New Eden

Scene 1

Something tugged her eyelid up. She blinked and pulled away. All her senses screamed cautionary alarms at her, but in a fuzzy, drugged sort of way that said she'd made some bad choices the night before.

"It's all right," said the man kneeling next to her. There was a man kneeling next to her. A handsome man, in that detached Asian sort of way. He flashed her a peace sign. "How many fingers do you see?"

She frowned. "Two?"

"Good." He smiled.

"So, what? Are you like a doctor, or something?" An angry voice called from somewhere behind.

The handsome Asian man continued to smile down at her.

"Of course he's a doctor, he's Asian, ain't he?" The voice got a little louder. "I said, are you like a doctor, or something?"

"Or something," the man kneeling near her answered, and then continued to work with her. He picked up her wrist in that precise clinical way and looked at his watch. "What's your name?"

"Marny," she said, glancing up at the looming mullet-headed man. She ran her tongue around her cotton-patch mouth and licked numb lips. "What's yours?"

He blinked a puzzled smile at her, and dropped her wrist. "My name's Guy, actually. Tell me, Marny, do you hurt anywhere? Anything broken...?"

"Are you just going to ignore me?" The looming man balled his hands into fists, jutting out his jaw. "Are you too good to answer me? Too important?"

Marny frowned. If this guy was a kid in her class, she'd assign him a task to distract him; just another kid who dealt with stress through anger. But this wasn't her classroom. Which brought up another question, as she widened her focus and looked around her. "Where are we?"

Guy looked around the lush, thick jungle rimming the clearing where a crowd of confused people milled. He shrugged. "We're none of us sure, at the moment." He stood, holding his hand out to help her up. "Go slowly. If you feel dizzy, it's okay to sit back down."

Slowly, as instructed, she stood, testing each muscle. Mostly, she just felt drugged.

"Good. Good. Marny, do you have any health conditions? Asthma? Diabetes? High blood pressure?" Guy kept his hand under her elbow, obviously ready to catch her as she wobbled.

"So?" the angry man yelled. The confused people around them turned away from their dark cell phones to watch.

"What?" Guy snapped back.

"Are you a doctor?" The man crossed his arms over his chest, settling down now that he had the attention he demanded, but still belligerent.

"No. I'm a physician assistant. Are you hurt?" Guy's voice snapped with a tone of impatience.

"Well, what the hell is that?" The man shook his head, confused. "Can you still write out a prescription, or not?"

Guy snorted in disgust. "What's your name, kid?"

Marny peered at him anew, seeing the curly brown hair trapped in sweat against his neck, the wide blue eyes without even a hint of wrinkle. A kid he was, twenty if he was a day, and terrified. "Darryl. Darryl Barnes." And he stuck his hand out for a shake.

"Guy Huang." Guy accepted the handshake with a solemn expression. "Look, Darryl, there are a lot of people here who may be hurt. And there's just me and Rosa there so far to take care of them. So, are you hurt?"

"Well, no." Darryl grabbed a grubby baseball hat out of his back pocket and crushed it between his hands in an oddly humble gesture. "But I'd like some pain meds, all the same."

Marny stifled a nervous giggle while Guy blinked. "Sure," he said slowly. "Just go get my doctor's bag." He pointed off across the field.

"Oh! Okay! Right back!" And the angry man ran off, happy for the moment.

"This is why I work with children," Guy muttered.

"Me, too." Marny sighed. "So, where is your bag?"

Guy shrugged. "Wherever the rest of my life is. The real question is where are we?" He swallowed heavily, keeping down the worry that would quickly overwhelm.

Marny looked around again. A crowd of confused and staggering people, wearing everything from a suit to a bathrobe, milled around a wide circle clearing about half a football field long. Surrounding them, a jungle so thick and green it seemed almost blue. Although she could see nothing moving about in the greenery, wild and worrisome sounds came from all around their perimeter. "And you don't know the answer?" she asked, feeling her throat constrict with the panic that he'd just swallowed.

He shook his head and shrugged. "No more than I know how we all got here."

She nodded, licking her numb lips, her throat dry and swelling. "What do you know?"

A worried wrinkle drifted across his forehead. "That of about 50 people here, none of them are injured or sick." He raised an eyebrow. "So, despite our national health crisis, no-one I've talked to has any health problems. No diabetes. No heart disease. Not even a mild case of asthma."

