When Toya Murphy was young, she never bothered to tell anyone about the terminal dreams. Not because she was trying to keep them secret, but because she simply figured they weren't important enough to talk about. Everybody knew about the dreams, she figured. She'd seen them all there, after all.
It had never occurred to her that the reason nobody talked about the dreams was because they couldn't remember them.
The first time Toya could clearly remember having a dream in the terminal was when she was small. Very small. She didn't know the age exactly, but she knew it was sometime before she started going to school. Later on, she'd recall how familiar it had all felt, so she knew that she must have been there before and just didn't remember it. But as this was the first trip she could reliably remember, even when she was an adult, she never counted the others.
It went something like this:
She was wondering around in a hallway she would eventually come to recognize as an airport terminal- though at the time the only overcrowded enclosed building was the church her mom and dad took her to, so she thought that's where she was: a large church without the seats, the stage, or a cross. The crowd of people in question were all heading one direction, and she spent most of her time concentrating on not being trampled.
Lost but not particularly frightened, the girl went in search for someone who looked like they could help. Eventually, she found someone who looked like a man from church and, deciding that was close enough, tugged at his shirt to get his attention.
"I lost my mom," she said. "Is she here?"
The man bent down to get a better look at her. His mustache was a brilliant shade of orange-ish red. Toya hadn't met anyone with red hair before. She couldn't stop looking at it.
"What's this?" said the man. "You say you're lost?"
"You talk funny." She'd never heard anyone speak with an accent before, either.
"Do not. You do." He pointed down the hall. "There's a door over there at the very end, all for you. Just keep going until you find it. Go through and you'll be back home."
He sniffed, causing his mustache to wiggle. "Haven't you done this before?"
Toya was still looking down the hall, trying to see her door. There were too many people in the way, so all she could see was a sea of legs and dresses and lower halves.
"I have. I think I forgot."
He nodded and started on his way. "Yes, as per the usual."
She wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but the man was lost amidst the throng of people. When it became clear that nothing interesting was going to happen soon, she shrugged and headed down the way the man had pointed, making sure to keep close to the wall. She found that if she stood right up against the wall, nobody ran into her.
After what seemed like forever, she finally found the door. It stood alone at the end of the hallway along an otherwise blank wall. Strangely enough, the closer she got to the door, the less people there were walking around. By the time she got to the end of the hall, there wasn't anyone around save for herself.
This didn't bother her in the slightest.
Toya opened the door. There was a flash of light and the next thing she knew, she was back in her room, snuggled up in her bed, and her mother was waking her up for breakfast.
* * * * *
She never questioned it.
Every night she went back to the hall. Every night, she made her way through the crowds of people, and every night she'd open the door at the end, only to find that it was morning and time to wake up.
A few times, she'd see somebody she'd met in the terminal and tried to talk to them in Real Life. She'd find them at church when her parents were speaking with other adults, or standing in line at the grocery store. None of them ever knew what she was talking about. They'd give her odd looks and tell her parents she had an active imagination.
"But I saw you!" she'd say. "Mom, I saw them!"
Nobody paid her any attention. She learned not to bring it up.
* * * * *
One night, while on her way to her door, she caught sight of a man going the opposite way.
Everyone in the hallway looked, as far as she could tell, normal. Some wore suits, some wore regular shirts and jeans, a few of the ladies wore dresses or skirts. A few people even had hats. They were all wearing everyday people clothes.
This man was not.
He was tall, maybe even taller than dad, which she'd thought impossible. He was wearing what Toya could only think of as a black bedsheet wrapped around himself and clipped with gold pins in places to hold it up. Part of it draped down like a dress, and part of it was over his shoulder. His black hair was longer than hers was, going down nearly to his waist. She stared at that, too. She'd never seen a man with long hair before.
"Excuse me," he said, brushing past her.
"Hey!" she said, grabbing part of his sheet. "Wait!"
He stopped. "Yes?"
"How come you got girl hair?"
He looked at her as though she were an insect that had just started to talk: something strange, unexpected, and not particularly pleasant. He turned to go. A few seconds later, he was lost in the crowd.
