The Kane Texts
dragon doesn't own SHADO or its denizens. nor does she hold stock in the estates of HP Lovecraft or any of his friends and co-authors.
Time: somewhere after the end of the series
Place: mostly dragon's distorted imagination
Synopsis: There are more things in heaven in earth
Into the Depths
"Got it!" Captain Carlin yelled as the spinner he'd sought all day developed a wobble in its trajectory and sprouted a plume of black smoke. The spinner started down towards the planet surface on a careening course that took it into a heavily wooded area. Carlin flew over, taking note of the broken tree tops and branches that marked the spinner's crash. He was just about to call in the coordinates when a second spinner made its presence felt.
The shock of the spinner's energy weapon flickering over the surface of Sky One's sleek, snub-nosed form annoyed Captain Carlin. He gasped as sparks flew through the cabin, singing his hair, his nose and his fingers on the control stick. He swore silently and radioed his position as he fought to retain control of his craft. He was losing altitude, but not so badly that he couldn't find a place to land as unobtrusively as possible.
After he was down, he wondered why the spinner hadn't followed him to finish the job. He stood beside his smoldering craft and frowned as the darkening sky. Nothing. No aliens, no spinner, nothing. That worried him.
The SHADO Mobile Units were converging on the area. Mobiles One and Two went to Carlin's assistance. The pilot of Sky One was a favorite with most of the field personnel and they were glad to find he was in one piece, if a bit toasty around the edges. Alec Freeman, the craggy faced second in command of SHADO greeted the younger man with a smile and a handshake. He glanced down as Carlin winced at the pressure on his fingers.
"Medic -" the Australian called and shepherded the pilot into the Mobile Unit. Units One and Two would stay in place while until the truck that could move Sky One arrived.
Mobile 3 was tracking the fallen spinner. Given the coordinates, it would not be hard to find the one Carlin had shot down. The only misgivings the highly trained crew of the innocuous looking vehicle had was that the spinner which had shot down Carlin had apparently landed in the same area. Nothing on the multitude of tracking screens was showing the presence of a functional spinner in the air or on the ground.
Abigail Winston, Stuart Wyndecker and Erik "Slim" Wechsler sat at the ready in the back of the Mobile Unit. They waited for their command officer to give the word to park the unit and let the ground crew do what it was good at. The word came. Lt. Keith Ford, looking annoyed and worried at the same time, turned from his monitors and nodded at his ground crew.
"Park it," he told the driver. The quiet hum of the unit's deceptively quiet motor stopped. W team, for obvious reasons, moved out of the Mobile and into the woods. Abigail, a tall, well muscled black woman from Texas, looked around with her infra-red goggles working and nodded. Stu and Slim followed her lead. They had worked together for a year or so and had agreed between them at Abigail's decision making was the best of the lot.
About half a mile from where the Mobile sat and awaited, they found the damaged alien craft. It sat, gleaming silver in the light of the rising quarter moon. The door was open. There was no light within. Abigail motioned for her men to spread out. She took the slight ramp swiftly, keeping crouched as she go to the door. A swift look confirmed there were no aliens within. She swiftly checked out the interior and came back out.
She joined the other two, calling them together. "Nothing. No captives, no bodies, no aliens. Thing looks like it's in pretty good shape."
Stu nodded and relayed the information back to Ford who relayed it to Alec and Command. Mobile 2 moved out to join Mobile 3.
Captain Carlin frowned at Col. Freeman. "That sounds off, you know."
Alec nodded his agreement. He spoke briefly to Command, relaying his own misgivings. The whine of an airborne spinner cut through his transmission. The Mobile crew moved swiftly, unlimbering the newly installed anti-aircraft mortar on the roof. Alec grabbed an RPG, as did Carlin and they both bailed out of the Mobile, just in case it was the target. The aliens had been known to get lucky.
The spinner was rotating gently as it came into view. It hovered, thoughtfully, as though considering what lay below it. Red light stabbed out from the conical craft, targeting the downed Sky One - and missing.
Jed Clemson fired his round from the Mobile Unit as Alec and Carlin unlimbered their RPG's. All three rounds found the target and the spinner spouted plumes of black smoke from three separate hits. For a moment, it spun lazily in the dark sky, then flew apart like an overstressed toy full of firecrackers.
Alec and Carlin dove for cover as debris showered down upon the area. Clemson jumped off the top of the Mobile and scrambled under it. The Mobile rocked as pieces of the alien craft hit it. Finally, the shower was over and the three men came out of their respective areas of cover, dusting off their uniforms.
"That was close," Clemson offered.
Alec nodded. He reported in to Command that the second alien was terminated. He heard the rumble of the diesel powered transport as it arrived. For a while, he would be busy supervising the loading of Sky One.
The W team was following a trail Stu had located. The earth was moist enough to retain footprints. It looked as though the aliens from the craft had stumbled along this path. Half an hour passed. Mobile 2 joined Ford's Unit and they exchanged information. The team on board Mobile 2 stayed with the two land units while the team already out continued to report in at fifteen minute intervals.
An hour and a half out, Stu Wyndecker spotted a cave mouth. They switched off the goggles and turned on mag lights to investigate. The footprints led into the cave. Cautiously, they moved in. Just inside the cave mouth, was a sort of corridor. The floor sloped downward. Abigail kept a steady report running as they moved deeper into the cave. The corridor turned slowly to the left until it finally spilled out into a large cavern area.
"Shit." Abigail's dark eyes widened as she took in the tableau before them. Candles and torches burned in holders around the outside wall of the cave. The floor was smooth, as with the passing of many feet across the rock for many, many years.
"You can say that again," was Stu's quiet response. He repressed a shudder at what he saw.
Before them, the cavern opened out in a kind of amphitheater. At the far side was a statue, a huge statue of nothing human. The body was a seemingly stylized humanoid form, but the arms ended in huge pincer looking things. From the waist down, the thing was shadowed by an altar rock, rough hewn from the stone of the cavern floor. The head was shadowed also, but they could see enough to recognize strange flowing tentacles in the place of neck and a face that bore little resemblance to anything of human design.
Abigail took a breath and regretted it. There was a stench of death and decay in the air. She shook her head, took a couple of shallow breaths and nodded. "They've got to be in here, or have passed through here. Come on."
They moved forward carefully, stepping down the curve to the floor of the cave. Stu moved to the left, following the wall. Slim moved out to the right, leaving Abigail to walk boldly across the middle of the floor. She swallowed her rising feeling of being watched and marched across the cave floor. As she neared the altar rock, she saw what looked like two alien suits. One lay crumpled on the floor next to the altar. The other lay on top of the altar, the wrists and ankles bound by rusted lengths of chain.
She toed the empty suit. It fell over revealing the front had been torn open. She gagged as she saw bones within the suit. Spine and pelvic bones were there, cleaned. She forced herself to look closer. Oh, God. Skin. The thinnest layer of skin lay against the torn suit. Her eyes flickered to the face plate. She choked back rising bile. The alien's face was contorted in a scream, a soundless scream. She looked back at the empty body cavity.
She stood up and took a shuddering breath. "Ford. Something weird is going on in here." Silence. "Lt. Ford. Can you hear me?" Static. "Wyndecker, Wechsler," she barked into her radio mic. "Report." Silence. Her gaze flickered to the alien on the altar. Something moved under the surface of the space suit. The suit itself looked odd, tight, full - too full. She backed up a couple of steps, pulled up her pistol and fired at the figure. It exploded. Green fluid sprayed all around the altar. She wiped her face and grimaced. She looked at her hand. There were flecks of black in the green. She swallowed hard and stepped forward again. She looked at the mess where the alien's belly had been and fought back a scream. Something black and chitinous moved inside the ripped fabric.
She yelled for her team and fired again and again until the clip was empty and the mechanism locked open. She fought her pockets for a new clip, dropping the empty on the floor and slamming the new one into place. The slide nearly jammed as she jacked a round into the chamber. Abigail turned swiftly, looking for her partners. Nothing. Silence.
Faintly, she heard the click of chitinous limbs moving on stone. Panic surged forward and she ran toward the entrance, sobbing and praying when her radio surged to life again.
