Copyright Eric L Gardner © 2021
I feel split in two, a battle within, of two wills wanting different things. One part of me yearns to face the unknown, to race headlong into danger and embrace the future with reckless abandon. My other half wants to run away, hide somewhere safe, or open the airlock, and float into the vacuum of space.
Aretherra Volume One: Aero And The Keys of Ascension
Tryn and the portals
Still, on my hands and knees, I continue to catch my breath. With my eyes closed, I lean back and kneel for a while, trying to regain my composure. When I finally feel calm enough, I rise to my feet and open my eyes. My spirit split into two, one part ready for what may come and the other pleading to cast off into the void and vacuum of space.
I look around and this room was almost completely empty. The walls are bare and devoid of any aesthetic or functional characteristics. They seemed to be carved and hewn from a dull black material that looked more like a forged stone. The entire circular room appears to have no seams and was originally constructed, then made completely from this foreign black substance. When I step forward for a closer look at the walls, what I see next makes me certain that this is no ordinary stone. The closer I get to the surface of the wall, the more the wall seems to change before my eyes. The black wall that once appeared to be a flat, matte finish, now up close seems to shimmer, almost sparkle. I look up and behind me, wondering if another light was switched on. Unfortunately, no additional lights are here, nothing other than the ten by twelve room, each spreading their glow over their respective section of the wall.
A strange notion causes me to step back from the wall, slowly walking back toward the center of the room again. As if the room is rewarding me for my silly notion, I see the shimmering surface on the section in front of me fade to the matte finish of black stone that first greeted me earlier. Now, two sections at a time follow suit and return to their matte finish. Like a wave of transfiguration sweeping around the room in both directions away from the center section before me, I watch as two sections at a time fade to matte again until they meet in the center one behind me. What kind of magic was this? Or is this a feat of mystical engineering?
Whatever the source, I stand amazed by this room, swept up by its majesty, absorbed by its mystery, and amazed by the stunning simplicity. The craftsmanship alone would make any mason mad with jealousy. Clearly, this is the work of spectacle, but is it functional? I look around for more clues, hoping that the room would reveal its secrets. I notice that not only are the walls forged from this black stone, but the floor and ceiling of this room were as well. Everything was created from this black material, which has to be some stone. This is not a synthetic composite space material or next-generation alloy designed for space travel. No, this was something different, something special. In fact, this whole room seemed to speak to me, though not through words or communication. The room was calling me for something, but for what?
Wanting a closer look, I slowly walk around the room, taking in everything from the floor, to the wall, to the ceiling. As I conduct my deep examination of my surroundings, I continue to marvel at the craftsmanship. The first thing I notice is the ceiling, which has embossed lines and thin channels of silver and gold that begin at the wall’s edge and converge in the center of the ceiling where a small circular dome of a dark blue bulge from ceiling center. I walk over and stand directly under this dark blue bulge and can tell that the dome shape extends down no more than the thickness of two fingers. When I tilt my head from one side to the other, hoping to catch some scattered light from the wall lights, I begin to see more detail. It appears to be a smooth, round, deep blue crystal of some kind. I shake my head, and flash a wide smile, as I continue to marvel at where I am, of where I’ve been, and the beauty that I’ve seen since I woke up. Still smiling, I am forced to look down as my face fades to concern and wonder.
I jump back with both feet, thinking myself mad, I see the floor quickly fade to black again. I swear I just saw the entire floor glow in a bright pale blue light, which traced a similar pattern as the ceiling. Was the floor really glowing a second ago? Or did I imagine that? I want to yell at myself, “You disbeliever!”. After the wonders, I saw since I woke up? After all, I’ve been through these past few hours, how can I doubt anything I see, feel, or experience at this point? Even as I have these radical new thoughts and ideas, for me they seem based in some other reality, like all of this is still a dream. Because of this, I still doubt so much, even the wondrous things I’ve seen with my own eyes. I keep coming back to my dream, to the night my parents died. If that was real, then I flew up into the air like a bird and I not only saw a man cast energy from his own hands but later I would do the same to free myself from those evil men. If all of that was, in fact, real, not a dream and creation of my imagination, then why can’t I do those things now? With that, I wanted to get back to this room but found that somehow I was standing dead center in the circle of the room again. The floor remained dark, with no glowing lines, just black matte stone. I did, however, notice something new on the sections of the wall that was not there before. I know I sound crazy, but I swear, this room continues to change the longer I stay here.
Across from me, I see a series of cryptic symbols and markings cut into the surface of the walls. These symbols run from the bottom of the room up to the top, where they meet the ceiling and then continue along the top of the wall until it meets another vertical column of symbols. The vertical columns of symbols seem to act as a border to each section of the wall. I turn and follow each vertical column of symbols to where they meet the next section of the horizontal line, all made of these strange characters and symbols. Following it around the room, I noticed that the horizontal line is continuous and almost vertically dead center between floor and ceiling. The vertical columns of characters differentiate the sections from one another. While each respective light above all of the wall’s sections, also acts as a means to tell them apart from the others.