I didn't know people could go that way, she thought.
For the first time, Toya realized that she really didn't know that much about the dream world. She had only ever gone straight to her door. She suddenly felt cheated.
If he could go that way, then so could she.
Determined not to waste anymore time, Toya turned away from the direction of her door and tried walking away.
It was harder than she'd expected: the exit pulled, and every inch of her was screaming to let it take her home. She was wrong! it said. She had to leave!
Gritting her teeth, she took a step, then another. Slowly but surely, she navigated through the crowd down the opposite way.
There was a door at the other end of the hall. She tried the handle. It was unlocked. Smiling to herself, she pulled it open and stepped outside.
The pulling feeling quieted down once she was out, but it was still there. She squashed it down and went down the new hallway she found herself in.
This new hallway lead out into a lobby. A giant, enormous, impossibly big room that could fit not only the church inside, but the garage, the play gym at the park, and her house all at the same time and still have enough room leftover for their neighbor's house, too.
The walls on the ground floor were made of solid gray stone. Above that, the walls were glass, and through them she could see level upon level of people working in the upper stories. The ceiling was high and domed, with stained glass panels that let in the sunlight.
As she watched, the colors on the panels shifted into different geometric patterns like a kaleidoscope. She would have liked to stand and look at it for a while longer (She'd always been one of those people who liked to look up), but someone jostled her and knocked her out of her stare.
The room was packed with people. Men, women. children- all ages, shapes, sizes and colors, filling up the room. A few were sitting around in some sofas set up in the middle of the room, others were leaning against walls and walking around idly.
The majority, though, were waiting in a line. It was a huge, winding one that stuck out at least fifty feet into the room and zigzagged to allow more and more lines all folded in on each other. There were a few help desks at the front of the line, but only one was staffed.
It's like the lines at Disneyland, she thought dazedly.
Behind the line were several back-to-back rows of waiting room seats, also filled with people. Some were sleeping, some were listening to music. Some were just staring blankly ahead. Most looked bored, a few looked nervous.
It was all surprisingly quiet.
They've been waiting here forever.
The thought surprised her, but as soon as she'd had it, she knew it was true.
Feeling adventurous and a slightly sad, Toya picked out a nearby woman in a strange, brightly colored dress.
The woman was craning her neck to look over the shoulder of the tall men in front of her. She didn't seem to hear.
Toya tugged on the draping around the dress. "Excuse me? How come you're all waiting in line?"
The woman looked down at her, surprised.
"You speak Hindi?"
Toya didn't know what Hindi was. "No. Don't think so."
"Yes, you're speaking it now."
Toya was pretty sure she was speaking English. It was the only language she knew, other than the curse words in Spanish her cousin had taught her that one time.
"Cago?" she said experimentally.
"गोबर?" said the woman.
On one level, Toya's ears were telling her that she heard 'cago' and a word that sounded like gobara, but in her head, she heard the word 'crap'.
The woman apparently noticed it too.
"Odd," she said.
Toya decided to let it drop. "So why are you in line?"
The woman scowled at the person in front of her. "There's something wrong with my ticket. All of our tickets, and I wish the line would hurry up!" She'd raised her voice on the last line, to the general approval of the crowd.
Just that moment, a group of stern looking men in suits entered the room through the fogged glass doors on the left. The doors weren't connected to the walls, and Toya didn't remember seeing them coming in. All she could think was that they must have sprouted up through the floor while she and the lady were talking.
Some men were holding clipboards. Others, suitcases. All were wearing hats. The man leading the group looked around and scowled until he saw the woman in the odd dress. Then he scowled even harder. He stormed over to them and glared.
"What's going on here?"
The woman crossed her arms and glared right back at him.
"I've been waiting in this line for ages," she snapped. "We all have, and the only one you've got working here is that woman at the desk. I want to file a complaint."
"Noted. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, we will be unable to process your complaint for some time. Be patient. Get back in line and wait."
He ignored her and turned to Toya.
"You, young lady, are not in your proper place."
