They stood in front of a blocky red brick building occupying one corner of the block, with a narrow alley running between it and its neighbor. Four stories of it, though fairly modest compared to some of the buildings marching down the street toward this side of town. Chiseled into the entrance were the words:
“That might be easier said than done,” Max told them, pointing to that unremarkable entrance. “The guy who told me where your friends went” (whom he noticed, was no longer about) “also warned me that some also call this place the Never-Ending Building. He said that those who go in are never seen again.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Justin commented, almost laughing. Even as bottomless as Tranz-D had seemed, he was still certain there was an end to it, and this place looked small enough for a squad of TSA guards to lock down in short order. “Don’t those fools know you can just come back out through the front door?”
“I’m not so sure…” Shades, of course, now had experience dealing with places that were easier entered than exited. And that name, Harken, so old-fashioned sounding, yet strangely foreboding, gave him a bad feeling in spite of its mundane appearance. “Don’t forget the curse.”
“Yeah,” Max echoed, though he sounded rather preoccupied.
“Bullshit,” Justin sneered. “There’s no such thing as curses.”
“Don’t be too sure,” Shades warned him, wishing he knew how to convey the ordeal they had endured, wondered if he would be more likely to listen to Max.
“So what now?” Max asked abruptly, turning away from the building to his companions. He could tell Bandit didn’t like this place any more than he had the first time they came here.
“We go in,” Kato told them. If nothing else, she was going to kick Chase’s ass when she found them, or at least give him a piece of her mind. “We go in and we find them. I’m not goin’ anywhere without my crew.”
“Are you nuts?” Justin asked, for a moment recalling that weird feeling he got at Obscura Antiques and wondering why this of all places would make him think of it. “I mean, how do we even know they went in there?”
“That guy I talked to,” Max explained. “He told me that the building was endless. He also told me that he made a bet with two guys who looked like her friends,” (to which Kato muttered, “That’s why I never leave him with all of our money…”) “and the one guy was really interested in seeing the place for himself.”
“He would,” Kato confirmed. “That definitely sounds like him. Chase has always had an obsession with weird shit.”
“Okay,” said Justin, “so they went in there. Then what are we waiting for?”
“I think we should make a plan.” To Shades, this whole scenario was starting to feel less real by the moment. Before them stood this old-fashioned style building that was supposedly bottomless, and here they were debating whether or not to go looking for someone in it. Part of him expected the two in question to just walk out, and the other part pondered what sort of mess he was about to get himself into, trying to resist the draw of the Unknown already tugging at his feet. And so soon after his last brush with paranormal peril. “How do we know what’s going on in there?”
“We’ve all got weapons,” Justin pointed out. “Whatever’s in there, we can handle it.”
“But what if it really is endless?” Max pressed. “I think we should try to find that guy I talked to and see if he knows anything else about this place.”
“I’m with him,” Shades agreed. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve just got this feeling, like we should try to find out more about this place, from someone who knows what they’re talking about.”
“I still think you’re being a dumbass,” Justin told him.
“Justin,” Max said, not sure how exactly to put it, “I’ve seen Shades when he has feelings about things, and—”
“Go, if you’re going to,” Kato cut in, turning and striding up to the door. Whatever the deal was with this building, she was going in after the only people she ever cared about. “I’m not gonna stand here all day listening to you guys talking while my friends might be in danger. If you aren’t going to help me, then just wait there.”
And with that, she entered the Harken Building, slamming the door behind her.
“Wait up!” Justin called, heading for the door.
“You wait.” Shades grabbed Justin’s shoulder. “Think about it. Do we really want to run into another maze?”
“Well,” Max mused, “we did promise her we’d help her find her friends…”
“I’ve had enough of your crap!” Justin batted Shades’ hand aside, starting for the door again. “I’m not gonna lose my shot at finding that treasure.”
“Is that all he cares about?” Shades asked Max, turning to his friend.
“Fuck you,” Justin said before Max could reply. “What do you know? I’m goin’ in there. And if nothing happens, I’m gonna kick your ass when I catch up with you.”
And on that note, Justin Black entered the Harken Building, as well.
Max and Shades simply stood there.
Neither was really sure what to say. Shades was once again struck by how things were done in the Sixth Dimension. The sign above that door, along with everything they had heard so far, gave it all the appearance of some ominous tourist attraction. He had a bad feeling about this, and he could tell Bandit seconded the motion. Even Max seemed perturbed.
The numbers kept marching on Shades’ watch display, but he was no longer certain they meant much here. He suspected that days were not necessarily twenty-four hours in this world, and before long, his watch reading would be utterly irrelevant to what time of day it really was. Assuming it wasn’t already. Five, ten minutes, and he watched Max keep glancing from the door to the alley where the words The Building is hungry! were slashed on the wall, before either spoke.
Shades tried to act nonchalant, but there was something about this place that was getting to him more and more by the minute.
“So, do you think we should go in there and help ’em out?” Shades finally asked. He was trying to be a smartass, lighten things up, but somehow it just didn’t quite come off right.
“Yes,” Max replied, and Shades was taken aback at how serious his friend sounded. While they stood outside, the words of that graffito-tag, which had bothered him since he first laid eyes on them, finally rang a bell. From the start, he had a gut feeling he should know this place, and it finally came to him. “Trust me, they’re gonna need our help.”
“What do you know about this?”
“Just Outlanders’ stories,” was Max’s opaque reply.
As they stood there, Max recalled part of a tale he wasn’t meant to hear. His parents seldom spoke of this incident, but the longer he repeated those words in his head, the more certain he was this was the very place they had spoken of. It was an account he had found more than a trifle unsettling when he overheard it as a child. So much so, he had largely managed to bury it in the back of his memory.
Only to be remembered now as he stood before this place.
Both he and Shades seemed to realize that there wasn’t much of anything else to be said about it, so they stepped up to the door. Though Shades was more concerned than ever, he could see Max’s growing resolve to help his friend, and remembered that not long ago he himself had said that any friend of Max’s was a friend of his. Even if he was being an asshole. Bandit gave them a look that seemed to say You guys are nuts, followed by a look of exasperated resignation, then followed.
And the three of them entered the building.
Shades, startled by how loudly the door slammed shut behind them, yelped in spite of himself. Startled as he was, he as much more alarmed— yet not overly surprised— to find the door tightly locked. Now he had a very bad feeling about this; in the last month or so, he had developed a rather understandable wariness of places more easily entered than exited. He also had a feeling, a strong feeling, that guy Max met probably knew more about what he was talking about than he let on.
“Max, I don’t like this.”
“I guess we just have to find the exit.” Max shrugged. He then reached into his jacket, pulling out his power pistol. Handing it to Shades, he said, “Here. Take this. I’ve still got my laser sword, so now we both have an energy weapon.”
“Thank you,” Shades told him, hoping desperately that neither of them would need to use either weapon. Reassuring himself that Max’s laser sword could take down that door anyway, he tried to tell himself that it was too late to chicken out now.
Before them was a door on the right-hand wall. A stairway leading down. A stairway going up. And the entrance to a hallway on the far left.
And not a clue as to where either Kato or Justin, or Chase and George, went.
Deciding that Max would search for Justin, and Shades would try to find Kato, the two of them split up. Max deciding to look in the basement, start from the ground up. Shades, deciding that he didn’t want to see what the basement of a place like this was like, took the hall.