I observe the world around me; by looking at my surroundings, I can find myself. Despite this useful rule, the room held nothing more that was useful to me, besides the room key. I asked at the hotel's reception for the specifications of my stay and received them (they seemed to recognise me, which is nice); the room is booked until January the second, so I have at least a week to myself. So, I turned into for the ngiht.
I woke up at seven-forty-five; at eight o'clock exactly, I heard a sharp knock on the door, which I opened. A young girl in a black hoodie and tattered jeans stood outside my door, the hood drawn over their face; blonde hair came from it. I said nothing, so she took the initiative.
"Are you ready for your appointment with Aporia, miss?"
Polite; formal; unexpected. I remembered the name on the note, and spoke my confirmation; I would have nodded, but I noted that it may have been hard for her to see my face under the hood.
"Very well. Please follow me," she said, radiating meekness and continued formality. I could hear that the voice was measured; controlled. She was reigning herself in, it seemed; the softness of her voice only confirmed it for me, personally.
She led out of my hotel, walking as calmly and serenely as a trained diplomat should (not that they ever did, of course). Outside, a black car stood; slightly tinted windows. Not so tinted that I could not see that it contained a single person sitting in the driver's seat, but not so much that I did not notice; the girl directed me to the back seat (holding the door open for me. Even when I attempted to wave her away, she seemed insistent.), before getting into the back seat on the other side, behind the driver.
The driver radiated the word "business man"; a sharp, blue, two-piece suit, red tie, white under-shirt. Slicked-back black hair, obviously trimmed eyebrows; delicately pointed facial hair, sharp brown eyes; black leather gloves. I could not see his shoes, but they were no doubt shined. He remained facing forward, but spoke as soon as my guide closed her door (far gently then I had closed mine).
"Miss Achromatic Morality, correct?" Much like the girl before him, a formal voice; less jarring to come from someone who looked professional, but it retained the obvious measuring and forced softness. I ignored it and replied. "Yes, indeed; where are you taking me?" I tried to keep myself relaxed, but something about the obvious control seemed off-putting to me. Next to me, the girl pulled her hood down; the blonde hair emerged, unkempt and unbrushed. I noted that the hair was obviously dyed; brown roots could be seen, and she made no attempt to hide them. Her face was pale; her eyes, blue. I note that she was wearing a pair of seemingly oversized trainers, but she may have just had big feet, or it might be the newest fashion. I don't know a lot of things; this is one of them.
"For your appointment with Aporia, miss. Don't be worried; she's happy to meet you," the man said, turning the key in the ignition and firing the car up. Needless to say, the assurance to not be worried was the most worrying element of the journey.
I had not noticed that when I entered, but the tinting of the windows served a secondary purpose; the windows next to the back seats were practically opaque, with the car's layout seemingly being geared to make it as awkward as possible to see the outside without being rather rude to my hosts, who I was wary of testing at this point. It is best to have a measure of any foe, and I could not accurately measure either of them at the moment, beyond "deeper then they first appear".
Regardless, the journey proceeded in stolid silence. The man in the suit focused on the road, and the girl in the hoodie remained bolt upright. I rubbed my eyes in haggard tiredness; I don't feel that last night was sufficient sleep. Doing so brought my hand in contact with my almost-greasy hair, which bugged me less then it perhaps "should" have. A shower was in order once my so-called appointment was concluded, it seemed. But it was not going to conclude soon, so I closed my eyes and tried to get a little sleep.
Thus, I do not know how long it took us to arrive at our destination; it did not feel like it was too long to me, yet I may have nodded off without realising it. We had stopped in an enclosed car park, judging from the lighting; I noted that, when I tried my door, it had been locked. My hosts opened their doors sans problems; the girl came around to my side to open the door, whereas the man in the suit walked away from the car. As my guide closed the door behind me, I saw him lift the key over his shoulder and press a button; the car promptly locked itself.
