Rose stirred and sat up. A few scarves fell limply to the ground as they slipped off her chest.
Environment influences behavior at different levels. Immediate behavior is a function of the settings in which it occurs. Individuals' actions are primarily decided by their surroundings. This is the first level of environmental psychology.
She let her gaze wander, examining her surroundings. She appeared to simply be in a white room, though she couldn't find where the wall began and floor ended. She rested upon a pile of knitting in what seemed to be the center of this space. A few feet away, a black door stood stark from the walls. That was peculiar. A door touching no walls could hardly be useful. Rose turned her attention to her own person. Whoever had placed her here had not harmed her, though the lines between her own white clothing and pale skin blurred against the room and disoriented her. She stood and approached the door. With a muted click, it opened. Her eyebrows quirked. From the other side of the door, her own back yard greeted her. Glittering snow cushioned the ground, and the research lab loomed in the distance, a mere shadow in the mist.
She stepped outside, the snow crunching under her feet seeming deafening in the silence. She closed the door, and it fizzled out of existence under her fingertips. For some reason, this wasn't frightening. She had done what she must. The Timeline dictated that she must always keep moving. What now, fickle gods?
Rose reexamined. There was no 'forward.' Everything was exactly the same, save for the lab. She turned toward it and started off, guided by the voice echoing in her head. It sounded familiar, though she couldn't identify it. Just forward. Always forward.
Mom rose from the snow, as if she had been buried in it herself. That would be just par for the course. What routine do we dance now?
She simply draped a cloak of purple over Rose's shoulders and tucked the hood over her head. She pushed a basket into Rose's hands and stepped back slowly, fingers lingering over Rose's own. She cut out, disappearing. Rose quelled the sudden ache of longing and checked her basket. A grey box sat nestled inside the cloth. Inside the box, a copy of Sburb waited innocently. She closed the box, resettled the fabric against the light snowfall now dusting her eyelashes, and resumed her trek to the lab.
As she walked, her footsteps were the only sound to accompany her. Voices plagued her mind to fill the space. They whispered to her, coercing and smooth, all trying to sway her support to their own side. Only one did she trust. He was a true gentleman, a proper host, and he urged her forward. So forward she went.
The metal door swung noiselessly under her touch and admitted her into the inner workings of the lab. She passed the monitors and timers, letting them whir their tales into the void. She paced the space between the gridlocked cubes she had to thank for her own survival, steps becoming more and more hasty as she approached the Transportalizer. She rose onto the pedestal, still clutching her basket, and fell. The ground disappeared, and the lives from a thousand different sessions whipped around her. Rose closed her eyes and let the feeling of unity with the entire stream of consciousness envelop her. The voice in her mind whispered.
No ground rematerialized under her feet as she was accustomed to, but she fell seemingly from the sky, clattering to her hands and knees. She recovered her box from under a desk pushed against the wall and tucked it back into the basket on her arm, then stood and reassessed. She seemed to be in an underground tunnel, doors lining both sides to the horizon. A small white man, dressed in an impeccable white and green suit, emerged from a door to her right. He reminded Rose of a marionette who has not yet gotten his face.
"Excuse me," she said. He seemed to bleed smugness despite his lack of features. The voice in her head resounded.
Right this way.
He vanished into a door to her left. Rose knelt before the door and peeked inside, cheek resting on the cool floorboards. She pressed her eye to the window in the door. Inside, a well-tended garden sprawled for miles. She stood and returned to where she had seen the desk.
There was no way out at this end, so she had to find a way through one of the doors if she wished to continue. On the desk rested a tiny bottle labeled "drink me." The creatures in her mind, forever heard but not seen, jumped in excitement as she picked it up.
Mind the drawer, Seer.
Rose obeyed the voice and jostled the drawer open. Inside, a key no larger than her fingernail lay in a corner. She stowed it in her sylladex, then unstopped the bottle. A quick consult with her host reassured her, and she poured the sticky liquid into her mouth.
A pulse of energy rushed through her skin, and the desk legs now loomed over her. Satisfied by this turn of events, she returned to the door, accessed the key, and entered. The suited man waited for her, standing hospitably by a bench, but turned and disappeared without a word.
"Who are you?" Rose called, but he blinked out without acknowledging her. She tightened her lips, but smoothed out her skirt and continued on. She would have answers from someone, whether they wanted to give them or not. She walked until she found a path, then followed it to the perimeter of a glittering lake.
"Halt there," a voice ordered her. She turned to see a troll unfolding himself from behind a patch of grass, though she didn't recognize him. He breathed heavily and wore a pair of fractured glasses, fiddling a wrench in his hands.
"Can I help you?" Rose asked calmly.
"No," he stammered. Rose noted his suddenly increased perspiration and let it grind in her mind. Possibly anxious, lying, or experiencing sexual arousal. Maybe even a combination of the three. "But you must take these." He held two chunks of mushroom out to her.
"Why do you give these to me?" Rose asked, not making any move to take his offering.
"I must serve those higher on the hemospectrum, purpleblood. One side of the mushroom will make you grow. The other will make you shrink."
