So, you know how I said, a while back, about how I was re-working Gates, finally? Well, I thought I had it all planned out a few months ago, so I started writing it. After a bit, though, I realized that I needed to get down a good bit more of the details and stuff before I ventured writing it.
But I told myself that I would finish the part I had been writing, and call it the prologue. Well, I only just finished it. True, I was finishing the work that I’ve talked about, and writing The Well, My Journey, and a plethora of other things, but still. It turned out quite a bit longer than I had initially planned. Also, I wrote this on a computer without a spell checker, so, even though my internal spelling machine caught most of them, there are a few minor typos. Whatever.
The empty metal gate before him suddenly lit up with a light blue glow. A crystal at the top of the gate had been activated and was spewing out energy. Long arms of electricity reached all the way down the frame.
Edgritch stepped through. The ground where he stepped onto was much the same as the ground he had been on a second earlier, but by the slight blurring of his vision he knew he had successfully travelled to his destination. His hand went up to his chest to feel for the nail hanging there, merely as a habit.
“Registered Dimension 14-R,” he said to himself.
A man walked up to him, dressed in a simple guard uniform.
“Now where did you come from? Do you have the requirements necessary to be in this section of the Dimension Center?” He demanded.
“I’m Edgritch. You…might have heard of me,” he added with a wry grin.
“Oh!” The man was startled. “I’m sorry, sir! I didn’t realize…I thought you might have been an impostor or… something. Thing is, I just saw you go to 16-B.”
Edgritch smiled ruefully. “When I in my dimension go into another dimension, the me from that dimension goes into another dimension as well.”
Seeing the guard’s puzzled expression, he sighed and said, “It’s kind of like a mirror.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“He should have learned all of this at general education,” Edgritch said to himself. “What are they teaching them?”
Ed looked into the distance. “I need to go.”
And with that, he walked away from the bewildered man and towards the exit of the facility.
The man stood, watching Edgritch walk off into the distance, his long legs taking lengthy strides.
“Edgritch. What an amazing man,” he said, turning back to his patrolling duties.
Edgritch walked past uncountable gates, similar to the one he had recently come through, before he got to the far end of the room. A lit sign hung above metal double doors, marking the exit.
“Really, what do they teach them in general education now?” he thought to himself as he strode through the doorway.
The room that he entered into held several people in military uniforms, walking with such direction that none looked towards Edgritch. Looking further down the room, he saw what he was trying to get to, one of the twelve small circular pedestals that were used to exit the facility.
The Dimension Center was so important to the well-being of the government that no entrances into it were possible other than using a similar circular device that was held in some of the embassies. Even then, there was a seven step process of authentication before the user was allowed to warp into the Dimension Center.
Leaving the Dimension Center, the pedestals, technically called Randomized Departure Gates, but typically referred to as Randomizers, sent the user into a random place in a hundred-mile radius of the facility, in an effort to keep the whereabouts of the facility confidential. Thankfully, though, the metro was always close at hand, and members of the government and military had free passes along the subspeeds, the trains that travelled at incredible speeds under the entire city, the name of which was Hattaran. That way, the people who departed from the Dimension Center were still able to get where they needed to be in an acceptable amount of time.
He strode along, towards the randomizers. Before using the randomizers, he had to show authentication. For some reason, the government didn’t only want to know who you were before you got there; they also wanted to know who you were before you left.
He came and went through the Dimension Center so many times, though, that usually all he had to do was tell them his name and assigned Inter-Dimensional number.
The woman standing behind the gate, though, gave him a look that expressed that she didn’t care who he was.
“Identification, please,” she said, the drawl of the Peolen district heavy in her voice.
“They don’t usually ask for that,” Edgritch said. “I’m Edgritch, and my I.D.N. is 443-217-598.” He had decided to try it, even though he doubted that the woman would let him pass by without seeing his I.D..
He glanced at the woman’s nameplate, which was pinned exactly parallel to her uniform’s blouse pocket.
“I’m quite well known here, eh, Briania.”
“I don’t care, sir. I still need to see your identification. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Sighing, he reached into his long, heavy coat, struggling to find his I.D. in one of the inside pockets. He noticed the woman’s hand drift non-chalantly to rest on the handgun at her side: just close enough to reach it if he tried anything, but far enough to, hopefully, appear as an impatient posture.
“Glad to see that they haven’t stopped teaching them completely,” thought Edgritch as he pulled out his identification, which was enclosed in a worn leather wallet that was hardly more than a pouch.
