Chapter 2: F-10-D-A
Have you ever had one of those days where you get transported to another dimension and wacky hijinks ensue, but you manage to make it home before bedtime, safe and sound?
Yeah, me neither.
The first thing I notice after I get sucked into the portal—besides that I’m spinning uncontrollably—is how bone-shatteringly cold it is inside. My initial association is with the vacuum of space, but I immediately reject that notion.
Vacuums are perfect isolators; if I were in a vacuum, I’d feel warm.
Also, there’d be less screaming.
I don’t have much time to consider the properties of this portal, however, for after what feels like seconds, I pop out of the other end, in an area of far nicer temperature.
The temperature is about the only comfortable thing on this end, however. I land roughly on all fours, on a field of odd grass that’s silver on one side and cyan on the other.
It’s a lot more painful than it sounds because the grass doesn’t just look weird: it’s tough as steel. It doesn’t budge under my weight, instead, it’s my skin and clothes that give, as the literal blades of grass pierce through and draw blood on my palms and knees.
At least the knifegrass grows densely, so my weight is divided over many blades and the cuts are shallow, but it still friggin’ hurts.
Then the nausea hits.
Dry heaving on my hands and knees, I manage to keep the contents of my stomach down by the skin of my teeth. When my roiling guts finally calm down a little, I look up to find myself no longer inside the jam-packed conference hall, but instead outside, on a slightly-less-crowded field of alien knifegrass.
I get up clumsily, falling over twice in the process. I’m still dizzy and disoriented, but I also feel unusually heavy for some reason, and it’s throwing me off.
And I don’t think it’s all the hotdogs I ate. Probably.
A change in the light causes me to look up. My jaw drops as I find myself greeted by not one but two suns, one orange-red and one bluish-white, shining down from a purple sky.
The cause of the change in light that made me look up stands out as well: a lightning bolt crawls from the blue sun to the orange one in slow-motion. When at last it crashes on the orange sun’s surface, there’s a bright flash followed by a fiery, if inaudible, explosion. If my jaw could detach, it would be on the ground right now.
I stare at the two suns for a short while, as part of my mind rebels against the obvious conclusion it attempts to draw.
This... isn’t Earth.
It takes a moment for me to realise that I can directly stare at these suns without hurting my eyes, for all that they seem no less bright than the one I’m used to.
The growing tumult around me as more people get up and get their bearings draws my attention away from the astronomical anomalies.
It seems like the entire crowd from the Comic-Con got portalled, leaving behind everything else. Well, the crowd and everything we were wearing, thankfully.
Most of them react quite how I’d expect, with varying degrees of shock, fear, and panic.
However, there’s a sizable bunch that I could really just shoot right now, because they are screaming, crying, and hugging each other in joy, yelling things like ‘Finally,’ ‘Dimensional Transfer,’ and ‘Power Uuuuuuup!’
Unbelievable. What the hell do these people think is going to happen to them here?!
At least I understand now why the Con didn’t lose as much ticket sales with what was going on in the world. The world we’re no longer at.
“Are you okay?”
Behind me, I find Josh. His dark locks are messy and there’s a worried light in his pale blue eyes, as he gingerly makes his way over the sharp grass.
I’m hit by a wave of relief at the friendly face, which is immediately followed by guilt for being happy that Josh got pulled into this mess as well.
“Not really,” I answer. “This... it’s really happened, hasn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so,” Josh says, squeezing my shoulder after he reaches me in what’s meant to be a comforting gesture, I’m sure. I just feel numb.
“So, who do you think got it right?” I ask half-jokingly. “Are we on an alien planet lightyears from Earth, in an alternate universe where everything’s topsy-turvy, or at Russia’s secret underground experimentation facilities?”
Back on Earth, the media seemed to make a sport of it to see who could spout the craziest theories about the portals’ true origin. These are some of the milder gems they came up with, and judging from what I see around me, might actually turn out to be true.
All right, maybe not that last one, but you can’t blame me for being paranoid right now.
“I don’t know,” Josh replies seriously, standing up a little straighter to look over the crowd. His brows crease.
My curiosity piqued, I attempt to get on my tiptoes so I can look around as well.
I wince as the added pressure causes a few blades to prick through the nose of my shoes, and into my toes.
Wincing, I carefully rock back down onto my heels and settle for craning my neck; at 5' 9" I’m relatively tall, so it’s enough for me to get a glimpse.
My stomach sinks when I see it: a giant grey wall. What’s worse, as I turn, my eyes meet more wall in every direction. Six walls, to be precise. A hexagon. We’re like cattle in a giant pen.
Swallowing down the bile that rises in my throat, I turn to look at Josh. He seems to have drawn the same conclusion as me.
He opens his mouth then suddenly jerks his leg like he’s been stung. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and for a moment I naïvely think he’s receiving a call. The next moment, however, the phone bursts apart like a low-power grenade, lancing bright blue arcs all around.
I turn my face away just in time to avoid the plastic shrapnel. Thankfully there isn’t much force behind it, so it bounces harmlessly off my skin and clothes.
“Holy shit, are you okay?” I blurt out, turning back.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he responds shakily, staring at his twitching fingers.
I feel a little sting on my hip. Alarmed, I pull out my own dingy phone. The screen is dark, and it feels rather cold in my hand, but I can feel something building inside, so I quickly toss it on the ground a few feet away.