Again, another hunch is begging me to do something irrational, however absurd it seems to me, I have not left this room since I entered it and I have seen it literally change in front of me. Acting on this hunch, I begin to recount my way around the room, section by section. I know that the continuous wall surrounding me was made up of eight panels, or sections as I now refer. I now know that each has its own set of symbols and markings that form the vertical columns. I also now know that while a horizontal band of symbols runs the entire circumference of the room, each section has its own unique horizontal section between the outer borders of vertical columns of symbols. While I have been so busy studying the cryptic symbols and overall topography of this space, somehow I failed to notice the complete lack of doors or windows.
Suddenly I feel worried and turn around, scanning the entirety of the wall’s surface for the one thing I haven’t given thought to since I used it to escape the clutches of outer space, the hatch wall. Where is the section of the wall with the hatch that I used to enter this room not that long ago? Where is the hatch door? The entire hatch was gone and with it the small sensor screen that I never saw, but I’m pretty sure was loudly beeping after the hatch closed, announcing air pressure and environmental controls had returned to normal. I saw a similar one in the medical pod, just before it blew up. Both the hatch door and the control panel were gone now, somehow replaced by another section of the wall, seamlessly matching all of the others. They are simply not there! Where did they go and how? I spin around, scanning every marked panel, every section of the round room, just in case I was turned around earlier. This is not right, how could a hatch simply disappear? I answered myself as quickly as I posed the question, clearly this room was special, even magical or mystical, able to change and adapt its physical attributes as needed. While I may be able to comprehend such a room existing, it doesn’t mean that I understand it, much less comprehend it.
I am determined to make sense of this insanity, so I concentrate on the panel in front of me, and begin to study the characters and symbols, making note of a specific one in the middle of the column, comprised of two concentric circles with a line at the top and a dot in the middle. This must be a language and while foreign to me, these characters must mean something specific about this room or possibly this specific section of the wall. I look to the right and left of me and see similar characters, although, in different orders, it seems like the same language is written throughout this room. I step back into the middle of the room again, wanting a wider view of this side of the room when suddenly I feel uneasy as I become aware that the room feels bigger somehow. Bigger? What?
Remaining in the dead center of the room, I begin again to count the sections of the wall, each one easily identifiable now that I know that they are outlined by the columns of characters and symbols. One, two, three, and so on I count, continuing around the room until I finally get to section number 12. Wait?! Twelve sections? I’m not going crazy, am I? If I’m not crazy, then maybe I am dead. Maybe I was obliterated in the explosion after all. Perhaps I froze in the vacuum of space. Or after all of that talk of a failing energy field, the Torpor matrix did collapse and with it, every system that contained me as a prisoner, protected me from outside dangers, above all, the life support that kept me alive while I remained suspended in that strange liquid.
Maybe there is a simpler explanation for the room having twelve sections when it had only eight earlier. I may have miscounted the first time or even the second? I now stand ready, mentally and physically to make a third and final count and put this ridiculous room to rest. I look down and position my feet as close to the center of the room as possible. I close my eyes and take several deep breaths, relaxing as much as possible, given all of this insanity. After I carefully recount the sections for the last time, the total remains at 12. This gives me little comfort, given what I’ve witnessed this room manifest seemingly by its own will, at least I did not find 20 sections of the wall. I sense power from this place, old power put here by great and powerful people, of this I am sure. I sensed it the moment I came through the hatch. What I am not sure of is why was this room created in the first place. What purpose did it serve those people from another time, a time of magic and mystical rooms? Why was this room created and why was it transported to an orbiting space colony? What purpose does it serve now? And then it hit me, these questions may not matter, may not ever be answered if the people who use it now discover that I am in here. If and when I am discovered, I’m pretty sure that my next stop would be another hatch, when I’m sucked into the vacuum of space with the daily trash. My heart is racing just thinking about such inevitabilities. I have to act now, find a way out of this place, find transport of some kind and make my way to the planet’s surface.
I was still standing in the center of the room with my eyes closed and fists clenched at my sides. With newfound resolve, I opened my eyes and glare at the wall before me. I move closer to the section that I had studied the predominant icon made of the two circles, line and dot, forming an icon of some significance. Standing at arm’s length, I reach toward the circles’ symbol and trace their contours with my index finger.
The surface of the wall is cold to the touch. The symbol’s edges, strangely enough, are both smooth and rough to the touch, which confirmed that they were chiseled and polished by hand long ago. I am now positive that these walls were carved from and created from this mysterious black stone. However, from what I’ve seen, there appears to be little or no seams in the wall. For this to be true, the entire circular wall, in essence, an eight-foot-tall cylinder, was carved from one massive black stone. The mysteries of this room continue to mount and escalate into the irrational. The scope of such an undertaking is almost beyond comprehension. On a similar note, this room could not have been created here in space. It had to be mined and carved on a planet, possibly the planet that it now orbits. In either case, this room is beyond mystifying.
