______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ |#11 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Rick Mansfield [On the left of the cover is an incredibly young girl, her face torn in panic. On the right, is a very old woman, her face contorted in fright.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "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 3: Rick Mansfield looked in horror from the aged body of Skeal to the prepubescent form that was Starfire. "Help us," asked Starfire again. "H.. how?" Rick stammered. He knew that, although he possessed fairly formidable powers, shape-changing wouldn't help here. "Get us out of this building, away from that thing." Stepping carefully, Rick heaved up the body of Skeal, and found him surprisingly weighty. Entwining his arms around Skeal, Rick backed out the door, turning his head around to see his way. Starfire slowly followed him. When Rick turned towards the lift, Starfire grabbed him. "No, not that way." "What? You want me to take Skeal down by the stairs?" Rick asked incredulously. He frowned at Starfire's nod. One idea occurred to him, but he was hesitant to use it, but could see no other choice. From his waist, Rick spread himself out, becoming like a large table. He left his arms out and his head sticking as a kind of prow. With a bit of tricky maneuvering, Rick managed to get Skeal on top of him. Wrapping his arms around Skeal to stop him sliding off, Rick walked down the stairs, a table on legs. He only hoped the manager wouldn't see him. Rick could feel his breath starting to go as they reached the ground floor. Starfire motioned them on quickly as they crossed the lobby floor. Fortunately, there was no one about at the moment to see Rick in such an unusual predicament. Outside, Rick stopped and started to reform. "What are you doing?" asked Starfire. "We're outside now," said Rick. "You should be safe enough." Rick saw Starfire shiver. "Not here. Further away." "The bottom of the hill? I'm supposed to go there anyway." At Starfire's nod, Rick set off, making his lungs slightly larger. Down at the bus stop, Rick helped Skeal sit down. The distance must have helped, because Skeal looked around, seeking someone. "Starfire?" Rick winced at the voice. It was almost a croak. "I'm here, Skeal," said Starfire, taking Skeal's hand. "It beat us, Starfire." "I know." "It beat _me_." "Rest, Skeal." "Can you take time back, Starfire? Take it back before it did this to us?" "No. I.. It took away..." "Oh, Starfire.." Rick caught the look Skeal gave Starfire, and wondered how deep Starfire's loss was. "Any ideas, Skeal?" "Rest. Just.. rest..." Skeal's voice fell away as Rick saw him fall asleep. Starfire withdrew it a distance, and Rick followed her. "What happened?" he asked, noting that she continued to look at Skeal, not him. "It beat us," she said simply. "What did? How?" "It was waiting for us, trapped us on the eleventh floor. And then it hit us. Accelerated Skeal and receded me. And then us go." "The eleventh floor?" asked Rick. "I thought you were looking for the twelfth?" "You have to go to the eleventh before you can get to the twelfth." Rick felt slightly foolish in the face of this obvious point. "Is there anything you can do now?" he asked. Rick saw loss etched plainly on Starfire's face. "No," she whispered. "Nothing." In the hotel, on the sixth floor, the lift doors opened, and a bulky trolley rolled out, followed by a maid. The lift doors closed behind her, taking another maid with a similar trolley up to the seventh. They had been instructed to clean the floors. This happened every so often. Even though the floors weren't used, that was no reason to let them get dusty. The maid, Mabel Pugh, pushed the trolley along, reaching in her pocket for the key to the first room. She liked this job, although some parts of it spooked her. Although Mr. Rendshaw disapproved of even talking about such a thing, Mabel had heard her share of the rumours about the hotel being haunted. And had her own first hand experiences. Mostly they were feelings, feelings of being watched, feelings of time going by. She often berated herself for letting fanciful ideas getting away with her, but late at night, when there was no-one else around to enable her to fool herself, then the doubts crept in. Those nights usually passed slowly, too slowly. Last night had been worse than the rest, though. As she reached forwards to put the key in the lock, a shiver ran down her spine, almost making her convulse with its intensity. Mabel spun around quickly, her heart accelerating, and her eyes darting around. If she had seen someone, it was likely that she would have died of fright. As it was, there was no-one there. "Gladys," Mabel called out, the name of the maid supposedly