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The four-man task force flinched when they arrived, the world around them changing like a film recorded over another on a VCR tape.

The sky above was dark and empty; the ground beneath, vermillion-brown, featureless and flat. The air was stagnant, neither hot, cold, nor comfortable, filled with a miasma that bypassed the group’s respirators. The northern horizon (arbitrarily-defined) was awash with light, but none of it opposed the permeating gloom around.

One of them activated his flashlight-lantern.

Of the four members of Ora-4, only three made it. Agents Kelly, Pyke, and Hanrahan stood together; Agent Blake, their leader, was gone. They searched the surrounding darkness for any indication of why; finding no evidence, the former two nodded to the latter, acknowledging his promotion to acting leader.

They set about their predefined duties. Pyke analysed the foul air for contaminants; Kelly inspected the contents of his backpack, removing the disassembled components of a drone; Hanrahan surveyed the desolate region around him, recording it.

It was a vast, featureless plain several hundred kilometres in size, rhomboid in shape, with a single cottage several kilometres north of the group being the only interruption in its faultless surface. Hanrahan, like the others, avoided looking directly at it – they all felt more at ease directing their attention anywhere else, and Hanrahan focused on the illuminated horizon, used the zoom on his camera to make out four vaguely-discernible towers, around which the lights seemed brighter. The cottage, its comically-tall chimney, and the dim firelight that escaped from its door and windows were both relegated to the edges of the screen.

A pair of imposing walls, easily several hundred metres in height, dominated the ‘southern’ edges of the rhombus – opposite the city lights – coming together at the ‘southernmost’ corner where they merged into the base of a monolithic tower, its four corners corkscrewing widdershins upward, disappearing into the shadow-infested sky above. Hanrahan mentally, and correctly, declared it the tallest thing he has ever seen.

Half-way along each wall’s length – directly ‘east’ and ‘west’ of the agents – was a huge archway, through which a small portion of the areas beyond was visible; but better representative of the regions, and the stark contrast between them, were the two lone structures from each that towered over the walls.

The first, in the southwest, was aptly summarised as a ludicrously tall apartment building. The walls were a uniform, faded yellow, each featuring repetitions of the same basic window – illuminated from within by a harsh white light – arranged into perfect columns and rows, spanning the entire width and height of the structure. No other description is necessary – there were no balconies, no external air conditioning units, no fire escapes, no curtains – no part of the building was any different to every other part. An unnerving air of emptiness hung over it, as if it had been built to house thousands, but never used for the purpose.

The second, in the south-east, was a statue of epic proportions, equal in height to the apartment-tower, and depicted a kingly warrior-knight covered entirely in red, white, and black plate armour; the barrel helm was studded with gold protrusions, equally reminiscent of a crown and a castle’s merlons. Their left hand rested on a golden claymore in front of them; two swords – one black, one white – sat in scabbards on one side, while the other had a single red sword.

The most striking aspect of it, however, was that it was literally, physically painful to look at, for no discernible reason; the recorded footage didn’t evoke the same feeling, but it did seem to warp the beauty of the monument into a misshapen, hideous form, even if nothing had changed.

‘Clear,’ Pyke said, removing her mask.

The other two followed suit. Hanrahan recoiled as the smell of the place, then unimpeded, rushed up his nose.

‘Nope,’ Kelly said, putting his mask back on.

‘It’s bad air, but nothing the respirators are changing. Too much CO2, like someone’s been in here for way, way too long.’

‘Harmful?’ Hanrahan pointlessly waved his hand in front of his nose.

‘In a few hours, but not immediately. Kelly, just take it off.’

Kelly complied, wincing at the smell. ‘Where the hell is Blake? Overwritten?’

‘We’re here,’ Hanrahan said, crouching to run a finger along the ground. ‘He should be too. Or his watch malfunctioned. I hope. Brownish-grey colour, coarse texture like concrete, air temperature. No residue. Pyke, get a sample if you can. Is the air flammable?’

‘You’d know by now if it was.’

‘Kelly, assemble the drone, I want a look at this place before we get moving.’

Hanrahan unclipped his radio and tried to hail Blake with it. His voice echoed from the other two’s radios; but no response came, even after two more attempts. He turned his attention to tracking the Keystone.

A few moments passed as each focused on their assignments, their noise the only thing that defied the saturating silence. Kelly completed the drone and launches it, using a computer tablet to control it; Pyke struggles to damage the stone underfoot, collecting a small sliver by using a hammer; Hanrahan turns in circles repeatedly, watching the display of his device.

‘Uh, sir,’ Kelly said. ‘You might want to see this.’