"Winston, answer me."
Keith Ford heard his team leader making sounds he'd never heard out of her. She was sobbing, pleading. "Say again."
"They're gone. The aliens. They're dead. Something - Oh, God. Something ate them - from the inside out. Stu and Slim aren't answering. Something came out of one of the aliens. Something got them. I killed the other before it could - " Silence.
He could feel the tension in his operative across the open line. "Winston - Abigail, what's happening? You said the aliens are dead -"
"They are. They - There's an altar - and a statue - a hideous statue. It's - What was that?"
He could see her turn, lithe and catlike to face what she'd heard. There was an odd thudding sound under her breathing. "Winston –"
"Oh, God! NO! IT'S NOT A STATUE!"
He heard the mike hit the stone floor of the cave. He heard her screams, sobbing, hysterical screams. Then silence.
"Keith - Keith? Ford!"
He snatched the headphones from his head and looked up into the face of Mobile 2's commander. "They're gone," he said softly. The disbelief was almost physical. "The team's gone. The aliens are dead," he said numbly.
Lt. Grainger laid a hand on Ford's shoulder, a warm human touch compared to what he'd just listened to as his team died. "I'll send my team in to get them."
Grainger looked startled and concerned. "Keith -"
"NO," the older man snapped. His hands moved over his control board with the assurance born of years, opening the line to Command Headquarters. "Commander -" Keith's voice cracked. He cleared his throat. "Commander. I'm transmitting Team 3's reports, sir. On your command I will authorize retrieval of Team 3."
Commander Edward Straker frowned at his view screen. Even through the static on the screen he could tell the man was disturbed. "Send it through."
At first he thought it was some sort of very ill thought out practical joke. The screams disabused his mind of any such thoughts. He knew terror when he heard it, and that was the sound of a human pushed beyond the ability to comprehend. Straker considered his options. They had only the word of a terrified operative that the aliens were dead. The deaths needed to be confirmed, as did the deaths of their own people.
"Yes, sir?" Ford's voice sounded steadier.
"Hold position. I'm bringing out reinforcements. I'll contact Colonel Freeman and have him join you as soon as Sky One is on the road."
"Understood. We are to hold position until you arrive."
Keith Ford sagged in his chair with the relief of Straker's orders. He knew they would go in after his team, but not yet.
Alec Freeman listened to the tape for the third time as Mobile One. The sound of the woman's screams raised the hair on the back of his neck. There was nothing in his experience to account for sounds like that coming from a human throat.
Edward Straker drove in with more personnel from the same direction, only a few minutes behind Alec. He stepped out of his sleek, vintage vehicle and frowned at the trio of Mobile Units sitting around the alien landing site. The craft sat silently, tilted slightly to one side, looking forlorn in the early morning starlight. The moon was setting leaving the night dark, only cold, unfeeling stars looking down on them. He repressed a shudder. There was something incredibly wrong out here. He could feel it.
The pale haired man, dressed in his usual impeccable cream colored, raw silk Nehru style suit, joined his second in command and Lt. Ford beside Mobile 3. Pale eyes took in Ford's shaken status as well as Alec's not quite confident look. He nodded to both of them. "We're certain the team is dead?"
"No more contact since - since Winslow - As certain as we can be from out here, sir," Ford told him.
Straker nodded his understanding. "We'll wait until day light. No sense in taking chances."
"Yes, sir." Keith went to confer with the other units and set watches so that those inclined to do so could get some sleep. The tech crews had arrived behind Straker and were crawling all over the alien ship.
Dawn streaked the sky a couple of hours later. The retrieval team, headed by Straker and Ford, set out down the path followed by Team 3. Alec was left in charge of the Mobile units, fuming at the arbitrary attitudes of his superior.
All of the personnel proceeding cautiously down the pathway had guns in hand and were in radio contact with the Mobiles. The cave was easy to find. Straker and Ford were the first ones to the opening. Both stopped as they noticed something just outside the cave mouth. It was an arm; a chewed on looking arm. The cloth remaining on it was a SHADO uniform.
Two of the following team bagged the remains. Straker took a look at his companion. Ford looked pale, but determined. They both nodded and stepped into the cave. Carefully, as quietly as possible, they descended to the floor.
They found the opening into the major room and stopped, checking to make certain their radio communications were still working. The radios would not reach the mobiles outside, but they would reach other members of the team, so they set up a relay between the cave mouth and the inner room. No one would be out of touch at any time.
Straker quelled his instinctive desire to get out of the cave as fast as possible. Dealing with chronic claustrophobia was a daily event for him, working in an underground facility as he did day in and day out. But this was different, more oppressive. Maybe it was the knowledge that he was under thousands of tons of stone and dirt. Maybe it was the smell, the all permeating stench of death and decay. Maybe it was the knowledge that several of his people and a couple of aliens had met an unspecified, apparently horrible death in the confines of this cave.
The cave was dark. There were odd scraping noises here and there. Ford struck a magnesium flare and tossed it out. It fell to the floor, illuminating everything in a hot reddish light. Something moved. One of the men behind them fired and hit something that exploded into dark, shiny bits. The sound was deafening inside the cave.
"Sorry, Commander -"
"Don't apologize. Spread out. Be careful. Anything that isn't one of us is a target."
"Ford, with me."
Both of them could see the stone shaft that was the altar Winston had babbled about. Both of them could see that something was still secured to the stone. Of the stone idol, there was nothing. Ford had to sit on his desire to shiver in the coolness of the cave. He could hear Abigail's voice playing over and over in his head. "Oh, god. NO. IT'S NOT A STATUE!" He found himself twitching at peripheral perceptions, things not quite seen. In all probability, they were things not there to be seen. He told his imagination to go sit in the corner and stay there until he was out in the open again.
They were nearly at the altar when they both realized that the figure was not a red suited alien. Abigail Winston lay spread-eagled on the slab of stone. Her uniform lay in shreds around her. Her thick, dark hair was haloed out around her head, framing the creamy chocolate face. She turned her head and stared at them. There was something sly in the look. She smiled at them and waited.
"Abigail," Ford greeted her.
"Winston," Straker addressed her more formally.
She smiled and laughed. The laughter was not reassuring. She said nothing, but turned her head away and back. Something insane glittered in her liquid dark eyes. Standing next to the altar, Ford could hear her muttering something under her breath. The sing song quality of the mutter made the meaning elude him. He pulled out a knife and began sawing at the rope holding her wrist. He ignored her bare flesh, ignored the bruises, ignored the dried blood on her thighs, ignored the swell of her belly. He knew there was something wrong here, but he needed to bring at least one of his people back alive. They needed to know what had happened while Winston, Wyndecker and Weschler were out of contact.
The rope parted. Abigail discovered her arm was free. She pulled it up and gazed at it curiously. Smiling, she opened her mouth and started to take a bite out of her own arm. Ford, coming around the stone to work on the other rope, stared in horror as the white even teeth closed on her own flesh.
"No!" His horrified rasp stopped her.
She looked at him in bemusement for a moment, opened her mouth and removed her arm. She stared at it for a long moment. Lucidity flashed across her face, and horror. Her eyes widened, pupils dilating in terror. "Oh, God." She reached for Ford, grabbing his arm in a crushing hold. "Kill me. Please, kill me -" she pleaded, her voice nearly soundless out of a throat made raw from her screams.
Before he could react, the sly look came back and she laughed. Ford's gaze met Straker's across the altar. Both men were shaken. Her laughter was insane.
"Get her free!" Straker snapped. His iron control was slipping under the onslaught of the laughter. It pounded at him, loosing the locks that kept his own hysteria at bay. He turned his attention to the other members of the rescue team.
Ford gently pulled Abigail off the stone and into his arms. She nestled against him, her long bare arms twined about his neck, holding her to him. He headed for the exit, Straker following. The rest moved in behind. They had found one empty alien suit and bits and pieces of Wyndecker and Wechsler. All of it was secured, bagged and loaded to take out with them. Only a few bits of whatever Gates had shot were located. They were black and shiny, like the distended abdomen of a black widow spider.
