An Encounter in Quarantine

Shi sits in quarantine, connected to several machines that are examining her as she sits and reads from her tablet screen. With her permission, her wings have been removed and hang on the wall behind her. The room is bare for the moment, little more than a cell, though Shi herself seems more than content reading encyclopedias and novels.

Haley passes the cell on her way from assisting the medical team with Daniel. She stops, realising this is the “visitor” she’s heard all about, and ducks into the observation room. “Hi,” she says, “I was on my way past and I thought I’d drop by and see how you’re settling in.” And also actually see this amazing creature rather than just hear stories, she adds mentally.

Shi looks up from her text and blinks, eyes focusing on the visitor. “Hello,” she says in English, “it is nice to meet you. I am Shi. This is the proper greeting?”

Haley pauses for a moment, then replies “it is, although maybe a little more formal than usual. Your English is a lot better than I’d expected, given what I’d heard from the others.” Another pause, followed by the realisation that she still hadn’t introduced herself. “I’m Haley, by the way. It’s nice to meet you too. I’d shake your hand if it weren’t for this silly quarantine thing…”

Shi smiles. “I do not mind, it is comparably relaxing. I have been learning languages from the resources Lin left me.” She gestures to her tablet. “It’s not as efficient as wireless communication but it troubles Lin and Cat less. Your machine languages are different to mine but I am adapting.”

The mention of languages piques Haley’s interest, reminding her of the moment in the village where she realised that she had been speaking a language she didn’t know. “I’d be interested to learn about your language too. I’m not exactly a professional linguist but it’s… I enjoy learning about new ways to communicate.” She thinks for a moment, then says “you know, the way you’re using that tablet could still be considered wireless communication…” She shrugs. “Just a thought.”

“I can see that, in a way,” Shi agrees, “direct download would be faster, though. To my benefit, I am discovering the pleasure of ‘leisurely activity’. I’m dedicating far less subroutines to threat acquisition and assessment. I would be happy to teach you my machine language, it may also help you understand the portal device.”

“Well, that’s an interesting revelation. Also a little disappointing, I was trying to find something for us to do that didn’t have anything to do with the work here!” Haley smiles at her own silliness, then muses “I suppose since it’s going to be useful then we should probably make sure Diane learns too, she’s the language whiz and she’s been working with the portal…”

Haley’s train of thought is derailed by Lauren as she steps into the room. “Oh, there you are,” she says to Haley, “they want you for a debriefing about Daniel and stuff.” She turns to the cell’s occupant, nods, and says “hey, Shi. How goes it? Keeping busy?”

“Yes, thank you Diane, I am reading,” Shi says, not knowing that’s she’s mistaken one person for another. The takes a short pause. “Are you, perhaps, identical twins? I’ve been reading about human reproduction.”

Lauren looks a little upset at being mistaken for Diane. Haley notices this and attempts to stifle a giggle, and says, “Diane and I aren’t related, and neither is Lauren here. People keep getting us mixed up for some reason though. I’m starting to find it rather amusing, actually.”

Lauren scowls at her doppelganger, and mutters acidly, “I’m glad you’re having a good time, sister.” She returns her attention to Shi and says, “I had hoped you might recognise the girl who put your head back together… I suppose it was all a bit of a muddle for you though?”

Shi blinks slowly. “I am very, very sorry. I hope you don’t mind me saying, you are physically identical.”

Lauren and Haley both take a long look at each other, trying to see the similarities. Eventually Haley shrugs and turns back to Shi. “I dunno. I mean, there’s some superficial similarities but it’s not that hard to tell us apart.” She sighs, and glances at the clock on the wall. “I suppose I should get to this debriefing… catch you both later.”

Lauren watches Haley as she leaves. “I wonder how much of it is just our perspective? I can’t see how there’s anything similar about us other than the super obvious. But she does look a hell of a lot like Diane, although I can tell them apart easily.” She snaps of of her reverie, and realises that Shi is looking at her intently. “Oh. Um. No, no need to be sorry, and I don’t mind. Just that having a complete outsider remark on us like that has made me think about stuff. I think I should go and find Diane… I hope you don’t mind me dashing off and leaving you again like this.”

“I am fine, I’m sure Solveig will return soon,” Shi says. “If you don’t mind me saying, I know what you mean. I could tell my sisters apart, even when we were new.”

Lauren found Diane in the break room near the comms centre. “Hey, do you have a moment? I kinda need to talk to you about something.”

Diane replies without looking up from her book. “Oh, hey Lauren, what can I do you for?” Diane turns sideways in her chair to face Lauren as she flops down into a seat, and notices how worn out her friend is. “You should really get some rest, you’ve had a hell of a time lately and you look like death…”

Lauren sighs, then settles further into her seat. “I know. I’m exhausted. I can’t stop just yet, my brain’s been going round in circles trying to figure out some stuff.” She pause for a moment, trying to corral the thoughts well enough that they’ll come out of her mouth coherently. “You know how everyone keeps getting us mixed up? I’ve been getting that with Diane too since she showed up with the rescue party. Fuck. No. Hayley. You’re Diane. Damnit, I can tell you both apart without any effort but everyone else thinks we’re twins or clones or whatever. Just like they do with you and me.”

Diane nods. “I’ve been getting that too. It’s exactly the same for me. And other things have been a little odd too lately.”

Lauren raises an eyebrow. “You mean, other than having a magic portal to other dimensions and a friendly mechanical angel in quarantine? What’s been happening?”

“Well… the one thing that comes to mind is the whole magic medic thing where suddenly I knew exactly how to patch the doctor up, then it all just went away again.” Diane pauses to think for a moment, then continues, “there’s been a few other little bits too, but I wanted to talk to Haley about it too.”

Hearing this reminds Lauren of a heap of little things that came up while they were on the other side of the portal. “There’s been a lot of this stuff going on. Apparently Haley didn’t realise she wasn’t speaking English in the village… which is something you do a lot. She was amazing with a gun, which is weird because she’s never even touched one before today. I’d call it beginner’s luck but suddenly I could barely hit anything. Then there was the bit after the fight where she tried to do a first aid and completely drew a blank, right about when you were…” Her voice trails off as she realises how many of these coincidences have come up in the short time they’d been working together. She shakes her head as if to clear it and continues, “also, Haley and I were just talking with Shi. Even our friendly angel gets us mixed up, then thought we were twins. Apparently we’re ‘physically identical’.”

Diane’s eyes widen as Lauren lists the occurrences. “This is just too weird. I wonder what Shi meant, anyway? We’re not physically identical, I mean just look at our arms - mine are like twigs compared to yours. Maybe she’s not quite got a handle on the language yet…? I dunno.”

Lauren laughs at the comparison, glad to have the mood lifted a bit. “Oh, come on, you’re not that bad. I mean, sure, they’re no match for these guns but you’re definitely no twig. Not like Haley - there’s nothing of her.”

The mention of Haley reminds Diane of the other thing she wanted to talk about, but she figures Lauren doesn’t need anything else to think about right now. “You need to get some rest, miss… doctor’s orders.” Lauren chuckles, and Diane continues. “When you’re up, we should take Haley and go for food. I feel like taking her for Japanese again… last time we went to Rice Paddy’s they freaked out about us. I really want to see how they go with the three of us!”