Prologue: The Eight Worlds

[Prologue: The Eight Worlds, Genre: Series, 6,883 words]

‘Planets are irreplaceable, no judge or jury in existence can deliver a sentence deserving of their destruction’ – Ionys the Elder

The boy was on the breach of puberty, he wore a flat cap and there was little muscle in his arms. His hair was the color of straw and was cut in no particular fashion. His eyes green with yellow streaks centered around his pupil. He wore leggings of a tan color and a brown shirt with its length covering both arms. He was dwindling in strength at the end of his day’s labor. He worked in a factory, filling jars with preserved fruit that would be used as cooking condiments. It was not that the boy was an orphan, he had a family. But his father had made certain that he take up work as soon as he was able. His father was an unscrupulous conman and it was well known to all those around him. And for that, all those who worked within the factory distrusted his person. As the old saying went and it was proved time and time again, ‘Like father, like son,’ and for that he had inherited his father’s reputation as with the rest of the family. His father had he and his siblings all working when they were children, and the man couldn’t count it a moment sooner. They, his wife included, all served him and boosted their wealth so that he could spend his evenings gambling and being lauded by other members of the community over his imagined prestige. The boy loathed his father, for he was a witness and a member of the family he had created. And for that he constantly challenged him as none of his siblings would do. And as a response, his father would punish him severely as a reaction to every challenge that was made. The punishments were unusual. They did not include beatings as was the prescribed commonality. Drinking glasses of water and making the boy stand in the corner until he soiled himself was a punishment of note. And so was pushing the boy past the boundaries of fatigue until collapse. His father had a point to prove. He was the master, attempt to outwit, out muscle or take at any point of confrontation and you would be punished… Severely. He had managed to beat down the rest of his family in this way and so the boy, youngest of five, was simply the final bough of the tree that had to be broken in order to prop himself up. That was the real reason he had sent the boy to work in the factory, to break his spirit. The pay was hardly worth the time. It was punishment for his constant attempts to win over the rest of his family to overthrow him. After his spirit was broken, he would send him to school with other children his age. Full of rage and malice, to scare away anyone with sympathy who would seek to help him.

The factory was settled with rust. The building was old and rats infested the place. The day would start at five in the morning and finish at six in the evening. There were breaks every four hours, but his father only allowed him biscuits as a meal. The biscuits were plain with a slight sprinkle of sugar covering their surface. The sugar was the only energy rise he could get through the day. The conditions he faced, hardened his spirit and made him curse his father silently in his mind. Though compared to the other children in the factory he was soft of heart. As he filled the glass jars with preserved fruit, tears would run down the side of his cheeks. The factory itself was running illegally. Children weren’t supposed to work. But the children the manager of the factory was employing were all slaves. All slaves except for the boy. And that’s half the reason the incident occurred in the first place. The other children grew jealous of the boy, knowing that he was destined to live a free life. One day when the factory manager was on break, they cornered him in one of the small rooms.

“Ashton, what are you doing in here? You know we’re not meant to be on break.”

“I broke a jar, some of the glass cut into my hand.” He was looking for some fabric bandages. Anything that would cease the flow of blood on the palm of his hand. The cut was small, but sweat as a cause of heat ran into the wound and the salty residue left a sting.

One of the boys stepped forward, then in a sympathetic voice, “Let me have a look at that for you.”

Ashton held out his palm and the boy gripped his hand, examining the cut. Then gripping Ashton’s hand, with dirty fingernails, dug his fingers into the cut and squeezed. “That’s nothing! You hear me, nothing!”

The other boys laughed, Ashton bit down on his jaw and answered him, “I need a bandage though.”

“A what?”

“A bandage…”

The boy kicked at Ashton’s feet beneath him, knocking him over and making him fall to the floor. Then the other boys all surrounded him and started laying their feet into him. Kicking into his ribs and legs, “You don’t need anything you spoilt little shit! Nothing!”

They left him there. To cry silently alone in a corner. He sat there with crouched legs, holding his hand and praying, ‘Someone get me out of here. Someone get me out of here. Someone get me out of here. ’ Over and over again. After a fitful of tears, the manager returned from his break, and after seeing him in his repose, simply pointed to the work area and told him, “Get back to work.”