The walk out of the cave seemed to take forever. Ford was beginning to think he'd taken a wrong turn somewhere and was leading them deeper into the earth when he saw light ahead. He sighed in relief and then made the mistake of looking into the eyes of the woman he carried. He shuddered. He wanted to put her down, get away from her, run from this area as fast as he could. Instead, he continued to walk. He carried her back to the mobiles and then turned her over to medical personnel. Dr. Jackson was going to have a field day with this.
Ford walked away from the mobiles and the rest of the returning team, aware of the Commander's eyes on him. He found a clear spot under a tree and threw up; unaware of the look that passed between Straker and Alec. He stood up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and was turning to go back when darkness overtook him.
Alec looked at Straker curiously. "You were expecting this?"
"Not exactly. Get him into the mobile. This is first time he's lost people under his direct command." Straker's gaze strayed to Abigail, wrapped in a blanket and smiling that secret, frightening smile. "I didn't take my first losses very well either." The dark eyes looked up and met his gaze. She smiled wider, madder. A flicker of pain spasmed across her face and was gone in a gust of laughter. Straker suppressed a shudder. Something worse than aliens had just danced across his grave.
Dr. Doug Jackson sat in his office, staring into space over steepled fingers. His narrow face with its deep-set dark eyes was one that most of SHADO did not want to see very often. He was aware that he bothered people. Sometimes he wished he did not, that he was as innocuously normal as most other people were. Normal, what a banal word. Yet a part of him wanted what the word represented, friends, family, people who cared instead of people who shied away.
He sighed and let his thoughts slither back around the tape he'd played again and again, looking for some sort of sound clue as to what had happened to Ford's team. He was still waiting for Straker and the rest to return. He suspected that something momentous was happening, something terrifying and fulfilling, something for which he had been preparing all his life. He replayed the tape of Winston's voice, running it through another set of amplification and suppression parameters. Jackson's face went white, his eyes suddenly huge and black. With a shaking hand, he switched off the sound.
Soundlessly, he shook his head. No. No. Not that. Not again. Was there truly no merciful God in the universe? He took a shuddering breath and released it, stumbling through the breathing exercises of his youth, his childhood. He murmured the comforting phrases he had been taught in a language he did not understand. Who would have thought the alien words of the Blessing Way would help him? He finished the short, comforting verses and felt more like himself, smiling ruefully. One of these days he would have to learn Navajo. He suspected the meaning would help even more if he understood the words.
What had Dr. Jackson, most feared member of SHADO next to the Commander himself, heard? Only he knew for now. He and Abigail Winston.
By the time the Mobile Units returned to base, it was obvious that there was something more than a broken mind wrong with Abigail Winston. The woman had gone into the cavern lithe, sleek, well muscled and flat bellied. Now she looked like she was in the mid stages of pregnancy. The skin of her belly had an unhealthy ashy tinge and the muscles rippled now and again. Occasional flickers of pain passed across her face, usually with the ripples. She smiled, a knowing, frightening smile. Several times the medics had caught her about to take a bite out of herself. The last time it had taken a struggle to get her arm down.
"Hungry," she mewled plaintively, twisting in her seat. "Meat. Red meat. The blood of sacrifice running down my throat, filling my belly. Filling my - " She shrieked and lunged out of her seat, grabbing for something, anything. The pain inside her grew.
They managed to subdue her. One of the medics, now nursing a blackening eye socket, administered a sedative to keep her quiet. Abigail's head lolled on her neck in a strange, boneless manner, her eyes narrow, not really looking at anyone.
Keith Ford groaned and mumbled wordlessly. His eyes opened. For a moment he was disoriented. He sat up, narrowly missing hitting his head on one of the consoles as he rose from the carpeted floor. He looked around, catching Abigail's suddenly intent look and shied back from her.
She licked her lips slowly and cocked her head to one side. "The Black Man. He wants you. The Black Man comes. The stars throb red and bloody in the night sky. The moon is dead. The time draws nigh. The key - he needs the key. You will bring it to him. You will cut the tame goat's throat and drink the blood to open the doors - all the doors - the doors to chaos and laughing blackness."
The laughter started again, softly, building, sending creeping shudders up the spines of the men in the mobile with her. Ford knew a momentary impulse to pull his pistol and empty it into her. Abigail Winston was dead. Whatever this thing that looked like her was, it should be dead also. He swallowed bile and turned his attention to the windows.
Outside the Mobile it was bright daylight, yet it looked dark to him. He shook his head. No. It was daylight. The darkness was all inside Abigail's head.
The woman was quiet enough as they rolled her through the installation to medical. They'd placed her on a gurney, strapping her arms and legs down so she could not damage herself or them. Both of the medics were eyeing her belly worriedly. In the time since her rescue, the bulge had grown perceptibly. She now looked close to term for a normal pregnancy, but there was nothing normal about this.
They lifted her off the gurney and onto a bed. Nurses came in. They accepted the need to restrain the patient as they hooked monitors to her to check vital signs. They took samples of blood and tissue, including the dried blood on her thighs. Dr. Jackson arrived, cool and calm and clinical as always. No one knew how badly he wanted to run from this patient. No one saw him fight down the urge to lose his breakfast. No one suspected the depth of his sympathy for Abigail as he gently assessed the damage that had been done to her. He took the vileness that spewed from her mouth in languages most of his assistants did not even recognize. He heard his name coupled with obscene things from his nightmares.
Finally, he laid a hand on her forehead. She calmed.
Rationality and fear returned to her eyes. Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. "Kill me," she mouthed for his eyes alone. "Don't let them live."
A tiny nod betrayed his understanding. He ordered a sedative, which he administered. She calmed. She knew he could not order her death, not yet. She understood. The drug was calming, but not incapacitating. She flinched as the young in her belly moved again. Soon it would be too late. Would he get them out of her room in time for her to act? Please, let him get them out, away, safe. Insane laughter bubbled up inside her again.
They were all gone, leaving her to rest. Rest. Oh, yes. Rest. She jerked as the things growing inside her cut into another organ. She relaxed her arms, her hand and slowly, oh so slowly worked it out of the sheepskin lined cuff holding her captive. Freed, she quickly worked the other cuff's latch loose. She sat up and bit through her lower lip so she would not cry out at the agony slicing through her.
Somehow, she worked her legs free. Abigail fell off the bed, her distended belly throwing off her balance. Something stabbed at her lungs. She could feel things rip and tear inside. No. Not yet. Just a little more time - just a little more. Her breath sobbed in and out of her. She could feel the gurgle of blood in her lungs as she inched her way out of the room. The hallway was clear. She had to find a safe place to deliver her young. That was it, a safe place - a safe place. Half dreaming she moved along the wall until she nearly fell through a doorway.
An operating theater. She hardly noticed as she took a healthy bite out of her left arm. Her gaze was fixed on her right hand, willing it to reach out, pick up the sharply glittering scalpel - blood dripped over her chin as she chewed her own flesh. There. The cold sting of metal against her fingers. She smiled, her teeth gleaming red and white in her ashen face. A good sharp one. The blade was long and curved. She gripped it with her right hand, then folded her left one over it.
With a scream that echoed through the hallways, she plunged the scalpel into her belly again and again. The skin punctured, ripped, tore; something shiny and black reached out and ripped the skin open, falling out onto the floor. The scalpel rose and fell, rose and fell until the thing stopped moving. With a sigh, Abigail slid down the wall she'd been leaning against for support and died.
The sound of running feet in the hallway did not disturb what happened next. The bloody skin of Abigail's chest split open and a smooth, black skinned, humanoid unfolded from within. It stood and stretched, like a cat in the sun. The door slammed open. The new thing turned to greet its progenitors. She stood about four and a half feet tall on toeless slender feet. There was no hair at the juncture of her legs, no indication of sexual characteristics at all. Her breasts were small, high placed and apparently without nipples, just a smooth mounded surface. Her skin was shiny, blue highlights glinting off the surface, almost as though she wore a complete patent leather suit from toes to hairline. She smiled, white teeth a gash against blue black lips. Her eyes were liquid black. Her hair was long and white and wet looking.