She licked her lips again, swallowing the panic that strangled her. She should make a joke. That always helped. "What about amnesia?" Her laugh fell flat.

Guy nodded, smiling without humor. "Marny, what year is it?"

"It's 2005." Her head tilted to the side, confused.

He made a noncommittal humming sound. "Ask others that same question." He patted her hand. "On to the next one."

She watched as Guy walked over to a woman about ten feet away, the poor thing curled into a ball and sobbing. Marny looked around, an island observing the flow of a river around it. The humans all woke, in their own time, from their little biers and gathered in small groups for support, most clutching dead cell phones.

Some broke off and drifted to other groups, providing a shifting kaleidoscope of confusion across the inner stone circle, surrounded by the little grass mounds. It looked like a giant wheel. If she titled her head, she could almost see a large swirling pattern in the stone center. If only she could get somewhere high up to see it.

"Wow. I am really stoned." She laughed to herself, shaking her head. She decided to walk around, shore up her wobbling legs and clear her head.

She smiled at people as she ambled past. Some smiled back, a few returned nasty glares. Most looked at her with a dull, glossy-eyed horror. Marny tried to think of a reasonable explanation for how they all came to be here. She could remember graduating from high school, her first day of college, even the first time she cried over a boy. But she had no idea how she'd ended up in the middle of a tropical jungle in yoga pants and her Renn Faire boots.

Perhaps it was a good thing she was drugged; otherwise she didn't think she'd cope so well. Feeling a little mad-hatter, she walked up to a normal looking woman in gym clothes with her hair in a French twist. "Excuse me, what year is it?"

The woman turned on her with a lemon-sucking expression. "Is that supposed to be funny? What are you, some kind of comedian? We just survived a plane crash or something, and you want to make jokes?"

"Sorry!" Eyes wide, heart pounding, Marny backed away. "No, not at all. Sorry. Sorry!" She held her palms out, and kept backing away from the angry woman.

"It's 2014, of course!" the angry woman screamed after her.

Marny fell right on her butt, her brain all fuzzy again.

The angry woman sniffed and turned back to her crowd. A dark-haired man in pajamas and a bathrobe bent over to help Marny up. "Are you okay?" he asked, pushing black-frame glasses back up his nose.

"I seemed to get asked that a lot today, and the truth is I just don't know." She smiled in return to his face-stretching grin.

"I'm Alison. Dick Alison." He stuck his hand out.

"Marny Hastings." She giggled as he wiggled her hand all around, how she imagined a Labrador would shake hands.

"I'm a computer programmer. Network security." He finally released her hand.

She nodded. "School teacher. Third grade."

"Ah." He nodded his head. And kept nodding, somewhat like a bobble-head doll. After a moment, he continued. "I have no idea what I'm doing here."

Marny shrugged. "Me, either."

He kep nodding. "I'd like to think, if I'd meant to come here, I'd have dressed better." He plucked the lapel of his bathrobe and wiggled a blue-fuzzy mouse slipper.

"Me, too." She giggled, flicking the edge of her long tshirt and kicking up her knee high boot. As a matter of fact, she only dressed this way when she was going to a faire. But thinking like that gave her a pile-driver headache, so she stopped.

"But I do know one thing." He stopped bobbling his head. "That mean lady is obviously nuts. It's only 2008."

Marny took a turn at bobble-head nodding, grinning like a maniac. How could this even be possible? In what world--

A sharp wolf-whistle split the air. Hands waved in the air as someone jumped up, waving about, trying to attract attention.

Marny turned away from painful, impossible thoughts and craned her neck to see. A tall, skinny man with wild eyes and long, straggly dark hair waved his arms over his head and chuckled as he spoke.

"Attention! Can I get everyone to gather around and pay attention? Those in front can sit, so everyone can see, please?" He walked around as he spoke, always smiling. He had a bandana wrapped around his head and another stuffed in the back pocket of his cut-off jeans. He looked grubby, and disreputable, and down-dirty sexy.

"Why should we listen to you?" someone called out.

"I don't have any spare change, okay?" from a harsh female voice.

"Who died and made you boss?" from a man in the crowd.

And yet they all gathered, some in front either sitting or kneeling. Probably because no-one else was willing to provide a second target. Marny crossed her arms over her chest and frowned, along with the rest of them.

"So, I'm John. Let's do that, okay? When we talk, let's start with our name."

