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This morning, when Ryoko wakes up, she's dressed in the Foundation-standard baby-blue hospital gown and an IV drip pipes something cold and sharp into her arm. An arm whose hand is bound to the side of the steel bed.

She tries to remember why she's here and feels the start of a migraine coming on for her troubles. Even if she could remember, she wouldn't be able to do anything about it with her hands almost literally tied behind her back, so she tries to clear her mind and wait for whoever's assigned to come round to come round and help her out.

Soon enough, there's a quiet knock at the door of her room and it slowly swings open. Adileh pokes her head through the gap and waves 'hello', before approaching her bedside with a key in hand and unlocking the restraints. Once that's done, she pulls up a chair next to her bed and gives Ryoko a chance to explore her newfound freedom.

Rubbing at her still-numb wrists, Ryoko grimaces and tries to thank her. "I…"

The frown deepens as she realises she's unable to make her mouth sync with what her mind's trying to say. Experimentally, she tries a few words in Japanese, confirms that works and remembers that obviously, Adileh doesn't know a word in the language. No point trying to converse this way.

Adileh reaches out and taps her on the shoulder gently, before beginning to sign. Ears will hurt. Don't bother talking.

To her relief, Ryoko's hands still know the words, even if signing feels less like 'talking' and more like 'driving a car on slushy ice'. I can't speak anyway… She glances at the blue icepack Adileh's now clutching to her head, and points gingerly at it. …Headache?

Adileh smiles weakly, dropping the icepack to free up her hands for signing. A little more complicated than that. A lot happened between our last appointment and you waking up in the medical bay. She takes a water bottle from the pocket of her coat, unscrews the lid and hands it to her. Drink.

Ryoko takes it gratefully and sips at it in-between signing. You said a lot happened. Mind telling me the basics?

There's 'silence' for a few moments and Adileh's expression darkens, her lips forming a disapproving tilde. Finally, she begins to sign again.

You're going to experience nausea, vertigo and temporary aphasia for the next twenty-four hours at least. Other, long-term side-effects include a possibly increased risk of dementia and other neurodegenerative illnesses, higher predisposition for liver failure…

Ryoko's brows knit and she holds up a hand to stop Adileh as she continues, rubbing her temples with the other hand. The words are familiar, but she can't remember where they're from-

-can't remember-

-and that's when it hits her.

She points at her head with one finger and runs her fingers across her forehead. Amnestics?

Adileh nods quickly. I can't tell you, Ryoko. It could trigger recall if I reminded you of too much, and I've already let this happen to you once. I'm not going to let it happen again. She clenches her fingers into fists briefly, before returning to signing. Please, just… wait a week. Then we can talk. Another smile, and this time the gap between her face and what's behind it is more obvious than ever.

After a battery of tests from doctors all over the org chart, Ryoko is hurriedly removed from the medical bay and the bed she was occupying reallocated to someone more deserving- perhaps a man with both arms fused to his head, or a woman with her eyes in the mouth of a hamster in some faraway containment chamber.

Two security goons hustle her to the archipelago of offices that compose the Site-17 Psychology Division, and as she walks past the receptionist she locks eyes with him. There's a fresh-looking scratch across his face and as he looks down hurriedly, the thought that she might have left those marks flashes guiltily across her mind.

After she confirms that her ID card (now with significantly fewer privileges on it) can still open her office door, the officers head off and she's left standing alone in front of an unmarked door. The fact that it's unmarked is odd enough, seeing as she had a nameplate not two (weeks? months?) ago — what makes it even stranger is the sickly smell of Foundation-grade antiseptic that hits her in the face as she opens the door.

A quick scan of her desk confirms her suspicions. The higher-ups thought she wasn't going to survive her stay in medical bay, hence why her office has been scrubbed of almost all its contents and its nameplate removed. The feeling that she's only got one foot in this world and the rest of her body somewhere else washes over her, and as if to reassert her existence she hurriedly up her terminal and logs in.

From: RAISA Systems Administration
To: Ryoko Sato, Psychology Division
Re: New Credentials

Dear Ms. Sato,

As a result of the incident which led to your forced hospitalisation on the 23rd of May, your access to several projects has been revoked until your ability to work on them has been confirmed by Medical Division personnel. An abridged log of files you can no longer access can be found here.

She clicks the link, and what she sees causes her to grit her teeth in frustration. Nothing but a list of blank [DATA REDACTED]s that fills her screen twice over — more pointedly, nothing that would give her any clues as to what she was actually working on.

Adileh wasn't lying to her when she said Ryoko'd been infected by a cognitohazard, and the threat's apparently still severe enough that even the implication of what it was is verboten.

Dead ends. Nothing but dead ends and bad omens as far as the eye can see… Ryoko takes a Foundation-standard pen and doodles on the lined legal pad that's been put on her desk in place of her standard notebook. As spirographs and disembodied eyes build up on the page, she tries to find more options, any way she can probe the edges of the hole in her memory without falling in.