By then the cut on his palm had ceased to be a problem and he scampered back to the factory line. Continuing to fill jars with their preserved fruit. The syrup that acted as a preservative was sickly sweet. And was of a thick texture. The fruit was cut in eighths and then placed into a glass jar until filled. Then he would place the jar beneath a tap and the syrup would fill the glass jar. Afterwards he would seal the glass jar with a plastic covering and then it would be moved along for branding. The action in itself was of no harsh punishment to his limbs, standing on his feet for hours at a time was.

At the end of the day, the other boys, the slaves, would go to an area of the factory where they could rest. It was in a secluded back part of the factory. There they had everything they needed. They would cook for themselves, mainly from the factory’s supply lines and take shelter from any weather that would be a problem outside. That was their life, there was no pathway of promotion. If they ran away, they’d become homeless and be hunted down by the factory manager. There were older men in the factory who had lived that life. They were fed drugs and eventually died of overdoses. They were all slaves, where they came from. Nobody really knew. The outside world ignored them for the most part. Their entire lives were contained to the inner workings of the factory.

Ashton, on the other hand, wasn’t. At the end of the day he was set free where he would return home to his overbearing father, who would always ask him if he had learnt his lesson yet. Which he would reply to his father, to go to hell. And then rinse, wash and repeat. That was his routine. Or had been up until this point. The beating that the slaves had inflicted upon him had put him in an ill frame of mind. And when the day had ended, he had plotted out his revenge. Night had fallen and instead of returning home, he hung around in the darkness of night. Waiting for a period of four hours before he heard the slaves return to their makeshift beds within the back of the factory. He then re-entered the back of the factory and found the dustbins. The dustbins were large, they were housed within the factory itself, and contained all the quantities of rubbish and refuge that had been built up over the past week. He found a pack of matches in one of the general supply storehouses and proceeded to light all of the dustbins, four in total. When they were alight, he ran out into the night. Then took a position from afar and watched as the fire he had started taking a light to the rest of the building. There were screams coming from inside and screams from the people looking on in the night. The entire contents of the factory were ablaze and soon enough the authorities arrived to take care of the fire that he had started. Ashton stood back, away from the crowd of people that had gathered around the blaze. Watching flames whip around the building, slowly the wooden fortifications and beams that supported the building structures bore the weights of the brick and mortar. Then the building began to collapse in on itself. Creating a cloud of dust followed by bright orange sparks. The factory was gone and the slaves who had beaten him gone along with it. As Ashton looked at, with the building’s collapse, he whispered to himself, “That’s nothing…”

Afterwards he returned home. Without anything to eat, he retired to a home where the rest of his family took rest. He found his bed, curled up into a ball and shut his eyes. Letting sleep take him. His dreams that night were a replay of the day’s events. At first within the factory, then the beating and then setting the factory on fire. He writhed around in his bed, with the sweat pouring off of his body, the sequence of events kept replaying in his mind. In his mind, there were a group of hooded figures surrounding him as he relived the experience. Then, they were touching his forehead and once a complete cycle of the day had been re-lived in his mind. There was a statement from one of the hoods, ‘Okay, got it. Let’s go. ’ The hooded figures only featured once in his dreams and then he was surrounded by the slave boys once more as they all kicked into him, reliving the beating over and over again.

He was awoken by three officials, they were there, all surrounding him. One of them pulled the sheet off of his body and he awoke, drenched in sweat. The nightmare he had was of supernatural quality and had a visible effect upon his personage. He awoke like breaking his head through a sheet of ice. They stood around him, baring a similarity to shadowed totems. All standing above him and monitoring his every movement. He looked from side to side, never accounting for their presence in full totality. One of them looked down on him and breathed heavily. While the other two exchanged glances. The air smelt of his sweat, still prepubescent, it appeared as if he had soiled himself. Ashton was still waking from his dream and when he had finally gathered himself to his fully awakened state, he huddled backwards, pressing his back against the wall.

“What? Who are you people?”

“We know what you’ve done Ashton.”

“What I’ve done?”

“The fire Ashton. The factory. You were the only one who had access to it. You had motif and concern.”

“Motif and concern…” He was still baring the weight of his nightmare. Still disoriented. Still uncalculated. “What the hell is going on!?”

