Monday, February 20, 2012

"Vortex" by Steven Mace (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction and Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  A tale set in a parallel universe policed by an organisation of supernatural and reality manipulators known as the Arcadian Vortex, who are controlled by a triad known as 'The Matriarchy'. In this story you will be introduced to Peregrine and Victor, two extraordinary and talented men; and Charlie, a very brave little boy.


Peregrine Lascombe adjusted his monocle, and then proceeded to stroke the elegantly twisted curl of his moustache before chuckling to himself. He watched the woman stride down the pavement, dragging her reluctant son along with her. The little boy was still glancing back at him with wide, curious eyes. Lascombe could see through their outer flesh, and into their internal organs and even beyond that external physical layer, and thus into their skeletal frames. The woman was pregnant again. He could see the outline of a budding foetus within her womb. The boy who was walking with her, a hyper-sensitive child, had actually seen him, while most of the humans present here on this world, going about their mundane daily business, would not be able to distinguish him while he was cloaked in this current fashion. Occasionally such things occurred, and always with children, or the mentally irrational amongst human populations. If a sane adult could see him, then that was a more worrying development, although it was unheard of as far as Lascombe was aware. Even as he stood on the pavement, passers-by walked close to him where he stood, and also through him, stepping through his immaterial presence. Of course, he was not quite present right now in that place, at least not in his essential material form. This was a manifestation of Lascombe, rather than his real body which was currently in limbo within a casket kept in the Vortex.

Lascombe had suddenly detected a disturbance in the metaphysical atmosphere, a mind-wave aftershock. He had already guessed the cause of such supernatural noise in the ether, and after a Mind-sweep he meta-ported himself to the vicinity. He found Victor Phalange in a dingy alleyway, interfering with the brain processes of one of the humans. This was a particularly degenerate example of an Earthbound human, a homeless male with dirty clothes and ill-functioning inner organs, particularly the liver and bladder. The homeless person was presently sitting vacantly upon the ground: a man with a flushed face, and long grey hair and beard.

Phalange was crouched unseen behind the man, his hands discharging electrical energy and hovering half-clenched around the man’s skull as he secretly activated neurons and transmitters within the poor human’s brain. There was a half-smile on Phalange’s face as he concentrated on disturbing the human’s neural pathways and nervous system, and his golden eyes were closed fast shut as he worked patiently at his task.

“Oh, Victor”, Peregrine sighed. “Do behave and do try to desist from disturbing the wildlife.”

Victor was one of the more challenging members of his reality management team. Peregrine was expert at orchestrating the wild and differing talents of his squad of Dimensional Manipulators, hence the reason that the Matriarchy had chosen him for his role, but Victor always required special handling. He had the tattooed physique of a body-builder combined with kinetic and metaphysical skills and the playful mind of an artist or comedian- an unusual and dangerous combination. He could not resist providing that extra unnecessary flourish for a Meld or a Fabrication, either for aesthetic purpose or his own personal amusement. There had been the incident in Chicago, Illinois during the 1940s era on this planet when Victor Phalange had endowed a deformed boy with white feathered wings, and then another notorious moment on Hadea in the Jeth province when Victor had given a Varnic Cult priestess access to the future-scrolls of the Magi. Victor had also left an open portal to the Second Level in the Midian deserts, which the Matriarchy had ordered to be closed once they had learned of its whereabouts. Lascombe had suggested that Phalange be disciplined, but he doubted that his colleague had faced any serious sanctions afterward. Phalange was one of the Matriachy’s favourites, despite his occasionally destructive idiosyncratic nature.

“I’m doing something kind for this poor man”, Phalange said defensively. “I’m making his life more bearable. I’m opening his eyes to inner process and delight, without his usual aid of illicit chemical substances.”

“Unnecessary, Victor”, Peregrine said, rebuking him. “They are nothing but motes in the eye of the storm. Ignore them. We have more important things to do.”

At that moment Lascombe was interrupted by a voice in his head. It was a telepathic message from Nero Basso, who was monitoring their presence in that particular First Level zone: Peregrine, there’s a Third Level disturbance in that sector. I haven’t managed to pin-point it yet, but its something dark and dangerous…causing ripples of chaotic flux that might start to manifest themselves in your reality very soon.

Lascombe’s throat had gone dry. He swallowed and sent a telepathic message back to the source of that ominous warning. Is it…another Deathshadow, do you think?

There was a momentary hiatus, before Basso spoke within Lascombe’s mind again. Peregrine, I didn’t want to alarm you but that assumption is looking extremely likely at this point.

“Victor”, Lascombe said sharply. Phalange still had his hands clasped around the skull of the disorientated and hallucinating human while each of his hands discharged blue-white energies from his palms. “Stop that. We have little time. We still have to seal the rupture. And…there may well be a Deathshadow on its way.”

