Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Hallways and Forever

<< < Chapter Three > >>

There was fog adrift in the cold air that night, near the empty construction site. In the middle of London, one would expect to see people walking around, or even cars on the street, but no one was to be seen. However, through a wide gap in the construction site's fencing, two men could be heard talking.
  "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me the date today?"
  "The date? It's the Sixth of July."
One of them was a tall black man wearing a full-length leather jacket, known as the Duke; the other was a policeman in full uniform, his name: Chester Edison.
  "Year?" asks the Duke.
  "Twenty-thirteen," replies Officer Edison, glancing over the Duke's shoulder to see the brightly lit doorway of a strange elevator, still billowing illuminated dust around its threshold.
  "Drat . . . I'm early," says the Duke, slipping what looked like a tuning fork into the pocket of his jacket. With a nod, he leaves the ground floor of the construct heading for the gap in the fencing and disappears into the night, off on a grand adventure. Officer Edison watched him leave and was very confused by the man, but his eyes were slowly drawn back to the elevator.
His curiosity getting the better of him, he had to know why it was there, where it had come from and how it could be working in such a threadbare construction site. He walks up to the doorway, torch still in hand and stops just outside. Carefully, he places a foot within the elevator and steps inside. The elevator holds his weight easily enough.
Looking around, shining his torch around the small space. There was a door to the rear of the elevator and a shiny, metal panel with two columns of buttons. He leans down to inspect it, when the door mechanism activates.
  "No . . . NO!" he screams, reaching for the door. But the doors lock shut, sealing him inside. He turns around to find the button to open the door, but before he can the elevator begins to descend . . .

  "No! Goddamn it, wait! Open the bloody doors!" Inside the elevator, Officer Edison jabs at some of the buttons with his finger, but the panel doesn't respond, as though it hadn't been connected yet, "stupid machine . . ."
Stumbling slightly, Edison attaches his torch to his belt and grabs his radio. The situation didn't seem dangerous yet, but he had a gut feeling that something wasn't right.
  "Control, this is Inspector Edison. There's some very suspicious activity at the Bishopsgate construction site. How soon can I get backup?"
Listening to the radio, there was only static and a high-frequency whine.
"Control, I repeat, This is Inspector Edison. Suspicious activity at Bishopsgate construction site . . . I think I've got stuck in a broken elevator, here."
With a clunk, the elevator stops moving and a mechanical voice says 'Geometrics'. The rear door slides open to reveal a short walkway leading into a pitch-black room. Edison stares into the dark room for a moment before trying his radio on again.
  "Control, please respond," he says, his voice wavering slightly. The radio responds with just a short burst of static before clicking off; Edison figured he was too far underground for the radio to work. Taking out his torch again, he shines it into the darkness. The room beyond obviously wasn't square from the angle of the walls, which were silver and clean but not very shiny and he could see marble columns in each corner. He couldn't see the ceiling from his position, but there was some kind of large, circular platform raised a few inches off the floor in the middle of the room. As he stared into the room, Officer Edison was trying to weigh up whether he should investigate or not, trying to determine if it was wiser to be cautious or curious.
Inevitably, he steps out of the elevator.
The elevator doors close as he steps into the little corridor, cutting off all light except the torch Edison held up near his shoulder. There were two other corridors leading out of the room, but what caught Edison's eye was the ceiling. It was domed, the edge bordered by an uneven collection of delicate machinery, in a wide circle; in a tighter circle was a perfect ring of light glowing a soft-blue & in the centre was a concentric circle of curved, glass panels, obscuring the top of the dome. Curious to see the very top, Edison steps onto the raised metal platform and points the torchlight up at it. In the centre was a large metal spike, like a needle, connected to wires, cables and a smaller ring of blue light.
  "What the hell is this thing?" Edison murmurs to himself.
As he looks up, the lights start to fluctuate and with an irritating buzz the lights glow brighter. Instinctively, Edison steps out from under the point of the needle. With a mechanical clunk, the lights in the room switch on and the glass panels descend to surround Edison on the platform. A wireframe cage of blue, neon lines encapsulates the platform, in a virtual column. In less than a second, a blue-tinged, transparent membrane flickers into existence and sweeps harmlessly from the top of the virtual cage to the bottom, scanning the interior. A moment later, the wireframe disappears and Officer Edison glances around suspiciously. "What the hell is going on in here?!" the policeman demands.
From the ceiling, the glass panels shift, on mechanised arms. There were four in total, each two metres across, one metre tall and held at eye level. With a sharp whine from the machinery above, each screen flickers to life and Edison slowly turns to see them all. Each was a graphic representation of a person; or at least a part of one. One screen depicted a perfect skeleton; there was a tangled mess of red and blue veins around a beating heart in another; there was a green outline of a brain, connected to a circuit of green lines in the shape of a man & the last was a policeman's uniform, with fully equipped belt, hat and high-visibility jacket but nobody wearing it. Each image was standing up tall with both arms outstretched and turning slowly around and around to show every side of it.
