He stood in the middle of the forest path, hunting knife in hand, and watched a dog-sized praying mantis shudder out its last breath on his shoes.
It bled see-through ichor through the crack the blade had left between two armored segments, twitching. He hooked his toes underneath the segmented body and flipped it on its other side, before its jagged front claws could score an accidental hit.
It had to be an insect. Green as grass, chitin-plated body, antennas. Yet...
Scorpion tail. No walking legs -- just the huge front claws. The eyes weren't multifaceted either.
It went against every single biological classification he'd ever heard of.
"Chang!" a woman called as she ran up the path.
He spared a glance over his shoulder, unwilling to take his eyes away from the body until it went all the way still. "Nurse Marika," he acknowledged, and went into a crouch to wipe the knife into the grass, ignoring the twinge in his stiff legs. He didn't want to find out whether the ichor was poisonous firsthand.
The middle-aged woman came to a stop at his side and bent double, panting, hands on her knees. She was still in her white scrubs. "I can't believe... Went into the forest -- dang it, Chang..."
Medical types were the same everywhere. Though Sally would have sounded a little more sarcastic that he had escaped her overcautious mercies, and a lot less surprised.
The doctors and nurses in Mideel's clinic were so happy when they told him he wasn't crazy, as if he was a medical success, an unexpected happy-end story. Sure, there were holes in his memory (a little less than they thought), but it might all come back and it could have been so much worse. (He'd done recon through the clinic the first night he was taken off the life sign monitor and he was forced to agree. He could have been locked inside his own skull, staring at nothing and dribbling out the baby food they tried spooning in.)
Problem was, either they were crazy, or he was.
But he couldn't help but feel it was the entire world that was crazy.
He remembered Sally Po. Field medic, Resistance leader, partner, friend. He remembered her housecat. Horses he'd seen Heero (who was he to Chang? Friend, colleague?) ride. Hyenas he'd scared off. He didn't remember a creature like this. He watched Nurse Marika from the corner of his eye, but while she looked slightly queasy as she stared at the creature, there was no surprise or horror to be found on her face.
"I can't believe you managed to kill a Head Hunter with only a tiny knife," she said, only confirming his impression.
Wufei snorted. The blade was almost as long as his forearm. "If that's what you call a tiny knife..."
"It's damned well too short to fight one of those things! You should have gotten a spear, or a materia."
Another word he'd never heard, a weapon he didn't know.. The language here was strange -- English, mostly, especially the grammar, but with an accent that seemed closer to German, and peppered with Chinese and Japanese vocabulary that slipped out with the ease of a loan word whose foreign origin had long since been forgotten. It had taken him a few days to get used to it, and he kept meeting words he didn't know.
"I didn't think a spear would be necessary," he admitted. Actually, he'd mostly thought he could hide the knife and nobody would know he had it, whereas one of the spears in the armory (what kind of clinic had an armory) would be a little too obvious. Back home most people didn't carry around a blade-tipped pole as they went about their business, and they didn't carry guns and knives out in the open either. Not without attracting cops.
He wasn't home. It was becoming clearer and clearer. He wasn't anywhere near home.
Marika straightened up fully and poked at the mantis-scorpion with a toe. Nothing moved.
"I don't understand how you didn't get stung. They have paralyzing venom, you know. Are you sure...?"
"It didn't touch me." He'd dodged. That tail end struck fast, but he'd been expecting it. Then once the beast was committed to its attack, it was a simple matter of lashing out at the unprotected side.
He'd had to do it twice, because his first attack had glanced off the segmented shell. But the thing wasn't smart enough to adapt.
"So that's a ... Head Hunter, you say?"
"Ah, it's the local nickname. Because when they can, they like to go for the neck with their pincers. I think in other places they call them grashtrikes..."
Wufei didn't reply. Neither word sparked any memories. But if the creatures were widespread enough to have other names, it was likely he would have heard of them.
None of it made any sense. He remembered the war. He remembered the space colony he'd been born in. He remembered the Preventers.
None of it existed there.
Mideel was a tiny town lost in a tropical forest, powered by an old-fashioned generator. Most of the houses used wicker lamps and candles for light. None of the rare computers had the Internet. He could have told himself he'd managed to end up in the last part of the world that still refused to consider itself a part of the Earth Sphere.
But they did get the newspapers, if a day or two late. (Sometimes there were trees on the road. Sometimes there were monster attacks.)
"Honey? Are you alright?" Marika stepped in front of him and peered at his face. She tried to smile a reassurance he didn't need. "I hope you aren't about to have a relapse, this would be a really inconvenient place."
He shook his head. The only green things creeping at the edges of his vision were forest leaves. "Just thinking." Frowning, he stared down at the creature some more, then leaned down to grab its tail and drag it on the side of the path. It was heavy.
"Are you going to get the venom pouch? Doctor Hanzeder would buy it."
Wufei arched an eyebrow. "Really."
"Yes, if you use it at small enough doses their venom can make a good tranquilizer. We never have enough of those," she added with a sigh.