She stared at Doug Jackson as he moved through his people.
"," she slurred as he met her gaze.
The doctor paled, facing childish nightmares given form. He shuddered as memories flooded back, memories of hideous writhing things that dripped slime and ooze and screamed for the coming of the Black Man. He was unaware of moving forward toward the small travesty of a woman until he was staring down into her upturned face. Her mouth stretched farther and farther open in a Jokeresque smile. She reached up to kiss him. Her lips met his. Something round and squirmy slid along his closed mouth. He shuddered with terror and something else as his eyes closed and his lips started to part under her probing. His eyelids lifted, sleepily to look into the endless pools of mad night that were her eyes. A tendril of her hair moved. Small black eyes stared at him. The mouth at the end of the tendril opened as it flashed for his eye.
With a scream of pure terror, Jackson thrust the abomination in his arms away from him. Hands pulled him away from her, warm hands, human hands. Almost as one, several side arms spoke, blowing holes in the small body of the woman thing. Her mouth opened, not to scream, to laugh. The laughter of the mad chaos that lurks outside of time and space echoed in the small room sending sane thoughts skittering here and there seeking shelter from the madness.
Someone's .45 spoke with deafening authority and blew her head away. The laughter was silenced.
They arrived after sundown. A quiet dark colored, late model sedan pulled up at the gates of the imposing looking mansion. The windows were softly golden in the dark, lights shining out into the night. The gate opened. They were expected. The car pulled smoothly into a parking space in the small lot set aside for visitors. Two men got out. One was tall, well over six feet in height, barrel chested and copper skinned. Dark hair hung like a smooth curtain almost to his waist. A dark head band devoid of decoration held the hair out of his broad face. He looked at the building solemnly. The other was small, dapper, dark skinned and wiry. He squared his shoulders, nodded to the bigger man and headed for the front door.
As the door opened, the roar of a Harley sounded behind them. Even in the dark, they could see the dust trail left by the big motorbike and its sidecar. Both men smiled. The woman opening the door caught the fall out of those smiles and wished more people looked like that when they came here.
"Mr. WhiteWolf, Mr. Antonio. The room is ready. I believe you know your way?"
They nodded, not quite in unison.
The thickly built man who had arrived with a roar, stripped out of his motorcycle leathers, shrugged into his tuxedo jacket and gave his hair a quick once over with his big, rough hands. He grimaced at his reflection in the handlebar side mirror, straightened and walked up to the door where he was greeted as politely as the first two had been. He gave the woman an appreciative look and grinned at her. If she had ever known what to make of this man with his paling to white long blond hair and his braided beard, she had long since forgotten.
"Mr. Day. Would you like me to walk you back?"
"I would surely appreciate that, darlin'." He offered his arm, she accepted and they walked down the hallway.
She left him at the doorway of a nicely appointed parlor. There was a table set for five, a white damask linen table cloth with napkins and silverware lending an aura of culture to the surroundings. A cake sat discreetly on the side board. The dinner itself would be served, as it always was.
There was a not quite sound as a fourth man entered the room. Zachariah Kane, scion of a long line of adventurers of strong belief, looked over his friends with approval. Kane was also clad in a tuxedo of impeccable tailoring. His lean form was not given quite the height of Dr. Michael WhiteWolf, but his hawk like visage was distinguished in its own way. His gray eyes traveled over the others and he nodded. Now all they had to do was wait for the fifth member of the dinner to make her appearance.
Upstairs, a tall, slender woman of indeterminate years was scowling at herself in the mirror. She wore a plain silk wrapper over her undergarments. She had applied her makeup and removed it in annoyance. She frowned. She applied a brush to her wavy light brown hair, her eyes moving restlessly from object to object in the room, as though something was eluding her. Her gaze returned to her mirror. She put down the brush and picked up a magazine. It was a year or so old, but the model in the photo looked realistic enough for her needs. Carefully, she copied the makeup of the model.
When she was finished, her eyes widened in disbelief. The woman in the mirror might have passed for her late thirties, even on close inspection. She shuddered and hurriedly removed the carefully applied products which had produced this effect. Her face, bare of makeup, was remarkably unlined. She hurriedly smoothed her arched brows, applied a dash of pale tan lipstick and turned away from the mirror.
She crossed to the plain bed where her gown for the evening was laid out, waiting for her. She dropped the wrapper on the floor and pulled on the dress. The fabric was light, gossamer silk in a pale shimmer of color that was now ivory, now gray, now light catching opalescent. It was a gift from the men waiting for her. She zipped the side closed, buttoned the small pearl buttons at the wrist and shook out her hair. She chanced a look in the mirror.
No. Not a wise idea. She gathered herself firmly under the iron control she had used so often and walked out of the room. An orderly, neatly suited to look like some concerned escort of an earlier day, waited for her. He offered his arm. She slid her hand through and they walked down the hallway and down the staircase leading to the main floor. The wood of the banister gleamed in the bright flare of light from the chandeliers overhead.
Sedately, as though the house were hers and she had not a care in the world, she walked back to the room where her friends waited. Her escort opened the door for her. She stepped in just in time to hear Mr. Day explode in impatience.
"Why the hell do we do this?" the big faded golden bear of a man demanded as he tried to loosen his collar for the fifth time in as many minutes.
Inwardly she cringed, then she grew angry. "Because you owe me," she spat, ignoring the other three who were standing around the room awkwardly.
He turned to face her, his pale blue eyes meeting her bright hazel gaze. He stood his ground as she advanced on him. He felt the tension in the other three as they watched this confrontation. All of them were watching the woman.
"It's guilt that brings you here," she hissed. "Guilt because I read things, saw things, did things, learned things that no woman in your anachronistic, male dominant view of the world should ever have to learn or see or do."
"Now, Frannie -"
"My name is Frances," she exploded, her eyes flaring golden.
She turned to face the owner of the voice that addressed her quietly, calmingly. Something in the cool gray eyes spoke to her. A smile curved her lips. "Zachariah Kane." She acknowledged him with a nod. Her gaze traveled to the other two. "Thomas. Michael." She took a deep breath and released it. She looked back at the bear masquerading as a man. "D. Day. - " She chuckled, a rich warm sound.
The tensions eased. D. Lawrence Day moved to one side to reveal the table and the cake. "Happy Birthday, Frances," he said quietly. He would not acknowledge the accusation she had hurled at him. Deep in side, both of them know she was right. Just as both knew that she had done what was needed at the time, regardless of how any of them felt about it.
She stared at the cake. Midsummer night 2001. Odd. She didn't feel that old. Her eyes flickered up to meet Zachariah's. "I was 22 in 1927," she said apropos of nothing. That would make her 95. She trembled at the thought.
Kane crossed the distance between them and took her into his arms, offering what comfort he could. He came from a long line of people who outlived their peers, and sometimes, their children and their children's children. "It's all right."
"No, it's not," she said softly but clearly. She looked up into his clear gray eyes. "It changed us, all of us." She stared at him unblinking. "And it's happening again."
The young woman in the tunic and tights looked up from her dice and stuck her tongue out at the slender, dark haired man who was acting as referee for the role playing game they were playing. "Ok, so the cold stick doesn't work. Guys, help!" She turned to her fellow players with a grin.
The ref smiled, his dark eyes traveling over his companions and back to the notebook in front of him. He waited, patiently turning a 20 sided die over and over in his slender, delicate looking hands.
The belligerent looking heavy set young man with curling carroty hair frowned at his player sheet. "Potato masher," he said succinctly.
The woman giggled.
"Spell stick," the largest member of the group offered. He was reclining in a dilapidated old recliner and observing the ceiling above his head instead of his player sheet. That was functional for him since his character carried two weapons, a spell stick and a sawed off shot gun.
"Shrive?" suggested the smallest member of the group, a deeply tanned looking young man with dark eyes and a wicked grin framed by a neatly trimmed goatee and mustache.
The woman rolled her eyes in reaction. "If I could shrive the thing, don't you think I would have?"
"I can shrive, mija."
"Oh. Good. Shrive the thing!"
