The book floated apathetically across the room, hovering comfortably at exactly seven foot three inches (they’d measured) before it bumped against Tory’s palm.
“Hey Doc, maybe if you tie a string around it, you could float that bottle of scotch over here without me having to get up.”
With a gentle nudge, Tory sent the book cruising silently across the room once again, to where Charles was sprawled unceremoniously across one of the couches, glaring accusingly at the book through the bottom of his tumbler. He didn’t respond as the book thumped gently into the wall above his head and just...floated there.
Sleep had not come easily to the two men. To Charles, in fact, not at all. A few sheaves of useless notes and attempts to study the book slipped to the floor as he grasped the bottle of scotch and tossed it underhand to Tory, who knocked off the cap and downed a mouthful straight. Charles cleared his throat loudly and gave his most professional opinion on the matter before them;
Tory chuckled as he coughed against the burn of the whiskey. He dropped the bottle on the coffee table and lay back down on the couch, “How the Russians are involved in this, Doc, I’d love to know. Floating feathers. Guess she can fly after all.”
Charles grumbled and bumped the book back across the room to Tory, studying it as it bobbed along through the air as if it was in water. Only, it wasn’t. It was a book with a long grey feather in it, completely weightless. No matter how many times he studied its motion, measured its height or friction, he could not logically accept it as fact.
In a reversal from the previous evening,Tory seemed to be surprisingly okay with it.
He grabbed the book out of the air and pulled it down to his level, inspecting it as they both had for most of the night yet again. “Seriously, why does it float books?” he asked, opening the volume and dropping it onto the pile of test books he’d piled beside him while he held onto the feather, “I mean, here I am, holding it, decidedly not floating. It doesn’t float on its own, either,” he put it on the coffee table to demonstrate, “See, nothing, just a big, grey feather. Wait, what if I put something on top of it?” He grabbed the bottle of scotch and dropped it on the feather, watching it intently. Charles would have admonished Tory for damaging a specimen, but since earlier that night he’d gone into an existential rage and tossed the damn thing in the fire, they knew it was pretty damn near indestructible already. So instead, he joined Tory in watching the scotch hungrily, though for a different reason.
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Slowly at first, then faster and more violently, the bottle began to tremor and vibrate, rattling across the coffee table with a loud clatter before Tory grab for it. Eventually, it shook itself clean off of the feather, and stopped. No doubt as to what had caused that, then. Tory gingerly picked up the bottle and inspected it, then started unscrewing the cap. An almighty fizz foamed up and all over Tory, who cried out in surprise, scrambling back over the couch to stand against the far wall, heaving for breath. He stared wide-eyed at the bottle then at Charles, who was having trouble keeping a straight face. “It- It carbonated my scotch!”
“Yes,” Charles stated through his slightly unhinged chuckles, “I did not see that coming at all.”
In the silence that followed, the living room door creaked slowly open. Charles and Tory both turned to stare a little accusingly at the hunched grey figure standing self-consciously in the doorway.
“You!” Tory cried, pointing, “Why did you put bubbles in my whiskey?!”
“B-bubbles…?” The pegasus squeaked softly, shuffling back behind the doorframe. She stumbled slightly over her right forehoof, hitting the door with a pained hiss, sliding to her haunches. Both Tory and Charles jumped to their feet instantly, but this only caused the poor creature to recoil all the more.
“I-I’m s-sorry-!” She choked out, skitting back into the opposite wall, wings trembling with fear. Her one open eye spun crazily as she huddled against the kitchen door.
“Well, her speech has improved slightly overnight.” Charles muttered softly, stepping down to crouch a good distance away. Tory glared at him for a moment, before turning back and lowering himself to the pegasus’ eye level as well. When he spoke, his voice was low and calm;
“Hello again, little one. We’re sorry for startling you like that, we were just surprised. Would you mind if I asked you some questions?”
She looked fearfully between Charles and Tory for a while, then, at Charles’ small nod, she swallowed and dipped her head.
“Do you remember what happened last night very well?”