At the sight of it, the woman relaxed, her hand drifting away from the gun. He flipped it open so that the identification was visible, then showed it to her.
“Very well,” she said. “You may go through, Edgritch.”
He nodded and walked through without another word. While he walked toward one of the randomizers, Briana looked back at him.
‘So that’s really Edgritch,’ she thought. ‘No wonder he was so hard to abdicate.’
Within the randomizers, there were certain portals that would usually bring the user into a general area. No one had figured out why they did that, but it was useful to some. Edgritch needed to head towards the east, so he found the randomizer that had a tendency of going there. Before he put in his key, one of the hundreds that were given to those permitted inside the Dimension Centers, he looked up, to the top of the wall in front of him, about fifty feet away.
“Two-thousand sixty-eight. I’ll have to remember that.”
He shivered. “Everything is so cold and mechanical, here,” he said, followed by a forelorn sigh. “I really need to go home soon.”
He stepped forward onto the randomizer. Everything around him fell away, as if he was suddenly moving forward very quickly. Then, without slowing whatsoever, it stopped. He was now standing in a primarily empty building, with only some dusty slabs of wood and rusted barrels filling it. No one else was in there, nor, from the silence he heard around the building as well, near the building at all.
That was another of the features that the randomizers had; they found areas that were sparcely inhabited, as well as random. It didn’t want the user to suddenly appear while people were walking about.
He walked towards two heavily rusted metal doors, trying to figure out which area of the city he had been sent to. The overall run-down look of the place confirmed to him that he was in the east section of the city; that area was known to be mostly derelict. But the east was still a large area to be in, and even within the overall run-down aspect, there were levels. Some areas had developed into slums, where rats were eaten regularly, even bought and traded with, and the entire area reeked of alchohol and human waste. Most of these were in the southern half of the east.
On the other side, there were areas that, while still rusty around the edges, functioned well, and the people there were usually trustworthy. These made up the northern half of the east.
But both were much different from the West. The west was populated by the higher class people, making the east primarily the production center of the city, the west the consuming center. Even here, though, it was split up into two levels. The extremely high-upper-class primarily remained in the north-west, the middle-upper-class filling the south-west. In the center of the entire city, in the corners of all sections of the city, was the inner city, where the government was run from. It was speculated, by those who knew of the existence of the Dimension Center, that it was somewhere in the inner city that it existed. That was argued by others who said that the government had gone to great lengths to keep the location undisclosed; they probably wouldn’t put it in the most obvious place.
Edgritch walked through the doors, wiping his hands together to remove the rust that had come off from the doorknob onto his hands. The door opened out into a narrow street, completely abandoned of people. He turned to his left, deciding to walk until he found a sign that would help him find his bearings. Before he walked too long, he came to some people walking by slowly. They were joined by others, and soon the street that he walked through was filled with forty or so people, walking to and fro. Most of them wore shabby clothing, very worn and used often. They walked with their faces down, looking at the dusty ground and their shuffling feet. A few looked up at him, staring as he walked past. It was odd for one who, at least, looked upper class, to be in the east. Even odder, though, was one who didn’t look down on them or obviously avoid contact with them. Edgritch strolled on ahead calmly. He had been through all parts of this city, and being around dirty and desolate people was nothing new to him.
But that was not what he was thinking about at that time. He was searching for something, something that would not be at all easy to locate. He knew it was somewhere in the east.
He felt the nail handing at his neck again. He was looking for something similar to that, but different. So different.
Time after time, he had the urge to plunge the nail into his chest, to leave this cold time where people had grown detached from the world. But he knew he couldn’t. He had something to do, before he could leave.
He continued walking. Even though he had done this dozens of times before, he still was never completely sure how he did it, and, accordingly, unsure of how to do it again. He always located the nails, in the end, though. It seemed almost like they drew him towards them.
The streets and alleys seemed endless, both in length and number. Sometimes he would find himself walking for close to half an hour in one street, other times, he would turn from street to alleyway to street again in a matter of minutes.
He stopped in front of a large building, built of brick and containing several knocked out windows. Somehow, he knew that this was were he needed to go. Of course, finding the general location of it was only part of the problem. Much more difficult was actually finding it specifically. In some cases it was owned by someone who had some menial idea of what it was, or might be, but the rest of the time that someone had it, they had no idea what it was. Of course, anyone owning it was merely a minority of the cases; most of the time it had been hammered into the building itself, or tossed aside in a corner, forgotten. Edgritch could never say in which case it was easier to find; while trying to locate it in the entire building was difficult, so was dealing with people who were opposed to someone coming in and asking to take something of theirs.
