"-all right. I'm glad to hear that. Fantastic. Excellent! Thank you very much. I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Oh wait. He's awake! I'll have to talk to you later. Goodbye."
Doctor Haberstan forced her eyes open and slammed them back shut as what felt like the claw end of a hammer hit her right in the fleshy part of her brain. It says something about her line of work that it took a few seconds (during which the endorphins started kicking in) to realize that the feeling was not, in fact, literal.
Desperately scrabbling at the little that remained of her neurons, Haberstan tried to figure out just what had happened. An attack on the site? An unauthorized cryonics experiment? An all-night tequila bender? God, she hoped not; it was a miracle the last freeze tube hadn't rendered her sterile (and dead).
She felt herself jerk and slowly move; she guessed she was on a wheelchair or stretcher of some sort, though somewhere along the line she had lost communications with most of her extremities and judging direction was like locating jello in a vat of slime. Tensing in anticipation, she slowly opened her eyes once more. The pain wasn't as intense, this time, and she could actually make out what appeared to be a wall before her view was dwarfed by a vision in green.
"Hello!" she said, causing Haberstan to recoil in pain once more. "Is it nice to be in the land of the living once again?" Maybe it was just her current condition, but to Haberstan, the voice seemed to be amplified to gargantuan proportions. Her head felt demolished; her bowels, colonic.
"Can…quieter?" Haberstan managed to force out.
"Oh, yes. My apologies," the green man said, lowering his voice to a stage whisper and crouching next to the wheelchair. "How do you feel?"
"My head…" Haberstan said, fighting through the pain.
As she had thought, she was indeed looking at a wall, which formed part of a small, grey room. As it turned out, she was in a wheelchair after all; an old wicker gas-guzzling behemoth. The man was in his forties, slightly overweight, and dressed in a skintight green latex bodysuit (sans padding, of course), which was about as far, alas, as Haberstan was willing to investigate.
"That's normal," the man said, volume slowly but surely creeping back up to normal. "It's a typical side effect."
"Side effect of what?" Haberstan asked, dreading the answer.
"You mean you don't remember?" the man asked.
"No," Haberstan said, the dread increasing.
The man stood up and laughed. "Well, in that case," he said, holding out his arms to encompass all the world. "Allow me to be the first one to say this! Welcome! Welcome to the future! Welcome! Welcome!"
It took a couple minutes for him to quiet down, during which Haberstan repeatedly kicked herself for the cryonic indiscretion, and after which he took her on a tour of the Foundation of the Future…
…which turned out to be a whole lot of very empty corridors punctuated by nothing but the slow creaks and squeaks of the wheelchair, and the nonstop prattle of Norquist, her errant guide.
"—and that wall over there got the blood splatter during the big Breach, I was only a child then, of course, but I remember it clear as day, boom! Blood spraying everywhere! It left a—"
"Where are the other employees?" Haberstan asked.
"They'll show up at dinner," Norquist said. "I'm sure of it. Anyways, speaking of Breaches, it really is amazing how science progresses. I mean, back in the day, the Akiva was the primary faith-based unit of measurement—hell, there was a faith-based measurement! It seems ludicrous when you think about it, but there you have it. Yup, things were certainly more primitive back then. I mean, you know, some people, in the reports I've been reading, all the declassified shit, they had a name for it. Real funny. Something like the, the uh, the…"
"The LeHaye," Haberstan said, deep in thought. "Where the hell are all the people? Thousands of people employed, and none of 'em around. Besides, that's Coalition slang…" She paused while this processed. "What the hell is this place?"
"The Global Serpent's Chaos Foundation," Norquist announced proudly. "Best anomalous wranglin' organization this side of the Mississippi."
"And…how many other people work here?" Haberstan said, asking what would turn out to be exactly the wrong question.
"In this outpost?" Norquist said. "Just me. But there're other sites, too," he said quickly, as Haberstan blanched. "This one…just isn't the largest."
Haberstan stared wordlessly at him. "Dinner?" Norquist suggested.
Long shot. Long dinner table in what, in its heyday, was the finest canteen in the site. Now, it looks even worse, if possible; mildewed walls, rotting ceiling, pieces of tables and chairs scattered everywhere in a portrait of decay. Norquist and Haberstan sit at opposite ends, of course, in grand tradition.
"Does it get lonely?" Haberstan screamed.
"What?" Norquist shouted back.
"I'm sure glad you could join me tonight! It gets awfully lonely out here!"
It went on like that for a while.
"Is this building structurally…sound?" Haberstan asked, finally.
"I've been doing some renovations!" Norquist said.
"Looks like the roof needs reinforcing!"
"I taught myself! I've been saving the roof until last!"
As if coming in on some celestial cue, the roof gave in and a grinning corpse sitting in an office chair came crashing down, falling perfectly between the two diners.
"I think it's best I go now," Haberstan said, her voice ringing through the dead air.
"You can't go!" Norquist said desperately, walking as fast as he could by Haberstan's side.
"This is absurd!" Haberstan shouted. "Ludicrous! Insane!"
"But where will you go? What will you do?"
"I don't know," Haberstan muttered, looking around for an exit. "I'll find something. Do something. There's always something out there."
Finally spotting the exit, she emerged into scrubland. There was no grass, no trees. Off in the distance, she could see something glowing; it was either lava or a waterway so polluted it could dissolve battery acid. It extended all around her field of vision, too; she tried to remember the term for an island in the middle of a river. Isthmus? Estuary? Island?
Behind her, the door slammed. It wouldn't open.
"Your decision," Norquist shouted from the other side. "Your consequences."
"Christ," Haberstan murmured, leaning back against (and then promptly jerking away from) the wall. "Just how long has it been, anyway?"
"A long time," Norquist said. "And it just got even longer. It's a new year, after all. January first. In the year of our Lord twenty fifteen. Enjoy the future, Doctor. I'm sure it'll suit you. Now. Yes? Hello? What is it this time? Yes, of course I'll get on it. What else?"
His voice receded into the distance. Haberstan realized, too late, that she had never seen any communications devices on him.
It began to rain. It may just have been nerves, but Haberstan swore she could feel her bones decalcify. Happy New Year, she thought to herself.
Happy New Year.