Short Story by: Ati
The Sentinel stood, watching grimly as the sea of eternity swelled and drained around him, oblivious to the men and empires that rose and fell in its valleys and crests. He stood calmly, implacably -above time, above space, and indeed above pretty much everything.
He waited a long time – An eternity, in fact, before he finally was called upon. It was the middle of august to our reality, although he had no way of knowing this, and probably wouldn’t have cared much if he did, when the Man finally rose from one of those crests, and stood before him. He stood there for a moment, collecting himself, for (if the Sentinels ancient memories were still intact), it was not an easy trip. Then finally he glanced at the Arch, gave it and the Sentinel an appraising glance, and asked
“There’s not much chance of me getting in, is there?”
The Sentinel, his a voice husky but still very powerful after an eternity of idleness replied,
The man gave him an annoyed look.
“Well look, I’ll tell you right now that it wasn’t easy getting up here- You can’t just expect me to leave empty handed can you?”
The Sentinel let golden silence be his reply.
The man gave him a few more irritated glances, tried to peer around him to get a good look at the Arch (in vain, incidentally), before finally giving one more annoyed look and diving back into the sea.
He came back an indeterminable amount of time later, this time with clothes that to our eyes would have been wealthier (although the Sentinel could perceive no noticeable difference), a few grey hairs and a slight limp. He walked up, gave the Sentinel another appraising glance, before (satisfied that he had not become easier to pass in any noticeable way), walked up to him and asked,
“Look, how much is that arch worth to you? A thousand dollars? A million? A Billion dollars?”
The sentinel stood in silence, staring curiously at the small scraps of paper in the mans hand. A swell of the sea caught one of the smaller scraps of paper, and it crumpled to ash and dust at its touch. Then Man stared after this in astonishment before, taking the Sentinels silence as refusal, he turned and stalked back into the sea.
He returned again later, this time with more gray hairs, richer clothes, and a more pronounced limp. This time he also brought a beautiful woman with him. After steadying himself (it took him, the Sentinel noted, a few moments longer than it had in the past)
“Look, this woman has agreed to marry you if you let me through that arch – do you accept?”
The sentinel stared at the tiny figure before him, and wondered what on earth he would do with such a thing. He remained in silence.
The Man stared at him incredulously.
“Oh come on – I don’t even know where this stupid arch goes; would you at least tell me that?”
After regarding the silent (and indeed now actually daydreaming) Sentinel for some time, he turned and dived back into the sea, taking the woman with him.
He returned again eventually, his limp progressed into a full on stagger, his hair a silver color, and dressed in the raiments of a king. After taking a long time to gather hits wits, he spoke.
“Surely you must get tired, standing there for eternity? I have brought a bed – surely a nap wouldn’t hurt, would it? I’ll be sure to guard the arch for you – what do you say?”
“No.” Spoke the sentinel.
When the man came again, he came assisted by two men, in a wheel chair, his hair mostly gone, and dressed in the glory of an empire. He caught his breath for a very long time, before ordering the men to set up a table laden with the most verdant and luxurious fruit and foods ever seen by a living man.
“I’m prepared to offer you these pickings, the most delicious and filling delicacies ever seen, in return for a chance to pass through that arch - will you take my offer?”
“No.” Replied the Sentinel.
When the Man returned yet again, he was completely bald, assisted by four men, and clothed in all the wonder of a planet. After collecting himself for so long that one of his assistants actually fell asleep, he spoke in a wheezy voice.
“Surely there must be someone you hate? Someone you wish to get revenge on? Perhaps the person who put you here? Did you know that you can give me a name, any name at all, and I can have them tortured and killed before the day is out? Well?”
The Sentinel stood.
The man returned again, dressed in the glory of a solar system, withered and shriveled, and assisted by a team of eight men, many of them apparently doctors. When the man spoke this time, his voice was slurred by age, to the point of almost incomprehensibility.
“Surely you are too great for a job of simply guarding this silly door – A great and powerful being such as yourself surely should not be relegated to such menial a task as this?”
The Sentinel watched him implacably.
When the man came yet again, he was clad in the beauty of a galaxy’s worth of art and wealth. He also had what appeared to be half of a hospital with him, and dozens of gold clad tubes and wires extending from his body. After a very, very, very long pause, he spoke again, this time using an interpreter.
“I am obviously better than you am I not?I am richer, I have conquered billions of stars, and all you have done is stand in front of that arch. Do you not wish you were me? Wish you were like me? Well what if I were to say that I would give you all of that, all those billions of planets, all those people, all that wealth, if you will only let me pass through that door? Hmmm?”
“No.” Intoned the Sentinel.
When the man returned for the seventh and final time, he was very different than the last time. He came by himself, all supporting machinery gone, all assistants dismissed. He wore around his bent body an entire universe worth of wealth, but all of this unimaginable splendor could not mask the paleness of his face, or the death in his pale blue eyes. He bore no gifts, brought no token. He spent what seemed, even to the sentinel, to be an eternity recovering himself, before he spoke, keying his words into a small keyboard by his hand, and maneuvering his bed in the same fashion.
“I am dying. They tell me I have only a few minutes to live, so I come to you now with a dying man’s request to be allowed to pass through the Arch before I die. Will you allow it?”
The Sentinel considered him for a moment, the small pale figure laying at his feet - glistening with gold, bejeweled in splendor, but none the less most definitely dying.
“Yes.” Spoke the Sentinel, and he stepped aside.
The dying man pushed a button, and his bed drove through the darkness of the Arch, and on into Death.
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