The Dealey Five
Chapter 1 (or, "What Happened To World Y-MH-560-B")
The table was cold under his hands.
He could feel it, understand that there was something hard and metal and cold under his fingers, but he did not know what it was. By the way his legs were positioned, he figured out he was lying down on...whatever this metal thing was. A mattress? He didn’t even know the word for it.
After a moment, his eyes flickered open, and he found himself staring at the ceiling, one bright light that covered the entire expanse. He tried to sit up, succeeded, failed. Rolling over on his right side, he saw that there was another...table, that’s what it was. A metal table, but nobody was laying on this one. Furthermore, there were three other tables just like this one, all of them empty. He was the only person in the room.
He summoned as much strength as he could, closing his eyes. The voice rang out again in his mind. He didn’t know where it was coming from, but it was the same phrase that had repeated in his mind ever since he had woken up on this table.
He finally found the strength to get up, landing on his two feet. Looking down, he saw he had what looked to be athletic shoes on, as well as blue drawstring sweatpants with elastic at the end of each leg. His striped red shirt and white wristbands made him wonder...what was he doing or where was he going before he got here?
“Well, at least somebody is still in this room.”
He turned toward the source of the voice. There was a man in this room, unlike any man he had ever seen in his life. He came across as a foreigner, with light blonde hair and blue eyes, and a white jacket on with two black stripes criss-crossing in the middle. He carried two small packages under his arm.
The strange man smiled. “I assume you have a lot of questions.”
What? Didn’t this man know that he was speaking a strange language? “君が分からない、でもしりません,” the other person in the room said.
The strange man laughed and pulled a device out of his pocket. “Oh. Right. Might want to fix this.”
He pushed the button as the other person kept ranting. “それでも、外人は -- doing here?” He paused, stopped, rethought that. “Wait --” His eyebrows raised. “What happened to my voice?”
“Localized speech translation technology,” the foreign man said. “So now you can understand me, correct?”
“Well, of course I can. But where did my language go?”
“If you focus on it, you can go back to speaking in your original language if you like. The technology embedded in your brain will just make you think and speak first in English, but you can override that with the knowledge you already know.”
“Oh.” He tried it. “英語は -- I mean, what is English?”
“The official language of the Dealey faction of the Quintessential Works for Everyday Reasons To Yield. One of them, anyway, but only my boss has to speak the other language, which isn’t even native to your old world.” The foreigner smiled again, one too many times for the other person’s liking. “My name is Michael Spowers, and I am the assistant director of the Dealey Faction. You have arrived at our headquarters.”
“Can I ask why I have arrived at your headquarters, Spowers-san?”
“Simply because you have no other place to go. And please, call me Mick. Everybody does.”
It was hard for the other person to say it, but it did finally roll off the tongue. “Mick.”
“Yep.” Mick sat the two boxes down on the nearest metal table. “Do you remember anything?”
He thought to himself, then realized there was only one thing he could remember -- the voice from earlier. For whatever reason, he decided to not tell this Mick about this. “Not really. Should I be remembering anything?”
“Hmm. Not as of yet. There’s usually a good wipe done in the process, once you’re taken through limbo, but most operatives get their full memories back eventually. The real question is, where did your associate go? If we can find her, then I only have to say all of this once.” Mick sighed. “Don’t tell me she got beamed down, as well.”
Nothing Mick was saying was making sense, even though they were technically now speaking the same language. But before he could ask any questions, there was a loud noise and an “Oi!” both coming from outside one of the doors.
“That should be her,” Mick said as he pressed another button on his device. The door in front of both people opened, side sliding doors moving so quickly that one moment they were there, and the next, they were not.
The girl fell into the room so fast that the amnesia-ridden table waker hadn’t had time to prepare. In an instant, both were sprawled out on the floor, her on top of him, awkward position and all. Their eyes locked for a split second, then she was off him before he could even react.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said in perfect English, then stopped. “What am I --”
“Before you freak out, he did it to me, too,” he said, pointing to Mick.
Mick raised his eyebrows. “I’m...going to get you your jackets before my boss kills me,” he said, moving back toward the boxes he had sat down on the table.
“Oh, no you don’t.” And the girl stood up, then wobbled for a second, catching her balance. Her new friend noticed she was wearing impossibly high heels, a peach color that contrasted with her medium skin tone and long dark brown hair. She pulled on the hem of her itsy bitsy teeny weeny lavender halter dress and marched right over to Mick.
“I’d like an explanation as to what is going on in this room, right now,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. She was almost as tall as he was, as well, which made this easier. “I wasn’t here before, and I wasn’t speaking this language before. And you think it’s okay to just...do whatever you want with me? Do you know who I am? Do you have any clue who I am?”