It bounces once, twice, then bursts apart, causing nearby people to let out shocked yelps and gasps as they are hit by arcs of electricity and flying plastic. I cringe in upon myself and ready an apology, but the sound of cracks and pops are multiplying.
All around us people are yelping and cursing as various devices burst apart in their hands, pockets, and bags.
One enterprising asshole attempts to launch his phone into the stratosphere, only for it to burst in mid-air and shower everyone in plastic.
I attempt to raise my voice over the ruckus. “What the hell is causing this? I can’t think of any technology that would—Hey, watch it!”
Some dickwad runs into me and moves on without so much as an apology.
“Maybe it’s an after effect of the portal?” Josh shouts back. “I wouldn’t—” he cuts himself off with a deep, rattling cough. It’s almost impressive. He raises a hand to his throat and looks around, frowning.
It seems like most of the devices have burst already, the tumult dying down as the last ones go off like the final stubborn kernels in a bag of microwave popcorn.
However, the noise level soon starts to rise again as, one after the other, people begin to cough.
I realise with a start that there’s an itching in my throat as well, which seems to extend further down into my lungs.
“Shit, it’s—” is all Josh manages to say before his speech devolves into a fit of coughing.
Next to me, a girl in a kimono hacks up blood into Ron Weasley’s face.
I freeze up as people start to panic around me. Super Saiyan Goku snaps me out of it when he nearly slams into me, trying to get away from something.
Some deeply buried, long-forgotten instinct urges me to run as well, and my feet obey, even though I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m running from.
I’ve only taken a few steps when it happens.
I cough, and it feels like ants are biting my lungs from the inside.
My feet falter as I realise what I’m trying to run from.
Oh god, it’s in the air, isn’t it?
People are milling about, frantically gasping and clutching their throats. The press of bodies around me is stifling, and the smell of sweat and blood is thick. Many seem to be in worse shape than I. Possibly because they were joyfully screaming their heads off just now.
Serves them right.
Josh follows me and makes a valiant effort to shield me from the panicked crowd, but he’s coughing into his fist as hard as anyone.
Blood seeps through his fingers. Oh god.
My breath is coming deeper and faster; that’s a mistake. I cough harder and harder and soon start to feel kinda woozy.
Calm down, Emma; you’re hyperventilating toxic air!
I hold my breath and let myself be pushed along by the throng of people, moving around yet going nowhere.
Well, not breathing obviously isn’t a long-term solution either.
The pink Power Ranger whose elbow is hurting my ribs starts convulsing and slams into me. I gasp and trip over something.
Josh manages to catch me by the arm and keep me upright. I cling to him for support, trying to ignore the blood he’s smearing on my arm.
This isn’t happening... There are so many things I still want to do! Also, if I die here, wouldn’t that mean I’ve been working my ass off on shitty jobs for nothing?!
A gap opens up in the crowd, seeming to lead to a less densely populated area, and Josh immediately steers us towards it.
We’re struggling to make it out of the throng of a crowd that seeks to do the same, when a beast of a guy comes running into the crowd at breakneck speed.
Josh yells at him to watch out, but his eyes stare right through us as he frantically claws at his throat, and suddenly he’s upon us.
Josh pushes me out of the way, and all I can do is watch in horror as the huge dude crashes into him.
There’s an audible thump at their impact. They go down in a heap, all flailing arms and legs, with the dude landing on top of him, his massive frame pushing Josh into the knifegrass.
I’ll never forget the tearing sound that accompanied numerous blades of grass penetrating his back.
The dude gets up in a daze, stepping on Josh’s elbow for good measure, and this time I can see several blades of grass pierce deeply into the soft, unprotected flesh of his lower arm.
I surge forward in a fit of rage and panic and shove him as hard as I can. He trips over something or someone and goes down again, this time right on top of Yoda.
Yoda lets out the most horrifying shriek I’ve heard in my life. My heart almost stops when I realise that wasn’t just a wrinkly old alien, but a kid in a mask.
I’m torn for a split second, but ultimately turn my attention to Josh.
I grab the hand of his uninjured arm and try to help him up, but the grass pulls on his flesh, and all I accomplish is getting him to groan in pain.
Realising the extent of the damage, I collapse onto my knees next to him, cradling his hand. The pain it causes is insignificant to the burning in my lungs, let alone the aching in my heart.
The crowd quickly thins as people collapse left and right, grasping their throats, so at least I don’t get trampled.
Josh blinks, and looks at me, his pale blue eyes hazy. He smiles weakly and opens his mouth to say something, but only manages to produce a gurgling sound.
“Shh, it’s okay,” I say through tears and coughs. “You saved me. My hero.”
I gently press a kiss to his forehead and remain seated there, holding his hand as the field slowly grows quiet around me.
My breath is coming in big, raspy gasps now, and the fire in my lungs has spread to my skin, but I hold on, fighting against the urge to lay down and allow my heavy eyelids to fall.
Is this it, then? Is this how I die, choking on whatever it is I’m breathing right now? Shit, that’s so unfair.
If I’d known this is how it would end, I wouldn’t have stopped partying. I would’ve danced in the rain, instead of spending so much time struggling upstream, trying my hardest to resist temptations and dodge detours.
Well, at least I didn’t end up like my parents, I think, the morbid thought pulling the tiniest smile from my lips.
Then, after releasing one last, shuddering breath, Josh grows unnaturally still. I look down in disbelief at his glassy, unfocused eyes.
With trembling fingers, I push his eyelids down, before finally allowing myself to succumb to despair and pass out.