______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ |#10 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Rick Mansfield [Cover looks on as Rick, on the left, stands back, aghast, at two people standing on the right of the panel. One is an incredibly old man, the other a very young girl.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Mercury, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned!" Part 1: Amorphous Lad sighed as he walked back up the hill. He had been doing this for the past month, and looked like he'd be doing it for another. His instructions were simple enough: "When you get back wait down at the bus stop every day until I pick you up." Until then, he stayed in a hotel up the hill. Every day, walking down then up, waiting to be contacted. Not a fulfilling lifestyle by any means. Still, it was a nice hotel. His room was nicely furnished. He had meals brought to him whenever he asked, and no one asked him about the bill. He had found the last thing to be rather strange, but there was other strangenesses to occupy his time. Amorphous Lad was certain that the hotel was haunted. There was nothing tangible to support this, but ghosts rarely left physical evidence. He had received odd feelings as he walked from floor to floor, even past some of the rooms. Feelings that things were moving differently around him, as if time itself was occurring at different rates. And then there were times where he was positive he had only spent five minutes doing something, and found that an hour had passed. And visa versa. And he wasn't the only one. Others obviously felt it. The hotel didn't have many guests now. In fact, Amorphous Lad had only seen two others this past week. The staff seemed pretty minimal too, but that may have just been due to the lack of customers. Amorphous Lad paused for breath as he neared the top of the hill. True, he could have easily flown up, but he didn't want to draw any attention to himself, especially not as a shape-shifter, and definitely not as having anything to do with the LNH. Not after what he had just done. Which was why he was listed here as Rick Mansfield, his real name. He studied the hotel, looking for any outwards signs of its troubles. The hotel was ten stories high, with twenty rooms on each level, although only the lower rooms were currently used. It was built long ago, when this town was somewhere to go. It had long since been anything but that. The outside of the hotel was brick, and the paint long faded by the sun. As Rick studied it now, he thought he could see areas of the paint that weren't as worn as the others, but that was ridiculous, every side was exposed to the sun for equal times. There wasn't any signs of renovations, but Rick couldn't immediately think of another explanation for the weird shading. Rick finished his climb, and entered the hotel foyer. He nodded to the manager, George Renshaw, who then failed to clear Rick's room and send his things on to a prearranged address, as he had similarly failed to do for the past month. Rick stopped outside the dining room and examined the night's menu. Chicken, beef, fish, all the usual dishes. Rick felt like something different, and found the Lobster Thermador tempting. He was still deciding when he heard the carefully measured footsteps coming in the front door. The pace was so evenly measured that Rick actually noticed it, and turned to see who it was. As he did so, he glanced at his watch. Five o'clock. Hmm, looks like the hotel was about to get some late guests for the night. Rick wasn't sure what it was, but something told him immediately that this couple wasn't interested in just staying in a room for the night. They extruded an.. aura, radiating an otherworldliness that Amorphous Lad found chilling. The woman was wearing a blue dress that suited her perfectly. Everything about her said "blue", even her blonde hair. Rick found himself liking her immediately, even though he hadn't met her. The man was a different story. In formal suit and bow tie, he seemed to be.. "grey". Rick could tell that this man was all seriousness, that when he wanted something done, it would be done straight away, if not sooner. Rick now knew that his life had just taken a turn into the bizarre. George Renshaw had been managering the hotel for ten years, and didn't deserve what he was about to go through. He arrived in Ame.rec.a from Eng.LAN.d, and immediately avoided going anywhere near Net.ropolis. Instead, he took over this hotel. So far he successfully dealt with Ame.rec.ans, foreigners and fellow travelers (the first two groups being the same, and the last group comprising of