She opened her eyes. She felt groggy. But she couldn't sit up. She felt like every tissue in her body, every cell was glistening with ice crystals which were just about to melt. The intense chill made her think that she was a piece of extremely delicate glass, which would be shattered at the merest sneeze.
Surrounding her was white and bright. She couldn't make of the environment. She couldn't find a clear boundary between the ceiling, wall and the floor. They merged seamlessly. The white light was so bright and sterile that she thought she was at the surgery room.
"Hurry up. Time is essence. We shall not let the Traveller waiting, shall we?" the voice again.
Now, she felt some familiarity. "The Traveller?" she sputtered. Her voice was dry and old.
"Yes, glad that you still remember him," the figure lowered his head over her. She could make out a face of -
"Get up now, be fortunate you didn't sustain any amnesia under cold sleep," he grabbed her arm and lifted her up roughly. "We are already late."
It wasn't Dan. The voice was much rougher than him. It was the Driver. She still could not see his face. He still wore that mysterious hood over his face. He looked more like a raven now. His movement was quick. He grabbed her up and started dragging her to another room. Her feet struggled to keep up with his pace.
The door irised open. And another white light washed over her face.
He threw her inside and left the room.
"Jane Soutaine," a familiar voice spoke. Old but wise and friendly.
"Traveller," she gazed at him.
"Come now, we have much to discuss," he said.
"What had happened to me?"
"You went to a sleep. I had him knock you out before you could reject it. I am deeply sorry about that," the Traveller smiled.
"It felt such a long time," she tidied her hair. There were droplets of water sticking on her scalp. "Where am I?"
"You have been under a cryogenic sleep, Jane. A sleep that is so cold till every metabolic activity in your body halted. A stasis, Jane. You have arrested yourself while time moves on. Look at you, forty years have passed and you still look like before."
"Wait, what? Stasis? Those are ex - "
"Experimental? No. It is being used extensively, if you mind. Especially at current state of affairs," he said. He waved his hand and a sphere of holo-projection appeared in the middle of the room. A projection of the Earth and its moon and a date written forty years after she knew everything.
She felt dizzy.
"You just skipped forty years in a heartbeat. You'll get used to it."
"Fuck you, Traveller."
"Now, now, we don't want to argue now. Did he mention that we are a bit late?" He smiled. He quickly spoke before she had a chance, "I trust you still remember one thing or two about Earth as an information storage system?"
"Can I say no?"
The Traveller ignored her. "Fifty years ago, a mysterious piece of junk had crashed onto Sahara Desert. A man went into coma after touching it. Now, I am going to tell you the whole truth. The man who touched that piece of junk is me. That was when I realised what is Earth and what was our destiny. The piece of junk had turned me into something else. Something more bizarre than any one of you. The doctors claimed that my brain was vanishing at an exponential rate but at the same time, my physiological process did not encounter any problems."
"Lucky shit," Jane said.
"Maybe. But listen, my brain did not vanish. It had been elevated to a higher degree, or higher dimension. I am being cast out from the information storage system. I am being retrieved and chugged away in another place, a real Universe," The Traveller said. "My brain and my bodily functions are not bound to this system anymore. I don't carry any information needed to be transmitted. I am an independent entity now, no longer bound to the law that there is a superior information carrier. I am out of the computer now."
"You are crazy, Traveller. And if there's anything else to say, I would say I am crazy too for believing in your 'Alice in Wonderland' story," Jane said.
"I'll show you more," the Traveller said. "Ever heard of the Pioneer anomaly?"
Jane Soutaine shook her head. "Maybe I did, or maybe not. Tell me more."
"Pioneer spacecrafts, launched around a century ago, had experienced an anomaly that nobody could explain, till now. They had been flying without course adjustment thrusts and when all the scientists thought the exact location the spacecrafts should be after 50 years, the spacecraft ended more than a thousand years closer to Sun than expected. It seemed like the two spacecrafts had been slowing down more than expected."
"Sun gravity, you idiot."
"No, they have included those factors into the calculations, no matter what it seemed, the two spacecrafts - Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 - was slowing down more and more, as if they were treading on sticky jelly of space, prohibiting them to go faster and faster."
"Continue," Jane said, interested with the story.
"After I have been - disconnected, if the term is right - I am able to do things nobody can. My ship can travel five times faster than ordinary ship. Inertia doesn't bound me much now. The space is much smoother than the Pioneer anomaly encountered." He waved his hand on the projection. The Earth shrunken and demonstrated the slowing of the Pioneers while his ship continued to flee.
"Island Spire. You seriously think that is just a spire, don't you? It's a spaceship designed to go fifteen percent the speed of light," the Traveller smiled.
"What? Where are we now?"
"At the heliopause. I hope you know what the heliopause is," the Traveller said.
She felt dizzier. Heliopause is the boundary where the solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium, creating a fuzzy bubble encompassing the entire solar system, further than the orbit of Pluto. "All... all these in forty years?"
"I told you, inertia doesn't restrict me ever since I am disconnected from Earth."
"Why are you taking me this far?"
"Recall back to why humans interact. The information storage system. Dan is one of the agents who keep the system running smooth. Ever since a glitch happened, I mean, ever since you survived the Erasing, all the agents are hunting you down to delete the bad sector of the computer."
"I don't understand..."
"The Erasing is the event where everyone else in the Sahara Desert was being randomised into constituent particles and subparticles. You survived that incident. You had that silver cylinder with you that protected you. The Erasing was initiated by Dan and his agents. We call them the Eraserheads for now. They don't want people to know what the Shell is and the answer to the Pioneer anomaly. They are sending Eraserheads to kill us."
"Wait. Dan is what? Who? What shell? What are you talking about?" Jane felt a mild migraine.
"Ah, the Shell..." the Traveller smiled again. "That would come much later in your mission."