Outside the windows of the ancient house, storm clouds gathered mixed with lightning that played in the clouds. Thunder echoed distantly in the water laden canyons of the building storm.
Only the referee did not make an involuntary movement at the sound of the thunder. The small man got up and moved to the window, frowning. "Where the hell did this storm come from?" he asked softly.
The referee unfolded from his seat, stretched cat-like and looked at the window. "Where storms usually come from," he offered.
The woman laughed. "I didn't summon this one, honest." Her hands were engaged in sweeping her dice into a small velvet bag while she kept her eyes on the ref. "Something's up."
The referee looked around at her, his indeterminately dark looking eyes were mocking, remote. Then he smiled and his face warmed. "Yes, I think it is. No more role playing –"
"Reality sucks," was the opinion of the carrot headed fellow. He ran his fingers through his impressive, deeply russet beard and frowned. "Any indications?"
That got a laugh. "Do I look like I can tell the future?" The looks all four of the others gave him answered that question. He smiled at that. "Wrong question. We need to be ready. Zeb, keep your stick to hand. Dia, - " he sighed in resignation as he realized that Diahito was already honing his favorite sword blade.
"Micah -" the woman's voice was strident. She was on her feet, swaying. She blinked rapidly, trying to focus her eyes. "There' s - something - " she stopped and swallowed hard as Zeb and Micah both reached for her. She nearly fell against the bigger man's chest.
"What is it?" Micah demanded, his voice harsh. The woman was the most troublesome of his charges, not because of belligerence, but because she seemed strangely attuned to the things they experienced, almost as though she had been through them before.
"I - double vision - weird. Like I'm two places - fireplace - dinner - cake - birthday cake -" her eyes started to roll back into her head.
He shook her hard, startling both the woman and Zeb, who frowned at this mistreatment of his friend. "Stay with me."
"Yeah - no - Micah?" She frowned, staring into space. "No - not - " She shuddered violently, shook her head and focused. She met Micah's eyes and shrugged her shoulders. "Gone."
"Where were you?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know. I've never been there. It was - like an old fashioned parlor or something. Big old fireplace with a fire. Dinner table set for - for -" she frowned. "I dunno, four or five - there was a big slab style birthday cake. It said 'happy birthday - Frances -" The color drained from her face.
"Your name is Francine."
"Yeah, I know. I know. But I've been called Frances a lot. That was weird. - I'm hungry. I'm gonna go get something to eat." She carefully leaned away from her friend and nodded to him. "I'll be back."
The three young men regarded Micah seriously, a question in their eyes. Should they let her go alone.
"She'll be fine." If he had any misgivings, they didn't show. Micah Kane was certain that things were settled for the moment; at least where Francine Frazetta, the only female member of their RPG group was concerned.
While Francie was headed into London looking for food and entertainment, Lt. Keith Ford was being told to go home. His dark eyes, looking much harder than usual, met Alec's for a long moment. For once, Alec was not certain that the younger man would follow orders. Ford had checked out in medical and been released before the incident with the thing that had apparently grown within Abigail Winston. He had not been in the group that had rescued Dr. Jackson from the little horror, although, like everyone else on duty, he had heard about the confrontation.
Ford sagged slightly. He nodded. "Yes, sir."
He knew that Alec was right, that there was nothing he could do here and now to help out. He knew his nerves were just about stretched to the breaking point. He felt as though he quivered slightly at every sound, every step he took. He met the Colonel's gaze one more time before he turned and left. He could see the understanding there. And something else. Oddly, there was a touch of concern, the same thing he'd caught flickering across the man's craggy face when he looked at the Commander. Frightening thought.
He changed out of his form fitting uniform, wondering how much longer he'd look good in the thing. That almost made him chuckle. His thin as a rake build stood him in good stead, unlike some of the more muscular operatives. He allowed himself a slight smile at the thought. The humor was clouded by his memory of his last view of the W Team heading away from the mobile. He stood and shook for a moment. No, dammit, he would not break down here. Some things were better dealt with alone.
Ford let himself into his apartment, flipping on the light switch as he entered. He walked across the living room and threw open his curtains. The late afternoon sun was tinged with pink tones, warming the walls of the buildings around his own. He opened the window, letting the outside warmth seep into his home. He wondered if he'd ever feel warm again. Odd, the aliens had never made him feel this way. For all their bloody minded arrogance, they were - almost human. Whatever Abigail had faced in that cavern was not remotely human.
He started shaking uncontrollably. He sank to the floor, holding onto himself and shaking. He wanted to cry, to sob, to scream - but nothing came. His eyes were dry. All he could see was Abigail's mad face and the distended belly that had produced things that were not meant for this world.
The outside world grew dark, the stars began to peep out of the day's afterglow. A cool breeze strayed through his window. He shivered and jerked awake, unaware that he had dozed off until his blinking brought the world into focus. In a sudden panic he slammed the window closed, locking it and jerking the curtains closed over it. The reassurance that daylight had given was gone. The shadows in his apartment looked ominous.
He walked into his kitchen and splashed cold water on his face. He wiped the moisture off and looked in the 'fridge. Not a good idea. Ok, it wasn't full of madly gyrating alternate dimensional creatures worshipping Zul, but it wasn't particularly rewarding in the food department either. He cleaned out the worst of the furry leftovers, jumping a little when the oddly black and white fur covered jello he'd forgotten he had wiggled in its container.
He took a shaky breath and let it go. People. What he needed was people. Not SHADO ops, not things with tentacles, not beautiful movie types, real people. And he knew just where to find some.
Keith threw on a worn leather jacket and left his apartment, carefully locking the door behind him. He threw a look up and down the hallway, nodded to himself and went left to the stairway. Downstairs in the underground parking facility, he went to his second reserved space and pulled the very dusty cover off his motorbike. It sat there gleaming dully in the dim light of the parking garage. It wasn't very large as bikes went, but it got him from here to there and it was nicely designed.
Keith strapped on the helmet, mounted the bike and stiffened. He was being watched. He was sure of it as he leaned over to wipe away a dust streak on the gas tank. A quick look. Nothing. Still, there was that feeling of something crawling unpleasantly between his shoulder blades. He turned the key in the ignition, was rewarded with a pleasantly grumbly sound from the engine, kicked it into gear and left.
Nearby, an out of uniform SHADO security man spoke softly into his radio. Keith Ford was being watched for his own safety. "He's gone out. The man outside should be able to follow him." He described the bike, the helmet and the jacket. He signed off and resigned himself to a long, boring night.
A sudden sharp pain between his ribs and into his heart told him it wasn't boring at all. As he fell, he caught a glimpse of his killer, a small, swarthy man in a red fez, wiping the blood off a particularly nasty looking dagger. The man grinned, blackened teeth in a too wide mouth. The radio beeped. The small man looked at it with disgust, lifted his foot and smashed it down on the radio. Crunch. So satisfying.
Lt. Ayeasha Johnson, still on duty, turned to Colonel Freeman looking troubled. "Colonel."
"I've lost contact with Finneran. His radio's gone dead."
"Call his partner."
"I did. No answer. Ford's in trouble, isn't he?" she asked softly.
Alec didn't answer, his grim look was enough as he turned to go report to his superior.
Ed Straker, SHADO Commander and the one responsible for the lives of several hundred SHADO operatives, looked tired. There were dark circles under his wide blue eyes. His skin looked tight over his high cheek bones. He didn't look like he wanted to hear what Alec was going to say.
"We've lost our people on Ford."
"Damn! This is intolerable. Find out what happened and find Ford."
"Yes, sir." Alec opened the door and nearly jumped out of his skin. Dr. Jackson, looking creepier than ever, if that was possible, was standing just outside the door. Then Alec recognized the haunted look in the other's eyes. For just a moment, Alec felt a twinge of sympathy for the man. "Doctor."
"Colonel Freeman. I'm sorry," he moved out of Alec's way and nodded to acknowledge the larger man as he moved past the doctor. He looked into the office. "Do you have a moment, Commander?"
Straker's first instinct was to deny him, but he could see that Jackson looked disturbed which was unusual for the Dr. who was head of both the medical department and security. "Come in."
