If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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Okay, I’m normally a pretty calm sort of guy. Nothing much fazes me.
Cops after me? No problem.
No food for a week? Yeah, I’m a bit hungry but I’ll cope.
Mafia chasing me for some souped up dark choc? No worries – I’ll get back to you, guys, no worries.
But this was freaking me out. Some sort of force-field that was trackable, and growing, and attached to me? That didn’t sound good. That got the goose bumps happening. This was waaaaay too sci-fi for my liking.
Don’t get me wrong – I like horror as much as the next guy. But I like it when it’s fiction, and I’m not stuck in the middle of it. Not happy, Jan.
Daniel, however, seemed cool. Of course he is cool, I thought, annnoyed. He’s not the one with this weird growing thing hanging off him like some sort of worldwide spiritual badass bogeyman.
“What does this all mean?” he said. “For us?”
“What does ‘died horribly‘ mean?” I asked, cutting in and ignoring Daniel’s question, and turning back to the important stuff. “What degree of ‘horrible’ are we talking about here? Are we talking, like ‘acidental’, ‘coincidental’, ‘probably unlikely to happen to me’ horrible, or are we talking, like ‘Mike Hocking is going to die, period’ horrible?”
I went on, jumping up and stomping around the choir room, really agitated.
“Do you mean ‘grisly chain-saw death we-identified-him-by-the-remains-of-his-big-toe’stuff? Because for no particular reason what-so-ev-er, this is, like, freaking me out!”
I suddenly realised I was shouting. Damn straight. I felt like smashing a few windows too, except the windows in here were too high up to reach. Bugger. Maybe a brick or something?
“Calm down,” said the Bishop.
“Screw you!” I yelled. “Screw fucking you!”
Then, in my tirade, I stubbed my toe against the pew. Shit. Why do I always end up hurting myself when I have a rant? Not fair. But it brought me back down to earth with a bang. Shit, my toe hurt.
Then I took a deep breath, willing myself to calm down. I sat back down again, and Daniel patted me on the back. I was hyperventilating, and suddenly noticed the silence of the room. Everyone was watching me, almost holding their breath, stunned by my totally reasonable outburst.
“Calm down, and I’ll explain how things stand,” the Bishop repeated.
“Easy for you to say,” I added bitterly at last, after a long silence, to the Bishop.
“There have been eight test subjects who have died in…rather nasty ways in the last 24 hours,” said the Bishop softly, clearly attempting to break the news to me as gently as possible. “Odd magnetic fields began to build around them quite a while ago – a few weeks back. Like you, we’ve been tracking them for quite some time, ever since their anomalies were first observed.
“But – in every case except yours – right before we’ve been about to contact them, they’ve died quite nastily. Most from electric shock which may be associated with the magnetic field growth around them. But some have drowned. We think the magnetic force fields they’re generating may be causing fluctuations in the ordinary electrical currents we cable through the city.
“In one case, it’s suspected that a cochlear phone implant was the electrocution device, and that the signal somehow amplified itself to a lethal degree, while the victim was swimming. We don’t know how this may have occurred – it’s only a suspicion. But its clear these fields are unusual and possibly quite dangerous.
“Because we’ve been trying to keep things quiet – under the radar – it’s been difficult to do any autopsies, despite Athena’s branch having infiltrated hospitals around the planet. The deaths are likely caused by the magnetic field – we just don’t know how. And we don’t know how to stop them. As I said, you’re the first person to even be contacted by our Order. The rest have all died before we’ve made contact.”
Athena Papadopoulos stared at the Bishop, clearly unhappy, and interrupted. “That’s not strictly correct,” she said. “The deaths could, possibly, be unnatural. Very difficult to prove, but not impossible. Murder cannot be ruled out.”
The Bishop looked uncomfortable, and Daniel asked the question that was forming in my own mind:
“But no ‘Order’ has contacted us!,” he said. “I mean, we’ve come here, and I’m guessing you two are both members of this ‘Order’ thing, but we contacted you. There wasn’t any contact the other way around.”
The Bishop smiled. “You’re misunderstanding your experiences over the last few days,” he replied. “When Mr Hocking here found himself in hospital, Doctor Papadopoulos took the very easy opportunity of contacting you both and installing a tracking device on you both. The hospital cubicle was sprayed with tracer.
“We’ve been following you both with absolutely no difficulty ever since.” He touched my shoulder, and something in me made me flinch. “Your movements have been rather interesting, as a matter of fact.”
“Tracer? What the hell is that?”
“Minute spray Trace B24 particles,” said the Bishop. “The room was dusted with them. Everything you touched from the moment Mr Hocking was placed in his cubicle marked you, and enabled us to track your movements thenceforth.
