The day had not gone well for Sarah Whittaker. On top of everything else, she had been made to work half an hour of overtime, to correct a mistake that hadn't even been hers. She was so distracted by her irritation that she didn't notice the strange towering wall of fog forming in a circle around her car and several others in the company parking lot - until she walked right into it.
The weird feeling this produced shocked her back to reality, and she stopped, looking around, confused. She saw the fog, ringing a circle of cars and pavement, centered a few meters away, and watched, stunned, as it thickened. Then, as the feeling of strangeness increased, she panicked, yelling and jumping backwards. Only she didn't clear of the fog with her leap, landing short. Sarah began scrabbling, shoving against the pavement with her feet, frantically backpedaling. She flailed her arms... and froze, as she saw the skin on them darken.
Sarah screamed and threw herself out of the fog with a final, desperate lunge, falling to the pavement just outside the ring. She lay still for several long moments, as people gathered around her, babbling.
"Why'd stupid look what she at do was her bitch hair/skin that..."
The babbling continued, growing louder and more confused as more people crowded around her. Sarah, shocked and dazed by what had happened, put her hands over ears to try and keep the voices out, but that only helped a little. Growing more and more panicked by the increasing pressure of the voices she suddenly arched her back and screamed out in angry protest.
There was a sudden, ringing quiet. Slowly, Sarah unwrapped her arms from her head and looked around. She was surrounded by over a dozen people, all collapsed on the ground.
Not sure what was going on, she directed her gaze further outward. For as far as she could see, people were lying on the ground. Several cars in the parking lot and on nearby streets had rolled into obstacles or each other. In one which had just left the company lot the driver was slumped over the wheel. The uncontrolled car made a lazy turn and bumped over the curb with its left wheels, continuing along half on the sidewalk until it ran into a mail box and stopped. Except for natural noises of wind and such, and the expected sounds of the aftermath of several minor automobile accidents, the world was silent. No human noises at all.
Before she could do anything else, Sarah was startled out of her shock by a creaking groan, followed by a drawn-out crash. She gasped and jumped to her feet, turning to see that the area of fog containing the part of the parking lot with her car had been replaced by a section of forest. A large tree near the edge had lost about half its foliage and part of the trunk. With the normal amount of branches on one side and no roots on the other to hold it down, it had fallen over. The top of this giant extended past the far edge of the circle and crushed several cars as it landed.
"What the Hell is going on here?" whispered Sarah.
Slowly the babbling started coming back, first at a distance, but moving towards her from all directions. It was confused now, some of the voices panicked, in pain or both. Sarah put her hands over her ears but that helped less now than before. As the people around her in the parking lot began to stir the babbling became worse. Sarah felt like she was losing her mind, her self, in that ocean of noise.
"Stop," she whispered, pushing against the noise with her mind. "Please stop."
And, somehow, it did. There was blessed silence inside her head, though she could now hear more normal noises through her covered ears. As she relaxed in relief, Sarah realized something. In spite of what she had just been through, she was in far better condition than any of those around her. There was no-one to help her, while others needed her help. She felt a strong flare of unfamiliar irritation at this, which required a moment to shake off. Sarah took a deep, shaky breath, got herself under control, then knelt beside Joe Sturm. Joe had hit his head when he fell, and seemed to be the worst hurt of those around her.
"Joe! How do you feel?"
His response was incoherent. She helped him sit up. Joe acted dazed, which was no surprise. He shook his head, then winced and groaned. He put his hand to the injury and looked at it, then paled when he saw the blood. Sarah, meanwhile, was digging into her purse. She pulled out a wad of clean facial tissues - barely noticing that something about them seemed different, now - and gently pressed her makeshift bandage to the wound. Joe still wasn't fully aware of his surroundings, but his eyes were focused and the pupils equal. He held the tissues in place after Sarah placed his hand over them.
"Hold it there; I'm going to check the others."
Fortunately, the rest of the employees in the parking lot had gotten off lighter than Joe. Within minutes, some from that group were moving to help the traffic accident victims. Sarah helped the less fit inside, where there was a company nurse who was better equipped to handle this sort of thing than she.
