“No, I’m certainly not from Born.” Phoenix’s words, dogged by the cold, caught in his throat several times before he could get them out.
The girl looked up at the sky, her hair dead at her sides in the still air. She frowned at the rubble of the building. With dismay, she uttered, “I take it there is no Born, is there?” As she turned to face him, Phoenix caught a first glimpse of her eyes: the irises were all grey, a blank grey, except for her pupils, which grew wide with anxiety.
He shook his head.
She sighed. “How long has it been?” She scanned her surroundings, comparing them to the images she had been shown before.
“Hundreds of years,” he answered. “Thousands.”
She stared at him, expressionless, as if she had no idea how to use the muscles of her face. “Where did everyone go?”
“Underground,” he answered. It was dawning on him that this was a very strange situation, and the only thing about it which startled him was knowing it didn’t startle him. Here was an apparently human girl––about his age, maybe closer to Roxanne’s––whose features were like blank paper, waiting to be colored. Many of her features weren’t fully human, despite her otherwise human-like appearance, and she’d come from a crystalline box, which he’d somehow activated. And yet, he wasn’t bothered at all.
“And people certainly have changed in that time,” she murmured, drawing hesitant steps in the snow on a slow walk to Phoenix. “Your nose is completely black, like the sky.”
Phoenix’s hands shot up to his nose, cracking several layers of ice on the sleeves of his coat. It was mostly pointless anyway––there was no sensation in his nose nor in his hands––but he now knew he had to get back down to the Underground, wherever the entrance was.
“I need to go back!” he shouted, or at least as close as he could come to shouting with his raw, icy throat. With a shaky arm, he pushed himself to his feet. He made the mistake of looking down as he stood, and the sight of his hand made him sick. Even though he couldn’t feel anything wrong, he knew his wrist wasn’t supposed to bend like that.
“What?” she cried. “You’re going to leave me here? Alone? You can’t leave me here alone!”
Phoenix stared at her blankly, unsure what to say. Not even knowing who she was, really, or what people Underground might think of her. Not thinking much at all, as his headache had blasted away so many of his words. Then, without saying or explaining anything, he turned around, hoping to find his way back to the doors by retracing his steps.
“I’m coming with you!” she called after him, and hurried to his side. “Which way is it?”
He gave her a sideways glance, but didn’t respond. His mind hadn’t grasped most of what she’d said, and even if it had, he wouldn’t have been able to respond. They continued along in silence for a brief while, each hoping it was the right way.
“I take it you don’t talk much,” she finally said. “But I’ve been alone in that Hibernation Prism for however long, and even though I was unconscious, it’s still kind of lonely.” She took in a deep breath and continued, “It took me forever to become fluent in Engl––”
At her abrupt stop, Phoenix slowed his shuffle to a stop and turned. The girl was face-down in the snow. Her arms were splayed out at her sides, her legs still in the parallel position they would have been in if she were still upright. Her chest rose and fall as if she were sobbing. Phoenix reached his arm down as best he could to help her to her feet.
She rolled over onto her back, and it was now evident she was laughing, not crying. It came in high, breathy thunders, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She stuttered with her words between laughs until finally she managed to choke out, “I never got the knack of walking. It’s so odd to only have two legs.” After she’d calmed down some, she added, “I always like laughing, though. It’s nice.” She propped herself up with her elbows and made her way back up to standing, when she looked directly into Phoenix’s eyes and asked, “Are you alright? Your eyes are facing different directions. I don’t think they’re supposed to do that.”
And, for what must have been the third time since he’d left, he blacked out, collapsing into her arms.