"My apologies, miss, but Aporia requested that you wear these," she said (timid; kind; restrained), offering a blindfold to me. I felt something spark in my head; an intense, burning pain in my eye-sockets. I shook my head to dissipate the memory of the pain; when she looked puzzled, I simply nodded and said "Very well, then." As I said that, I noticed a pair of earplugs in the same hand. Meh. No difference, I thought.
She tied it around my head for me (requiring me to stoop slightly: I was quite a bit taller then her). With my vision removed, I relied on my other senses. The dull smell of a typical car park; the freezing air around my fingers; the dull taste of nothing in my mouth; the sound of my guide speaking. "Just follow me, miss," she said softly (gah! How that obvious control was beginning to shoot through my ears!), as I felt the earbuds slide into my ears, greatly reducing my hearing abilities; then, a glove closed around my hand. I nodded, and was lead forward. I shall not bore you with what little I remember, but I remember walking some distance; into elevators, going both upwards and downwards. Through corridors. Things like that.
After a while, I was stopped, as an earbud was removed: "you may sit, miss." And thus, I sat. The earbuds were removed, and then the blindfold. I was confronted with a wave of colour and light, and blinked hard in the sudden change. When my eyes adjusted to the sudden gift of sight once more, I found myself sat across a desk, with a young woman opposing me. Grey eyes, black hair in a bob, casual black clothing. A fashion sense that takes after my own, I note.
"Aporia, I presume?" I said; the figure before me seemed to be waiting for me to speak. Behind her, I saw a white wall, with what looked like a tapestry upon it, directly above the figure's head. A cluster of triangular shapes; it pulled at my imagination, but I thought nothing of it. I noted that my chair seemed to be made of nothing but wood, much like the desk.
"Very good work, Antinomy," she said in almost stately fashion; her eyes were looking to my right. I noted that the calmness had some base similarity to that of the girl who had guided me; upon turning my head to observe the person to whom she was speaking, it was indeed my guide: Antinomy, was it. The figure nodded (once more with the false meekness), before turning upon her heels and leaving me alone with Aporia.
No, not alone; turning my head allowed me to see that there were four people on the room to my right (and, I could see another four from the corner of my eye). They formed a corridor leading to the chair in which I was sat; or, rather, a corridor to Aporia. The door lay beyond them, by only a few steps; Antinomy was now leaving through it, in fact. The figures in the 'corridor' were sat on the floor, cross-legged; wearing black robes with hoods (black gloves over their hands), it took me a few moments to note them as human. They all wore blank, white masks over their faces; the design of their outfits made it difficult to see them as anything but an anonymous whole. None of them was distinct; they even appeared to blend together in terms of height and weight. They were all sat on individual mats, which had some complex pattern woven into them. I could see no faces, but their sheer stillness made me wonder if they were statues of some sort.
Tearing my eyes away from them, I turned back to Aporia; one of her eyebrows was raised coyly, and she seemed somewhat amused at my confusion regarding the fellow people in the room.
"You are Aporia, are you not?" I said, once again; with nobody else to talk to, I was hoping for an answer. It was obvious what it would be, but...
"Quite correct, Marisa," she replied, with a certain natural serenity in her voice. Unlike that of Antinomy and the man in the suit, this was not a voice under control; this was a voice doing exactly as it wished, without any effort or command.
"I'd rather you not call me that, if it pleases you," I replied; this was true. Despite coming to terms with the name foisted upon me by the note (if only because I cannot really run away from it), I felt some disgust when I heard that name. I don't know why it would dredge up such emotions with me; yet another thing that I do not know.
"I'm afraid that it does not please me," Aporia said, with a chuckle. "It is your name, is it not? We both know it; we both know that calling you anything else is merely hiding from the truth."
I almost snorted. "And you'd have me call you by an obvious pseudonym, while you choose to use my name without my permission?"
"The primary difference, I think," she reached for a long, wooden stick leaning on her desk, and seemed to lean against it for a moment, "is that you do not know my name, and you shall not know. That means you may only call me by the name of my choice."
