Home was unlocked.

AwDae wasn’t terribly startled by this fact. Although the front door had always been locked when ey had been growing up there, the fact that this whole sim seemed oriented around clues led em to believe that ey’d be able to gain entry to eir old townhome. On a whim, ey checked the other doors in the complex, and they were all locked, as expected.

Although ey had braced emself for it, there was still a surge of emotion and memory as AwDae stepped through the door and into the entryway of eir old home. Ey could feel immediately that it was deserted, but all the same, ey felt as though eir mom could be just around the corner in the kitchen, prowling through the fridge, or eir mom’s boyfriend laid out flat on the couch, snoozing in front of the TV running old science fiction shows.

It was silent, though, as silent as school had been.

AwDae shrugged out of eir backpack and set it down in the entryway, as ey had done countless times growing up, and paced into the common area, toenails clicking against the hardwood floor. Ey kept eir eyes peeled for any sign of a clue like ey had been pointed toward back at the school.

The sensation quickly grew to be too much, and the fox sat down on the rug in front of the coffee table, where ey had sat to eat dinner countless times, watching whatever was on the TV. It was one thing for the house to be so empty, and another thing entirely to be here as eir fox-self, but the two combined were quite overwhelming. Ey felt eir breath coming in short and shallow, and eir sense of vision being slowly reduced to only what was in front of them. Eir pulse felt elevated, no matter how still ey sat, and ey found it hard to concentrate on what ey was even supposed to be doing here.

The only thought that they could manage to pull up was, Is my pulse elevated offline, wherever that is?

Ey let out a strangled sort of laugh, trying to picture some doctor’s befuddled stare at the sudden signs of anxiety showing in their patient.

The laugh stopped quickly.

AwDae leaned forward onto eir forepaws, stretching eir legs out behind em to lay flat on eir belly on the oh-so-familiar rug, before rolling over onto eir side. Eir tail lay limp against the short pile of the rug behind em.

How had this happened? ey thought to eirself. How did I wind up here? Why here? What did I do?

Eir mind was awhirl with questions, and ey found that the questions were the only things there. Ey didn’t have answers, ey didn’t have the brainpower required to do anything other than watch those questions swirl yan-tan-tethera through eir mind. Ey was an observer, nothing more than a set of eyes with no will to drive them as ey watched all of the emotion that had been held at bay with the sense of doing something over the last day and change.

Ey found, in retrospect, that eir actions had been all wrong. Ey had accepted getting Lost with resignation. Ey had leaped at the chance to solve the ‘puzzle’ of the microphone with something akin to joy. All this when ey should have been experiencing something more like terror, breaking down into sobs at the fact that ey had been struck with some sort of incurable…disease. Ey was Lost.

AwDae was sobbing now, ey found. Eir perspective, that core of emself that spent its time reviewing life around em, watched with no strong emotions as eir body shook with gasps and tears streaked down over eir cheeks and muzzle, leaving tracks in the short fur. It was as though whatever part emself was in charge of releasing pent up emotions had been divorced from the part of emself that actually felt those emotions.

It was the emptiness of the place that had done it, ey thought. This place was home, and the knowledge of being permanently removed from such a thing had led to this. There was no one here, and no one at school, and as much as I longed for the time and space to do my own thing, I never imagined like this. Not like this.

“Not like this,” ey repeated between heaving gasps for air, wiping eir tears away in a smooth, slicking motion that flattened eir ears against eir head. “No, not like this.”

Struggling to bring those two parts of emself into alignment once more, ey levered emself up heavily, leaning on eir one paw while the other straightened the fur of eir face, brushing the last aftershocks of sadness away in a careful and calculated gesture. If it was not to be like this, then ey would have to carry on. Eir initial reaction has been wrong on the emotional side, but right on the intellectual. Ey would have to at least figure out why.

It was the only thing left here in this null space that had any meaning.