Read an Excerpt
By Karri Thompson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Karri Thompson
All rights reserved.
"Can you see me?" A hand pressed against my forehead for several seconds, leaving a cool spot above my eyebrows.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
Two people stood at my side, blurred like dark smudges on a gray wall. Another series of blinks brought them into focus: one male and one female.
"How about now?" asked the male, holding a small penlight above my face.
"Yes," I forced through dry lips. "What happened?" My jaw hurt at its hinge, my lips burned with each labored breath, and I could taste blood. The victim was my tongue, swollen and sticky with a puncture wound from my right bicuspid.
"You gave us quite a scare last week, but your vitals have been stable for the last three days. We don't anticipate any more complications."
The center of my chest hurt, a hard and heavy throb, matching the pain welling in the middle of my forehead. "Where's my mom? Where am I?" I sputtered as the words rapped against my aching throat and the man pulled away.
I was in a room, in an inclined bed, my body tucked cocoon-like in a blanket, but my arms were lying free atop it, positioned on either side of my torso. The blanket pulsed with warmth and emitted a steady beat, creating an intangible, unrestrictive comfort. It was the only thing that kept me from screaming at them.
"I'm Dr. Michael Bennett, and this is Dr. Susanne Love."
But he was too young to be a doctor. He couldn't have been more than twenty-one years old. Dr. Bennett's shoulders were broad, squared sharply under the maroon uniform he wore. The thick fabric, fabric that made a soft, scratchy sound when he moved, clung to his skin from his chest to his waist, hinting at the hard muscle underneath. With golden, smooth skin and controlled, purposeful movements, he looked like a high school football player in disguise.
"Where's my mother?" We were together. She must be here, too. She had to be, but what was this odd place? Nothing looked familiar — the cylindrical lamp to my right, the panel of equipment at the foot of my bed, the domed ceiling infused with tiny lights that glowed like stars.
Dr. Love brushed a strand of hair away from my eyes and tucked it behind my ear. I strained to flinch but couldn't move. She was Dr. Bennett's opposite. She was short, her facial features large and angular. Her uniform was way too tight, accentuating large hips and a protruding belly, but her smile was fantastic: bright teeth behind naturally thick, red lips. "Cassie, you're in a research and treatment hospital in Los Angeles, California."
Hospital? This was unlike any hospital I had ever seen. I swallowed hard, shifting my eyes away from the doctors. The wall to my left was covered with small, flat screens that pulsed with lights and lines that rose and fell and blinked. Two tubes rode up from the floor, draped over the side of my bed, and disappeared under my sheet. What parts of my body they were connected to, I didn't want to know or even think about.
"What's wrong with me? What's ...?" But the words rattled into a croak and died.
My hands were usually tanned and calloused from years in the desert wielding pickaxes and shovels, and brushing the dirt away from tiny bits of bone. But the hand I barely managed to lift from my bed was skeletal, soft, and pale.
The effort made me shake. The muscle in my forearm burned. "Ouch," I said, clenching my teeth and letting my hand drop.
"We can give you something for the pain, but only time can bring back your mobility," said Dr. Bennett.
Dr. Love walked around to the other side of the bed, and after pushing a series of colored squares on one of the panels, the pain ceased and my stiff body relaxed and sank into the softness of the sheets.
"What did you do?"
"This machine feeds a series of electronic impulses into your nervous system, blocking your pain receptors," Dr. Bennett replied, his tone controlled but cautious. "Since the human body adapts rather quickly to the stimuli it receives, the pain will eventually come back. When that happens, Dr. Love will reset the system with a new wavelength in order to keep tricking your body. We're doing everything we can to keep you comfortable."
Dr. Love placed her hand on my cheek. "Your muscles haven't moved by your own accord for a very long time. The pain you're experiencing is normal, but don't worry. Soon you'll make a complete recovery, and within a day or two, it'll be easier to speak. Muscle stimulators affixed to each limb will accelerate the healing process."
"Recovery from what? What's happened to me?" A single, hot tear slid down my face, followed by its twin a moment later, but I was unable to move and wipe it away before it left a warm streak on my cheek.
Dr. Bennett put his hand to his chin. "Tell us the last thing you remember."
"Um, well, I was with my mom, and Daniella, and Ian, and ..." I swallowed hard. "Where's my mom?"
"Please, just tell us the last thing you can remember, and then we'll tell you about your mother. I promise." Dr. Bennett raised one eyebrow.
"We were on-site. My mother found a tooth, serrated on one side, smooth on the other, most likely from a Ceratosaurus. We were eager to keep digging, but a storm was coming. We worked for another hour, then we secured the site and waited for the helicopter to take us back to Phoenix for the night ..." I paused as my throat tightened. "But we never made it to Phoenix."