The rhomboid plain was one of three equally-sized and shaped areas, arranged into a hexagon. The spiralling, widdershins tower was at the centre, where the two monolithic walls and an unseen third met together, dividing the three areas. The apartment-tower and statue were at the heart of their areas; the former surrounded by suburban sprawl, the latter encircled by green hedges with splotches of brown. The cottage, too, sat in the core of the lightless plain – this the agents tried to forget, which only added to the weight of its presence.

Kelly turned the camera to show what lay beyond the outer edges of the hexagon; more hexagons.

Identical hexagons.

The scenery tessellated in every direction, endlessly. All three rhombuses met with their duplicates at their furthest tips, forming infinite rows of the same repeated scenes: a suburban sprawl, a brown-splotched overgrowth, and a vast, dark plain, with only a single circle of light halfway between the cottage and the widdershins tower.

Hanrahan pointed to the light. ‘Keep the camera on that. Pyke, pass me that lantern.’

Once in his hand, Hanrahan turned the flashlight off.

The sole light in every dark rhombus vanished, simultaneously.

He pressed it again; the lights came back.

Kelly groaned.

‘Region is a hexagon,’ Hanrahan narrated to his camera, ‘with opposite sides connecting to each other, giving the appearance of infinite repetition. No visible curvature. Three walls divide the area into three rhombuses; parallel faces of each rhombus connect to opposite sides of a bordering division.’

Pyke looked to the illuminated northern horizon. ‘So that’s —’

‘— the opposite side of the areas beyond these walls,’ Kelly said. ‘I hate these ones. Can’t trust a circle to lead back to where you were.’

Hanrahan looked at his tracking device. ‘That explains these readings. Seven signals, all exact matches for the tracker, all different directions and distances. It’s just the same signal.’

‘Say the direction and strength,’ Pyke said. ‘Command might be able to figure out the exact size of this place.’

‘Good thinking, pass me a compass. How are we for gear?’

Kelly unclipped his compass from his pack. ‘Nothing missing for me.’

‘Nor me,’ Pyke said.

‘We’re only missing Blake’s gear then,’ Hanrahan said. ‘Check your rifles, once —’

Hanrahan turned slightly, watching the compass, then scowled. ‘Compass doesn’t work.’

‘Not surprising,’ Kelly said. ‘Set our bearings?’

Hanrahan habitually looked directly ahead, raising his hand to gesture; his eyes settled on the cottage.

‘South,’ he said, turning around and pointing to the widdershins tower, then to the archway on the left. ‘That’s east, other one is west. Sound good?’

Kelly and Pyke nodded.

‘One thing,’ Kelly said. ‘Where’s, uh… where’s the nearest signal coming from?’

Pyke visibly tensed.

‘South-west. Do we have any reason to go north?’
Kelly and Pyke shook their heads emphatically.

‘Good. South it is.’

All three agents relaxed at the agreement. Hanrahan dictated the signals and their strength to the recording while the others checked their rifles and ammunition, preparing them for use. Once satisfied the group set off for the east arch, Hanrahan leading.

Nothing happened for fifteen minutes. There was nothing about to interrupt them – no visible denizens of the foreboding place, no aberrations in the stone to trip them. They walked on in silence, occupying themselves with their own thoughts; Hanrahan analysed the situation, already concocting his post-action report; Kelly decided what alcohol he was looking forward to; and Pyke…

‘Wait,’ Pyke said. ‘My watch is busted.’

Pyke showed the display of her watch – a wrist-mounted time machine, standard issue throughout the Chronology Department – to the others; March 12, 2009, 11:23:49 AM. The exact moment the Keystone disappeared, but four minutes earlier than the agents should have arrived. With every passing second, no seconds passed.

‘Mine’s the same,’ Kelly said. ‘Same time.’

‘And mine.’ Hanrahan showed his identical display. ‘The jump must have broken the circuitry.’

‘No, hold on…’ Pyke pressed various combinations of the six buttons on her watch. ‘Not dead, everything else is working fine. It’s only the time that’s frozen.’

‘Time dilation? A second hasn’t passed yet?’

‘Maybe, I’m…’ She paused, then shook her head. ‘Check the tachyon readings.’

Each changed their screens to the same setting. Instead of showing legible, coherent information, large chunks of the display randomly flickered about, as if all three devices were suffering from a graphical glitch.

‘What are we looking at?’ Hanrahan said.

‘I… don’t know, exactly. There’s something here, and the watches are picking it up as tachyons, but… if they are tachyons, they aren’t behaving anything like how they’re supposed to, or it’s not tachyons at all, or some sort of interference…’

‘Or the detectors in our watches are just busted,’ Kelly said, ‘and that’s why the time is frozen.’

‘Maybe. But, either way — I don’t think trying to jump out would be a good idea. We could end up anywhere, or outside of time entirely – sailing into a storm is easier than trying to get out of one.’

Kelly paled. ‘So we’re stuck? We can’t leave?’

