“What did you think you were doing, going in before we were ready?” a man’s voice boomed.
Riley couldn’t open her eyes yet. The world around her reeled as she worked to awaken her senses.
“I knew this was too risky. You’re too inexperienced and have no training. We should not be doing this.”
Riley recognized Mrs. Phillips’ voice.
“Wha…,” Riley mumbled. She slowly opened her eyes and looked at two figures standing over her. Mrs. Phillips had a disapproving look on her face.
“We have to use her, but she can’t be going in without backup,” the man said.
Riley focused on him, blinking to clear her vision. She didn’t think she had met him before, but he looked vaguely familiar. He wore a dark blue suit that looked like it was tailored to fit his body. His eyes were dark, hair white. His stern expression and wrinkles made him look as old as her grandfather.
Riley got the impression this guy was in charge, which meant it had to be Mr. Phillips.
He looked down at her, lips moving. It took Riley a moment to catch up to what he was saying.
“I didn’t mean to,” Riley moaned as she tried to sit up, but Mr. Phillips gently reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, easing her back down.
“I know you didn’t,” he said, then looked at Mrs. Phillips. “Have you been able to get hold of Chaz?”
“He left before these two got here, but he’s not answering his cell now.”
“Great,” he said through clenched teeth.
For the first time, she noticed she lay in a hospital bed. She looked over and saw Bruce in the bed next to her.
“How are you feeling? Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeth, I’m thine.” She smacked her lips and stuck her tongue out. Her mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
Mrs. Phillips reached over to grasp a glass of water, holding it out. Riley took it gratefully and sipped the contents. The water was lukewarm, and she vaguely remembered a glass sitting on the table next to Bruce’s bed. It had probably been sitting there since he was transferred from the hospital.
“That’s good,” Mr. Phillips said, but his wife couldn’t restrain her frustration at his calmness.
She huffed out a breath and turned to Riley. “Did you see him? What was going on?”
She furrowed her brows. “I didn’t see much. There was some kind of old village, much of it on fire.” She took a long sip of water, which soothed her dry throat. “There were villagers running around, and there was this dragon. Many of the villagers ran into this large building just as the dragon set it on fire. It was so real. I could hear their screams and feel the heat.”
The two adults shared a concerned glance before looking back at her.
“Next time, we need to put her in a suit,” Mr. Phillips said.
“We can’t. I don’t think she would be able to connect to him if she’s in one,” Mrs. Phillips said.
He threw his hands up. “We can’t send her in unprotected.”
“If she’s in a suit, she won’t get through the block. You saw it. No one else can connect unless her natural connection gets them through. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“But she could get hurt.” He looked at Riley. “You do understand, don’t you? If you go in without a suit, anything that happens in there could really happen to you. If you are cut, you will bleed. It’s not safe without the protection of a suit.”
“I know the risks,” Riley said. She pulled herself up into a seated position, something that was not easy to do with a cast on her leg. “From what I’ve heard, you can’t get to him without me. I mean, even with all this tech, you can’t get in. For some reason, I can. I don’t how, but I can.”
“It’s dangerous,” Mr. Phillips said. “More dangerous than we have the right to ask of you.”
“You’re not asking. I’m volunteering.” Riley felt that rock growing in the pit of her stomach again, but she had come too far to turn back now. Besides, she had taken on Deadman’s Curve. She could handle this.
“Hey, is she okay?” Patty called out from the other room.
Riley shifted so she could look between the two adults in front of her, seeing Patty trying to look in her direction from the bulkiness of the large device she sat in.
“I’m fine,” Riley called back.
“What was that? You couldn’t wait for me?” she asked, a smile in her voice.
“Sorry.” Riley looked to the two adults. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
They looked at each other, then back at her. Finally, Mr. Phillips nodded. “Okay then.”
It took them only five minutes to set everything up. Mr. Phillips quickly worked to apply small patches to Riley’s head and chest. His wife rushed into the other room and stood at a computer console next to “the rig”.
She called out, “Ready.”
Mr. Phillips looked down at Riley. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Riley took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. “Too late now. Let’s do this.”
He nodded, then gently picked up her arm and brought it over until it made contact with Bruce.
The room disappeared.