If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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I stood up slowly, carefully, leaning on Daniel’s arm for support.
My whole body was parched. My skin was a desert. My mouth felt like sandpaper.
“I need water,” I said. It wasn’t just me speaking, or ordinary thirst speaking. There was something deeper inside me, calling me, telling me what to do next. The energy had released something inside me, flicking a switch. The power was transforming me and moving me forwards. “I have to have water.”
Tina reached for one of the bottles we’d brought with us, still sitting in the corner of the room, apparently untouched by the mass of energy that had created a whirlwhind here just moments earlier. The bottles were even still cool to the touch.
I couldn’t understand why they were still cool despite the recent firestorm, but thankfully unscrewed the lid of one, and drank deeply, draining it swiftly.
“Thanks, but I need water. More water. Sea water.” I said, not really even understanding it myself. “Not just to drink. I need to go to the sea. I need to be at the sea. I can’t explain why, I just know it.”
Athena looked at Daniel and Tina, who both shook their heads, not understanding. Then she began picking up our belongings, such as they were. “Let’s go,” she said simply. “If you need to be at the sea, we’ll follow.”
Daniel went over to the pile of dust in the middle of the floor – the pile of dust that had been the Bishop. He was about to kick it ruthlessly and vengefully, scattering it all around, but was stopped by Athena, who guessed what he was about to do and laid her hand on his arm, preventing him and holding him back.
“Why not? he asked. “After everything he did…” He looked at Tina, and his gaze hardened angrily. “He deserves it. No mercy.”
“Don’t touch it,” said Athena. “We don’t know what touching it might do.”
“It’s just a pile of dust. He’s gone,” reasoned Daniel. “I just want to finish the job.”
“Maybe he’s gone,” said Athena. “And maybe not. Best leave it alone. Leave it be. If he’s gone, let’s count it a blessing. I don’t know what touching it will do. We’re dealing with power that is way beyond all of us now. To the sea, Mike?” she added, turning to me.
“To the sea,” I confirmed, feeling oddly certain about this next move. “I don’t know why. I just know that’s where…where the earth wants me.” I looked down at my hands, and didn’t really need to look closely to see that the energy bubble was beginning to build again, the air thickening like custard on my skin. “It’s happening again, Athena,” I said. “Quicker this time. A lot quicker. I can feel the energy building inside me.”
“Every time now, it’s happening faster,” observed Daniel, trying to remain calm. “It was four hours between the first and second spikes of energy, when Tina came through.” He looked at his watch. “And now this last energy spike was almost exactly two hours since the previous.” He looked nervous. “Half the time – it’s taken half as much time. It’s building up energy faster, almost like a count down to something…”
“Yes,” said Athena, as we walked out of the rear exit of the ice cream factory, checking carefully for anyone watching us before heading down the street, skirting rows of warehouses on our way to the sea front. “The spikes are growing in intensity. The time between them is halving. I think it is a countdown, but to what…?”
“But don’t you know?” asked Tina, as we walked through the empty streets to the sea. “I mean, if I came back from the future, as you say I did, to set up the Order and tell you all about what was going on, and to warn you that something big was going down, didn’t I tell at least you about this?”
“You told us a lot,” replied Athena. “But not every detail. Ironically, time has been short. We know some specifics, but not others. The world is changing. Humanity is changing. And time is shifting, time lines transforming.
“History is rewriting itself so much now that I’m certain of nothing that I thought I knew about the future – nothing. I don’t even know whether, now, you will come back from the future now, or if that time line has been deleted. I just know we’re here and now. That is all. And it is evident that something is about to happen. And happen soon.”
“So what does it all mean?” I asked, afraid to know the answer but desperate to find out regardless. “Am I going to fry, and burn, and end up a little pile of dirt too, like the Bishop did? Do you have any idea at all?” The left side of my face started to twitch nervously, and I found that I couldn’t control it. It unsettled me even more than I was already.
“Those ley-lines, the lines of power,” explained Athena, as we reached the end of the street and found ourselves at the pier, overlooking the expanse of the bay, where a mass of fishing boats, old pleasure craft and a few small sailboats were gathered. “The energy fields that criss-cross the earth and intersect are growing and intertwining more by the hour, by the moment. They’re connecting the human populations of the world together, creating a network of understanding and knowledge as we watch.”
Her voice was filled with awe. “It’s almost like watching an incredible, terribly complex mind being built, the neurons connecting with one another for the first time, and the synapses beginning to learn how to work. It’s intelligence on a massive scale. And the Host – you, Mike – you’re right at the center of the Vortex. Right at the crux of it all, connecting the mind to the body somehow. Everything is connected, becoming intertwined, finding relationships with one another. Growing, developing, learning.”
