______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ |#12 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Rick Mansfield [The cover is a close up of Rick, his face distorted by possession from the entity.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "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 5: Starfire and Skeal looked at each other. This was definitely a situation where they were not in control. They looked again at Rick, but not the Rick they knew. This Rick was possessed by the entity that was slowly destroying the hotel they were in. "As I showed you last time," said the entity through Rick's mouth, "you cannot hope to defeat me. I took from you that which made you yourselves, and I can do so again." "And we will come back to ourselves, again," said Starfire. "But not without my help," said the creature. "You see, I made those floors below what they are, and I did so so that you could return to your original selves." Rick's mouth moved in an approximation of a smile. "I find you so amusing to play with. "For now." Contemptuously, Rick turned away from them, and started to walk back up the stairs. Starfire and Skeal heard the voice say "Come into my parlour, by all means, but you are less than flies, and I am far more than a spider." "Seems sure of himself," commented Starfire. "They always are," said Skeal. "That's why we win." "Not always, Skeal," said Starfire, a note of sadness in the voice, and the hint of a tear in her eye. "Not always." "We're still here, aren't we?" asked Skeal. "And we have a problem to deal with. After you." Starfire accepted Skeal's offer and led the way up the stairs. At the top, they both looked back, and neither were surprised to see the door missing. The eleventh floor was much the same as the rest of the hotel. Pleasant, but non-extravagant carpeting led the way through the hallways, off which lay rooms, tastefully set out, but all with a stale air of disuse. "Can you sense him anywhere?" asked Skeal. "No," said Starfire, after a moment. "Oh, I know he's on this level, but he's blocking me. He's too powerful here, Skeal. He's been here so long that this place is soaked in his presence." Skeal picked an arbitrary hall and walked down it. "Any idea what this thing is yet?" "A parasite, if anything, living on time." "Living in Time?" "Possibly." Skeal opened a nearby door and peered in. No-one had been in this room for a very long time. Spider webs coated everything, in some cases shrouding things so badly that Skeal couldn't make out what was underneath. "Have there ever been any occupants on this level?" Skeal asked, as he closed the door. Starfire was about to reply in the negative when her own probes surprised her. "Yes, there was. Once long ago when these floors were once part of the actual hotel. There are some decayed remnants still here, but nothing informative." "Once a part of the hotel," said Skeal, musingly. "Interesting." Footsteps behind them echoed loudly in the air. Starfire and Skeal turned immediately, not bothering to hide. Manifesting out of thin air, Starfire and Skeal strode down the hallway towards them. "He's trying to loop us," said Skeal, staring at his past image. "Yes, like before," said Starfire. "Before?" "It's not important now, Skeal." "How long is it, Starfire?" "57 seconds." "Then we have less than that to sort this out. Can you hold them, Starfire?" "I can try." The other Skeal opened the door to the room, and looked inside. He looked back at Starfire, about to ask if there had ever been other people up here, when he noticed something strange. Starfire wasn't moving. She was being held static in time, while still moving forward through time. What he didn't know was that the Starfire out of the loop was holding this Starfire's image constant. The older Skeal sidestepped around his past self, and took hold of the door. Concentrating, he pulled the door close, struggling to not only close it now, but close it 57 seconds ago. Skeal jumped as the door beside him closed without apparent provocation. He turned back to Starfire to see her back to normal. "What happened?" he asked urgently. "Another trap. A time loop. We broke it," she said. Skeal winced. He hated doing that sort of thing. Yes, causality could be laid aside in the cause of duty, but there was always an element of sanctity that Skeal didn't like to touch. Still, when he had to, Skeal went all the way. "How much time did we lose?" "57 seconds. We were lucky it wasn't permanent." "If he knows where we are, it wont be easy to track him down." "That was true from the start, and you knew it." "Just making sure we're aware of the stakes," said Skeal, a smile forming. Starfire returned it. "We wont find him standing here." "No, you're right." Skeal started out ahead, and walked straight into the next trap. Time dilated around him, and, to his senses, the distance between him and Starfire telescoped out rapidly. A centimeter in this time rate was as good as a meter in the normal rate. The same