An Annoying Fan Writer in New London

Part 19

by Maureen

Maureen awoke with a gasp that turned into an uncontrollable coughing jag. Her lungs hurt, but all she cared about was getting rid of the huge amount of muddy water she had somehow managed to breathe in. It tasted unspeakably vile; when her stomach joined in with a spurt of acid headed the wrong way, it was actually an improvement. After she was able to breathe again, she moved to wipe the water away from her face. Only then did she feel the mud coating her hands, face, and T-shirted chest. She stopped herself. Better not make bad worse.

After a moment, she screwed open her eyes. They stung from something in the water, but for some reason they felt bloodshot, too. Everything looked curiously blurred. She snorted. Murphy's Law. Of course one of her contacts had chosen to pop out when she fell into the stream....

But she hadn't fallen, she suddenly remembered. She'd been pushed. And this wasn't the little stream, or any other tiny patch of nature in the midst of a suburb. It was a wide, almost purple river bordered by amazingly tall skyscrapers, and she was sitting on a mud flat staring at the Houses of Parliament as flying cars swooped by.

*It's the Thames,* she thought. *I'm in New London.*

Then, *This had better be a hallucination, or I'm going to catch a really disgusting disease from all that river water!*

The very thought made her gag and cough a little more, especially since her nose decided just then to inform her that she stank like a dead mutant fish. *Yay.*

She looked around and saw, about a hundred yards away, what looked like stairs leading up from the river. *Yay!* she thought with a bit more enthusiasm. That direction lay public restrooms, with sinks and soap. Maybe she wouldn't die of some exotic parasitic lifeform after all.

She got up, her gymshoes sinking and squelching unhappily into the dubious mud no matter how lightly she tried to tread. When she reached the stair, she did her best to transfer the mud from her shoes to the edge of the first step, but all her scraping was of little avail. Ew. She was reluctant to touch the clean railing with her incredibly muddy hands, but the slick unevenness of her shoes and her currently unreliable depth perception made it necessary. Well, somebody had to clean the streets; they might as well do what they were paid for. (Or made for, if they were robots.)

At the top of the stairs, she found herself in Southwark, and in the middle of one of London's tourist districts. There was a very large sign in several languages pointing out the nearest facilities and their genders. She headed into them gratefully, pushing the swing door open with her only clean elbow. Several women coming out gave her horrified glances. She looked into the mirrors and saw why; she looked like a cross between a battered homeless woman and a drowned rat. Greeeeeaat. Next time she had a hallucination or traveled through a dimensional portal, she....

She shook her head. Somebody had pushed her...tried to drown her, even. Mud was better than dead.

She headed for the sinks and set to work. It took a good ten minutes before she could feel even vaguely respectable. She washed her hands and arms. She washed her face. She washed and toilet papered off her shoes. She even pulled off her shirt and gave it a quick rinse and soap. (Good thing she'd been wearing a sports bra.) Thankfully, her hair was short enough that it hadn't gotten much in the way of mud or water. She couldn't tell whether she smelled anymore. It was probably too much to hope.

All the time she was in there, tourists continued to come in and out of the bathroom kiosk. Some stared at her; others gave her sympathetic looks. Maureen, meanwhile, was watching them in the mirror. Everyone around her seemed to be wearing or carrying something she didn't recognize. Cameras? Palmtops? Children's toys? It wasn't much good guessing. She saw a lot of those unflattering tunic dresses, and a good number of long pants worn with those asymmetrically cut jackets or baggy long coats like Deidre's. Nobody else was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

Finally, Maureen decided she was ready to face New London again. She parted and smoothed her hair with her newly clean fingers (it had taken a lot of scrubbing to get the mud out from under even her short fingernails) and turned to go. Maureen was startled to find a tiny girl practically underfoot, staring up at her with big solemn brown eyes nearly the same color as her skin.

"Hello," said Maureen.

"Why are you dressed in such funny clothes?" the girl demanded. "Are you a Lowtech?"

"Leave the lady alone, Aneetra," said the woman at the next sink, hurriedly scooping the girl toward her black-robed side. "It's not nice to bother her like that."

"It's all right," Maureen said quietly. "I suppose I do look like a Lowtech. But I'm not; I just like these clothes." She gave the girl and her mother a rueful grin. "Or I did, before I got all this mud on me." She nodded at them and went back outside into the New London evening.

All right, so she was on the Southwark side of the Thames. She didn't know much about London's geography, but all the bits she could remember were on the other bank. Parliament and the Yard, for example, not to mention Baker Street. So she needed a bridge, and...there. She'd cross, walk toward the Yard, and think about what to do next.

She was almost across the river when a green civilian hovercar swooped at New Scotland Yard like a guided missile. She stared at it, wondering if that might be Lestrade. The hovercar passed behind a building and was lost to Maureen's sight. A moment later, there was a puff of debris, then a dull "Boom!" and the tinkling sound of falling glass.

Her blood ran cold. Everyone else on the bridge stopped walking, confused. She found herself running between them, desperate to reach the Yard. Scenes of a horrible September morning were playing back in her head.

(*CNN says a plane hit the World Trade Center,* someone said next to her cube. *But that can't be right....*)

She forced herself back into the present. *Night Ravens,* she thought, and the fear turned mostly into anger. *Or someone just as bad.*

By the time she reached the Yard, a small crowd had collected. She joined its fringes, trying to hear if anyone knew anything, if anyone had been hurt. There were masked men in the car -- no, there weren't. It was a red car...a blue car...a cruiser...a hoverlorry. Some of them seemed to be talking into wristlinks or palmtops, trying to reach people in the building by videophone...then reaching them. It was just an accident of some kind, nothing big, nobody hurt.

Maureen sighed, a little of the chill leaving her blood and a lot more of the adrenalin. It left _her_ feeling unsteady on her feet. She'd had too much stress in too little time, and now she was feeling lonely and depressed. Her situation broke upon her in its full horror -- she wasn't just in a foreign country in the future, but in a whole other universe she only knew through a cartoon. She missed everyone and everything she knew with a desperate homesickness. What she wouldn't give now for a familiar face....

And then she saw two familiar faces for the first time, and knew them for comrades old and new: Mary and Brittney. She waved her hand and called their names, the relief in her heart both sudden and deep.

Whatever had happened, whatever still might, she wouldn't be alone.

On to Part 20!

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