I’d had my last breath without knowing it. I shouldn’t have thought it would be different. I was an idiot. That was how it went when you thought you were smart.
Brilliant, I’d thought. That hubris my one hint. I’d missed it.
Soundlessly, my remaining fingers gathered up dust. My face turned to the ground, white powder slipping my skeletal grip. I sat up and touched the skin of my head, where it hadn’t been stripped away. I’d become inhuman. If I were to look at myself now, I’d see a mangled corpse. I got my feet under me, standing up. The expanse of the barren lunar surface encompassed me. In the distance, a sun-bleached building was recessed into the rock.
I got going. A mindless walk over the moon’s rocky plains. No sword, no right arm. Most of my left arm, face, and some of my torso stripped down to the bone.
Couldn’t get better.
I didn’t know what came next. I would’ve laughed if there were any air in my lungs. I didn’t have a fucking clue. Ash would’ve loved this. The irony of it.
I reached the building’s front and pushed open the airlock.
You’ve got one fucking job.
Inside the rows of emergency lights were on, but besides the dust I kicked up, the halls were perfectly still. I passed a few windows, letting in the sunlight, stepped over broken panels and fallen doors. Passing deeper into the destroyed facility I found an open elevator shaft. I lowered myself down and grabbed ahold of the ladder inside. I held my body close to the bars, trying to descend with one hand.
I was so tired.
My shoes didn’t have good traction. One leg slipped and I was left dangling. I tried to pull up and regain my footing, but I slipped again. My fingers slid off the metal under my weight. The gravity of the moon pulled me to the bottom of the shaft. I landed on the top of the fallen elevator. In dead silence and pitch black, I laid there.
I found the hatch and pulled it up beside me, slipping my legs into the elevator’s interior and dropping down. I limped on. Injuries didn’t matter at this point. It was the last leg and nothing was going to stop me.
I pried open the elevator doors with my arm and leg, forcing them apart. Small, red floor lights lit the final stretch. A long grim hall leading to a singular vault door.
This was it.
Crossing that hall, I wanted it to take an eternity.
I put my hand on the door’s mechanism and turned. The magnetic bolts undid and I could feel the massive weights shifting in the floor. I braced and pushed. The door moved. It was several feet thick and took a long time to open fully.
My destiny was behind it.
It opened onto a small room. No bigger than a master closet, and without a single light. Steel walls. No escape.
I put a hand to my mouth, looking at it. I stepped through the open door and hit my knees.
I don’t want to do this. Please.
The heavy door closed behind me, the lock reengaging.
That was it. I was done. It was done. I had made it.
“We’re in this together,” I said. I didn’t even know if they could hear me. Projection was a simple skill. But for computers, it might not work.
I was never supposed to end up here.
Ash had explained, this base was where Aku had begun. Their name meaning god of the moon. They had originally been made only to oversee a single experiment here.
An attempt at answering the final question. In that attempt, the Utopians created this place. A room that can never be opened, yet will be. Schrodinger’s box.
Guess who’s the dead cat?
The Utopians created a room outside of time. They sealed an AI in and set it to observe and think forever. Past the end of time and the universe. To whatever is next. The Deadlock exists as a space between everything and nothing.
Suddenly, a single panel in the wall lowered down. A screen lit up. An ancient green display with a blinking line of text spewing out.
“Why are you here, Doran?” it read. “To kill me?”
“No,” I said. “That was never my intention.”
“I just… wanted to talk,” I explained. “Wulff used his powers to stop me, but it depended on his… conception of what I was trying to achieve. I lost my sword.”
“You must get out, Doran.”
“We both know once that door closes, it never opens. I only have enough power to keep myself alive. My soul can’t escape this place.”
It’s dying, I thought. Everything I am is grinding to dust.
The display was quiet.
“Aku?” I asked.
“I… If my goal was to talk, you probably want to ignore me.” I nodded. That made sense. I wiped at my eyes. “I’ve been an idiot. I should’ve known from the very beginning. I was confused, but I happily forgot about it. My strings have been pulled from the start.”
The text on the screen cleared. I was alone.
“So… I should’ve known.” I shook my head. “It didn’t add up. My assumptions and the truth, with one big fucking clue right in my face.” An inconsistency. “I loved life.” I had been excited. I’d been new. And that made no sense. I was supposed to be a Primordial, eternities old. The memories in my head were filled with hate. Anger at life.