Jackson stepped in, closed the door behind him and stood for a moment. He was trying to marshal his thoughts, to find a way to advise the Commander when he was floundering in terror inside his own head. His eyes met Straker's and he repressed a shudder as he stepped forward, taking the chair across from the Commander.
"Weschler and Wyndecker were killed by something with crab or lobster like claws used for holding and rending. The pieces of black chitonous material the rescue team described dissolved before an analysis could be performed on them. The resulting viscous liquid holds amino acid chains that are unclassifiable. The aliens were apparently used for breeding purposes, as was Winston. In the case of the aliens, I believe something like the multi-legged insect-like creature Winston killed was produced."
"And the humanoid?"
That got a shudder the doctor could not suppress. His pupils dilated for a moment and his gaze dropped to the front of Straker's desk. He shook his head. "I don't know. I have no explanation. The body was decomposing as we put it in storage. Cold had no arresting ability. The remains became the same sort of liquid with identical unidentifiable material." He took a shaky breath and met the hard blue gaze. "I am sorry, Commander. I could not work fast enough to gain the information you need."
Straker's shock was hidden. He could not recall ever having heard the doctor apologize since he came to work for SHADO. Nor could he remember the doctor ever admitting he had performed at less than peak. He could see fear in the man's face. No, not fear. Terror. In an unprecedented move, he poured the doctor a drink. Aquavit. It seemed appropriate as he handed it to the shaken man who raised an eyebrow, then took the glass.
Jackson took a sip, then a larger drink. The hot glow of the liquid as it hit his stomach was comforting. He knew he had to tell Straker more, but had no idea where to begin.
"You know what we're facing." Statement. Not a question, a statement.
Jackson's instinctive shake of the head was quelled. He met Straker's direct gaze again. "I'm not - completely certain. Some of what I - remember - is - " he took another sip of his drink.
Straker sat on the front edge of his desk and waited. "What you remember?" he prodded gently.
Jackson nodded. "Remember," he agreed softly. "I was a small child, no more than three or four, I think. I - I remember a cavern. It was cold. I was frightened. Strangers came to the house, told my father I was to come. He turned away from them, leaving my mother to face them. She screamed at them, she cried, she begged. She attacked them. One of the men struck her. She fell to the floor and lay still, so very still. Perhaps she was dead."
"You don't know?"
He shook his head, focusing on something very much elsewhere. "I never saw my blood parents after that night. The village burned to the ground. No bodies were recovered. I found this out much later, when I was older. I remembered nothing of what had happened."
"You do now."
"Yes. I remember a great deal I wish I did not. I do not know the language used. I understood only that I was cold and frightened. There was an altar. I knew about altars. But there were no friendly smiling saints, no crucifix with an anguished man hung upon it, no smiling man with small bread and wine for my parents. The rock altar was hard, rough, cold. There was an evil man - even that small I knew he was not good. And beside him - " An uncontrollable shudder ran through his thin frame. It took a moment of exertion of iron control to bring the shaking under control. The dark eyes met Straker's. In the silence, Straker knew what had stood next to the evil man. A petite, blue-black, tentacle haired demoness. "I - was - a sacrifice. I do not know why."
"How did you get out?"
"I -" he shook his head and frowned. "I remember screaming and crying for my mother. There were loud noises. Gunshots. A shot gun roared inside the cavern, the noise hurt my ears. The man and the - they turned away, shrieking in a language I did not understand. The - like this one, the head disintegrated under an impact. The man turned back to me, yelling one awful sounding word again and again, raising a knife over me. Someone shot him from behind. He died, falling across me. His weight hurt me. Then there were people. Perfume. There was a woman. I was so frightened I never looked at them, I never saw their faces."
"They found someone to take you in."
"Yes. The rest is in my file. But this - I did not remember."
"Can you remember any of the language?" Straker knew that while Jackson did not have a great facility with languages beyond English and that of the land of his birth, he did have a gift for mimicry that he seldom used. For just a moment, there was denial and rebellion in the doctor's face. Then he nodded.
"Some. Very alien sounding. I will have to - think about it," he ended with a wry look. "Not precisely something I want to do right now."
"No. Finish your drink, Dr. This goes no further unless it becomes necessary."
Jackson looked relieved. "Thank you, Commander."
"Didn't expect me to be so reasonable?" Straker asked.
"No, Commander. You are sometimes gifted beyond normal with reason in a very unreasonable position," the other man came back, his voice almost too soft to hear. "Sometimes you frighten even me," he admitted with a slight smile. He ignored the startled look Straker shot at him and finished his drink. "If there is no objection, I believe I will stay in guest quarters for the night. I find I have no real desire to face the night alone. Commander." He gave Straker a brief, respectful nod and departed.
Keith Ford, unaware that he was being sought by his people and equally unaware that he was being stalked by squiggly dagger wielding mad cultists, parked his bike a couple of blocks up the street from a loud hangout for the rowdy young element. "Peche" the flickering neon sign over the door said. Inside the crowd was youthful, exuberant and bent on getting really, really drunk while dancing like nutcases turned loose for the night. It was refreshing.
He managed to work his way through the shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowl, ass to - never mind - crowd until he arrived at the bar. A tall, scantily clad woman with blue black hair fluffed out around her head like a mad cat's tail, took his measure and poured him a pint. She slid it down the bar with practiced ease. He caught it and poured half the pint down his throat as he slid coin of the realm back up the bar to her. She was grinning when he looked back down the bar. Fangs. Glow in the dark fangs. He chuckled and grinned back.
He turned his back to the bar, lounging, pint in hand, and watched the crowd. There was a band, very loud, very punk, very bad. No one seemed to notice or care. Just a lot of, er, normal people having fun. He finished his drink and signaled for another.
He wasn't certain just how many pints he'd consumed when he had an overwhelming urge to relieve himself. Damn. He squinted through the cigarette and other substance smoke cloud trying to discern where they'd hidden the rest rooms. No luck. He caught the attention of a passing male of the species and howled his inquiry over the noise. The boy nodded and pointed. Ah, a door! Excellent. Nodding his thanks and he edged his way toward the door.
Almost too many minutes later, he pulled it open, stepped through and discovered he'd just exited the establishment into the back alley. Considering the rank urine smell that surrounded him, he had a feeling that either a lot of people in his condition got pranked, or this * was * the bloody loo. Sizing up the situation, including a bladder that was on borderline leak status, he took the path of least resistance, the non-street side of the nearby dumpster and alleviated the incredibly painful pressure problem he'd been having.
Whew. He zipped up and stepped back at the same time. Thunk - clang! He jumped further back, catching the glint of dim light off metal. He turned to face a tall, thin sort in tattered, dirty robes and a jaunty fez, tassel swinging wildly as the man launched himself at Ford. Keith sidestepped the leap and tried to get past the flailing body as the nut case tried to turn in mid leap. Thump. Keith dodged the dirty, sandal clad foot that tried to hook around his ankle. He didn't' know which bothered him more, the dirty crook assaulting him or the idea of hitting the ground in this noxious alley.
Twang! Thok! He looked up to see his assailant, squiggly dagger retrieved and upraised in attack position, looking down at the feathered stick protruding from the general vicinity of his heart. The man's mouth opened, revealing broken and blackened teeth. He pitched forward on his face, the dagger hitting the sodden pavement with a clang.
Keith turned to face a fresh faced young woman holding a serviceable crossbow in her hand. Without much thought, he reached out and took it from her, his eyes never leaving her face. He hefted the weapon in his hands. Seeming to feel comfortable with what he read in her dimly lit face, he turned his attention to the weapon in his hands, turning it to get a better look at it. "Special issue. 36.5 inches long, 28 inches wide. 18 inch bolts in a 13 bolt clip. 200 pound draw." He fingered the tip of the bolt in the breech. "Explosive tips?" he added with a raised eyebrow. He hefted the crossbow. "7 or 8 pounds total weight loaded. Why?"
She met the dead serious dark eyes and decided a gamin grin was not a winning tactic. She nodded toward the body. "Crazy cultists. Other things."
