Okay, I skipped Saturday Scenes last week. I’m trying not to make that a habit, but I’m airing out the trunk material and trying not to run out of content. So anyway, here’s the next part of my Wonderland pastiche, Chaos Theory. (You can read Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.) This follows very shortly after the last installment, after Derek follows Katrina into one of the gallery paintings.
Derek kept his eyes screwed very tightly shut for a few more echoing steps. Eventually he decided that perhaps falling over a cliff or running into a wall might present a greater danger than merely going mad from whatever there was to see, and he cautiously opened his eyes.
Having geared himself up to experience the inside of an abstract painting, he found himself vaguely disappointed to realize that he was in some sort of vast cave, or perhaps a tunnel. What had looked like almost random colors and shapes were actually an inexpert, or perhaps just very stylized, rendering of darkness and damp. There was a very faint glow coming from the walls that might have been some sort of bioluminescent moss, although Derek began to suspect that this wasn’t the sort of place that allowed for such relatively simple and mundane explanations. He took another step forward in the dark, and promptly stumbled and fell flat on his face. He lay sprawled there for a long, long moment, resting his cheek against the slick, chilled rock. He could just stay like this, he thought. Just let himself slowly meld into the floor over the centuries and become an oddly-shaped chunk of stone. A large, fat drop of what he hoped was water pelted his cheek. He realized that centuries would be a very long and probably unpleasant time, and pushed himself back up. His knee grumbled quite loudly as he got to his feet; he must have landed on it wrong when he fell. Perfect.
He remembered the flashlight in his pocket, and fumbled it out and turned it on. Usually, the beam emitted by the little cluster of LEDs was quite bright and clear, but the depth and weight of the darkness here pushed it in on itself, so the light it emitted was thin and wan and didn’t reach very far. It was enough to illuminate the floor in front of his feet, and he decided to be content with that. He caught a glimpse in the shadows ahead of a rapidly receding velvet skirt, and scurried, over the loud objections of his knee, to catch up.
Katrina strode forward with the forceful surety that he usually associated with executives and other powerful, important people, a stride that declared that she knew exactly where she was going and intended to waste no time getting there, but also knew that whatever was going to be happening at her destination would have to wait for her arrival, so there was no need for her to walk any faster than she chose. She also seemed entirely unconcerned with the darkness, although this didn’t quite surprise him anymore. She stared straight ahead and didn’t so much as glance behind her to see how he was getting on. “Where are we?” he asked again. He didn’t really expect an answer, but he didn’t think it would hurt to ask. And she had come back for him, after all.
Their footsteps bounced off the walls for a little longer. Derek had almost resigned himself to the fact that she was just going to pretend he didn’t exist anymore, when she said, “The Tularian Passage.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know.” She leapt nimbly over a narrow stream without breaking her stride. Derek didn’t see it in time, and the water splashed into his shoe, causing him to slosh with each step. “I think that’s about all you can handle.”
“I’ll decide what I can handle, thank you very much,” he replied hotly. “I’m not a child.”
“No, but you’re a mortal.”
“And you’re not,” he said, disbelief dripping from the words in much the same way that water dripped from the ceiling onto his hair.
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she replied. “There are… degrees of it, I guess you’d say. Depends on how close we get to your world.”
“My world,” he repeated.
“Are you telling me that we’re on another planet?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scoffed.
“So this is, what, a different dimension? A parallel universe?”
“I don’t know, it’s just Relidran. Don’t think about it too much.”
“I can’t help that,” he said mournfully.
They walked on. Derek wasn’t sure quite how far they’d come, but there wasn’t any sort of daylight ahead. He wondered just how long this passage was; he didn’t have any sort of provisions or equipment for a long journey. He was starting to get hungry, but he buried the thought immediately. “Who’s Carter?” he asked.
No answer. He waited, thinking that she might again decide to respond eventually. They passed through a massive cavern, their footsteps falling silent as the walls flung out and away, beyond the reach of any echo. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bright, sickly green light. He looked up and saw, high overhead, a noxious green cloud, snaking in on itself, reaching a tendril down toward him… “I wouldn’t look up there if I were you,” Katrina warned. His neck snapped forward almost of its own accord, and he kept his eyes on the floor.
She led the way through the cavern and back into a low, cramped tunnel on the other side. He thought about trying his previous question again, thinking that maybe she hadn’t heard him. But he knew she had. Instead, he asked, “How did we get here?”
“Someone apparently never learned about touching things that don’t belong to them.”
“I was just trying to help,” he muttered, and hated how horribly young and petulant he sounded. “So that… that doodad of yours–”
“Right, that. It brought us here?”
He thought he saw a ghost of a shrug from the narrow, velvet-clad shoulders. “Basically.”
“Can it take us back?”
A little tendril of panic took this opportunity to climb its way out of his gut towards his brain, but he ruthlessly stamped it down. By the end of the day, he was going to be an expert in repression. “You’re sure of that?”
“Quite. It’s a one-way ticket.”
“Then there must be another way to get back to… to my world.”
“Not for you, kitten.”
He stumbled over not much of anything, and his poor legs just barely caught him in time to save him from another painful sprawl. “No no no no, there has to be a way.”
She sighed. “Look, I don’t honestly know how you even got here. No mortal has ever crossed the divide. Ever. Grabbing the vocarte when it went live should have just fried you into a little pile of ashes. You’re either the luckiest or unluckiest bastard in history, because you made it here, and now you’re stuck here.” She grinned at him, the first time she’d actually looked at him since leaving the gallery. “Might as well make yourself at home.”