Edison steps closer to the panel displaying the policeman's uniform. It was identical to his own.
  "It's all me?" he murmurs to himself, watching his clothing and equipment slowly turn, "that's impossible."
As he watches, the image stops spinning and the taser-gun within it starts to flash with a blood-red outline. The machinery starts to beep with short sharp shrieks as all of the screens flash with red text: "SUBJECT ARMED".
  "That's not good," says Chester, ducking under the panel and stepping off the platform. As he does, the beeping stops, only to be replaced with a much louder alarm, echoing through the entire room. It sounded like the distant knell of a church-bell, or the sound of a gong being struck underwater. Whatever it was, it was very loud. Edison heads over to the elevator door, but it was locked up tight and he couldn't find a call button of any kind. Looking back into the room, he could see all of the screens still flashing red and hear the sullen tone of the booming alarm bell; it was then he decided that staying in this room was a bad idea. Heading to the next closest exit, Edison heads into the dark hallway, lighting the way with his torch.
The alarm was quieter as he entered the hallway, but the tiled floor tapped rapidly along with Edison's hurried footsteps. The hallway was lit by red lights that flashed along with the alien alarm, lighting up the hallway like a surreal crime scene; but during each moment of silence the redness dimmed leaving just the lonely spotlight of his torch to lead the way as it searched frantically for a way out. With another flash of red light Edison sees a doorway at the end of the hall and begins to jog, eager to escape through it. But as he begins to run, there's a sharp hiss and the door in front of him slams shut. For a moment, he halters, stopping to stare at the door in the light of his torch, before bursting into a run and in a dozen steps, he was at the door. He tried to pry it open, but there was no handle, just two sliding doors sealed shut with no mechanism to open it. Officer Edison knocks on the door with the heavy end of the torch.
  "Open this door," he calls out, knocking three more times, "I'm a police officer."
If someone was there listening, they were very good at pretending they weren't. With nowhere else to go, Edison turns around and swiftly heads back down the hallway. But before he can take a dozen steps, he hears that same hissing and then the slam of a door. Stopping half-way down the hallway, Edison shines his torch ahead to see that the previous door was shut. He was stuck in a hallway, with only flashing red lights and the alarm-knells to keep him company.
  "Come on, Chess," Officer Edison says to himself, trying to lift his spirits, "you're an officer of the law, you can get outta this." Edison glances back and forth between the two doors and he looks over the walls with their strange octagonal patterns, then up at the concave ceiling.
"Right. Stuck in a basement with a no way out; alarm bells ringing and security that puts Alcatraz to shame . . . what would Dad do?"
Edison turns and looks at the far door with his torch, although from this point it looked like the near door. He stares at it for a moment before he remembers, that was the far door. He turns his sights and flashlight back onto the other door. Sure enough, it looks closer than the other one, so he turns back. But when his spotlight falls on the first door, he stops still. This door, the other door, the farther door . . . it looks closer than before.
This was getting confusing.
Edison looks at one door then back at the other. He remembered walking down the hallway, it was a long hike, but now it looked less than thirty feet across. Just to be sure, Edison steps back against one wall and starts to count the marble columns along one side, praying that he wasn't losing his mind.
  "Two, four, six . . . seven." Chester turns around, "Two, four - yep, right, seven again." Chester turns around to count again. "Two, four . . ."
Six. There were only six columns now. Chester wanted to turn around, look away and check the other side, but he didn't dare. It was impossible, walls don't just move like that, it didn't make any sense!
Chester stares at the doorway. He could see it so much closer now, but how? He stared at the door for a full minute, but it didn't move an inch. Chester shook his head, he must have been imagining things. It was late in his shift, he'd been working hard all day, he must be tired, surely. He turns around.
Four. There were only four columns to the end of the hall and there the door stood looming before him. Chester tries his radio again,
  "Control, do you read me?" he asks into the radio on his vest. The radio responds with dead air and static. "For the love of God, Control, respond!"
But it doesn't, the radio clicks off to silence. Edison scolds himself, "stupid, stupid . . ." He kicks the wall with a resounding metal clang. "Metal walls means no radio."
But he was starting to panic. The walls were literally closing in on him. He didn't want to turn around, because he knew the door would be getting even closer. Every time he looked away, the distance was somehow getting shorter. He couldn't blink, he could barely think. Except . . .
  "Wait a minute . . ." Edison kicks the wall again. It echoes with a metallic clang. "Metal walls . . . that echo."
Stepping along the wall, Edison taps the wall with the end of his torch, seeing only by the red, flashing lights. Each section of the wall made a slightly different sound, as though he were playing some strange drum kit. There was some kind of space behind these walls. After a moment, he finds what he's looking for, a section of wall where just one tap resulted in a loud, deep echo. The wall looked like the others, but there was a much bigger space behind it. Replacing his torch on his belt, Edison runs his hands over the wall, looking for a way through. The walls weren't perfectly smooth, between each shape in the pattern was a thin gap, just large enough to fit a pinkie finger, and each square was adorned with a small, round dome. Edison grabs jabs at the wall, tugs on it and kicks it, but it wasn't easy to find a way through. He steals a glance at the door to his right. It was barely two columns away now, he didn't even have to count. With a kick, one of the domes near the floor clicks and the square panel around it pops out like the door on a cassette tape player, to reveal a small, red handle inside. Edison grabs it and gives it a pull. The handle, along with a section of the wall slides out and upward as he pulls and the wall-piece curls into the roof like a roller door.