was true for all directions, and so Skeal found himself in the middle of a huge field of carpet, stretching out in every way, with the walls a distance curve on the horizon. Skeal shut his eyes, knowing that what his senses told him was false. The walls weren't a thousand kilometers away, just a meter. Starfire was an arm reach behind him. This was true, despite however long it took to traverse that distance. Skeal calmed his mind. Time around him had slowed. Any event lasted far longer than it normally would. But this event was localised, only affecting him, and probably Starfire. But, outside of them, outside of this hotel, time was flowing at a normal rate. It had to be, as their senses were flowing at a normal rate, or they would never register the time dilation. In that case, focus on time outside. The normal passage of time. The flow of events at the rate of one minute per minute. The time dilation had to have a limited lifespan. Its source was an outside force, an no force was eternal. All he had to do was wait. More likely the entity would give up before then. Like this, they weren't amusing, merely stationary playthings. He had to let them go just so they could amuse him more. Certainly, he wouldn't let his power drain just to hold the two of them in a bad form of stasis. Skeal opened his eyes, and saw everything back to normal. Light didn't take forever to reach him, and the sound of Starfire breathing behind him wasn't distorted. "I think he's getting bored with us," said Skeal. "You could be right," said Starfire. "In which case, shouldn't we hurry? "What exactly are we looking for?" she asked. "Either Rick, or some way to the twelfth floor. Either one would please me." "Isn't the stairwell that way?" asked Starfire, pointing down a passageway that they walked passed. "I doubt that there would be a stairwell, and if there was, I doubt that it would be so useful as to take us up a floor," said Skeal. "No, we need and interior passageway, like we used to get up here." "Which would be where?" Skeal pointed to a door. "1132. Floor number plus room number. Remember the room number that had the passage up to here? 911. The eleventh room took us up to the eleventh floor." "And so we need 1112." "Exactly. Unfortunately," Skeal looked at the next door number: 1148. "The numbering scheme doesn't seem to entirely consistent." "Do you think we should split up?" "If this thing is confident to take us on together, it might actually be able to overcome us separately." "Then let's get on with it." George Rendshaw looked up when he heard a loud bang come from out in the foyer. He left the papers on his desk, and exited his office. Out in the foyer, he saw immediately the cause of the disturbance. The huge heavy doors that led into the hotel had swung shut. George walked over to them, and pulled on one handle. And was quite surprised when the door didn't open. Frowning, he pulled harder, but the door still didn't budge. Bending down, George saw that the lock had engaged. Which definitely shouldn't have happened. George felt in his pocket, but didn't find his keys. He went back to his office and retrieved them before returning to the door. George put the key in the lock, and turned it, but the key wouldn't turn more than a fraction or two. George shook the key hard, but no amount of rattling would make it turn in the lock. George removed the key and stared at it thoughtfully. Experimentally, he walked over to a window and peered out. It was pitch black outside, even though it had been barely afternoon before he went into his office only an hour before. On a whim, George tried to open the window, but found, with rapidly sinking hope, that it too was stuck closed. A tendril of worry in George's mind woke up and started gnawing at him. Perhaps, just perhaps, he should have taken Mr. Mansfield's advice. But it was far too late for that. Whatever happened here tonight would be permanent, and there was no getting away from it. It seemed to Skeal that they had found every room but 1112. They had been tramping around this floor, not coming across anyone, and decidedly not getting very far with their search. "Perhaps there's another way up?" suggested Starfire. "Perhaps, but I don't think so. This parasite didn't create this problem, it merely uses it. It's creation obeyed rules stricter than it. Movement from one floor to another would be set out in one way, and that way would be repeated throughout. The way is a stairway in the room. We've seen that, so we should look for that again." "Then perhaps the stairway isn't in 1112, but somewhere else?" Skeal gave a resigned shake of his head. "That is possible." "Then shouldn't we check each room?" Skeal sighed. "I suppose so." Starfire turned to the first door beside her. To their surprise it was 1111. And, across the hallway was 1110. Skeal looked around hurriedly, but 1112 wasn't in sight. "Try it," said Skeal, and Starfire opened the door to 1111. The room was magnificent. It was much to large to fit in