So far this room has transformed in seconds, expanding from 8 to 12 walls. It appears to be made from a seamless black stone, covered with columns and lines of cryptic symbols and foreign characters. It has no visible doors or windows, any longer, like the one hatch I used to enter the room has seemed to disappear, along with the beeping console that announced a return to a pressurized viable environment. In addition, each of the walls now has a corresponding light fixture for each of the 12 panels or walls. Finally, any sustainable environment in space requires air vents and conduits to provide breathable air and heat. The room that I stand in now has a flat, seamless floor, ceiling, and walls, all apparently made from this black stone. Of all of the evidence I’ve observed thus far, the lack of the fundamental requirements of maintaining life in space, what every space vehicle or station needs in every compartment either can not be seen or simply do not exist here. My mind hurts just thinking about it. Unless that is an effect from a lack of oxygen or clean air, not coming from the nonexistent vents. This funny thought makes me smile. Smiling is okay, the second I’m on the floor laughing uncontrollably, I’ll know for sure I’m going to die from lack of oxygen.
I have been so captivated by this mysterious room, taking in every nuance and feature with my eyes this entire time. By doing so, I have only relied on my sight, on what I can see, that I have totally ignored the obvious all around me, by means of my other senses. As if I always have known, I opened myself up to more of myself and allowed my body to send me data from my other senses. I allow myself to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel all around me at once. A flood of details immediately became evident, providing me with a wealth of evidence that I hope aid me in my quest to escape. The most striking details are the temperatures I can feel coming from different angles from different points across the room, hot, cold, dry hot. But a smell?
I’m standing in the middle of the room again with my eyes closed in an attempt to concentrate on this bizarre development. Like the temperatures, I can smell many strange and different things coming from different parts of this room. Coming from one of the two wall panels in front of me, I smell fresh trees and foliage. I can also smell the rich scent of black forest soil, towering hardwood trees, and glistening flowers of the meadow, fresh from a summer’s rain. I tilt my head back and to the left, and suddenly the harsh scents of city life hit me as if a breeze is carrying the scents of street vendors, construction sites, car exhausts, subway vents, manholes, and too many to name. When I turn to my right, I can smell smoke from a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Now, I can also smell livestock, hay, cooked meat. This is unbelievable! Am I imagining all of this?
Turning to face behind me, I smell the ocean from one of the wall panels on the wall. Could that be low tide? Or is that just the breeze sweeping off the ocean? I cannot imagine how or why I could experience these distinct scents while trapped on an orbiting space… What was that! I freeze to listen. I swear that I just heard something on the other side of this wall.
Standing completely still, I hold my breath, attempting to wrest any sound from my own body. I fail completely as my heart betrays me and adrenaline takes over, stealing away any grasp I’ve made for control. The pounding accelerates in my chest and although I know I’m alone, I still feel as if someone can hear, someone can see beyond this mask I wear. My chest feels tight like a hand is reaching in and squeezing my ribs to the point of collapse. My skin tingles and I feel flush, as if I’m suddenly too hot for this room, too hot to exist comfortably, anywhere or any place. I listen against the wall for any sign of the sound and my hand slips. My head hits the wall. I stand on trial, myself alone, and alone I stand with no one besides myself.
Before a judge and jury of myself, prosecuted and defended by myself, I stand alone before myself, waiting for the trial to begin. From the judge’s bench on high, I look down upon myself standing alone. With my right fist over my heart and my left fist hoisted high above my head, I see myself looking back at me. The unfulfilled need for power angers me. Fill the void left throughout the corridors of my mind. Fill the void left by someone other than myself. Myself. Who is myself? I am not myself. Who am I? An exhibit to showcase a vast array of haunting images and words hang from the walls of the gallery at the end of the hall. So many tears for fears, sketches of pain, and loneliness drip from my eyes and run down my face. As I turn my back on myself, a courtroom filled with pieces of myself, shattered and scattered shards, that once formed a mirror that reflected the past. But whose past? So many lifetimes. One so long and one so short. One so fraught with anger and self-service to the point of megalomania. One given to selfless service of others hopes in the face of pain and loss to the point of sainthood. Where is the line is drawn, who is the person inside and who will become me?
I struggle to stand up from my slumped position on the floor and I rub a freshly formed knot on the side of my head, as it pounds with pain. What was I doing? I was doing something important, right, the sound. I lean closer to the wall as I nervously wait to hear it again, the unidentified sound that came from one of the sections of the wall. I can hear a faint sound of something different than the usual and ever-constant low hum of the station. I can hear the faint sound of tapping metal, like a thin piece of polished metal striking a more dense piece in a rhythmic fashion; as if someone was tapping a ring against a metal bar or desk. Strange. I follow the sound and isolate it to a wall section in front of me, one panel to the left. I study the markings, carefully examining and touching each one.
