An Annoying Fan Writer in New London
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
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
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
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
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
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
Whatever had happened, whatever still might, she wouldn't be
On to Part 20!
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