The twentieth fall had arrived, and the leaves on the trees of the forest were just taking on their new colors for the season. L’lorne was once fascinated by it, but now took it to be yet another minor element in what was the whole of the universe, one barely worth noting. To her, the world was explainable, from the greatest of mountains, to the smallest of insects. One thing, however, had eluded her in these last twenty years; knowledge of herself.
Instead of watching the leaves turn red, gold and brown, and predicting which tree would go first and when, she sat in her small study room and looked at her hand. The small table she sat at was completely surrounded by a sea of books, with only the smallest of possible paths clear from the doorway to her seat at the table. The window that she once looked out of to see the geysers and the trees stayed open, letting in the slowly cooling breeze, but she faced away from it, concentrating on her hand like it was the only thing in the world.
With her free hand, she adjusted the glasses he had given her now so long ago. Through it she could zoom in and out, change light wavelengths and even peel back the layers of anything, including her hand, and she was busy with this task now. Notes flew up into a secondary screen behind the lenses without a word from her, her mind working faster than any verbal command could, and she found the entire task fascinating.
He hadn't taught her anatomy, for reasons she did not yet understand, but she knew enough about biology and chemistry to be able to figure out the details for herself. The glasses helped highlight anything she wanted to see. A quick zoom and she could study the surface of her fingers, the ridges of her fingerprint and how they twisted and looped back on each other. At this magnification they looked like the ridges of an alien landscape, and the look fascinated her.. Another zoom and she could see the hairs and pits where glands emptied their product onto the back of her hand. Even closer, she could watch as helpful bacteria ate away at dirt and dead cells, one piece at a time.
Underneath the skin, she watched as the muscles contracted and relaxed as her hand opened and closed. The ligaments and tendons moved as well, creating the complex dance that allowed her to move each finger and thumb with accuracy and precision. The bones, they lay beneath the muscles, scared her in a way that was deeply instinctive, ancient and hard to resist. Still she stared at them watched as the cartilage between the finger bones compressed as she moved and the tendons pull against the bones at the direction of the muscles.
Everything returned, then fell away again leaving only the nerves and blood vessels in their place. The effect was strange, causing her to wonder if this thing, this bundle of hoses and chains were actually part of her body and not someone else's, or something else's. A zoom to the nerves showed them releasing chemical batches to transmit their signals, traversing down the line to the tips of her fingers and back. The blood in her veins slowly made its way back down her arm and into her chest, while the arteries carried blood flush with oxygen up to her hand.
Cells of all sizes and shapes traveled through the blood, and dancing amongst the chemical fluid that formed the bulk of her blood. Small red donuts of cells move the oxygen, while larger white cells spent their time cleaning up germs and dead cells Closer she dove, and until she could see the individual molecules, their chains long, impossibly long, and dense moving slowly in a matrix of other molecules which she peeled away to see the others better. Oxygen began to move, detaching from the iron atom in the hemoglobin and pass out of the blood cells and into the proper cells of her body, passing through molecule sized holes, far too small for anything else to traverse the distance.
Inside the cell, she could, even with the scene set as a mass of molecules, watch as oxygen and sugars combining through a string of chemical reactions and released energy and carbon dioxide in the mitochondria.. She followed the passing chain of chemicals back to the nucleus of her cells that defined her as a living being. She studied it, reading the four chemical alphabet as easily as any of the books scattered about her study room. She found the section that gave her the long black hair she so carefully cared for, another for her dark brown eyes and yet another for her dark skin, all connected, intertwined and as descriptive as any picture.
She stopped on one section though and gasped at what it said. A reference call and she confirmed it, and gasped again, almost despite herself. Calculations now began to run, the chemistry of life dissected and interpreted in detail. Congenital disposition, lifestyle choices, known diet, weather conditions, each crack revealed a potential for failure, and the odds grew worse with each additional variable. Her dark skin grew white with the answer, and she tossed her glasses aside and leapt over the table and into the room where he was sitting.
"We have to go," she said quickly. He blinked at her, but she responded before he could ask for a clarification. "My mother is dying."
He nodded. "Yes, let's get going."
Sunset was about an hour away. Since this trip started, Deborah could easily make it to that important part of the day, and often then some. This time, however, she groaned as the time came up on the sunglasses. Her legs were sore, her body weak, and her stomach made a nasty gurgle sound. All she could think of was sleep and breakfast. Specifically missing breakfast.