Edison looks into this new space to see that it was also dark, but he could see a ladder inside attached to the far wall and running all the way up and down like some kind of fire escape. It looked a little unsafe, but since its walls weren't currently closing in on him Edison wastes no time stepping out of the hallway onto the ladder. The roller door closes behind him under its own weight as soon as he lets go. Shutting with a click it further muffles the sound of  morose siren and the flashing lights, leaving Edison to fumble in the dark using one arm to hang off the ladder as he switches on his torch. Even without removing it from his belt, the light shone against his high-visibility vest and reflected around the small space to provide enough light.
  "Right . . . where the hell am I now?" Edison mutters, his voice reverberating dully off the narrow walls. Peeking down, Edison could see nothing but darkness, so he was thankful his destination was upwards; he only hoped this ladder could lead him back to the surface. One hand over another, he started to climb.
As he started his way up, he couldn't help but wonder about this place. The elevator; the shrinking hallway and that strange room with the giant scanner. He'd seen some strange things on duty: death, madness and violence; compassion, love and justice. He didn't doubt anyone's capacity to do amazing and terrible things, but this place was more than he could understand. With cages of light and creeping hallways, it was like some kind of magic . . .
clunk. Above him, Edison heard a mechanical thumping sound. clunk. He looked up as he heard the sound again, trying to see by what little light there was. clunk. Something above him was moving, but he couldn't quite see. clunk.
  "Oh no . . ." Edison whines. It was unmistakable. The escape vent was getting shorter. clunk. A series of hatches were closing incrementally, closing off the upper levels. Edison starts to climb down again. clunk. He couldn't see through the dark and there was no time to grab his torch, the closing hatches were getting nearer. clunk. They were starting to catch up. Soon, they'd close around him and he's be locked in. clunk.
Seeing no other options, Edison stops climbing and grabs the side-rails with both hands. clunk. Letting out a deep breath, he kicks his feet off the rungs and grabs the side-rails with his feet as well. Immediately, he starts sliding down the ladder. His hands were unprotected and the friction was burning into his palms. Wind whipped past him, as the weight of his belt dragged him down. He wasn't so much sliding as falling. He strained his ankles pressing tight with his shoes and pressed with his palms to slow down. But his hands started burning and he could feel the rungs rattling past the tips of his fingers, which could easily snap bone if he grabbed it now.
Suddenly, the base of the chute slammed into his feet. In a split second, his left knee collided with the wall, he fell on his arse and his body fell back, knocking his head against the metal wall behind him.

Thankfully, his hat cushioned the blow to his head leaving nothing but a dull ache, but his knee hurt, his hands were burning and he felt like he'd been kicked in the rear. To top it all off, his handcuffs were pressing into his hip.
  "I swear, this place is trying to kill me . . ." Edison groans. After sitting there for a good minute or so Edison gets to his feet using the ladder for support. It was then he realized his feet were throbbing, boiling hot from the blood-rush on impact. Reaching around behind him, Edison pawed at the wall before finding a handle and rolling up a section of it wall. It was bright inside, so Edison limped through the opening and looked around for somewhere he could rest his feet.
As the door closed shut behind him, Officer Edison saw his surroundings and was very confused. The entire room looked like a three-storey clothing shop. Or, more accurately, a costume shop as racks everywhere held completed outfits, shirt and shorts with shoes underneath in rows. There were also a lot of very strange outfits. On just one rack, Edison found a tight bodysuits made of some kind of leather or latex; Renaissance Fair outfits with frills and tight bodices; some kind of pajamas made of metal; togas paired with sandals and even a full set of medieval armour, complete with a sword. There was a cast-iron spiral staircase off to the side, so Edison limps up to it and sits on the steps, rubbing his feet.
This was obviously no ordinary construction site, but as he considered his strange surroundings Officer Edison was trying to understand. With its strange holograms, moving hallways and now a costume shop, his best guess was that this was some kind of theme park. But why was it hidden under a construction site? Who would bother furnishing the basement before building the upper floors? It didn't make sense. And, of course, why did it have an operational security system?
The worst part about this mystery was that the site was most likely private property. If he wanted answers, he wouldn't be allowed to use his police resources to investigate. That is to say, assuming he could escape . . .

As his feet stopped throbbing, Edison looked around and soon realized that none of the clothing racks had prices. No "30% off" signs, no price tags and no change rooms. He stands up again, still limping slightly from his sore knee and looks around for a service desk or cash register of some kind. There were none to be found, but something else catches his eye: Elevator doors.