working above. "Gladys, is that you?" Mabel hoped it was just Gladys looking for her. In fact, she could do with a bit of company right now, even if was a silly girl. (Although Mabel was 40, and Gladys 35, Mabel though of anyone younger than her as girl or boy. And Gladys's habit of uncontrollable gossiping didn't mature her in Mabel's eyes.) However, Gladys, if she was there, didn't answer. Mabel shook herself. Just letting the quiet get to her. The fourth floor, which she had done before this one, was as silent as this one. Still, that was only two floors from decent habitation. Mabel took a deep breath, then returned to the door. Put the key in the lock, and tur- The wind came upon her suddenly, billowing her clothes around her, blowing her hair in to her eyes, and knocking bottles and cloths from the trolley. Mabel heard them hitting the floor despite the whistling of the wind in her hair. Mabel scrabbled against the door, letting out little whimpers. Her mind whirled with the storm around her. What was happening? How could there be a tornado in the hall? Did someone leave a window open? And yet, as the wind buffeted and pushed at he, Mabel felt changes coming over her. Strength came to her limbs, and she could see wrinkles in her hands fading and her skin tone became stronger. Mabel felt her whole body straighten, and stood up, a new force against the wind. She looked down at herself. Wow, she hadn't looked this good for years. Even with the wind trying to knock her over, Mabel danced along the hall, feeling a new thrill enter her, a thrill she had last felt when she was twenty, the thrill of being young and loving it. A tiny spark of reason flared in her consciousness. What was going on? What was happening to her? She danced along the hallway, and came to the stairs. She tripped lightly down the first few stairs, but noticed something that sent a flare of panic through her. She was getting smaller! Within moments, her body was that of a twelve year old, and yet she was still going, still getting younger with each passing moment. "Gladys!" Mabel screamed, but was unable to say anything more. Her body was too young. Four, three, two... "Gladys!" Gladys heard, just coming out of her first room, and gave a gasp of surprise. That was Mabel! Gladys had also heard the rumours about the building, and had invented a few plausible ones herself. Still, that only made things worse. She stood frozen in panic, her imagination working overtime. Was this it? Had a ghost finally come out, and was killing everyone? She took a few steps away from the direction of the stairs, unsure what was happening, when she was knocked over by a blast of wind. Gladys lay on the floor, her hands over her face, sure that whatever it was had come for her. But, when nothing worse than the wind shook her body, Gladys finally opened her eyes. She pushed her hair out of the way, and stood up, using the wall beside her to support herself. She didn't know what was going on, but she was quite sure it wasn't caused by any window being left open. She ran for the stairs, wanting to get off the floor as soon as possible, and not trusting the lift to arrive in time. As she ran, she stumbled, and collapsed on the floor, barely able to put her arms up in time to stop herself. Raising herself up seemed to take all her energy, and Gladys looked in horror as she saw her hands wrinkled and spots growing on them. She managed to stagger to her feet, and started moaning as she saw how much her hands were shaking. Unsteadily, she made her way to the stairs, but collapsed on the first step. She was unable to move and she saw her hands grow older and older, the bones outlined by thin, almost transparent skin. Before she knew anything else, Gladys aged past death. Rick sat in the bus shelter, fidgeting. Skeal was asleep, pretty much since they got here, and Starfire was concentrating all her time on him. If there was ever a time he really wanted help, it was now. This sort of thing was totally beyond him. Unfortunately, he had alienated himself from the LNH, and he didn't think they'd be too willing to let him back without some comment. Still, perhaps there was just a chance. Maybe Occultism Kid would be willing to come anyway. Or maybe Kid Kirby. Rick never really got to understand Kid Kirby, but the Kirbian seemed just distant enough to come without considering Rick's past actions. Rick stood up. "I'm going back to the hotel, just to make sure nothing else has happened to anyone." "All right," said Starfire, without looking up. "Just as long as you don't call for help." Rick reacted guiltily, but Starfire didn't see it, or comment if she did. "We will be able to handle this. We just need time to think." "Er, yeah," said Rick, wanting to get away. "I'll be back." Walking hurriedly, Rick left the shelter behind, and started up the hill. Halfway up, he remembered that he went there to meet someone, and perhaps he should have asked Starfire to look out for him, but decided that he couldn't face them again without some better idea about what to do. Their helplessness made him feel helpless. And yet, there should be something he'd be able to do. Couldn't he just fly up to the ninth floor? Just become a star and explode his way in? Just become aged like Skeal and lie impotent on the floor? 