Dear, patient readers,
At long, long, last, I bring you the fifteenth installment of A Kill in Time. May I say I have a new-found, deep admiration for all those nineteenth century writers who made a living out of writing serials? Amazing! Coincidentally, it's also our 200th post on All The World's Our Page - double the cause to break out the champagne! :-)
So read on; and be sure to cast your vote for what happens next, for this is the penultimate chapter of our little tale, and your last chance to play God with Sam, Manish, Nemo et al ...
Laughter rumbled deep in Manish’s chest.
The torches on the subterranean walls guttered with the sound; then flared back to life as Manish's mirth echoed and finally died in the dark heights of the vaulted cavern ceiling. A scene was playing out in the swirling fog that roiled between his fingertips, one that gave him inordinate pleasure:
Don’t you dare pull that Star Wars bullshit on me. You are not my father!
The girl in the fog was exquisitely beautiful in her anger. Manish bared his teeth, smiling. She was, in fact, furious. Which made his task so much easier.
With a snap of his fingers the image vanished and again the torches blazed high, lighting the cavern like giant cathedral candles. Hmm. Manish eyed the columns of flame with wry amusement. He was rusty. He’d have to be careful, or he’d ruin all his fun before it even started.
Dressed only in black, form-fitting combat pants, Manish stretched to his full height and arched his back. Every joint in his newly restored body cracked. He rolled his shoulders, flexed his biceps, then splayed his hands across his bare torso, relishing the ridges of hard abdominal muscles beneath his fingers. Gone were the cloak and the enfeebled husk of a body he’d been forced to inhabit. Manish was restored - physically and elementally. If possible, he was even stronger than before. He could feel the power within him building, rising, ready to burst the dam wall.
It was time.
He closed his eyes, pulsed out into the ether. The air about him throbbed and a deafening roar filled the cavern, as if a steam engine was rushing through the walls, louder, faster …
A woman screamed.
Manish opened his eyes. The girl from the fog sprawled at his feet, his red-headed nemesis beside her. The pair pushed up blindly from the dank floor, reaching for each other. Manish’s lips thinned. How touching. The girl, Sam, was pale as chalk, and she sagged heavily against Nemo, who looked little better himself. His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath, dark smudges of exhaustion underscoring his eyes as he glared at Manish over Sam’s head.
“You … you …” Nemo wheezed.
Manish grinned. “Apologies for the bumpy ride, old man. It’s a long way from 1888 to 2010, isn’t it?” He cracked his knuckles. “And I am still adjusting to being all powerful again.”
The girl staggered free of Nemo’s arms, her fists balled tight. “You fucking bastard!”
“Hold your tongue, girl!”
Frowning, Manish turned. Lipsenard. The doctor had watched as Manish, strong with the essence of death and terror, had vanquished Peter and Simon; had watched Manish’s transformation begin with wide eyes … and then Manish had become immersed in his metamorphosis and had forgotten his servant. Now, Lipsenard strode towards Sam, eyes blazing with a zealot’s fire as he swung a cat-o-nine-tails whip high above his head.
“Beg the Master’s forgiveness! Now!” Lipsenard brought down the whip, just as Nemo threw himself in front of Sam. Vicious strips of leather slashed Nemo’s back, his shirt flayed to ribbons. He screamed, fell to his knees
Lipsenard drew back his arm.
The fool! White hot rage speared through Manish and he thrust out his hand. Lipsenard gasped. The whip fell to the floor.
“No! Make it stop, make it stop!” Lipsenard drove his palms into his temples. Lightning flashed, a roar filled the cave … and then Lipsenard was gone, a flurry of grey ash pin-wheeling in the air where he had stood.
Manish’s nostrils flared in disgust. “That should not have happened. The man demeans me, and my purpose.”
Sam dropped beside Nemo. The single crack of the whip had opened up his back, and nine strips of raw meat glistened in the torchlight. “What fucking purpose?” she cried, cradling Nemo’s head in her lap. “How can this insanity have any purpose?”
She was beginning to lose her grip. Manish smiled. “Oh, it’s very simple, Sammy girl. Very soon, I will have the whole world at my feet. Money, power, a life of luxury. Anything and everything I’ve ever wanted. Nothing denied me, ever again. All I have to do is show the world what I’m capable of.”
Manish padded towards Sam, silent on his bare feet as he spoke.
“I’ve made a start. You were there in 1888; you saw the citizens of London running mad on the streets. I can make men and women do whatever vile acts I suggest to them. They’re nothing but mindless automatons, this species that you and your Others seem to love so much.” He halted just short of the girl and shrugged. “I suppose it must be like keeping goldfish as pets.”
She glared up at him, holding tight to that old fool Nemo, who seemed on the verge of unconsciousness. Tiberius, Tiberius. You have underestimated me for the very last time.
“But here, in 2010 …” Manish continued. “This is where I’ll make my first mark. With satellite television, the internet, this thing they call Twitter, what I do in one city will be known to the rest of the world within minutes. Seconds! The planet will be in terror of me, and their leaders will crumble like dust to my demands.” He arched an eyebrow. “Remember the Twin Towers? That little experiment of mine was merely a prelude. But that’s not even the best bit! " He cocked his head to one side."I think you’ll appreciate this, Sammy, with your little job at Chronos Enterprises. Trying to work out the secrets of time travel, weren’t you? Well, I’ve done it.” He held up a protest-stifling hand. “Yes, yes; of course, the Others and the Fellowship have time-travelled before. But we’ve only ever been able to jump ahead – or back – in increments of two years. The furthest we’d ever leap-frogged was to your time, Sammy. But that limit doesn’t apply any more.” Manish’s eyes glittered. “I nearly died when Peter stole my soul. But it was here, in my exile, that I made my discovery; that the human emotions of terror and fear have an essence - an essence that can be harvested, ingested … so powerful, so intoxicating …” Manish swallowed down the thick sweetness that flooded his mouth and narrowed his eyes at the girl.