"Okay, John. Start with why we should give a pig's fart what you have to say?" the voice cracked with wisdom and humor. Marny squinted to see him across the crowd. He looked bland and homogenous, perhaps around 40, dark thinning hair; typical privileged white guy.

"And your name is...?" John held his hand out, inviting an answer.

"Sure," the man chuckled, looking down at his crossed arms. "I'll play your game. My name is Ted, and I want to know why we should listen to you. Who are you?"

"Thank you, Ted." John smiled like he'd just been handed a bucket of sunshine. "I'm no-one special. Just a grocery store manager. But I read survival technique books in my spare time. And what he have, here, is a survival situation, my friends."

A scarecrow skinny black man made a dismissive tch sound. "Man, you're just one of those survivalist nuts. Got a bunker full of guns and shit."

"And your name is, my brother?"

"My name's DeShawn. And you're not my brother. You're just another crackpot white dude weekend warrior want to be a big man." He shook his head and turned away.

Marny thought John was about to lose his crowd, and she wanted to hear his ideas. But then a tiny little thing with dark hair and huge blue eyes standing near her raised her hand and spoke up. "Hi. Um. I'm Lauren. Do you know where we are?"

"Hi, Lauren," John’s face softened, his shoulders stooped just a little. "No, I don't know where we are. And I don't know how we got here. But I do know that there are enough of us here, they're going to come looking for us."

A murmur grew in the crowd, not necessarily ready to give in, but ready to take that reassurance. They would come looking for them.

John resumed his pacing, arms wide as he addressed the crowd. "They're going to come looking for us. They are! All we have to do is be alive when they get here!"

Marny pulled a face, thinking her rhetoric professor would have loved this guy. But, as much as she'd love to swallow that blind comfort, she doubted.

"But why is everything so blue?" the woman who thought it was 2014 demanded to know.

He paused, blinking, but jumped right back in. "And your name?"

"Oh, fine. Fiona Applebee. Yes, those Applebees. Now, why does it look like I'm looking through blue-colored lenses?" she huffed. "It's not natural."

John shook his head. "I don't know. What we need to focus on right now is water, shelter, food, and a signal of some sort."

"It's likely entirely natural, actually," said a pudgy man in sweat pants and a Captain America tshirt. "One word: terraforming." He paused to give a sickening little snicker. "It's a concept originally denoted by various science fiction writers to either demonstrate man's dominion over the elements, or to attempt to demonize our wishes to arrange our surroundings to better suit our preferences."

"He has a point," said not-a-doctor, Guy, standing up in the other end of the crowd.

"Well, thank you," the sweat pant man gave a puckered smile of pleasure. "It was actually a concept adapted to enhance the seeming plausibility of interstellar colonization, vis a vis adapting what has so far been revealed as uninhabitable and unsuitable terrain. However, recently I have reviewed documents which may suggest that terraforming is actually taking place on Earth's surface, creating little fantasy-based islands for the rich."

"What?" Guy goggled at him, his face wrinkled with impatience. "Not you. Not ever you. The other guy. Food, water, shelter."

John smiled at the sweatpant guy, trying to take the sting out of the dismissal. "At least tell us your name, brother?"

"Henry," he snapped, his face thoroughly puckered around a developing hissy fit. "And I was just explaining the most logical explanation for the apparent blue tint to visible foliage--"

Guy cut him off. "If it isn't food, water, or shelter, it can wait."

"What makes you the boss?" said an outdoorsy-looking woman with flannel arms crossed. She glanced at John, rolled her eyes, and said, "Leslie. I'm Leslie King. And I'm not saying you're not right, or that you shouldn't be the leader. I just want to know why you should."

The crowd murmured approval.

"This is really interesting," Dick whispered near Marny's ear, still grinning. "It's like watching a microcosm of society."

Guy held his hands up in a submissive posture. "I'm not. I shouldn't. I don't want to. But I do want to survive. Working together and listening to people who know will greatly improve our chances of that." Guy turned to John.

"So, yeah," with a slightly schmoozy smile that made Marny feel a little nervous, John tossed his long hair over his shoulder. "Let's get some volunteer groups going. Maybe, five people each? Three groups: water, shelter, and food."

A few hands raised up, but mostly it was mumbling malcontents.

