~ a short story

“You understand what we are trying to do here?”

She nodded.

“Not just today. I mean for all time!”

The soldiers all nodded again, furiously. The words echoed over the barracks.

~

She scampered through the folding bends as they wrapped another corner. Tess was tired. The maze dawned every corner of her consciousness. She walked and ran as fast as she could go. The mission was clear: Get out.

~

“This is all we have. We know they are in there. And we have these … Nothing else. No schematics. No telling what they will throw at us. We have those, and we have this … Never forget it. … So we are going in blind, but not empty-handed. Never empty-hearted.”

“What is the default response to anyone we find inside?” she asked, too fast.

Silence fell over them.

~

The sky was black and aimless and the floor was marble and cold. Labyrinthian passages went on and on. She’d tried to leave ripped pieces of her pant legs to trace. But she had yet to see any again. All the ground was new; her wayfaring had been purely exploratory thus far, no backtracks.

~

Not weapons-free. Save as many lives as you can. Innocents far outnumber hostiles.”

“That is dangerous,” she said.

“Trust me, lassy, weapons-free is much more dangerous.”

~

Tess tried to call out at some point. There was no answer. And nor was there hunger. How long had she been here? Perhaps the monotony extended time and it wasn’t even lunch. She was convinced she was starting to go looney.

~

“I’m not in this for the blood,” she clarified in a sharp tone. “I’m in this for the mission. I am here for us. I just want to make sure we change the world.”

The man nodded, solemn. He looked away from the recruits, whispered like smoke.

“We will certainly be changing a lot of lives tomorrow.”

~

Was she trying to escape, or find its center? Tess asked herself this. At this point, why not navigate the place and pursue the mystery? Why not find out the truth rather than run away? Either outcome was fit to her inclination.

She mainly wanted to go somewhere beyond these walls.

~

“Everything’s not just gonna be hunky dory after this, win or lose. There will be work to be done for whoever is left. And that’s gonna be the hardest work. The real work.”

She cocked her gun, and grinned. It said: “Then survive with me.”

The man smiled and they nearly embraced.

Instead, he stayed still, said a prayer, and led them out with their next orders.

~

Tess was sprinting now. Around every corner, past the bends, she found the light. The center? Must be.

It was a perfect cube of a room with a blue light in its middle and a pulsing orchestration. Only the mind tremored to its beat. Only her heart tranquilized there in that tesseract of a space.

She stepped into that unknowable blue without a thought to the consequence.

The walls and paths stopped moving, shifting places after every turn of her head. Of course they were. They finally stood still. The lines below shaped into a face. Time stopped. She looked and smiled.

Every combination was through. Running breaths and few smiles from a few year to year cycles as penance, the land finally fell into place for her. She floated in the spiraling blue and closed her eyes, opened her trust at last. Her body started to sing.

The ship began to move, spinning lines and see-through walls.

The maze roared to life in a sphere of motion, with Tess as its heart-engine.

I have been aimless for far too long, thought Tess as she sat on the sky.

There in the center, the craft calmed and became her dojo.

With a wordless thought Tess soared away, into the cosmos. ~