Then a soft buzz in her pocket reminds her there's at least one source of information she hasn't tapped yet.

Maria Loreto's office reminds Ryoko of many others she's seen in her interactions with the Memetics Division — not so much in decor so much as in the obsession with their work that oozes from every square centimeters of their walls. Post-it notes and pages from reports alike are pinned up on posterboards that dominate three of the four walls, with the remaining wall almost totally covered by a whiteboard that's taller than either of them.

Maria herself somehow has an even worse fashion sense than most of her colleagues, who have the good sense to stick to labcoats and other PPE. Ryoko can't quite place what's off about the muddy oufit she's in right now, only that something about the palette is giving her a headache. She ushers Ryoko in with a few vaguely friendly mumbled words and pours her a cup of tepid water from a cracked plastic jug sitting on her table.

As Ryoko's idly scanning the equations Maria's written on the whiteboard, the stubby memetics specialist rudely throws her train of thought into a gulch by slamming a clipboard down on the table in front of her — she slumps into her spinning chair shortly thereafter. "Right. What do you want?"

In response, Ryoko rolls up her sleeve, points to the stained-looking spot above the crook of her elbow. "I've been amnesticised, and they're refusing to give me a straight answer as to why. I can guess I was contaminated with something they needed to get rid off quickly, but nobody will tell me for fear of setting it off. So I figured I should consult someone who knew something about memetics, and, well. You were in my contacts, so I rang you."

"I see." Her tone is almost brutalist in its efficiency, the bare minimum inflection used to get the words across. Then again as she fumbles for a form within the clipboard's plastic depths: "I see." Having fished out the sheet she wants, she slides it across to Ryoko.

It looks more like discoloured carbon paper than a Foundation-recognised form, especially since there's nothing on it. Still, Maria fishes around in the patchwork of pockets she calls a lab coat for a pen and comes up with a well-worn ballpoint that she hands Ryoko, before crossing her arms and staring expectantly.

Eventually Ryoko buckles under the pressure of that unblinking look and signs. Maria nods, and then flips the sheet of paper over while Ryoko's looking at it.

There's a brief sting like a needle burying itself in her eye, but apart from that nothing. Ryoko glances up at Maria questioningly: just in time to see her lips curve slightly upwards as she says, "Don't blink."

Ryoko blinks-

-and in that split-second where her eyes are closed, she finds herself in a hard, uncomfortable vinyl seat with her back being jostled by the rhythmic ch-chunk of a train in motion.

Just the feeling of being inside a train threatens to lull her to sleep, but she's been unconscious for long enough these past weeks. A brief look outside the window reveals no helpful clues as to where she is, only that it's late in the afternoon and she's somewhere deep in the countryside. The trees remind her of rural Japan, but they shift and warp slightly as she looks so that all she sees is a smudge of green on an orange backdrop.

"Eyes up here."

As commanded, Ryoko's eyes snap back to Maria. In this newfound world of blurred semi-tones and half-remembered impressions, Maria is the only thing that isn't trying to slip away from her view when she isn't looking. Her solidity is almost reassuring amidst the sensory quicksand, and Ryoko feels the urge to blurt out something, ask where she is or what Maria did to bring her here-

"Do you know what 'suspension of disbelief' means?"

Ryoko nods. "I taught English lit. for a few years, I think-"

"Unimportant. What matters is that you keep your suspension of disbelief throughout this, because this won't work if you don't believe you are on a train." Maria takes a briefcase out from the overhead rack and dumps it on the table, before popping its lid open and rifling through its contents. Seemingly satisfied with her examination, she continues talking to Ryoko: "This train is metaphor. This train is liminal. We are between the mind and the body, and if something happens to your mind I can stop it affecting your body. So long as you believe this is a train, and not just a result of me putting you in an memetically-induced state of suggestibility."

Both Ryoko and Maria glance outside as she finishes that sentence. Nothing happens, though, and Maria seems to be satisfied, so Ryoko takes the chance to speak. "So this is a testing ground."

"In essence. Though not all things can be tested everywhere." Maria resumes her shuffling, though Ryoko isn't sure if you can call it shuffling when it doesn't make noise. "But for this, it should suffice."

"So what do I have to do?"

"Four thousand and twenty six."


"Nothing. Just pay attention to what I'm saying. Tunnel shoe."

Something gives a little bit in the back of Ryoko's mind, but she stays silent as requested and waits for the next stimulus.

"Kathy Wells."

Ryoko's eyes instinctively snap to the windows of the carriage as a jolt of sudden pain lances through her eyes. Same place as last time…

Maria's also watching the outside of the carriage (or so she thinks) right along with her, and for a moment she notices a flicker where the horizon joins the sky, as if the two have come together in a brief moment.

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