One of the besuited men behind him leaned forward and whispered in his ear, then offered him a clip board.
The Manager- which is what the leader had filed himself away in Toya's brain as- scowled again and began flipping through the pages.
"Name?" he said.
It took her a moment to realize he was talking to her. "What?"
"Your name, girl. What is it?"
She debated whether or not to give him a fake one, but when she tried to lie, the truth spilled out, as though someone had pulled it out of her mouth.
"Toya what?" he said, still flipping through the pages.
He made some disappointed Hmm noises and clicked his tongue.
"I'm not seeing you on the list."
The way he said it made it sound as though this were her fault.
"Sorry?" she said, not feeling sorry at all. She was too busy watching the assistant.
During the whole exchange, the assistant had been giving her the strangest look. His head was tilted, and his right eye was flicking colors. Not just the iris, but the entire eye. First red, then green, then yellow. . .
He frowned at blue and leaned forward. "Sir?" he said, tapping the Manager's shoulder.
"What?" snapped the Manager.
He whispered something into the Manager's ear.
Whis, whis whis.
Whis whis. Nod.
The Manager gave her a disgusted look.
"What's wrong with it, then?"
Because the Manager was looking her in the eyes, it took her a moment to realize he was still talking to the assistant.
"Lack of-" the assistant, a young man who was obviously not used to speaking, cleared his throat. "Lack of inherent trans-dimensional temporal suppression."
"Still neutral, sir."
The Manager nodded thoughtfully. "Fine. Get it back to its plane and keep tabs on it." He sighed. "I fucking hate glitches."
Just then, the rather burly security guard who'd been standing unnoticed behind the girl shoved her forward.
She fell and screamed, and then shot upright. She was back in her room, tucked in her bed. For a long while, she did nothing but breathe heavily and wait for her heart to stop pounding.
Without her noticing, breathing heavily turned into breathing evenly and again, she fell asleep. This time without dreams.
* * * * *
It was a long time before Toya returned to the lobby. She just never thought about it.
During the day, she'd started school again and had all sorts of things to worry about from that front- homework, other kids, trying to get the whole 'reading' and 'math' thing down. From the home front, she had to worry about how her mom's belly had gotten bigger because apparently dad had managed to get a baby stuck inside her, and she'd need to go to the doctors to sort it out.
After that, she had to deal with the arrival of a new little brother who drooled a lot and took forever to learn how to talk, and then she'd discovered that- you know, this reading stuff wasn't so hard after all, and that the elementary school library had horse books in it.
The end result was that by the time night came around, she'd been too busy thinking about other things to care about the terminal. She'd only ever run down her hall as fast as she could so she could wake up.
One night, when going to her door, someone bumped into her a little too hard and she fell. She scrambled to her feet before anyone could trod on her and continued towards her exit.
The door called to her. She could feel it, drawing her closer.
She stopped, suddenly.
Why? she thought. There's a whole big place here, why should I just leave so soon?
The door was insistent. It wanted her out. She had to leave, because that was what was supposed to happen.
It's this place, she thought. It tries to bundle you up, to push you around until you're doing exactly what it wants you to do, and the whole time it's being sneaky about it.
The exit pulled. It wanted her to go straight to it and never find anything out.
Oh, I hate being managed!
For the first time in a long time, Toya turned away from her exit and fought against the pull. Walking through the hall was like trying to walk through water, as though the air itself had gotten thicker just to spite her.
I'm not going to run, she thought. I refuse to give it the satisfaction.
She reached the end of the hall. The pull died as soon as she was through the doorway. All that was left of it was a tiny, easily ignored nagging in the back of her head.
She grinned. Too bad for you.
She was determined to explore every nook and cranny of the terminal, no matter how long it took. She followed the new hall and eventually came across the lobby again.
Nobody seemed to have moved since the last visit. On the contrary, there seemed to be even more people milling about, looking lost bored or angry. She was on the same side of the room as last time. The same red-haired woman was at the front desk, being berated by a man in a toga.
She scanned the crowd on her side and eventually picked out the colorful dress she now knew to be called a sari.
