being able to tell the two of them apart. Also…
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” he muttered rapidly, grabbing at the pinned leg.
Miya scurried to her feet behind Olivia. “Shit. Olivia, can you get it off him?” she said, going to Ben’s side.
This spurred Olivia into action. She scrambled forward, reached the offending rubble chunk, found a handhold, and threw all her weight into pulling it off Ben. She got it about a foot off the ground. Heavyheavyheavyheavy. Hurry. Hurry!
“Nyaaaaaaahaha,” Ben gasped as Miya dragged him out of harm’s way by his armpits until his crushed and limp leg came clear of the rubble.
“This is fuckin’ bullshit,” he muttered as Olivia set the rubble back down. Owww. That hurt. “Fuck, this better… fuck.”
“Shut up and stay still,” commanded Miya, her eyes going red. She grabbed his face.
“Wh-?” began Ben.
“Shut up,” she barked. Oh god, his leg looks bad. Olivia joined Miya, kneeling over Ben. She could make out some blood seeping through his pant leg. Can I do something to help?
“Is he-” began Olivia.
“Sh. You too. Go check on that other dude. This leg’s in bad shape.”
“Don’ tell me that,” said Ben, managing a shaky smile.
“Shush. Go, Olivia, unless you’ve developed magic powers since I last saw you.”
But… but… Miya ignored her completely after that, focusing entirely on Ben. Fine. Olivia got up and worked her way down the ruined and rubble strewn staircase. They appeared to be on the ground floor of some sort of hotel. An old one, seeing as a cursory glance upwards revealed the floor above them had completely vanished. Some concrete and pipes and drywall littered the area. From what Olivia could tell, they’d appeared on the landing of a grand staircase overlooking the main entrance to the building.
A sharp piece of glass jabbed the bottom of her bare feet as she walked, thankfully failing to break the skin. OW. I’d like a pair of shoes right about now. She walked far more carefully from then on out, bypassing the occasional concrete bit or glass shard scattered about the place. She reached the guy digging at the doorway. Is that Chris?
“Chris?” she called out. No response. “Chris?” she repeated, more insistent.
“What?” he said with a pause in the frantic digging. He moved over an inch and resumed. “Help. Need to help. Got to get through. Alice on the other side.”
What? Who? And he looks terrible. She watched as he scraped his arm against an exposed bit of rebar, not the first such cut she could see, in his haste to grab at the next bit of concrete, drawing blood. He continued on regardless.
“Chris,” she said, grabbing his arm to arrest his movements. “What are you doing?”
He stopped. His dirt streaked face spared her a second or so, then he turned back to the door with the same urgency. “Got to… she’s on the other side. In the riot. Got to get to her.” His speech broke down into incomprehensible murmuring. Something is really wrong here. What is Chris talking… about… Oh, I remember. She’s dead, right? His girlfriend? And he thinks she’s still alive. Oh god.
“Chris,” she said, grabbing him again. He shrugged her off this time. He’s a lot taller than me now. Is this how everyone else feels when they’re talking to me? Never mind, no distractions. “Chris, you need to listen.” He continued to ignore her. “Stop,” she said.
“What? No,” he said, tossing another cinder block to the side.
“Wait,” croaked a voice from where she’d left Miya and Ben. Some whispering from them that Olivia couldn’t quite make out.
“Olivia, come here a sec,” called out Miya. Olivia hesitated. But… Chris. “Trust us,” Miya added. Fine. Just make up your mind at some point. Olivia rushed back up the stairs, avoiding the shattered cinder blocks strewn about.
“Don’, need a good plan,” managed Ben once she came in earshot.
“What have you been doing?” asked Olivia. “Are you OK?”
“Went here after you two vanished. Been tryin’ to get him out. Didn’t work. Somethin’ changed. Got my leg pinned. Couldn’t move. You reset an’ it’ll happen again. Hurts like fuck, manageable now.”
“You’re welcome,” said Miya, sitting back on her heels in a squat.
“Are you OK?” asked Olivia. Wait, no, dumb question.
“Been better. Can’t feel my leg, she did somethin’ to it,” Ben said.
“How far have you gotten with him?” asked Miya.
“Not far. The one time I got him away he started rantin’. Thinks it’s back in the F.F. riots. Gotten worse in the last resets though. My screamin’ got him over here the first time, froze time to avoid it the second, tried to do the same trick the third, but that didn’t work. I mighta annoyed him enough to reset again for you two to come in, though.”
“Something changed,” said Miya. “We pissed him off. Your John Doe theory was right, by the way. Rob saw him first hand. I think he’s taking steps against us, though.”
“Oh, good. Rob’s free then. I can finally stop watchin’ Chris diggin’. No matter how much he does, the pile doesn’t get smaller,” said Ben. He started to get up.
“Nope,” said Miya, pushing him back down. “Rob’s free, we don’t know where he is. But you’re in for a world of hurt if you try to move that leg at all. Magic isn’t perfect, as much as I’d like it to be.”
“We need to help Chris,” said Olivia. I’m not just going to sit here and watch this.
“I get the feelin’ that my leg’s gonna get re-broke every reset, no matter what I do. Be damn sure you got a good plan. I’ll jus’ sit here an’ hope Miya’s thing holds out,” said Ben.
“It will. It should,” said Miya, standing upright. They stood over Ben. “Well, sounds like we need to do some sort of planning.”
“Yeah. He’s… really obsessed. Like, hurting himself obsessed. I couldn’t get him to stop. He’s… he’s hurting himself.”
“Don’ mind me, I’ll jus’ lie here,” said Ben from below. He managed another shaky laugh. “Serious. Make the bad man stop. Go.” He made a familiar shoo-ing gesture.
Olivia began to return to Chris, hoping Miya would follow suit. They stopped. A pale, blurred man stood before them.