I notice that this section of the wall, like the one across the room with the two circles, also had a central, possibly primary, symbol in the center of the vertical column of characters. This One is made up of a series of dots and dashes forming two horizontal lines and a diagonal line that connects the right edge of the top line with the left edge of the bottom line. The dot in the middle of the diagonal connecting line has a small purple gem inlaid in the center and bottom of the carved dot. I touch it and step back, surprised to see the entire column of symbols is now emitting a glowing purple light that slowly pulsates.
At the same moment, my forearm begins to tingle. From the corner of my eye, I see the same glowing, pulsating light as the wall, but this is coming from my inner arm! I pull back the arm of my shirt to reveal a glowing tattoo, an exact replica as the symbol on the door. I cannot believe my eyes, nor any of my senses anymore. Was this happening to me, or is this a projection from the wall onto my arm? I grab the glowing tattoo with my left hand and hold it up in front of my face. Not a projection. The light is so intense that it can be seen through my fingers. I look back at the wall section with the glowing characters, they still glowed and slowly pulsated in sync with my new tattoo. I shake my head in total disbelief. I must keep going.
I smile to myself as this could be the break I was hoping for since I became trapped in this strange room. I step to the wall and place my hand over the “Z” shaped symbol in the middle, using my palm to cover it entirely. I can actually feel the hum against my hand. The same slight hum of ever-present generators, like the sound of a hundred bees trapped under a thick blanket. However, the vibrations grew, in both intensity and tempo. When the humming of the symbol reached its climax, a glowing sphere of light, formed in the middle of the door. No larger than a clenched fist, the orb rotated on a lateral axis for a brief moment and then sent a flash of blinding light that found its way to every nook and cranny of the entire room. The flash that followed the glowing light from this section was frightening with intensity. However, during this moment, something happened, something unexplainable and magical. In its place, where the section of the wall had been, where I had triggered this series of events, a doorway, or portal now stood in its place. The portal leads to another place, a corridor beyond.
I pull my hand back from the wall and notice that the symbols marking the threshold of this portal and the matching symbol on my arm are no longer glowing. In its place, I now have a “Z” shaped tattoo on my forearm. Lovely, this place does not disappoint. I get a nifty souvenir, an instant tattoo of all things, so I can remember all of the special memories of my trip to this space colony. I take a deep breath and resolve myself to venture into the unknown. Even though this room has been completely insane, for the briefest moment I felt safe and secure within its ever-changing walls. At least before the room branded me.
I step through the threshold into the corridor on the other side. The length of the corridor is slightly longer than the room that I just left, which I would guess would be about 6 adult walking paces long. Instead of black stone, this pod is made from materials that are common across the entire space colony. Everything about this area is different. This corridor, or hallway, is bright in color, round in its shape – almost like an egg – and in the vertical middle, there are windows on both sides. Excited to see the view, I run up for a look and I’m not disappointed. Once again, I look upon perfection, I look upon the beauty of the planet below. Whatever planet that happens to be, I hope to find out its name. I want to go there. After I take it all in, I turn to the observation viewports, windows, on the opposite side. From these windows, I finally get to see more of the colony.
I had no idea how big this colony was, how could I? When I heard the term colony used in the medical pod, there was no point of reference for me to go by. I’ve never been to or seen a space colony before today. Never would I have imagined this. What was that? I stop and go to the other hatch, the closed one on the opposite side of the corridor to the portal room and listen with my ear against the door for a moment. After a minute of silence, I’m satisfied and go to the windows overlooking the planet again.
From the planetside, I can see more of the central structure of the colony, which must be where the leader or commander of this colony resides. Near the central Command, structure is a multi-level unit with various large doors and bays. This must be the port, from which ships can take off and land. A small shuttle sits docked at one of the starboard loading docks, ripe for the taking. If I can reach that shuttle, I could escape to the planet’s surface. No sooner had I thought this, a small ship screamed by the window, between the outer colony pods and the planet.
I watch as the ship disappears out of view and then comes back again. It’s a century ship, which must be part of a C.A.P., combat air patrol. Its sole job is to alert the colony of any incoming or escaping ships and then engage with force. I immediately dismiss and put aside any thoughts of escape by shuttle. I would be destroyed before I disembarked from the landing bay.
I hear the noise again at that hatch, this time footfalls from beyond the hatchway and sounding like running down a corridor beyond. At this point, only one closed hatch separates me from being found out or killed. Frantic, but determined, I turn to run back to the room, but it’s too late. As I run the opposite direction, with my back to the inevitable, the hatch door quickly opens behind me and at the same time, I trip and clumsily fall too hard to the deck of the corridor. I’m still several feet away from the open door back to the portal room and I slowly push myself up on an elbow and turn to face whoever has come for me. Time seemed to freeze at that moment, as I turned and looked back to see a young soldier just stunned as I am.
