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.”

Shift.Not the Dark Knight world you know.

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.

VIII

The shock wave rippled through their camp site, and several hours earlier than they were anticipating. The plan had always been to be further from the impact site, but communication delays had hindered them before their egress had even begun.

By the time they got out they knew they were unlikely to get as much distance as desired, still they had pushed on long enough to ensure they’d be safe, and they were.

While they were all now awake, it would still be hours before they would know if it had worked, and to what extent. Only then could they return.

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]

XXXI

I’m back to the table that I had awoken on an hour ago, it’s right next to the immovable filing cabinet. My eyes seem to be slowly coming to grips with the light levels, I can’t make out any defined shapes, just patches of dark and patches of not-quite-as-dark.

Using the table to pull myself up, I slowly examine the length of it. There is nothing else on the table. Maybe cleared off before I was put there? Still doesn’t explain why.

Absolute nothing helpful in the room. 12:01. I’m clearly trapped in here, but oddly calm – or at least calmer than one would expect in such a situation. Maybe it’s the idea that I can’t find a way out, so there mustn’t be a way in for anyone or anything else.

XIV

When the first pod of whales beached themselves no one really thought much of it. When, two weeks later, a second pod beached themselves several hundred miles south, again, no one thought much of it.

That was 8 months ago. Now, not only are the beachings a daily – world-wide – occurrence, they aren’t limited just to whales.

There have been several reports of dolphins, sharks, and in some instances giant squid.

Initially scientists had suspected that it was the result of climate change or rising pollution. However, after months of testing and analysis on the deceased sea creatures they found no evidence supporting that theory.

They had come to one conclusion – they weren’t simply beaching themselves they were trying to escape from something…

XXXIII

My gaze dips every so often towards the clock, which I have now sat down in front of me. It’s amazing how much slower time moves when you’re actively watching it. Despite only waking up a bit over an hour ago I’m feeling tired, but not a physical tiredness, it’s all mental. A million questions all running through my mind at once. Zero answers to be found.

I can feel my eyes wanting to close, I force them open, my body doing that weird twitching thing where you almost fall asleep and then wake suddenly with a falling feeling. I’m not falling though, I’m still sitting atop the table, leaning against the wall.

Eyelids drop again, I don’t fight it this time…

III

A sunlit afternoon, my younger self chasing a familiar yet distant face through the tall grass overlooking the sea. This feels like a memory, but I know that it’s not. I dream so rarely that it’s usually easy to tell when my mind has escaped reality.

Right now in this moment I’m about 12. I haven’t actually been 12 for decades. And possibly I haven’t felt this free for just as long.

Nothing seems to matter, no consequences, no expectations, no judgement. There are other people around, they don’t see us or simply don’t care, it doesn’t matter which. Relaxed, free, comfortable, all the things missing from everyday life.

XXVII

Shuffling slowly towards the clock, the floor is smooth, consistent. Vinyl tiles maybe? Confirms one thing, I’m not at home – nothing but carpet and cold, hard tiles there. Oh how I wish I could feel my carpet underneath me right now.

The clock is sitting atop what feels like a small wooden chest of drawers, there are handles, but they either don’t open anything or they are locked. Locked seems most likely.

Reaching up towards the clock, I feel around for a power cord. Nothing. Must be batteries. I grab it and shake it in the hope that it will somehow magically become brighter. It doesn’t, obviously. Flickers a little but stays disappointingly dull.

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.

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.