the normal space allocated to each room, but it was full of the most resplendent furnishings possible. Skeal was about to step inside when Starfire grabbed his shoulder. "No, wait," she ordered. Starfire could feel something pulling at her, pulling her into the room. She concentrated, and understood the force attracting her. "That room isn't real," she whispered. "It was like that in the past, but not now. We're being showed the past. The room is trying to shuck us in, bring us to where it is. If we step in, we'll end up in the past with it." Skeal punched the wall beside the door, leaving a large dent. "Traps, traps and more traps." Turning away, he walked over to 1110 and pulled that door open. This room was identical to room 911, one floor below. It also held the link to the next floor. Starfire saw the frown on Skeal's face. "What is it?" "What were the room numbers on the tenth floor?" Starfire shrugged. "10 something." "No they weren't." Skeal sounded vehement. "This leads to the tenth floor. That must have been the twelfth floor." "But that isn't possible. The room numbers-" "It was another trap, Starfire. And we fell for it. Just like we've fallen for every other one." "That's right, my friends," said a voice they both immediately recognised. "And it's been so entertaining." Starfire and Skeal faced the interior of the room. Standing there, where he hadn't been moments before, was Rick, still possessed. "We'll beat you yet," said Skeal. "I don't think so. You can't even find out where I live." "Oh, I know that now." "Do you? Do you really? Then, by all means, prove it." Rick gestured, and a doorway appeared in the room. Skeal knew that it led down to the tenth floor. The real tenth floor. "Tell you what, time kinder. If you find me, you can have this child back." Rick indicated himself. Skeal sprang forward, but a time wind blew up and forced him back. Skeal put up a hand to shield himself, and when he lowered it, after the wind had passed, Rick was gone. "Come on, Starfire," Skeal said, crossing over to the door. "Where exactly are we going?" Starfire said, keeping up with him. Skeal pounded down the revealed staircase, not running, but not dawdling either. "Up to where he lives." Skeal looked around the tenth floor, searching for the right room. The entity must have wanted them quickly, for he found room 1012 only one hallway away. "In here." The room was just like the other two, including an extra door. "Up to the twelfth," Skeal said, ushering Starfire ahead of him. Up on the twelfth floor, the disguise had been ripped away. The door numbers now began with 12. "Which room are we looking for?" Starfire asked. "That one," said Skeal, arm out, pointing. Pointing at room 1212. Skeal flung the door open, and inside was a completely bare room. No furniture anywhere, but no dust or cobwebs either. There wasn't even an extra room off to the side, or a window facing outside. Skeal prowled inside, keeping his senses alert. Starfire followed him hesitantly. Both weren't over surprised when the door slammed shut behind them. "We're here," said Skeal. "What do you want?" "Her," Skeal heard behind him, and turned round to see Rick standing behind Starfire. "No!" he yelled, but it was too late. Rick staggered backwards, released of outside control, and Starfire grinned cruelly, the new host of the entity. Part 6: "Let her go," ordered Skeal. "No," came Starfire's perverted voice. "No, you have to give me what I want first." "And what is that?" "Time. Access to Time." Skeal shook his head. "I can't give that to you." "You can, you can." The entity seemed different, as if being Starfire's body changed its nature. "You can. You have to." "How can I?" "Give me permission. Let me have Time." "Give me back Starfire. I need her help first." "I give, but I will take back. And you will give me permission." The entity left Starfire's body, and Skeal caught her as she slumped forwards. Rick moaned, and rightened himself. "I hate being controlled. And yet, it keeps happening to me. Even in an alt.ernate dimension, I bet I'm the one who gets mind controlled." "Quiet," said Skeal, then focussed on Starfire. "Starfire, tell me. What was that?" "It's a parasite, Skeal, feasting on time, but it wants more. It's wants Time," she said. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" asked Rick. "Feasts on time, but wants time?" "You don't understand," Skeal snapped. "Then perhaps you should explain," Rick snapped back. "I've just been possessed by some strange entity that wants time, whatever that means. I want to know what's going on, and you're going to tell me." "I'll explain," said Starfire, and Rick instantly turned to her. "There is a sort of explanation. There is, if you like, a corridor. And the corridor, again, if you like, is Time. It surrounds all things. It passes through all things." "Time?" Rick asked, part incredulous. "Time," Starfire confirmed. "You can't see it. Only now and again. Perhaps a glimpse, that's all. But even that is dangerous. Also, you cannot enter into Time." Starfire remained cool and calm, and that helped Rick to accept was she was saying. "Sometimes Time tries to enter into the Present. Break in. Break through. "But, in this case, something is trying to break out." Now Starfire's explanation included Skeal. "The entity is eating time, but that can't satisfy it. Its urges are too strong for the Past, Present or Future to assuage. It wants to enter the corridor of Time. To feast." "How, Starfire?" asked Skeal. "How does it think that we can get it there?" "It wants our permission. It thinks that we can allow it to enter Time, that we are denying it." "In what way?" "The entity doesn't know precisely what we are, other than a necessity. It thinks that we can control access." "And when it realises that we can't?" "It will kill us and seek a higher force to ask." Rick gulped. "Why can't you give it permission anyway? So what if you can't let it into this Time corridor. You can at least let it think you can, and then it will let us go." "Once it has our permission, what do you think it will do?" asked Skeal. "Attempt to enter Time?" "Exactly, and it won't succeed. Do you think we'll have time to leave before it comes back?" "Er, no." "Then be quiet while we think of some way to deal with it." "Is there a way, Skeal?" asked Starfire. "I'll take apart this entire hotel to stop it if I have to," said Skeal, somewhat reassuringly. In the lobby, the manager, George Rendshaw, had decided for somewhat sterner tactics. Picking up a chair, he smashed it against a window. And was tossed across the room by a force more powerful than anything he had ever encountered. George picked himself off the floor. He, and everyone else in the hotel, was trapped here. Beyond any source of help. Skeal was still pondering when the entity overtook Starfire again. "Well?" it asked. "What makes you think we can give you permission?" Skeal asked. "You are protectors, here to stop what I want to do. You can let me do it," it said. "What exactly?" "Have this place." "You already have this place." "Noooo," it howled, making Rick wince at Starfire was subjected to such inhumanities. "I live here, but this place is not mine." "What would you do with this place, if we gave it to you?" asked Skeal, trying to get to the point of the matter. "Let Time have it." Rick saw the shocked look on Skeal's face, but didn't really understand. Too much of this was beyond him, and these two beings seemed to have another conversation on a different level to this one. "We can't let you do that." "You must. I have already arranged matters so that you must!" With a triumphant howl it left Starfire. "Skeal," said Starfire immediately. "You can't." "No," agreed Skeal. "Not until I know the price." "You can't at any price," insisted Starfire. "If I must, I must. You know I will." Rick again had trouble following this. "Will someone please explain what happened this time?" "We're leaving," said Skeal, making for the door. "Where for?" Rick asked. "Downstairs," said Skeal, waving them out. "To find out the price." As Rick left, he saw the door number. But he became puzzled when they reached the stairs. "I thought you had to use other means to get to the twelfth floor." "No, the twelfth floor was there all the time, but the entity made us think it was the tenth. It was the eleventh and tenth that had been removed," explained Starfire. "So why didn't you sense him before? You were looking for him on the twelfth, so you should have traced him when you came up here." said Rick. "It dwells mostly on the eleventh, but lives here. I could sense... a degree of how much time it had spent on each floor. Despite living here, the degree was quite low." As they neared the seventh floor, another concern overcame Rick. "What about the those time warped floors?" he asked. "You don't really want to go through that again." Skeal paused. "No. I'll be safe, and Starfire can protect herself now, but you'll be a problem. How fast can you get down them? As long as you're fast enough, one floor will cancel the other out." Rick sighed. "Okay, meet you on the fourth." Rick morphed into a small airplane, and flew down the floors. He could feel the forces tugging at him again, but he moved quickly enough not to worry about it. He had picked the fourth floor just as a safety measure, plenty of space between there and any problems. A whole four floors to cover, though, but he flew the entire way. But Starfire and Skeal were waiting for him when he arrived. Rick refused to point this out. They walked down the rest of the way without incident, and entered the foyer area to find a very shaken George Rendshaw slumped over the counter. "Mr. Rendshaw, are you all right?" asked Rick. "I tried to get out," said George. "But the doors are closed against me, and the windows wont shatter." There was a degree of hopelessness in his voice that pained Rick. "We'll get out of this," said Rick, throwing a glance at Starfire and Skeal. "These two will be able to find