Everything went black for ten, maybe fifteen, seconds. When he came to, it was the noise that struck him first. Shouting voices behind him – two of – and the sound of something moving on rails.
He opened his eyes. The image before him was a pale grey-blue. Long lights moved from beneath him, moving upwards. It took just a moment to realise he was on a hospital trolley racing along a hallway. Tilting his head backwards, he saw the two people from the ship. They were pushing the trolley along with two medics, neither of whom he recognised.
The woman sounded muffled, but he could hear her. ‘We got away. Everything is going to be fine. Just relax, Mirek.’
He tried to speak but his throat was too dry, his head pounding. He felt the trolley beneath him shudder as it passed through a door which then snapped back behind him.
‘Rest now,’ said a voice he didn’t recognise and could not place, a voice that didn’t appear to quite belong. Then he passed out.
He dreamt of her – the woman who claimed to be his wife. She was also the woman in the mirror and the woman on the ship.
He was back in the apartment and alone. The scent of the morning’s breakfast long gone; the view outside no longer bright and summery but grey and dense with heavy rain. The winding buildings in the background were now little more than ghostly trees of a far off ancient forest.
‘You know what you need to do, Mirek.’
‘No, I don’t! he called out. ‘Help me!’
‘Help me! Help me!’ He sat bolt upright in bed in what looked like a hospital room of which he was the sole occupant. The curtains were open to a bright and shiny morning, the pink sky above suggested Mars… home.
The door opened and in peered the woman from the ship.
‘Everything alright, Mirek?’ she asked tentatively.
‘I had a bad dream.’
She nodded, stepped in through the open door and closed it behind her. ‘Not to put a dampener on your recovery, but the medics say you might have bad dreams for months – and hallucinations too. Sorry. Otherwise, you’re doing well.’
‘Where am I?’
‘You’re back on Mars. They want to discharge you some time this week. Not sure when you’ll be back on active duty, though.’ She sat on the bed next to him and patted his leg. ‘Enjoy it, you’re not expected to salute me for the next few weeks.’
‘How did we…?’
‘We limped back to Charon Starport, by which time we had fighter cover. I have to be honest, we almost didn’t make it.’
Mirek looked thoughtfully out the window to the lazy pink clouds rolling by. He thought he heard a voice calling him from beyond the window. He shook his head and returned his attention to the woman on the bed – he still could not remember her name. Her name badge was missing too.
‘Is there anything I can get you?’
‘My throat is raw. Could I have some water?’
She looked to the table next to his bed, noticed the jug was empty and picked it up. ‘You have a private bathroom but the water isn’t drinkable. I’ll take this to the nurse, get you some filtered.’
As the door closed behind her, Mirek threw back the duvet and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He wobbled as he stood, regained his balance and tentatively put one foot in front of the other, heading towards the bathroom door.
It was colder in the small bathroom – both in terms of décor and temperature. He rubbed his face, felt it was greasy and went directly to the sink, taking joy in the cool water spilling over his hands and down the plug hole.
He gazed long into the mirror, analysing and examining the contours of his face. every flicker, every flaw, every grey hair matted and woven in amongst the black.
There, barely perceptible, the mirror flickered. Mirek froze, water continued to tumble over his hands and into the sink.
‘I’m imagining things.’ He raised his cupped hands to his face and splashed it on him. It felt good. He let it drip down then looked up into the mirror once more.
The glass shimmered and became a pool, just as it had the first time.
‘Mirek, are you there? You’re still in the hallucination. Whatever is going on, you must play along. Do you hear me? Don’t fight it! It’s your only chance of survival.’