Abruptly, Victor Phalange ceased his activity within the human’s brain. The vagrant slumped unconscious to the concrete floor of the alley. Previously crouching behind the human, Phalange now rose to his feet and his full height of six feet five inches. He was a tall, powerful person even when he was just a projection as he was now. “A Deathshadow?” Phalange repeated, in an astonished tone. “But…”

Lascombe glanced up at the sky. He had sensed something before he looked: a sudden shift in the atmosphere, or a subtle change in the quality of light. Now he saw the reason why. Something was beginning to blot out the sun; an irregular, and uneven dark shape. Currently, it was covering perhaps a tenth of that yellow-white circle, but it was growing. “Ah”, Lascombe said softly. “It has begun. Now we shall start to see anomalies.”

And, indeed, the anomalies came. The hordes of bewildered shoppers in the middle of the high street had paused and gazed up at the sky, shielding their eyes from the glare of the sun. Even as unwelcome darkness encroached upon the previously bright and sunlit day, the faces of the humans began to change. An elderly man with glasses abruptly sprouted ivory tusks from his hollow cheeks, sharp protuberant curved horns of fresh bone that ripped through the tender flesh even as he cried out in shock and horror at his own sudden and terrifying transformation. A pin-like mass of narrow spines appeared upon the forehead and shaven skull of an adolescent boy. A small girl grew a third eye in the centre of her forehead, an eye that blinked repeatedly in confirmation of its obscene birth from her unblemished skin. There were countless other mutations and disfigurements that swiftly took place amongst the bustling crowds of human beings, who began to scream with horror and bewilderment at the frightening changes that had happened in their own appearances and the faces of others. Even animals were affected. A Yorkshire terrier on the lead of its owner had developed an extra head and two more wagging tails in addition to the original. They flicked about together in a nightmarish triad of unconscious animal delight.

“Victor, we need to shut this down”, the manifestation of Peregrine Lascombe told his companion. “Quickly, man.” Seconds later, Lascombe materialised once again in the midst of the high street. He nervously adjusted his monocle as he instinctively but unnecessarily swerved to avoid the streams of terrified disfigured humans that were running past him, oblivious to his presence. His movements were merely a natural reaction to people running straight toward him, as he had no substantial form. Although he felt a quiver as the people ran through him, disturbing his materialised figure, there was no physical collision. Moments afterward, Victor Phalange also appeared beside him. Phalange’s piercing golden eyes scanned their surroundings quickly, taking in the physical changes of the frightened people scuttling to and fro about them.

“Nero, take us up to Level Three”, Lascombe ordered, sending his message to the Auteur.

Done, Basso sent back.

Abruptly Lascombe and Phalange’s surroundings changed. The scared people running through them and about their location became as immaterial and insubstantial as the two Dimensional Manipulators were. The human beings, the residents of this physical world, were now simply mere ghosts, cloudy and fragile phantasms that Lascombe and Phalange were only dimly aware of. The heat and light from the sun had also vanished. There was no warmth and no breeze here, just a neutral cold that chilled the bones. The physical landmarks of the world they had recently vacated- the towering buildings of the office blocks and the shopping centre; the parked cars; the concrete walls; the lamp posts- were now just pale outlines, white traces upon a shadowy blue-black background. This was not the true physical world, but a rudimentary sketch of it, a vague blue print.

However, the creature that had appeared upon the horizon like a hideous black storm cloud and was now heading straight toward them at rapid speed was no apparition. It was a vast being, a monster of epic proportions. Its torso resembled that of a whale, even though it flew through the elements of air and blank space like that particular earthbound mammal swam through water. Grouped around its neck, flanks and wings were the wailing mouths and faces of lost, screaming souls: poor unfortunates that had been devoured and assimilated by this awful demonic abortion, this monstrous and frightening hell-beast. At the front of the creature there was one small cranium which possessed features reminiscent of a fly: two bulbous goggle-like eyes and a small mouth with vicious pointed glistening teeth like sharp needles. Beneath this a greater second head bulged out, and within it was just a great maw: divided triangles of flesh that opened inwards and outwards like a pulsing Venus Fly-trap. Beyond them, it was possible to see into the belly, the heart of the creature and only see a deep, black empty void- an abyss of nothingness. To be swallowed by the monstrosity was to become one with its darkness.

This was a terrible being known and feared by all operatives of the Arcadian Vortex, a monstrosity that had already accounted for three of their number. It was a Deathshadow, a fabled creature from the Beyond. Now, of course, it had been confirmed as something far more than fable or myth, it was a very real entity within the known Cosmos. This, however, was the first time that Lascombe and Phalange had seen one with their own eyes, whether in their true physical form or any of their materialised appearances in different realms they had visited.

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