I was floating, paralyzed, in a darkness so complete that it hurt to look at. The accompanying silence was so perfect that my ears rang from the sheer strain of trying to catch even the most minute sound. I felt like I was stationary, but in the emptiness where I hung I could have been moving at the speed of sound without even knowing it. So I hung there, blind, deaf, trapped and alone. And I was annoyed as hell.
It wasn't long before I heard a soft malicious chuckle behind me and a young man slowly moved into my field of vision, body horizontal to mine as if he was reclining on empty space. Dark brown eyes so dark they were almost black stared at me while a contemptuous smirk slowly spread across the features of his face. My face.
I looked back at my doppelganger with irritation. "What do you want now?" I thought to myself.
My other self laughed loudly, without humor. "Why Jake, it's been so long since we talked. I thought maybe you missed me."
"Would that I could Jakey, would that I could." The doppelganger laughed again. "But don't worry, it won't be long now."
"What won't be long?" I asked.
"Events are in motion my friend." The doppelganger grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around, I whirled around at a blinding speed, the image of my double flashing in front of my vision so quickly it became a semi transparent blur. "Rejoice Jake, for soon your purpose will be over, and you will be free." The doppelganger reached out and stopped me with a single tap from his hand. "Of course, your life will be redundant at that point, but we'll burn that bridge when we come to it." The doppelganger chuckled to himself.
"What are you talking about?"
My doppelganger held up a finger for me to pause and cocked his head, listening intently. "Hey, hear that? Sounds like the start of something wonderful." He glanced at me sternly. "Try not to get killed, it's a big day for us."
He disappeared before I could respond and suddenly I was struggling, trying to gasp for air that wasn't there. The darkness around me pulling, stretching my body until I thought I would split in half. Spots of light swam in my vision as my body fought for oxygen, and then I surrendered to the inevitable, giving up as unconsciousness closed in.
My eyes snapped open and I bolted upright gasping for air. I flailed wildly as I found myself falling out of the recliner I had been napping in, then the ground flew up to meet me and I experienced a whole new set of spots flashing in front of my eyes. I groaned as I heard the doorbell for the apartment ring and shouted in the direction of the hallway. "Demi! Get the door!"
"I am busy! You get it."
I sighed and pushed myself upright, stumbling slightly as my vision briefly faded to black. I gritted my teeth and managed to make it to the door without too much difficulty. I opened it to find a pockmarked teenager carrying a large pizza box standing slightly off to the side, squinting at the sign next to the door. I cleared my throat loudly and the teen jumped, thrusting the pizza box at me.
"Um..." the pizza boy muttered, "I have a pizza for a Jake Williams?"
I scowled and took the pizza box from him. "Thanks."
"Oh, wait." The pizza boy pulled out a receipt and a pen and held them out to me. "You need to sign this."
I awkwardly held the pizza box in one hand and tried to sign the receipt against the door frame while the pizza boy started talking, oblivious to my predicament. "Strange place you've got here. I could've sworn it was abandoned from the outside. I noticed none of the other doors have apartment numbers."
I sighed and added an exorbitant tip onto the receipt. "Yeah, we like our privacy here." I held out the receipt and the pizza boy glanced at the tip with widened eyes.
"Wow, thanks for the tip. That's a litte high though, are you sure..."
"Don't mention it." I said, knowing it was coming out of Demi's bank account anyway. I tightened my grasp as the pizza boy tried to take the receipt. The boy glanced at me in confusion and I gave him my best threatening glare. "Really, don't mention it, got it?" I waited until the boy nodded uncertainly before shutting the door in his face, then I went to yell at my roommate.
The smell of the pizza made my stomach rumble as I carried it back into the apartment, stepping over bundles of wires which haphazardly twisted around and over every flat surface in the hallway, including the ceiling, attached by some magic I tried not to think too deeply about lest I start dreaming about being buried alive by electronics again.
The wires all wound into my roommate's bedroom, though bedroom was a loosely held title since I wasn't sure he ever slept.. It did have a small bed stuck in the corner that spent most of its time doubling as a dresser and clothes hamper based on the ever present pile of laundry that was piled up on it. I stepped into the mess gingerly, more worried about losing my footing in the piles of wires than if I was stepping on anything breakable and glanced around the seemingly empty room. "Demi? You here?"