‘I… think so.’

‘We can use the Keystone,’ Hanrahan said. ‘It works across timelines. We get it, we find an arched doorway, we’re out.’

‘What if it’s broken, like our watches? What then?’

‘We’ll deal with that when we get to it. Anomalies work differently. If nothing else, we’ll know before we step through. Just focus on now.’

The rest of the journey to the archway was done in silence.

A curving four-lane road, complete with concrete sidewalks, abruptly began halfway through the archway, replacing the featureless vermillion-brown stone and stretching forward into the new area. A pair of two-lane roads branched off from it every hundred metres, each corner of which featured a signpost with a green sign pointing in every available direction; but the signs were blank, giving no street names.

The streets were flanked on both sides by the same 1950’s-era suburban house, repeated over and over again, with no difference but in orientation. Two floors, the lower dominated by a single-car garage, a pair of square, shutterless windows above, looking down on the perfectly mowed front lawn. A white picket fence separated the properties – a gate beside the garage led along the house to the back yard, which had a single tree. The rooves were all the same dull white; the walls, the same faded yellow as the apartment block that towered over the scene, the only different building in the area. It was visible from everywhere – and everything was visible from it.

Every house was pristine, as if freshly constructed, lacking any indication of customisation or habitation. There were no cars, no bins, no mailboxes; no curtains, no toys, no damage; nothing. Every window was dark, every door, closed. The only sound in the air was the faint hum of incandescent streetlights, all illuminating the scene like a quiet street at night, and the sounds that the agents themselves made.

They emerged from the archway, moving off the road onto a sidewalk. The dividing walls were painted sky blue on that side, with copies of a fluffy white cloud added at regular intervals – a faux sky, as would be expected in a newborn child’s bedroom.

‘Do I need to say anything about this?’ Kelly said, surveying the area.

‘No,’ Pyke said, ‘you don’t.’

Hanrahan’s attention was focused on the tracking device. He oriented himself in the direction of the nearest signal; directly toward the apartment building.

‘It’s in there,’ he said, pointing. ‘We get it, we leave.’

‘Joy. We’ve got to go straight to the heart of… this.’

‘How long until the drone’s flyover?’

Kelly looked at the tablet. ‘A few minutes.’

‘Tell me when it arrives, we’ll use it to navigate.’

‘And until then?’

‘Samples and footage,’ Pyke said, kneeling with her kit and chipping away at the sidewalk. ‘Samples and footage.’

Hanrahan nodded, following Pyke, recording her actions and commentating; Kelly did the same.

The concrete was easier to break than the durable vermillion-brown stone, but lacked significance – it was nothing more than mundane, modern concrete. The asphalt was the same; expected strength, expected properties, nothing of note. This continued for each sample Pyke collected – the grass is ordinary, the picket fence and its paint are ordinary, too.

When she reached the house’s wall, Hanrahan cleared his throat.


‘We sweep the house first,’ he said.

‘You think there’s something in there?’

Hanrahan shook his head. ‘If there is, we would be better with the advantage. Kelly, you get the door, I’ll go first.’

Kelly nodded. The three converged on the front door – windowless, painted solid black, with a faux-gold doorknob. Hanrahan and Pyke raised their rifles, ready to fire if needed; Kelly stepped to one side, one hand on his gun, the other on the doorknob. With a nod from Hanrahan, he slowly twisted his hand.

Nothing happened. He tried again.

‘Locked?’ Hanrahan said.

‘Seized.’ Kelly tested the handle with his dominant hand. ‘Totally. It’s not moving at all. We’d have to kick this down.’

‘Or we could check for a back door first,’ Pyke said, ‘Instead of —’

‘Side gate,’ Hanrahan said, glaring at Pyke.

Back across the driveway; the side gate was on the opposite side. The pickets comprising it were too close together to reach through, and along with the fence beyond, rose to head height. Hanrahan awkwardly reached over, feeling for the latch.

A moment passed.

‘Stuck. We’ll have to climb over.’

‘Seriously?’ Kelly said.

‘Seriously. Pyke, you’re first.’

The three worked together to climb over the gate; Pyke, then Kelly, then Hanrahan. While Pyke immediately advanced down the claustrophobic corridor – only a metre in width, if even that – Hanrahan lingered at the gate, inspecting it; Kelly followed Pyke momentarily, then turned back.

‘What is it?’

‘The latch.’ Hanrahan stepped aside to let Kelly see. ‘It’s solid. Not seized – one piece of metal, shaped like a latch. The hinges are the same – this gate can’t open. It didn’t move at all when I stood on it.’


Hanrahan shrugged. ‘Meaning it’s a fence that looks like a gate.’

‘Sir,’ Pyke called, ‘I think you’ll want to see this.’

