You wake up to the sound of movement and voices on a hard floor that smells like piss and dirt. The blanket that barely covers you is old and ratty, the edges fraying.
There are people all around you talking, working. You can't catch all the snippets of conversation, but you get the sense of urgency.
At first, you think you're on a New York subway. The metal floor and poles and doors fit, but it seems much too quiet. Looking up, you see a familiar symbol, red circle and a blue rectangle. You're on an Underground train. You've never been on one that looks like this, but you haven't been on one in a while. Living in the U.S. will do that to you.
There are other blankets laid out near you. Probably used as beds as well. Their owners aren't around right now and it doesn't look like anyone's personal belongings are left there. It's a relief to reach out next to your head and find your glasses still intact.
You have no idea why you're there or where you were before you fell asleep.
You talk to Paul a few minutes after you wake up. He looks older than you remember: wrinkles more visible, hair more gray. His voice has taken on a harder edge. Not that it was ever soft in the first place.
He explains to you about the snow, the cold, the crazy weather that eaten the Northern Hemisphere. The reason that this twenty-odd band of survivors live beneath London. The days when they crave the sun so much they cry.
They have food. They have supplies. They have Ringo, too. But they have to constantly get more. They move like nomads throughout the city's tunnels, looting shops, checking to see if they can breach the fifteen-foot snow.
He tells you all these things, but he doesn't tell you about yourself. Why you're there and why you can't remember. Maybe he thinks you already know.
He doesn't tell you where George is either.
The signs of wear and tear are less visible on Ringo. It probably has something to do with the long beard you don't quite remember, but it's less jarring than being around Paul, who looks like he aged twenty years overnight.
He hugs you on first sight. "Glad you're here," he tells you.
You smile back and don't say that you're glad to be there. Both of you know it's a lie.
The questions (Why am I here? What happened to me?) remain unanswered. It doesn't seem like the right time.
You overhear a conversation between them, Paul and Ringo, about you. They try to remain out of range, but occasionally when their voices rise, you can make out the distinct words.
"What can we say? That we just found him?" That's Paul, he speaks faster.
"We can tell him he's the second coming of Jesus." Ringo's humor has always been especially dry. The joke only gets an eye roll from Paul.
"But we don't know if it's really him or ..."
"A clone?" Ringo's reply is sarcastic. There's a sharp, bitter taste in your mouth. Something's wrong and they haven't told you.
"I still don't trust him. We just found him in that…" Paul says loudly before Ringo shushes him and they lower their voices again.
So he doesn't trust you? Well, fine. You don't trust him either. Much.
It's always cold. There are no heaters, but there are plenty of winter jackets. There are extras, enough to furnish a small department store. It was snowing when they went under, Paul had told you; nearly everyone wore their jackets.
Bill, the nice bloke who looks at you funny, hands you one and tells you to try it on. It's too big, but it's warm, so you keep it. "Its previous owner no longer needs it," he says with a grim smile.
Nobody's bothered trying to remove the bloodstains from it, so you don't bother either.
Someone gets a radio up and working, and the entire little community crowds around, desperate to hear any news of the Outside, eager to find information on the storm. The one you don't remember.
There's a burst of static, before a male voice becomes clear. "Stay inside. Burn whatever you can. Keep warm. Wait until the eye of the storm passes overhead."
The voice begins again as if looped, and the station bursts into activity. Paul glances over at you for a second for a second, and the fear in his eyes is evident, before he realizes what he's doing and turns away. You turn away as well to face the radio.
You notice that the radio looks strange for some reason, you don't remember electronics looking that smooth, that sleek, but other matters take precedent. Within the train car, piles of anything flammable(or inflammable) are made in the center. They are constructed haphazardly; it will need to last and last long.
You've forgotten the exact moment when you learned how to think like this.
There's no mistaking the moment when the storm goes overhead. Huddled around the fire in both Ringo and Paul's personal space (no better place to be, actually) on the seats next to the windows, you can watch the ice climb down the walls and the chill creep into your bones.
It's not that uncomfortable. Paul's warmed up to a bit over the last few days and the frigid space between you has thawed. You figure that paranoia has sapped his energy. He smiles when he sees you, hugs you in close at night when you sleep between him and Ringo, talks about the old days in way that allows a wistful smile pass over his face.
You ask him why he trusts you now, when he didn't before. He merely replied that life was too short to worry about stupid things.
Ringo's always been friendly.
The ice nearly seeps into the car and you feel a twinge of fear. It stops, but not before it forms a brilliant frost pattern on the glass (plastic?) window of the car.
You trace them with your finger, fascinated. It's beautiful.
You leave the station soon after; food is beginning to run short. It shouldn't take more than a day to reach the next one. There are rumors that the storm has stopped, that it's once again safe to go back to the surface. You try not to cry thinking about it. About the people lost, about everything that's been lost.
Paul and another bloke, Ian, intently study a Tube map, trying to determine which way you should go. They look so much like tourists, you laugh, and something like hope blossoms in your chest.
There used to be work lights that lined the tunnels, but most are frozen over and there isn't any light to see. Flashlights are a precious commodity.
You stick to Paul. Pretty much everyone else is paired off as well.
"I don't remember the Jubilee Line." you tell him, trying to make small talk. You haven't been on the Underground in...years? You don't remember. The questions that you've been trying to repress are beginning to nag at you again. You hope Paul can't see the frown that's beginning to form on your face.
Paul merely shrugs and says, "It opened about a year before you..." His voice trails off and it's quite obvious that that fuzzy spot on your memory is important. Very important.
"What happened?" you ask. Keeping the panic down is tough, but you need to know, and Paul doesn't like people demanding things from him. He pauses for a moment and you're scared that he won't answer, he'll just shrug you off and tell you that it's better that you don't know. That the truth is so ghastly that your amnesia is a relief and not a curse.
Outside, the London air is the clearest it's ever been and you breathe it in deep. The sun shines off the snow and the windows and it lifts your heart a bit. Just a bit.
The next station had a second floor. Getting out was a simple matter of jumping five feet out of a window.
You can remember climbing up an escalator and seeing the sunlight through one of those windows. There hadn't been any lights on, only the flashlights, but then you didn't need them. The sight of pale glowing light on icy, tiled floor stands out in your mind. You remember hearing someone yelling, laughing with delight.
You remember seeing a page of newspaper (probably litter lying about) frozen to the ground. Kneeling, you broke it off the floor and inspected the date: May 17, 2004. Ringo had come over, pulled you up, and told you that he'd fill you in on the last twenty years later with his familiar dryness.
Right now, Ringo smiles big and wide at you and you think that your explanation will have to wait. It's perfectly fine, actually. There's a childlike happiness in everyone's expressions at the moment. You're alive, they're alive. Maybe you'll survive. You don't know, but even with the decaying ruins of society around you, you feel giddy. Excited. Paul stands behind you with his eyes closed and his head titled upward.
When he opens his eyes, he pulls you into a hug close to his chest. "I'm sorry for not telling you," he whispers into your ear. "I don't know why this happened, but you have another chance."
You just might believe him.