Pulling a flare from his belt, the survivor twisted the top
sparking the bright flame he knew would give him away if held it too long.
He swung the illuminating beacon up in the direction of a dark alcove. Just
as he suspected there was a cubby up there. He threw the flare into the cubby,
then grabbed the ledge and pulled himself up, just as he felt the blethral's
hot breath at his heel. The squat, ugly beast half-growled, half-screeched as
it clawed at the base of the wall he had just scaled. He ignored its protests,
knowing that there was no way it could come after him. The blethrals were
about the size of large dogs and ran in a similar fashion. They tended to
pounce with surprising speed, and would tear at their victims with the three
jaws that formed the muzzle of their face. All the carrying on this one was
making might well attract more of its kind, or possibly one of the worse
enemies there were to face in the Diogenese. In the flickering light the
flare gave off, he could see he had struck a jackpot. In addition to the
extra fuel packs for his flame-thrower, he could see various clips for his
other weapons, a new armor vest, and several health kits.
He swung his backpack off his arm and pulled out a sulfur grenade.
Pulling the pin, he tossed it down at the beast howling for his blood.
Five seconds later, it exploded, burning the creature to a crisp. That
taken care of, he pulled off his shredded armor, exposing his bare upper
body. Quickly opening the medical kit, he pulled out a needle and
injected himself with a painkiller. Then he twisted the lid off a cold
storage container packed tightly in the med-kit, and pulled out a blood
transfusion to let it thaw. Next he injected himself with an anti-toxin
to counter the effects of the poisons he had been exposed to. He hoped
the chemical mix he was now putting in his body wouldn't do more harm
than good. He quickly bandaged his wounds, making sure to place
skin-regeneration patches on the sections of his body that had been
burned beyond his ability to heal. He started the blood transfusion
while simultaneously gobbling down the nutritional supplement stored in
the kit. A quick application of the 'sonic-fusser' mended his broken
ribs. When all that was done, he checked his health indicator band. It
read nearly 100%. With a satisfied grunt, he pulled on the new armor,
which quickly molded to the frame of his body.
All this done, the survivor removed an alien device, a gheheton, from his
pack. This device had been his salvation, that pervert miracle that had
allowed him to survive this terror where others met only bloody death.
He closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. He hated using this thing.
It was almost worse than death... almost. The fine line that separated
the two was all that compelled him to use it. Deciding to take the
plunge, he jammed the circuit of the bulky object into a port in his
health meter, and felt the world and time collapse around him. And he
saw death. He saw himself burning horribly in a pit of lava, feeling the
unbearable heat consume him. He saw himself lying at the bottom of a
gapping chasm, his bones powdered from the fall. He saw himself being
trisected, torn to bits by the mall of one of the unspeakable beasts of
the Diogenese. He experienced the pain; the terror of each separate
moment compounded, and awoke with a silent scream clawing to escape his
throat. And it was over. He leaped down from the alcove, aware that the
next time he died; he would awake in that spot at the exact moment he had
awoken from using the gheheton. That was the gift of the device, a
second chance. But the chance was exacted at a heavy price. Every time
he used the device he had to re-experience all his previous deaths. He
smiled a humorless smile. The device was less of a salvation from death
and more of a punishment for getting himself killed.
The halls were dimly lit where they were lit at all, and ahead was a
flashing red light that at one time may have served as an alarm. It
served no purpose now other than to add confusion. He knew he was in
trouble, no light was needed to tell him that. Further down the hall was
something that was a little more helpful. It was a door that was labeled
'Danger: Laser' and had bright yellow and black stripes running
diagonally across its surface. He knew from past experience that four
laser defense devices guarded the door, and he had to find some way to
deactivate them. Another hallway branched off to his right and left, the
corridors diminishing into the darkness on either side. He lit two
flares and threw them down either hall. Immediately he heard a
screeching followed by several answering screeches. Something in the
dark unfolded and moved quickly and fluidly to his right. He cursed
under his breath, recognizing it as one of the more dangerous inhabitants
of the Diogenese. These creatures, the giators, walked upright and
seemed to be intelligent. They shot crackling balls of energy from a
glowing portal in their chest, or slashed at him with blades on their
wrists. Generally, they folded into their exoskeletal balls and waited
for him to stumble upon them. He blasted the giator as it rushed at him.
The flames seemed to stall it a bit. Suddenly he felt a slash of pain
from his left, and his vision flashed red for an instant. They were
attacking him from both sides! He backpedaled furiously, while swinging
his pack around and pulling out a double-barreled shotgun. An energy
blast sizzled by, inches from his left side. He fired off both barrels
into the creatures baring down upon him. Beyond them, more were coming.
