My life began with the sound of a sliding door slamming into place.
I opened my eyes and took in the world into which I had just been born. It wasn't much to look at. I found myself standing inside a contraption the size of a refrigerator, but round and a little taller, and I found myself looking around at a dusty, long neglected room whose only furnishings were three open cardboard boxes, one ripped open down the side, and an empty metal shelf. All this I saw in very dim light slipping through little more than a crack in the wall, an arrow slit.
I stepped out of the tube.
My name is Quinn Vish.
I don't know how or why I know that, but the knowledge appears in my brain and I know it correct. My name is Quinn Vish... and my life has just begun. That didn't seem right; it seemed like I had to have been alive for quite some time. But I had not the faintest clue why it seemed that way. My mind was blank. Before I heard that door slide open, there was nothing. That sound marked the dawn of time.
My name is Quinn Vish. And why am I here? And where is 'here'?
I spied a door to my right and was upon it in three steps, in the blink of an eye. The knob squeaked when I turned it, and the hinges groaned like an old man trying to rise from bed in the morning.
Beyond the door lay ruins.
What had once been the purpose of this building? No man could tell. I looked down a wide hallway with a tall ceiling, and to my right it looked like great windows spanning from the ceiling halfway down the wall had once stood. They were mostly gone now, only jagged glass around the edges remaining, and a lot more glass was strewn about the floor, interspersed with dead leaves. That made me look up and out, and indeed it was late autumn; the air was chilly and the distant trees bare.
I looked down at my feet. Yes, I was wearing shoes, surprisingly nice ones. I moved quickly down the hall, glass crunching under my feet, and stopped at an open doorway where maybe a door had once been. It looked to have been some kind of... classroom? Three desks, two of them all but destroyed, lay strewn about, tossed aside by some giant, and what had once been a white markerboard was on the wall, filthy now.
I moved to the second room, and here took in a more interesting sight. This room featured a broken window, a torn up blind on the floor beneath it, and two upset bookcases. Most or all of an encyclopedia set, perhaps with a few other books of unknown nature, was littered across the floor beneath them. In the far corner a hopelessly dirty easy chair which may once have been red leaned diagonally on broken legs, its upholstery torn, its stuffing burst loose.
And a cat sat on the back of it.
Oddly, the cat didn't budge a muscle despite the speed of my approach. And when I reached it I instantly realized why: it was stuffed. It sure looked like a cat, black with white markings on its nose and paws, but it was stuffed as any deer's head in a hunter's trophy room, complete with marble eyes.
Now, why in the hell would someone stuff a cat? And especially why would a stuffed cat be in what I had begun to assume was some kind of school? I tapped on its head with my knuckles, listening to the hollow sound, when I noticed someone approaching me from behind.
I spun back to face the door. He wasn't right behind me; actually he was still a fair pace off when I first felt him. He was out in the hallway, beyond the wall, yet I could feel him moving, walking very slowly toward the room I was in, just as well as if I could see him.
He approached the doorway. I tensed. For whatever reason, I didn't find any point in hiding.
He appeared in the doorway, and he very obviously wasn't a he. Instead of... whatever it was I was expecting, I was looking at the slim form and troubled face of a girl about my own age or a little younger, early twenties.
How did I know my own age to be early twenties? My birthday flashed through my mind: February 15, 1980. What year was it now? I had no idea.
The girl remained in the doorway, and when I snapped back to reality I saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Her lip quivered.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Quinn?” she whispered.
I frowned. “Do I know you?” I'd never seen her before, that I could remember, and by a quick glance I was pretty sure I would remember if I had. She was easy on the eyes.
She looked dejected. “You... don't remember me, Quinn?”
I shook my head. “Should I?”
Instead of responding, she lingered in the doorway for another second and then rushed forward. I instinctively assumed a defensive posture and glanced at her hands, confirming that she was carrying no weapons, and she crashed into me, wrapped her arms round my shoulders and hung on so tightly I thought for a moment she might be trying to suffocate me, were it not for all the tears she was pouring into my shoulder.
That lasted about a minute, and then she finally pulled herself back, and I can only imagine the flabbergasted look she saw on my face when she did. She shook her head in wonderment. “You don't remember anything at all, do you?”
“Of you? I'm sorry, but I don't.”
“Dr. Diamond didn't think you would. I knew that, but I guess I still was hoping...” she trailed off, talking mostly to herself.