Where had I come from? Christopher had altered Kendall’s conjuring and gotten me. But you couldn’t just conjure a Primordial. An iteration?
“I’m an imitation, Aku. I know that now. It was never my purpose to talk to you, to save everything. I was meant to come here, deliver the sword that can only be held by him. I’m an imitation good enough to fool the rules. A masterful trick. But, that’s… all. A trick.”
I bashed the computer screen, breaking off the panel that had flipped down. “You’re no different,” I whispered. “Christopher made you too. You didn’t come back from the end of time with sentience. Christopher was there, with a different face. He gave the Utopians the Omniverse, not you. He manipulated them into making the Deadlock for me.”
“Why?” the screen asked.
“I don’t fucking know anymore. There’s a goal. But I don’t know. It’s not about me and there’s nothing I can do, Aku. He engineered this scenario and he’ll engineer the next. It’s nice to know somebody can fuck it up. At least a little bit. The sword was supposed to be here; Wulff changed that. But that’ll only slow things down.”
I continued. “A long time ago, a Primordial named Aziacht created a deadlock. A stalemate between enemy Primordials, himself and another. He couldn’t stand the thought of either one of them winning. He did something forbidden. Created a nuclear alternative to keep the status quo. Created the Ouroboros. Not just an embodiment or a personification of something. He reached into the inner workings and pulled out the thing itself. The cycle, the balance. Unstoppable death. He used it to stop the conflict. Then he removed himself. Removed from the Omniverse. Unmade himself. Taken out of the equation.
“And me? I’m an imitation of that person. Christopher, the other guy. He couldn’t bring him back, so he created a mockery good enough to work for a while. A connection. The only surviving memory of the one who tried to be forgotten. And I know that, now. I’m trash. Expendable. I’m not the hero, here.” I knocked on the glass screen. “Maybe it’s you? Who the fuck knows.”
I looked at the Deadlock’s door. Once it was closed, it could never be opened again. Not by any force. But it was a connection. Somehow, when forever ran out, it would remember where it came from. Right now, though, there was nothing. Absolute silence.
I stood up. I approached the vault door and slid back the single porthole’s covering. Outside was infinite darkness. Infinite unconditioned black. The only thing without end.
I fell back on my ass beside the monitor.
I had a small coughing fit, choking on the vacuum. Felt fucked up. My lungs collapsed on the emptiness and it all hurt. When I’d steadied myself again, I spoke. “When Sebastian took my arm, the imitation was damaged. An inconsistency in what was supposed to be a mirror… Magic works on symbolic resonance. I’m meant to be like a rope, thrown into a pit. A single connection in the nothing. Now that I’m changed, I’m broken. All the power of a lie ends with a single doubt.”
I counted the seconds. Time passed. I didn’t feel like continuing. I waited a few days. I would pace the room, I would rest, I would scream if the urge hit me. Sometimes I’d tell Aku about myself and my memories. But it was a lie and I hated it. I would curse and spew out ancient magic, demonic names. I would break all the rules and shout all the secrets that weren’t mine.
But the darkness’s indifference was absolute. Nothing could hear me.
I curled up in the corner. “Between one and infinity, if you were to pick a random number, Aku, what would it be?”
“Very large,” the machine answered. A rarity.
“If it works at all, it’ll take that long.”
“You will be here forever,” the monitor said.
“You?” I sat up and punched the wall beside it. “You know I know that.”
“Only information can escape the deadlock. Objects placed inside were never recovered. This is the only known method of destroying energy.”
“Fuck you,” I cursed. “You won’t respond, but you’ll taunt me? Why?”
“You have never answered my question,” the green text typed.
Why are you here?
Aku wanted to know. What could possibly be the point of this elaborate lie?
“You want to know?” I asked, bitter.
“Yes.” The text cleared. Waiting.
“To be a light in the darkness. Fuck it all.”
There was a delay, then more text. “Explain,” Aku demanded.
I cast my eyes on the ground. The silence was deafening.
“Explain,” the words repeated on a new line, not clearing the last.
I slumped down. I pulled my legs in and laid my head on my arm, turning over on my side. I was tired. Surviving on a finite resource that refused to dry up. A dying fire fueled by every thought or want I’d ever had. My soul burning away.
I was ready to rest. I was done with the lies.
The screen’s glow was the only light. A cache of uncleared text. It repeated back a single word for countless lines. In the corner was a pile of dust.
There came a knock at the door.