"Hey," she said, walking up to the woman.
The woman smiled. "I thought you'd be back." She frowned. "Did you get bigger?"
"I'm twelve now. It's been a while. Has the line moved at all?"
The woman snorted. "One person- maybe. Unless everyone just happened to step forward. My name is Thalia, by the way." She stuck out a hand.
"I just wanted to see how you were doing. I'm exploring," she said proudly.
"I'd be careful here, if I were you. Time is fluid, and the bosses dislike people fiddling around."
"I will, I promise."
Thalia was beginning to sound distinctly mom-like. Toya turned tail and fled to explore parts unknown before Thalia changed her mind and told her not to.
The line was too thick to cut through, so she had to run all the way around, back against the wall. This side of the room was fairly similar to the other side except for a few doors lining the wall. One of which with a sign reading 'employees only' hung on it.
So of course that was the first place she went.
The new room wasn't nearly as big as the lobby, but it was trying to make up for it by being as crowded.
There were cubicles. Rows and rows of cubicles, all concentrated in the center of the room. In those cubicles, hundreds of wispy, semi-transparent people were busily working at their desks, writing, stamping, and generally paper pushing. It was a very polite cacophony of shuffled papers and the occasional muted cough or sneeze.
There were more doors along the outer walls. Doors that she was itching to try.
If any of the wispy people noticed her creeping through their office, none of them showed it. There were two doors against the very, very back wall. One made of frosted glass with a strange looking flower on it, and another made of wood and covered in signs that read
KEEP OUT by order of LORD PHANTASOS.
After a moment's internal struggle, she chose the one with the flower.
There was no discernible ceiling in the new room, just a distant light at the top that managed to light the entire place. The walls were the same warped kind of glass as the shower door back home. Despite the fact that, from outside, the wall had been solid grey, she could look out from here and see the ghost-people working.
In the center of the room was a dome.
Toya had never heard the word 'grand' used in any context outside of parentage, but that's what the dome was. It looked like someone had gotten a giant rose bloom, had flipped it upside down so that it was gently resting on the tips of its petals, and then had turned the whole thing into glass. Inside the dome was a small room, barely visible through the layers of curved glass. Some of the petals on the front were pulled to the side, meaning people could go inside and out.
And it all looked exactly like the sort of interesting thing she'd been searching for. She went to investigate.
It nearly broke her heart to find that the glorious glass flower she'd fallen in love with was just an elevator. Invisible at a distance but oh-so-real up close was a clear cylinder surrounding the dome that went straight up, all the way to the little light way up at the top of the room. She didn't see any machinery, but that didn't mean much to her. She didn't know how elevators really worked, after all. Maybe something pushed up from the bottom.
The reason Toya knew it was an elevator at all was because of the discrete sign, just above the separated petals that read 'elevator'. Beneath it was a line of numbers indicating which floor the dome was currently on. The choices were 1, 2, and 3.
Oddly enough, the buttons for the floor choice were on a post outside the elevator rather than inside where the traveler could reach them. The only two options were an arrow pointing up and an arrow pointing down.
Just then, the door behind her flew open, and a man ran in.
"Help!" he screamed. "They're after me!" He saw Toya and ran towards her. "Is there a way out of here?"
His eyes were red. He looked like he'd been crying. Toya stared. She didn't know grown men could do that.
She glanced at the elevator. "There's that."
He looked at the dome and blinked a few times. "What?"
"It's an elevator."
Around then, Toya noticed the man's shirt. It was not, as she'd thought at first, a red and white splotchy shirt, but a white shirt that had been splotched red. What she'd taken to be a design was actually a gaping hole in the center of his chest.
"Oh," she said faintly. "You're hurt."
"It's not that bad," he said, going to the elevator. "It doesn't hurt. I don't feel a thing."
Tentatively, he stepped into the carriage room.
"There aren't any buttons in here," he said.
"There's only two," she called. "And they're out here. Up or down?"
"Up! Up. Definitely up."
The appropriate button was pressed, and the petal doors slid shut.