fellow Eng.LAN.ders). He looked up when someone rapped on the desk, and met the eyes of a very startling stranger. The gaze pierced into his soul, and George had to work his jaw a few times before he could get his voice working. "Hello, sir," his eyes darted left, and he nearly stumbled when he saw the vision in blue. "Madam. May I be of service?" "How old is this building?" asked the man, flicking his interest around the room. "Several centuries, sir. Touched up now and then upon occasion, but it really is in fine condition." "Has there ever been any extensions built onto it? And new levels?" George shook his head. "No. It's always been ten stories." At this, the man gave his companion a sharp look, and George took the opportunity to steal another glance at the woman. She really was very beautiful. "Who occupies the top floor?" The man interrupted his reverie with yet another question. "No-one. We don't get the customers nowadays," George confided. "Perhaps you are wanting a room yourself? For you and your... friend? How many nights were you thinking of.." His voice trailed off as the man's eyes locked onto his, a stare that he couldn't pull away from. "George Fredrick Renshaw," the man said, in a commanding tone. "Yes," George barely whispered. "This hotel is under attack, being used as a plaything." "Yes." George wasn't sure if he was agreeing or accepting a statement of fact. "We are here to deal with this. Understand?" "No." "Good." "Who are you people?" asked a new voice, and George finally found himself released from the man's gaze. He slumped slightly, and turned to see who the new arrival was. It was, in fact, one of his guests. Mr. Rick Mansfield. All right in his way. Mad, of course, as all Ame.rec.ans were. Trooping down the hill every day, then coming back up again. At least his bills were paid up, the checks arriving by mail. George saw a frown on the strange man's face, the first sign of anything that the man had shown. He gave his companion another glance, and she intervened. "Hello," she said sweetly, smiling. "My name's Starfire. We're here to help." George could see the enrapture on the young man's face easily enough. He suspected that he would be wearing a similar mien if she smiled at him like that. "Perhaps I could help," Mr. Mansfield replied. "I am not unaccustomed to dealing with.. difficult situations." "I'm sure," Starfire said. "This is my associate, Skeal." George watched as Skeal subjected Mr. Mansfield to one of his soul piercing appraisals. "What are you?" Skeal finally asked. George thought he saw a flash of panic on Mr. Mansfield's face, but it didn't last long. "What do you mean? I'm as human as you are." "Yes, I'm afraid you might be right." George could feel his slight grasp on the situation slipping and struggled for another hold. "Excuse me, but do you require a room?" "Not yet," Skeal replied, "but do you mind if we look around?" "No, of course not," George heard himself saying. "Help yourself." Skeal nodded, and George almost expected him to smile, then took Starfire's arm and they entered the main corridor. George traded a raised eyebrow with Mr. Mansfield, but the latter also left after the strange couple. George was left with the need of a stiff drink before dinner. Rick ran to catch them up, but there was no need. Starfire and Skeal were leisurely strolling along, no hurry in their pace, as if out for a Sunday walk. It was only their sharp and cautious glances to the left and right that betrayed their unease to Rick. "What are you looking for?" he asked, his eyes fixed on Starfire. "The usual. The unusual," she replied. "What have you noticed around here?" asked Skeal. "Me?" replied Rick, guiltily. "Why should I have noticed anything?" "You're not like the others around here. You body structure is different." "Ah. That," said Rick. "I have... abilities. I used to be in the Legion on Net.Heroes. You may have heard of me. I was known as Amorphous Lad." Rick looked to Starfire for any sign of recognition, but her blue eyes gave nothing away. "Never mind that," said Skeal. "Have you noticed anything?" "Just strange feelings," said Rick, shrugging. "Like time is going at different rates." Skeal turned his full attention on Rick, which he found rather uncomfortable. "Where?" "The floors above." "Any particular floor?" Rick shook his head. "No. I've felt it on several floors. I've wandered up as far as the sixth." Skeal's unwavering gaze forced him to continue talking. "Sometimes, on higher floors, the strangeness seems stronger." Skeal turned to Starfire. "We'll have to check each floor." "Twelve floors will take time. Can we afford it?" she