He considered it. It wasn't like he had anything better to do with his time. He hadn't had a relapse in almost a week -- soon enough the doctor wouldn't be able to delay his release, and Wufei had no local money to pay for food or board.
Imposing on the clinic's generosity was starting to really bother him anyway, no matter how fast he still grew out of breath.
Those beasts were still utterly alien to him, but it couldn't be hard to figure out how to kill them. He frowned, checked his surroundings for anymore of them, and sank into a crouch by the carcass. "Show me how to get the pouch out. I'll bring you more."
He hadn't remembered his name when he woke for good after the green, when he started making sense again. Nurse Marika had mentioned paperwork with ideograms, half of which she couldn't read, but when she read out 'Chang' he had known it referred to him.
It was the same when they gave him back his identity papers, the only personal effects he still owned -- his saturated clothes had to be cut off him and trashed.
"Wufei Chang," he read, and thought, 'Chang Wufei, actually', but around here they seemed to have no notion of a culture that put family names first.
"Oh, and here we've been calling you by last name all along!"
The doctor gave a subtly worried frown; "Are you from Wutai then?"
Wufei didn't even think of disguising his first flash of confusion. "No, I'm from--"
His training stopped him, even though he wasn't too sure what he would have named that glittering wheel in the black of space.
The doctor relaxed, having caught that first unfeigned reaction; Chang -- Wufei -- relaxed in turn. That had been the right answer, no matter how accidental. He made note; being from Wutai seemed to be undesirable. At least in this area.
The doctor shook his head. "Still don't remember, huh? No matter. It'll come back in time."
Nurse Kieri nodded encouragingly. "So much has been already. You remember Wufei as your name, people calling you that? The rest will come back."
"Yes, you're right," he said, and changed the subject.
He knew the doctor knew nothing about that still needed to come back; he'd remembered for weeks now.
Three months since he had emerged from the forest. Three weeks since he had left the clinic and found a cheap dorm room to share, until he saved enough to leave Mideel for good.
Three hours since he'd ridden back from the coast in the back of Old Niang's strange three-wheeled truck.
It didn't make any sense. It just didn't.
But he'd doubted his strength before -- his sanity, never. He still wasn't, couldn't doubt it. (How do you know, if you don't remember, they'd asked. He just knew. He wasn't going to second-guess himself into paralysis.)
His memories were just too coherent, those he still had. Oh, he'd forgotten the odd face, his wife's name before it was Nataku, why thoughts of Heero made him feel that mixture of pride and amusement and secret shame, how he and Duo had ever gotten out of that suffocating cell and survived, who Sandrock's pilot and Peacecraft were beside 'important'. (What he'd been doing, just before the green.) But the rest -- no, it couldn't be a delusion. He'd examined the possibility as impartially as he could -- it wasn't.
He slid his hand across the rough sheet that covered his bed -- hit the rickety wooden wall with the side of his fist, and the roof trembled. Dust fell on his face.
This wasn't a delusion either.
"Hey! Whatcha hittin' the walls for? Like the house ain't wobbly enough as it is."
He'd let it all go while he was recuperating -- cataloguing the strangeness, note upon note that he made in the back of his mind as he absorbed it all. The obvious -- strange, dangerous beasts; Mideel was a village half on stilts not because of floods but because most monsters stayed at ground level. The less obvious -- the language. The slightly off (evolved) kanji. The societal expectations -- children made adult at sixteen, weapons everywhere as a matter of course.
The science. The maps.
He hadn't let himself analyze it before. Immersion sometimes worked better than critical study, and he couldn't leave yet...
"Uhh... Er. You okay?"
The round little stone on his lap kept flickering with emerald lights, even though the room was dark, even cradled between sheltering hands.
It made no sense, none, none.
It... just was.
He didn't know how to go home. He didn't know where he was. It could be months of searching, years, before he even fully understood how he'd arrived there -- green green green -- how he might return. Maybe he never would.
Maybe he never would.
That didn't mean he wouldn't try, and keep trying until he physically couldn't anymore. He didn't need to remember anything to know that.
He'd lost his hairband somewhere in the forest and the nurses had to cut his clothes off him, saturated with green. His... flight suit, from their descriptions. (He didn't remember why he'd been wearing a flight suit -- he was a Preventer now, he didn't fly mobile suits anymore -- but it could be nothing else.) They hadn't been too curious, but they'd wondered about the cut, the cloth -- not anything they had there.
In a bigger town, one not lost at the ass-end of nowhere, they might wonder more. Might be less willing to assume it was some new fad they hadn't seen yet. Might ask questions. And he had all the answers he was going to get from Mideel already -- delaying his stay would be nothing but reluctance, cowardice.
He cradled the green, impossible stone between his hands.
Flung his Preventer ID in the air -- Chang Wufei, L5-born, European Resident, Badge Number 143. Watched it catch on fire. Nothing landed on the floor planks but ash.
The vendor had been right. Magic came easy.
"Whoa! What's that you just...?"
"Nothing." My last piece of home. "I'll clean up."
He did. Then he packed up. It was really quick.