"There was an accident." Dr. Bennett spoke softly, compassion in every word. I could see it in his eyes and sense his intensity as he furrowed his brow.
"We stayed too long. We should have left earlier." My nostrils flared. I took a deep breath and blinked hard to delay another set of tears, but the effort was futile. Before I could exhale, my cheeks moistened with a steady stream of tears. "The storm arrived just before the helicopter came. Ian tried to talk us into staying, but we were all sick of camping and just wanted dinner at a restaurant and a soft, warm bed. No one would listen to him." I sniffled and coughed to clear my throat. "Within minutes after takeoff, there was a flash, and we dropped from the sky. That's all I know. Now tell me about my mother. Where is she? What happened to her?" I cried with muffled words and a raw tongue.
"Everyone escaped the crash with minor injuries."
"Oh thank God. Then she's okay."
"Everyone survived — except you," said Dr. Bennett slowly.
"You had multiple fractures in both legs," the doctor continued, "and a compound fracture of your right forearm." He pointed to where I expected to see a scar, but there wasn't one. "In addition, you had several broken ribs, a punctured lung, and many cuts and abrasions, of course, but your most debilitating injury was an acute subdural hematoma, caused by blunt head trauma. The doctors did everything they could to save you, including surgical decompression, but they were limited in the twenty-first century."
"Limited ... what do you mean, limited? You said I'll make a complete recovery." My voice, my arms, my legs — everything started to shake.
"Cassie, when were you born?"
My answer came instantly. "July 16, 2005. Why?"
"When was the accident?"
My second answer came just as easily. "March 19th." It was Daniella's birthday. After we made it back to Phoenix that night, the team was going to take her out to a fancy dinner and celebrate, so in the days before she turned twenty-three, that was all she could talk about.
"March 19th, yes, but what year?"
"Cassie, today is June 4, 3025."
"What? That's not possible. Why are you ...?" The words clogged in my throat. Stabbing the point of my elbow into the mattress, I pushed down hard, hoping the rest of my body would follow in pole vault-like fashion. But my legs, like sticks of lead, remained tethered to the bed while my upper body twisted into a roll, taking me face- first toward the glassy floor.
Dr. Bennett caught me with one arm, and when I gasped, I caught the scent of his cologne, something crisp and spicy.
"I want to see outside," I screamed hoarsely. "Take me to a ..." I needed an open window, a surge of natural light or source of fresh air, but as I scanned the room again, I was met with the continued pulse of lights and zigzagged lines on a paneled wall to my left, and two blackened windows to my right. "Please, I just ... I have to get out of here."
"You need to rest, Cassie." In one motion, Dr. Bennett lifted me back to the center of the bed, his face looming close to mine. His breath hit my cheek when he pulled his arm from under my shoulders, and our eyes locked before he blinked and stood, facing Dr. Love.
My throat tightening, I clenched the edge of the sheet, and with a deep inhale, fought the surge of panic rising into my chest. "But this isn't possible," I blurted.
Dr. Love set her hand on my arm and gave it a squeeze. "Please listen to Dr. Bennett. He'll tell you everything. It's important that you remain calm."
Remain calm when I'd just been told that I'd awakened one thousand and three years into the future? This had to be some sick joke.
Dr. Bennett licked his lower lip. "It is possible. You need to let me explain, and then you'll understand." The corners of his mouth curved into a soft smile, and his eyes, gentle and reassuring, reminded me of Ian's — bright blue with a glimmer of innate intelligence and passion. His soothing expression alone was enough for me to release the clumps of sheet in my fists and steady my breathing.
After pulling a plastic chair closer to the edge of my bed, Dr. Bennett sat down and put his hands together like he was ready to give a sermon. "Have you ever heard of cryogenics?"
Dr. Bennett's shoulders crumpled before he inhaled deeply and licked his lips again. His eyes looked like mine felt — tired and laden with dark circles.
My only consolation was that I probably still looked worse.
"Well, in your lifetime, there were three private companies that specialized in preserving the body after death and storing it until it could be revived at a later date. People suffering from chronic illness, or those eccentric enough to partake in this fad, made arrangements to have their bodies frozen when they died and put away for the future when advancements made it possible to regenerate and cure them."
"So? Why are you telling me this?" I interrupted, my heartbeat gaining momentum, the monotonous cadence of his voice eroding my spirit with each word.
"One cryogenics company, S.T.A.S.I.S., specialized in those patients suffering from the irreversible termination of all functions of the brain," he continued, ignoring my question.
"And what does this have to do with me?" I asked cautiously, my voice cracking. "Are you trying to say that ...?"