asked. "We'll have to." "What? wait a minute," said Rick. "Twelve floors? There are only ten." "Just because you can only see ten doesn't mean there aren't twelve," Skeal said. "Why twelve?" asked Rick. "Surely thirteen would have been more appropriate." "Twelve is more significant," said Starfire. "Twelve has far more power than thirteen." "Thirteen has always been more significant," said Rick. "Friday the 13th. Thirteen members in a religious circle. A baker's dozen. No thirteen floor in buildings. In tarot card, the thirteenth is Death. Thirteen members in a rugby team. Lots of unlucky thirteens. Twelve.. I can only think of the twelve days of Christmas." "The twelve days of Christmas are most significant," said Starfire. "Twelve apostles of your Christ. Twelve signs of the Zodiac. The twelfth tarot card is the Hanged Man. Twelve inches in a foot. Making such a fuss over thirteen is just a way of avoiding the truth of twelve." "Quiet," barked Skeal, and Rick looked to see him standing at the bottom of the stairwell that led to the higher levels. Skeal cocked his head to one side, listening. "How many above us?" he asked. Rick thought he saw Starfire's eyes glow brighter, but that wasn't possible. "Two," she said finally. "Both old. In separate rooms." Rick nodded. "Mr. Kinsley, and Mrs. Aspire. They'll stay there until dinner." "Come on, then," said Skeal, jumping up the stairs. They caught up with him on the first floor. "Where have you felt these strangenesses?" It took a moment for Rick to realise that Skeal was talking to him, but, after that, Rick pointed down the corridor. "Along that passageway, and the ones leading off it. Right outside the doors of rooms, mainly." "And in your own room?" "Maybe once or twice." "Right. Starfire, stay right behind me. Tell me when you sense anything," he ordered her. "_Anything_." She nodded. It was patently obvious to Rick that these two were comfortable professionals. Skeal set off down the corridor, with Starfire trailing behind him. Rick kept up with Starfire, wanting to talk to her some more. "Have you been doing this long?" Rick asked her. "You could say that," replied Starfire. "Sometimes it feels like this is all we've ever done." "Why haven't I heard of you before? I would have though that Occultism Kid or Kid Kirby would have mentioned you." "We don't advertise our presence. Unlike the LNH, we prefer to work outside of the public eye." True enough. Even Rick now found himself avoiding the limelight. Some activities shouldn't be investigated too hard. Especially some of Rick's more recent ones. "Are there many like you?" he asked. "Oh, there's no-one like me,"said Starfire, treating Rick to another dazzling smile. "But there are others in a similar profession." Skeal held up a hand. and Rick let the next question die in his mouth. "Anything, Starfire?" Skeal asked. While he waited for an answer, Skeal moved slowly ahead, looking left and right, trying to sense what had made him stop. There was something there, just on the edge of perceptability. "I think," Skeal heard Starfire say, "I think, yes, something's found us. But it doesn't know what we are yet." "What is it?" Rick asked, interrupting Skeal's concentration. "Quiet," he hissed at Rick, who backed off, panic lighting his eyes. "Continue, Starfire." "It's looking at you now. Its trying to probe you, see what you are, see what you're made of." "The answer would surprise him," Skeal muttered. "Can you tell where it's coming from?" "Not yet. I can only sense the focus not the source. Currently, you. Wait..." Skeal could feel something himself. Some slight change in the air, a slight distortion of perspectivities. "It doing something, I can't quite make out what. Skeal, watch -" There. Something was happening to him, around him. Skeal steeled him mind, resisting whatever was trying to invade him. He could sense a presence around him, but not anything tangible. Strange, he also couldn't feel an attack on himself, either, yet something was happening. He remembered Starfire's abruptly terminated warning, and opened his eyes. He whirled around. Starfire was missing! Part 2: As Skeal's mind spun, he took in a few more observations. Rick's mouth seemed to be a blur, and his hands moved far too rapidly for any normal gesturing. Skeal could still feel the presence around him, and strode forward, trying to free himself from the influence. "- there? Hello, Skeal? Can you hear me?" Rick was asking. "Yes. Of course I can," said Skeal in a flash of irritation. "Where's Starfire?" "Behind you," Skeal heard, and turned around to see Starfire standing further down the corridor, past where the presence