The viscous oil broke forth and I followed it. The liquid hit a gray floor and refracted in every direction. My body did not get as far. A wrenching agony radiated from multiple points on my body as I reached the limit of an invisible tether and bounced forward again. My body swayed in nauseous suspension and then... stilled.
I was suspended above the floor by several thick cables. I couldn't tell where they began though they seemed to end at several aching points on my body. I could see them buried in my hands and elbows, but I could only feel the rest of them.
Their presence did not feel alien.
The cords I dangled from, like a puppet on strings, were my attachment to the womb I was most familiar with. If the slightly glittering liquid was my amniotic fluid and I had fallen from the womb, it was time to cut the cord.
The cords ended in plugs. The plugs were inserted into ports. The ports, now those were what lay beneath my skin.
My weight had not unplugged me when I fell from a nebulous 'above'. Was it due to my angle of descent? I yanked my left hand down, hard, in the direction I believed the plug would point.
Pleased with my success, I yanked my other hand free. For a moment, I let both hands dangle down; only the thumbs pointed to the wet floor. Then I reached one free hand to the back of my neck.
Fingers quested and found the plug at the base of my skull. This connection was more frightening; it felt vital. But freedom is greater than fear.
It was disconcerting, alien, but maddeningly familiar just like everything else! As I hung, spasms shook my body, warm tears sprung to my eyes. But the repercussions from pulling the vital plug were not finished. With my head and arms hanging down and my body convulsing, I unleashed a chain reaction. A series of popping noises heralded a jerky descent to the floor.
At length the spasms calmed and breath came at a natural, if wheezy, pace. I lay a moment, cheek pressed to the cold floor, recuperating, but couldn't stay still for long. I skittered into an unsteady crouch and stared up at my former womb.
Fluid was dripping from all my jutting, awkward angles, including cold-hardened nipples. I felt like nothing but elbows, knees, and hard plastic ports. Standing was difficult; the wet floor in combination with my foot-ports made balance difficult.
Past the two orange pneumatic lifts and roll-away computer stations, was a set of double sliding glass doors. Set into the wall at shoulder height beside the glass was a touchscreen panel. I could use it to call someone.
Text appeared: Good morning, Jasmine. What would you like to do?
The screen knew me. Good. I probably knew the screen, too, but I didn't. "Make," I rasped terribly, "a call."
Who would you like to call?
Somebody with clothes? A hospital? Emergency?
"I'm not sure..."
"Whoever I call most."
It is illegal to log calls.
No thoughts spared me from an empty head; even the panel was more expressive than I. Who to call?
Then, tentatively... a feeling bloomed warm in my chest. A vague-featured face came to my mind. From the realm of dreams came a name.
"Joel. I would like to call Joel." The name rang golden in my ears.
My heart sank as my mind emptied again.
"Joel," I insisted.
What is Joel's surname?
"I don't know! Start from the top and I'll work my way down!"
I'm sorry, I don't understand your request.
Feelings of rage bubbled up from my chest; I beat my fist on the panel in my frustration. How could I not know this name? I didn't even know my own name until the computer gave it to me. For that matter, why was I there alone?
"A... c-cab," I suggested in defeat, "call me a cab."
I pushed back from the wall slightly to read the touchscreen's response.
Please select a cab company from the list.
I lifted my hand again and touched the screen without reading the choices. It was more important to find clothes.
Skirting the edge of the suspension fluid, I made my way to the lockers. They were locked, but my fingers knew the codes even if I didn't.
It was funny, I didn't know the combination to the locks, but my fingers flew over the code. It popped open on the first try. Inside were matching coveralls, boots, and hooded rain jacket. I pulled the clothes out and draped them across a lift.
I was getting ahead of myself. I needed to clean myself up. The steel wash basins were big enough and they even had hoses.
I tried not to stare at or touch the ports rooted in my body, but scrubbed efficiently. I couldn't find proper towels, so I used polishing chami. Their smell made me feel complete.
The doors opened quietly and I walked through.
My body seemed to do quite well on autopilot. A snort of amusement echoed in the dim hallways as I contemplated walking with my eyes closed. The halls were broad and the ceilings high; it felt like a very large structure.