He jogs over, as best he can, finds the call buttons on the wall beside it and presses the "up" button on the panel. Unfortunately, nothing happens. The button doesn't light up, the elevator makes no sound and the doors remain closed. He presses the button again and steps back, waiting. After a short while, Edison starts to count the seconds. He waits for a full minute, but the lift is not responding. Getting impatient, Edison steps forward and tries to pry the door open with his fingers. They're pretty firmly shut. With a cranky sigh, he steps back and groans with frustration.
  "Come on! Let me out of here!" he yells. Fed up, he takes a few uneven steps away from the door, when he sees the suit of medieval armour again. He gets an idea and walks right up to it. It stood up tall, both of its hands holding the sword in front of it, the tip resting on the floor. Officer Edison grabs the sword and lifts it out of the display. It was heavy and looked like a real sword, either way it would suit his needs. holding the sword to his side, avoiding touching the blade in case it was as sharp as it looked he marches up to the door and points the sword at it. He presses the tip against the gap between the doors and leans his weight into it. The blade scrapes in between the gap.
  "Hah! Got ya . . ." Edison growls. He pulls the blade to the side, prying the doors apart a few centimetres. Stepping forward, still holding the sword with his right hand, he places his left palm against the inside of one of the doors and pushes against it as hard as he can. The door resists for a while, barely moving an inch, before releasing and sliding open completely. Edison drops the sword on the floor behind him, grabs his flashlight and shines it around inside the elevator shaft.

Looking up, Officer Edison could see upwards of twelve storeys before it was obstructed by the lift car, sitting still in the shaft above him. Looking down, Edison could the bottom of the elevator shaft. There was some kind of engine or generator in the bottom corner, attached to cables and things along the wall. The whole shaft had metal support beams around the walls, with cables held behind it on metal walls with grills, lights and greasy panels. The support structure around the place looked like it was strong enough to hold his weight and had enough beams for handholds. Seeing this, Edison sighs loudly. He was getting sick of small, dark and unsafe places, but with the escape ladder blocked off and the elevator unresponsive, this looked like the only way up and out of here.
After making sure his torch was on and taking a deep breath, Edison steps out of the clothing room and onto a support beam. grabbing onto another beam, he turns around to face the wall and secures his footing.
  "Up we go . . ." Edison says, trying to boost his spirits. Unfortunately, before he can even raise his foot, the elevator door slams shut. Then, the lift shaft starts to echo with the familiar sound of a gong being struck underwater. Red lights along the shaft turn on and start spinning like police-car lights. "No, not again!"
Edison reaches back and shuffles along the beam to get back to the door. He reaches out an arm to grab and pry open the door, but it wouldn't budge. He'd never be able to get the door open with one hand.
There was no way to open the door while hanging off the support structure. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but he'd have to climb down to escape the elevator shaft. Shuffling away from the door, he starts to steadily make his way down to the lowest level. His hands were sore from his last climbing escapade and he only ever stepped down onto his sore leg since it couldn't bend at the knee without pain, but he slowly made his way down the wall.
Even with his feet on solid ground, he still felt unbalanced. The alarm was ringing in his ears so loud, he was having trouble thinking.
The base of the shaft was lower than the bottom level, so Edison reaches up and grabs the doors with both hands, grasping onto the structural brackets on the inside of the door and yanks them apart. As soon as he gets an inch of movement, he puts his hands between the doors and pulls with all his might. Like before, the door resists for an inch or so before releasing the pressure and opening fully.
Since the doors had closed on him last time, he quickly hops up onto his stomach and pulls himself out of the shaft and along the floor to safety. He lies gasping on the floor for a moment and sure enough the door closes behind him. It muffles the alarm greatly, but he could still hear it behind him and this hallway was also lit by red lights that flashed along rhythmically.
After catching his breath, Officer Edison gets back on his feet and checks his surroundings. It was much like the hallway above, but in many ways very different. It too had a floor of chequered marble tiles, which were coloured, smoky-grey and egg-shell white marble. It also had columns supporting metal walls, but these walls were not patterned or decorated in any way, they were thick, reinforced iron. The roof also was not curved, it was made of flat metal plating, with the flashing red lights dotted along it. Each light was protected by a small metal cage. The level of security in this place made him feel uneasy. Holding his torch out before him, he started to slowly walk down the hallway. Ahead he could see a door, nestled between two columns in the wall on his left. As he approached, it too looked heavily reinforced and secure however, as he stood before it, something unexpected happened. The door slid open.
Ever since he'd entered this place he'd been locked in, closed off and shut out, so this new open door fascinated and confused him. He looked into the space with his torch. It looked like another hallway, but it was wider than the one he stood in, there seemed to be large alcoves along each side and at the very end there was a closed security door. He knew it was stupid and it felt like some kind of trap, but Edison couldn't help himself for his curiosity. He stepped through the door.
As he moved down the walkway, shining his light across the alcoves and looking around, he noticed two things. Firstly, what he thought were "alcoves" were actually prison cells. He could recognize them anywhere: small sink, a toilet and an uncomfortable bed, all bolted into the walls, but where most cells would have metal bars, instead there were only panes of glass. Perfectly clean, he could only see them now due to the light of his torch. Secondly, he noticed that the cell at the end of the row was occupied. He could tell because there was light coming from inside and he could hear a something shuffling around in there.
