A week had passed since I entered the mirror. Assuredly, the woman on the other side was long gone. Furthermore, I had a gun and a machete. I would have the capacity to defend myself now. I had traveled alongside Katarina for nearly a day. I knew how to keep low and how to move from cover to cover. I could do this.
My goal was simple. I would seek out a map of the local area, this so-called Argos city. I would locate a pharmacy, and then I would head there and look for these anti-cancer drugs. Then, I would return and leave. Keep low. Keep quiet. In and out. I was doing this for my mother. I was doing this for my family.
Like before, I told my family I was going to a friend’s house. Hazel looked upset by this, but she seemed to think I was handling mom’s cancer in my own way. She wasn’t wrong, but I’d just have to let her think I was running away for a bit longer. In the end, everything I did, I was doing so that I could see smiles on both their faces again. If they knew the truth, they’d assuredly never let me take that risk.
This time, I took an extra backpack and filled it up with food. I cleared out our cupboard for anything that even looked edible. Then, thinking about it, I took my mom’s leftovers, chicken and mash potatoes, and I brought that with me as well.
I had an old camping stove with butane I brought. I also found some bike safety equipment and put pads on my knees, elbows, and head. I strapped a headlamp to the bike helmet so that my hand was free. I then also pulled some chemical lightning from an old emergency blackout kit and stuffed those in my pocket too. Checking everything two more times, I finally pulled out a piece of paper and started writing. I ended up throwing out the letter and rewriting two more times.
Dear Mother and Sister,
If I do not return, know that I left intending to do my best to save mom. If I do not return in 2 days, please destroy this mirror. Do not touch it. Just break it. Know that I love you.
I finally got something that was short and to the point. On the other end, I planned to remove the crystals, so even if my sister did touch it, the mirror would be dead on this side and, as far as I knew, wouldn’t work. I put the note on my bed and then went up to the mirror. It took me another two minutes to built myself up to reaching out and touching it. The world went white, and I jerked realizing I was no longer standing.
I wasn’t pushed down and I didn’t fall. I just went from standing to my nose being pressed against the dirty ground. There was also something heavy pressed against my back. I felt like my face had smacked into a wall suddenly. Pushing up, I looked behind me to realize that the mirror was lying on my back. I stood up, moving the mirror to a standing position in the process. Then, I looked around, and with relief, realized I was in the same room. That woman was also nowhere in sight.
The mirror was on the ground though. It took me a few moments to realize what that meant. The woman had done a similar thing that I did. She had put the mirror down, preventing me from returning. Except, I came through anyway. I shoved through the mirror with enough force that it was propped up, and I felt like I had been slammed into the floor. So, it stood to reason if someone tried to enter my world, the mirror would have ripped away from the wall. This had never happened though.
I reached into the compartment where Katarina had placed those crystals. It was filled with ten crystals. I pulled them all out one by one and pocketed them. If they were currency in this world, then the more crystals I had, the better.
Taking a breath, I took one of the bags of food and put it on a shelf. This was my backup. First, if I did get captured in the same way as last time, I’d show them the food. While they were busy admiring their luck, I’d slip back through. Secondly, if I lost my food, or traded it, this was extra food I could return to or trade with my life. This time, I even had stuffed an extra bar in my sock and another in my underwear. I wasn’t going to take chances this time.
With the light on my bike helmet on, a machete in one hand, and a gun in the other, I pushed out into the same bleak building once again. If there was a map, it’d be on the first floor. When Katarina dragged me back here, I hadn’t had time to pay attention and look around. I began heading for the familiar stairway, the floor creaking with each step. Halfway there, I heard a moan. I jumped, waving my gun and looking for the source. I eventually found that source.
In one of the bedrooms, lying on a half-decayed couch, was Katarina. I lifted my gun immediately, but I realized her eyes were closed, and she seemed to be mumbling something incoherent. She sounded the same way she did when she was sleeping. I carefully approached her, grabbing her machine-gun which had been lying on the floor next to her, and pulling it away. Then, I walked up to her, keeping just out of reach.
“Katarina!” I shouted, “Surrender!”
“mm…” Her eyes barely flickered.
That’s when I started to realize other things about her. Her face was very pale. Her body was sweaty. She looked skinnier than before. When she didn’t move, I quickly poke her with my shoe. When she still didn’t move, I cautiously put my hand on her forehead.
I grabbed the Perco and did a scan on her. “Condition: Critical. Numerous internal injuries. Rad level, 113, seek medical aid immediately.”
“Internal injuries? Radiation sickness?” I frowned as I looked at her.
I realized she was shivering in her spot. No, she was dying.
“Perco, can you administer Rad-Z to someone else.”
“Yes, the Perco 9000 can administer drugs both personally and on others.”
“Then, one dose of Rad-Z!” I pushed the watch and a little needle came out and injected her with a hiss.
I scanned her again, 53 rads. That was below radiation sickness. I could have used her own Rad-Z, but their injection method was a lot different with a big scary looking needle.
“To repair damage from radiation poisoning, please administer RegenX.” The voice suddenly declared.
“Ah, done!” I pushed it against her neck and another needle came out.
As the Regen-x and Rad-Z flooded through her body, her eyes did seem to relax a bit. Throwing all caution to the wind, I opened up my bag and put a warm blanket on her. I then began to go through my bag. I brought out the butane heater, and then I warmed up some chicken soup on it. When it was done, I made sure to cool each mouthful and then carefully put it in her mouth.
I didn’t know what I thought I was doing, but I couldn’t just leave her alone. Her radiation sickness was my fault. My Geiger counter was now running passive in the background, and I didn’t detect any radiation in the building. She must have gone somewhere else and was exposed. However, I took all of her Rad-Z, so it was ultimately my fault that she ended up irradiated. Her backpack had handcuffs in it, so I tied her up for my safety, but it was still a risk I was helping her at all.
After feeding her everything she’d take, I gathered all my stuff and began to search the entire building. I made sure to be careful and quiet. I encountered one more of the naked rats, she had called the creature a Neerrat. This time, I did remove the crystal, although it took fifteen minutes and was disgusting and messy.
I was extremely wary of the ground floor, making sure I wasn’t seen outside by anyone. I didn’t want to be snatched by another raider, or perhaps something worse.
“Bingo!” I finally located a map.
As I predicted, it was in the lobby of the building. It was still hung up, and also very faded. After pulling it down and looking at it under more direct light, I could only get a partial view of the city. If I had to size it, it was probably a city about the same size as Boston. As for a city called Argos city that was so large, there were none in my world. The Perco didn’t have any knowledge about history or geography. I had already tried to access maps.
Amusingly, the Perco had a map. However, that map was only filled out immediately around me. It was like the shroud of a video game. I had inquired, and the Perco said that maps could be filled out by scanning, or preexisting scans could be downloaded via an alcove. I didn’t know what an alcove was, but I presumed it was the equivalent of a digital information kiosk.
This building was otherwise completely stripped. I didn’t find food, crystals, valuable and priceless artifacts, or anything else. I returned to the room with Katarina and cooked up more soup. As it was cooking on the stove, Katarina’s eyes opened. She had woken up.