A pile of cords as high as my shoulder shifted as a pale slender hand reached towards the pizza box. "Za me bro!" A muffled voice echoed from the pile. The hand gestured wildly at me.
"No, we have to talk about ..." I blinked. "Hang on, what did you just say?"
A shock of wild blue hair emerged from the pile, followed by long slender ears filled from lobe to tip with a mismatched collection of piercings. "I said, 'Za me bro!'" The elf said as he struggled to extract himself from the nest of wires. "I've been researching human slang on the internet all day. I am pretty sure I used it correctly this time."
"I am pretty sure you should have limited your search to something used in this decade. And I told you to stop having food delivered here, I don't want to have to move again." I said as I passed a now freed Demi the pizza box.
Demi shrugged at my statement and pushed a set of dirty t-shirts and jeans off the edge of his bed to make room for the pizza box. "Dude, I was hungry, you were asleep, and I can not exactly go wandering around town with these, now can I?" Demi pointed to his elongated ears and wiggled them for emphasis. "Besides, it's just a pizza, who do you think is going to find out?"
I shook my head as I helped myself to a slice from the pizza box. "What if the pizza boy tells someone? And using my real name? Do you want to get caught? All it would take is one mention of my name to the Gatekeepers to get us both killed."
Demi snickered. "You've got a good point. I've often heard that most secret agents spend most of their free time interviewing pizza delivery boys." I glared at him until he stopped laughing and shrugged. "Fine Jake, I'll be more careful. I am just so tired of all this sneaking around."
"You and me both." I put finished off my slice of pizza and reached for another, then froze as I heard another knock on the door. "I…uh…don't suppose you ordered dessert."
Demi was already in motion, dashing across the room to check his monitors. "No magic aura, no reaction from my wards, no sign of anything. I am pulling up the cameras now."
A colorless image came up on the monitor of a single man standing outside the door. He looked at the camera, then very deliberately knocked on the door again. Demi glanced at me worriedly. "How'd he know where to find us?"
I shrugged, "Stay here, I'll go talk to him." Demi looked at me skeptically, but nodded and I went to answer the door.
The man standing outside my apartment radiated professional power, the kind you would expect from a high class lawyer or CEO. His hair was short and just starting to grey at the temples, and from his three-piece suit to his shoes that were polished to perfection he looked every ounce a power player. When he reached out to shake my hand I caught a glimpse of a watch that I knew had to cost more than everything I owned. "Hi Norm, long time no see." I shook his hand quickly and then stuck my hands into my jean pockets so he wouldn't see them shaking. "You really should have called ahead, I could've set out tea or something."
Norm slapped me on the shoulder and flashed a smile that would have done a shark proud, all teeth, predatory instinct, and not a hint of warmth. "Jake my boy! It's no problem at all, I just stopped in to have a little chat."
Norm breezed past me into the apartment like he owned the place. He sat down in the recliner and gestured toward the couch. "Sit down Jake, I have a proposition for you."
I was sorely tempted to tell him to go to hell, but I grimaced and took a seat opposite him. Once upon a time, Norm and I had been partners, and back in those days I would have even called us friends. He had been the veteran officer in the Gatekeepers, and I had been the talented new recruit, kicking ass and pretending I was invincible. Together we had made a great team, until the day that Norm had pushed me into an non-sanctioned experiment that resulted in the unnecessary deaths of a dozen Gatekeeper agents. I had barely escaped execution after being branded a traitor by the agency, and I owed Norm some thanks for covering my tracks by reporting that he had hunted me down and killed me himself.
I sat sullenly as Norm looked around the apartment. "I like what you've done with this place Jake. Very frat boy chic. How have you been Jake? Haven't seen you around. You didn't make it to the funeral."
I snorted. "Yeah, I was planning on attending until I remembered that everyone in attendance thought I was dead. Those four were my friends, but I'm not suicidal enough to attend their funeral, they would understand."
"Five," Norm said.