“Something's very wrong, isn't it?” I said. “I remember certain things about myself, like my name and my birthday. But... that's about it. I don't remember anything at all besides, but I feel like I should.” I paused, struggling for the right words and not finding them. “Do you... have a past? Do you remember it?” I finally said.
She nodded, leaning on the broken bookshelf. “Yes. You have one too, Quinn, but you've lost it.”
“Why have I lost it?” I said. “And what is this place?”
“I've been waiting for seven years for this day, and now I don't even know where to start,” she said.
Waiting for seven years? It made no sense to me. Was seven years a long time? I was pretty sure it was, but the answer eluded my every attempt to grasp it.
“You could start by telling me your name,” I said.
She looked forlorn. “I guess I was still hoping you'd remember it.”
I shook my head. “Sorry.”
“Emily,” said she.
“Emily,” I repeated, and it sounded nice and comfortable on my lips. “Did I... know you, sometime before?”
“I knew you very well, Quinn. We... kind of grew up together”
“How old are you? Do you mind me asking?”
She giggled. “I'm twenty-two now. I was fifteen the last time you saw me.”
“And I'm about the same age,” I said rather than asked, trying to work information out.
“Hm? No,” she said. “You're twenty-eight now. Or I guess... I don't know.”
I frowned and furrowed my brow. I was sure, for some reason, but I also was about twenty-two. Being told I was twenty-eight just felt wrong, for reasons I of course couldn't comprehend. She had said seven years...
“Seven years,” I said aloud. “Something happened seven years ago. Something that made me lose my memory?”
“You kind of... haven't existed for the last seven years.”
“Nothing much is making sense to me right now, Emily, but that really doesn't make sense.”
“I know,” she said. “Um... what I'm trying to say is, you should be twenty-eight now, but I guess you still might really be twenty-one. I'll have to explain later. Quinn, they know I'm here. They're coming for me.”
“The Enlightened,” she said. Why did everything she said seem to only confuse me further? Who the hell were 'the Enlightened'? “I abandoned my assignment. They'll have sent Elites, two or three of them.”
“You've got to cut to the chase,” I said. “None of that makes any sense.”
“The Enlightened is our ruling class now,” she said, “and I work for them. But I've waited all along to betray them, and now I have. The Elites are coming to take me and...” she breathed out a ragged breath. “Execute me.”
“You're not taking that as badly as you might,” I noted. “Do you know a good spot to hide?”
She shook her head sadly. “There's no hiding from the Enlightened. They just track my chip.”
Chip. “Like a computer chip?” I said, clueless as to whence this knowledge was just popping into my head. “Stuck on you somewhere?
She nodded. “So we can't—“
“They're here,” I suddenly said, interrupting her before my brain could even process the thought. “Approaching from my left, the same way you came. Moving fast. Less than ten seconds.”
She stiffened, breathing dramatically harder and faster. “Quinn...” she said, and took a step toward me.
Two tall men clad in black, faces obscured by what looked almost like a gas mask, and carrying pistols materialized in the doorway. “Emily Suard,” one boomed—was his voice rigged to a megaphone I couldn't see?—“turn around, drop to your knees and put your hands behind your head.” He paused, cocked his head, looking me over. “And who are you?”
“Quinn Vish,” I said reflexively.
The two Elites looked at one another, and then the other one looked down at some gizmo he was holding in his off hand.
“Nothing,” he murmured.
“An unchipped, Quinn Vish?” boomed the spokesman. “Very well. On your knees as well, Quinn Vish. Hands behind your head.
Emily was already in the demanded position now. Unable to tell just what to make of this situation except that we apparently were in trouble, I knelt beside her and put up my hands.
“Quinn...” she whispered, body and voice trembling. “They can't take us. Fight them.”
“Do what?” I said, more loudly.
“Silence!” they had moved up behind us, to within a step.
“Fight them!” Emily whispered urgently. “Please!”
And then they both lay dead, or at least seriously incapacitated, on the floor. I blinked, looking down at them and trying to recall what had just happened. It couldn't have taken more than two seconds. I had spun, grabbed, whipped the two together, ducked, thrown an elbow, and... that was it.
I looked down again. One of the two only had half a head.
The other half appeared to be largely splattered across my arm.
What did I just do? How did I do that?
Emily stood leaning her full weight back against the wall, trembling, her mouth hanging open. Clearly she was pondering the same two questions.
“It works,” she whispered.
“You do.” She embraced me a second time, more delicately than the first. “You just saved my life. Thank you. Now we should get out of here, but first there's something I need you to do for me.”
“Remove my chip.”