The lizard's out cold. I'm awake, coughing sawdust and blood. Maya's awake, golf club in hand and ready to bat. The man in red kneels, hands behind his head. I forgive you, he says. Smiling serene calm peaceful blissful. Teeth rotten. Lips cracked.
I forgive you, he says. I don't care, Maya says, swinging.
Stop fucking with me, brain, stop fucking with me. Maya was kneeling and buying me time and he swung and I went for his legs and we tumbled and he stumbled and...he fell. Shattering glass, window breaking and he fell smiling and soundless. Maya kept me from falling, we woke the lizard and we ran out of the factory.
Six years ago, the lizard found a key. I drew us a map, and Maya ran point. Just three of us, the first time. We went looking for a sign (the mouth or the horns, or even the windmill) and found the smiler instead. The first of them and the least of them, red suit and rotten teeth and oh boy was he just so happy to see us.
Remembering wrong isn't the problem - not this memory, at least. When they're involved, memory's a finicky thing. Static's a given. I don't remember them by the names they use or their titles - I remember them sideways. For the smiler my trace memory is Maya at the Factory, the beginning of our bad winter.
The details get switched around. The characters switch places. The way their presence affects memory, it's a bit like balancing a thermodynamic equation. Energy can change form but the overall energy in the system remains constant. That's how it's been all this time, all these years.
So when my trace memory for the lizard's starts going blank, it's a bit of a fucking problem.
He takes its limp hand and presses to the wall, to the center of the mouth drawn in grease and engine oil. We're at (I don't remember where we are). There are (I don't remember how many we are) of us, all standing guard around the lizard just in case - hopefully it won't even be a few minutes before he's calibrated his eyes and ears to the last sign.
(I don't remember how many minutes we lose now, how many hours).
its hand is on his face now, fingers scrabbling at his throat, parting his jaws
(I don't remember how it eats his name, only that it does.)
Maya helps (I've forgotten her name) give the lizard CPR and yells at us to look for defibrillators, for fucksakes, we're in a fucking HOSPITAL!
We look, but the hospital is grey and all its patients are grey and all its doctors are grey and the lights don't cast shadows, not of us, any of us.
(I don't remember how we escape that sideways place. Or who saves the lizard's life. Or why we christen him the lizard after escaping the hospital.)
When a memory gets tangled up, it's an after-effect of having to remember them, even sideways. When a memory starts disappearing, something's out there eating it up, second by second.
I have to be calm about this. I have to be calm. If I find the lizard, he can help me figure out what's missing and maybe why.
How to find the lizard, when he's gone so fucking spectacularly off-grid, even for him?
Have to keep calm. Have to remember my function.
I find routes. I draw maps. I map territories. I can find the lizard, but I have to be careful about it. Have to remember that we're never the only ones looking. I'm looking for a friend. They're out there, hunting. And worse: recruiting.
A courier, maybe? Two nodes, two packages, the start of a triangulation route?
Not exactly quiet. Things could get messy. But it's the quickest way I know. Not really much of an option when you're running on a clock and you don't know how many minutes or hours or days you have left before the timer goes click click boom.