'Self-defeating' was the word that came immediately into Rick's mind, and he gave a wry smile. Rick entered the hotel and found George Rendshaw pacing the floor. "Mr. Rendshaw," Rick said. "What is it?" "Ah, Mr.Mansfield. No need for you to worry," said Mr. Rendshaw, his eyes betraying the his mouth's platitudes. "Just a little management difficulty. It'll soon be worked out." Rick could spot the lie easily enough, but didn't know what to do about it. There was no way he could help without more information, and Rick wasn't going to force it out of him. "Right, then. Just going up to my room. Maybe make a few phone calls," Rick said, heading for the lift. "Ah, not that way, please," said Mr. Rendshaw, coming after Rick quickly. "I'm afraid the lift is currently out of action. Part of the problem. We are dealing with it, but if you wouldn't mind taking the stairs up to your room?" Ah ha, now this was more interesting. "What's the problem?" Rick inquired. "As I said, we have matters in hand," said Mr. Rendshaw, and Rick saw that he wouldn't be able to push the matter. "But, ah, tell me, Mr. Mansfield. Those two friends of yours. Have you seen them recently?" "Er, why?" asked Rick carefully. "No real reason," replied Mr. Rendshaw. "If you do see them, tell them I'd like a word with them." Rick could imagine Skeal's response. "Do you really think they'd come?" he asked, a smile hinting at his lips. Mr. Rendshaw shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not," he admitted. "Still, it'd be nice to know the answers." "It'd be nice to know some of the questions," muttered Rick to himself as he left for the stairs. Upon reaching his floor, Rick turned down the corridor to his room, but didn't start walking. He felt a strange sensation come over him, like his skin was crawling. On a whim, he held his hand up before his eyes. He shivered as he watched the flesh move by itself. Rick shut his eyes quickly, and cleared his mind, calming himself. Opening his eyes again, he looked at his hand, the skin inert as much as it always was. Sometimes being a shape-shifter let morbid thoughts slip into reality. But, it looked as if making calls would have to wait. He wasn't totally positive if he would have actually made any calls, but at least now, he could put off that moment. There was something strange going on. The lift was just a symptom. Rick ran up the next flight or two, coming to rest on the fourth floor. Now his skin really did feel like it was living a life of its own. Rick wanted to scratch himself, but tried to resist. This wasn't a normal itch. Fifth floor. Was he fooling himself, or could he hear wind blowing violently above him? He looked up the staircase carefully. Everything looked all right. Better than normal, in fact. Everything was spotlessly clean, the carpet never looked better, no holes, and the wood was a rich quality that it hadn't had for years. Rick extended his hand up stairwell. He could feel the wind passing over it, and odd sensations coming from it. He withdrew his hand quickly, and inspected it. It looked healthy enough. He compared it with his other hand. Looked even healthier than that. Odd. Very odd. Still, the best way to investigate this would be to go up there, but Rick wanted to try another way than the lift. A thought entered his head that perhaps he should get Starfire, or at least tell her, but he wanted to prove that he could do something first. Moving through the fifth floor, Rick came to the lift shaft, and forced the doors open. Looking up the shaft, he converted one hand into a torch, and shone it upwards. The lift was there, two floors up. Rick played his beam over it. There was something odd. The lift had holes in it, but not from normal damage. It looked like it had been corroded for fifty years, but that was impossible, wasn't it? Letting his hand fall back to his original shape, Rick decided on a plan of action. He had to get up there, but wasn't sure that it would be too healthy for him up there. The only way to go was speedily. Rick wrapped a hand around each of the two lift cables, changing them to wheels that would run up the cables and pull him up as fast as he could go. He jumped into the shaft and accelerated up. The force of the sixth floor hit him in an