Except that Sarah forgot she had worked overtime today. The nurse was already gone, her small office locked, the lights out. Worse, the people in here had also been hit by whatever it was. Some of them were also injured, the worst case being a woman who had fallen off a forklift and hurt her arm. Most of the heavy equipment at the plant - including the forklift - had kill switches, which had prevented many more injuries and maybe saved some lives.
"Anybody seen Mr. Slassen?" Sarah called out. "Mr. Jacovy? Any of the supervisors?"
"Skeever was the only one left this late," said one of those who had been in the building when Sarah entered.
"Shit!" hissed Sarah. Again, she felt that strange flare of irritation.
The reasonable thing to do now was to call 911 and wait. Sarah didn't feel like waiting. The few first-aid kits in the rest of the building were already being opened, but there was more and better equipment inside the nurse's office, as well as comfortable places for people to sit and lie. Only they couldn't get in. Sarah angrily kicked the door, which rattled impressively but stayed closed. She did succeeded in hurting her foot.
"Get a fire ax pain ram forklift man kick it down why's she look like pain chop the Hell is going pain phone"
Sarah gasped and clenched her teeth, raising the mental barrier she had inadvertently dropped. The voices stopped. She didn't know what she was doing or how she was doing it, but Sarah hoped she could keep it up.
"One side, people; I've got the keys," came a familiar voice, as Skeever Thompson came up.
Skeever unlocked the door, flipped on the lights, and proceeded to help the injured into the small office.
"I've tried 911 but the line was busy," he announced as he worked. "Jill is gonna keep trying until she gets through."
Sarah felt better with Skeever in charge. He was one of the smartest men she had ever met, and while he was a hard worker and expected others to also work hard, he was fair. Sarah helped with the injured, mainly getting them to a chair or couch and checking how badly they were hurt. Skeever went further, applying pressure bandages to cuts and splinting the arm of Julie, the woman who had fallen off the forklift. Skeever announced that Julie had a greenstick fracture, whatever that was. At one point he was reaching blindly for a bundle of gauze which had fallen to the floor while his eyes were on his work. Sarah grabbed the gauze and held it out to him. Skeever grabbed the package, then started, and looked up at his helper.
"Sarah?!" he demanded, apparently noticing for the first time her black skin and white hair. "What the Hell happened to you?!"
Sarah sighed, and related her experiences in the parking lot as she helped with the injured.
"Part of the parking lot changed?!" said someone, when Sarah got to the part about the tree falling.
"Yeah, I saw it, too," replied someone else, "My car was there; now it's gone!"
"Someone turn the radio on," said Skeever.
The program that came on was distressingly normal. Just music playing and, after a few minutes, a DJ making announcements and routine chatter. Skeever went over and changed stations. Still nothing out of the ordinary.
"What's that local AM station, downtown?"
Someone told him and Skeever tuned it in. Here, finally, was something relevant to what they had just experienced.
"Continuing with our coverage of the strange events on the west side of town, we have just heard that everyone in a large area was knocked unconscious just after these rings of mist appeared. Some of those recovering report hearing a woman's voice yelling at them to shut up. We are also getting reports that people and objects inside the rings were physically altered. There's actually a section of old growth forest outside..."
"Oh," said Sarah, in sudden revelation.
"...reports that 911 services are swamped, and that calls to Lexington and other neighboring communities have revealed that they are experiencing similar bizarre occurrences..."
Some of the others were also putting two and two together.
"You did this!" said Joe. "You made us all pass out!"
He seemed more startled than angry, but some of those injured were giving Sarah dirty looks.
"Hey, I'm sorry," said Sarah, embarrassed. "Something happened to me out there."
"All right, people," said Skeever, heading off what might have been an angry confrontation. "From what I understand, the rings appeared first and changed things, including Sarah. It's not her fault."
That brought a mixture of grumbling and mumbled agreement.
"Okay, you were all heading home anyway. Why don't those of you who aren't hurt go on. We need the room."
"Will we be working tomorrow?" someone asked.
"Why wouldn't we be?" countered Skeever.
There was more grumbling at that, but of the good-natured sort. Skeever had turned their animosity from Sarah to the company, something they were used to feeling peeved at.
