As the blackness around the edges of her vision crept in towards the center, Elizabeth shoved the small glass container as far into her pocket as it would go. She then took her hand out of her pocket. She didn't know if she'd decreased the likelihood of the container being discovered, but she knew she had to at least try. She needed to find out what... was... in... the...
The next thing Elizabeth was aware of was cold metal against the backs of her arms. Through a fog of grogginess, she slowly opened her eyes. All around her was grey. The walls, the ceiling, every piece of equipment she could see from her postion, which, she suddenly realized, was of the supine variety.
It was an enforced supine position, she further realized when she tried to move her arms. They were strapped to the table, as were her ankles. Cautiously, she raised her head. A wave of nausea coursed through her, but she fought it. Her head was not strapped down, at least. There was something attached to her head, but it wasn't preventing her from moving it.
She glanced at her jeans. She could just make out the shape of the glass container in her right pocket. It was a subtle deformity in the surface of the denim, but it was there. She took a relieved breath and let her head sink back down to the table's surface.
Footsteps sounded behind her and to the right. They echoed slightly in the bare metallic room. They stopped just behind her right shoulder.
"Welcome back, Elizabeth."
She closed her eyes. It was Jason.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"Oh, you're now deep in the heart of JP-7. My pride and joy, as I'm sure Mr. Johnson has already described it to you."
"What are you doing to me?"
"Oh, we've been doing quite a lot since you've been out. You were given ample physical tests during your 'initiation', so now we're delving into your mental areas. And, I must say, they're most impressive."
"How can you test my mental abilities while I'm unconscious?"
Jason chuckled. "Oh, my dear Elizabeth. The devices in this room are quite sophisticated. If I'm not mistaken, you even designed a couple of them yourself. Or, should I say, you will design them. No, that's not right either, because they're here now. So I guess that means you did design them. But you designed them in the future. Dear me, this temporal back and forth really requires a whole new linguistic syntax, doesn't it?"
"Don't play dumb, Jason. It doesn't become you."
Jason moved into her field of vision and looked down at her. "Just having a bit of fun, my dear. No harm in that, is there?"
Harm. For some reason the word sent a jolt through Elizabeth's body. Jason and harm. Something about Jason.. and harm...
"Oh my God," Elizabeth blurted.
Jason took a startled step backwards. "What on earth...?"
"The worm," Elizabeth said. "The Shakespeare worm... How far has it spread?"
Jason stepped forward again, a puzzled expression on his face. "That sounds intriguing, dear Elizabeth, but I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
Elizabeth looked at him with narrowed eyes. "When I was last here, you were about to unleash a computer worm that would affect every computer on the internet."
"Was I?" Jason stroked his chin. "Does rather sound like me, doesn't it?" He appeared to ponder the notion.
Elizabeth's breathing was becoming rapid and shallow. Either Jason was a very good actor, or he really didn't know what she was talking about. And if the latter were true...
...then something had changed. She was now in a different 2009, one where she and Jason never had the conversation about Shakespeare, and Jason hadn't released the Shakespeare worm out into the world.
But how? How had the timestream changed. What had changed it? Had she and the other two Elizabeths done something back in 1992 that they weren't even aware of?
If Jason really didn't know what she was talking about, then she had one less disaster to worry about. Now she just needed to focus on getting the hell out of here.
She would have to tread carefully, however.
"So, you don't know anything about a Shakespeare worm?"
"No, not at all," Jason replied.
She had to make this look good. "Thank God," she said, letting her head fall back again. "I must have dreamt it or hallucinated it while I was unconscious." She tried to put just the right amount of relief into her voice.
Jason eyed her warily and continued to rub his chin. "Interesting," he said. "I didn't know that this particular gas would induce that sort of thing. I'll have to check this batch. The ratios must be off."
He didn't sound convinced, but perhaps it was enough for now. Now if she could just get her arms back.
"Jason," she said, "is it really necessary for me to be restrained? I'm starting to lose feeling in my hands and feet."
"Oh, I'm not through with you yet, my dear," he said. "I still have many more tests to perform."
"Well, you seem to be taking a break at the moment, so can I have one, too?"
Jason seemed to consider that for a moment. Eventually, though, he shook his head. "I don't think that would be such a good idea."
"Where am I going to run?" she asked, exasperated. "This place is like a fortress."
"Look, Jason. I get it, okay? I've met my future self. Selves. I end up working for you. It doesn't look like there's much I can do about that now. There's only so much fighting I can do against the inevitable. I'd like to lead some kind of productive life, not keep butting my head against walls that won't give. Okay?"
Jason's eyebrows arched slightly. "Well, I must say, that's rather a surprise. But a welcome one. From what I understand from my future self, it took a lot longer than this to convince you."
Elizabeth sighed. She couldn't tell if she was getting anywhere or not. "I know you're not going to kill me, or damage me beyond repair. Like I said, I've seen myself in the future. The way I figure it, the only way I can be sure of staying alive is by doing exactly what the other two Elizabeths did. And that starts with joining your organization."
Jason removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. "That makes eminent sense, my dear, but I'm not sure I can trust you."
"I don't expect you to trust me. But I expect you to treat me like a person and not a prisoner. So let me up from this damn thing so I can get my hands and feet working again."
Jason put his glasses back on and regarded her for a moment. Finally, he chuckled and strode back over to the table. "I really do admire you, Elizabeth," he said as he undid the straps on the her right-hand side. "You have more courage than you realize."
He moved to her left side and released the straps there. "No one but you could stand up to me like that. You always did know how to put me in my place."
Elizabeth slid her legs off the table and sat on the edge. She could already feel the pins and needles in her extremities.
"Fifteen minutes," Jason said. "Just like a coffee break at work. Then we're back to the tests again."
Elizabeth nodded. "Fine," she said, rubbing her hands together. "Can I have a glass of water?"
"You're pushing your luck..."
She glared at him. "A glass of water, Jason. I'm dehydrated here."
Jason drew his mouth into a tight line. "As you wish," he said.
As Jason moved across the room to what looked like a sink, Elizabeth slid off the table, tottered on her numb feet for a moment, and then reached into her pocket.
She pulled out the vial and examined it. A handwritten label bore the words: "Drink me."
Elizabeth chuckled. Her middle name was Alice, after all.
She glanced over at the sink. Jason was filling a glass. He wouldn't be more than a few seconds.
Quickly, she pulled the stopper out of the vial and drank the contents. It tasted awful, but hopefully it would work. Whatever "working" actually meant in this case.
She put the stopper back in the empty vial and returned it to her pocket. Jason was just turning around as she hopped back up on the table.
Jason stopped halfway to her. His mouth was half open, his eyes wide.
"What's happening to you?" he nearly screamed.
Elizabeth wasn't sure what he meant. She looked down at herself and immediately realized what he was talking about. Her entire body seemed to be glowing, and she could see the table through her thighs.
For some reason, she smiled. She didn't know what was happening to her either, but if it annoyed Jason, she was all for it.
Her vision began to blur. A whooshing sound filled her ears.
Stark white nothingness. An infinity of it.
Then everything at once. Sounds, sights, smells, all cascading through her. She knew she wasn't in JP-7 anymore, but where was she?
She looked down at herself. She was sitting on a floor.
She looked up. It was almost like looking in a mirror.
"Hi, there," her future self said. "I wasn't sure if that would work."
She reached down and helped Elizabeth up. "Maybe I can't go to you anymore, but I thought maybe I could bring you to me."
Elizabeth looked around. The place seemed familiar.
The tetrahedron. Or chronotope. Or whatever it was called now.
"Welcome to 2029, kiddo."