Before he spoke again, Dr. Bennett glanced at the lines dancing next to me on the panels. "Cassie, you were brain dead. No one expected you to live, so out of desperation your grandfather purchased a S.T.A.S.I.S. cryonic chamber for your body."
"Brain dead? But that doesn't make sense. Brain cells can't be regenerated." A jolt of panic resurfaced as my words came out as a whisper.
"It's not impossible in 3025," said Dr. Bennett, smiling confidently, his eyes as soft and soothing as the tone of his voice. "With the invention of a neurogenic stimulator, brain regeneration is now possible. This procedure was performed on you."
"You're kidding, right?" I tried to smile. The expression on Dr. Bennett's face didn't change. "I'm sorry, but I can't believe any of this. I need to get out of here right now — I have to find my mom!" I said, pushing up onto my palms and rising from my pillow.
"Cassie, be still, please," urged Dr. Love. She lightly held me down, but I continued to struggle, shifting my legs and arching my back until I felt the hard pull of the tubes tethering me to the bed, which ended my fight for freedom.
My brain pulsed with denial, my heart wracked with grief, but they were both prisoners in a body that refused to help me flee. I frantically scanned the room again for something familiar, something from 2022, but the slick walls and suspended tables were alien to me.
All I wanted was to knock Dr. Love away, jump from the bed ninja-like, burst out the door, and run away — to escape this foreign world and Dr. Bennett's jarring words.
When I hit the mattress, Dr. Love dabbed a soft cloth against my forehead, her lips mashed together.
A small wrinkle returned between Dr. Bennett's brows, and when he leaned closer, I noticed that the crisp blue of his eyes were speckled with gold. "Cassie, I know this is difficult to hear, but we're not lying to you. We're here to help you."
I closed my eyes, and the sound of the helicopter returned, its blades whipping around and around in a grating whine, broken and unbalanced like the impending knowledge of my death and the truth of my resurrection.
Lightning cracked. My mother grabbed my arm. Daniella screamed. Ian shouted something at the pilot, and the copter jerked to one side, plunging to the desert floor. The smell of smoke and dust and then darkness — those were the last images to penetrate my thoughts.
If my mom survived, she'd be here now, wouldn't she? She'd be at my side and wouldn't leave me — not for a single minute. But they were all dead — my mom, my grandfather, Daniella, and Ian. Everyone I'd ever known was gone — dead and buried centuries ago.
A cold prickle began at my spine, radiating upward with the words, "But ... why so long?"
"You can blame the economy on that. Within ten years, all three cryogenic agencies went bankrupt and were forgotten." He smiled. "Six months ago, your cryonic chamber was discovered in the ruins of a twenty-first-century warehouse."
"So there must be others like me, S.T.A.S.I.S. participants from my time period."
"Unfortunately, no. Your chamber was the only one our team found that was still intact and fully powered, tethered to solar panels and a wind generator. We revived you almost immediately, but we kept you in stasis for several months until all of your injuries were healed."
"So, I'm all alone," I said in a hollow whisper that echoed inside my new emptiness. I tried to draw myself into a ball and hug my knees against my chest, but my atrophied muscles limited me to a slight twist that did little more than allow me to hide half my face in my pillow. "Everyone from 2022 is dead," I said in a weak, stifled whisper.
"I can tell you about your mom, if you like," said Dr. Love, taking the chair next to Dr. Bennett.
I nodded numbly.
"Well, right after you died, your mother found fame when she unearthed the skeletal remains of a female Ceratosaurus that she nicknamed Cassie. Isn't that sweet?" Dr. Love smiled twice as wide, her teeth like stars, but I didn't smile back. "Then two years later, she married one of her colleagues."
"Who?" I asked, quickly rolling onto my back to face her. My mother and father divorced when I was two, so I didn't grow up with the hope of them ever getting back together, and my mother was basically married to her profession.
"A paleontologist named Ian Jeffries."
"Are you sure?" I blurted.
"Yes, Ian Jeffries. They didn't have any children together, but they remained married through the end of their careers and retired in Arizona. Your mother was ninety-four years old when she died. Isn't that wonderful? She lived a very long and productive life and continued to be recognized for many accomplishments in her field."
Ian? My mom was almost twice his age. Sure, he was hotter than your average paleontology grad student, but still ... This was all too weird.
I turned to Dr. Bennett. "What am I going to do? I don't belong here. I don't even exist in 3025."
"You're wrong. You do belong here. Your hospital records, birth certificate, high school transcript, and even your driver's license were put in your cryonic chamber," said Dr. Bennett, his eyes gleaming as he pulled a rectangular, metal object from a pocket. "All of your information has been transferred into our system. You exist, Cassie. You're real, and we're here to help you adjust and understand our world."
Excerpted from Mirror X by Karri Thompson. Copyright © 2014 Karri Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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