The backyard was square, simple, and bland; bordered on three sides by picket fences, with the rear face of the house dominating the fourth. The grass was cut to the same height as the front, uninterrupted sans the single, towering yew tree in its centre, the branches of which kept within the property boundaries – as if honouring the boundary of the yard, and the space of its identical neighbours.

A mirror of the house’s front greeted the agents; two upper windows, a single wooden door to one side, but instead of the garage door was a single large window, which Pyke was shining her flashlight into.

The house was hollow.

Light shone straight through the entire length of the building uninterrupted, illuminating the exposed timber frame of the front façade, the white plasterboard attached to it, and the inside of the two upper windows. Aiming the torch upward revealed plasterboard immediately beneath roof tiles; aiming it down revealed a vermillion-brown slab for a floor.

There was nothing inside the house; no walls, no floors, not even support columns or beams. It was nothing more than a single room, an empty shell, decorated to appear habitable from the outside. As Hanrahan documented the interior, he realised the windows were the only openings in the timber frame; the front door wasn’t seized – it wasn’t a door at all.

‘What the hell…’ Kelly mumbled.

‘At least we know there’s no one inside now,’ Pyke said, moving aside to chip at the wall. ‘Think the rest of the houses are the same?’

‘I hope not.’

‘You hope not? What would you prefer, some kind of monster inside or something?’

‘I’d prefer a normal house, not a bunch of… this.’

‘Check the neighbouring houses.’ Hanrahan turned his attention to filming the tree. ‘Kelly, give Pyke a foot-up so she can see over the fence, look in the windows next door. Tell me if it’s the same.’

Kelly grumbled something under his breath.

‘Care to repeat that?’

‘Nothing, sir.’

Hanrahan shook his head. Using Kelly’s hands as a step, Pyke leaned over each of the fences and looked through the windows of the neighbouring properties in succession; the angle was awkward but enough to see the vermillion-brown floor of each.

The agents then returned to the street, climbing over the faux gate again. With their empty truth revealed, the surrounding duplicates seemed saturated with a sinister sensation, their superficial normalcy now unsettling, uncanny – unwelcoming.

‘Eye in the sky,’ Kelly said, stopping under the streetlight.

Seen from above, the suburbia was dominated by the single, spiralling main road; from the northern archway the agents had come from it proceeded west, curving inward, anticlockwise, until it reached the apartment-tower at the core; there it briefly split apart around the structure and continued onward, spiralling out clockwise – never intersecting itself – before exiting out the east arch into the statue’s area. Smaller roads branched off its entire length and each other, forming a dense, maze-like network that ensured every house was accessible.

‘If nothing else we can follow the main road all the way,’ Kelly said.

‘That will take hours,’ Pyke said. ‘Look, we can just cut through here.’

‘I said “if nothing else,” as in –’

‘Quit it,’ Hanrahan growled. ‘Which way.’

Kelly pointed west. ‘Third left.’

‘Keep track of our route. Blake had the chalk; if we need to leave quickly, I don’t want to make a wrong turn.’

They followed the sidewalk onward. Kelly divided his attention between following the others and controlling the drone, issuing directions as necessary; Pyke and Hanrahan kept alert, ready to arm themselves at a moment’s notice.

Their route was repetitious, just like the scenery. Third left; fifth right. First left; seventh right. Late left; rapid right. Corkscrewing inwards, widdershins, into the heart of the faux suburbia, toward the tower. The sound of their footsteps echoed from all around, colliding and intertwining into a dull rumble reminiscent of a distant, approaching army, easily drowning out the faint, muted hum of the streetlights. Infrequently, the echoes reached a harmony that magnified their volume, imitating a genuine, nearby footfall; but every time the agents stopped to nervously search the surrounds, they found nothing, simply listening as their cacophonous, beacon-like echoes faded away.

Then, they continued.

Left, right, left, right; house, house, house.

A wave of disorientation washed over the agents as they reached the second arm of the main road, finding it identical to the last – only the drone’s overhead view proved they had made progress, rather than simply walking in a circle and coming back to the same intersection. Even the monolithic boundary walls seemed no further away than before.

‘Left,’ Kelly said, turning to follow the road clockwise.


Kelly let out a loud, irritated sigh. ‘What, Pyke.’

Hanrahan’s eyes dulled, recognising the imminent.

‘Are you sure?’ Pyke said.

‘Which one of us can read a map?’

Pyke scowled. ‘Don’t go there.’

‘You’re the one questioning my directions. Yes, I’m sure, because I’m the one flying the drone.’

‘And apparently I’m the one paying attention. You haven’t noticed we’ve been going counter-clockwise?’


‘You don’t find it at all coincidental that we’ve been following the path of the giant bloody spiral this place is built around?’