She and L’lorne had every intention of joining the farmer and his wife for an early morning breakfast. Eggs were assured, probably toast, ham and bacon, fresh milk, all were going to be made available, or so L’lorne had said. Unfortunately, as they got to the barn entrance, another military truck showed up, carrying even more soldiers than the first and asking much the same questions.
Deborah suggested they fight it out, or at least scare these guys off as L’lorne had done the night before, but the dark haired woman decided against it. "Odds are good they're going to search this whole place, probably bring in bigger weapons and maybe even hurt the Fiestiens." With that they left, moving faster than any other day, using back roads instead of the main ones they had been walking along before, all to avoid detection and get to their destination that much sooner.
The map came up and Deborah studied it for a moment with weak eyes. Too far, much too far. Not really, truly too far, maybe another couple of hours, but too far for right now. With that, the girl simply stopped and stood quite still.
L’lorne stopped a short distance later, once she realized that her companion was no longer with her. "You okay?"
"I can't make it any more," Deborah wobbled where she stood, afraid to sit down as she wasn't so sure she could get up, and equally afraid to try to step forward and end up face down in the gravel of the street. "I'm too hungry, too tired."
"I see." L’lorne turned and looked to the horizon ahead of them for a brief moment. "I think there's a place we can eat just up the road here. Think you could make it?"
"Five minutes or so."
Deborah removed her glasses and thrust them into her pocket so she could think. They seemed almost out of control sometimes, and when she asked how far, they began flashing up distances, times and descriptions, none of which she wanted to take in at the moment. Her eyes closed, she took a deep breath, and started to move again. Less than five minutes of moderate agony later, they slipped through the doors of a diner that had appeared from behind a clutch of trees.
The booth seat, some cheap vinyl knockoff, felt wonderful as she only partially sunk into the stiff foam. Most of that wonderful feeling centered on her legs as they panted from exhaustion. The waiter, an old man who looked like he had worked the booths and the counter of the diner since time began, greeted them and laid out a pair of menus for them to look over. He then hurried off to get a soda and an ice tea for the both of them.
Deborah flipped open the menu and studied it for a bit. This was probably the first time since they left home that she looked at anything to eat aside from the breakfast menu. It was also the first time she was hungry enough to actually eat the menu. Her whole body felt hungry, not just normal, tired hungry, but angry hungry, so angry that it actually was on the verge of making her scream out her order at the old man. She managed to hold it back long enough, though, and he called out the order to the blond that was working in the back, a hair net tied tightly around her head.
With a shaking hand, she pulled her soda close and took a deep swig. L’lorne poured a pack of sugar into her tea and began stirring it slowly with a spoon. "Didn't you want to eat anything?"
"I'll eat enough," L’lorne said, still stirring.
"Yeah, well maybe you should tell the waiter." Deborah paused for another sip. "You know, I don't think I've seen you eat anything yet."
"Want to know a secret? I've been sneaking bits of your food while you were busy eating." Deborah looked at her, trying to remember it happening, but couldn't come up with an image. "You don't think you really ate all that on your own, did you?"
"Well I. . ."
"Here's the first plate," the old man said, setting down a burger and fries. "I'll be back with more in a bit."
Deborah didn't wait and dove into the hamburger. In moments it was gone, and the fries were following at an alarming rate. With the plate cleared another, a steak of some kind with a baked potato, arrived and the eating began again, only slower this time, more deliberate. The angry hunger was gone, replaced with normal hunger, though her body was still a bit in pain.
Still, it was enough and she could finally look about the diner while she ate. L’lorne continued to stir her tea, and looked up at her with a smile. Beyond her, the door had opened and a rather large man and an elderly woman with a walker came entered. It didn't take long for the woman to be revealed as the man's mother, and they slowly made their way to a booth on the far side of the diner. At the counter, a young brunette was chatting up a young man who was probably about the same age while drinking a small soda and picking at a plate of fries.
All of this was quite normal, and Deborah turned back to her food without really thinking about it again. It was then that she thought about it, despite her own desire not to, and shot up to examine the scene again. The fat man sat across from his mother while the waiter folded up the walker and put it aside. The brunette seemed to lose interest in the guy and turned back to her plate to finish her fries while he called for a check. The blond in the back yelled out another order for the waiter to pick up then turned back to her grill.
Deborah swallowed a bit of steak and then let her mouth open a bit. This couldn't be real, could it? No, it was a mistake, some kind of mistake, some weird, otherworldly kind of mistake. If she was right, but how could she be right? It wasn't right, it couldn't be right, it wasn't right, wasn't it? L’lorne smiled again. "Something wrong?"