Edison walked towards it cautiously. He wanted to know who was there and perhaps even get help out of here, but at the same time he knew it could be dangerous. After all, the "glass" didn't look very thick.
  "So, you finally decided to pay me a visit . . ." says a voice from within the cell. The voice was soft, slightly nasal and to Officer Edison it sounded almost hollow. Just to be safe, Edison takes the baton out of his belt and flicks his wrist, extending the baton with swift clicking sound.
  "Who's there?" Officer Edison demands. The voice doesn't respond, so Edison steps past the edge of the wall to see inside. What he saw sent shivers down his spine and made him grip his baton all the tighter.
In the middle of the cell sitting in some kind of chair, there was a short, humanoid creature. Its skin was green, a sickly off-green that paled at the more sensitive undersides of its skin such as its palms, forearms and face. Its hands were thin and spindly and its fingers were webbed. So were its feet and its legs were thin and emaciated, propped lamely to the left side of the chair. But its face was truly disturbing, because it looked so human. It had thin lips over a thick, square jaw with an underbite; no nose but instead two thin nostril slits in the middle of its face & tiny, beady little eyes that peered out at him with disgust. It didn't seem to have any ears and the top of its head, along with the darker parts of its skin, was mottled with all kinds of warts and lumps. It looked like some kind of frog and man hybrid and even had a lot of skin hanging around its throat, as though it could croak. Its only clothing was a large, raggy, grey shirt that covered its torso and the top of its legs
  "You're not the Duke," says the creature, without emotion.
  "What the hell are you . . . ?" asks Edison in a harsh whisper.
  "I could ask the same of you," replies the creature. It shifts a finger and the entire chair moves forward, making Edison jump. It took him a moment to realize that the creature was sitting in a motorized wheelchair. It stopped just an inch behind the glass and the creature looks at the policeman. "Scared little thing, aren't you?"
Edison was shining the torch in the creature's face, but it didn't even blink. After a moment he switches off the light and replaces it in his belt.
  "I'm Inspector Chester Franklin Edison of the London Metropolitan Police," says Edison, but the creature continues to stare at him silently. "Who are you?"
  "You don't know who I am?" the creature asks. Edison shakes his head. After a moment of staring creepily at Edison, it says "I am Steeking."
  "What are you?" asks Edison.
  "I'm a prisoner," responds Steeking.
  "But what- . . . " kind? . . . illness? . . . species? Edison couldn't find the right words.
  "He did this to me . . ." Steeking says, slowly rubbing one of its legs. It wasn't the question Edison wanted answered, but it begged another question.
  "Who did this?"
  "The Duke." snarls the creature, with obvious disgust.
  "Who is the Duke?" asks Edison, frowning. Steeking cocks his head slightly to the side.
  "You don't know who the Duke is?" it says, " . . . how did you get in here?"
  "The lift," says Edison. Steeking continues to stare, not blinking even once.
  "What are you doing in here?" it asks.
  "I'm looking for a way out," says Edison.
  "Oh . . ." murmurs Steeking, with a whir its chair rolls back, away from the glass.
  "How do I get out of here?" asks Edison.
  "You don't," says Steeking.
  "What do you mean?" asks Officer Edison, stepping forward.
  "The ship won't let you leave. You're stuck, Inspector . . ."
  "There's no way out?" says Edison in disbelief.
  "Oh . . . I didn't say that."
  "So there is a way out?" says Edison, Steeking just stares at him again with his unsettling little eyes. "Damn it, tell me!"
  "Why would I do that?" asks Steeking, but Edison can't think of a response. "If I let you escape, how would that help me? I'd still be locked in this god-forsaken cell."
  " . . . you want me to let you out?"
  "No . . ." says Steeking, driving his chair right up to the glass again, "you want you to let me out. I'm the only one that could navigate this maze of corridors and time. The only one that can outsmart this ship. You need to let me out." Edison considered Steeking's words, but was already shaking his head.
  "No," he says.
  "Why not? Don't you want to escape?"
  "This is a prison," says Officer Edison.
  "So it is . . ." mutters Steeking.
  "You're a prisoner. I can't just let you out."
  "Of course you can, just unlock the cage . . ." says Steeking, pointing to a small, dormant panel on the wall outside his cell. "I know the code."
  "Policemen don't let people out of prison."
  "Policemen?" snorts Steeking, " . . . you'd rather hide behind your little games of law and justice than let me out of here?"
Edison stares at the prisoner, considering his options. Perhaps it would be harmless, Steeking was stuck in a wheelchair after all . . .
  "Tell me . . . why are you in here?" asks Edison.
  "I was caught," says Steeking.
  "Yes, but I want to know why," says Officer Edison. Steeking glares at him again, his little eyes shifting slightly in their tiny sockets.
  "You really want to know?" says Steeking, an unnatural smile creeping into his cheeks, showing off a neat little row of teeth. "I killed people."