‘Your point, Pyke,’ Hanrahan growled, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Pyke pointed right. ‘We should stick to the pattern, keep going this way.’

Kelly rolled his eyes. ‘You’re the one that said we should take shortcuts. The shortest cut is left here, then third right – if we go that way, the nearest cut-through is fifteen blocks away, and it’s twice as long as this one.’

‘Kelly is right,’ Hanrahan said. ‘We go left.’

Pyke scowled as Kelly shot a smug grin at her. The three set off, but Pyke stopped after a few steps, looking about.

‘What now,’ Kelly said.

‘What was that?’

Hanrahan and Kelly raised their rifles.

‘Where?’ Hanrahan said.

‘I don’t know, I thought I heard something.’

‘Yeah, I heard it,’ Kelly said, lowering his gun. ‘It’s called us.’

‘Not us. I’m not an idiot, Kelly.’

‘You sure act like it sometimes.’

Hanrahan sighed, covering his eyes with his hands, mumbling to himself.

‘Says the muppet who left a watch in seventeenth-century London.’

‘It was stolen by a pickpocket.

‘Who we had to chase across the second millennium, then spent eight months cleaning up after. All because you weren’t paying attention.’

‘Neither were you, that’s how they got into headquarters!’

‘That was the point, you pillock – that’s how we caught them!’

‘Shut up!’ Hanrahan screamed, turning to the two, his voice magnified to a deafening volume by the echoes. ‘Just shut it! Zip! Silence! Every damn mission you two are bickering, and I’m sick of hearing it!’

Movement caught his eye. He looked past the two, back the way they had come.

The furthest streetlight was out.

Kelly and Pyke turned in time to see the next one extinguish.

The next two died while Kelly was running for the nearest side street.

Another two went dark as Hanrahan and Pyke followed.

They bolted down the street – the first right – and went straight for the next left.

Once they rounded it, they went for the next right.

Right, left, right, left.

Pyke looked back, remembering she had a flashlight.

The darkness was only three houses behind.

It caught up before they made the next turn.

Kelly wheezed as he pushed himself as hard as he could, taking the right at speed.

Hanrahan was close behind, deafened by the sound of his own heartbeat.

Pyke let out a scream of terror and exertion, lunging for the corner as the streetlight behind her turned off.

All the lights, everywhere, went out at once.

Perfect darkness.

The sound of stumbling, then hitting the ground.

A dull, metal thud mixed with a brittle crack; a shout of pain.


All the lights came back on.

Pyke was lying on the road in a foetal position just beyond the corner of the sidewalk, both hands covering her face.

Hanrahan lay at the base of a streetlight, both hands clutching at his forehead, blinking at the incandescent light and surging pain.

A few moments passed.

‘Sound off,’ Hanrahan said. ‘We alright?’

‘Yeah,’ Kelly said, helping Hanrahan up. ‘Pyke?’

‘Here,’ she said, removing her hands to look around, confused. ‘I’m alright.’

Hanrahan groaned, bending over. ‘I’m going to need a doctor.’

‘I told you I heard something!’ Pyke hissed, retrieving her first aid kit from her pack. ‘Why the hell didn’t you warn us, Kelly?!’

‘I didn’t see it because you were distracting me.’

‘Where is it now,’ Hanrahan growled.

Kelly checked the drone’s view, then showed it to the others; the whole suburbia was illuminated, no darkness anywhere.

Gone. The revelation wasn’t calming.

‘We need to go,’ Kelly said. ‘Leave before it comes back.’

Pyke finished Hanrahan’s bandage. ‘We need to go clockwise. I don’t know what it is, or why it left us alone, but I do know it only attacked because you made us turn left.’

‘That was a coincidence, nothing more.’

‘You know it wasn’t. What do you think, Hanrahan? Should we risk it, or follow the obvious pattern this place is built around?’

‘I think we’re in trouble,’ Hanrahan said.


‘Do either of you remember us turning around?’

‘… no?’

Hanrahan pointed back the way they had come. ‘Then why is the tower behind us?’

Pyke paused. Kelly looked up and down the street.

‘We’ve been moved,’ Kelly said. ‘This is a completely different area.’

Pyke looked around; the same houses, same streets, same layout… ‘and… how can you tell?’

‘Where are the walls, Pyke?’

She looked ahead; the monolithic walls and their faux-painted sky were gone. Eyes wide, she searched the rooftops, completing a half-turn before finding them – barely visible beyond the tower. The group had been moved to the opposite side of the rhombus, near where it looped over.

‘What… how… when?’ she said. ‘Ok, ok, uh… all we have to do is go back the way we came, right?’

Hanrahan again gestures at the road behind. ‘Which way?’

‘Well, left.’




‘… first?’

‘Are you sure?’