For the first time, Athena swore under her breath. “It’s bloody terrifying, and it’s absolutely magnificent. Because what we’re seeing throws all our understanding of consciousness out of the water. This is intelligence: this is an intelligent, organised, living being on a completely different scale to anything we’ve ever seen before. It makes humans look like amoeba.
“Yet we’re a part of it. We can’t stop it. We can’t fight it – the Bishop tried, in a vain attempt to keep his old, outdated world view intact, and look what happened to him!” She breathed in deeply, in contemplation. “Maybe his concept of God simply wasn’t big enough. Maybe God was too big for the Bishop. Or maybe this isn’t God at all, but something quite different. I don’t know, but the scientist in me is dying to find out.”
Daniel was silent, overwhelmed, but Tina said quietly, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we just didn’t dream big enough. Maybe there’s nothing to be afraid of after all.”
Tina looked at me. “I know that Mike isn’t evil, he’s no anti-Christ, and whatever is happening here has a purpose. And I’m part of that purpose – I’m meant to be here too.” She chewed her lower lip thoughtfully. “So I’ll put my trust in the hope that we’re doing what is right, mainly because I can’t really do anything else. And I’ll hope that this is right, and good, and that in all of this mess and chaos we’re on the side of right. Oh God, I hope we’re right.”
“Your mother believed in you, and in Mike, and in the Order’s work supporting the rise of the Vortex,” said Athena. “And she was a pretty smart woman. If you believe in anything, believe in her.”
“She’s dead,” replied Tina simply. “So now I guess it’s up to me to figure things out.” She sighed,and coughed nervously. Finally: “I’ll stand by my friends, come what may. They’re all I have.”
Athena turned to face me, her normally perfect dark hair coming loose in the strong salt sea wind, and whipping against her cheeks. “There are some steps down to the sea if you need to reach it for some reason.” She pointed at a set of concrete steps, leading down to the water, half-submerged below sea level. Do you need to touch the water?”
A voice came from me that was not my own, that I didn’t understand. “I need to be in the water.” My hands and skin were beginning to burn and throb, the energy beginning to rise. I could tell it wouldn’t be long, and that somehow a part of me knew that the sea water held a key.
Around me the air was beginning to dry out and crackle again with electricity. Overhead, storm clouds appeared from nowhere, and were soon gathering at a phenomenal rate, beginning to swirl and spin what seemed only a few hundred feet above me, forming a spiral of energy that was growing and condensing, gathering the moisture from the air and drawing it into a grey funnel centered above us, like an ominous finger pointing down and indicating where we were for anyone from a hundred miles away who might care to look.
The spiral began to spin, slow at first, then faster and faster, counter-clockwise, gathering speed and power, sucking up the air below and creating a vaccuum which threatened to pull us from the ground. And all the while my skin burned stronger and hotter, the air around me crackled and lit with shards and bolts of energy. Once again there was that odd taste of metal, like aluminium foil, in my mouth.
Then I got an uncontrollable case of shivering all over, and a strong sense of deja vu swept through my mind and body, freaking me out and making me want to retch. My shaking grew worse as the energy in my skin grew stronger and sharper, until I could see blue bolts of electricity shooting from my fingertips, my arms – from all over my body outwards, catching whatever was close to me and burning scorch marks into the concrete pier, and melting the metal railing.
Yet in all this, my companions remained unhurt. I could see shafts of energy reaching out to them, touching them, being absorbed into their bodies and creating a network of power between us, and although they too seemed to buzz with power, it didn’t hurt them. They didn’t dissolve, or burn, or scald. They simply absorbed the power, connected with it, reacted with it, and somhow become more alive as every bolt of energy shot outwards to them.
Meanwhile the vortex of power above us circled and spiralled more intensely, more strongly – faster and faster – until it was a howling tornado, violent and electrified, shooting power outwards and inwards, spinning chaos around us, a twister of noise and vibration and energy that was so powerful that it seemed a living thing.
Faster it spun, moving across and then down over us, until we were in its eye, encased in a core of wind, and all around us was madness, but inside where we stood there was a pressured, overbearing silence that bore down upon us like a huge weight upon our shoulders. No air moved, there was no sound, no one was visible except ourselves, standing strong in the hush.
And then, quietly, almost inaudible, I heard the distant tolling of church bells. And a ghostly voice speaking, urging: “Don’t tell anybody…don’t tell anybody…”
And my own inner voice, which had been growing all the while inside me, and which I now knew had been directing my every action from the moment my parents had been born, told me what I needed to do.