Month 6, Day 11
She awoke slowly, feeling foggy-headed and out of breath. After a moment of panic in the utter blackness, she remembered where she was. That’s why I feel so claustrophobic. I never did like places like this, so small I can barely wriggle through them. This is worse than a jefferies tube. What did you call it? An air duct? Not intended for people to travel in, but less chance of being found. Which is good, since we fell asleep again. So now where do we go, Kolleen?
Kolla stilled her mind and listened for the internal voice that had become so familiar to her. No answer came. Kolleen, are you there? Still no response. Yellow Pits of Zort! Has she died? What will happen to me? But through the panic and fear, she felt an overwhelming yearning for a bottle of the strange liquid Kolleen had been pouring down her throat. That realization helped her calm down. The drink has... worn off. We can’t hear each other. Zort, I don’t know where to find any more of it!
Well, if I have to do this by myself, then I’d better get to it. What did she say when we stopped to catch our breath, just before I fell asleep? I think... we were getting close. Ahead - somewhere - is a branch going up... We got stuck on terms for distance, until she said the branch goes up about as far as this elbow to the fingertips, then turns at a right angle to this tube, and ends in a mesh. Once I get through that mesh, then I’ll be in that 2nd command room where our attempt was interrupted before.
She inched forward until she got to a place where she could see the confining walls around her. She carefully turned over, onto her back, and saw that the light came from around a corner in the duct branch above her. This must be it! Moving slowly, aware now that she would not hear noises that these people could, she managed to sit up and then to get her feet under her rump. A scant hands-length from her face, a mesh of fine wires stood between her and the 2nd command room. Oh, no!
Several people were there, systematically tearing apart all the work she and Kolleen had done a few hours before. Kolla’s heart sank, and tears slid down her cheeks. Why did I fall asleep? I knew time was getting short! And now I’m too late! Oh, I’m so tired! And getting queasy. Would that be the claustrophobia?
Though her sight blurred, she continued to watch. The people worked in pairs, one talking and putting labels on the bit of circuitry in front of them while the other wrote. Eventually, that piece would be separated from the rest, placed in a box, and that pair would move to the next area.
Among the workers, she noticed her husband’s look-alike, talking while a woman took notes. Poor man looks as tired as I feel. What are those brown blotches on his face? I don’t remember those, and I got a good look at him when he interrupted our work. She studied the other faces in the room. Nobody else has them.
Pair by pair, the workers left, taking their notes and the boxes with pieces of Kolla’s attempt to get home. Eventually, only Sethym’s look-alike remained. Even the woman working with him had left, taking the box with the pieces he had removed, and leaving him leaning against a console. His eyes were closed, his shoulders slumped, and his head slowly lowered, his chin seemingly headed for his chest.
Then a woman entered, a woman in a brown uniform, not the maroon ones everybody else down here had been wearing. That’s the woman who helped us escape that time. She had that strange name- well, they all have strange names, but that one even more so. Yellow Dog. Yes, that was it.
Yellow Dog stopped just inside the doorway, something clutched against her chest, and studied the speckled Sethym look-alike. He tilted to one side and awoke with a start. Yellow Dog lost interest in him and looked around the room. But not just with her eyes. That one uses more than her eyes, I think.
After a long moment, Yellow Dog started purposefully across the room, headed straight for the vent where Kolla was hidden. Shocked, Kolla thought of scurrying back into the dark and confining ductwork. I wouldn’t make it. I haven’t the strength. If I tried, I’d probably make a lot of noise in my haste, so they’d know I was in here anyway. Besides, where would I go? This was my last hope.
Yellow Dog stopped before she fully reached the meshed vent and placed something on the floor. Then she walked over to the man, took a firm grip on his arm, and started helping him towards the door.
Kolla’s gaze turned back to the thing on the floor. It wasn’t all of what Yellow Dog carried, but Kolla recognized the bottle. That’s the stuff Kolleen drinks. Her eyes stung as she thought of being trapped in this body that wasn’t hers, of the trouble she had already caused for Kolleen, who had only tried to help her. Two minds in one body. There’s no way this poor woman could have a normal life with me in here, too. Not that this body will live much longer, anyway. But before we die, I should at least apologize to her.
The woman in brown and man in maroon had stopped in the doorway to look back. She didn’t care. Zort’s Shadow, I miss talking to her!