was. "What happened it you?" Skeal asked. "It's more like, what happened to you," said Rick. Skeal's look of annoyance pushed him on. "It's like time slowed down for you. You've been moving incredibly slowly for the past two hours." "Two hours?" "It's gone," Starfire reported. "I wanted to get on the other side of whatever it was, but it's gone now." She crossed the intervening space without anything unusual happening to her. "Did you try to take time back?" Skeal asked her. "Yes, but it was like there was a block. The area you were in was sealed off from me." "I think it's beginning to suspect what we are," said Skeal. "And we still haven't found where it is." "Perhaps on the twelfth floor?" suggested Rick. "And how do we get there?" asked Skeal. "Umm, well..." "Precisely. We'll have to search each floor." "How long is that going to take?" asked Rick. "Perhaps you should get some sleep," said Starfire. "It's only seven o'clock," said Rick. "And this will take a lot of hours of walking up and down corridors," Skeal said. "You could be right," agreed Rick. "I'll see you tomorrow." He left the two agents to get on with a more tedious aspect of their job. "Shall we go on?" asked Starfire once Rick was out of the way. "Yes, but we'll have to move quickly. We'll only do this floor and the one above for now. If we don't find anything else after that, we'll skip straight to the top level." "Why don't we go to the tenth right now?" asked Starfire. "He said that the strangeness increased as he got higher." "There's no reason that the twelfth is more accessible from the tenth than there is for it to be accessible from the sixth. If we find something strong enough down here, it's very possible that the twelfth is a lot lower." With this explanation given, Skeal moved past Starfire, and continued to prowl around along the corridor. Although they found nothing of interest on the first floor, the entity tried again on the second. This time with a slightly different approach. Starfire and Skeal were walking through a connecting passage when Starfire noticed the attention now focussed on them. "Skeal, it's back," she said. "Stop," Skeal commanded. "Concentrate, Starfire, find out where it's coming from. Is it stronger up here than it was below?" Skeal looked into his partner's bright eyes while waiting for an answer. "Yes, but not by much. Its home must be further away than the sixth. I.. I can't tell where exactly." "Don't worry, we'll find it. What is it trying to do this time?" Starfire's senses probed the air around them, tracking the presence as it channeled more of its power into a firm response. She half turned as she tried to work what was happening. She was getting two different feelings. "It's in front of us," she said, and Skeal looked hard for any physical manifestation. "But, it's also behind us. It's.. it's changing the time around us. I.. I'm blocked off." Her eyes returned to normal as Skeal looked past her into empty space. "Skeal, it's hemming us in. If we try to leave through it, we'll be stuck in slow time. We could be stuck there forever." "I got out of it last time," said Skeal. "I think it let you go. It was only testing, seeing what we were capable of." "I know what I'm capable of," said Skeal, firmly. "And I know I'm capable of escaping from whatever trap it can devise." He turned his attention to the walls surrounding him. "Through there," he said, pointing to one wall. "Is it through there?" Starfire concentrated, reaching out and testing the air. "No. No one's there." "Then that's the way we'll go." Skeal drew back his fist and slammed it into the wall. Plaster crumbled and fell away, and the heavy wooden boards snapped under his powerful thrust. While Skeal was busy opening up another doorway, Starfire checked on the condition of the time pockets trying to ensnare them. "Skeal," she said, after probing them. "It knows. It knows what we're doing. The time dams are hurrying up. Skeal, it's going to get us!" "Calm down, Starfire," said Skeal, kicking another board out of the way. "It's just playing with us. If it wanted to, it could have got us long ago. Come on, through here." Skeal grabbed Starfire's arm and pulled here through to the room beyond. The room was dark, the curtains denying the last fading sunlight allowance. Skeal snapped on the electric lights, revealing a room that, while cleaned recently, obviously hadn't been used for a very long time. "It nearly had us, Skeal," said Starfire. "As I said, it was playing. Although, I think its patience will soon start to wear thin." Skeal looked around carefully. "How old is this room?" "What?" "This room, Starfire. How