[WARNING/REMINDER: This is an ACRAPHOBE Imprint. It ain't warmfuzzies.]

Blue Light Productions presents

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|#12 |  | | | |   | |\    |     |   |        (An ACROPHOBE Imprint)
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~~~~~~  ~   ~   ~   ~   ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~      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 
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?"
        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 
        "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.
        "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 
        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 
        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 
        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 
        "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 
        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 
        "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 
        "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.
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