"Really, people?" Guy snorted. He stuck his hand up in the air. "I'd like to volunteer for the water crew. I'd actually like to survive until the rescue crew finds us. Anyone else?"

More mumbling, and then a dainty Asian woman with a ragged bob stepped forward, hesitantly raising her hand. "I am Haya Rin," she said, her words careful, her hand still in the air as her toes curled into her sandals. "I am a dietician, and an amateur gardener. I can help with the food group."

Some blonde Adonis in swim trunks and a shiny wrist watch volunteered to lead the shelter group, and they were all set. Marny and Dick volunteered to go with Guy's water group, and stood waiting as the not-doctor chatted with the dietician.

Guy came up to them, smiling and rubbing his hands together. "That is one smart lady, and we're going to be really happy she's with us." He looked around his random group of people, finishing with a raised eyebrow at Dick. "I don't think we've met, pajama man."

With a friendly smile, Dick stuck his hand out. "Alison--"

"Really?" Guy shrugged, cutting him off. "Let's split into two, head both ways out of the clearing, here."

"Dick Alison," Dick muttered, dropping his hand with a hurt frown.

Marny bumped his shoulder with hers and smiled reassurance.

"So, Ethan, you and Sherri," Guy pointed at the slight, dark-haired man and a young blonde with cowboy boots and an impossibly short denim miniskirt. "There's a narrow opening at the back there." He swung his arm around to point at a slight gap in the towering trees and thick layers of vine and underbrush.

Ethan, the brooding one, nodded and started to turn away, barely a glance at the luscious young blonde standing next to him. He paused when Guy kept talking.

"If you don't find anything after a half hour of walking, come back. More than that's too far to travel for water," Guy continued. "If you do find something, don't mess with it. It might be contaminated. Come back, and we'll go check it out together."

"We'll go this way, Marny and Alison and me." Guy turned toward the wide pathway, a sickle-slice through the canopy that started with their stone filigreed clearing and rolled forward like the path of a giant bolder. He cut a punishing pace.

"It's Dick," Marny said, chasing after Guy.

"It's all right," Dick demurred, trailing after, still smiling.

"What?" Guy stopped and blinked at her. Though his face betrayed no emotion, something in his eyes said he was laughing at her.

She puckered her lips around a frown and wished she could send him to a corner. "His name is Dick. Not Alison."

Guy smiled an almost real smile. "Sorry. Thought he said it was Alison."

"It is." Dick huffed as he caught up to them, smiling. "My last name. My first is Richard, so, er, well, Dick."

Guy nodded his head. "Do you mind being called by your last name?"

"Well," Dick shrugged and smiled. "Not mind, as such, I suppose--"

"Wait!" Guy sliced a hand through the air, a genuine grin spilling across his whole smooth face. "Do you hear that?"

They all froze, heads cocked to the side like confused puppies, not daring to breathe. Finally, Marny shook her head. The squawking birds and bugs made too much noise. "All I can hear are the parrots and some bugs humming."

"That's not a bug. It almost sounds like..." Dick paused to listen again. "An air conditioner?"

"That's water, Alison." Guy, grinning from ear to ear, reached out and clapped Dick on the shoulder. "Come on!" He dashed forward.

Dick shrugged at Marny. "I guess I'm Alison now." He bowed and made a leg with surprising grace. "Shall we?"

Marny laughed, and the two strolled down the wide path. As they walked, the light became brighter, sunlight filtering through less of the jungle canopy. Looking up, Marny could see some of the fabulously frocked birds in the high branches. And then the canopy and the path opened up into paradise.

Guy stood, framed by the opening of the path, frozen in the face of such unexpected beauty. Marny and Dick moved up beside him. Ahead, a huge clearing sparkled in late morning sun. A waterfall rushed over a white-sided cliff into a large, clear pool, that in turn fed a thick river leading off through the jungle. All around the jungle foliage practically dripped with gem-colored fruit and blossoms as big as a face.

The guys hurried forward into the gleaming paradise, but Marny held back as they laughed and waded into a shallow spot of the pool's lip. As lovely and inviting as it all looked, it seemed a little too perfect, too designed to order. Her mind shrank away from such worrisome thoughts, drifting back into the drugged-fuzziness she'd awoken with.

And vague, worried thoughts wouldn't knock the dried cotton feeling in her mouth. Between sitting around suspiciously parched, or drinking the turquoise Kool-Aid, her choice seemed obvious. "It's fresh!" Guy yelled as she came forward, splashing a sparkling display of diamond drops into the air. "Sweet and cool and fresh."