She wasn’t – Pyke realised the problem. In their frenzy the three had resorted to basic instinct and simple patterns; take the earliest turns, get away as fast as possible. First left; first right; first left…

But the side streets weren’t a grid. The main road’s intersections all had four routes, but those of the side-streets varied – T-junctions, corners, straight lines, all built from the same monotonous components: identical houses, identical lawns, identical roads, identical lamps, identical blank signs. Every T-junction is the same T-junction; every corner, any corner.

In blindly charging toward the first left, how many rights had they passed, all indistinguishable from the one they had come from? How many corners had forced them to make the same turn twice in a row, or how many times had they done it willingly, deeming the nearest alternative too far away? How many times had a new road continued in both directions, and how far?

How could they tell if earlier memories were getting mixed with recent, adrenaline-fogged ones?

Pyke paled, seeing the landscape in a new, horrific light. The unwavering uniformity of the place, taken as a crippling weakness in its attempt to appear normal, was instead its greatest strength; a false sense of reliability, drawing them deeper, ever deeper into the terrifying labyrinth of mirrors hidden right before their eyes.

With a minotaur they couldn’t see coming.

‘What… do we do?’ Pyke said, looking to Hanrahan.

‘What we can. Kelly, see if you can find us using the drone, we should be somewhere in the southwest. And watch for any dark areas, tell us the moment you see them.’

‘No, no no,’ Pyke said, stomping over to Kelly. ‘I’ll do it. If you can’t spot lights going out, then you obviously can’t be trusted to fly the damn drone. I’ll do it.’

Kelly rolled his eyes, surrendering the drone’s tablet. As she set about her self-appointed task, he looked up at the streetlights.

‘If we turn one of these off, we could find ourselves quickly.’

‘No,’ Hanrahan said. ‘That would give our position away to anything on the tower.’

‘Then we should get moving, make our way back to the main road instead,’ Pyke said.

‘How?’ Kelly said.

Pyke pointed at the tower. ‘As long as we keep moving toward that – going anticlockwise only – we’ll eventually reach the main road again. Then you only need to search it to find us.’

‘Anticlockwise because…?’

‘Because why not? If we don’t know which way to go, why shouldn’t we go counter-clockwise?’

‘And if we hit a dead-end?’

‘We turn around and keep going. Anticlockwise.’

‘Or climb the fences to cut through,’ Hanrahan said. ‘If you have a better idea, Kelly, feel free to propose it. Pyke, lead on. The longer we stay put, the more likely something will catch up.’

There was no further arguing. The three fell in line, Hanrahan taking point, Kelly at the rear.

Right; left; right; left…

House, house, house, house…

Ten minutes, then twenty, passed without note. Nothing changed – nothing they noticed, at least. The same, uniform houses; closed gates, closed doors, empty windows; incandescent streetlights, buzzing as always; the acrid smell of stale air, now tuned out by the agents…

Echoing footfalls mingled with Pyke’s intermittent growls. Finding the wandering group was harder than anticipated; the suburbs looked completely empty, devoid of any movement.

Hanrahan stopped. ‘Wait.’

He pointed to one of the nearby houses.

The gate was open.

All three readied their rifles; Pyke searched the surrounds while the others watched the house. She nonverbally informed Hanrahan that she saw nothing, and he responded by directing them to the other sidewalk; they worked in unison to cross the road, pass the house at a distance, then cross over again to take a right turn. They kept their eyes on the house until it was hidden from view.

Around the next corner – left – Pyke pointed ahead, grinning triumphantly; the second intersection was twice its usual width.

‘Look at that,’ Pyke said. ‘Anticlockwise got us where we wanted to go.’

Kelly said nothing.

They split into two groups as they approached the main road, Kelly taking the opposite sidewalk. He and Hanrahan watched the road in both directions, looking for extinguished lights; seeing none, they raised a thumb to each other, followed by Pyke’s own. They rejoined and proceeded counter-clockwise, waiting for Pyke to find them – a task that took less than a minute to accomplish.

‘We’re further than we started!’ Pyke said, showing the screen to the others – aimed at the outermost arm of the spiral. ‘This is what we get for —’

Hanrahan shushed her, brow furrowing, leaning in closer to the tablet. He pointed to the figures on the screen, then traced the route the group had followed; clockwise along, first left, out to the second right, then first left again…

‘Dead end,’ Hanrahan said. ‘That’s where the gate was. Can you rewind the footage?’

‘Not without giving up the live feed.’

‘Don’t then. Where is the nearest dead-end?’

‘… third left,’ Pyke said, raising an eyebrow.

Hanrahan set off. Kelly and Pyke briefly glanced at each other before following.

‘Could you… explain?’ Kelly said.

‘When was the last time you saw one? Pyke?’

‘Just… now,’ she said, ‘when you told me —’

‘In person. We’ve been exploring for the past hour – when was the last time you saw a dead-end?’