Confused for a moment, he just stares at me and does nothing at first and I am still propped up on my elbow looking back at him. He is still at the other end of the corridor, luckily a considerable amount of space still separates us. However, if he decides to shoot me, his rifle will instantly make up the distance between us, without either one of us making a single move. He moves into position and stands at the ready, aiming his rifle at my head, unmoving, not saying anything. A moment later, before he knew what happened, I got to my feet so quickly that I even wondered how I was able to respond like that in a moment like this. Our eyes stay locked, as we size each other up, waiting for the inevitable. I crack a wry smile because I know that I am faster than he is. Somehow I know that I might be fast enough to evade or deal with his rifle somehow. It’s how that worries me, but it’s the fact that I’m better than him, that makes me smile. And then it happened.
In the flash of a single moment of time, the young soldier slams back the charging bolt on his rifle and I make a defensive pose with my legs in a stable position and my arms outstretched in a defensive posture. In the microsecond before he fires his weapon at me, I hear the trigger mechanism slide back in its housing, I hear a faint click, followed by a sharp snap, as the energy initiator creates a charge, then sending it to the deployment housing and out through the rifle’s barrel and flash suppressor. In slow motion the energy bolt leaves his weapon and flies through the air, ready to meet with deadly results. How I am able to hear the mechanics of the rifle, know, and see every function of the weapon as it happens, and then be able to mentally process all of that instantly. I then asked myself how I am able to do all of this in the very same, a millisecond before the bolt reaches me, is of course beyond my understanding. I just know.
I keep my hands held in the same defensive position. The searing bolt of energy instantly saturates and travels through my outstretched arms, and surges through my torso. It burns hot for a moment, like warm soup in the belly and then in the same instance, the bolt leaves my body, out through my arms and fingertips toward the poor soldier who fired his rifle at me less than a second ago. The bolt strikes the soldier in the chest, pushing him backward several meters until his body thuds against the closed hatch door. The soldier falls to the floor and lays face down and motionless before me.
Automatically I lower my arms, my shaking hands form into fists and continue to shake at my sides. I stand utterly astounded at what just happened and what lay before me. My mind spins, looking for answers that are not there. How did? How did I? What was…? My legs start to wobble and my knees buckle for a moment until I catch myself by holding onto the side railing. After a moment, I regain my balance, but my whole body is still shaking. The corridor begins to spin for a moment and I hang on tight and close my eyes. After a short while, the spinning and the shaking wears off. I’m not sure if I’m shaking from the shock of the bolt of energy hitting me or from the fact that it hit me and did not kill me. Not only was I hit with a deadly energy bolt, but somehow, the lethal blast of energy recoiled and rechanneled through me to him. How is all of this possible? I should be the one lying face down on the deck. My thoughts turn to the soldier’s body at the other end of the corridor.
I carefully walk toward him, not knowing if he is dead or alive. I nervously shake my hands at my side, slowly walking toward the soldier laying a couple of paces away. My hands still tingle a little and it feels a little weird. As I draw closer, I notice that small plumes of smoke and vapor ascend from his upper body. While I could not see the actual wound to his chest, I could see a charred circular mark in the upper back of his uniform. The energy bolt had burnt through most of his body, from chest to back. There was no way he could have survived such a devastating blow, but I have to be sure.
I crouch down next to him and gently feel for a pulse, a sign of life, there isn’t one. I quickly stand and back away, taking several steps before I turn and run away from him toward the portal’s entrance into the mystery room. Before I know it, I am standing in the middle of this strange room once more. For the first time, I felt confident, somehow assured of myself. I’m not sure if it is because I just escaped the clutches of death, again, or because I now know what I must do. I am going to get out of here. I am going to the planet below. I will find answers, beyond that, I do not know.
I turned back to face the open portal to the corridor beyond, where I could still see the poor soldier’s body, I noticed that the characters on the edges of the portal were still illuminated. I looked down and touched my newly minted tattoo and suddenly the door to the corridor closed immediately, leaving me alone once again. My mind still spins with questions and concerns, but I’ve got work to do. I approach the wall section that is adjacent to the one that I have already been through, as I figure it is a good place to start, as any. I place my hands upon the wall, with one palm against the stone and one on the middle symbol. Like before, the symbols and characters begin to glow, but this time, illuminated in an amber-like or dark pulsating orange color. I am reliving the portal that leads to the unfortunate events of the corridor, all over again. This section of the wall must lead to a specific portal, and therefore, a specific place. I am trying not to get my hopes up to high, but this could be my way off this space station. This wall panel, like all of the others, has its own set of mysterious symbols and icons. Since I am unable to read this language, I am going to have to do this the hard way and manually open up each one, until I find a portal to a place where I would like to go. Since I’ve done this before, I simply have to repeat the steps I took each time, hoping that all of these operate the same way.
Once I touch the primary symbol in the center of the panel, everything lights up All of the characters and symbols of this portal and my matching new tattoo, are now illuminated in the orange glow. The orb begins spinning on its lateral axis, with the primary symbols of this portal inscribed on its surface. Finally, here comes the intense illumination that fills the room with a blinding light, and the relief to the eyes by way of the final flash of light. Sometime or somewhere during the flash of light, the way is made. No longer a section of wall, but instead, another portal. While I accounted for every detail of the process and it was the same as last time, this time, instead of finding a corridor, I find something else entirely.
