Ch. V, p.3

“Doctor? Is that you?” she called out, looking in the wrong direction.

Having applied serious thought to his actions, he sprang up from the ground and rammed into her with his shoulder.

“Ah!” she cried out, feet lifting into the air before her masked face slammed into the earth.

He held her down, pressing at the base of her skull, and shouted, “How do you know my n—agh!” A mighty force slammed into his side, knocking him down. In one swift motion, the woman rolled over him and rammed her hand into his throat, forcing him skyward before smashing him against the trunk of a nearby tree, its dry bark falling away under the force.

His legs dangled below, arms inactive at his sides. For a moment, sunlight trickled through the leaves and a stiff wind blew, shaking the branches of the trees. Then black spots started to overtake his eyes.

“Frank!” he heard. The grip loosened.

His feet hit the ground and he fell forward, gasping for air.

“Frank! Frank, are you okay?”

Hands pulled at his side, the black spots slowly receding. He felt his body, supine, and focused on a woman’s face overhead, surrounded by a halo of golden sunlight. Glowing emerald eyes peered back at him as liquid strands of black recessed towards her shoulders, revealing olive skin and dark hair, unfurled past her face. Immediately he recognized her, but couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Maria?” he asked, bewildered. He propped himself up on an elbow, “Is that really…?”

“Oh, you remember me!” She threw her arms around him and they fell into the soft grass. “I was so afraid you had forgotten everything… I kept shouting your name, but you didn’t stop…” She let go and pressed her hands into his chest, looking down at him. His eyes seemed lost, confused. “You… do remember who I am, right?”

“Yes, of course I do. I couldn’t forget, I… I’m just surprised to see you here.” He moved her hands away gently and pushed himself upright, propping his back up against the tree. “How did you get here?”

“It’s a long story.” She swung her leg around and knelt next to him, sitting up straight. She looked down and spoke hastily, saying, “Dom, can you hear me? Dom?... If you get this message, go to the campground. I’ll meet you there… I found our guy.” She didn’t get a reply.

“ ‘Our guy’? What, you mean me?” asked Frank.

“Yes. We have to go, come on. I’ll explain everything later.” She stood up and offered him her hand, pulling him upright with impressive strength. Then, peering around quickly, she muttered, “This is definitely something else…”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Never mind. Come on.”

He didn’t press, but at the back of his mind a thought lingered, saying ‘You can’t trust her.’ They headed east towards the mountains at a jog. Maria asked him to listen for anything abnormal, but the crunch-rustle of leaves and pattering of their feet was accompanied only by the sound of wind blowing coolly around them. He watched her, creases of concentration pressed around her eyes as they searched ahead.

“What are we doing?” he asked. “Should I be looking for something or just going along?”

“Stay close to me… usually, you walk far enough in one of these situations and you come back out the other end on our Earth. So we’re just going to walk that way,” she said, pointing up the mountainside. “Where I came from.”

Again, he decided not to say anything. Pebbles and branches displaced at their feet as they went, birds chirruping in small groups all around. He thought the walk was a pleasant contrast to the rest of his day, built of memories he wasn’t ready to confront yet, but Maria seemed particularly agitated, glancing back and forth fervently, as if something would jump out of the bushes at any moment. Then again, he realized, she seemed almost suited for the part—it was quite striking to see the lovely scientist wearing military armor…

Just like the others... The breaking glass and screaming from the hallway filled his memory. Finally, he had to ask, “Were they your men?”

She sighed, stopping to peer around. Clearly, she had been thinking about the same thing. “Yes. They’re part of a reconnaissance unit called Discovery. Don’t worry, we’ll find them…” she said, more to herself than to him.

Eyes glazing over, Maria once more lost herself in thought.

. . .

But what if we don’t find them… she contemplated. What if I left them to die? A dull sickness churned at her gut. She couldn’t keep thinking like that… It was what it was.

They came to the mountain base and began a steady climb up, Frank following close behind her. Occasionally, she would look over her shoulder, almost unable to believe that he was right there with her, after all this time.

He needs a shave… she noticed, his face marked with dark brown stubble, and his hair is longer now. Somehow, he looked younger than she remembered, while she felt older by the moment—part of a cruel trick that nature had been playing on her since she reached her thirties.

A sense of desperation intermingled with her thoughts, her mind in turmoil. She wasn’t entirely sure she could trust him, for one thing. Six years of him being under Calix’ care with no one around to watch? He could be a replicant, for all she knew, with the real Frank Marrus long since dead. But she hated that idea, and decided to put it out of her mind.

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