XXXV

I’m running. There are others running too, but I don’t know who they are and I can’t see their faces. You’re there. Are we chasing or being chased. Darkness outside, the storm is closing in. There are people parked out front, I can see their headlights.

We race from one side of the abandoned shop to the other. I can’t recall how we got here. Scrambling for an exit, there is a side door that leads us to an alley. The chain link fence to the right blocks access to the street, a gate to the left is locked.

Through a door entering an office, currently unoccupied, just a maze of cubicles. A maze that eventually leads us to an exit. Opening the door, there is a flash of light.

I’m on a bus. Hurriedly drawing or making something. I don’t want others around me to see whatever it is as I’m constantly covering pieces of it up while I work. On the side I notice that I’m scribbling the floorplan of the abandoned store in the corner of a notebook. The bus hits a bump.

We’re back in the store. Just as before. Exactly the same. It’s ok, I’ve already done this. To the side door, across the alley, through the office. It goes quicker this time. Exiting the office, a flash of light.

The bus ride is getting increasingly rough, the driver appears to be in a hurry. Seems the store is a daydream – or nightmare. Is it a manifestation of the anxiety associated with this piece of work. People keep shuffling past my seat, and I keep hiding my work.

At this point I become aware that I’m watching myself in third-person. Is this also a dream? I can see that I’m still scribbling the floorplan off to the side, it’s more detailed now, it hasn’t reset like the dream-land progress through the store. A bump.

The store again. Everything says ‘do something different’ this time, but that’s clearly not how this works.

Store. Alley. Office. Flash.

The bus stops, it’s dark out, and whatever I’m been making is finished but still in a hundred parts. Everyone has scrambled off the bus, I can tell they’re waiting for me. In the rush I haven’t been able to pack everything up correctly, and as I step off the bus I stumble and everything spills onto the ground.

Everyone is glaring at me. It’s started raining. Collecting myself and gathering everything off the sidewalk, my notebook is snatched from my hand.

“Have you finished that floorplan, we’re here now.”

Off.A short story in 12 small parts.

XXV

I haven’t moved since my eyes opened, still in a state of uncertainty due to the surrounding darkness. Scared to move for fear of injury or falling or stepping on something. That’s reasonable, right? No one likes stepping on cockroaches in the night or walking into door frames.

Can’t stay here forever though. Especially since I’m not exactly sure where “here” is. Feeling around carefully, I seem to be on a bench or a table. It’s hard and uncomfortable, I know that much, probably explains why it feels like I’ve been lying here for a week.

Sitting up. I hear what sounds like an elevator.

But woah, really should’ve done that slower. You know that disconcerting sensation of all the blood rushing away from your head as though you’re about to…

XIX

“I know what you said, but this is not over. We need you back at the bunker. Now.”

Upon entering, Oliver immediately sees an imposing – unknown – figure standing at the centre console.

“Where is she?!”, bow drawn, and aimed.

“Felicity is fine, she doesn’t even know you’re here. Nor do the others.“

“How d–“

“I am not your enemy Mr Queen,” raising his hand, but still facing away, “believe it or not, we’re a lot alike, you and I.”

“Enough with the riddles! Who are you!”, Oliver lets fly an arrow, striking the screen to the man’s left.

“They said you had trust issues,” the man replies, casually reaching down, plucking the arrow from the screen to examine it. “They also said you don’t miss… You make these yourself?”

“I don’t miss. WHO ARE YOU!“

The figure slowly turning to face Oliver,

“My name is Bruce, and I need your help.”

XII

Charles, only five-nine, but built like a tree and dressed head-to-toe in black tactical gear.

Handguns holstered on each leg, a small knife strapped to one ankle, and two of the biggest machetes I’d ever seen – one hanging over each shoulder.

Honestly, given the stories I’d heard, I was expecting more guns, but I had a reasonably strong feeling that the machetes weren’t just for decoration.

We hadn’t been told her first name, and none of us were particularly eager – or game – to ask… so ’Charles’ it was, and Charles meant business.

XX

Beyond the flickering a red, softly pulsating, light. Below the light a door. Even from this distance it looked heavy, and very locked, but it was still a door.

Above the door an understated sign.

[J.A.S.P.E.R]

XIII

Day 4000.

I’m the only one up, everyone else is still tucked away in ‘bed’. It’s my turn to run the system checks. We only have to do this every 500 days, unless word comes through that they’ve found it — if that happens we all get up.

Because all our communications are pre-recorded we don’t really have to worry about any lengthy lag, the messages are just there ready for us when we get up. The sunlight though, it has diminished entirely. ‘Our’ Sun is now just a star like all others, including the one we are headed for.

Ok, technically, we aren’t headed for a star, but a planet. The catch being that they haven’t actually discovered the planet yet, the technology required for that wasn’t around when we launched, and apparently — 4000 days later — it still isn’t around.

All systems are functional. Back to ‘bed’. Onward to wherever we are headed.

VII

As the elevator ground to a halt the doors slid open behind them. It had been so dark when they entered they hadn’t noticed the alternate set of doors.

Stepping out into a barely lit corridor the doors swiftly shut behind them, about 20 metres ahead of them a corner that hid an occasional flicker.

The corridor was completely empty – at least leading up the corner – they set off in single file. Those with weapons had them drawn. Just in case.

XXXII

Obviously the logical part of my brain thinks that theory is bollocks, but the rest of the brain is running with it. I’m ok with that. I’d rather be calm than hideously scared.

I sit up on top of the table, leaning against the walls in the corner of the room, just gazing straight ahead, hoping that the blurry shapes become clearer and I can work out where exactly I am.

The muffled voices have faded, and there has been no noise since what sounded like a door 15 or so minutes ago. Maybe there was no door. Maybe I imagined it.

XXIII

There is no sound, almost pure nothingness, just a mild ringing in my ears. It has always been there, or at least I think it has, assuming it is there at all and not just a figment of my imagination.

Maybe what I believe is a ringing is actually what silence sounds like. Maybe I’m losing it. Entirely possible.

The lack of sound is one thing. However, wherever I am it’s extremely dark – can’t see the hand in front of my face, dark. The only exception being the dull red glow coming from a digital clock nearby.

It’s 10:47. Let’s assume pm based on the apparent lack of light…

V

Upon arrival they sat, impatiently, in the van as the gates to the compound slowly opened. The journey had been slow, in the same way a long afternoon at work is slow, although in reality it had only taken a little over an hour.

There was still an uncomfortable feeling lingering within the group, unsure if they had been successful. Sure, they heard – and felt – the blast, but the haste with which they had left meant that the charge hadn’t been set in the location that had originally been planned.

It would likely be a couple of days before they knew for certain if it had worked.