"Well, thank you." Rose took the hunks of vegetation and quickly catalogued them away. The troll crackled slightly, falling to his knees while bright blue blood seeped up from the ground around him, then disappeared. Now distinctly disturbed, Rose hurried off along the path.
It lead her to a comparatively dense thicket of trees, where she paused, but continued.
"To keep the Timeline in order," she reminded herself. The path grew narrower through the trees, and she soon lost any semblance of direction, picking over roots in what she hoped was the right direction.
"You look lost!"
"Sorry? Who's there?" Rose spun in a slow circle, searching for her newest assailant. A blue tail dropped down into her vision, and she cast her gaze up to see another troll perched in the tree branches.
"AC is here to help! She flicks her tail in a friendly greeting!"
"Hello." Third person speech patterns, a possible sign of disassociation. Possibly in denial over personal actions, also possibly dangerous. Note: claws. Appear dangerous.
"You look purroccupied! What are you thinking about? Are you on a hunt? Or maybe one of your ships has just come true!" She grinned, exposing tiny fangs.
"No, no ships. I'm just trying to find my way."
"Then I know the purrfect place to go." She nodded knowingly. "Just down that path is someone who can help! He knows the way through all the bubbles."
"Thank you." Rose had not expected her to be of any use, but the girl smiled, a cacophony of honking noises pouring from her opened mouth as her skin turned mottled and green from internal bleeding. She slipped from the tree and was gone before she could hit the ground. Rose gave the ground beneath the tree a cursory glance and turned down the path that the girl had recommended. After a while, she heard the clinking of cutlery behind some bushes, and, thinking whoever it was might be able to point her along, pushed through the branches.
"Dave!" she called, surprised.
"Yo, ectosis. Want some of this weak-ass tea? Tavros, serve her up," he ordered. The little troll wheeled around and perched another cup of tea precariously on the edge of the loaded table. Rose sat and sipped at the drink. It really wasn't any good, but she was glad for the comfort of a familiar face.
"Worse than the coffee on the meteor," Dave announced even while chugging yet another glass. The meteor. There was something important about that, wasn't there?
"Yet you continue to drink," Rose observed instead.
"Nothing else to do around here. It's like being stuck in a doomed timeline, but all we can do is drink this shitty tea instead of run around slaying monsters or learning anything about this game."
"Is there nothing to learn about this land?" she asked. Before Dave could answer, a woman leapt up from beneath the table.
"New cup!" she screeched, startling the lightening bug in her hair, then fell back under the table, already asleep once again. Dave shifted over a chair, Tavros following dutifully in his wake, and began the process again.
"Not as bad as it could be," Dave said as Tavros poured him a new cup. "This little guy takes care of everything. Says I'm the master."
"The human Dave has been teaching me more about slam poetry," Tavros announced, seeming quite pleased with himself.
"He's getting pretty good. Not near the level of the human Dave, but he's better than your Dickenson attempts. Wanna witness the most epic of rap battles this side of the giant mushroom?"
Rose flinched slightly from the intensity of the order. "I apologize, but I don't think I can stay, much as I'd love to analyze the psychology behind your obsessive need to prove yourself in the written verse." She stood and backed away. She blinked, but when she opened her eyes, the table and all of its occupants were gone. She turned and ran.
Battling through the foliage, she emerged into a courtyard filled with white roses. She paused momentarily, looking for some kind of exit that wouldn't shred her with the thorns, but a flock of mannequins burst through the nearest thicket before she could reach a decision. They danced over the grass, slopping emerald paint over all the roses. Out of the gap they had created in the roses, a graceful figure bedecked in a stately gown stepped. Rose gaped. She had never known Kanaya to wear such an ugly and dissatisfied expression. She stopped immediately after entering.
"This rose is still white!" she pointed at the offending rose near her feet. "Who has done this? Off with their head!" The mannequins looked around at one another, then flocked around one of the group, restraining its flailing limbs, and removed its head with a clean pop. "Now," Kanaya continued, turning to face Rose, "would you join me for a game of human croquet?"
"I'd love to," Rose agreed, seeing nothing else to do.
"Good." The mannequins scurried about, setting up their game. Kanaya called one over, ripped both its arms out of socket, and handed one to Rose. "Your mallet. I'll start." She raised the arm back and let it swing, sending a ball of yarn unraveling through gates made of knitting needles speared into the ground. It rolled to a stop, and one of the mannequins set Rose's yarn. She stepped up to it, raised her arm, and missed entirely. Kanaya's face flushed green with anger.
"You haven't the slightest idea how to play croquet! You should have declined! Off with her head!" she ordered. Before Rose could even drop her mallet, the mannequins swarmed. They latched on to her limbs, restraining her, and she closed her eyes tightly.
The air grew cold and stagnant. Rose opened her eyes to find herself in the library of the meteor, curled up in an armchair with a book of fairytales in her lap.
"You fell asleep. One year and three days until we reach the new session," Kanaya recited quietly from the chair next to her. Rose let her head thump onto the back of the chair. One year and three days. She could handle that.