‘… I don’t know, it’s hard to tell when…’

She trailed off. It was difficult to arrange the recalled streets into a definite, accurate order; she didn’t know when the last T-junction was, just that there had been one recently, and dozens of others. But she didn’t recall any that simply… ended.

‘… have we seen one?’

Kelly shook his head. ‘No.’

‘Not one,’ Hanrahan said, leading them past the second intersection. ‘There are hundreds visible from the drone, but we haven’t run into any.’

They turned left at the third intersection, finding a long stretch of road with multiple turns along its length.

‘Next?’ Hanrahan said.

‘This is it,’ Pyke said, eyes wide as she swapped between the street ahead and the drone’s view – showing the three agents standing at the entrance to a dead-end. ‘This… this isn’t here. This street doesn’t exist.’

Hanrahan nodded. ‘There are no dead-ends – they overlap, just like the edges of this place. If we review the drone’s footage, I expect we’ll see ourselves running straight into a dead-end, then disappearing and reappearing in another.’

That’s how we got moved. Clockwise, the spiral takes you out; counter-clockwise, you go in. We were running clockwise, so we must have run through a street like this and been sent all the way out. If we… if we go anti-clockwise through these, maybe the reverse works – maybe it’ll take us straight to the tower, then we can be done with this mission and get out of here!’

‘I agree, let’s go,’ Kelly said, setting off down the impossible street.

Pyke and Hanrahan flinched. ‘You do?’ they said in unison.


‘… why?’ Hanrahan said.

‘Because the thing living here would have these roads memorised. If the drone can’t see these shortcuts, what else can’t it see?’

They got the implication. All three set off in a synchronised, jogging march.

Pyke watched as the three figures on the camera feed disappeared as they approached a non-existent house. When she looked up, the tower had lurched closer – still a distance away, but the change was obvious – and the dividing walls had moved to the left.

Right; left; right; left…

House, house, lawn, lawn…

Nothing but the same elements, duplicated ad nauseum, rotated and assembled to fill the area.

The main road came into view again after a left. Reaching it, Pyke scanned the aerial view.

‘Oh, wow,’ she said. ‘Yeah, we should have done this ages ago. We’re… we’ve skipped two-thirds of the distance. If they cover the same distance, the next one should take us straight there, uhh… fourth left.’

She pointed to the right, counter-clockwise; Hanrahan followed her direction. Pyke shot a smug grin at Kelly as she passed him.


Her eyes widened. She checked the drone’s view, then spun to look clockwise down the street.

Hanrahan stopped and turned. ‘Pyke?’

The furthest streetlights went out.

They bolted.

The darkness was faster this time.

They passed the second intersection; it was six behind them.

They passed the third.

Five behind; gaining.

Fourth crossing, left turn; three behind.

Pyke pointed to the third right.

Second intersection; it was at the street’s beginning.

As they took the right turn, Pyke looked back; the main road was dark, but none of the lights on the side street had gone out.

They took four turns – one made the tower lurch closer, looming over the group – before slowing down, stopping out the front of a house to catch their breath.

‘Anticlockwise,’ Pyke said after a few moments. ‘Much better.’

‘You said it wouldn’t appear at all,’ Kelly said.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Hanrahan said, straightening up. ‘We’re almost done. Once we have the Keystone and find a working doorway, we’re out, mission done, and this place ceases to exist. Let the researchers argue over the footage – something about embodiments of the human mind, or thematic fear… maybe it was never harmful at all, just something to spook us. I don’t know, and I don’t care, we get out of here, it’s someone else’s problem.’

Right, left; the main road came into view again.


For three intersections the main road continued as normal. Beyond that, it quickly expanded to four times its usual width, pushing the bordering houses outward as if space itself was being warped.

The base of the apartment tower sits in the centre of the bulge, oriented toward the distant spiralling tower. There is no island of grass or fence around it – the asphalt goes all the way to its walls. It is simply there, dominating the scenery, a monolithic nail driven into the heart of the place, bending the world around to its whim. The walls of the lowest two floors are featureless, lacking the uniform, repeated windows present higher up; there is nothing but faultless, uniform, faded yellow paint below them. The agents approach, Hanrahan checking the Keystone’s signal, Pyke collecting a sample.

‘This isn’t paint,’ she said, removing a chunk of stone, then stepping back to survey the structure’s height. ‘The concrete is yellow. I don’t see any cracks, or… I think this is one solid block of stone.’

Even at a closer angle, the windows revealed no new details – nothing but the same harsh, white light could be seen through them.

‘The Keystone should be at the top,’ Hanrahan said. ‘I don’t see any way to get up – no ledges to climb, nowhere we can safely attach climbing anchors…’

‘Then what do we do?’ Kelly said.