Then Skeever turned to Sarah and gave her a long, evaluating look. She shifted uneasily under his gaze. The radio, still playing in the background, continued to report on the strange events of this afternoon.
"So what's your take on all this?" Skeever asked unexpectedly.
"How the Hell should I know?" demanded Sarah, surprised at her vehemence. "Like I said earlier, I got caught in that thing and it changed me."
Skeever looked like he was about to ask something else, when Julie sat up.
"I don't feel so good," she announced weakly. Then she collapsed.
"Damn," said Skeever, hurrying to her aid. He looked the forklift driver over quickly. "She's in shock."
"What do we do?" asked Sarah, frantically, as part of her wanted to ask why she should to anything.
"Elevate her feet and keep her warm. I'll try the phone again."
Sarah put Julie's feet on a couple of pillows and pulled a blanket over the prone woman while Skeever dialed. He got through on his third try. After a brief exchange, he hung up, looking unhappy.
"They say they're swamped, and we're on our own," he informed Sarah. "She gave me some first-aid instructions, but it's stuff we're already doing."
He gave Sarah that look again.
"I'm going to say something silly, but shock can kill, and I'm willing to look silly on the chance that it might help Julie. I want you to think her well."
"What?" exclaimed Sarah, shocked.
"You were changed by whatever that was. Part of that change was to make you a telepath. You hear thoughts and broadcast them, and pretty powerfully. I'm betting that you also have other psychic abilities. One the most common of those in folklore, after reading and sending thoughts, is healing."
Sarah thought he was cracked, but a glance at Julie's pale face made her decide to try. The young woman looked very ill.
She sat beside the padded examination table and took the hand of Julie's uninjured arm. Sarah liked the young woman, but they weren't really even friends. Just how much would Sarah do for someone she knew only casually? She'd seen that Star Trek episode; what if she could heal someone, but only by taking on their injury herself?
Sarah sighed and put that out of her head. In the first place it was only a wild guess that she could heal. And if she could, she didn't know how. This was probably all for... Sarah shook her head angrily and put her mind back to the problem. So, how to start? Sarah recalled that mental barrier keeping the voices out. She didn't want to let it down. So, hopefully, if she could heal Julie it would be without making mental - that is, telepathic - contact. Sarah remembered some meditation lessons she had taken as a teen. The whole thing had been for a giggle, but the instructor had been able to do some impressive things, and Sarah remembered what she had been taught.
Okay; eyes closed; focus on breathing until she was calm. That was surprisingly easy. Now, sort of feel around, mentally...
Suddenly Julie's entire form lit up with patterns of energy in Sarah's mind's eye. There were flowing colors, patterned in ways that almost seemed to make sense. And there, in the left forearm, was a spot where the colors shifted to an almost uniform, angry red. Spreading slowly was a darker core.
"What happened?" asked Skeever, noticing Sarah's sudden tension. Sarah, eyes still closed, described what she was "seeing." "That blot in the middle sounds like a hemorrhage. If so, no wonder she's in shock. Can you fix it?"
Sarah focused on the center of the red blob, and now her perception suddenly switched from sight to touch. She felt the tear in the artery, throbbing with each pulse, the edges flapping and spreading. It must have started small, just a nick from the broken bone at first, growing larger with each heartbeat. Sarah pushed the ragged edges of the tear together, stretching them to fit where tiny pieces had torn away, and then held them while trying to figure how to keep them that way. If she held them long enough, of course, they would heal back, but that might take hours... or days.
There had to be a way. Holding the tear closed with one part of her mind, she "looked" closer. Now her perception switched back to sight, except that she was sensing fine textures. She could "see" where the fibrous material of the cell walls had torn apart. Carefully, she wove the fibres together, a few here, a few more there. Sarah didn't know how many it would take to hold against the rhythmic pressure of the pulse, and she was beginning to tire. She continued until her perception wavered and dimmed, then reluctantly pulled out.
Sarah came back to herself to find that her head was lying on Julie's arm. Skeever was beside her, looking concerned.
"Are you all right?" the supervisor asked.
"How is she?"
"She's still in shock, but doesn't seem to be getting worse," Skeever replied. "What did you do?"