He tried the front door, and was pleased to find that it was unlocked. He stepped in quietly, not wanting to attract more attention than was utterly necessary.
Now that he was in it, it seemed to be a, while still occupied, rather run-down apartment building. He walked around a little, trying to get an idea of the layout of the building. While old and not well taken care of, it seemed to have fairly good sized rooms, with only room enough to put four on each level.
“At least there aren’t too many people,” Edgritch said to himself. “That makes it easier.”
He walked up to one of the doors, knocked, waited, and knocked again. No one seemed to be in there, and, from the undisturbed dust on the floor and cobwebs on the door, he guessed that no one had been in there in some time. “Well, that makes it even easier,” he said.
He went to the next door, knocked, and after a while of waiting, a sleepy-eyed man in his mid-fifties reeking of smoke and alcohol opened the door. Unkempt stubble covered his face, and Edgritch could almost feel waves of filth coming off of him.
“What do you want!” snapped the man.
Out of the corner of his eye, Edgritch saw movement in the room behind the man.
“I’m Edgritch, and I would like to talk to you for a moment. Really, only a moment.”
The man spat into a pot beside the door. “I don’t have a moment.”
He began to close the door, but Edgritch stuck his foot in before it could close.
“Oh, did I not mention? I’m from the government.”
The man squinted at him, trying to judge if he was telling the truth, and, even if so, if he should bother complying. The government’s power was strong in some places, it was true, but in the south-east it was almost nonexistent, which the occupants there didn’t mind in the least.
A woman, wrapping herself in a much-used silk bedrobe, came up behind him. Her hand crept around to his neck, then started playing with his ear.
“What’s the problem here?” she asked in a smoother-than-silk voice.
Without speaking, the man jerked his head in a motion telling her to get out.
The woman let out a sound of indignation, but didn’t move other than putting out an expectant hand. The man glared at both her and Edgritch, then stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out several dirty marks, a form of currency used in the city. Officially, it had been disbanded years prior, but it was still commonplace in the derelict areas. He put them into her hand, and she left, wrapping the bedrobe a bit closer around her before leaving the building.
The man looked back at Edgritch, and seemed about to tell him to leave again, but Edgritch spoke before he got a chance.
“Prostitution is illegal in Hattaran, you know,” said Edgritch. “I could just go back now, with a report of some illegal activity.”
The man snorted, but a look came into his eyes that said he was a bit more wary of Edgritch.
“No, no, we don’t need any of that,” he said with a horribly forced smile. “That was, eh, just my wife leaving.”
“And waiting to be paid?”
“Eh, yeah. She was going to go shopping.”
“Ah,” said Edgritch, continuing to look at the man.
“Well, come in. So long as it only is going to take a moment.”
The apartment wasn’t any cleaner that the man. Mounds of old laundy had to be picked around to get to where the man was leading Edgritch, which seemed to be a living room, though how it could be considered livable, Edgritch couldn’t tell. The man gestured to a chair, from which Edgritch had to remove several stained articles of clothing, among other things that he didn’t want to think about.
Once he had seated himself, he turned to the man.
“First, what’s your name?”
“I’m Hervard Menchin.”
“Fourty-two this fall.”
Edgritch doubted this, unless the man was extremely young for his looks.
“Thirdly, have you noticed anything strange?”
“Strange? Like how?”
“Oh, any objects with strange properties or surrounded by legends, stories, or people acting strangely, or missing?”
The man scratched his stubble-ridden chin, squinting his eyes and looking somewhere above Edgritch’s head. “No, nothing of that sort? Is there something I should know about?”
“No, no, if you don’t know of anything, you don’t need to worry about it.”
“Are we done now?” The man had stood up, implying that he was done, in any case.
“Yes, yes, that’s all,” said Edgritch with a sigh as he got up.
As he walked out of the room, he could almost feel the scowl that Hervard was pointing at him.
In the next seven rooms, most with two occupants, some with only one and a “wife” who “had to go shopping”, he found much the same. No one knew or had heard anything about such a thing.
Edgritch scowled as he left the final room. If no one knew where it was, that must mean that it wasn’t owned by anyone.
And that would mean that he would have to find it.
“Well,” he said to himself as he noticed a small door across the hallway from him, “that’s as good a place to start as any.”