old?" "172 years," she replied after a moment. "Not old enough," muttered Skeal. He opened the main door. "Come on. Up we go." Starfire managed to get to the sixth floor before the shiver ran down her spine. She could feel the presence growing stronger as she walked up the stairwell, but unable to sense where it resided. She mad it one more flight before she stumbled. "Skeal," she called out, as she felt herself falling backwards. He was at her side in an instant, catching and steadying her. "What is it?" he asked. "It's here." "On the stairwell? On this floor?" "No... It wants us to think its here. Its just trying to trick us again. I'll be all right," Starfire assured. "We'll take the lift up," said Skeal. "Don't you want to check each floor, at least this way?" "I don't think we have the time anymore." Skeal lead the way through the seventh floor until they found the lift. As they rose, Starfire watched the numbers of the floors light up. 7.... 8....... Odd. It was taking a long time. 9......... The nine light blinked out, but Starfire didn't see the 10 light blink on. Although she waited, continually looking at the panel, the lift doors didn't open, and they didn't reach the tenth floor. She turned to see what Skeal had to say about this, but gasped when she saw him. He was frozen in time, just like before, but here time was passing much slower than before. Her head turned back to the light display, feeling time distorting oddly around her. 9. The light had blinked back on. Starfire senses were now screaming at her. The lift wasn't merely going back down. 8. The lift was traveling backwards in time. Starfire closed her eyes. If this was to be a battle, so be it. She concentrated on time, time around her, and the normal time passing outside. She felt the lift stop and the doors open. She sensed her and Skeal's past images, getting out of the lift backwards only what should have been moments before. With a bone-jarring jerk, time reversed again, flowing forwards, only now more slowly than before. Starfire felt their past selves entering the list again. Time passing normally, she though. Time passing normally, the lift rising to the tenth floor, and then she and Skeal stepping out. Starfire concentrated on this image, keeping the idea of time continuing at its normal rate, despite its odd behavior in the lift. Time flowing normally. Time flowing normally. A bing announced the lift doors opening. "Come on, Starfire," Skeal's voice came gratefully to her ears. "That was a quick trip, so let's be thankful and get on with what we came here to do." Starfire let a smile play around her lips. There was no sense in telling him what happened. It hadn't helped her to locate the entity any easier. Aside from a stronger felling for the presence, the tenth floor proved useless. None of the rooms had been occupied for years. As they stared into one dust sheet covered room, Skeal asked "How old is this room?" Starfire reached out. "539 years." Skeal looked at Starfire in surprise. "But that's over 350 years older than than the second floor. How is that possible?" "Time has been flowing in different rates, Skeal," Starfire said. "Up here, it has passed more quickly than downstairs." "Definite trouble. Well, the twelfth can't be reached from here. Down to the ninth." once they reached the ninth, Skeal opened the door to the nearest room. "How old is this one?" he asked. "629 years." "Interesting. Come on, Starfire. One more floor down." Again, once they reached the eighth floor, Skeal asked the age of the first room. "512 years." Skeal grinned. "We've got it. The entrance must be somewhere on the ninth floor." Once back on the ninth floor, they still had no idea how to get to the twelfth, and were left with no other choice than to progressively check each and every room for a sign. While it would have been quicker to split up, they knew that they were more vulnerable that way, but searching each room was no faster. Still, when they reached Room 911, Starfire knew instantly that they had found their door. "This room," she said. "It's been severely distorted through time." She took a few steps in. "This part of the room is 921 years old." She took five steps to the right. "But this part is only 422 years old." She crossed to the far wall. "And this wall. It's 50 years old." "Where's the entrance, Starfire?" asked Skeal. "Where do we go from here?" Starfire walked around the edge of the room, trailing her hand over the walls, letting her time sense guide her. "Here," she said finally. "There was a door here, 1022 years ago. Far before there was ever thoughts of a building being here." "What