The room inside the dome lifted slowly towards the ceiling, taking the top half of the flower with it. The outer part of the petals stayed behind. She didn't know how the carriage left, as there was nothing pushing or pulling it up.
"Thank you!" called the man inside.
"Welcome!" She waved goodbye and watched until both he and the room had gone out of sight.
She looked at the ring of petals left behind, and saw that the carriage room was back in its proper place, completely empty, and looking as though it had never left.
Oh, she thought. That was fast.
Toya suddenly had the impression that something very important had just happened, though she didn't know what. She leaned against the button-post and let herself slide to the ground, where she sat cross-legged for a long time.
The mood was spoiled. She didn't want to go exploring. She wanted to go home.
She turned her head to look. Two men in old-fashioned Bobby uniforms- coats, hats and all- trotted up to her.
One was looking past her and at the elevator. The other was glaring right at her, hand resting on his truncheon. "Did you dick with the elevator?"
"She did, sir," said the other one. "He's gone up already."
"What do you think you're doing?" said the first.
The officer opened his mouth to speak. Then closed it and turned a deep shade of red that started around his nose and made its way out to the rest of his face.
The second officer had come over to them and was now giving her a calculating look. His head was tilted. His eyes flicked several colors before coming to blue.
"Sir," he said. "I think it's a glitch."
"What?" said the first officer.
"Look at it, sir. I mean on level three."
The first officer tapped his temple and tilted his head, mimicking his partner. His eyes flashed blue.
"Shit," he hissed, his eye bright blue. "A variable."
That rang a bell. It was the same thing the Manager had called her, all those years ago.
"What's that mean?" she said,
They ignored her. "So, what?" said the second one. "We just let it run loose?"
It? Toya got to her feet.
"I don't know," said the first. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead. "There's a whole bunch of special rules about variables. It hasn't gone feral yet, has it?"
"Don't think so. Almost, but not quite."
The first sighed and put the hat back on. "Provided it hasn't gone feral, then there's nothing we can do bout it." To Toya, he said, "Listen up, Kid. Quit it. Quit fuckin' around with the system, got it? Each time you screw around like that, the database needs to be recalibrated. That's more work than your head is worth, understand?"
Toya nervously shook her head.
"Good. That might keep you alive. Now get the hell out of here and back to your exit before the boss finds you. He's not as nice as us."
She didn't argue. She ran out of the room, past the offices, and out into the lobby.
She ran all the way around the line and, after a moment of scanning, found Thalia. She was still waiting in the same spot, tapping her foot, her arms crossed.
"Thalia," she said, running over.
"No. Time is infernally slow here. Or infernally fast. Either way, its taking forever to pass."
"Listen, Thalia, do you know about variables?"
Thalia shrugged. "I recall that an overseer once called you one. It was the only thing of interest to happen in years. They hardly ever come to check up on us."
"Do you know what it means?"
She shook her head. "In maths, a variable is a random letter representing an unknown quantity. I've no idea what it means here, though." She frowned. "Are you alright? You look pale."
"Fine! I'm fine." Toya tried to keep her hands from shaking. "Thank you, Thalia. I- I have to go back to my door, now."
"You're certain you're all right?"
"Well, okay then. Stop by again sometime to chat, alright?"
It must be horrible, she thought with a jolt. Having to wait here forever. I'll bring her a book next time. And cards. And paper and pencils for everyone.
It never occurred to her that she might not be able to bring them. After all, her clothes came along, didn't they?
"I will, Thalia. I promise."
"Be careful out there."
Guilt gnawed at her belly. She hadn't been careful at all, had she? "I will, I promise."
Thalia smiled. "Thank you for humoring me."
She followed the mental tug back towards her exit.
She was halfway down her hallway and navigating the throng of people when a woman grabbed her roughly by the shoulder.
The woman held a finger up to her lips and Toya suddenly found herself unable to speak.
The woman smiled and began looking her over. After a moment, she nodded. "Hey," she said, gesturing for someone off to the side to come over.