The shotgun blasts halted the creatures in their tracks, and with four
shots the first of the giators fell to the ground, dead. The survivor
turned and ran around a corner, listening for pursuit. For the moment
all seemed quiet, his pursuers having given up on the chase. His
heads-up display, mounted on his headset over his left eye, read that
only three shots remained in his shotgun. He replaced it and pulled out
a bulky grenade launcher. Rounding the corner he blasted the hallway
with four grenades. Two flaming bodies stumbled from the explosion and
fell to the ground. Satisfied he ran down the hall, covering his tracks
with proximity mines, and quickly rounded the circular hallway
surrounding the laser-guarded door. He found four switches evenly spaced
down the hallway, and threw them. When he did, a readout on the display
panels above the switches told him that the lasers were all deactivated.
His task accomplished, he hit the activation button and walked through
The room on the other side of the door was pitch black, and as he walked
through, the hatchway closed ominously behind him. He groaned inwardly.
He should have known. The lights came up slowly, and his fears were
confirmed. Before him sat a hulking, lizard-like beast the size of a two
story building. It was by far the biggest monster he had seen in the
Diogenese. Sighing he pulled out a missile launcher and looked for
things to hide behind. This was another in a long series of more and
more challenging one-on-one battles he had been forced to do with
destructive monsters that could take almost as much punishment as they
dished out. These monsters were not like the others. They were larger,
more lethal, and usually stationed at the end of each section of his
journey. While they all usually had some weakness he had been able to
find and exploit; they also had a tendency to kill him several times
before he did so. He made a mental note to use the gheheton when he
could find a safe spot to do so.
Suddenly the creature came to life; its red eyes burning, and let
out a deafening roar. The roar was followed by its tongue, which shot
out with lightning speed in his direction. He tried to side step it, but
was caught off guard. The tongue snagged him and reeled him in quickly.
He found himself in the creature's mouth, as it's sharp teeth sunk
through his armor and punctured his flesh. His shoulder bone snapped, and
only a miracle kept him from passing out at the pain. He struggled, and
finally managed to pull his pistol out, shooting several rounds down its
gullet. The creature roared in pain and dropped him in the process. He
ran behind some crates and immediately stumbled upon a health pack.
Quickly he pulled out the 'sonic-fusser' and slapped it on his injured
shoulder, topping it with some bandages. This took only a moment, and he
was back in the battle again, swinging out from behind the crates and
unloading several missiles in the direction of the lizard-thing, then
ducking back again with out even checking to see if the missiles had found
The rest of the battle was like that. Hiding behind crates, firing on
the creature, and most importantly, trying to keep its backside to him,
where he wasn't exposed to the deadly tongue. After what seemed like an
eternity, a blast brought the creature to its knees, it let out one last
roar, and the battle was his. At its final twitch, three doors opened as
if by some strange magic. Behind the left and the right door were gun
clips, armor and health packs. Behind the middle one was a passageway.
Following the passageway led to the outdoors where he found himself in
the middle of a dark, hauntingly beautiful valley. A nebula swept across
the star-studded sky and a large orange moon hung just above the horizon.
Still, the danger was far from over. As he journeyed across the valley,
the landscape seemed to ooze horrid and lethal creatures that attacked
him at every turn. Each met its death only after exacting pain from the
The sides of the valley were sheer cliffs; too steep to climb, while the
valley itself formed one long passageway terminating at a still, murky
pool. The survivor dove into the water without hesitation, and scanned
the aquatic terrain. Immediately a school of large, toothy fish darted
toward him. He fought them off automatically, neatly putting a bullet
through every one. Surfacing, he gasped for air, then submerged again.
At the bottom of the pool lay what appeared to be a door. He swam down
to it, ignoring the pressure in his pounding ears and the screaming of
his lungs. As he approached, the door slid open, revealing an aquatic
passageway. Desperate for air, he swam without hesitation down the
underwater tunnel. The tunnel slanted sharply upwards, and seemed to go
on forever. Finally, he burst through the surface of the water at the
end, and gulped down great breaths of air. He found himself in a dank,
dungeon-like room opening out into a labyrinth of corridors and prison
cells. Behind the bars of a few cells, madmen stumbled drunkenly about.