And like that one of the figures seized him and tied both of his hands together, bonding him at the wrists, then at the ankles. Ashton couldn’t do anything about it. The figure that had seized him was a fully grown adult and although he was able to scratch and claw at him as he tied him down, there was little else that he could do. The sweat made the bonding slippery and he squirmed his wrists, attempting to free himself. But in the end the three figures, built of high stature and emanating strength, seized him. One by the legs, and the other by the arms. The third leading them towards their destination. They proceeded to carry him out from his bed and out of his home. His family were there, waiting in the hallways of his home. They all stood and looked on as he was carried out. Only his father raised any voice of concern when he was carried out. It was funny in that way. The man didn’t want to give away any of the ill treatment he had given his son. Preferring to appear as a caregiver rather than actually be one who gave care. His mother on the other hand who had given him some aid in his life remained silent, with a silent tear passing down from her left eye and running down the side of her face. His siblings remained controlled. Like lifeless dolls with their souls sucked dry, they hardly battered an eyelid.

The three figures carried Ashton out of the vehicle. The vehicle was powered by rats. A million rats running around in wheels, they would then go on to churn the running of gears, which would turn the wheels of the vehicle. And above the rats in their hamster wheels, sat a platform where things could be carried. It was an odd configuration. Rats powering the vehicle. The vehicle didn’t run fast, but it ran. And if there was one thing that this world wasn’t short of, it was rats. Rats plagued the city and the countryside. And when people found a practical alternative to them spreading plague. They were only too willing to put the little vermin to work. Powering vehicles that would transport heavy goods around the city. Once Ashton was in the vehicle, they bound and gagged him. Holding him to a chair where he could not free himself of his restraints. After he was bound and gagged and in place. His father, following him, threw his flat cap in after him. The cap lay at his feet and then the vehicle started moving. It was by the scent of the milk that powered the vehicle. The rats started to run as soon as they caught it’s scent. A million of them, all chasing after the sweet scent of milk. The milk, of course, would have to be replaced every two weeks. After that it went sour. And the rats, they would die and their carcasses would be used in the more powerful alternative vehicles run by feral cats. It was a never ending cycle and the vermin animals powered it all.

One of the figures who had captured him stood on the wooden boards above the engine of rats, the sound of his feet on the wooden boards made a clunking noise. It was the sound of wood on wood. His foot, instead of a shoe, was a chunk of wood and he walked awkwardly to maintain his balance. When Ashton raised an eyebrow to the sound, behind the gags, the man looked at him and stated simply, “Gangrene.” And then with the raising of a metal sheet, separating the scent of milk from the rats, the rats began to run as one. And the vehicle started steadily down the street. Kicking up mud as the vehicle started to gather pace. They all ran along metal bearings, tracks that had been built up along the city’s roads. The rats couldn’t gather enough power to run along the hardened ground otherwise. But the things, the vermin powered vehicles; they would get you from one place to another.

And at the pace of a swarm of rats, the vehicle, Ashton along with it, made its way to its destination. The center of the city and the tower of City Hall. Ashton moved his eyes from side to side, seeing glimpses of people as they all made their way through the city streets and alleyways. Going about their daily business, the vehicle and Ashton’s presence were just another one of the bustling vehicles. All caught up in the winding roads that seemed to lead nowhere. The sky and the weather above, overcast and grey. The sun feebly attempted to break through a heavy layer of smog, but to no avail. This is what he had called home for all of his life. What they, the bureaucrats at City Hall, were going to do with him. He couldn’t quite guess. Oddly enough, though, the prospect of certain death was an enlightening experience and state of mind. His mind saw little point in this life, there were only small shimmers of light and hope to it all. It was odd, for a boy who had not yet reached puberty to be so dismal about the experience of life… And yet, there he was, regretting nothing. The faces that looked on as he was transported to City Hall were all vacant of life. The hardened reality bearing down on them. Their faces drained of any glimmer or aspect of hope. What was he to be? Another one of these faces, beaten down and void of life. If his act of rebellion had meant anything, it meant that he was unsettled by the circumstances that surrounded him. And so he was not going to adjust to this world. A world where his father had engaged in an act of sick perversion with his family, beating them all down accordingly. A world where slaves operated in a factory, unchecked and with a bitter hatred for all those surrounding. A world where the beaten and down trodden was a common sight to all those who cared to take note.

