Obviously collapsing unconscious means consent to my spectral friends. They, I assume it was they, had left me face down on a concrete floor. At least it was clean. Well, before I got there, I guess. As it was, when I struggled to sit up, I was in a puddle of thin mud which had already started to dry. Just those sluggish movments made my head spin.
I took a rag out of my pocket and tried to wipe the dirt off my face. I got the feeling that it only served to move some of it around.
Right before me, I saw a blur of purple. As I blinked it became a girl, leaning toward me, apparently scrutinizing me. I didn't like the faint suggestion of disgust on her face. I tried my best at a smile.
"What exactly are you?" She inquired. Her voice didn't match her body, it was too young. Not that she was old, younger than me, I'd have said. She was wearing a lot of purple. And black. Sort of emo-punky. Big black boots, purple and black tights, thigh-length skirt, some utterly bizarre top like a collage of rags, bands, straps, chainmail... yeah... and elbow length gloves. Also a toolbelt with arrays of hex-keys, screwdrivers and sinister sharp things.
"Had a good look, have you?"
Quick, I need a comeback - put her on the back foot. Why do all my conversations with women feel like a fencing duel?
"Sorry, you're just so extremely attractive." Crude, but often an effective attack. To her credit her expression didn't change, not a flicker. I needed a quick follow-up, the counter-attacks could be disastrous.
"This is where you gracefully suggest while you find me equally attractive, I'm not your type." Okay, I was coming across as an immature rascal, at best, but we were on even ground now.
The concrete was rough. My hands hurt where I had been using them to prop up my upper body. Time to get off the floor. Unfortunately I was back down with a bruised jaw quite suddenly.
"Get a grip, you pervert." She didn't sound too angry though, more amused.
I could have handled that better, it must be said. I think a tooth was loose...
"Ow, alright I apologise, you startled me. I have just woken in a..."
I looked around. The room I was in was huge, like a warehouse, but going by the great concrete supports, underground. Banks of computer equipment surrounded me, some lit, some quiet and blanketed with dust. Behind the girl an obese bloke was sat on a swivel chair in front of a glimmering screen.
I tried shaking my head, but found that to make the emerging headache worse.
"Alright, where am I?"
"You're safe, among friends, as it were. This is where Anon stores stuff not needed immediately." She chirped, arms folded. She bounced over to me, offered me a hand up. I wasn't feeling steady enough to be manly. She was strong for her size, holding me when I nearly overbalanced.
"Ugh, you're wet and dirty!" She sprang back, I gripped a table heaped with dusted cables.
"Oh you don't know the half of it..." I said half-heartedly. I fought nausea and migraine.
"Ew! Did the messengers really send you?"
"Yes, it appears they did. I'll have to trust in their judgement this time." This came from the man on the chair, regarding me with undisguised scorn through thick glasses.
"Do you need some paracetamol?" He asked tonelessly.
"Yeah, please, if you have some."
"Well we don't."
"Great. Thanks. I'm Ilya by the way, I'm supposed to... do something..." Good point, what was I doing here again?
I am so tired of feeling tired and sore and ill, I thought. And these two are weird. Even if I trust the spectres, I can't think why they'd brought me from my world to this one. That is, I assumed this wasn't my world. Oh, my head...
"Well if you could do it somewhere else, we're busy. Spy!" The last syllable was snapped at the girl/woman, perched on an ancient-looking engine, who was toying with something she's picked up from a pile beside her.
"Uh? Oh yeah. You're stuff's over there, Ilya." She gestured vaguely to a heap that lay under a tarpaulin. With that she slipped off her perch and skipped away, into the entrails of neglected equipment in the centre of the room. The man had turned back to his screen.
"Okay. Right. Thanks."
Dust swirled in my footsteps as I approached the shrouded object. I gripped the tarpaulin and attempted to heave it off. It shifted a little. Something underneath it went 'clunk'.
"Careful! You simple?" The man's voice echoed in the cavern.
Sighing, I drew the rubbery sheet back over itself, to reveal a pile of short wooden crates, metal spars and shapes and what looked like a flipchart, the kind of thing people used in presentations. I lifted it onto the floor. It was a good metre square, maybe eighty sheets thick.
The sheets I glimpsed as I flicked through detailed the construction of different components. I turned to the final pages. Scattered amongst tiny text were equations, great tables of values and theoretical diagrams. This seemed a gigantic amount of work for one person, but I knew somehow this was my job alone. Nevertheless, this was a huge undertaking. I turned back to the beginning.
"Hey!" I called to the man. He didn't deign to respond.
"Hello? It says I need some tools and stuff." No reaction "...That isn't here," I clarified.
"Here you go."
"Gah! Wha... oh, thanks?"
The girl/woman, "spy", had snuck up on me. Silently. On those boots! And handed me what could only be described as some metal doohickey and a curved widget.
With no more than a tiny pirouette, she disappeared back into the mess that lay around my workspace.
Confused, and armed with the bizarre utensils, I turned back to the blueprints.