“You’re about to fall out of that dress, that’s who you are,” the other person said as he stood up from where he had fallen.
Before she could smack either male in the room, Mick cleared his throat. “Okay. Sure. I don’t know who you are, so enlighten me. Who are you?”
“Who am I? Who am I? Well, everybody knows who I am! I’m --” And then she paused, stopped for a moment, finally realized. “Wait. I don’t even know who I am.”
“That makes two of us,” the other person said.
She looked closer at him. “You don’t look normal,” she said, staring at something above his head. “Is that a plastic eye headband?”
“They’re goggles,” Mick said, finally unpacking the boxes. “As to why they are there, I haven’t the slightest clue. He showed up with them on.” He reached into one of the boxes and pulled out a purple jacket much like his own, with white criss crossing stripes. He handed it to the girl. “Do us both a favor and wear this.”
She almost complained, but put it on, zipping it up the middle. “This is absurd.”
“The only absurd thing about it all is that we can’t remember how we got here,” the other person said. “Neither of us can.”
Mick unpacked a red jacket, the same style. “Well, that’s to be understood at this stage in the game. Hey, boy, put this on.” He tossed the jacket to the goggle headed boy.
He slipped it on, but did not zip it. “You seem to know what has happened to us.” He looked at the girl.
She crossed her arms. “Yeah. Spill it, now, or...or else. I haven’t quite figured out what that else is yet, but there’s an else. Don’t forget it.”
“Okay, okay, sheesh,” Mick said. “Sorry. It’s just been a while since I’ve done this. Truth be told, my sister is better at this than I am.” He sighed and reached back into the boxes and pulled out two small devices, smartphones, almost. They turned on, and he handed each to one of the people in front of him.
“You don’t remember anything about where you were before you came here,” he said. “The only indicator as to your whereabouts comes from your local language, which we could not override. Red Boy, you were speaking the Asian language nihongo, or Japanese. Purple Girl, it was harder to tell because you were outside, but your accent is still a dead ringer for Español, or Spanish.”
“You know my language?” Purple Girl asked.
“I’ve come into contact with other people who have spoken your language. Quite recently, in fact. But that doesn’t mean you are both from the same place.” Mick made a motion to the devices. “Neither of you remember who you are. But this much we know: that you are both from different countries in a world in a galaxy in a universe. Does all of that sound familiar?”
Both of them nodded.
“Good,” Mick said, “that should be inherent enough. Okay, time for the first bomb: your universe, your galaxy, your world, your countries no longer exist. That is why you can’t remember who you are...because technically, you were supposed to disappear with them.”
Neither one of the kids looked particularly surprised or shocked. Yet. Then Purple Girl spoke. “So the world just died? Like the Rapture or something? Is this heaven?”
The voice entered Red Boy’s mind again. “お母さんはどこ?” He tried to shake it, but it wouldn’t go away.
“This is not heaven,” Mick explained. “When your world disappeared, both of you were sent here instead. You are two of the only people who remain from your entire world.”
“Pardon my stupidity,” Red Boy said, “but I would like to know...do you know how our world disappeared?”
“Your world was classified as Y-MH-560-B,” Mick said. “There were two worlds that were similar, your world and another world, and both were set on a collision path. Laws of physics don’t apply here, but the laws of string theory do. It’s a long story -- mostly involving my employer, the other world, and lots of chai -- but the other world swallowed up your world, and anything that didn’t fit in the other world disappeared. Which was most stuff. Your past houses and towns and any families that you would have had are gone. And that doesn’t matter much to you at this moment, because you can’t remember a thing about it. It’ll get worse, though, I promise. You’ll regain your memories, and at that time, we’ll give you and the rest of your group plenty of time to grieve.”
“The rest of our group?” Purple Girl looked around. “There’s more of us?”
“More on that in a minute,” Mick said. “Collisions of worlds happen all the time. There are millions of universes out there, and they have to be monitored. That’s what I do. As a member of the Quintessential Works For Everyday Reasons to Yield, I help monitor these universes, and when they collide, I make sure that it happens with the best result for existence as a whole. Now, all of QWERTY’s employees are actually just like you. A long time ago, me and my sister Jesse were on a planet in a universe that got swallowed up like yours did. But we came here, as refugees from that universe, and instead of disappearing, we were allowed to help with QWERTY. You have that choice as well. If you don’t want to help, there is nowhere else for you to go.”
Red Boy looked at Purple Girl. “Do you want to help?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I still don’t trust this guy. I don’t know what his problem is with the matching jackets and saying that our world is gone. A world can’t just disappear. That’s -- it’s crazy, is what it is.”
“As stated, you’ll remember more about your world if you stay here,” Mick said. “And then you can decide for yourselves if it was a good thing or not to have your world disappear.”