  "You?" Edison asks in disbelief.
  "Yes . . . millions and billions of people. Entire worlds."
  "Worlds? That's ridiculous," says Edison, although as he looked at the little frog-thing, the word alien suited him perfectly, it was uncanny.
  "Ridiculous? Not at all. A planet is such a fickle play-thing. I've burned the sky and watched thousands suffocate. I've sparked at their very core and watched continents disintegrate. I've unleashed plagues and watched millions of worthless people slowly rot . . ."
  "Why?" says Edison.
  "Because I can . . ." says Steeking, smiling his unnatural smile.
  "Why would you tell me all of that?!" yells Edison.
  "Because you're gonna die down here, Inspector. You'll wander these infinite hallways until you starve, then you'll crumble into dust and bones - but before you do you're gonna know it was me that let you die . . ."
  "You're completely insane." Edison turns and walks away, heading for the door.
  "Where are you going, Inspector?" Steeking calls after him him, still speaking in his calm, hollow voice. "You're just as stuck out there as I am in here. You can't try to outrun time, Inspector; you can only let time run out . . ."
As Edison steps out of the prison, the door behind him closes shut, he turns around and leans against the opposite wall, slowly thumping his head against it.
  "Goddamn freak . . ." Edison growls under his breath. He closes his eyes and listens to the sound of the distant alarm trying to calm down, but Steeking's words were getting on his nerves. He really was stuck down here . . .

As Edison leans against the wall, waiting with his eyes closed, the alarm stops. Officer Edison opens his eyes, but the lights were out. There was no more flashing red, they were just off. Until, with a heavy clunk, the hallway is flooded with light. But not red light, clear white light flickers on and illuminates the entire hallway.
"What the hell is going on?" says Edison. There's a pop and crackle near his shoulder as his radio comes to life. It humms and whines, as though someone were surfing through the channels. Edison grabs the radio.
  "Control? This is Edison, can you read me?" he says. The radio buzzes and whines for a moment before responding.
  "Find the . . ." buzz and fizzling, Edison could barely make out the words.
  "Control? Please repeat."
  "-th . . ." the radio flickers, its signal weak.
  "Please, say again," says Edison.
  " . . . Find the Hearth . . ." says the radio. Then, with a high-pitch whistle and a pop, the radio clicks off.
  "What?" mutters Edison. He speaks into the radio again, "I don't understand, please repeat."
There's no response.
  "Is this the London Metropolitan Police?" asks Edison. Down the hallway, he hears a slow grinding sound followed by a clunk and decides to investigate. As he walks down the now brightly lit hallway, he retracts his baton and returns it to his belt; the walls and reinforced steel were still intimidating, but they felt safer and more welcoming now. At the end of the hall was a T-intersection down two identical paths. Each led a short distance to a doorway, except that the one to the left was open. Edison heads through it. He steps into the middle of another hallway with doors at each end. The doorway to his left slams shut, but the right-end door remains open.
  "Where are you taking me?" Edison mutters. He starts to walk down the hall, when the entire facility echoes with a loud thud. The ground starts to shift and shudder and all around he could hear a strange whirring, grinding, wheezing sound, muffled by the walls. He grabs one of the columns to keep his balance, but the quake soon passes. "What the hell is this place?"
Edison quickens his pace and jogs swiftly to the open door, through which he could see green. He runs through the door, which shuts right behind him, and finds himself in some kind of garden. It looked a lot like a golf course, with soft, little hills of grass and few dozens trees scattered about, even with spots of sand and little ponds. But there were flowers growing all over the place, with vines crawling up the trees and even the wall behind him. There were even cast-iron benches, statues and birdbaths about the place.
But what truly amazed him was the ceiling. The walls and roof were made of glass, kept together with a white metal frame like an enormous glasshouse; and up far above him, he could see the sun as it shone down upon the grass and plant life.
It was completely unbelievable. Not only was he more than 30-storeys underground, but according to his watch it was barely four o'clock, yet this glowing star stood at high noon. For the fourth time today, Officer Edison was looking directly at an impossible thing as it looked right back at him. He didn't know what to think as he started making his way across the grass, the heat of the strange sun warming him as he walked.
"Only trust your eyes, son. Don't believe it until you can see it with your own eyes"
That was something his dad told him, when it came to police work. Crooks lie and evidence doesn't, it made sense; but this didn't. He'd seen aliens, holograms and underground sunlight, and now he didn't know what to believe.
However, Officer Edison didn't let that stop him. He didn't understand this place, but right now he didn't have to. He had a plan and he would focus only on that. Because all he understood right now was that there was a way out of this place and he was determined to find it. He could see the far corner of the glass ceiling was about a quarter-mile away, so he decided to head for it. This place seemed to be leading him somewhere, he only hoped that somewhere was up and out.