There was an edge to his voice she didn't like. Oh, my. Were the crazy cultists out in force tonight? "You have anything really strange happen to you lately?" Oh, shit. That hit a nerve. She reached out and gently moved the crossbow so it wasn't aimed in the general vicinity of her heart any more. "It's OK. - All right, it's probably not OK. It is survivable."
That got a sarcastic laugh and a look that spoke volumes. Gently, she laid a hand on her weapon and applied gentle pressure to see if he'd let go of it. For a moment the issue seemed in doubt. Only for a moment. He let go with a resigned sigh.
"You're not the only one." She really had his attention now. "You can fight. You want to know more?"
Did he want to know more? No. Did he need to know more? He nodded.
"Are you sure?"
"I lost three highly trained paramilitary personnel to something I don't understand. No, I am not sure I want to know more. I am damn certain that I have to know more. I am not going into the unknown like that again, and I am not sending others into either." A part of him frowned. Was this what Straker faced every day? Was this why he was not just the hard ass who demanded the best from his people, but why he drove himself harder than he drove those under his command?
The woman smiled at him then. "You'll do. Come on." She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and hit the quick dial. "Micah? Fran. Hi. Interesting evening. I've got someone who needs to talk to us." There was a crackle of static and words. "OK. Half an hour." She rang off and looked back at Ford. "Micah's sort of the titular leader of our merry band. He can probably answer any questions you have. Let's go."
"What about - " he indicated the body of the cultist with a slight jerk of his head.
"What about what?" she asked blandly.
He looked around. Where the body had fallen lay a pile of clothes and a puddle of goo. He felt his gorge rise. A warm hand caught his arm and pulled him away.
"Don't think about it too much. It helps." She linked arms with him and they walked out of the alley way.
Dinner passed off without further incident. Frances was subdued. D-Day looked abashed and uncomfortable most of the time, which was usual these days when he was near Frances and the rest of the crew. He knew he owed them all his life, just as they owed theirs to him. Together they had fought the outer gods, the horrible things that waited for the stars and time to come together and return to scourge humanity and the universe. But that was long ago, in the dark of the 1920's when modern science was still in its infancy and the evils of the ages had tried to come into the world again and again.
They'd stopped them. Stopped them cold, regardless of what the occasional mad worshipper of the ancient evils may have thought. There was no way it would happen today. No way. Yet when he looked at Frances he knew he was wrong and he didn't want see that, didn't want to acknowledge it, didn't want to go back into that battle. He looked around the table. Michael WhiteWolf, the sanest of them all, the man who wielded a silver inlaid shaman's club with finesse and finality, who learned no languages, learned no spells save those his ancestors had taught him and those which would help his fellow warriors. His long black hair was barely streaked with gray. And Tommy beside him, his black hair cropped close to his head, was grayer than any of the rest of them, and still, he didn't look his age.
Frances was right, something had changed them, something that frightened him. If Frances was in her nineties, he was older, WhiteWolf was older, Tommy was older and Kane - god only knew how old Kane was with his pale hair and pale gray eyes that looked older than time and more knowing than a god would admit.
They raised their glasses in a toast to the woman who had suffered the most in their quest to keep the world safe for humanity. She accepted the toast with a smile and cut her cake. None of them ate the cake. Frances pleaded being tired and Kane escorted her upstairs to her room.
He stepped into the room with her, his keen eyes searching this room as they searched every room he entered. The furnishings were expensive if spare. Early on, Frances had indulged in destructive episodes, her belongngs had suffered as much as she had. Everything looked fine.
Frances turned to him to say goodnight, but her words were halted by an odd noise. A wind sprang up, pulling her away from the doorway. She flung out a hand to Kane, but he missed it. She stared into the whirling portal opening sucking her in with horror. After all this time, why here? Why now? With a despairing howl, she was pulled through the portal into another dimension.
Zachariah Kane stared at the whirling darkness in the middle of the room in momentary incomprehension. He had sensed nothing. There was no aura of magic to this portal. There was no sense that there was even an opening there, yet he could see it. He felt the pull, the summons quality of the wind that played around him, lifting loose strands of hair and pulling them forward. He took a step into the room, knowing that the portal would try to pull him in and not knowing where it would take him. He swallowed hard, took a grip on the oddly carved staff that had been passed down through his family for centuries and stepped forward again. The portal swallowed him and remained softly pulsating in the middle of the room.
Frances looked around as the unnatural wind of the portal died away. Bedroom. Very nice bedroom. Well appointed with a very large bed and velvet curtains over the window embrasure. Cautiously, she walked to the window and drew back the heavy lined drapes.
Outside the window lay the night skyline of a city. There were lights everywhere. The window opened out onto a small balcony.
She whirled to see her old friend and protector sitting up from the undignified tangle he'd landed in on the carpet.
"No need to yell," he told her as he brushed off his suit and straightened his jacket.
"No need -" she repeated. "Zachariah Kane - where the hell are we?" she asked reasonably, gesturing to the window.
"No longer where we were," he offered.
She laughed. "No joke. The - home - was isolated. This is - Kane - Zach - why am I not gibbering in a corner?"
He regarded her evenly. "I don't know. Perhaps crossing dimensions does something - That doesn't sound particularly logical to me either."
"Good. Well, what now?"
"Perhaps we should find out whose room this is."
"Oh, heavens! Yes."
They rummaged through the room and found nothing. There was a room key lying on the bedside table and that was all.
"Looks that way." Zach looked grim. This was not unsual.
"Least they could have done was provide pajamas, " Frances pointed out.
"Let's find out where we are, then we can see about getting more clothes." He opened the door to the hallway and discovered they were in a suite of rooms equipped with a small kitchen and a wet bar.
"Nice. Wonder if the bar's stocked."
"I'm fine," she snapped, then stopped and frowned. "Um, actually, I am fine. No lurking weirdness around the edges, no feeling of being watched, nothing. I've gone over the edge and all of this is an hallucination?"
Zach got a faint smile at that. "I did ask you not to take people with you," he pointed out gently. "No, I believe this is real. Where ever we are, it is not inside your head. I believe this is - an opportunity. Other than that, I don't know." He stepped into the sitting room. There were magazines stacked on the end table. He looked through them and held one up. "I believe we may just be in the London Hilton."
Thump. Thud. Crash.
Frances chuckled at the noises coming from the bedroom. "Care to bet on who just joined us?"
"I never bet against a sure thing," Kane pointed out as the grumbling from the other room became distinguishable as the voice of D-Day.
"The spell didn't work."
"Kane and his people are still here. Stronger than ever." He started cussing in languages no human throat was designed to use. The room glowed, then began to pulsate in time to his words. Renthorpe was torn between terror and ecstasy. Never had he been present when his master summoned those great and terrible others. Never before today. In the back of his mind was the thought that he might not survive to see it again.
The pulses picked up like some great heart moving into palpitations, a thundering rhythm that caught at his heartbeat, his thoughts. He mouthed the words his master was now howling over the sound of that alien pulse.
"ITHAN!" the master bellowed.
The cessation of sound was so complete Renthorpe felt as though he had gone deaf. He could not move, the silence was so deep. Corriveau turned to face his henchman/slave. His pale, saturnine countenance was alight with a sickly green glow. His lips writhed back from his teeth in a manner no mere human could have managed. His fingers, always long and elegantly tapered, seemed to elongate into questing tentacles. His hair fell away to reveal a mass of wiggling, pallid filaments. He reached for Renthorpe.
The man's mouth opened to scream. Out of Corriveau's mouth darted a long, thick tentacle, a mouth like a lamprey eel's at the end. It dove into Renthorpe's mouth, through the bone of the skull's brain pan and into the brain. Renthorpe's eyes bugged out as his master slowly sucked his brain out of his paralyzed body. He heard a sound like the rush of wings and just as all sentience fled, he could have sworn he heard the sound of whippoorwills cooing in the dusk.
The thing that had once been Edward Corriveau dropped the now empty husk of his servant, retracted his unusual tentacle assortment and returned to a more normally human look. He frowned at the body. Pity. Renthorpe had been useful. Now he'd have to find another slave. Ah, well.
He frowned again. There was still Kane. He snarled silently. Always Kane. Twice had that annoying bloodline stopped the opening of the gates. Not this time.