“B24 is a small radioactive marker, with a short half-life. Totally harmless, but very effective; very useful. Easy to pick out from other background radiation, if you have the right hardware. Which we do.” He laughed shortly. “You even both glow in the dark rather nicely.”
The Bishop looked rather smug, and proceeded. “Athena made contact with you, you were dusted with Tracer, and you were given the requisite panadeine forte that all test subjects have been dosed with.”
“And now you’re saying that someone is going around and murdering your test subjects?” I said, angrily, trying to stop the fear from rising in my voice.
“Not murder…” began the Bishop, but again Athena Papadopoulos cut him off, and I was aware that the two did not see eye to eye on this issue.
“Murder cannot be ruled out,” she said. “It is likely, of course, that the deaths are being caused by the magnetic field – it certainly looks that way – but murder, ordinary, common, dirty murder – cannot be eliminated as a possibility.”
She regarded me thoughtfully. “It is odd that you’ve survived until now. Perhaps you’re just fortunate. Or perhaps something different in your makeup allows you to survive. I don’t know. I would suggest for you to stay away from electrical cables and lines, and away from rivers and from the ocean. As the Bishop said, all of the victims thus far have drowned or been electrocuted. It has not been pretty. So, in the interests of your own safety, I would suggest you keep dry and stay away from electricity.”
“And don’t go anywhere alone,” said Daniel grimly, looking at me.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, if the doc here,” he said, pointing at Athena Papadopoulos, “Is right about the possibility of it being murder, then you don’t want to go anywhere alone. I’ve read the horror stories. People always die when they go wandering off alone. Stick with me, mate. Don’t even go for a whizz by yourself from now on!”
“Great,” I said. “I”ve got a nanny.”
“Better that than dead,” said Daniel.
“Your friend is right,” said Athena. “You need someone with you all the time. However, your friend simply isn’t up to the task. While he may think he is, as far as the Order is aware, he has no special defense skills or abilities, and does not carry a weapon.”
“So – what?” I asked. “Are you going to assign me some sort of kick-arse bodyguard? And what’s this Order you keep mentioning?”
“You’ll find out about the Order later,” she replied. “But yes, a ‘kick-arse’ bodyguard is the general idea. I’ll be minding you henceforth, until we determine exactly what this force field is around you, and what it’s purpose is.”
“Oh, craaaaa-aaap,” moaned Daniel, looking at Athena Papadopoulos. “You mean she’s going to be hanging out with us?”
“The feeling is mutual,” said the doc, “I assure you, I’m not thrilled either. However, it will be quite interesting having a look inside your friend’s brain, and actually finding out what, precisely, is going on there, and what this magnetic force field is. And why it is growing around him. All intriguing questions.”
She stood up. “I’ll be your minder, and bodyguard, and will be studying you concurrently,” she said to me, reaching down to the free form wooden table and gathering a pile of papers together, stacking them neatly, and folding them, then picking them up in her arms. “With 24/7 access, hopefully my branch of the Order and I should be able to figure out what this force field is, what is its purpose, and protect you from any threat at the same time.”
She tidied her hair – already perfectly coiffed – with one hand, while balancing the pile of papers in the other, and motioned that we get up from our pew. “Come on,” she said. “If we’re going to deal with this, we need to get going.”
“I think your freedom just walked out the door,” sang Daniel, tunelessly, air-guitar miming the old thirties hit. “And it ain’t coming back no more, no more, no more baybeee.”
“Idiot! Easy for you to laugh,” I said to him, whacking him across the head. “But you’re not going nowhere, mate! You’re coming with me. I’m not going through this shit all alone. You’re coming with me.”
“What about the Bishop?” asked Daniel.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said John the Bishop, rising from our pew. “I’ll be here, with plenty of work to do. My side of the effort is analysing the increasing energy spike here at St. Paul’s, and attempting to uncover why it is happening, where it is coming from, and when it will peak, if at all.”
I tried to absorb all this as quickly as I could, then I stood up, and put my hands in my jeans pockets. “So, Mis Athena Papa-whatever,” I said. “Where are we going?”
“To my office at the hospital,” answered Athena Papadopoulos. “I want to run some tests on you. Bishop – thanks for the discussions about your theory regarding the ley-lines. They’ve been most interesting. I’ll do the tests on Mr Hocking that we discussed, and report back on Thursday, as usual.”
The Bishop nodded. “As usual.”
“Of course,” she added. “Should anything happen to Mr Hocking, I’ll immediately pass on details.”
“If I die, you mean,” I interrupted.
Athena Papadopoulos ignored me. “In which case, I’ll tag any remains for immediate autopsy.”
“Like hell you will!” I said. I was getting real nervous again.
Athena Papadopoulos moved towards the choir room door, and motioned for Daniel and me to follow. Not knowing what else to do, we did so, following her out of the room. She waited until we were out in the corridor, and shut the old wooden choir room door firmly behind us.