"What is it?" said a voice. The man it belonged to went to stand next to the woman.
"What's this?" he said, looking at Toya.
The woman released her arm. "See?" she said. "I told you I was a cute kid."
The man was trying not to smile. "I don't know, you were kinda on the chubby side."
The woman playfully shoved him and the two walked off.
It took Toya a moment to register what had just happened.
She ran after the two, but it was too late. She had, quite literally, lost herself in the crowd.
For a long moment, she simply stared.
Time is fluid, she thought, remembering what Thalia had said.
Feeling lightheaded and slightly cold, Toya went back to her own door, and woke up.
* * * * *
Books, it turned out, did not like the terminal. Hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction. It didn't matter; she'd arrive in the terminal with the books, only to find their pages completely empty. Even magazines were reduced to glossy blank paper.
Playing cards worked better: she just had to cram them into the pocket of her PJs and they'd be there when she got to the hall. Dice also worked, as did the crayons and markers. The trick of it seemed to be anything that she could fit into her pockets, so she started wearing her father's large, many-pocketed jacket when she went to sleep.
The next week and a half was spent finding all the pocket-sized games she could, and then bringing them to the lobby. They were promptly distributed among the people in line and the people waiting in the lounge area. There wasn't nearly enough to go around, but the people who cared seemed to appreciate her trying.
"It's okay," Thalia told her. "Better than doing nothing all the time." She split the deck and flipped the cards into each other.
"I'm going to have to find more cards. My dad only had three packs in the house." She watched Thalia shuffle the deck. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
"Sure." She dealt out the cards. There were five of them playing, all sitting on the ground and waiting for their cards. A group of people was standing over them, watching. It wasn't as though the line was going anywhere, after all.
"Toya? Toya honey?"
Toya looked up.
Grandma Nati opened her arms out for a hug. Toya leapt to her feet and threw herself into her grandmother's arms.
"Grandma! What are you doing here? How come you're not going to your plane?"
Natalya looked around.
"They gave me this ticket and sent me through here. They told me there would be a field. . ."
Thalia shook her head and got to her feet. "Marcos," she said to the man who'd been next to her. "You're dealer. Madam," she said to Nati. "You're in the wrong place. They merged and moved things around, now this is the place for people going again. The fields are in another locale entirely."
"That's what I was afraid of. I'm really not sure where to go from here."
A cold streak was making its way through Toya. It started in the very pit of her stomach and wormed its way up into her chest where it sat. She coughed to try and make it go away, but it did no good. The cold lump was still there.
She was an old woman. Dad had mentioned something about her heart. . .
"Grama? I think I know where you can go."
Nati beamed. "My smart little girl." She took Toya's hand. "Show me the way. We can catch up. How's Rodney doing? I haven't seen him in a while. . ."
They navigated their way around the line. "He's fine. He's just started kindergarten- remember? Mom told you? On the phone?"
"Oh, right. I'm sorry, honey, I forget things sometimes. So, where are we going?
Toya lead her to the employee's only door. "Past here," she said.
* * * * *
"Oh," said Nati. "It's beautiful."
"Yeah. It is."
"What is it?"
"An elevator. You- it's where people go up."
Nati pointed up. "You mean, up-up?"
"I think so, yeah."
Nati broke out into a toothy grin. "Well then what are we waiting for? I've got to go meet your grandfather."
Toya smiled. At least she was taking it well. That was good. Right?
Mom's going to be heartbroken.
She helped her grandmother into the elevator and hugged her goodbye.
"Don't worry, honey. We'll see each other again soon. Not too soon, but soon enough."
Toya nodded and kissed her cheek and didn't say anything. After one more hug, she left her grandmother inside the carriage and went out to the button post. She pounded the 'up' button several times and watched her grandma slowly vanish in the distance.
I wonder if grandpa is really up there, she thought. If grandma had been going to the field place. . .
Someone tapped her shoulder.
"I saw that."
Toya turned and found the first officer from before, glowering down at her.
"What did I tell you about dicking around with the elevator?"
"I couldn't just let her get stuck here!"