"Repaired the tear," sighed Sarah. She ran her hands tiredly through her snow-white hair. "There's got to be an easier way."
The paramedics arrived about half an hour later. They treated Julie first; once assured she was out of danger they tended the others injured. Sarah was also examined, and her vitals baffled the paramedics; her respiration, pulse and blood pressure were unusually but not dangerously low, but her temperature was five degrees Celsius below normal. They also discovered that under that huge mop of white hair she had pointed ears. Sarah politely but firmly refused transport to the hospital. The paramedics did take Julie with them when they left, as expected. All of the other injured employees were told to go home and contact their personal doctors.
"Normally we'd take most of you in for observation, just as a precaution," said one of the paramedics. "Right now, though, we're swamped. Please, don't come to the hospital unless you get worse."
Skeever and Sarah sat in the otherwise empty nurse's office after the others left, she munching a much-needed candy bar from the vending machine in the hall while he - with permission - examined the contents of Sarah's purse.
"'Mindoll'?" he said, puzzled, looking at a box of over-the-counter medicine. He read the instructions on the back. "'For relief of telepathic oversensitivity, when you just don't feel like keeping all those voices out yourself, or feel you might be leaking what you think to others.'"
"I could have used that earlier," remarked Sarah, sourly.
"Your driver's license has some odd changes, too. For instance, the photo looks like you do now. And you have a cheap romance novel about an illicit relationship between a human and a Drow. The woman on the cover looks a lot like what you've become."
"That's supposed to be a Georgette Heyer novel," said Sarah, stunned. She started to rise, so she could see for herself, but gave up halfway standing and sank back into her chair. "Why am I so tired?"
"Maybe it was a matter of scale," said Skeever, rambling. "The actual work done shouldn't have been that much, but..."
Sarah nodded in blank agreement, not really listening. She just wanted to finish her candy and go home to bed. Strangely, though, the snack wasn't sitting well on her stomach, even though it was a Milky Way, her favorite. In fact, she felt like she was about to...
Sarah abruptly jumped up and bolted to the sink, where she promptly deposited the candy bar and a great deal of something else. Skeever came over and held her head until she finished.
"Stress, I guess," the supervisor said, nodding.
"No," choked Sarah. She rinsed her mouth out, spat, and repeated. She then straightened, making a face. "It felt like the times I tried drinking beer. Before I learned that I was allergic to alco..."
She paled, as much as she could with her black skin, her hand flying to her mouth.
"Oh, no. Don't tell me that I'm allergic to chocolate, now."
Some notes on the Tensor Fields
Without outside influences they are cone-shaped, extending from a mathematical point at the Earth's core to an undetermined distance above the surface. Matter, gravity and magnetic fields affect them slightly, enough that the largest are distorted into other shapes. Things caught within a TF (Clever abbreviation, what?) are exchanged along reality lines. The smaller the cone, the larger the difference between what was there and what replaces it. At the boundary, the interference between former and present locations causes rapid and random side-slipping. The degree of slip depends on the size of the enclosed area (smaller causes more, due to the lessened distance available for dispersion of field strength) and how late the objects are in the boundary zone (eventually, the objects are completely randomized at the molecular level). Length of time spent inside a Zone is irrelevant to degree of change, except for how late it makes the exit.
Note that direction of entrance is important for type of change but not degree. Entering partway and backing out causes the same change as passing all the way through. Going through twice (the effect lasts about fifteen seconds, so there's time) causes two, unrelated changes.
Items which go through the same portion of a Barrier at the same time will experience the same change. Slight differences in time or place will still cause the same type of change.
The world on the other side of the barrier will shift in random fashion continuously during the period of effect. This can be observed, but due to the distortion of light passing through the Barrier only clearly obvious differences will be noticed. Going through and back provides stronger evidence of this phenomenon, but there is a chance that someone who waits too long will lose the connection with their origin world. Fortunately, there is a sort of "Conservation of Change" which allows some flexibility. (Note Barry's case.)
The majority of those changed do not get notably improved by the alterations. Most of those I write about are exceptions. I feel that they are more interesting. ;-)
This work is Copyright 1997 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing permission to repost or reprint should contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org