When they arrived at City Hall, the strange cart coming to a halt when the shutters separating the rats from their milk had closed. Ashton was released from his bonds in the seat where they had tied him. There was a gag placed over his mouth, which they did not remove. The man with the wooden block for a foot seized him and hauled him upon his shoulders. Then trenched towards the entrance of the City Hall with a large clunking sound with every step taken. Ashton was slung over his shoulders, the man large and haunch. The other government officials trailed after him, following the shadows cast by Ashton and the man with the wooden leg. The two other government officials took pace before Ashton and opened the large wooden doors of the City Hall. The City Hall was a multiple layered building, five levels in all. The foundations made of stone and cement. It was almost decorative in which the interplay of stone and cement reached up to five stories. But that was just on the outside. On the inside, steel bars that made up the structure of the building. With an interplay of wood and plaster. The doors, large and made of oak, three feet in height, were opened up to a large creaking of the rust hinged doorways. Dust fluttered as the doors opened, making way for Ashton and his bearer. From there they travelled up a series of stairways to the third floor. The other two officials balancing the other in his way up to the floor. And although Ashton struggled against his bonds, they were severely tightened around his wrists and ankles. Producing no escapable movement that could be produced. And once they had arrived on the third floor. Where others waited to sit in judgment of Ashton’s crime. He was plumped down on a large desk. They untied the bindings and immediately Ashton sat up, preparing himself to escape his immediate surroundings. But when he stood up, upon the desk, baring witness to all those surrounding him. He saw no immediate exit. And so was cautioned by the man who sat behind the desk, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

He looked behind him, a man dressed in a black robe with a white puff neck protruding from his chest sat in waiting. “Who are you?”

“I’m your guardian for the time being. I will represent you while they decide what to do with you.”

“And what is it… That they’re going to do with me?”

“We don’t know that yet. That’s what they’re all deciding.”

A series of ten men all dressed in similar attire entered the hall and took their place behind ten podiums of varying escalations. The eldest one taking place at the center podium of the highest escalation. His hair and wig manufactured, with curls woven into its design. Ashton attempted to get a look at the man. But his eyes were cast with grey eyelashes, with reddened and bloodshot eyes, much to the strain and weariness of the world in which he lived. The man cleared his throat, the drooping of skin that lay on his neck and a shadowing gaze, “The judges are all in procession, the degree is of counts of murder and the destruction of property. The punishment: banishment from this plane.”

“How do you plead?” It was the man behind the desk.

“Well, what are the options?”

“If you plead not guilty and you’ve done it, then they will sentence you to harsher punishment.”

Ashton was a child, he didn’t understand much of the world he lived in. None of it seemed to make sense to him. But that did. “I did it.”

The man stood up, “He pleads guilty your honors.”

“Banishment from this plane.” The one at the center podium stated. And all the others around him nodded in agreement. Their wigs wiggling with the bouncing up and down on their heads. All of the figures that stood behind the podiums at the front of the room all stood up. And in the procession and unison walked from the room as they had entered. For them it had appeared a simple matter. Ashton was a child, with little understanding of the world. He could not quite as of yet understand what the punishment was. Banishment from this plane? What was this plane? What was a plane? It did not make sense. It was just some form of ludicrous sentiment for him, his understandings that of a child.

The government official with the clubbed leg returned. Ashton’s representative gave him a nod of approval and once more, the man picked up the boy and slung him over his shoulder. The man walked and moaned under the weight of the child. Walking to the back of the room, housed with different seats that lay empty to all those who sought to bear witness to the event. At the back of the hall was a corridor that opened up to a hallway. The man with the clubbed leg walked through, carrying Ashton saddled on his shoulders. Ashton called out, beating his small fists on the official’s shoulders. The hallway at the back was a series of cells. All lined up with neither a soul, nor insect in sight. The man opened up the cage and threw him to the ground. Ashton stood up immediately, but before he could react in time, the official had closed the gate of the cells.

“What the hell is this?! What’s a plane? What is going on?”

The man stood, looking him over. Then, with hunched shoulders gave a deep sigh, “This isn’t the only world kid.”

“What?”

“The dimensions, there’s eight of them. I don’t know if it’s punishment or reward. This world’s agony. Wherever you’re going has got to be better than this one.”

