Tinson felt a strange mix of loneliness and contemplative freedom being in the common study room this late after everyone else had already retired for the evening, even though on most nights, the scientists and scholars who came to this place usually stayed late into the night and early into the morning to drink in the knowledge and research available in the mid-sized study hall.
It was Sunday night. By now – the tenth hour by what Tinson estimated – the occupants of the study hall were home, relaxing with family, turning in for the night, or studying in the comfort of their own dwellings.
Tinson though wasn’t ready to go home quite yet. Besides, he had nothing to go home to besides a neurotic cat and a fish tank full of over-breeding guppies.
The lights flickered off again, and this prompted Tinson to lift himself off the couch and stumble through the darkness to the nearest wall to reset the breaker. This was the fourth time he had had to do this today. The mechanical actions taken to reset the lights had become second nature to him by now, and he did them as if he were a piece of clockwork, never minding the utter blackness that was left once the lights went out. He wasn’t entirely sure why the lights went off, though he suspected it was the power that the Black Door drew. His colleagues – mostly the other scientists and scholars who joined him in his studies – told him that was a ridiculous theory because the door was wired into the city’s grid, using the same power that the skyscrapers in the center of the city drank from. How, they proposed, could a single door draw more power than a collection of skyscrapers?
Tinson knew better. He knew the door was powerful. He knew it drew enormous amounts of power at seemingly random times. That was about all he knew though.
Black Doors were a mystery to everyone. They were a strange phenomena, appearing randomly, sometimes in place of ordinary doors, sometimes in the middle of nothing and nowhere. Opening one was like playing roulette with a hand grenade. One door could open to pure darkness. Another could open to a far-off planet. And sometimes, Black Doors had been known to open to monstrous – and very deadly – creatures.
Tinson took a sip of his now-cold coffee, wiggling his mustache as he drank the bitter fluid, recalling a news article he pulled from the digital archives some weeks back. Apparently, a Black Door had been opened, and a slaughter occurred shortly after. A creature – half man, half octopus? – came through to Anaisha and went into a killing frenzy. A group of mercenaries killed it, but something else had slipped through with the creature: a disease. One they had yet to find a cure for.
He set his coffee cup on the surface of the glass coffee table and perused the notes on his laptop. The Black Door Knowledge Collective – as they called themselves – had formed five years ago with the intent of studying the Black Doors, to hopefully gain an understanding of the strange otherworldly creations.
The funny thing was, they weren’t otherworldly creations. Not entirely, anyway. They had been created using material from Legion vessels, glossy black alien material that gave off strange signals that somehow connected the lines between this reality and others. The Doors, though, had been created in a place that was now rubble – The Princeton. Or, as Tinson liked to call it, the Tower of Babel.
Each member of the Collective had their own various aspects of the Doors to research. Tinson was tasked with finding out what exactly caused a door to give entry, what the strange symbols etched around the door frames meant, and to record how many Black Door sightings had been recorded thus far across Anaisha.
Tinson looked up at the Black Door in the middle of the room and cursed its existence. Neither he nor any of his colleagues had been able to open the door. Each turn of the silver handle did nothing. The door had appeared here some years ago, in the middle of empty space, which is why the Collective decided to make this their place of study. But even then, after all this time, Tinson was no closer to figuring out why the doors opened for some, but not for others. Were the doors sentient, and decided whom to open for? Was there a trick to turning the handle or pushing on the doorway? Or were the symbols etched around the door frame a key in understanding what would cause the door to open?
The second piece of research was something Tinson was also making very little headway on. Nobody could interpret the symbols etched into the door frames. The symbols didn’t match any of the symbols in Anaisha’s main database. At one point, last year, Tinson thought he had broken the code and deciphered one of the symbols – a strange swirl with dots in the middle – when he had gone east to research a Black Door sighting in a shopping mall. But the next door he researched after that debunked his theory, and he found himself right back at the drawing board.
The third piece of research was a bit more concrete and dare-he-say easier to make headway with. With all of the information available to him, Tinson was able to estimate there had been a rough total of 1,567 Black Door sightings over the course of the last five years. When he originally came up with the number, he gawked, as did his colleagues. He ran the numbers three more times and came up with the same figure. What worried him was that the number had increased three fold in the last year and a half. And, the number did not account for people actually stepping into the doorways. Nobody who traveled through a Black Door ever came back to report about its existence. Nobody.
Tinson took another sip of bitter coffee, wishing he had put more sugar in. The room was cold, and he mentally scolded himself for not bringing his jacket today. It still lay across the back of his dining room chair in his apartment, probably getting torn to shreds by the cat.
“Damn you,” he said to the door.
The lights flickered and went out. Tinson slammed his fist on the glass table and stood to his feet, stumbling again to the breaker box. Once the lights were back on, he walked over to the door, examining the glossy surface and the strange etchings carved around the door frame. He grabbed the silver doorknob and tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Why?” he asked the door. “Why won’t you open? You’re so eager to share your secrets to others. So eager to allow others to enter our world. What’s behind your surface? A creature? Another reality? What of those who have crossed your threshold?” He took his hand off the knob and shoved both of his hands into the pockets of his khakis. He let his fingers fish around in his piles of pocket change and hard candy, his mind racing with caffeine and frustration. He finally turned away from the door and sat himself on the couch. He took another sip of coffee. The bitter taste made him realize he hadn’t had dinner yet.
“Fine,” he said to the door. “Fine. I’m going to go eat. You sit there and do what you always do – nothing. I’ll be back. Maybe some fried rice and steamed noodles will do me some good. If you want some, just say so.”
Tinson stared at the door, as if waiting for it to respond.
“No? Okay. See you soon.” He stood up from the couch and turned to leave when he heard a squeak from the center of the room. He turned toward the Black Door to find it ajar, an ice-cold breeze pouring into the room. He wiggled his mustache, his nerves frayed, his mind racing. He approached the door, cautiously peering through the crack. He could see nothing but bits of colored light against a black backdrop.
He reached out and grabbed the knob, pushing the door in so it was open all the way. Nothing but blackness and shards of beautiful greens, blues and reds. He turned toward his laptop, eager to record his findings. But then he realized – this could be his only chance. His only chance to properly research a Black Door.
He had done enough study on the Doors to know a few things. One, the doors vanished after they were closed. Two, the doors did not stay open long. The power to keep a door open far exceeded the power it took to power it while closed. And third, the doors would never reappear in the same place twice.
Tinson scrambled to the coffee table and grabbed his notepad and pen, scribbling out a quick note for his colleagues. Then he approached the door again, his eyes wide, his body cold from the air sweeping into the study hall. The lights flickered. Tinson leaped into the doorway, and the Black Door slammed shut behind him.