The ground beneath his feet starts to rumble and Edison stops, standing with his feet wide braced apart so as to stay upright. With a far-off boom sound, the rumbling stops and he starts to run. Edison didn't know what was causing it, but in his experience anything that could shake the ground like that was not a good thing. He made good distance, running through the lush grass past elegant oak trees and serene pebble and sand gardens; but as he sees the door and races towards it, barely ten metres away, there's another loud thud. With a loud, mechanical groan, the entire facility began to spin. The force of it threw Edison off his feet. With the sound of wheezing and whirring thundering through the building, Edison is thrown to the ground and tries to grab on as the force drags him sideways. All around was chaos. The tree branches were whipping wildly, sand and pebbles came spilling across the grass and statues all over toppled and smashed. Edison digs his fingers into the dirt and grits his teeth. Then, the madness slowly dies down and comes to a stop with a distant thud. Edison lies there, breathing heavily, before getting back to his feet and dusting himself off. The entire place was a mess. it looked like a tornado had hit the place, shredding it apart. After recovering himself, Edison makes his way back to the open door by the far wall. It was further away than it was a second ago, but he couldn't run, he was still a bit shaken up.
Edison enters the next doorway and finds himself in a huge open space as he stood on a suspended, steel catwalk. The space below him was darkness and out in the space, the catwalk split off, connecting to more suspended walkways with staircases and intersections in a complicated matrix of interconnected walkways Edison had no idea what was keeping them suspended.
To his immediate right, there was a large staircase that connecting to the wall and seemed to climb all the way up to the sun in the sky. Although he was thankful for a way up, Edison groaned as he took his first step up the long climb.

It felt like forever as he climbed the stairs, the sun was bearing down on him as he made his way up. Every now and then, he glanced up at the sky and noticed something strange. As he climbed higher, the "sun" was getting bigger. It was a bright round ball in the sky, but it wasn't the sun he'd known since birth. The sky around it was dark and it was obviously suspended in the air above him. Some kind of powerful source of light and heat.
As he stopped, peering through clenched eyelids at the burning ball, feeling the heat on his face, he couldn't help but wonder. Find the Hearth. The Hearth was the "fireplace", yet so much more. It was home. It was "Hearth and Home", it was a place of warmth, life and light . . . Edison begins to climb faster.
He tried to pace himself, so he wouldn't run out of energy before he reached the Hearth, but he couldn't help it. He wanted to get to the top. Whatever this place was, it wanted him to find this burning star and so did he. Nearer and nearer, the once small dot in the sky became larger. He was only a few floors away. Suddenly, there's another thud and Edison manages to cling onto the railing marble pillars as the empty space echoes with mechanical groans. Glancing up, he sees the glowing orb fluctuate. With each tilt, heave and shift, the orb flickers, pulses and expands. When everything stills with a final thud, so too does the star.
  "It's you . . ." says Edison, looking up at the burning sphere, "you're making everything move."
  "Find the Hearth . . ." says his radio, suddenly crackling to life. Coming through loud and clear, the voice sounded almost mechanical.
  "I'm nearly there!" Edison yells, his voice echoing through the enormous chamber as he heads up the last few levels. At the top of the staircase, there was a catwalk that extended out next to the star. And up this high, level with the blazing sun, it looked magnificent. Wide as a cricket field and bigger than any one thing that Edison had ever seen this close. Officer Edison makes his way along the catwalk, light shining magnificently off his high-visibility vest as he approached the fire. From above, there's another thud and a slow grinding sound as the entire ball shifts and fllickers again.
  "Find the Hearth . . ." barks his radio.
  "I'm here!" Edison yells, as the walkway tilts and turns. He struggles to cling on as he gets closer and closer. "I'm here!"
  " . . . the Hearth . . . Find the Hearth . . ."
Edison stands before the fluctuating star, grabbing the side-rail with both hands.
  "I've found it!" he cries.
 " . . . the Hearth . . . Find . . . You."
The sun expands and Edison sees the star in all its glory; and like some cosmic eye the star blazes back at Edison and he felt completely at peace, as though he could stay there forever . . .

Thud . . . before his eyes, the sun pulses and the surface writhes with darkness and fire. Blinking his eyes, Edison pulls away from the railing. His hands ached and he felt sore all over. The walkway was shifting again, along with the sound of grinding, alien gears. Turning away from the star, Edison runs along the walkway, trying to ignore the stiffness in his legs.
As the whirring comes to a stop and the chamber echoes with a final thud, Edison stumbles through the doorway at the end of the catwalk. He found himself in another hallway, with marble pillars and chequered tiles. He was stretching his sore legs when his radio flickers to life,
  "Find the Duke," it says, before clicking off.
  "The duke?" Edison groans. He didn't know what the radio was talking about, although he vaguely remembered Steeking mentioning something about a duke. "I hope the duke doesn't give me sunburn as well . . ."
Edison stands up straight and heads to the right. Thud . . . the hallway starts grinding and whirring again.
  "Alright, alright!" yells Edison, "I'll go left then!"
He turns around and everything stills with a thud as he goes stumbling down the hallway. The hallway was quite long, but Edison stops as he comes to a pair of doors. While most of the doors in this place were metal, here there were two ornate wooden doors. Curious, Edison opens them and steps through.