During the light phases of the portal building, I had already stepped back from where I had to be to put my hand against the wall. I take a couple more steps back, lower my arms, and begin to feel the strangest sensation. Yes, my left forearm tingles from my newest portal-matching tattoo, but this sensation is of a different variety. A piercing cold wind cascades over my skin and through my clothes. My eyes are still trying to adjust since I had them open during the portal light blasts. I squint and rub my eyes and squint again. Maybe they’re not trying to adjust. Could it really be that bright beyond the threshold of this portal? Where or what could be so bright?
I stand astonished and squint my eyes again and smile, as I can’t believe that I could be so dumb. Or did I not remember? I take a couple of steps forward, continuing to hope my eyes will adjust, trying to take in the blinding snow. Flurries of flakes swirl and drift on currents of wind as it sweeps over the deep blankets of snow. Pristine rolling hills glistening in the sunshine, next to the unsullied fields of fluffy white snow that all blend together seamlessly until finally giving way to a grand vista of snow-covered rocky mountains. Jagged peaks of ebony stone, whose tips were carefully painted in brilliant white snow and ice, these lonely mountains stand majestic, ominous, and timeless, pointing to the blue and white sky above.
As I shiver from the cold, I do not want to break my stare. I’m astonished by the simple, yet powerful beauty of it all. Okay, I’m freezing. Having never gotten too close to the portal’s edge in the first place, because of the cold, I simply take a couple of steps backward, place my right hand on the tattoo on my left forearm and suddenly the portal slams closed, returning a solid wall in its place. Wow.
Curious, I walk to the wall again and place my hand in the middle of the wall, where seconds ago it was open to a frozen wonderland, and to my surprise, the wall is warm to the touch. What is this kind of magic? Where was that place? I have to try all of these portal walls and see where they go.
I worked my way around the room for the better part of an hour. I started at the left of the snowy mountains portal and then continued my way around the room counterclockwise. Every portal reacted the same way to the touch of my hand and each operated in the same manner, triggering the same mystical forces that resulted in the formation of a portal to another place. I tried several doors, one after another, and with each portal’s passage, I observed the impossible, again and again. After I opened the third or fourth portal, I wondered if I might become a little apathetic or lose my sense of wonder. I am happy to say that this did not happen in the slightest. I hope that I will never lose my ability to feel joy when marveling at my surroundings or feeling stunned when witnessing the spectacle of the events in my life.
Through the first door, I saw endless miles of sand dunes. A very warm breeze carried the heat of this place, along with some scattered grains of sand over the threshold of the portal into the room where I stood. The smooth rippled hills appeared to reach into infinity. As I felt the warm dry air strike my skin, I looked down to see that once again the same symbol as the open portal was also glowing on my forearm. This new symbol, representing the sand-covered land is constructed of four triangles, the base of each forming a square shape in the middle. Set in the middle of the square is a shape that resembles an eye.
I knew that once I opened each additional portal, another symbol, in the form of a glowing tattoo, would appear on my left forearm. Like the first two, all other portals gave me a matching tattoo, like the one that I touched to open the doorway. As I worked my way around the room, I would open a portal and make a mental note of each symbol and the stunning place beyond each threshold. I was happy to note the obvious, after the four triangle tattoo from the sand dunes, when I opened the next portal, the new tattoo simply replaced the existing one on my arm. In a sense, I could have one key to a door at a time.
After the sandy place, I opened a portal to a charming land with rolling green hills, dotted with the occasional thatch of trees, grazing sheep, horses, and cows, as well as hand-stacked stone walls. I could hear a gurgling brook nearby, but all I could see was the edge of a wooden bridge that probably looks over the running water. This was a place of peaceful existence, simplistic beauty, a land of enchantment. I have to remember this portal and come back to it after I have visited the others. This could be a place for me to go.
The next-door showed me a flat and barren landscape with distant mountains and a rushing river separating these two extremes. I spent less than a minute with this portal open. There was not much to see and I could hear some sort of heavy, deep breathing, along with a scraping sound, like metal on stone. Although I was safe in the room, I felt a jolt of fear that froze me to the core. I slapped my hand against the tattoo and the portal closed.
After five portals that I have opened thus far, the sixth and seventh ones would not open when I touched the primary symbols. I tried again, but the symbols would not glow like the others and the wall section did not turn into a portal to another distant place. I found this very odd and I was a little disappointed because so far I have had such great success with the other portals I tried to open. I leaned in and inspected this portal’s main symbol, looking for a clue as to what could be beyond this threshold. This door’s symbol was not like the others. It was comprised of two joined characters, which looked like an “a” and an “e”. This æ symbol was odd in its own right. I finally gave up and resolved myself to the fact that this doorway was locked somehow, or possibly broken.