"She would've gotten sorted eventually."
"Like they sorted the line?"
"Listen kid, just because the new system's got a few kinks in it-"
"It's been like this for years."
What would Thalia do? she thought. She stood a little straighter. "I want to see whoever's in charge."
He scowled. "Wouldn't we all? He's gone. Packed up and left his brother in charge."
"Well then can I see him?"
"I wouldn't recommend it. He doesn't like you little glitches running around. Thinks it makes his system look bad."
"Is there anyone I can talk to, then? What about your boss? What about whoever's in charge of the field place?"
"Oh no, I don't have the clearance to go anywhere near him. My boss, though. That might be something-"
The walkie talkie clipped to his belt cackled to life. He unclipped and brought it up in one fluid motion. "Yes?" The words coming out of the box sounded like tinny, static-ridden gibberish to her, but apparently the bobby had no trouble with it.
"I'm at the elevator," he said. “No, no. Just a small hiccup- well a glit- an unaccounted for variable got in and- no, there's really no need-"
"I will tell you what there is and isn't need for."
The voice belonged to the man who was now standing directly behind the officer. He'd simply stepped out of the air and appeared, arms crossed and shoulders back. Every inch of him screamed Unamused.
The officer whirled around and saluted. "Lord Phantasos-"
"Stow it. What's the problem?'
Toya stepped forward. It didn't matter that it had been ages since she'd last seen the Manager, or that he had deep circles under his eyes and gray hair along the edges. It didn't matter that he'd gone gaunt and sallow looking. She'd recognize that scowl anywhere.
"Oh," he said. "You. Again. What did you do?"
"I sent my grandma up on the elevator."
The Manager went very stiff. The sort of stiffness that was calm on the outside but writhing anger on the inside. “That’s at least twelve levels of protocol you’ve broken,” he said mildly. “I’ll have to contact the gatekeeper and have him get gate security on it to bring her back. It’ll take ages. Mountains of paperwork. Dozens of calls.”
He stepped forward. She stepped back, keeping the distance. The officer turned away from them both and started talking to his walkie-talkie.
“Yeah, boss?” she heard the bobby say. “We might have a problem here. . . “
“You,” said the Manager. “Are just one more unnecessary thread knotting up my new system."
She kept backing up until she backed into something solid.
"What," said the person she'd bumped into, "seems to be the problem here?"
The manager scowled over her head. "This doesn't concern you, Phobetor."
Toya looked up and found herself looking at the toga'd man from the hall. If he recognized her, he didn't show it. "Things that concern you concern me. What is this?"
"Nothing," said the Manager. "A small blip that will be taken care of shortly."
"Blip," said the man flatly. "I see."
He offered Toya a gloved hand. "In that case, I'll just escort it back to its exit."
"I'm quite capable of handling this."
"I'm sure you are," said the toga'd man- Phoebetor- mildly. "But as you said, it is a blip. Unimportant. I'd hate to see you waste your valuable time on something so inconsequential."
The manager turned beet red and clenched his fists. Then, after a second, he relaxed. Toya thought for certain he'd let them go.
Instead, he flicked his hand and suddenly was holding a blue-colored knife. Before Toya could say or do anything, he'd stabbed her in the stomach. She screamed and fell.
Phobetor knelt down beside her. "Why did you do that?"
"It's a potential feral," said the Manager. The knife appeared in his hands, clean and free of blood. He inspected it, nodded, and allowed it to disappear again. "I'm sending it back. Maybe this way it'll learn something."
Toya whimpered. It didn’t hurt-hurt, but it was cold. So cold it burned. The ice sent shots of coldness into her belly and into her chest and into her arms and it was all crawling up towards her neck and eyes-
One of the dice slipped out of her pocked and clattered across the floor.
The Manager stared. "It’s been smuggling in dirtside paraphernalia?"
Phobetor didn't answer. He held up his hand and his own knife appeared. It was the last thing Toya saw before the world went black. The last thing she heard was Phebetor's soft spoken,
She woke up gasping in her bed, vowing to never ever go back to the terminal ever again.