“Eight worlds?”

The man took out a cigarette and pressed it to his lips. Then drawing a pack of matches from his coat pocket, lit the cigarette and breathed in, “Yeah, eight of them. And we all live in this shit-hole. I don’t know what the others are like. You’re going to find out though.”

“What the hell?”

That’s when the official with the clubbed leg started lighting matches and flicking them at Ashton, they did not catch fire, but they had the effect of settling him down, “Shut up, shut up, shut up…” Ashton silenced himself, “Look, I’ll explain. Or explain to you what they told me at least. In the beginning there was darkness. There was nothing but a void, the absence of matter entirely. To conceive of it was not to conceive of it, because there was no thought to conceive. That is when it started to happen. Nothingness started to tear away at nothingness until there was something.”

“That sounds stupid…”

“Just explaining it the way it was explained to me. The darkness tore away at itself until it created a rip in itself. There was a form of inversion. A complete bastardization of what had previously existed. Nothing began to fold in on itself and created a circle of matter. It was like a sphere and in that sphere all matter was formed.”

“This is bullshit!”

“Okay, there was a guy and he farted out the universe. There, I’m done.” The official went to walk away.

But Ashton called out after him, “No, I want to know…” He was meek now. Almost subdued.

“The bastardization of nothing that occurred started to create matter. And in that, the stars, the sun and all the planets were conceived.”

“All of the different worlds?”

“No, now this is where it gets interesting. The bastardization that created our existence also occurred simultaneously with the bastardization of seven other existences. It created a ring… That’s what they think. They’re not sure exactly how it all works. But the machine… It works. It’s difficult to understand how they all co-exist together. But the machine… It works.”

“What machine? What works?”

“The machine they use that allows us to travel from our world to the others. I don’t know which one they’re sending you to. But you’ll be completely alone and nobody will know you. You’ll either die quick or die slow. Depending on how you act… But that’s the real beauty of it all, you won’t have a bloody clue how to act.”

“And that’s my punishment?”

“And that’s your punishment.”

“Where will I go?”

“I don’t know kid, I don’t know. I’m just enforcement around here. They hardly tell me a thing. It’s the council’s decision. They don’t tell me a bloody thing. I only knew that because of our visitors. One of them came through and told me that shit. It blew my farkin’ mind.”

“One of them?”

“Yeah, there’s a few floating around. I like that one.”

“What did the others say?”

“Who gives a shit what they said. I like that one!” The official had finished smoking his cigarette and flicked it at him. Where it hit Ashton’s chest and fell down to the ground. Ashton stood upon it, reducing the cinders to a streak of tar on the cold, stone floor. After flicking his cigarette at Ashton, the official exited the cell block and out of sight. Leaving Ashton there alone, where he sat himself down and began to think about it all.

Ashton was left alone and his thoughts centered on what the official had told him. He was about to be sent to another world, another dimension, expelled from the surroundings of what he had known for something new. He didn’t know how to feel about it exactly. This world that he had been living in wasn’t exactly a dream of peaches and cream. Where he was being sent, would that be any better? He was only a child and his mind struggled to grasp the concept of another world, better or worse than the one he currently inhabited. After following different pathways of thought in an attempt to contemplate what it all meant, he eventually drained himself of any mental energies that he had and fell asleep.

It was a dreamless sleep and when he awoke, he awoke to the sound of a clattering metal plate. It had been thrown in with him in the prison cell. Where it hit up against him and his thigh. Waking him from his slumber. There upon the metal plate, sat a pile of steamed rice with a few steamed beans that were on the point of being spoiled. A thin black line covering the beans signified that they were of questionable nature to be digested. The rice seemed fine though. There was no spoon or implement in which to eat the food, he would have to do so with your hands. The man who had delivered the nourishment chuckled to himself. It was a cruel, nervous laughter. A sign of madness. “There you go,” the man, a skinny middle aged person, with black thinning hair and pox on his face stated, “Grub’s up.” He went to walk away after delivering the food.

Before Ashton called out to him, “Hey, wait.”

The man turned, he wore a white uniform which was patched with black ash, his clothes hadn’t been washed regularly, “What now?”

“How was the universe created?”

“A guy farted it out.”