At this moment, I was anxious about time, which is odd, since I have not seen a time instrument or even thought about the time since I awoke on the science pod. Existing in this place, on this space station, and in this portal room defies any known logic of spacetime. For normal people, their days are ruled by the unforgiving iron fist of time. Their lives can be summed up by various other rational and quantifiable things, all driven and ruled by time, each to its own meaning, while living on the surface of a planet. Without the accounting of time, or the rising and setting of suns and the charting of monthly tidal calculations based on lunar data for example. All of these give time and space actual meaning to planetary citizens.
“Here stands portal room girl”, without a home, without direction, without time. I may feel like I am without time, but I do know that I am actually running out of time to find a portal leading to a place safe enough for me to escape. I am shocked that no one else has been alerted to what happened in the corridor. It’s only a matter of time.
After all of these portals, most of which I tried and opened, I finally stand here before a place for which I do not have words to describe. This portal does open and it does lead to another place, however, I can only describe it as the inside of a building or structure, but I’m really not sure. Beyond this vague description, I could not begin to describe what I’m seeing, because it is even more strange than the room I am standing in right now. A magical multi-walled, multi-sided room with doorways leading to other worlds, to other far off places. I feel both anxious and exhilarated at the same time. Like all of the others, I am unable to see anyone on the other side of the portal, yet I dare not step through into this room. Something about it makes me think that I would not be welcome there, at least not at this time. Without thinking, I press my forearm and the door closed before me.
I immediately regret closing the door in such haste. Whether or not I closed it out of fear, or simply my fear of the unknown, something tells me that I need to open this door again. I press my hand on the primary symbol and nothing happens, so I walk away, halfheartedly giving the door some time to reconsider its recent rejection of me. I pace around the room for a couple of minutes. I need that door open. There is more beyond this door than met my eyes, I just know it. I walk back to the wall again, press my hand and again, nothing happens. I try again for the third time and finally, the opening sequence initiates.
This portal, the same portal that moments before showed me the magical multi-walled, multi-sided room with doorways leading to other worlds; now leads to the day and night dissonance and chronic cacophony of a bustling city street. As if assured in by this city scene, I feel a wave of insecurity. I feel more lost than ever before; because, at this point, I may never escape this room. The city with its lights, sounds, and constant motion assaults my senses. My combined senses have given me the tools to survive a constant onslaught of trials since I woke up.
However, what little sense of self that I do have is very precious, my sole possession. I know now that I have more than survive, I want to thrive and prosper and dare I hope to someday be happy. Before any of this can happen, I must learn more about who I am, where I have come from and where I must be going. Sure there are tall buildings made of stone and slick painted metals. There is a glass tower that scrapes the sky as it perches high above all of the others. This cityscape rivals the snowy mountains with its sheer size, but not its grandeur. Finally defeated, I close this door for the last time and walk away.
I was sure that the snowy mountains were directly across from the first doorway leading to the corridor outside this room. However, since the snow, I’ve seen six portals, five of which opened and one that did not. Which means that I should have already seen the symbol for the corridor. If I did, I would have skipped that one, in favor of the next.
Looking to my left I see the symbol on the wall that leads to the corridor I had entered earlier. Wait! What? I stepped backward again, into the middle of the room and once again begin to count the panels, or portals, in this room. Looking at the portal to the corridor outside this room, if it really does lead to a corridor outside this room. I don’t know anymore, because that corridor could be right outside or across the quadrant from here. I could be in a room that is part of a larger network of space stations, forming a colony that orbits a planet below. Could all of these assumptions about my situation and my place in this universe be so fundamentally flawed?
If the foundation for my own reality is based on a set of lies, then I must question everything. Where am I? Where is this place? Who am I? Why am I here? I feel lightheaded again. With my eyes closed, I hop in place and shake my arms at my sides to get my blood flowing. Surprisingly, this feels good.
Counting walls, right, that’s what I was doing. I turn back to the corridor wall and begin again. Wait? Is this what insane people do? Counting partitions, talking to themselves, basically questioning everything and questioning if reality is genuine? Okay, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, I’ve got a bad feeling about this, eleven, twelve, THIRTEEN! Fantastic!
Twelve, Thirteen, or Forty-Seven doors, at this point it doesn’t matter, I am compelled to keep going. I must know more about this room, everything about these portals, and what’s beyond each threshold. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to venture from the quasi-safety of this room. I would be foolhardy I don’t have the proper attire or supplies to survive for very long in most of the places I’ve seen thus far. Especially harsh environments, where heat or cold would quickly kill me within a couple of hours, I certainly do not plan to go out that way.
Before I made my way around the room earlier, examining each of the portal doors, I broke the locking mechanism of the hatch leading to the corridor outside this room. I am not sure if a sealed door on the other side of a re-materialized stone wall would offer additional security, but I had to try. I hope it will effectively secure and lock myself within this room, buying myself some other time. I’ve figured since the beginning that it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the station is alerted to my presence and my current location. I need this time to choose a way out of this place. I’ve felt this disquiet inside me, ever since the soldier died in the corridor because of me. I didn’t mean to kill him, it certainly was not my intent, but I was filled with a surge of confidence at that moment. As to how I was able to repel his rifle blast by merely raising my arms in defense? I hope that someday I will learn how I did that and more importantly, what and who I am. An alarm begins to sound blare outside this room.
