Slowly, his eyes opened. His head was throbbing, but he didn't mind the pain. It told him that he was alive.
The word coursed through his entire being. It was the best word in the English language. And the fact that he was able to think it, to appreciate it, was a wonder beyond all wonders.
He could see the dusty crossbeams of an unfinished ceiling above him. He could feel a lumpy mattress under his back and legs. His senses and nerves were working.
It was wonderful.
He turned his attention towards his mind. He needed to know that everything up there was still working as well. He recalled his mission, his injuries, his rank and position. He even knew who he was.
His name was Richard Hargreaves.
So far, so good.
He turned his head to the right, following a slight movement he'd spotted out of the corner of his eye.
Rebecca was sitting on the floor, looking at his rescue timer.
Instantly his heart began to race. What on earth was Rebecca doing here? And why was she holding his rescue timer? If he was conscious, that meant there were only seconds until—
He tried to sit up, but he was too weak. He looked at the ceiling again, gritting his teeth in frustration. He had to get up to get the timer from her.
Why was she here?
He turned to look at her again, tried to open his mouth to speak, but it was already too late. The device was glowing, and Rebecca was still holding it. He knew she wouldn't be able to let go. It was connected to her nervous system now. It would hold her still until—
The glow intensified. The timer had run to zero.
She was gone in mere seconds. It was as if she'd never been in the room at all. There was no trace, either of her or of his device. Even the glow had vanished.
He let his head roll back to center, and he stared at the ceiling again.
How could she have ended up in the same place and time as he? And how could she have found his timer? It was hidden in the seams of his clothing, tucked against the small of his back.
It was he who was supposed to be travelling at this moment, not her.
Now he was stuck here.
His neural implants had obviously done their job, because he was clearly not dead. His wounds would be healing nicely now, he knew, and his organs were slowly resuming their normal function.
Only problem was, now that he was conscious again, the rescue timer was supposed to be taking him back to headquarters. The timer was synchronized with his neural implants, so that mere minutes after he was healed, he would be taken back.
It didn't matter how many times he went over it in his head, he couldn't change the fact that his plans had been thwarted.
By his own ex-wife.
He would have chuckled at the irony of it, if only that irony hadn't left him in the worst predicament of his life.
Stranded in time.
A moment later the door opened.
He found he could raise his head slightly now, though only for a few seconds at a time.
The man in the doorway was portly, slightly disshevelled, and bore a look of utter astonishment on his face.
"I—" the man sputtered. "I canna be seein' what I think I'm seein'—"
Richard tried his mouth again. Better luck this time. "I'm sorry to have to tell you, but you are."
The portly man glanced around the room. "Where's Rebecca?"
The man's eyes widened, and let out a hissing breath. "Then she was a demon after all."
"Aye. For her to do—" he gestured towards Richard. "—to do this…"
Richard struggled himself up onto his elbows. The effort winded him, but he was grateful to know that his strength was returning.
"I assure you, my good man, that this was none of Rebecca's doing."
"Defendin' her, then, are ye?"
Richard slid his legs off the cot and got himself into a sitting position. The amount of effort it took was beyond frustrating. He would have to muster all the patience he had, at least for a while.
"Defending her? Of course I'm defending her. First of all, she's my ex-wife, and second, she didn't do what you think she did."
"But you're alive, mon!"
"Yes, I am. But I wasn't really dead."
"But Doctor Crumberly himself said you were so."
Richard shook his head, partly to clear the cobwebs, and partly at the insanity of talking to a man from the nineteenth century about the fact that he had just risen from the dead.
"I was only mostly dead," Richard said quietly.
Richard closed his eyes and chuckled softly. "It's a phrase from a book I once read," he said, regretting his unfortunate tendency to indulge in pop-culture references, no matter the occasion.
The man did not reply. Richard looked up again to find his companion simply staring at him open-mouthed. Richard knew he needed to prod the fellow back to life before he lost him to confused stupor.
"Can you tell me where I am?" Richard asked.
The man blinked a couple of times, then shook his head slightly. "Aye. This is The Withered Spoon."
Richard nodded. This was exactly the place he'd been heading for.
"And you're the proprieter, I take it?"
The man nodded and stepped towards him. "Aye. Robert Witherspoon. At your service."
Richard shook his hand.
"Well, Robert Witherspoon, proprieter of The Withered Spoon, my name is Richard Hargreaves, and I'm sorry to have to tell you that you have a very large problem on your hands."