“When I was sick, my demons harvested this essence for me - in Whitechapel, in Seattle, from 1888 to 1968, wherever they could cause mayhem and terror. Now I am restored; and Sammy, can you guess what I’ve discovered?” The girl turned her sullen face from him and clamped her lips. He grinned at her pointless defiance.
“Sammy, this essence is so powerful it can propel me through time – wherever, whenever, I wish to go. Five hundred years, a thousand years, ten million years, into the future or back to the past … it’s limits are endless. I can cause chaos, war, rape, murder, from the dawn of mankind to its very end.” He barked a laugh. “I might just BE its end! Ah, think of it, Sammy – with this essence, with my soul restored, I’ll change the course of history. Everyone who has ever lived will know my name.”
“You sick bastard.” Fire flashed in Sam’s eyes as she turned to face him. “Something must’ve fucked you up real bad when you were a kid. None of the other kids wanted to play with the little freak suffering from delusions of granduer, is that it? Or maybe Mom didn’t love you, let her boyfriends stub out their cigarettes on your forehead.” Nemo stirred in her lap; she glanced down, brushed a lock of red hair back from his forehead and her voice caught, cracked. “Why?” The look she turned upon Manish was so lost, so confused … so ready. “Why, in the name of God, would you want to do this?”
Manish tilted his head. This girl had powers she hadn’t even begun to fathom, yet she was still so curiously, refreshingly, naïve. “It’s very simple, darling. I do what I do because it amuses me; but mostly, I do it because I can.” He clapped his hands and a globe of the world appeared in the air, slowly turning on an invisible axis. “The only question left, is where to start.” He touched a finger to the globe. A shower of orange sparks flew from his fingernail. “London? New York? Paris? Or maybe something a little exotic – I hear Bangkok is gorgeous this time of the year.” The sparks danced about his head, a flaming halo. “What’s your preference, Sammy girl?”
Her throat rippled as she swallowed. “Where are they?”
He lifted his finger and the globe vanished. “They?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“Simon and Peter, damn you!” Her shout roused Nemo; he pushed up on his hands, wincing, shook his head slowly.
Manish laughed. “You are quite beautiful when you’re angry, my dear. Your friends … well, they were no match for me in the end. They’re enjoying my dungeons as we speak. In fact, I suspect Lipsenard and his whip had just come from a little flogging practice.”
The girl froze, white to the lips. Then her expression grew hard and she jumped up, hauling Nemo with her. Nemo swayed against the girl; she pushed him off, but lunged to take hold of his hand.
“Nemo!” she cried, raising their clasped hands to the roof. “Now!”
The air began to crackle and Manish whipped up his hand, energy balling on his fingertips. “Uh-uh, Sammy. Let him go. I have other, much more special treats in store for Peter and Simon if you do not behave.” He cocked his head. “Your two lovers, tortured, maimed beyond recognition, their minds reduced to pulp … do you really wish to be responsible for that?”
Sam stared at him with naked hate, the hand that gripped Nemo’s white at the knuckles. Oh, she was a tough one. Manish pulsed again, and the balls of energy became rushing flames.
Sam dropped Nemo’s hand. A sob wrenched from her lips, and Manish watched in glee as fear and despair and rage rippled across her face.
Nemo drew a shaky breath. “Sam, don’t listen to him,” he rasped. “Peter, Simon … for all we know he’s lying. They could have escaped. And if they did not …” He swayed gently on weakened legs. “Either way, it is too late for them. They knew what they faced, Sam. They knew the risks. They would give their lives to stop him and we must respect that.” He reached for her hand. “We must do what we came to do.”
Sam stared at Nemo, horrified. “I can’t,” she whispered.
Manish extinguished the flames on his fingertips and crossed his arms. “How can you be so cruel to your daughter, Nemo?” he tutted. “Behind that righteous veneer you really area a callous bastard. At least with me, Sammy girl, what you see is what you get.” With a snap of his fingers the spinning globe appeared once more. “You could be a part of what I am about to do, Sam. Think about that. The whole world at your disposal. Your lovers with you. Safe. Unharmed.”
The girl moaned. She’s nearly there. Time to cut to the chase. “Sam. I know this is difficult. But I have someone here who will convince you that my way is best.”
A set of huge wooden doors at the end of the cavern swung open and a woman, draped in a diaphanous silver gown, glided into the room, swaying to a gentle halt when she reached Manish’s side.
The heartbeat of silence that followed was broken by Nemo’s disbelieving whisper.
Sam gaped. “MOM?”
The woman laughed, silvery and light, and snaked an arm about Manish’s waist.
Manish felt victory rushing through his veins. “You choose Sam. Stay with your father - the man who abandoned you and your mother like trash, the man who would kill the men you love without turning a hair - or join me, and your mother, the one who loved and cared for you, alone, for all those years.” Manish extended his hand.
“Samantha. The choice is yours.”