It’s whooping, the pulsating sound must be almost deafening outside these stone walls, but in here, thankfully, it’s muffled. The station has been alerted to something and has probably found the soldier at this point. I do not have much time. It would be grossly naive to think that they did not know how to get into this room from the outside. As much as I like to ponder the likelihood of things, this room is connected to and contained within one of the space station’s pods. If they think for a moment that I am here and I am the one that killed one of their own, they will break through the wall and take me down, without hesitation.
I must make a choice! My mind continues to race, and I can not help wondering, why only now was an alarm activated? What changed? Why did it take so long? Have I been watched this entire time? I know there was surveillance in the medical pod, thinking back, at least ten possible cameras were monitoring every inch of that room, and those were the ones I noticed during the brief moments after I regained my sight and before the whole place blew up. I hate being spied on!
I’m sure I was being watched when the inexplicable happened between me and the unexpecting solder in the corridor. If anything was going to set off alarms, watching me kill a soldier, by accident or otherwise, should have done the trick, right? Why wasn’t this room, this entire sector of the colony for that matter, flooded with troops moments after the explosion and destruction of the medical pod?
I wasn’t alone in this space station since I awoke in the medical pod, I’ve seen four people, all of whom have died in my midst. Even though there’s no way I could be responsible, somehow I feel like their blood is on my hands. This nagging guilt plagues me, and I can’t shake this feeling of responsibility. Listen to me; I’m losing it. That bloody alarm is still blaring outside, and I’ve spent a couple of minutes entertaining every random thought that passed through my mind. Ok, decide!
Standing in the center of the room, I close my eyes and lower my head, as I rub my fingertips against my inner palms. My hands are still slightly numb, yet tingle as if a current of energy still runs through them. Weird. I begin to take tiny, pivoting steps, using my feet to rotate myself around and around. I raise my head and look out to the doors as they pass before my field of vision. Each wall panel is a portal to a different place. In reality, they all look the same from one to the next to the last, save for the characters on their surface.
However, I’ve proven that each door leads to a very different environment, and this is why it is so hard to choose. I’ve only opened about half of the portals, and I barely remember which one is which. Of course, aside from the sameness of each wall panel, each of the now 13 possible portal sections did have differences. I was reminded of this as I continued spinning around, but slower now, paying attention to the different rows of characters. I especially took note of the primary glyph, as each stood out from the center of their respective row of other symbols, each dead center in the portal doorway. These are the symbols that illuminated and somehow made a matching symbol on my forearm when I opened each portal. I stopped in my tracks, something changed.
I stand amazed, and dizzy, noticing a symbol that I had not seen before. A perfect circle, a ring of blue, glowing gems laid with immaculate precision within the majestic black stone. This blue circle symbol is unlike the other critical symbols around the room. Something unique about it calls to me. I want to open it and see where it goes. Stepping slowly toward this new portal, I approach with awe, as the glowing of the blue gems grows with intensity as I draw nearer. My eyes are wide with anticipation, and I can feel a sense of potential energy, the tingle of possible kinetic energy, now coursing through my arms and down my spine. I have to open this portal to see where it goes.
I finally stand before the blue circle of glowing gems. How beautiful it is. No other primary symbol came close to this kind of craftsmanship or value. I want to press my hand against it quickly, immediately, but something holds me back. Slowly, I raise my arm and press my palm against the ring of glowing blue gems. At first, nothing happens, but after a beat of time, a sharp jolt of energy strikes at my hand and then hits my chest, which causes me to stumble back into the center of the room again. Wow! What was that? I am still compelled to access this portal; a little jolt will not deter me. I must open this portal, now more than ever, to see where it leads.
With blind determination, I rush forward with my arm held out and my hand ready to press the glowing ring again. Just before I do, I stop short when a second ring appears on the wall section, inches away to the left. Alright, two blue rings? At this point, this room cannot surprise me anymore. I raise both of my hands and press them against the two circles. Instantly the wall is gone, replaced by a closed door. Unlike the wall panels that gave way to open portals, this one has given way to another actual door, made of wood, among the surrounding stone frame.
I take a step back and smile. I must open this door and go through, no matter what I might find on the other side. Halfway up the left front of the wooden door is an ornate brass doorknob, with a raised beveled letter “A.” I carefully reach for the knob, slightly worried about being jolted again, even though I know it’s unlikely. I take hold of the doorknob with my left hand and slowly turn it clockwise until it does not rotate anymore. I pull the door toward me, but it will not move. Still holding the doorknob in place, I give a push and finally, it opens so quickly that the knob is pulled out of my hand. I cannot see anything, save for complete blackness beyond the threshold of the portal. I have to; I must…
I step over the threshold into another world.
Copyright Eric L Gardner © 2021