Then she said quickly, quietly, almost urgently, “Follow me!” And she turned a sharp left, heading back into the large, cold kitchen room where Daniel and I had spent the night.
“Any time for a toilet stop?” asked Daniel, annoyed. “A guy’s got to go when, ah, a guy’s got to go, you know!”
I could see what he was thinking. He clearly didn’t want to hang out with this lady any longer than he could help it either, and had plans of escaping as soon as possible too.
“Not now,” she said. “Come with me. Quickly. There’s not much time.” She stalked across the room to the sink, grabbed a huge, filthy glass beer stein with one hand, and filled it right up with water from the tap.
She put the stein of water on the benchtop. I watched, wondering what she was playing at.
Then, holding her paperwork under one arm, she reached across and in to her handbag with the other hand, pulling out a packet of something. She turned to face us, and I could see what she was holding in her hand – what she’d pulled from her bag. I recognised the familiar packaging immediately. Panadeine forte.
“Oh – no way!” I said, backing off. “Not again. I am NOT taking that shit again!”
“It’s not for you. Not this time,” she said quietly, intently.
Then she held the packet out at Daniel, expectantly.
“Oh, crap,” he said simply.
“Take two tablets. Swallow them. Here’s water. Do it now. Now! Quickly!” she said. She was tense, watching, her gaze going back to the doorway through which we’d come. Her demeanour confused me more than ever. What was going on?
“And if I don’t?” he asked, backing away even more. Daniel was scared – like, really scared. I looked at him, and I could see he was thinking of grisly woodchipper deaths. Nasty electrocution cochlear brain-frying mutilations. He did NOT want to take those drugs.
I didn’t blame him. He’d been cool when it was me freaking out, but now it might be his turn, he was definitely NOT cool.
I could see his eyes darting left and right, quickly summing up his surroundings again, real fast, looking for a quick exit.
The only easy way out seemed to be back the way we’d come. Apart from that, there was an old glass door, chained and padlocked, behind us to our right, through which there were some stairs leading up, covered in moth-eaten, tattered red carpet.
“If you don’t swallow them voluntarily, I have no choice,” she said, pulling out a tiny ceramic pistol from her bag. It was small, but looked efficient and deadly. ” Take the pills. Two of them. Now. Quickly! They will not harm you. You have my word.”
“Like that means anything,” said Daniel. “This isn’t fricking panadeine forte. The whole thing is a set up! You set us up!”
“Yes,” she said. “We had to. You will understand everything later. I promise. But now – take the pills.”
“Take them, Dan,” I said. “They didn’t kill me.” I really, really didn’t want to get shot in a run down Cathedral. Least of all by a chick. Jeez!
“Shit,” he muttered. But he popped two pills from their bubble packs, and swallowed. Athena Papadopoulos handed him the stein of water, and made him swallow that too, so he couldn’t hide the pills in his cheek. He was just about gagging at the filthy stein, but in the end he drank it all. The pills were gone.
Once Athena Papadopoulos was certain Daniel had swallowed the pills, she motioned with the pistol for us to move across the floor.
She shepherded us to the door I’d commented on the night before – the door that the Bishop claimed led to nowhere. I remembered how the Bishop had told me it used to lead to the Crypt and, above the Crypt, how there had used to be a chancel where the choir had sung. Once upon a long time ago.
She followed behind us, and although pretty much mostly I was thinking about that pistol behind me, pointing at me, and wondering if I was shot how long it would take to die and what it might feel like, I also couldn’t help wondering what the hell the doctor was playing at.
She stopped us at the old, wooden door, the door that led to nowhere. Around its old edges I could still see the morning’s daylight shining in to us.
I wondered why she’d chosen for us to leave the Cathedral via this exit, and not the side entrance – this exit just led over a massive pile of rubble, rubbsih and debris, none of it cleared away since the quake.
Then I heard her crisp, clear voice behind me. She was talking into her phone again, as she had at the hospital. And once again, it sent a chill down my spine.
“Stasis: trio. Modal: Jump 1 positive. Position: St. Paul’s, Dunedin. Crypt stairwell door. Return date January 29, 2030. Check count: 10: 00 Mark: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5…”
“What the…?” I began.
The whole world seemed to shift and slide backwards, and I had a strong sense of the earth moving underneath me.
The air was a veil, as though filled with dust, and when it cleared, the door in front of me was open, and there was a large fluorescent-lit semicircular room, and a stairwell, and steps leading down.
We were in the Cathedral, but there was no rubble, no broken stonework, no shattered glass. And in the distance, maybe somewhere above me, I could hear the singing of a choir.
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READ ON: CHAPTER 15: Entering the Vortex