His loud cheer sent a flutter of birds screeching off, and a sounder of purple-spotted piglets squealing out of a nearby stand of reeds. He flashed a guilty grin.

"Well, it was fresh, until you two began kicking about in it," Marny said, laughing as she stopped well above the sloshing shore line.

"Did anyone else notice the lavender pigs?" Dick paused in his splashing to point and gape after the sounder.

Marny shrugged and tip-toed forward for a drink. "Maybe it's part of that rude guy's terraforming?" It wasn't the right answer, but it would do for right then. She pooled water in her hand, sniffed it, stuck her tongue in it, and then sucked it down.

"This is perfect," Guy crowed, wading out of the water, seeming altogether less distant gloom and doom. "Just perfect." His arms spread out to encompass their little paradise.

"Maybe too perfect?" Marny suggested, after drinking a few more handfuls of sweet, clear water. She had that nagging, worried feeling she got when reading a news article designed to cue an emotional response. Why work so hard for that knee-jerk reaction? What was being hidden behind the curtain? What wasn't she supposed to see?

"We do have one slight issue." Dick chuckled as he followed Guy out. "In my haste to celebrate our find, I neglected to remove my slippers."

They all looked down at the drenched and muddy slippers oozing rivulets back down the beach.

"Aw, dude." Guy laughed. "Mouse slippers?"

Marny laughed, the bedraggled footwear distracting from her worries.

Dick grinned and shrugged. "Hey, they were a gift."

"From a girl?" Marny teased. She meant it to be a gentle tease.

He frowned and dropped his head. "Long story, really."

And suddenly, Marny felt about three feet tall. "Oh, hey..." An awkward moment of silence stretched.

"You know what, Alison?" Guy slapped his hands together, jumping them all away from the awkward moment. "We need to borrow that bathrobe of yours." He held his hands out for it. "If you don't mind?"

"We do?" Dick untied the sash of his robe, revealing a very traditional blue plaid flannel pajama underneath. The perpetual smile began to reassert itself on his face.

"We do. Because we're all going to scamper around here and collect a few of all these fruits, and bring them back to Haya." Guy reached out and grabbed two big blue mango-avocado-looking things off the tree next to him. "Okay?"

The grin came back full force, as he yanked his arms out of the sleeves and laid out the cloth on a dry stretch of the sandy beach. Happily anticipating the joyous reaction from the group, they all scampered around gathering fruit for their offering.

Marny found herself at the foot of the cliff, gathering fat teardrop-shaped golden berries. They smelled amazing, like super sweet raspberries, sorely tempting her to pop one in her mouth. But she didn't want to be the footnote girl who didn't make it to rescue because she found out the berries were poisonous the hard way.

Edging along the bottom of the cliff, using a fold of her big tshirt as a basket, she moved toward the waterfall, close enough that they spray felt refreshingly cool without soaking her. Something buzzed by her ear, close enough that it flicked a few red curls. She whirled with a gasp, just quick enough to see a flash of color – a bird? a bug? – flit behind the waterfall. The thought drifted through her mind... behind the waterfall... and she forgot the berries and considered the cliff, the cascading water, and the ground around her.

The path, solid spongy earth, lead right between the white cliff face and the fall of water; a good three feet wide. She glanced back at the guys, amicably chatting as they built their cornucopia pile, completely oblivious to her.

She should go get them. It was probably a really stupid idea to go in here by herself. Probably it was just a natural gap between the cliff and the water. Just because some little flitty hummingbird thing flew back there didn't mean there was anything but...

...her feet carried her behind the water curtain and into an amazing cavern. Thankfully empty of bears or other apex predators, the cave looked almost perfect for temporary shelter. About the size of the lunchroom at her school, the floor was covered with a soft, firm sand, wet only where she stood near the waterfall. The ceiling sloped up slightly, but mostly between ten to twenty feet high, she'd guess, and smooth as a bubble. Sunlight came in, filtered by the falling water, and fresh air too.

She could see a few openings, toward the other end, but the sand looked as freshly raked as a zen garden, no tracks to mark the presense of any visitors. Behind her, the guys began calling for her, a little frantic.

Grinning from one ear to the other, she ducked back out of the cave, waving her arms over her head. "Over here! I found a cave!"

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