“Hey. You okay? You look a little raw.”
Something was poking Eric and he didn’t like it. Why would someone poke him? Couldn’t they tell his head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton?
With a mighty effort Eric opened one eye and looked around. He was face down in a dimly lit, featureless room, looking at an equally featureless face, half hidden by blonde bangs, out of the corner of one eye. “Oh, great,” he muttered. “The faceless people have returned.”
It’s not a faceless person,” an obnoxiously chipper female voice told him. “It’s a meme. It’s not supposed to have a face.”
“Then it is faceless,” Eric said, closing his eye again. “By definition, instead of absence, but still faceless. Lemme go back to sleep.”
A hand grabbed him by the shoulder and tried to haul him into a sitting position. Eric refused to cooperate and wound up twisted around and facing up instead of down. He opened both eyes and found the blonde meme hovering over him.
Literally hovering. It actually looked like it was standing on a wall to his left, except there was no wall there. It was leaning on a hammer of some sort, the head looked like it had been cut out of a log and then had a hole drilled through for the handle. Based on the feel of things from a moment ago he figured the meme had been poking him with the hammer handle rather than its finger. “What do you want?”
“Dude,” the meme said, grabbing one arm and trying to pull him upright again. “You just got drugged. You’re unconscious.”
“The doctors must have had a good reason for it.”
“By the Feds, you moron.” It let go of his arm but for some reason he stayed in a half-sitting position instead of flopping back down to the ground. Eric was slowly coming to grasp that he wasn’t actually in a room and there wasn’t any ground to speak of. Up and down were more suggestions than directions. He’d just turned to take a closer look at the not-floor when the meme said, “Look, I’m sorry about this but you sound like your brain’s too mixed to sort what’s going on so I’m just going to snap you out of it, okay? We’re on our way to pick you up so be ready to move.”
“Oka-What?!” Eric looked up to find the meme hefting its hammer over one shoulder. Before he could make more than a pretense of scrambling out of the way it whistled around and into the side of his face-
-and his head snapped around sideways, trapped in total darkness. There was someone or someones holding firmly onto each of his arms. Eric had just enough time to register the sound of a car’s engine and the steady rumble of tires on pavement when a wave of horrible nausea went through him and he vomited.
It was dark because there was a bag over his head. That wasn’t a pleasant discovery.
The hand on his left arm vanished and a second later the bag was coming off from his head. By deft manipulation of the bag and Eric’s posture most of the mess stayed in the bag with only a little bit clinging uncomfortably to his face. Eric blinked at the uncomfortable amount of light that hit his eyes.
He was staring out the side of a van that had a bench running down each side. He was seated on one bench and a whip thin man in a cheap black suit was carefully tying off the bag that had been over his head. On his right was another suit, and by the cosmic law of stereotypes this suit was occupied by a slightly rotund man of incredible breadth. Eric didn’t actually take note of them at just that moment, since Rachada was leaning over the seat with a rag or handkerchief in one hand.
Another wave of nausea crashed over him and Rachada pulled back as he doubled over and deposited the very last bits of his breakfast on the floor of the van.
“What did you dose him with, Franks?” Burly suit asked. “Water? Sewer water? He shouldn’t be awake, much less spewing like that.”
“The usual,” skinny suit, presumable Franks, said. “He should have been out for at least an hour. Longer, with how skinny he is. Never had anyone react like this.”
Eric slowly dragged himself back to a half-sitting posture. “Sorry, why do I need to be unconscious?”
“I think it’s part of the playbook secret government programs have to use to get funding.” Rachada watched him carefully as she spoke and, when it was clear Eric’s stomach had absolutely nothing more to add to the situation, she leaned back in and carefully cleaned his face off. “I’m sorry about this, but Eric you’re not well.”
Eric worked his mouth, grimacing at the taste. “I noticed. Can I get some water? Or at least know why you work for a secret government program?”
Rachada tossed the cloth into a plastic bag she pulled from under her seat. “To be honest it’s because they don’t mention what kind of work you’re going to do when they’re out recruiting interns.”
“Seriously? The X-Files has interns?” Eric started to shake his head, stopped as it triggered a new wave of nausea.
The two stereotypes on either side of him leaned away slightly and for a split second Eric caught a glimpse of more faceless echoes in their wake. Rachada moved to be out of the potential line of fire and rested a hand on his knee.
“Eric, what’s happening to you isn’t normal, even by the standards of your condition.”
“My condition?!” Eric said. “What, you mean being surrounded by faceless not-people who talk to me?”
“The technical term is preliminary-”
“Ma’am,” not-Franks said. “I’m not sure now is the time to discuss that.”
Rachada huffed a bit. “He is going to be read in anyway, Agent Beane.”
“Really?” Eric asked. “Franks and Beane? Who’s genius idea was that?”
“What’s wrong with their names?” Rachada asked with a blank look.
“Nothing, ma’am,” Franks said quickly. “Regulations call for you to explain matters to the subject once we are in a secure location.”
“Well the subject would like an explanation now.” Eric turned his full attention on Rachada, as if he could stare the information straight out of her. “Please. Can I get some kind of a clue as to what is going on here?”
She gave him a sympathetic look and for a moment it felt almost like she was draping a cool cloth over his head, calming him. “We’re trying to help you, Eric. We just… haven’t found a good way to do that yet.”
The comforting sensations vanished. “What is that supposed to-”
His question never got finished as the pigtailed meme that woke him up a few minutes previous suddenly came through the side of the van and swung the wooden head of its hammer through Agent Franks’ head. Literally through, the hammer ghosted through the man’s skull without any apparent resistance and Franks collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. At the same time the van suddenly jerked and slowed down. Rachada sat bolt upright then leaned to one side and yelped as the meme’s hammer came for her.
Beane gaped at Franks for a moment before asking, “What happened?”
The meme got him with the hammer before Rachada could answer but she managed to get one hand on the hammer and shoved it towards the meme hard. In response the meme seemed to melt and flow back out through the wall. The van had come to a stop by then and the back door flew open.
Rachada got up from the bench and put herself between Eric and the back of the van. A disinterested part of Eric’s brain noticed that they hadn’t been buckled in the whole time and that probably violated some government safety regulation but maybe The X-Files didn’t have to work by those rules. It was the same part of his brain that wondered, a moment later, if Rachada was trying to protect him from whatever was at the back of the van or if she was just worried about him trying to make a run for it. His stomach was vocally against the idea of running anywhere or he might have tried.
There were two people silhouetted in the van’s door. Eric was still woozy and unfocused but he could tell that there was a man and a woman there. Rachada started to say something but it never got beyond an indistinct sound before he felt a powerful push and a gut wrenching twist. His stomach heaved again but, to his relief, he managed not to puke again. That was a double good thing, since he probably would have wound up hitting Rachada as she collapsed onto the floor with Agents Franks and Beane.
The new woman made a quick lunge and managed to grab Rachada before she could collapse all the way to the floor. Once Rachada was carefully situated in a position that didn’t look horribly uncomfortable the strange woman looked up at Eric. For a brief second before they made eye contact Eric thought he saw a resemblance to the pigtailed meme but as soon as she looked him in the eye he was less certain. There was too much expression in her face in person to make a comparison to the meme certain.
She quickly stood up, grabbing his arm and pulling him along for the ride. Eric’s stomach protested again but not to degree it had been. The new woman, who was blonde and, Eric now realized, quite tall, gave him a once over and asked, “So, are you the new teep?”