instant, forcing his hands back to the shapes they hand been before. Rick managed to grab the cables, nearing burning his hands in the process and gritted his teeth against other changes, but it was already too late. The aged cables attached to the lift gave way under the sudden weight, and they, and Rick, plummeted seven floors straight downwards. Part 4: Rick could have changed into a bird, but it was more than likely that the downward force would break his wings. That thought didn't appeal to Rick, so he went for the next best option. He changed into a large beach ball, and bounced, quite hard, off the bottom of the lift shaft. He floated up and squeezed through the lift doors on the ground floor. Luckily, no-one saw him do that. Peeking out, Rick saw that Mr. Rendshaw was still pacing in the foyer. Not really happy with what he was about to do, Rick took a deep breath, then changed into a sparrow, and flittered out of the lobby, attracting attention as he went. To play it safe, Rick flew away from the hotel in the opposite direction to the bus station, then circled back once he was sure he was out of sight. Changing back into human form, Rick stepped out from behind the bus shelter. Rick gave a sharp intake of breath when he saw Skeal's condition. It seemed to have deteriorated even over the short time he had been away. Starfire obviously saw his worried look. "He'll live for a while yet," she said, quietly. "We're not that easy to kill off. Why did you come back?" Rick suddenly remembered why he had left. To call the LNH for help. Looks like he wasn't going to do that after all. "Whatever it is that's in there, it's done something else." Starfire quickly turned to Rick, shocking him with her intensity. "What is it?" "On.. on the sixth floor. Something.. some kind of," Rick had no idea how to explain it. "It's like time's flowing oddly, changing things at a pace totally different to normal." "Which way? Forwards or backwards?" "Umm, backwards?" he ventured. "That takes a lot of power." "That's not all," Rick said. "Above it, on the seventh floor, the reverse is happening. From what I saw of the lift, it was incredibly aged." "Ah," said Starfire, nodding. "Balance. Take time from one area and return it in another." "Yeah, maybe," agreed Rick hesitantly, "but what do we do about it?" "What would you suggest we do?" Starfire asked. "Couldn't you, umm, reverse everything, or something?" "How? Remember, I don't have any of my powers anymore." Rick winced, hearing the pain in her voice. "But, there is something that we might be able to do. Is the time field dangerous?" "It could be," Rick said, uncertainly. "Well, you'll just have to survive it." "What? Me? Isn't this more your area?"" "Yes," said Starfire. "But we aren't exactly at our best, so you will have to help us." With this argument in front of him, there wasn't much Rick could do other than agree. "Okay," he sighed. "What do we do first?" "Skeal should be feeling a bit better now he's had time to rest away from the hotel, but he'll still need your help getting back up the hill." Rick smiled. "I think I know how to arrange that. Just don't tell Mr. Rendshaw how you got there." He turned away, but then clicked his fingers as he remembered something. "By the way, Mr. Rendshaw wanted to talk to you when he saw you next." Starfire nodded, but said nothing. Rick walked out onto the road, and stretched. He had apparently done this before, but couldn't remember it, as he couldn't remember anything of the time he had been taken over by the Master of the Net. With some feelings of discomfort, Rick grew into a slick, almost bestial, black car. Starfire gently woke Skeal up, and helped him walk over, and get into, the car. Once they were safely inside, Rick accelerated away, and rapidly covered the distance up the hill to the front door of the hotel. Mr. Rendshaw came out as Starfire clambered out of the car. Rick didn't stay around to hear what she said, as once Skeal left, he took off so he could change back to normal without Mr. Rendshaw seeing. But, when he got back, he found Starfire and Skeal waiting for him, and no Mr. Rendshaw. Whatever Starfire said, must have been good enough. Taking Skeal's other arm, Rick helped Starfire guide him inside. "We'll have to go up the stairs," said Rick, "since the li-" Rick was cut off by a devastating crash coming from the lift shaft. Mr. Rendshaw immediately appeared from his office, running for the shaft. Rick left Skeal, after making sure Starfire had him, and followed. He found Mr. Rendshaw outside the lift doors, unable to do anything. Rick quickly moved past him, and slid his hands between the doors, forcing them open, making sure his body was in the way so Mr. Rendshaw couldn't see exactly how Rick managed to do that. At the bottom