Upon seeing them, the survivor felt a pall of despair grip him. They
were the only humans he had seen alive in this place, but when he tried
to speak with them they ignored him, and when he tried freeing them, they
lashed out at him. Nothing remained of their minds or their wills. They
were worse than the animals that skulked about in the shadowy corners.
The survivor soon found that the dungeon was the bottom level of a
massive castle. As he battled through the levels of the castle an epic
nightmare unfolded. The survivor used the gheheton more and more often,
despite the building pain. This he suffered gladly, for he met his own
death in many unpleasant ways on the way to the top of the massive
As the battle raged ever upward, upon each new awakening from the
temporary grip of death, the survivor felt a sense of building hope.
Something big was waiting him at the top, and beyond it, freedom. He
didn't know how he knew this, but he was sure it was so.
The survivor awoke from a sickening agony and shook the fog from his
head. He tried to recall what had happened. Oh yes. A swarm of
blethrals had been awaiting him behind a door. He had been low on
ammunition after a battle with several giators, and was unable to fend
off all of them. He silently calculated how far he had to go before
reaching the hall where he had last died. He needed to go up one level
and face five enemies before he reached the swarm that had ended his
life. The warrior pulled one of his more recently acquired weapons from
his pack. It was of alien design, and he had taken it from a creature he
had killed. The creature had resembled a giator, only bigger and better
armored. This particular weapon shot out a swarm of quickly dissipating,
two-dimensional energy fields capable of slicing an enemy into pieces at
short range. His heads-up told him it had a charge of five. That should
be just enough. He rode the elevator up, and swung around prepared for
The five giators fell easily, and this time he was ready for the swarm of
blethrals. He opened the door and quickly backpedaled, firing sulfur
grenades down the passage. When the flames finally died, he saw that the
hall they had come from was lined with lockers. He opened one after
another, finding many health packs, weapon clips, charges, and armor.
The amount of equipment so readily available made him nervous about what
might be waiting beyond the hatch at the end of the hallway. All at
once, he knew this was it. This was the moment when it all came
together. At last he would finally have the answers he sought.
The doorway was dimly lit, and he could find no switches or levers to
open the door itself. Suddenly, someone spoke.
"If you want to get through that door, you're going to have to give me
The survivor swung his double-barreled gattling gun toward the source of
the voice. An unassuming man sat there in a foldout chair. He was
flipping through a newspaper, and had a bored expression on his thin
face. The man looked up slowly into the muzzle of the survivor's weapon,
and held up a hand.
"No need to get violent," he spoke calmly.
"I... who... what?" all this time apart from human contact had dulled the
survivor's ability to speak.
"You heard what I said," the man replied, "If you want in, check your
gheheton at the door."
"But... who are you? How did you get here? What is beyond the door?"
"I'm the gatekeeper, and this is my job," the man answered in an
automatic way as if he had had this conversation a thousand times.
"But... why should I..."
"Because it's the rules of the game," the gatekeeper cut him off, "Give
The survivor looked mournfully at the ugly device. Part of him wanted to
fling the thing at the gatekeeper and rejoice at being rid of it. The
other part of him wanted to grasp it and refuse to relinquish the object
of his salvation. Finally, he handed it over to the waiting man. This
was how it was meant to be, he decided. You only cheated death
temporarily, and humans were not meant for immortality.
"Thanks," the gatekeeper smiled, "Step on in. There will be a short wait."
"Wait? Wait for what?"
The gatekeeper did not answer as the door slid open.
Beyond the entrance was a brightly-lit and friendly waiting room. Rough
looking people in various mutilated, rusted and scored battle gear sat
politely chatting or flipping through magazines. Their scarred, unshaven
faces and dirtied features along with their bulky packs loaded with all
sorts of ugly weapons were a sharp contrast to the light music playing
over the intercom speakers above. On the other side of the waiting room
was an unremarkable door.
"Hey, look, we got a new arriver!" exclaimed a woman seated close to
where the survivor had entered. She was clad in body-hugging metal armor
and nothing else. Everybody looked up and waved, or offered various
"Have a seat," she patted the chair next to hers, "Your turn will come
The survivor accepted the chair, and as he sunk into the cushioned seat,
he suddenly remembered how good it felt just to sit down without fearing
that his head would be ripped from his shoulders at any second.
"Um... may I ask what we're waiting for?" the survivor addressed to no
one in particular. A few people chuckled across the room. The woman
beside him smiled and said, "None of us really know for sure."
"Look, I been tellin' you all: beyond that door is the mother of all
monsters!" a gruff, muscular man seated closest to the door shouted,
"When we go through there, we gotta battle 'er without our gheheton's.