She gave a small nod, wings settling back tightly against her sides. Her legs still tremored from the effort of holding her up, and Charles could see the strain written into her body despite the bandages still clinging to her; that leg was troubling her, badly by the look of it. Her wings looked in far better condition somehow, as if they’d been groomed, and her eye shone in the low light of morning.
“Do you remember who I am?”
For a second she didn’t answer, struggling with her right forehoof. She raised it and pointed it shakily first at the younger man, “T-Tory,” and then tremulously to Charles himself, “Charles.” She pronounced it strangely, stretching out the syllables as if two different words, but Charles was too busy noting the limb held up perfectly for his inspection. The break in her ankle had never set correctly.
“Okay, good,” Tory continued, not seeing what Charles had, “Could you tell me who you are, then?”
The hoof thumped back to the floor as her eye dilated and swung lazily away, her ears pivoting back as she crouched low, muttering, “...B-Bubbles…”
“Uh…” Tory looked back to Charles at a loss. Charles raised an eyebrow and slid quietly forward, laying a hand against the grey fur. Instead of recoiling, the pegasus seemed to relax, slipping to the floor. Charles nodded solemnly.
“She’s having a psychological episode. Amnesia resulting from extreme trauma often leads to this. I’m not an expert; this could be epilepsy, a flashback...I’m not-”
He didn’t get to continue. One golden eye shot open, her back stiffened and she pushed herself up to all four legs. At first, Charles had pulled back, cautious, but in truth she barely seemed to notice him now.
Tory tried again, “Please, could you tell me you name?”
Instead of replying she turned away, curling up on herself til her nose touched the bandages across her haunches, she sniffed peculiarly for a moment. Then in a flash of teeth and sudden movement, she tore at them, scattering cotton across the floor in furious desperation.
“Hey, Hey!” Tory shouted, but to no end; she kept at it. Even when the violent movement caused her weakened right leg to give way, she kept bent around, making small grunts of exertion.
Charles gave up taking a back seat and jumped in. A hand against her next and the other against her flank, her pushed both to the floor, pinning her. “Stop! I won’t have you hurt yourself all over again!” He shouted. As suddenly as she began, she stopped thrashing, looking up at Charles with a bitter glare. That too dissolved quickly. In seconds, she was sobbing brokenly, eyes screwed shut.
“If you want the bandages removed, I will do so, but your wounds still need to be bound. Please, reconsider.”
“Okay,” Charles nodded, “just stay still, please.” With that, he unclipped the hooks holding the poultices on and slowly unwound the ripped fabric. His eyes grew wider wide every inch of skin revealed. The Pegasus squirmed, whining, trying to look as well. Tory wasn’t much better. Soon enough, Charles stood back, showing the fur of her hind legs to the air for the first time since yesterday morning. In a word word, it was shocking.
She was healed.
The shiny-silver traces of her various scars still criss-crossed her skin beneath her rich grey coat of almost downy fur, but they could not marr the seven perfect spheres rising across her flank.
One look, and the pegasus flopped back to the floor, breathing a heavy sigh of relief, “Bubbles…”
Tory’s face hardened at the sight, though. He bristled, snarling, “They branded her?”
“I don’t think so; it looks more like a tattoo or birthmark, if uncanny.” Charles said curiously, staring somewhat confusedly at the strange mark.
“Nnn-No!” Both men jumped as the pegasus squirmed yet again to her hooves in a low crouch, cradling her injured foreleg, “You asked...who. Who I am. T-There.”
“Uhh…” Charles and Tory shared a look, but Charles just shook his head, instead changing the subject; “Would you like anything to eat? Or drink? I’m afraid we don’t have much, and we have to leave soon. We only want to look after you.”
“Um...Mmm...Mmm...Mu…” She couldn’t quite seem to find the right word, stumbling over herself as she tried to speak.
“Whoa, stop, breathe,” Charles cooed, “Now, try again. Slowly.”
“Mmm…” She tried, then took a deep breath before saying in a quiet, broken voice, “M-Mushrooms?”
With a benign smile, Charles nodded to Tory, who made a quick dash for the kitchen, returning with half a carton of uncooked chopped mushrooms. He placed it apologetically on the floor, shrugging. “I’m sorry, but that’s all I have…”
His words were lost, however, amidst the sounds of mushroom holocaust. It was all Charles and Tory could do to stand back and watch in amused awe as the little grey pegasus lost herself in rooting around the carton, making happy little cooing noises as she had her first solid meal in as long as any of them could remember.