a way." Skeal turned away without saying a word, and went to study the windows. Rick caught up to him. "You will get us all out." Skeal motioned to the window. "Not very sophisticated. A simple time distortion. Move the air around the window one second out of phase with the rest of the relative time frame, and you have an impenetrable barrier. I suspect something much along the same lines for the door. Not sophisticated, but very effective." "Skeal," said Rick again, a hardness in his voice. "You will get us *all* out." Skeal looked over to Starfire without saying anything, and Starfire came over and took Rick's arm. Rick looked at Starfire with a pleading look that wasn't answered in her face. "Sometimes, in order to solve problems before they become bigger ones, sacrifices have to be made." "Sacrifices? Sacrifices?" Despite the urgency in Rick's voice, he kept the volume down. "We're talking about people here. People who have lives. Loved ones. Are you just going to abandon them?" Starfire looked at Skeal. "Is there another way? You know how I feel about this." Skeal again motioned to the windows. "Could you affect this?" "Not now. You know that. You could get past it." "I could get me past it. No-one else." "But why?" Rick asked. "Why does it need people?" "Are we agreed?" asked Skeal, looking only at Starfire. "No," said Starfire shaking her head. "We're ready," Skeal called out in a louder voice. Starfire looked away, and Rick thought he saw a flicker of disgust on her face, but when she turned back the entity was in control. "Permission?" it asked. "No!" Rick cried. "Yes," said Skeal, softer, but with more meaning. "Yes!" howled the entity, and it left Starfire's body. "But why people?" asked Rick. Although she wasn't able to face Rick, Starfire still explained. "The entity can't break through into Time, but Time can break through into here, if the Present is weak enough. To make it weak, the entity can accelerate time throughout the building, creating a weak patch for Time to break into. When it does, the entity will be able to escape through that hole into Time." "But why people?" "When Time breaks through, it takes things, people. But it doesn't always come. Not for just anything. The entity can keep these people alive, give Time something to come for." "Bait?" said Rick. "These people are used as bait?" "If it doesn't leave, the entity will continue to ravage people to stay alive," Skeal said. "Would you prefer to have more people die just to protect these?" "Why don't we just all go? Can't you break through and let us all out?" "No. Even if there was a way, the entity would not let it happen. It has lived here so long that it is a part of this building. If the building is destroyed, so is it. If it is destroyed, then so will the building. Its only option is to create an escape route to somewhere else, somewhere nothing like here, like Time. That way, it lives, although its old home is destroyed. For that reason, it wants a way out, and wont let anything jepordise that." "But why did it need your permission then?" asked Rick. "Why doesn't it just take whoever was living here and accelerate time and leave?" "There would be too much fuss. It would be tracked down and destroyed. This way, there will still be a fuss, but containable, and not one that will affect it." "We'd better go," said Starfire. "The entity is ready." "So you get away, scot free," said Rick, more bitterly than he thought. "You will come with us. It only wants humans," said Skeal. "But I am-" Rick stopped. No. He obviously wasn't. Giving George Rendshaw one last, sad look, Rick walked out of the building with Starfire and Skeal. George didn't even see them leave. "Does it always end this way?" asked Rick. "Sometimes," said Starfire. "Sometimes there's no choice." "Will I see you again?" "We'll always be around," said Skeal. "We may meet." "I hope not," muttered Rick. He turned away from them, and looked at the hotel. Before his eyes, the entire building aged and collapsed in upon itself, time taking its inevitable toll in a second. Turning away, Rick faced an empty road. They were gone already. Hearing a far off noise, Rick peered into the distance and saw a car approaching. It was the car he had been waiting for all that time. It came now, right on time. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Author's babble: ---------------- That's it. My story is done and I hoped you liked it. All characters are still mine, but if you want to write a Starfire and Skeal story, feel free to use them. The explanation of Time as a corridor came from the novelisation of the first Sapphire and Steel novel, and used for homage purposes. Copy-write to P. J. Hammond, so complain to him if you didn't like it. The rather harsh ending is due to me liking that sort of thing, and also in honour of the amazing 8 part S&S story. I'm still amazed that an entire 8 parts were filled with story. Still, that story didn't have a happy ending, and not every story should.Back to the Index.