Pyke rolled her eyes. ‘Have you tried looking for an entrance?



Hanrahan shook his head. He turned left; paused; then turned right, going around the tower anticlockwise.

The wall on the other side of the tower harboured the only discrepancy in its identical faces; an opaque revolving door, too small to fit more than one at a time. The other side wasn’t visible without stepping in.

Hanrahan, Pyke, and Kelly looked at each other. There was no option other than going in blind.

‘Counter-clockwise,’ Hanrahan said, readying his rifle and pushing through the revolving doors.

Pyke looked to Kelly, who stared blankly back. She scowled, taking the hint.

Pushing through, Pyke stepped out onto a flat, faded yellow rooftop – the peak of the tower. From this side, the revolving door is in a freestanding cylinder. A knee-height ledge encircled the rooftop, from which small, rectangular lights illuminated it.

Hanrahan stood just off to her right, rifle raised, aiming at the opposite end. Pyke readied her own, stepping to the left.

Her eyes widened.

‘Guys, it’s me,’ Kelly said, standing at the other side, arms raised; a small, misshapen block of granite was in one hand.

What?’ Pyke said.

‘I couldn’t reach you on the radio, so I just came here to wait,’ Kelly? said. ‘I found —’

‘Don’t move!’ Hanrahan barked, visibly struggling to process the situation.

Kelly? stepped out of the revolving door.

The two Kellys? locked eyes. Pyke turned, aiming at the closer one. The further one swore.

‘What the hell?’ closer-Kelly? said.

Further-Kelly?’s jaw dropped. ‘No, no, that’s… that’s not me, I’m me, guys.’

‘Pyke, Hanrahan, you have to believe me, I’m Kelly. This… that’s a fake, right? That can’t be me?’

‘Pyke?’ Hanrahan said.

‘I don’t know, they both…’ she trailed off, briefly. ‘The emerald blade sings in the twilight!’

‘Cleaving the shield of its foe!’ further-Kelly? said – his identifying response to the phrase.

A few moments’ silence.

The closer one dropped their façade of astonishment; they grinned.

Then they charged at Kelly.

Pyke fired, Hanrahan turning to mirror her. Kelly dropped the stone, briefly fumbled with his rifle, then fired at the threat with both Pyke and Hanrahan down-range; several bullets whizzed dangerously close to them.

The doppelganger crossed the roof in mere seconds. Kelly tried to step aside at the last minute, to let it tumble over the edge; but the thing grabbed him along the way, taking him with it.

Both fell from view, Kelly’s screams diminishing as he went.

Hanrahan and Pyke raced to look over the edge.

Nothing but empty streets far, far below.

‘Kelly!’ Hanrahan shouted into his radio, pausing to allow a response.

Radio static.

‘Kelly, answer!’


‘Kelly, can you hear me?!’

‘You have what you came for.’

They both flinched at the voice. Neither recognised it; but they knew what it came from.

‘Who is this?’ Hanrahan said.

‘Leave. Now.’

‘Where is Kelly?’


Hanrahan stared over the edge.

‘We need to move,’ he said, turning away.

‘But Kelly—’

‘Is gone, and if we don’t move quick, we’re —’

He picked up the granite stone, then swore.

‘Broken,’ Hanrahan said, sitting down. ‘The Keystone is broken.’

Even before she took it from him, she knew he hadn’t misidentified it. Four of the faces were roughly smooth, chiselled flat then worn away by age; but the jagged edges and faces were new, proving it a broken part of a larger whole. The greater identifier was the incomplete engravings on one face – a single spiral and several strange runes, one third of the complete triskelion and the ring of glyphs surrounding it. It was the lower-left third of the Keystone, but nothing more.

‘No, no, no,’ Pyke said, scouring over the surface. ‘This, this can’t… this can’t…’

‘We can still try our watches,’ Hanrahan said.

‘We could go anywhere, or outside of time!’

‘Which is better than suffocating here, or being killed by that thing, or something worse.’

‘No, no, just… just think, let me think!’

Hanrahan nodded. They stared at the Keystone fragment, trying to figure out an avenue of success.

‘Wait,’ Hanrahan said, taking off his backpack.


‘That’s the wrong part. The tracker – the tracker is on the top, not the side.’

Pyke’s brow furrowed. ‘But you said the signal led here.’

‘It could be nearby. In one of the houses, maybe – and if there’s two pieces here, the third shouldn’t be far…’

He stood up, following the signal tracker’s directions, turning slowly. He frowned and pointed east.

‘It’s at exactly this height,’ Hanrahan said. ‘No change in angle. It has to be on top of that statue.’

‘That can’t be right. It was leading us here —’

‘It isn’t hard to get up here. Something could’ve taken it over there while we were coming. We need to move now, before it moves again, so come on.’

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