"It was a funeral for five. You were still a Gatekeeper, I made sure they gave you a proper grave."
I struggled with how to react before deciding on the polite approach. "Thanks, I guess."
"I didn't do it for you Jake, it was just useful for me to play the whole 'grieving partner' character." Norm gave me a sardonic smile. "You should visit it if you get a chance, I made sure to choose a fitting epigraph for you. 'Solum Post Mortem Vero Vivemus.' I thought you would appreciate it."
I sat uncomfortably while Norm paused, waiting for me to ask him what it meant. I used to enjoy the times when Norm would translate phrases from his native tongue, but those days were long gone. Norm gave me a disappointed look. "I expected to hear more from you after what we went through, after everything I did for you."
I frowned. "Cut the crap Norm."
Norm gave me another one of his shark smiles and leaned forward in the chair. His suit jacket gaped open slightly to show the glint of the Smith and Wesson Governor revolvers sitting under both arms. I knew that both guns were heavily modified, and one was usually filled with silver slugs and the other with bullets dipped in holy water. I leaned back against the couch and nodded at the guns. "Why are you carrying Norm? Expecting trouble?"
"Always,"Norm chuckled and made a show of placing his hands on the armrests of the recliner, a gesture which didn't reassure me in the slightest. Despite currently being a high ranking member of the Gatekeepers, Norm was not a pencil pusher, he was a hit man, and he was damn good at it. Some people said that he was a powerful wizard who had wrought a powerful spell upon himself, and some said he had made a deal with the devil, while others said he was the peak of human evolution, but everyone seemed to agree that he was immortal, nearly invincible, and he would kill you in a second if he thought there was something in it for him. "Calm down Jake, I have a bit of a problem that I need you to help me take care of."
"I'm listening, hurry up and get to the point so you can leave."
"You see, the agency's been getting these reports of break ins all across the country. Real high security places, medical research, government labs and the such. Only problem is, no one seems to know how the thieves are getting in and out since they just seem to appear inside the facility, break through all the computer security like it wasn't even there, steal hundreds of samples, and then just disappear into thin air."
I snorted. "There's plenty of things that could be. Ghosts, demons, angels, some wizards, and dozen other entities can teleport like that. You're going to be looking for a needle in a haystack."
"Yes, but somehow when we show up and try to follow the spell trail, it leads us absolutely no where. As far as our investigators have concluded, whatever is breaking in does not originate from this reality."
"You think they're Travelling?" I asked incredulously.
"But no one can do that without a Gateway right? I mean, they could get in, but I thought you guys had all of the exiting Gateways locked down. No one could just leave this dimension, at best they'd be stuck here, at worst they'd be sucked into the Void."
"I know of one person who could do it." Norm said softly. "But last time I checked, he's dead."
Norm glanced at me and I shook my head vehemently. "It wasn't me Norm, I am not so stupid that I'd draw attention to myself."
Norm laughed. "My boy, I wish it was you, it would make my job so much easier. Fortunately the boys in Washington have been making it impossible for the Gatekeepers to get a good look at what's going on, but once they finally connect the dots someone is going to remember the story of the one boy who could freely travel between worlds, and then we're both in deep trouble."
I nodded. As much as I hated to admit it, Norm was right. "So what do you want me to do?"
"I need this guy in custody before people start asking questions. Every time we try to catch him he slips away before we can get there. You, however, he can't slip away from now can he? I need you to get him for me."
I stared at Norm in shock. "You want me to catch a Travelling thief that you know nothing about? I can barely manage to control my own powers on a good day, how do you expect me to fight something that pops in and out of our reality at will? Not to mention the fact that I don't even know how I would keep him from escaping if I had to bring him back through the Void."
"That's for you to figure out if you want to keep your," Norm glanced around disdainfully, "current lifestyle." He smiled. "I don't need him alive if that helps. I know you shouldn't have a problem with that."
I felt a stab of guilt and looked away from his smile. "So you're asking me to do your job for you? Sounds like you're losing you touch Norm."
Norm stood and straightened his tie. "I've always found my ability to delegate to be one of my best traits." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone which he slid across the coffee table. "I'll be in touch. Be ready for my call."