of the shaft, where Rick had not too long ago fallen himself, lay the remains of what Rick could only guess was the lift. Hardly much of it was identifiable, only the supporting struts, made of much tougher steel than the rest of the lift, but even that only needed a delicate touch to disintegrate it. Most of it had disappeared on the final impact. "What the-?" breathed Mr. Rendshaw. "I think it would be best if you left now. Get the other guests and the rest of your staff and leave." "I can't," replied Mr. Rendshaw. "Mr. Kinsley, and Mrs. Aspire can barely move out of their rooms, and I'm missing two maids." A bell of panic set off in Rick's mind. "Where were they working?" "They went up and dusted off all the rooms in the unused levels. I still like them to be clean. I do have a reputation to maintain," Mr. Rendshaw said proudly. "I think you sent them to their deaths," said Rick quietly, then turned away from Mr. Rendshaw's broken expression. "Well, stay down here, anyway," said Rick, trying to cover the oncoming silence. "Don't let anyone above the second floor." Rick left hurriedly, not daring to look behind. Rick caught up with Starfire at the bottom of the stairs. "You're going to have to get us up," she said. "Okay," he said. "I'm ready." Rick stood on the first stair, and concentrated. From his ankles, little boards flared and grew, soon becoming little platforms on which Skeal could stand. Starfire helped Skeal onto the platforms, and Rick wrapped his arms back and around him. Thus prepared, they set off up the stairs. Starfire lagged a few steps behind, waiting to catch Skeal if anything happened, and so Skeal was able to whisper to Rick without being heard. Rick heard Skeal's dusty voice in his ear, saying "Whatever happens, get Starfire clear. If something happens to me, someone else will come to help, but make sure she's still around to be helped." "Others?" asked Rick. "Why haven't they come now?" "We are extremely busy, and we are expected to be able to cope on our own. Others only come when their special abilities are needed. We don't tread on each others patch lightly." Rick thought that they could do with some heavy treading, but kept the thought to himself. Soon enough, they gained the edge of the sixth floor. "Yes," said Starfire, shivering slightly. "Yes, you are right. Time is flowing strangely here." "What now?" asked Rick. "How fast can you move?" asked Starfire. "Wait," gasped Skeal. "Do you really think this will work? What if there's more than you think?" Rick didn't understand that, but the question wasn't for him. "It would take a lot more than what's here to outdo us, Skeal," Starfire said, "but we have to try either way." Skeal said nothing more, so Starfire turned back to Rick. "How fast can you move?" she asked again. "In here?" Rick eyed the stairs thoughtfully. "If I change my legs into part rocket pack, fast enough." "In that case, take Skeal and myself up, drop Skeal off on the sixth floor, and me on the seventh, then, quickly, get up to the eighth floor." "What?" said Rick, as the plan sunk into his head. "But, that's crazy." "It's the only way. Now, get on with it," Starfire ordered. Swallowing the sudden lump in his throat, Rick stared uncertainly at the alien pair, then did as she said. His bottom half turned into a firey inferno that supported him, and gave him force to work with. Starfire hung unto his back, and Rick picked up Skeal in his arms. Moving before he could think twice about it, Rick ascended, trying to think about only what he was doing right now, not the consequences of it. Forces tore at him as soon as he passed the halfway point between the stairs. He could feel the wind tearing at him, trying to make his form revert to what it had been before. "Concentrate," Starfire whispered in his ear. "Keep your mind on the job at hand. Don't let yourself be distracted by the outside. Keep yourself inviolate." On the sixth floor, Rick gently, as slowly as he dared while still speeding. Turning away carefully, he rocketed up to the seventh, and Starfire dropped away. "Go," she cried. Rick did, although he nearly toppled over under the sudden weight of years pressing down on him. He had no idea how either of them would cope. On the eighth, Rick could finally stop and catch his breath, realising that he had being holding it all that time. He glanced down the stairwell, but took rapid steps back when a primal scream wrenched his ears. Gods, what was happening to them? he thought. Another scream prompted Rick to take a step towards the stairs, to see if there was anything he could do. Then he thought about what he had gone through to get up here. Maybe that wasn't a good idea. Well, maybe there was something else he could do in the meantime. He was just one floor below where