Reaching through hissing blasts of steam, Erys tentatively put his hand upon the door. It felt warm, humming with suppressed energy, barely constrained by plated steel. Oil dripped continuously from its face, snaking along the rivets in burnt sienna rivers, although flowing from no obvious source; pushed through its metal skin by immeasurable forces unknown. Clockwork gears and machinery ran along its border, visible beneath the metal plates of the front wall which turned opaque as it approached the ground, rendering its innards visible as the building struck deep into the concrete. Erys remained still, his hand motionless upon the door. He was weary of being seen, but felt strangely paralysed in the sight of his goal. A single unwanted observer, an alarm raised, and he would soon be disappearing into the black depths of the Gearmen’s sanctuary, on the far side of the City facing onto Sable Bay. No one returned from that place, so he was told. Stories were whispered about figures seen in windows, hands clenched despairingly on bars, cries emanating out and falling upon the crashing waves. Yet, he was not compelled to move. He was grappling with the unnerving feeling that he had seen this door before. This was impossible. ‘I would know if I had been here’, he reasoned with himself. But the feeling remained, splintered into his thoughts and refusing to be dismissed, an indistinct recognition – as if from a long-forgotten dream. He shook his head, clearing his vision. ‘Alisia once said that I never forgot anything, that I stored everything away, for what good it did. Maybe she knew more than I ever thought’. If he ever saw her again, he would tell her that she was right. With sudden bursts, lamps illuminated one by one into the distance, spreading their yellowed light onto the darkening street, shaking Erys from his introspection. The City had completed switching cycles, with the transition into night phase now fully complete. Raucous voices drifted from nearby entertainment complex, loosed by cheap spirits and the absence of worry. Oblivious and uncaring, free from burdens of larger purpose, he could have envied them. Then, impeccably timed footsteps began to echo from the distance. An approaching patrol. The mechanical eyes of the Gearmen were always watchful, and never missed much. Erys pushed himself close against the door, and frantically began searching for the release point. He had to get in. Now.
The footsteps grew louder. Erys could picture their cold, insensate eyes, mechanical and unblinking, immune to fear or reason. They simply stared, and took you. As he groped at the door, feeling for a catch or release, his searching hands felt a small cylinder of metal, protruding slightly from the doors face. It seemed like it could be turned, and above it read ‘TURN TO SYNC’ , burnt chrome into the metal. With the Gearmen approaching fast, he had no other option. He gripped the cylinder, and turned. A hiss of steam erupted, and the steel tube clicked fully around, before retreating into a chamber behind it. Erys stood close to the door, willing it to open. He wondered if he would soon be one of those unnamed faces, staring bleakly out from those immense barred windows, all hope sinking behind the black waves of Sable Bay. He would be lost. She would be lost. This fear sunk deep in his stomach, and shot shivers up his spine. That could not happen. He would not allow that to happen. As his panic mounted, a metal spike slick with a viscera of oil and grime, shot forth from the door, driving into his chest in one savage motion, the cold metal piercing through his flesh and into his heart. Electric bolts of pain drove the air from his lungs, as the spike connected with the machinery within, engaging the geartrains with a series of clicks. His vision dimmed as he slumped against the door, all thoughts expelled by the burning agony being driven into his chest. His heart laboured for a moment, straining within his chest wall, before resuming in rhythm with the invading machine, beating unnaturally quickly in time with the clockwork mechanisms of the door. The Gearmen were close now. The spike retracted from his chest, and retreated into the door, dripping a trail of blood and oil. Eyrs held his chest, as oil dripped from his nose. His vision flared and cleared, surroundings now visible in vivid detail, energy pumping through his veins, feeling a strength in his muscles he never thought possible. The door now opened, sliding upwards and revealing nothing save a faint light isolated at the end of gaping stretch of darkness. He staggered through the opening, the door slamming shut just as the Gearman marched past. Collecting himself, he squinted as murky lights flickered to life along the ceiling, revealing a vast corridor, narrow and suffocating. The smell of oil hung thickly, and condensation fell in a constant rain from above, the humidity oppressive. He was here. This is where he would find his retribution. As he pulled crumpled paper from his pocket, on which was scribbled all the information he received from his contact about this place, he became aware of an altogether new question. He had come for answers, for the truth. But for this question, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer. ‘What am I?’