Ashton sat there, playing with a couple of the semi-rotten beans and rice, “That’s what my father told me.”

“That’s what they tell everyone around here. Now shut up and eat your food,” The man looked at him with spite, “I spent a long time preparing that food, now shut up and eat!”

Ashton picked up a chunk of steamed rice with his fingers before the man turned and walked away. Luckily enough the rice had been cooked properly. It was neither soggy, nor was it raw. It had no flavor, but Ashton believed the man when he said he had spent a long time preparing the food. He was probably working with little materials and the beans were probably some sort of an added treat. Despite the fact that he was a prisoner, they probably looked kindly to him because of his age. He picked up one of the beans and chewed on it, it was edible and the cook had steamed them to a degree that the rot was not noticeable in the taste. He swallowed and began eating what was left on the rest of the plate. It would be difficult to determine if he would ever get another meal again, his future and what they had explained to him made everything else uncertain.

He ate the food sparingly, because there was no flavor, he picked at the food over half an hour rather than consuming it all at once. He had all the time in the world, imprisoned in his cell, he was waiting for those around him to take action. Until then, there was nothing for him to do. When he had finished the last of the plain serving of rice and beans, he once again laid his body on the floor and let sleep take him once again. The stone floor was cool and there was a chill in the block of cells, the temperature sent shivers through his body. He had no dreams to speak of and his head was filled with silent worry over what was to be of him. He kept on going over past events in his mind and replaying what he had done and what others had done around him. Trying to make sense of it all. Because of the temperature, it could hardly be called sleep at all. He was in some sort of half daze, unable to find sleep because of the temperature and his mind was in an agitated state. He was attempting to get rest, but rest could not be achieved. And so he lay there, the fatigue of mind, causing punishment and being a draining experience. Micro-sleeps did occur. The small interruptions of what his mind was telling him and what his body’s energies produced.

After twelve hours of this semi-entranced state, he woke to the man with the clubbed foot once again being present. He entered the cell and nudged Ashton awake. “Come on… Come on…”

“What is it!?” Ashton yelled.

“I’m trying to help you. You can sleep in my quarters before they take you wherever they’re going to take you.”

“No, leave me alone!”

The man with the clubbed foot leant over, picked up Ashton, still a child. And then raised him, holding him in his arms. Then made his way out of the prison cell and out of the block of cells, muttering to himself the whole time, “Poor bloody kid…” Over and over again.

The man’s apartment was small. A room the size of four meters by four meters. In it a single bed and a desk. Ashton was lacking the energy to fight against him, semi-conscious and laying in the man’s arms. He opened up the door to his quarters and placed him in the comfort of his bed. Ashton opened up his eyes and asked the question, “But why?”

“Because I don’t know what the future will bring on you. A hardened heart leads to a monster. It’s a small token of this world’s kindness. Now get some rest.”

And so Ashton, lying in the comfort of this man’s bed. Finally found some rest. And the man with the clubbed foot sat at his desk. Reading over some papers. Work that he had not yet gone through, that remained undisclosed. Ten more hours passed and the man with the clubbed foot once again woke Ashton. “I have to put you back in your cell now.” Ashton woke up from the rest, opening up his eyes, it was a small kindness. One of the only that this world had brought him.

And so Ashton, still perturbed, yet conflicted with a sentiment of gratitude, brought himself to state a simple, “Thank you.”

And then the man with the clubbed foot once again raised him in his arms and took him back to the block of cells. Once Ashton was placed back in his cells, the man with the clubbed foot disappeared from sight and left Ashton alone to his thoughts once more.

Why had that man allowed him his bed? He had been so cruel when he had placed him in the cells. What sort of absurdity is this? A cruel man with a streak of kindness? He didn’t know what to make of him anymore. And so Ashton sat, well rested rather than fatigued. He had nothing to do. And so placed himself at a ninety degree angle to the wall, laying his back flat on the stone floor. Then placing his feet up against the wall and pushing himself at the wall, dragging his back against the floor. Then pulling himself back to the same initial position. And then like that, cycle and repeat.

After amusing himself for some period of time with nameless exercises, the officials returned once more. This time, though, not alone. There was the initial grouping of the three officials who had taken him to the town hall. And among them a withering old man with a glass eyeball. He was crouched over, his back misshapen and his skin withered. He seemed to direct the other officials and had a cane in which to balance his own movements. “It is time.”

