Her eyes opened very slowly, having a hard time adjusting to light being blasted into her face at such a close proximity. She wanted to put her hands up to block it out, but found them unable to move. She heard voices, unfamiliar and forceful, almost downright scary. All of them surrounding her, some close and some within some short distance from her. Her head hurt terribly.
"Inspector Fuleena," came a call from a short distance away. "Can you hear me?"
Everyone else in the room was silent. No one else had that name, apparently. But that wasn't her name, was it? She didn't recognize it.
"Please, Inspector, we need some sort of response."
Again, no one else replied.
"Has she gone deaf?"
Not knowing if she was being addressed or not, she forced her eyes open and said, "If you're talking to me, I can hear you!" She breathed heavily in frustration, trying to pull her arms free. She didn't seem to have much luck with that. What was going on here?
"Ah, so you didn't lose your hearing, that's good. That means we can proceed with the interview."
Even though it took a bit of time for her eyes to make out what was going on around her, she did manage to make out a desk some distance away from her where three people sat all wearing suits and ties, with clipboards sitting in front of them. There was another one, right up next to her, holding some tiny little light up to her eyes. She found that moderately annoying and glared at him, though it didn't seem to change what was going on at all. Her arms were strapped down, as the rest of her was, to a flat surface that she couldn't quite make out from where she was.
"Inspector Fuleena, do you remember where you were before waking up here?"
No one else replied, so she figured that they were addressing her again, even though she had no idea why they were addressing her with this name. She took in a deep breath and said, "Not here."
"Do you remember anything at all?"
She tried to remember something, just so they'd stop asking questions that didn't make any sense at all to her. "Lying in grass… green grass," she said, as she remembered lying in a field underneath a gigantic tree in the middle of summertime. "A playground nearby. Children singing."
"We need something with more substance than that."
"No, no… that sounds like a world that is habitable."
"But we don't know if it was another station, or if it was a planet."
"Inspector Fuleena," there was that name again. That name she didn't recognize, but apparently belonged to her because no one else ever responded or replied to it. "Do you remember the name of the place this was? Do you remember if it was a world, a planet?"
She tried to remember, but the things she remembered had nothing to do with that. She saw things that she had no real words for, faces she had no clue to the identity of, and heard voices that she found a sense of home in but no clue who they belonged to. It was a strange phenomenon to be sure, to have possession of memories that simply didn't have any attachment to her. Her mind was mostly blank, and she was nothing short of confused.
"I'm, I'm scared," she whispered, tears falling from her eyes. "Why am I… why am I tied up?"
"Inspector, you know you are restrained for the safety of both the Health Professional and the team here in charge of the interview," came the very formal answer. "You have nothing to be frightened of, this I can assure you."
"We can remove her restraints," the man in the middle said as he stared at her. She didn't like how she was being stared at, almost as if she was put on display. "It is clear she is not violent, as she was after the retrieval from D852. She poses no threat in her current state. We can allow our only World Inspector to at least be comfortable."
There was a mechanical noise to the side, and both her arms were released from the metal holdings that kept them in place. She used her left arm to grasp at her right. Even though there were no markings, it felt as if they were restrained for a very long time. She nodded in appreciation, and then wiped her eyes from the tears that had begun to fall.
"Inspector… no, Stella, please," the last man, the one on the right side of the desk, pleaded with his tone. "We need more information about this world we just pulled you from. Is D734 inhabitable? Was it a station? A world? Were there humans, or other races? What do you remember?"
Hearing that name triggered something within her mind. Now that she recognized. Stella, she repeated it internally several times, finding comfort in it. That, it seemed, was her name. She was Stella. She then said, finally feeling as if she could give some coherent answers. "My mind is mostly a blur, to be honest. I only have a few memories, and they don't feel as if I've actually lived through them. I don't know the people or the places I see. And they only come in flashes." She frowned for a moment. "I'm lost. Like I don't know who I am. Except for when I… when you called me Stella."
"You are World Inspector Stella Fuleena, stationed aboard the Second Ring within our home, the Shanz Fortress," the man in the middle explained, "You are employed by the Science Department to traverse alternate dimensions to find us a new, suitable world to inhabit and restart humanity anew. According to our files, you are married to one inventor, Anton, and have one child, Anita."
Stella felt herself become more aware of her body. Her legs were waking up slowly, down from her thighs to her toes, and soon her ankles were able to move just as her legs were. She was offered a place to sit, and the weight of her body felt more real. She sank deep into that chair, even though it wasn't much more than the common official chair used in every office in the fortress. "But I, I do not remember them, or living in a place named Shanz."
"Once the interview concludes, you will be debriefed, as is the typical procedure. But we cannot leave here without first concluding. You must tell us if the world you were sent to was worthy of further inspection," the left interviewer said. "So. Please. Tell us about it."
Stella told them slowly all she could remember. How the world had vast blue skies, green lands, and was full of people. It was larger than she could explain. They asked about how food was produced, and she said she remembered seeing crops grow in the ground. They asked about the kinds of dwellings people lived in, and she said there were all kinds of places for all kinds of people. It went on very long, longer than any conversation she could ever remember having, until Stella's stomach rumbled extremely loudly and the middle inspector was kind enough to decide that D734 was in fact a hospitable place, and that the interview could be concluded. She was escorted by two men to another place where a group of people began to cheer the moment she came through the door.
"We've missed you!"
She felt more than puzzled, though. She didn't recognize any of these people, and as she was guided to come sit down again, the big men who escorted her here left after handing an envelope to a man with red hair. Stella felt more at peace when it was quiet back in that interview room than around a bunch of people she didn't know being loud about her arrival.
"It's been weeks, sister," another voice said. "I told you that you never should have taken this position. It ruins everything about you every time you return. I understand it's for the good of your family and everything, but honestly, you've destroyed my sanity every time you return."
"Roni, she's just as bent out of shape, probably even more so than you," came another, who was sitting right up against her, almost making her uncomfortable. "I will give you a formal debriefing once we go back to our quarters, Stella. I've just missed you so." He kissed her forehead, causing her to relax against him. It was odd for a kiss from someone like this to make her feel calm. "Please tell me you at least speak the same language we do this time. Last year I had to reteach you English because the dimension you were placed in spoke in an ancient form of Chinese that went extinct eons ago."
Stella said, "I understand you well enough."
"Thank the Stars," he said with a sigh of relief. "I figure sitting here might give you a chance for your mind to wake up, and with the whole family here to speed things along…"
"I, I don't know who you are."
"You've told me that every time you've come through again, and I'm still here. Don't worry, Stella. I won't hurt you," he said. "If you don't remember who I am, my name is Anton. This dashing fellow, Roni, is your brother. We're both inventors for the science department. My best friend, Yakay is here, as is his wife. And our daughter Anita is currently in her daily tutoring, so we won't see her until we get home. She's more than excited to see you. Every time, we're always here to welcome you."
She smiled, though, she wasn't quite sure why.