"They're the same," the words sort of just fell from her mouth. "They're all the same."
Deborah's astonishing announcement had suddenly been cut short, and she blinked in a new form of astonishment. "'Ah, yes.' Is that all you can say is 'ah, yes?'"
"What else would you like me to say?"
"I don't know, tell me I'm crazy might be nice."
"I would," L’lorne said. "But that's not true."
Deborah could say nothing, her breath had been forcibly removed from her lungs, and her fork, still with a bit of steak on it, fell with a clink to the plate below. "You mean, they are the same?"
"More or less, yes."
"More or less?" Deborah nearly yelled it out, startling the brunette and the guy at the counter. They turned back to Deborah and L’lorne's booth and stared for a bit, almost forcing Deborah back down under the table with their stare.
When they turned back, L’lorne finally answered in a calm, even voice. "Well, their personalities are a little different each time, and the positions are switched up to keep things interesting, but they're basically the same every time."
Deborah sat up and carefully picked up the fork, staring at the walls of the diner, the booths and the tables. "And the diner is repeated too, isn't it? Same look, different colors?"
L’lorne chuckled that absolutely annoying chuckle of hers. "Well, I can show you a little, but it all depends on whether you're done eating or not."
The thought of dropping the fork and going for it crossed Deborah's mind, but her stomach protested, as did the rest of her, and soon she was eating again. The meal was gone quickly and they left, L’lorne leaving a healthy sum of cred chips on the table.
They stood outside, just a bit away from the front of the old diner which looked like some sort of old bus or something. Streamlined and silver, Deborah could watch as the people moved about inside its structure, carrying about their day. "So, what are you going to show me exactly?"
"What I do with it after we leave," L’lorne bent her knees into a crouch at about eye level with Deborah. "Well, basically at least." She held her hand up, fingers and thumb forming a sideways U, which she hooked around the end of the diner. With Deborah looking straight at the diner, L’lorne picked it up off the ground.
Deborah fell back a bit as L’lorne began turning the uprooted diner in her hand like it was a toy. A toy, that's exactly what it looked and felt like now. She placed it into her palm, letting it lie there for a moment. A single pass of her hand and the diner's size dropped by half, another dropped it again until it was the size of a small toy car which she held out to Deborah innocently. "Here, it won't break."
It was so small, so detailed, and Deborah took her time examining it, staring into the windows that were now cold and empty. She looked back to the lot where it had once sat and saw nothing but grass and trash. "That's incredible."
"Not really," L’lorne corrected. "But it is handy. Fits nicely in my pocket that way."
"What about the people?"
"They get stored separately. No reason to leave them in the diner after all."
Deborah turned from her studies and looked right at L’lorne as the woman stood straight up. "Why?"
"They're only active when we're inside as it is. Not real enough to bother letting them settle into a permanent home or anything."
"Not real enough?"
L’lorne smiled. "They're just puppets, fake people. No substance to them or anything."
Deborah's mind could only recall the fat man escorting the old lady to the table, staying close to her, encouraging her to keep moving, helping her like mother and son. "But what about their lives, their memories? Aren't they real?"
"Nope, not at all. Just old ghosts from a time long, long ago when I originally created them. They're not any more real than a stuffed animal."
Chills, for some reason, rippled up Deborah's back, forcing her to hand the diner to L’lorne. "You mean they were real once?"
"No, they're just based on real people. The real ones have been dead for so long history doesn't even record their passing." That sent another chill, a colder chill, through Deborah as a certain tone, heretofore unheard seemed to come from L’lorne. So indescribable was it that Deborah tried to write it off, but could not. "Anyway, when we get close to where we can stop," she fitted the diner against her thumb and over the top of her finger. "I send it ahead." With a flick, the diner suddenly flashed back into existence in the lot.
"And that's it?" L’lorne nodded. "Don't people notice?"
"They can't see it. I mask it just like I hid the fact that you're just a kid. All very simple."
"Doesn't sound like it."
"It is. Now, let's get going, the Asylum is only a couple hours away."
Deborah nodded and as they marched away, she looked back to see the diner disappear once again, but she couldn't follow any path or anything, it was just gone, probably into L’lorne's pocket.
1. What kind of person is Lcorn Llorne? What does she look like (in your mind)?
2. What kind of person is the Deborah Ignigus? What does she look like (in your mind)?
3. Does the setting seem fitting? Would you like to know more?
4. Did you notice everything I built up for the diner before it got to this point?