At long last I saw brighter white lights and tall glass windows. I entered a huge atrium that ran along the building's perimeter. The glass windows shot up more than thirty meters and housed hundreds of double door entries along the ground. Each doorway was lit with a glowing red EXIT sign.
I practically flew to the glass double doors. These did not open for me and there were no panels to double-tap. The glass and the metal framing of the doors were cool against my body as I strained against it.
I scrambled around looking for door touchscreens, but found nothing. Then, my eyes caught on a heavy trash receptacle.
Still, it hit hard and the sound was terrific. The glass vibrated with the hit, but there wasn't so much as a scratch on the glass, though the metal was scuffed. A snarl was strangled as I watched the can bounce past an emergency exit.
An annoying alarm began before the door was completely open, but I hardly noticed. As the door opened wind hit my body and filled me with motion. I stepped outside and flung my arms out wide. It felt like I was flying down a straight away, but I wasn't moving.
Laughing, I remembered Joel and the taxi and I began again to run.
I didn't avoid puddles as I pelted forward; my hair was wet anyway. It was fun to splash through them, my boots created fleeting crowns with every impact. I knew crowns: I had worn one.
A blaring horn sounded, adding to the siren bleating inside the building behind me. A car was approaching from the streets.
I intended to kick out into a slide, but the boots had such strong grip that my feet stopped abruptly. My body continued on without them. I scrambled to catch my balance, but I ended up hitting the car's hood anyway.
My body sprawled against the battery-warmed hood and slid forward until my cheek pressed against the wind shield.
"Hello," I said, "are you here for me?"
He stared at me for a long moment before finding a reply. "Jasmine Molina?"
Familiar, but not quite right that Molina part. "That's me. Can I get in?"
He touched a button and the right rear door opened. "Are you hurt?"
"Not a bit." I slid down the hood and back to earth.
The interior of the car was warm and dry. The dark upholstery was soft under my hands and gave under my weight when I clambered in. I found I preferred the warmth of the car, but not being able to control it was difficult. It felt slow.
"Where to, Mrs. Molina?"
"Take me to Joel," I replied.
I'm famous... and I'm married. It wasn't a bad thought, but it worried me a little. Famous and with some kind of bizarre memory loss? Famous and left all alone?
I stared at the back of the front passenger seat as if it would provide me all the answers. It wasn't entirely useless; there was a screen and old-style keypad in the seat back.
I closed my eyes and touched the screen.
"Thank you, Ma'am," the driver said. I met his eyes in the rear view mirror. "You feeling okay? Been a real long time since I had you in the cab."
"I'm good," I replied, trying to hide my mystification. He didn't seem familiar. "I'm sorry, I'm having a hard time placing your face. When's the last time we met?"
"Been since you... Well." He looked forward as he turned the car around. "Since you got sick."
Sick. That kicked loose a dream or a memory. I had been sick, but it wasn't physical. It had caused confusion and there had been excruciating pain. But, the pain had been physical, even though there were no physical injuries. Maybe I was sick again. I was definitely confused, even if I wasn't hurting.
On the way out of the parking lot, I saw a huge sign with the building's name: Estrella Raceway. The name sounded more authentic than my own.
It was a long, slow, drive. We went through sparsely populated suburbs, the dim glitter of a sleeping city, back into suburbs and their wooded hills. I sighed in relief when we finally pulled up to gated apartment complex.
I didn't touch anything, but the passenger window behind the driver rolled down. I leaned forward toward the sentry outside the door. "Hello."
A bright smile transformed the woman's formerly serious face. "Jasmine! Hey! You're back early. Do you want me to send somebody to help with your gear?"
I shook my head. "No, somebody'll bring it later."
"Okay," she nodded, "well, go get some sleep, rock star."
He shook his head. "No, money's already come from your account."
I nodded, "Okay, well, thanks."
I turned and walked to the building's entrance, leaving the cab and driver behind. The touchscreen let me in without question. On instinct, I ran up the stairs to the third floor and stopped before apartment 312.
My heart beat wildly as I moved through the apartment. I saw nothing, I just moved, my feet leading me unerringly to my destination. I didn't stop when I reached the bedroom. Nor when I saw him sleeping in our bed. Nothing could stop me. This was home. He was home.
He roused at the sound of my heavy boots and looked up.