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.”

XXXIV

Brief dreams of other places, other faces. The where and when I’d rather be. The things I’d be doing and how I’d be doing them. Routine, constants, the avoidance of change that I see no personal benefit in. The chasing of happiness and the fear of failure that prevents me. I’m asleep, but conscious that I’m letting my brain deep dive into complete nonsense. I force myself to wake up.

Awake again, the darkness, and the previously discovered calm returns. It returns just long enough that when I feel something grab my shoulder I spin around, reeling back in the process. Extremities tingling. The darkness drains away, and muffled sounds trickle in. I stare blankly at the face that’s suddenly appeared behind me.

“The bus route ends here. You need to get off.”

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…

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.

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.

XXX

Files. Guess that shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. Feels like half a dozen or so, but not much good to me, the light from the clock is not even remotely sufficient enough to read anything. I toss them aside and try the top drawer. Nothing, it’s definitely locked. Odd, every filing cabinet I’ve ever seen has a single lock that secures all the drawers at once. But, hey, why would this be a normal set of drawers, nothing else about this situation is normal.

The voices are still there. No clearer, no closer, still not concerned.

Feeling my way around the filing cabinet there is something wedged underneath it, feels like another file, but I can’t pull it out. Shoving the cabinet, it doesn’t budge. Sure, I’m not the strongest guy in the world, but I should be able to move a small filing cabinet without too much difficulty, right? Not this one, it doesn’t move a millimeter, like it’s bolted to the ground. Why would it be bolted down on top of another file?

XXIX

Eyes still aren’t adjusting. Odd or not, I can’t decide. 11:43. That was a long five minutes.

Wait, what was that? A door? Different to the noise earlier. Closer. Or am I imagining things. I need to find a way out.

Reaching a corner, I at least know that the wall doesn’t extend forever, still nothing that resembles a door frame though. Moving down the second wall I run into something.

Well, not ‘run’, more like shuffle slowly into something. It isn’t as big as the drawers, and it’s cold, metal. Two handles on the front, a filing cabinet maybe, a small one. I yank on the bottom handle, not expecting anything, but it opens. Almost scared to stick my hand into the open drawer, I poke around slowly to see if there is anything in there.

XXVIII

Why of all the dark rooms in existence am I in this one, why couldn’t it be your typical dark room with a sliver of light peaking out from beneath a door. For all I know this room doesn’t even have a door. Craziness of course, it must have a door, right? How else would I have gotten in here. Must find the door.

There’s that elevator sound again. This time joined by what sounds like faint muffled voices. Distant voices.

I decide to work my way left away from the drawers, feeling slowly along the base of the wall desperately hoping to stub my fingers on a door frame. There is nothing immediately next to the drawers, I must have moved three or four metres along the wall by now – I wonder how big this room is, hard to tell in the dark.

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.

XXVI

Right, well whatever I was lying on before, I’m not lying on it now. I suspect that if I could see anything that I would have noticed everything fading to black when I sat up. Well, at least I now know that there is a floor. Quick glance across at the clock, it’s now 11:38, guess I really did blackout.

Normally my eyes would have started to adjust to the room, but I still can’t see anything except that stupid clock. It is taunting me. The glow from it’s display isn’t helping at all. It isn’t bright like you might normally expect, almost like it is running low on power.

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…

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.

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…

XXII

EMBARGOED – DO NOT PUBLISH

For release 30 January, NOON

INFINITE HORIZONS MISSION PARAMETERS UPDATE

Command operations centre, Tx – A target system, LS25-8/6, containing viable destination planets has been confirmed. The system was initially detected 6 weeks ago during the systematic re-evaluation of existing data by the recently upgraded ‘Planetoid Identification Network’.

The news of the discovery has been transmitted to the crew, and will be received in time for the next routine system check on day 9,500.

In a change from the original mission plan, the full crew will remain in suspension until a yet to be determined time, and the minor course corrections will be left to Atkins while she undertakes the system checks.

We will not be fielding any additional questions at this time.

Ends.

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…”

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]

XVII

Their living room wall was now mostly string, push-pins and post-it notes. The TV sits unplugged in a corner, all non-essential furniture piled up on the other side of the room.

The only concrete piece of information he has to work with is a name. Jasper. Ok, ‘concrete’, is probably overstating it, but that is how it feels compared to everything else.

But still, who is Jasper?

The, now mostly ransacked, contents of their apartment has turned up nothing, no further clue as to who Jasper is and how – or why – he can explain why Eve had stepped into the path of a train that evening.

It has been three weeks and he knows no more now than he did then. The authorities have been of no use, her death ruled a suicide in the absence of anything to prove otherwise.

The police don’t believe that this Jasper character exists, and as he rifles through yet another closet even Jake is beginning to question it. Then he notices something behind what seems like the 47th box of shoes.

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.

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.”

XV

We both know that you know where they are.

Tell me.

Where can I find Zenith?