The reconstruction lets out an alert sound, and Thalia rubs her eyes and leans back. Flo looks up from the desk opposite and reaches to adjust something by her ear. "Coffee?"
Thalia mutes the metal blaring out from under her desk and looks up at her. "Please - milk and two. God - this is taking so long, I think it'll be even two more days before we get to the basic layout. Ugh."
"You'd know by now this isn't a career for instant gratification, young so-and-so", Flo grins, and Thalia's about to start a retort right back at her but she's already turned towards the kitchen. Thalia hits a few keys on the computer, and walks over to Flo's side of the lab, where she's kept battered armchairs and an old coffee table since what could be the 1970s, to judge by the designs. She piles up copies of her postgrad applications on top of this morning's rejection letter, and snorts a little at the headlines on Flo's latest copy of the Fortean Times. Alien sightings out in the desert - oh, really.
Flo sets down two steaming mugs, both plastered with an outdated Natural History Museum logo, and looks over at the magazine in Thalia's hand. "Ha - interesting one, that. Thought I'd take it to the board, see if they'd send me out for a month or two." She's smiling, and Thalia laughs, "tell you what: if they give you funding, how's about I'll go intern with you? Set up tents, make coffee - anything you like. Got to be more interesting than telling the universities I've sat here running computer models for six months, right?"
"We'd see a bit of daylight, at least!", Flo answers, blowing on her coffee. "And you never know - there's all sorts goes on out there, so I've heard. Could make your career - too late for me, of course. Anyway, how's it going with what's-her-name?"
You'd almost be fool enough to think Flo didn't care, with the blunt segues and tactless questions, but six months working the same desk at the Museum, never seeing her supervisor and having mostly Flo for company, had taught Thalia otherwise. She's careful to not let the laughter die entirely from her face, and says, "Robin. It's... it's okay. We saw each other last week, and we're texting, but, yeah, it's hard now I'm back living with my parents and she's got a bit more time for seeing people, you know? And I've got all the postgrad applications... we should try and do something next week. I'll see if I can sort something."
Flo, bless her, doesn't push it, and chatters on about enormous spacecraft and ghost sightings and government cover-ups while Thalia sips her coffee and lets her thoughts drift elsewhere. It's a little later, just as Thalia's starting to hit that sweet spot where the flint fragments are finally making a little more sense, and she can start to plan out their reconstruction and the implications of it, that the air... shifts.
It's very sudden: one second her eyes are wide, watching the screen and holding several thoughts in the air, silk-strand-delicate and almost-consolidating, and the next second they're shattered sideways as she's blinded by bright light and a loud clattering. Thalia throws a hand up to shield her eyes and yells "Flo!" in a panic, feeling a sickening lurch of relief a moment later to find her warm, solid mass beside her.
She tries to open her eyes, and is immediately overwhelmed with information - impossible, absurd information, that blocks up her brain and airways and she can't think and - breathe. Focus. Observe. Don't panic.
Thalia closes her eyes, and lists the things she knows. Her name is Thalia Petros. She lives in LA. She works at the Museum of Natural History. Her girlfriend's name is - she shakes herself, keep it simple - she works with Dr. Florence Armati, reconstructing fragments of knapped flint from up to two million years ago. She's applied to do more interesting archaeological work at over a dozen other - no, stop, keep it simple - the sun is shining, bright red through her eyelids. The air is stifling hot: she must be in the desert. There's the noise of several helicopters overhead. She looks: Flo is here. Flo has turned up her hearing aid. Flo is saying something to her. Thalia can't hear her. Thalia is speechless.
Again. Focus. She's in the desert. It's a town. There's a smoking crater, surrounded by shops. There are people nearby. Some are gathered around a large, dark stone slab. Others are coming in close towards her - too close - they're dressed weirdly. One of them has - but no, that's impossible - she's got some kind of freaky neck tattoos made to look like gills. Thalia realises she's staring, and looks instead at the smoking hole.
She's still holding tightly on to Flo's forearm when a youngish woman wearing fluffy green trousers (odd parts of her brain are waking up, reminding her she's seen stranger get-ups at dorm parties) pulls them both forward. She's pointing them at the slab - there's deeply carved, weathered lettering there in what looks like Times New Roman font, except, well, it can't be. It's in English - modern English, but moss-covered. Of all the bizarre, impossible things, Thalia is suddenly fixated on how there's no way this slab could exist - a far away part of her snorts, not unkindly, at her steadfast professionalism.
Someone else has both their palms on the slab and is weeping quietly, and Thalia again notices the names there, and is struck abruptly by grief: she can't help. She mumbles something to the woman, something about not understanding, and it's then, as the helicopters' clatter fades for a moment, that she notices there's a radio show leaking out of a nearby cafe. The deep, bass voice steadily reads out the stone-carved words (thousands of years? the back of her mind supplies), and then goes on to describe... archaeologists.
Flo finally cracks - "let us go home!", she bursts out, and as she's met with blank stares, Thalia remembers it had taken her a few days to get used to her speech, at the start. They both freeze as they hear the voice on the radio quote back her words, crisp and fluent. Flo experimentally repeats, "Please? Let us go home?", and the voice echoes her, seconds later.
Before the shock of it can really wash over her, Thalia notices that by the corner of the next building, there's a girl in a lab coat watching them both. She's holding a clipboard and what looks like a lump of cloth-wrapped charcoal, and is leaning up for a word with her colleague. They both look over, unsmiling, and then he nods and strides towards them.
He's a tall, dark-skinned man with long hair swept back into a loose ponytail, and as he walks over Thalia notices his eyes flick from her scuffed Docs to her eyebrow piercing to the emerald streak in her hair, all within a fraction of a second, and she thinks, ah. A moment later, he's standing in front of them.
"Hi. Um. I mean, welcome", he says. "Listen - you're probably going to be... mostly okay." He extends a hand. "I'm Carlos."