When he went to it and tried to turn the knob, though, he found that it was locked.
“Ah, well, too bad,” he said, loudly. “Guess I won’t be able to get in. Through the locked door, I mean.”
He looked around, then turned back to the door while pulling out a set of lockpicks.
He set to work. He put the tension wrench in first, and turned clockwise slightly, until the tumbler stopped moving. He then gently put in a rake, going back and forth with it. After that, he put in a pick and went to the back of the lock. The first peg had already gone into place, as had the third and fourth, which was, under usual circumstances, unusual.
“Must be because it’s an old lock,” he muttered.
The second pin stuck slightly, but he got it in place after a moment. The fourth went in place easily.
The fifth was loose. He put more tension into the tension wrench, then slowly began pushing up the fifth peg.
A moment later, it clicked into place, and the lock turned. He was in.
He stepped through the door, expecting darkness, but instead finding a dim light coming from futher into the room.
He continued through, ducking as pipes and cables hanging from the low ceiling blocked his way.
Soon enough, the path opened into an area, lit by two small candles. Laying on an almost worn-out mattress on the ground was a man, dressed in ragged clothes.
He awoke with a start as Edgritch entered the room.
“Who, who are you?” he demanded, the accent on his voice almost as thick as the slur of alcohol.
“I’m with the central government. I have a few questions to ask you, if you don’t mind,” answered Edgritch.
“Why?” the man asked.
“I’m, eh, we’re looking for a certain nail. Would you happen to…”
Edgritch was interrupted, as the man got up and started backing away as soon as Ed had said ‘nail’.
“No, no, no, I’m not giving it to you. It’s mine, you hear? I don’t care where you’re from, central government or otherwise. It’s mine, and I’m not giving it to you or anyone else.”
“Are you sure?” asked Edgritch. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“Oh really,” retorted the man. Without turning his head, he reached down and grasped the handle of a heavy iron fire poker. He surged forward, bringing the poker down with a crash where Edgritch was, or had been a moment before.
But he was no longer there. He had ducked around, behind the man, so swiftly the man hadn’t even seen it. He looped his left arm around the man’s neck, then grabbed the forearm of his right arm and put his right hand on the back of the man’s head. He tightened his muscles.
“Are you sure, now?” breathed Edgritch into the man’s ear. “I know the central government doesn’t usually have much power here. But I’m on a very important mission, you see, and they’ve told me to get the nail at any cost. Any,” he said, squeezing tighter again.
The man tried to swallow, but was unable to. His arms flailed about, then hung uselessly at his side.
“Okay,” he gasped out.
Edgritch loosened his grip, letting go of the man. “Good. I thought you’d get the, eh, scope of the problem soon enough.”
“I’ll just go get it,” the man said, turning away into an adjoining tunnel Edgritch hadn’t noticed until then.
“You do that,” said Edgritch, knowing that the man was bound to try something.
The man returned in a moment, bearing a nail in his right hand. “Here it is,” he said.
Edgritch stepped forward, reaching out with his left hand to take the nail, and noticing the man’s right hand reaching towards his side.
With his left hand, he grabbed the nail, and with his right, the man’s left arm. He pulled it up, tightening his hold. A derringer dropped from the man’s hand.
“And here I was, hoping we had come to an understanding,” said Edgritch. Still holding the man’s arm, he leaned down and picked up the gun.
He let go of the man’s arm. The man cowered away from him, looking fearfully at the gun now in Ed’s hand.
“Oh, but I suppose I don’t need to bother killing you,” he said. “After all, what would it provide us with other than a meaningless investigation for a murder committed by us? I would like to ask you something more, though. Why did you want to keep the nail so badly?”
“I…I really don’t know. I was drawn to it, or it drew me to it. I found it, and after I had it, my luck increased. Or something. I really don’t know. Just please, please go now.”
Edgritch sighed and turned away, through the tunnel he had come, without saying another word. Always the same story. They were drawn to it. Something good had happened after they had found it. Nothing conclusive, ever.
He walked slowly, looking carefully for a place without any people, an abandoned building, somewhere where he couldn’t be seen.
Eventually, he just went back to the place that he had been ‘randomized’ to. He unbuttoned his shirt halfway, then took the nail on the string off from around his neck. He looked down, finding the well-defined scar, above his heart. He pressed the nail against it, then, without hesitating, thrust the nail into his heart.
His body fell to the ground, dead.