It's the final test."
"Is that true?" survivor asked the woman. She shrugged.
"That's what we all tend to think. You'll see it soon. The door will
open, and one of us will go on through, then it'll close again.
Sometimes it takes minutes, sometimes hours, but the door will open
again, and the next one will go through and so on. No one has ever come
back to tell us what's on the other side."
A man across from the survivor spoke up, "Yeah, well when I go through,
I'm not givin' whatever is out there a chance! I'm gonna blast that scum
suckin' slime with my missile launcher before she can take a wack at me.
That's how I made it this far, ya know? I only died, like, a half-dozen
"No way, man," another warrior voiced, "The missile launcher will just as
likely to blast you away as it will her. The gattling gun is the way to
go. It's quick, clean, and gives you a chance to switch to another
weapon if you need to."
An argument quickly broke out over which weapon was better, but was ended
abruptly when the door swung open. Dead silence dropped over the room.
Finally, the man seated closest to the door rose shakily, adjusted his
armor, pulled out a huge, radioactive slime spitting device, and headed
to the portal.
"Wish me luck," he laughed nervously at the room. There was no response,
and several people looked away in something like shame. The door swung
shut after the man, and the silence remained. A few picked up magazines
and began flipping through them without actually looking at the pages.
The lady next to the survivor turned to him and whispered, "That guy over
there is so full of it, isn't he? There's no way you could have made it
through the Diogenese and only die a half dozen times, am I right?"
The survivor shrugged. He hadn't actually kept count, but he knew he had
died more than six times.
"What do YOU think is past that door?" the survivor asked her. She
looked down and shrugged. After a long pause, she said, "I guess after
all this pain, all this struggling, its hard NOT to think it'll be just
another battle. But I just have to ask myself, what's the point? Ya
know? I mean, all that torment, all the death for what? Another, bigger
battle? Another, final death? I think maybe, just maybe, there's a
better answer to all this, and it's past that door."
The room lapsed into silence punctuated only by the music from the
intercom. Eventually the door opened again, and the next in line stood,
and stretched. He rummaged through his pack, extracted a mean-looking
weapon that shot bladed discs, and strolled through the open door.
"If there is a big creature on the other side, wouldn't the door just
stay open if one of us killed it?" asked a hulking cyborg who had not
spoken yet. He stared blankly into space as he asked this, and no one
answered. He was the next to go. Like the others, he readied a large
gun before walking into the unknown.
And so it went. Each one's turn came, and they each walked out the door
hugging their favorite tool of destruction. Finally only the survivor
and the woman next to him were left.
"Well I guess you're next," the survivor spoke, reluctantly.
"Yeah, I guess," she murmured.
"Look..." he began, and paused, then, finally, continued, "You seem like
a nice person, and I wish I had gotten a chance to get to know you. This
isn't right for you. It's not right for ANY of us. This whole thing was
wrong from the start, and I hate for it to end in such a stupid way," he
stopped, exhaled, and continued, "I guess what I am trying to say is, you
don't HAVE to go through the door."
She smiled sadly, "I appreciate it. I really do. But I have to go. I
need to know what this is all about. If I die, at least it will be over.
It could be worse. I could still have that stupid gheheton."
"But..." the survivor began, and was brought up short as she leaned over
and kissed him on the cheek. The door swung open. She pulled out two
pistols and loaded them with fresh clips.
"Nothing like the classics, huh?" she smiled. With that, she rose,
walked to the door, and turned.
"By the way," she asked, "What's your name?"
The survivor couldn't answer. He had forgotten.
Alone again. The pain of having had a brief taste of companionship only
to have it ripped from him was almost more than he could bear. Maybe
they were all waiting for him on the other side of the door. This whole
thing would be over, and he could finally purge his memory of his
thousand deaths. The thought that death itself waited on the other side
was almost equally appealing.
Alone again. What WAS the point to it all? How should he choose to go?
Which enormous weapon should he pull from his pack so as to go out in a
proper blaze of glory?
The door swung open. It hadn't been long. A few minutes at most.
"She didn't stand a chance," the survivor muttered. He pulled his pack
from his shoulder, set it on the floor, and stared at it. He reached for
his wrist, and tore off the health indicator. It clanked to the floor
next to his pack. He pulled the headset off and dropped it. Reaching
back, he unlatched his armor. It fell to the floor with the rest. At
last he stood with no weapons, no equipment, no protection. He was naked
to all that should seek to destroy him.
"Time to pay the piper," he said, and walked through the door, which shut gently behind him.