It was all that he stated and then the officials came in and hauled Ashton up from the prison cell. Ashton kicked and screamed. Beating in the back of the official who had hauled him up. And when they exited the prison cell, Ashton made to clutch at the bars of the prison. Screaming at a high pitch. His attempts were futile and his grip on the bars of the prison were released by one of the other officials who went to his hands, and then slowly, finger by finger, plied the grip that he had on the bars and then he was released.

“Ashton,” it was the official with the clubbed leg, “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

And so they all carried Ashton out of the block of prison cells. Led by the old man hunched over his walking cane who cackled as he walked. There seemed to be some sort of hidden joke. Unbeknownst to anyone else, except for him. They began to ascend another flight of stairs to the top level of the building of City Hall. The stairway was long and winding. Their ascent steep and fast. To walk such stairs for the old man was a triumph enough, although the other officials had to move with carrying Ashton in tow. When they reached the pinnacle of the staircase, there was a rusted iron door. The rusted iron door was heavy enough that it prevented any unnecessary intruders. The old man had a set of keys that he produced from his coat pocket. And then he turned one of the keys and pushed at the door. The iron door creaked, its rusty hinges producing dust and debris just in the opening. The old man muttered to himself, “Bloody shit-hole, this place is.” And then with a final push on the door, the door opened fully to reveal a laboratory, concave in its architecture. This would be the very peak of City Hall.

In its confiding, at the center of the room, lay a great wheel. Not dissimilar to a helm of a large sailing vessel. It lay flat on the ground and was very large. Eight meters in diameter. There were glass vats surrounding the round figure that was at least as tall as two men standing on each other’s shoulders. They were like tubes and inside the tube bubbled a green liquid, with small red balls moving around in the liquid. There were eight sections for which the wheel or helm produced and there were eight of these tubes surrounding them. All lined up against the wall. There was the lower floor. On a high succession, a small terrace lay above the ground with barred railing. And upon the railing a series of panels that appeared to be a control area for whatever the machine was. Ashton was silenced in awe as he looked around.

The old man, sensing this, “It really is quite something, isn’t it?”

“What is it?” Ashton asked.

“I don’t know. I just know how to operate the thing. That’s all.” Then the old man turned to the government officials and stated, “Strap him in.”

The government officials carried Ashton to the center of the helm like contraption and Ashton began screaming furiously. Not knowing what they were going to do to him or what was happening brought on itself a certain degree of panic. He attempted to squirm out of their hold, but the official with the clubbed leg once more grabbed his head and whispered into his ear, “It will hurt a little, but it’s not going to kill you. Okay? Calm down.”

Ashton calmed himself and they carried him to the center of the helm. There he was laid in the center of the helm. His legs spread apart and in conjunction with some of its spokes. His body contorted so that his legs and arms were laid at different angles. His body resembling a five pointed star. And then the officials tying him down and in place. Once tied so that he could not move, Ashton looked from side to side. Unable to move his head, looking with his eyes from left to right. Sweat silently weeping from his pores. The mystery that entangled his current destiny promoting more than the required stress.

The old man raised himself up to the plateau and up to the control area of the great machine. The government officials, after having affixed Ashton to the center of the great wheel followed the man up to the guard railing. Looking on from a safe distance. It was then that the old man, with his glass eyeball and hunched disposition began to pull levers and push buttons. The wheel, or helm started to rotate at a high speed, but left Ashton affixed at the center unmoving. The tubes with their green liquid and red balls started going insane in their movements. The red balls within the green liquid bubbling with a rapid succession of the pull of levers and the push of buttons. And then electricity began to stir in the air. The air around the wheel, or helm, started buzzing with physical electricity. And the wheel rotating at a high velocity.

And the buzz, snap, the air crackled and a great mist enveloped Ashton. The government officials could see his internal skeleton as Ashton screamed. A great piercing scream of great pain and agitation. And then… Well, then he was gone.

The machine slowed down. The old withered man, looked to the government officials, saying, “Well, I hope he enjoys that one then.”

The government officials all nodded to each other, knowing that their work had been done.

One thought on “Prologue: The Eight Worlds

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