Actual, honest food, cold and dry as it was. It wasn’t what I’d asked for, or it was, but I’d asked for the wrong thing...I couldn’t quite make sense of it. What I’d wanted and what I’d said hadn’t lined up even as I spoke, but once the Mushrooms were in front of me, it hadn’t mattered at all. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough.
All the while, Charles and Tory had been busy around me, preparing, carrying things to the door and sharing quiet looks. After I’d finished, Tory let Max and Jessie out, and they’d come to my side. I thanked Jessie with a nuzzle, only to find Charles smiling benignly down at us from the doorway. He didn’t say a word.
When I had time to sit and think, with Jessie curled against my side again in the hallway, I tried to puzzle out my captors. No, not captors anymore. Saviours? That didn’t feel right either. Tory was a simple mind; curious, excitable and kind. I knew he would help me just because he thought it was the right thing to do. Charles though...He was quiet always, never open, like Tory. Sometimes he was cold and distant, but sometimes, when no one was looking, he would stop and show me something else, like now in the doorway; he was kind too, only the world had taken it out of him.
I was just trying to distract myself, though. Even now, sitting here as we had been for the last hour, every time Jessie shifted, her tail brushes against that sensitive splash of colour against my coat, just above my hind leg..
What do they mean? I...can’t remember. And that really, really scares me. I don’t know why, or how, but I know, somehow, deep inside me, that those symbols are more than I know.
If the present is all I have, then I’ll make the best of it. I need to check myself before I move: I still can’t open my hurt eye, but I can feel it moving. It feels...wrong. There’s a dull pain in my hip and neck, but neither are anything compared to my right fetlock. It burns like fire as I lift it.
“May I, little one?”
I don’t respond. Charles comes closer anyway. He reaches out, touches my right forehoof softly. I growl and pull it back, but he takes hold of it. I see the look of consternation in his eyes, and I understand; he wants to help, but it will hurt me, and he doesn’t want to do that anymore.
How do I know this? I’m confused. I’m only just starting to make sense of what I can see, and feel, and smell, but I’ve forgotten myself in the present; the past still looms behind me, black and empty, and the future is not much better. So with nothing to cling to, I trust him.
It’s over quickly. He pulls the hoof slowly, gently, then twists sharply. I hear a violent click and the pain stabs up my leg. I would scream, but my breath is pushed from my chest in a rush as Charles grabs me, pulling me to his chest. In a blind panic, I scrabble at him, but he doesn’t let go. After a few seconds, the pain flows away, and suddenly I feel only the immense relief of my hoof being back in joint.
“Come on, Doc, we need to get going.”
“Right. Of course.”
Charles picks me up easily, holding me in his arms like a child as he walks towards the front door. I’m grateful to him; I couldn’t bring myself to feel anything but sleepy, after the food and now my hoof. I felt right again. I felt calm, even as he opened the door into the shaded drive and quickly placed me inside a cocoon of red metal and glass.
“You sure this car can get us to Rhode Island?”
“Psh, easy Doc, this is a seventy-nine Mirada, only a year old! We’ll get there in no time.”
Tory jumps into one of the seats in front of me, and Charles in the other. I start as the vehicle rumbles to life, but Charles already has a hand against my side to calm me. We move forward, out onto the cold streets, and hurtle down the grey paths between the buildings, flashes of green lighting the gaps between them more and more the further we go. Eventually the buildings fall away, and I see the green hills awaken before me as I ask quietly, “Where are we going?”
The sun is still rising, lighting the verdance of the gardens and fields all along the road. The speed does not scare me; in fact, I feel my wings start to push away from my sides, trying to grasp the wind I could not feel. High up above the treetops, I see birds winging their way in wheeling patterns , like water, ever moving, ever travelling.
And just like that, it clicks.
Charles turns back from the road and looks at me, one brow raised in question.
“My name,” I explain, “I never answered you properly earlier. Sorry about that. My name is Ditzy Doo. I...think I remember.”