happened? How could a door exist before a doorway?" Starfire let herself drift back, back through the decades, the centuries. "It was placed here," she said faintly. "Placed here to hide it. It is brought to the present whenever someone needs to cross to the _other_ floors. But it stays in the past, where it can't be detected." "Except by us," Skeal supplied. "Can you bring it back, Starfire?" Starfire tried momentarily, testing herself and the door. "No. It is too far back, beyond my powers." Skeal thumped a nearby wall in frustration, leaving a hole. "But, if I can find a more recent time it was used, I might be able to bring that here." "Do it." She already was. However, she also knew that if she took the door from when the entity was moving it, it would find out, and then their own presence here would be alerted before they had even arrived. She jumped back a day at a time. If the entity even sensed her while she was probing for the door, all would be lost. Nothing. Nothing recent enough for her to use. Then she got a crafty idea. Starfire reached forward ten minutes. The door was there, and she grabbed hold of it, brining it to the present. "We've got ten minutes," she told Skeal. "How did you get it?" he asked. "I borrowed from myself," Starfire replied. "You shouldn't do that. It makes things too precarious." "Things are too precarious already." Skeal didn't reply, but also didn't look happy as he stepped through the doorway. After Starfire passed through, the entity moved the door back to the past. In eight minutes time, it brought it forward again so it could let Starfire and Skeal back out again, and so Starfire could take it in two minutes. In two minutes, the Starfire of ten minutes ago 'borrowed' the door, while the Starfire of now lay on the ground, crying softly. Rick got up at the knocking on his door the next morning. His breakfast had arrived, delivered as it was to him and the other guests. As he ate, the events the previous day came back to him, and he wondered how Starfire and Skeal were getting on. After suitable fortification, he left to find them. Remembering their plan, he took the lift up to the tenth floor. "Starfire? Skeal?" he called out as he exited. No response. He walked along the main passage, calling there names out again. After ten minutes of this, he decided to try the next floor down. On the ninth, he called out again, and again there was no response. He thought he heard something creaking down the corridor and walked carefully that way. As he neared Room 911, he noticed the door opening slowly, causing the creaking noise he had heard. He watched the opening gap carefully, looking for signs of the person within. He found one. Near the bottom of the door were fingers. While Rick immediately thought of Skeal, he noticed something odd about them. They were old man's fingers, old and gnarled. Not fingers associated with Skeal's healthy body. "Hello?" he called out. "Can I help? Are you another guest here?" Rick listened carefully, and thought he heard faint weeping. Delaying no longer, he pushed the door opened roughly. His mouth dropped in shock at what he saw. Skeal, lying on the floor, unable to rise. His body incredibly aged, wrinkles and blotches engraved onto his skin. His head juddered uncontrollably as he tried to look up at Rick. Rick winced and looked away when he saw one of Skeal's eyes missing, the socket closed by loose skin. Then Rick saw Starfire. Her body had been treated in the opposite manner, now that of an eight year old. She looked up at Rick, and he saw tears glistening on her cheeks. "Help us," she asked pitifully. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NOTES AND THINGS: ----------------- Well, all these are mine, so there's no read need for credits. Starfire and Skeal are, of course, based on that brilliant ITC production, which, if you haven't seen, you should really try to get a hold of. (Unfortunately the tapes are few and far between :( (Of course, if you don't know who I'm talking about, and as I'm not naming names, you're pretty much in the dark, aren't you? :) There are two parts to the issue, and each part corresponds to a half hour episode. I'm not sure if there'll be two or three issue to this arc, but if there is three then a typical story length of 6 episodes will be achieved! :) Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this. As you see I haven't given any locations, nor given a story title, and am trying to build suspense and atmosphere as opposed to senseless violence. Let me know what you think. Hey, tell me if you at least read it. Then I'll know I'm not completely ignored. :)Back to the Index.