XXXVII

This is a story of discovery.

Growing up we were taught how more than 80% of the ocean remained completely unexplored by mankind, and that less than 10% of all marine life had been identified. Almost inconceivable just how little we knew about the world lurking beneath the surface.

But the curiosity of man, and humans being humans, we just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The next great “space race” playground for those with more money than morals. Billions of dollars spent traversing the deepest darkest crevasses seeking a groundbreaking oceanic discovery. And money, obviously.

Looking back it began with a specific sequence of minor, largely ignored, tremors in the southern Atlantic. Then in the mid Pacific a ring of undocumented, long dormant, submarine volcanoes roared to life for the first time in millennia, triggering massive ash fallout and widespread tsunamis along the eastern seaboard of the Americas and throughout most of south-east Asia.

Far from the seasonal environmental disruption resulting from the spiralling climate crisis that humanity had long become numb towards, this event would catch the attention of the entire globe. And with good reason.

This isn’t a story of what we found, it’s a story of what found us.

Off.A short story in 12 small parts.

XV

We both know that you know where they are.

Tell me.

Where can I find Zenith?

XXI

Before them stood a wall of screens with a single command console located off to the left hand side of the room. They appeared to be displaying surveillance feeds. The video quality was grainy and monochrome, this room had been here for years. A hundred windows into a hundred different worlds.

“254,” Miles bluntly observed, “It’s a grid, A1 through P16. 256 screens, but C7 and G13 seem to be off.”

From the entry the source of the feeds wasn’t immediately clear, nor was it obvious who was being monitored. Were these commercial security feeds? Finance? Government?

Moving closer to see that each had a counter increasing rapidly in the top right hand corner. But counting up from what? It wasn’t counting seconds, maybe milliseconds? With no other dates or times visible, the group initially assumed the feeds were live.

That assumption was wrong, well, half wrong. To this point David hadn’t said anything to anyone aside from the brief – forced – introductions when they’d entered the tunnels a few hours earlier.

From towards the back of the group David finally spoke up, slowly gesturing to the screens in the upper right hand corner.

“That… I. I think that’s me…”

IV

Their nightly routine was always the same.

“Sam, it’s time to go to sleep, lights out…”,

“But Mum,” he protested, “I don’t like the darkness, I’m afraid of the monster in the closet”,

It was always the same reason, like a recording being played back repetitively for comedic effect. The response of Sam’s mother too was always the same.

“Sam, we’ve been over this, there are no monsters in your closet, I promise. You’re perfectly safe in bed.”

Sitting bolt upright, arms crossed, Sam would never back down. The resulting compromise was always to leave the night light on.

The soft yellow glow of the night light was just right, and as always its presence ended the nightly battle peacefully.

Even better yet, it perfectly masked the pair of glowing yellow eyes that belonged to the creature Sam’s parents kept under his bed.

II

You think you know someone. We had left dinner early, not even lingering long enough to consider dessert. Eve seemed in a particular rush but wouldn’t say why. Maybe it was something she ate.

We were headed towards the station when her phone rang. Barely removing it from her inner jacket pocket she glanced at it and dismissed the call. I couldn’t see who it was, but I do the same with work calls all the time so I wasn’t concerned.

As the lights of our train came into view Eve casually turned, looking half at me, half through me – just as she had done a thousand times before – and smiled.

“None of this is what it seems. Jasper will explain.” she said softly with an oddly apologetic tone. The words had stunned me, was that her intention? Turning further to face me, she took two quick steps backwards, my outstretched hands clutched at the air.

She was gone.

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.

XVIII

“The green cylinder. On the other side of the room.”

There was significant static on the intercom, however, the instruction was crystal clear.

“Break it open.”

That didn’t seem like the most brilliant idea, especially given the past events at this particular facility.

However, this was no mere suggestion, it was a demand.

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.

XXIV

The last thing I remember was leaving work on Friday afternoon and catching the bus home, just like I do everyday. I don’t, however, remember the actual bus ride itself. It’s worth mentioning that this alone isn’t particularly odd, I quite often arrive at my destination without any recollection of the 40 minute journey I’d just endured.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with me, I just tend to zone out, headphones in, gazing out the window at the not particularly interesting world passing by.

But what happened on Friday?

If we’re assuming it’s night time, is it still Friday? The throbbing ache on the left side of my head, and the sensation that I’ve been asleep for a week suggests it probably isn’t Friday. And this is not Kansas.

XXXVI

Five years on from being unceremoniously ousted from the Wayne Enterprises board by a group loyal to his father’s original vision for the company, Detective Bruce Wayne now spends his daylight hours working at the GCPD cleaning up the loose ends that Batman can’t.

By night, Batman’s ongoing dance with Gotham’s colourful underworld has recently become intertwined with the pursuit of a mysterious new vigilante in town, Eko. Seemingly sharing a common enemy, Eko’s motives seem well intentioned, but their methods cross moral lines that have becoming increasingly difficult for Gotham’s heroic trinity to ignore.

As a chronostorm approaches, a deadly shift is about to ripple through the city, bringing with it new threats and allies, the fall of justice, and the rise of a dramatic redistribution of power that will result in the city’s long standing tribal lines of heroes vs villains being blurred, forever changing Gotham’s future … and it’s past.

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.