In this case, literally, he’d climbed the structure to the 3rd level where, escorted by seriously armed security, he would step into a horizont-ivator like the one in the Stasi Museum (yet another state that’d appropriated the compass for its emblem, he thought), ostensibly to the center column where he’d be ushered as high as 10 by a new set of guards whose badges indicated the prospective level – as well as their current grade.
From there he walked back to the end of the 10th corridor, adjacent to its outer column, and repeated the procession three levels at a time, each time accompanied by the corresponding initiates, all the way to the 31st, where he climbed a set of stairs to the next level, where he was not met by the only other 32er he knew — who had been however at the formal ceremony the previous evening in the lodge — but by a white-gloved servant with a key on a cushion, which V. used, with minor assistance from the man in the white glove, to trigger the opening of a hole in the wall, into which V. engaged his genitalia until ejaculation.
The elevator doors opened.
As the car began to move, it was unmistakable to V. that he was heading down, not up. Another wrinkle, he was thinking, until he’d descended so many floors that he lost count. No sooner than this had occurred to him, a down arrow next to the 33 button appeared as much as illuminated, culminating in an anachronistic ding.
The parting doors revealed an extended darkness lit by a lone florescent stripe down the middle of a walkway as narrow as the doors were wide and which ran forward far into the distance, but not so far as to obscure its slow & steady incline and eventual bank-like twist to the right. The darkness was daunting, as it consumed enough of the surroundings that the walkway edge was nearly as black as the distance, the expanse of which was imperceptible.
He stepped to the door and stopped. He stood. In his mind he heard a voice. As distinct as his own thoughts, yet distinctly not, it said, “Walk.”
Immediately out the elevator, his stomach, his heart, his organs, and finally his sense of balance informed him that his gravitational adherence to this plank was a fraction of that to the planet’s surface.
V. walked for what seemed like hours with the feeling that he wasn’t coming any closer to the point where the walkway began to twist, and just as sudden as the walk was long, it banked extremely so, yet his feet felt no less light for this shifting orientation. His foothold on the plank, thankfully, became no more tenuous.
As the degree of bank faded under his feet and from his vision, a figure emerged like a speck on the horizon. It was then that he began to recognize the forward progress of his motion, because the speck was growing with his approach. He’d sensed right away, even before he’d seen its shape, that the figure was biological, but not human, and the closer he got, the larger its head became in proportion to its thin body. Lit only by the florescence of the stripe, its skin seemed almost translucent. Its eyes, on the other hand, were huge, black, and foreboding. V. became afraid to continue walking, but was too terrified to stop. Just then the thought arrived, “That’s far enough.”
V. was surprised to find himself so close face to face. He looked into its eyes, for he couldn’t look away, his gaze falling like sleep pulled desperately into their depth. And there they stood a while, as far as V. could tell, staring at each other until he received the transmission he would assume was the message he’d come for, the secret knowledge he was entitled to: “You…”
It allowed this to sink in long enough for V. to consider all the connotations of you. Then V. thought that if there’d be anything harder to explain than what it feels like to receive telepathically, it’d be this pause. It goes from language translated into a parallel set of thoughts in one’s own mind to all the ideas in the silence between them, which were nevertheless thoughts beside his own. The figure continued, with each pause forming a complete notion to let stew: “…are not…” “…at the top…” “…of the food chain.”
With that it was gone, and before V. could do what his instinct begged, which was turn around and run back, he sensed a voice explain that the distance to the elevator “under” his feet was the same either way, which in his real mind somehow seemed to translate to its being less pointless to turn around than compelling to go straight ahead, which he did and, on some level deep within, queasily chuckled at the irony.
The labyrinth back had to be done from reverse memory, as there was no one there to receive him anywhere along the way. Not until he reached his limo did he see another face, the first of many familiar that wouldn’t look the same. Armed with the knowledge that he would not speak of this experience, it made sudden sense that you never saw a 33er at the lodge. He went back to his life and continued to live it — with the exception that he’d apparently been relieved of duty-based responsibilities.