She finally nodded. “Okay, I’m in. Might as well.” She turned to Red Guy. “As long as you are.”
His eyes widened, goggles raising as he did so. “Me? Why me?”
“Because you’re the only person I know from my world. I don’t trust this freak here and what he’s saying, but somewhere in our brains, even though we spoke different languages and we were probably from different countries, we were in the same world. And that’s gone now, so all I have is you. Freaky headband and all.”
He blushed a bit, then stammered as he realized. “Wait -- Mick-san, you did mention there are more of us?”
“Five in all,” Mick said, motioning to three other boxes. “You all showed up here when your world disappeared. They are elsewhere at the moment, but be secure in knowing that you are not alone.” He pulled out a device that resembled the smartphones Red Boy and Purple Girl had been given. “Let’s test these out, shall we?”
He pushed a button, and Red Boy’s device began to ring. He picked it up and answered completely from rote. ‘もしもし、松本 --” He paused. “I know my name.”
“Glad to see it works -- what?” Mick asked, slightly in shock.
Red Boy stared at the phone. “I know my name! Wherever I was in my world, I must have been trained to say ‘Hello, Matsumoto residence’ in my language when the phone rang. And if I lived at the Matsumoto residence, then my name must be Matsumoto...well, my family name, anyway. But I get the feeling that I’ve been called that name a lot, and that I answered to it. Matsumoto.” He smiled. “It’s very familiar.”
“Should we call you that?” Mick asked.
Matsumoto nodded. “For now, at least. Once I become familiar enough with everybody, I can be called by my first name, once I remember it.”
“Lucky,” Purple Girl said with a pout. “Can I call you Matt?”
“No. Matsumoto-san is the full way to do it, but Matsumoto is fine. Don’t shorten it.”
“How come he gets to know his name and I don’t?” Purple Girl asked. “This isn’t fair.”
“Hmm.” Mick looked down at his phone. “How about I call you, and you answer in your native language. Maybe you’ll answer like Matsumoto and you’ll inherently say your name as well.” He called her, and her phone rang.
She looked down at it, finally noticed the button to pick up, and did so. “¿Sí, Solana?” Then she wrinkled her nose. “Apparently I only spoke to somebody named Solana on the phone.”
“She may have been a friend,” Matsumoto said.
“Or a personal assistant,” Mick said, “but you’re too young to have one of those. How old do you think you are, anyway?”
“I am sixteen,” Purple Girl said. “That much I do remember.”
Matsumoto shrugged. “Don’t know, but I think it will come back.”
Purple Girl thought for a moment. “Friend in my language is amigo,” she said. “And the female version is amiga. So can you call me that for now, instead of Purple Girl? I’ll answer to it.”
“Will do,” Mick said.
“Those other three people probably don’t remember anything either,” Matsumoto thought out loud. “Are they being helped by somebody else?”
Mick showed his first signs of hesitation. “Actually...according to our records, they’re not at QWERTY headquarters at all. They are on another world.”
Both Amiga and Matsumoto looked shocked. “Then...where are they?” Amiga asked.
“They are on the world that swallowed yours,” Mick explained.
“And why haven’t you gone to that world to get them?” Amiga asked.
Mick gave his best don’t-hurt-me grin. “I cannot go there to find them...but you can. Since that world is the one that swallowed yours, you will be visible and able to exist on that and only that world. It is not your world, but you will be able to find the other three there.”
“So send us there already!” Amiga said, getting impatient. “If we are the only ones who can find them, and we’re all from the same world anyway, then we should get a move on!”
“Amiga-san,” Matsumoto noted, “we don’t even remember the world we came from. How are we going to know how to get around and operate in this new world?”
“That is what your phones are for,” Mick said. “They will give you all of the information you need. Once you get to the world, enough will be familiar that you’ll start remembering and it won’t be a problem. If you really get in trouble, though, and you can’t get yourself out, launch the Colemak application on that phone. It will tell you what to do.”
“Fine, fine,” Amiga said, still in a hurry. “So how do we get there?”
“Both of you dial “Y-MH-560-C” and it will --” Too late. Amiga had already dialed the code and had disappeared into thin air.
Mick looked at Matsumoto and gave him a shrug. “It’s okay. Women are usually like this. You better catch up with her -- although there is one more thing.”
Matsumoto’s eyes were on Mick. “What’s that?”
“You only have a week to find all three of them. And the world is a big place. I don’t know exactly where they have physically ended up. But you’ll know them because, like you, they won’t remember a thing. They will be from your world, and that is your biggest advantage. Use the Colemak button whenever you need it. Abuse it if you need to. You’ll do a lot of things as part of QWERTY, but this may be the hardest mission to start you out on.” Mick smiled at Matsumoto. “But I believe in you and Amiga. Dial in, Red Boy, and good luck.”