I let it go; pointless to argue. Before I could speak again, I was suddenly interrupted by a bout of coughing from the person across the table, who raised a hand to her mouth to cover it; her frame seemed to rock with each bout. As it subsided, she released the hold on her cane. "Is that... normal?" I inquired.
"Yes, indeed," she said, smiling wanly. "It is a long-term illness, I am afraid. Nothing life threatening, but hardly convenient. In any case, I was meaning to as-" she stopped here and coughed a single time. "Sorry. Ask you if your journey here was to your expectations. I am glad that you agreed to meet me here, Marisa."
"I didn't expect anything," I replied. My brain skipped a beat as she said the last sentence; I rallied my processors in hunt for something to say. I cannot remember anything about this person; before I even missed a beat, something came to mind. "And it's hardly a problem; I can only wonder as to why you wished to meet me, however."
Another chuckle, more coughing. "I merely wished to meet someone as enlightened as you have shown yourself to be. Consider me an interested party." As she said this, I felt a twinge of... something go from my body. I can only wonder as to where all of these twinges and pains come from. "In any case, I intended this mostly as a... preliminary meeting, as it were. I often find myself in need of an outside perspective on matters; you can certainly supply the role, I think. Show me where I stray in my logic; that sort of thing."
"Sounds like a barrel of laughs," I almost spat the words out. "Is that the only reason you wanted me?"
"There is that, and the small matter of the matter that you raised with me in our e-mails," Aporia now crossed her fingers and allowed her elbows to rest on the desk. "Which is to say, your concern regarding what you called the 'tolling of the bell'; you said that it may have been a moment of madness. May I ask: was it?"
I must admit to having absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Thus, I fell into the modus operandi of a politician: deny, deny, deny. "It must have been; I scarcely recall it now."
I think that, in hindsight, she must have known something. I can see it in my mind's eye; I can see the twinkling of her pupil. A slight shine, a slight glimmer; as if I'd said the secret codeword, and she knew I was part of the club. But her words did nothing to reveal this, so I skimmed past it at the time. "Ah, that is fortunate. All the same, if you ever need help with a matter, I am always here; you have my e-mail address, of course. Incidentally, I would like to schedule another appointment; say, January seventh? One in the afternoon or so?"
The note flashed into my head for a moment. "No, sorry; I'm busy that day." I tried to keep the hastiness out of my voice. It's not as if that date is the only clue I have as to what the future holds.
"Ah, a shame. January tenth, then? Perhaps ten in the morning?" I nodded at this, and Aporia snapped her fingers; I heard the door behind me open once more. "I am sorry to drag you from your hotel again, my dear Marisa, but time does run short for me; I am a busy person today, unfortunately. I shall see you again in a few days, of course; we can talk more at leisure then."
As I rose from my chair (and as Aporia did the same; I note that Aporia grasped for the handle of her cane as she rose), I found myself confronted with Antinomy once more, with the blindfold and earplugs already in her hand.
"Ah, do forgive my little fancy," Aporia said, as she leaned against her cane for support. "Call me overly secretive, but you can never be too safe. Ah, and before you go..." Before I could do anything, Aporia waved a medicine bottle at me; I heard pills move within it. "You said you needed some more of this medication, correct?" She pressed it into my head, before walking past me, leaning on the cane; I accepted the earplugs and blindfold once more. Before the last earplug went in, I heard Aporia say: "don't forget, okay?" With that, Antinomy led me out of the room, through the sightless labyrinth and back into the vehicle from which I'd came. A different man in a suit was there this time, although the suit looked to be of the same design. The journey home was even less notable then the journey to it.
And upon writing this, I do not think myself fit to do much besides collapse upon my bed for a bit. The labyrinthine way to Aporia's desk was nothing if not tiring. And despite my tiredness, I find myself thinking over what happened; why the appointment was arranged with Aporia, and as to just what Aporia wants with me. Or, rather, what I want with Aporia.
At the moment, I find myself wondering: why me?