the entrance to the eleventh floor was. Knowing that he was putting himself in extreme danger, but not really caring, as he could get away from the screams, Rick climbed to the next floor. Cautiously, he made his way to room 911, and pushed the door open. Rick entered, but couldn't see anything that looked like a doorway to another floor. As another scream reached his ears, Rick shuddered and closed the door. He turned around slowly, scanning the walls carefully for any sign of an extra-temporal portal, although Rick had to confess to himself that he had absolutely no idea what such a thing looked like. His clothes suddenly pressed against him, and Rick turned around to face a powerful blast to his face. Using his hands to shield him, Rick peered out to see a doorway being ripped into the fabric of the wall opposite him. It was like a light tearing away part of the wall, outlining that area the door would occupy. Rick had to shut his eyes to protect them from the abrupt increase in luminescence. When the outlined doorway filled with dazzling brilliance, the light seemingly passed through his hands and eyelids to pierce his eyes. When the pain decreased, Rick blinked his eyes open, and found himself gaping at a new door. A door to the eleventh floor. Hesitantly, Rick stepped closer, and put his hand out to touch the door, verifying its reality. The wood was firm under his hand, not distorting in any weird spatial-temporal manner. Rick let his hand drop to the handle, turning it slowly, and gently pulled the door open. Behind it was a flight of stairs, innocent in its simplicity. In a sense of awe and wonder, Rick passed through the doorway and, almost reverently, climbed the stairs. Behind him, the door closed all by itself, then vanished without any fuss. Skeal stared down the main stairway from the eighth floor. "That was a very dangerous risk," he said, his voice sounding deceptively calm, back to its normal tones now that Skeal's body was now back to its proper age. "It had to be done. Besides, I knew I could trust you." Skeal looked at Starfire, taking in her black dress and long brown hair. "You know I don't like you doing that." Starfire smiled, highlighting her blonde hair and blue outfit. "I just wanted to treat myself." "You obviously aren't as hampered as you made out." "Now that that's over with, I can tell now that I'm being blocked, not negated. I can affect myself, but that's about it." Skeal's stern expression didn't change. "And now we're trapped." "But," Starfire pointed out, "we're back to ourselves." "You wouldn't be if I hadn't rescued you. You're very lucky I wasn't affected." Starfire's attention was now somewhere else, casting their recent dilemma into the past. "Where's Rick gone?" A cross look flashed over Skeal. "He's around here?" "He was supposed to wait for us here, after he deposited us." "Did you really think he would wait? You know how impulsive they are." "Where do you think he's gone?" "There's only one place of interest around here." Skeal looked up, his gaze almost seeing through the floor boards. "Quickly." As if he hadn't just spent over twelve hours as an old, Skeal jumped up the stairs, passing over two at a time. Starfire followed close on his heals. Skeal's foot met the door into room 911 before the rest of his body, throwing it into the room beyond. The silence was in stark contrast to the nervous tension of the two agents. Apart from the shattered door over the floor, there wasn't anything out of place. With a less impressive display, the door to the eleventh floor appeared. Skeal moved towards it, but Starfire stayed him with a hand on his arm. "Wait," she said. "There's something wrong." The door opened, creaking all the while. Beyond it stood Rick, at least, his body stood there. If Rick was in there anymore, it didn't show. Rick's eyes were firey, filled with something not normally found in any human world. In a voice not his own, a statement issued from Rick's mouth: "We meet again, time elementals." -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Notes and stuff: The characters in this story are all mine. Still. Any relation to real events or people should be taken as sign of a nervous breakdown. Well, it looks like this will be six parts overall. I suspect that I started doing this story too early. Next month I'll be getting all the _Sapphire and Steel_ videos, and will be really thinking in that mode. Hey ho, I'll just have to do another story featuring them :) A sort of meta-point now, the reason I put "This ain't warm fuzzies" in the title is because people keep reading my stories and saying "That wasn't very funny." _World Tales_ is Acraphobe. It's not supposed to be funny. It's supposed to be serious. That is the point of Acraphobe, isn't it?Back to the Index.