Grace drops through the portal and onto the grey ground. The portal shuts immediately afterwards.
Grace looks up. She bolts to her feet, searching her surroundings. Her eye falls on a figure. Grace freezes.
The other figure begins coughing and begins to force itself to sit up. It’s a little girl. It is Grace. She turns and looks up at her other self.
The two Graces stare at each other, utter confusion and horror plastered on their faces.
Little Grace sat in a chair in the testing room, having cords glued to her head. Her breath was shallow and her hands were shaking. She tried to remain calm, but with every single wire pressed against her head, she grew more agitated. Chex walked up to her and held her hand.
“It’s going to be okay, Grace. You won’t go back there, I promise. I’m going to stay in the room the entire time. Okay?”
Little Grace nodded.
“Then we’ll be put back together?” she asked.
“Well, we have to learn a little more about how you two are separate before we can do that. But don’t worry. We will put you two back together, okay?”
In a separate room, Adult Grace experienced the same process. She consciously took deep breaths and squeezed her own hand tightly, turning her knuckles white. Unknown lab assistants glued the wires to her head in cold, professional manners. No one talked to her.
Little Grace tried to smile at Chex, her bottom lip trembling ever so slightly. Chex didn’t let go of her hand.
“You ready?” he asked.
Grace nodded. Chex patted her gently on the head.
“There’s my brave little girl.”
He turned to a lab assistant.
“Fire it up.”
The lab assistant in Adult Grace’s room walked over to the control board and pressed several switches. The machine hummed to life.
Adult Grace let in a sharp intake of air. She held her breath.
Images began flickering on the monitor. Chex was on it, kneeling before the viewer, holding her hand, saying something to her.
Chex knelt before Little Grace, holding her hand.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
The monitor flickered to life. The image showed a lab assistant standing in the distance, observing and making notes.
Little Grace flinched.
“What’s up, Grace?” Chex asked.
Little Grace flinched again.
“She’s angry,” she said.
She flinched again, more violently this time.
Adult Grace grimaced at intervals. She looked around the room. No one really noticed. She stared at the image on the monitor. Chex was comforting Little Grace, a concerned expression on his face. He was talking to other people and calming Little Grace.
A sharp, stabbing pain carved through Adult Grace’s head. She screamed and doubled over.
Little Grace grabbed her head, screaming and crying.
The world slowed. Lab assistants running to help Little Grace hardly moved. Clipboards dropped by assistants with Adult Grace floated in the air.
Adult and Little Grace sat opposite each other, people and events packed in between them.
Adult Grace sat up and looked at Little Grace. The girl was still sobbing helplessly, holding Chex’s hand. Adult Grace looked around.
“Do you hear that?” she asked.
Little Grace continued crying. Adult Grace continued looking around.
“Grace, shut up!”
Little Grace tried her best to stop crying and looked up at Adult Grace, who was cocking her head to one side.
“Tell me you hear that.” Adult Grace said.
Little Grace looked around, face wet with tears. A soft whispering drifted in through somewhere.
The two Graces locked eyes. That was someone else’s voice.
The whispering grew louder, repeating itself over and over again: “Grace! Take it off! Grace! Take it off! Grace! Take it off…”
Adult Grace listened.
“Grace, that–that’s Chex.” Adult Grace said.
Little Grace looked at Chex. His mouth wasn’t moving.
“He’s not speaking.” She said.
Another whispering presence entered: “She’s gonna die. She’s gonna die…”
Little Grace started crying again. Adult Grace looked around, trying to pinpoint where the voice was coming from. She zeroed in on one of lab assistants. He wasn’t moving at all.
Voices started flooding in: “We’re going to lose them/Not again!/What’s happening to them?/Oh–”
The voices grew louder and louder, coming from nearly every person in the room. Little Grace cried uncontrollably now. Adult Grace was starting to panic. She fought to get out of her chair, but invisible handcuffs held her in place.
“No! I won’t go back!”
Adult Grace writhed, but she couldn’t get out of the chair. The voices were shouting now. Little Grace was crying and covering her ears, but it did not good. It was beginning to hurt.
Adult Grace watched Little Grace, unable to help. She understood. She understood everything perfectly.
Adult Grace turned to the lab assistant at the control board in her room. Gathering up all the strength she could, she turned to him and screamed.
“TURN IT OFF!”
People began to rush to Adult Grace’s chair, but she paid no attention to them. She was staring straight at the lab assistant at the control board.
The people in Little Grace’s room still didn’t move.
Under compulsion, the lab assistant in Adult Grace’s room reached an arm out and switched the machines off without looking.
The second his fingers were off the board, the room sped up to normal speed. People ran to Adult Grace. She was already ahead of them: she tore off her wires and leapt to her feet.
The people in Little Grace’s room ran up to her. Chex reached up to take the wires off of Little Grace’s head.
“Get them off!” he yelled.
Adult Grace burst into the room, careening straight for Little Grace. She shoved Chex out of the way and stripped the wires off of Little Grace herself. Little Grace collapsed into Adult Grace’s arms, sobbing helplessly. The little girl shook with fear and wrapped her arms tightly around her older self.
“It’s okay.” Adult Grace said, holding Little Grace close. “I got you, Grace. It’s okay.”
Little Grace buried her face into Adult Grace’s shoulder.
“I got you.”