At the end of the universe, on an obscure planet resembling a floating chunk of rock, there is a cave containing a long, underground passage. If you find this secret place, and follow the winding, twisting way through the rock past the requisite number of booby traps, you’ll find yourself on the threshold of a room. And in this room, in a large file cabinet, are stored the secrets of the universe.
It’s taken most of my adult life to track down the location of this room, to find and commandeer a ship to get to this planet, and to figure out how to survive the traps in the tunnel to make it here, to this moment.
The moment where I stand on the threshold.
The doorway is carved out of rock, just like the tunnel. There’s no line on the floor to indicate where the tunnel ends and the room begins, but I can feel it, inches away from my toes.
A lifetime of searching for answers to my questions, and they’re here, in front of me, a stone’s throw away.
I can see the cabinet from the doorway. It’s across the room on the opposite wall, off to the right. It’s large, but not as big as you might expect given that it contains answers to all of life’s mysteries. There is only one person in the room, one lone guard for the secrets of the universe. He wears a rough, brown robe that covers his sloped shoulders. Judging by his white beard, it looks like he’s been here a very long time. I wonder how he gets food to eat.
My hand goes to the short sword hanging by my side. I don’t want to risk the ricochet from my blaster in this enclosed cavern. I can’t be sure what types of metals lie hidden in the rock walls. Hand to hand combat will be a better choice. And a man who has stayed at his post for so many years deserves the respect of direct combat, rather than a cheap shot from the doorway.
He doesn’t look at me as I survey the room. Surely he must have heard me disarming the traps as I came through the tunnel. It’s so quiet and still here that you could hear a pin drop.
I take a deep breath, holding it for a second, and then exhale as I step across the threshold.
The old man’s eyes snap towards me, as if he is seeing me for the first time. His hand goes to the sword hidden under his brown robe.
“So you’ve reached this place at last,” he says softly. He pulls his sword from its sheath, but doesn’t move his feet.
I nod my head and walk slowly, deliberately towards him, my sword held out in front. “Have others come here?”
“Few make it this far. Fewer still are prepared to make the required sacrifice to gain what they want.” He shifts the sword, pointing it towards me, as if in answer to my unasked question.
I will have to kill him to get to the cabinet.
“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“Irrelevant. Time is of no consequence here.” His sword follows me as I circle towards the right.
I stop about ten feet away from him, directly in front of the cabinet that will answer all my questions. It’s so close, I can hardly breathe. A lifetime of searching, longing, needing to know. And it’s right here, with only this one old man in front of me.
“I can see it in your eyes,” he says. “I’ve been there, on this threshold. But I caution you – choose wisely. Someone must guard this place. And if it isn’t me, it will be you.”
I suck in a deep breath, letting the full meaning of his words settle over me. If I kill him, I’ll have to take his place. For the rest of my life? Maybe even longer, if time doesn’t matter here.
But… I will have the cabinet. The answers. And is a lifetime long enough to read them all? To unravel all the mysteries of existence? I picture opening the first drawer. The ugly feeling of greediness almost makes my hands shake.
“Fine,” I say. “It will be worth it.”
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