  "Oh my god . . ." He entered the room and all around him was a great big, twelve-storey, fully-stocked library. The place was carpeted a lush red, a wide open space leading to a stained-glass dome on the ceiling. And all around the shelves were stacked with all kinds of books and occasionally with some things that were definitely not books. But when Edison sees the staircase, he makes his way straight for it and continues his way up. Twelve-storeys later, Edison finds himself on a cosy little balcony with rows of bookshelves either side, and another pair of wooden doors in front of him.
Ignoring the books, he heads straight through these doors. On the other side, he stepped into another grand room. An enormous open space with a shiny, wooden floor. The walls were decorated with marble masonry, and the occasional hexagonal pattern within glamourous stone arches. The roof was a sheer slab of smoky white marble with two large chandeliers hanging down.
It was, unmistakably, a ballroom. As Officer Edison slowly crossed the space, each step echoing through the empty room, he couldn't help but feel somewhat melancholy at such a grand space going to waste.
Slowly but surely, he pushed past another set of wooden doors and entered a room that was decorated in the same manner, but much smaller. Down the length of the room, there were two free-standing white walls. It took him a while, but as he walked across this room he recognized it as some kind of art gallery; but there wasn't a painting or portrait in sight.
  "It's so empty . . ." says Edison, heading for the small doorway to his right. This lead down a very short corridor before opening up to another large, bright room. The floor here was, that grey and white chequered tile, and at the front of the room he saw a pair of silver elevator doors. Sore and tired, Edison walks towards the door, picking up the pace slightly. But as he does, he glances back into the room and sees something that makes him stop.
At the other side of the room, opposite the elevator doors, were three seats raised up on a dais. They were all made of stone, and built into the floor. Each was cushioned with a dark blue pillow and a blue cloth draped across the back but the centre chair was at least twice as big as the other two and was obviously some kind of throne. Behind it, the wall was ordained with a grand blue tapestry, with silver details around the edges and a gold symbol on it that looked like some kind of squid or jellyfish. Either side of the tapestry, there was a collection of vicious looking blades, chains and weapons, organized with perfect symmetry to one another, perfectly framing the throne to inspire both beauty and intimidation. As he stares at the throne room it begins to groan and sway, shaking along with that now familiar sharp, rhythmic, grinding sound. Edison braces himself against the wall and everything comes to a stop with a deep thud.
  "I've got to get out of here . . ." Edison says, pressing the call button. This time, the button on the panel lights up. After the elevator doors open up, Edisons lets out a sigh of relief. Stumbling into the lift, he presses the button for the ground floor. Behind him, the doors slide shut, but then nothing happens. "What?"
Edison presses the button again, but nothing. His radio sparks to life again,
  "Find the Duke."
  "What? What do you mean, find the duke? Who is the Duke?"
With a clunk, the elevator starts going up. Officer Edison lets out a sigh and adjusts the hat on his head. It looked like it wasn't going to be that easy for him to leave. Behind him, he hears that familiar mechanical voice say: 'Console Room'. He turns around just in time for the doors to open, and he steps out.
It was beautiful. The geometric tile pattern; the carved dome ceiling; the glass column & the incomprehensible console in the centre. In front of him was a woman of some kind of Spanish descent, wearing dancing clothes. But behind her, looking up from the console, was a tall black man wearing a full-length leather jacket.
  "Where did you come from?" he asks, in a familiar deep bass voice with a regal tone. Edison recognized him from the night before. He was the man at the construction site.
  "You!" Edison yells, marching towards him. He was the Duke, he just had to be. "I'm Inspector Chester Franklin Edison, and I want to know what the hell is going on here!"
  "That's a good question, Mr Edison. I wish I had an answer for it."
  "Are you the Duke?" he demands.
  "Yes, I am."
  "Well, Duke. I have been thrown, cooked, trapped, chased, scanned and threatened for the last few hours. So I would appreciate it if I could get a straight answer here. Where the hell am I?"
  "A straight answer . . ." says the Duke, stepping out from behind the console. "Mister Edison, you're standing in the console room of a Type Seventy-Two T.T. Capsule, Mark One; a dimensionally transcendental, architecturally infinite timeship - That is time and ship, as in time-machine, spaceship - that can travel anywhere and anywhen in the known universe and even some places beyond that. Currently, we're adrift in space, designation sector two-four-six-one of the third quadrant of the Mutter's Spiral, and in time we're about seven months before yesterday."
  Edison shakes his head absent-mindedly, "That's impossible . . ."
  "Now, Mister Edison. I've given you a straight answer, so I would appreciate the same from you," the Duke says, marching to stand in Officer Edison's face. "Tell me, how did you get aboard my ship, and manage to navigate its decks unscathed?"
With those words, Officer Edison collapses at his feet.
"That answers that much."
  "Is he alright?" says Anise, running over and kneeling beside him.
  "I'd have to say 'No'. Give me a hand moving him to the lounge," says the Duke, grabbing his arms, "When he recovers, he'll have an awful lot of explaining to do . . ."

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