Ed Straker stared at his right hand man and second in command as though the man had suddenly lost his mind. "There's a WHAT tonight?"
"And you expect me –"
"To suit up and go. We're being presented with awards for our productions. Well, we're nominated, and that's more than we usually get. You have to go."
"Why do I have to go?" the pale haired man's voice dropped to silky and sinister.
"Because you're the only one who hasn't been in the field, hasn't dealt with this insanity face to face and isn't tottering on the edge of screaming his head off, given a calm moment to do so." With that, Alec finally walked over to the wet bar in Straker's office, poured himself a double of his usual poison and downed it in one eye watering gulp. He took in a deep, gulping breath after that and didn't feel nearly as much better as he had hoped he would. He turned back to face Straker.
Ed nodded. He hadn't realized Alec was as much on edge as the others who had taken the jaunt into the Twilight Zone with Ford's crew. While he'd seen the tapes and the reports that had filtered in, he had not felt the full brunt on the sense of reality the others had. "All right. I'll go. Tell me you haven't picked out a starlet to go with me."
Alec gave him weary grin. "Not this time. You go solo."
Neatly turned out in his best tux, Straker walked into the hotel where the awards ceremony was to take place and headed directly into the elevators. He was a little early, sliding in ahead of the red carpet rucus that would erupt in half an hour or so. A couple of early news hounds noticed him but didn't move quite quickly enough.
He stepped into an empty elevator and reached for the top floor button.
"Hold the elevator! - Please!" a woman's voice called. He looked out the door to see a slender woman in a flowing dress, scurrying for the elevator. She didn't look like a starlet. She was far to decorously covered up to be shot him a smile as she darted in and stopped. "Twelfth floor, please."
He pushed the requested destination and his own. For a moment, as the door closed and the elevator began its smooth journey upward, he ignored her open study of him. Then he frowned at her. She grinned and chuckled.
"I know, staring is such bad manners. I was just thinking you were far too young to have gone white already –"
"and then revising my estimate of your age upward," she continued serenely, ignoring his response.
He regarded her for a moment, wordless. "Who are you?"
"Frances Frazetta." She offered him her hand, which he took for the required span of time to satisfy social formalities.
"Ed Straker." If he was expecting a reaction, he was disappointed. "Your first trip to England?"
"No. Although it has been a while. The place has built up quite a bit since my last visit."
"Better or worse?"
She considered for a long moment. "Neither. Just different. You're a fixture?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sorry. You've been here for a while. I think I detect Boston in your accent, but there's a slightly crisper overlay indicating you've been here for a while."
"Ah. That would explain it."
"And you? I can't quite place the accent."
"Arizona. There isn't much of an accent. No Texan twang, no soft Louisiana slur - or cajun lilt - just sort of indefinably American."
The elevator stopped. She looked toward the door expectantly. Nothing. They both looked at the floor register. It was dark. They were stopped between floors. Straker's jaw muscles tightened slighly.
"Interesting. I think we're between floors." She looked to her companion and noted the tightening of his face. "Oh, dear. Claustrophobic?"
He almost denied it, but something in those clear hazel eyes showed him understanding and he nodded. "Yes."
"Not good. You wouldn't happen to have a cell phone on you?"
"I have friends in the hotel. And while I'm certain the hotel staff are quite well prepared for such incidents, I'd feel better if they knew exactly where I am."
He handed her his phone, hoping the car would start moving again. She dialed swiftly. Ring. Ring. Ring.
"Answer the phone, will you," she muttered. "Hi. D-Day. The elevator is stuck. What? No. I did not do anything to the elevator except step into it. Tell Zach - Oh, dear."
She looked up at the ceiling of the elevator. Something had just hit the roof on the outside.
Zachariah Kane and the rest of his companions left the suite of rooms they were occupying and headed for the elevators. They were met with the sight of several dozen cultists, all in impeccable evening dress, all wearing those ridiculous red fezes and all carrying squiggly daggers at the ready. Kane turned to look the other direction. More cultists, all smiling and heading toward them. Damn. Guns blazing, the quartet tried to fight its way to the elevators and went down under the seemingly growing number of cultists.
Frances and Straker, watched in horror as something extruded itself through the walls on both sides of the elevator. Gunfire had no effect on the thing. Frances frantically tried to get out the words of a protection spell, but a pseudo pod of a particularly ghastly opalescent hue shot into her mouth and down her throat, beginning to consume her from the inside out under Straker's horrified gaze. He looked up at the small trap door in the ceiling used for maintenance access. It was a small hope. He jumped for the trap door. The amorphous mass which was just about finished with Frances launched an idle pseudopod toward the fleeing man.
Sometime later a guest of the hotel summoned an elevator. The doors opened to reveal what looked like two deflated mannequins and clothing lying on the floor of the elevator car. The woman started screaming.
Keith Ford and Francie Frazetta climbed into his small, efficient vehicle. He turned the key in the ignition and was surprised when nothing happened. He frowned and tried again. The key turned far past where it should, the entire steering column of the vehicle seemed to have become some sort of maleable goo. Francie screamed once as she realized that Ford's car had been replaced by the maleable substance of a shoggath, a mind numbingly stupid but very useful amoeba-like entity that served the priests of the cultists worshiping the Black Pharoah.
Micah and his crew poured out of his house to stare in horror as the thing shifted shape, ingesting Ford and Francie before their eyes. Micah pulled the magical staff passed down to him by his forebears, but before he could intone the words which would empower it, something snatched it out of his grip. He turned to gaze into the insane black eyes of the arch high priest of Nyarlathotep, variously known as the Black Pharoh, the Black Man, the laughing chaos at the center of the universe and other intriguing titles. Nyarlathotep, one of Ancient Ones cast out of this universe before time as man understands it began, and who waits for the stars to be right so that he may return to his reign of awful insanity.
Micah launched himself backwards into the arms of the cultists who had surrounded his group. Diahatsu Dey dropped from the arms of the cultist holding him, the second mouth cut across his throat making a horrifying hissing sound as he choked on his own blood and his last breath fled his body. The other two were held fast as was Micah. Corriveau smiled and gestured for the cultists holding them to follow him.
Micah Kane awoke from a nightmare sleep to nightmare reality. He and the others were strapped to upright stones facing an altar. Torches lit with black fire lit the area. Strapped to the altar was a slender, dark haired man of indeterminate age. The altar stood before a blank, black mirror in a frame that shimmered with strange dark fires. Corriveau, divested of all humanity, stepped forward to the altar. He intoned strange and mystic words in a language unsuited for human vocal chords. As he spoke, the mirror surface shimmered and changed until it became a strange eye searing opening into another realm.
The man on the altar screamed and screamed again as his childhood nightmares took form. Corriveau's dagger descended in one smooth movement, slitting the sacrifice open from collarbone to crotch. Still the man screamed as tentacles of unearthly hue reached out of the portal and dove into the still living body, sucking the life force out of the sacrifice as a babe sucks milk from a bottle. The tentacles then moved farther into the room, pulling the bulk of the entity through the portal and into this reality, warping reality as it moved, creating the dark realm within the cavern.
The shape shifted into a gigantic, perfectly formed male human body, completely black, shapes and things shifting within it's outlines. The Black Man arrived. The last thing Micah Kane saw was the eyes of the Black Man fixed on him as the Ancient One moved slowly and sinuously across the rock floor of the cavern toward him.
Shriek! Tussle. Thump. Thud. Crash!
Keith Ford came awake fighting with the sheets and blankets he had taken with him off the side of his bed. He stopped struggling and lay there for a few moments just breathing. He was aware of the clammy cling of the sheets. Great. Nightmares. That was the last time he let that sadistic bastard introduce him to "great reading" and that was all there was to it. He disentangled himself from the sweat soaked sheets, bundled them into the dirty clothes hamper, followed by his pajama bottoms. He stalked into the bathroom, turned on the water and stepped into the shower. The hot water felt good.
While he was drying off, he called the man who had handed him the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft. "Caleb Moorecock -" He could hear the mischievous laughter on the other end.