‘The Replacement’ in this month’s Nebula Rift

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Hey friends. Pick up this month’s copy of Nebula Rift and read my story “The Replacement” about a man who accidentally kills another reality’s version of himself. Here is a short excerpt!

     I made my first jump to the other side from back behind the Circle K, not far from the house I shared with my wife. I should mention that we don’t get along too well, my wife and I, and while it’s not too important at the moment, it’s worth mentioning. Anyway, I got the device from the other Marcus. Oh and I guess I should also mention that my name is Marcus and that I accidentally killed another version of myself after I caught him sneaking out of my house. He’d just finished sleeping with my wife.
     I didn’t realize who it was who was doing the sneaking along the outside of the garage and as far as I could tell, Wendy, my wife, didn’t know who it was either. I mean, she knew it was me, she just didn’t realize it was the wrong me.

The Light-bringer and the Dragon (cont.)

     From out of the trees in front of him came running a hooded man, enflamed and thrashing wildly at the tendrils of fire about him. The flames appeared to Walker to be alive. They bit at the man’s flesh with bright fangs, rising high above his head to curl back down and bite at his back. He flailed at it with gloved hands and eyes wide, before falling at Walker’s feet.
     Walker stood and watched the man burn. There had been a time when he would have interceded, putting the man out and bringing him back from the edge of death; grabbing hold of that fickle sprite that was Life and forcing it back into the body. But the cost had been too high. And so Walker let the man burn.
He stepped over the body and continued through the trees. His clothing began to change as he walked. A hood like that of the dead man materialized around his head, leather gloves on his hands and thick boots around his feet. He stepped carefully around burning oak and found himself in a clearing. Hooded men with hunting spears were circling a lone figure in the center. They howled and raised their spears in the air. They had cornered their prey and were now trying to take it down. It was a young girl.
     All about her the men with spears danced around while trying to find an opening to stab at her, but every time one of them got close she turned to them, pitching her small head forward and opening her mouth impossibly wide to spit out gouts of red wildfire that took them as they ran. Many had already fallen and were now only charred shells. Still others came streaming out of the burning forest around her, stabbing blindly with their spears, eyes bloodied from the heat.
     Walker approached and she turned to him. She roared with fury, letting forth her biggest burst of flame which when leaving her mouth took on the form of a serpent with mouth wide, fangs dripping with fire. It threatened to over take him, but he had had time to steel himself against it. He said quiet words that fell from his lips and rose up to surround him, diverting the serpent so that he would not burn. Instead it tore through the trees that he had just emerged from, leaving nothing but blackened stumps.
     The girl let out another deep roar from somewhere far in her belly. Then she changed. The men, still storming from out the forest, those who had not already been burned, stopped with spears held at their sides and watched the transformation. She was a girl, and then she was not. A scaled tail whipped out and took two of the men at their midsections, leaving lumps of severed flesh; legs still kicking and eyes forever wide in terror. A snout that dripped ingots of fire from the nostrils tore at yet two more, ripping off limbs with sword-like teeth that lined the terrible mouth. She grabbed another with giant claws and tossed him like a small stone in Walker’s direction. He stepped aside and let the man fall somewhere in the burning forest.
     At first content with fighting the beast in its previous form but now terrified of its full glory, the remaining hooded spearmen turned and fled into the forest. Walker knew they would not get far; all around them there was living flame that would reach down to take hold of anyone who ran. They would not survive this encounter; they were dead men from the beginning. The dragon roared again and stomped at the ground. She reared up on her legs, spread her wings around her and crashed back to the earth in all her wrath. Then she turned her attention to Walker, and opened her mouth wide… (part 2)

The Light-bringer and the Dragon


     The door was wood. Shiny, as if it had been newly stained. It had appeared just in front of him, manifesting thanks to a few choice words whispered for only his ears. Walker grabbed the handle, turned and walked through into space.
     That was what he did. He crossed through thresholds into other worlds. He was one of the many who traversed the distances between dimensions. But of them, he was the only known was The Walker. More a title than a name, though he’d always presented it as such. Those who knew the histories called him Walker when lucky enough to get his aid. More often though he was called simply Light-bringer. His was the duty to bring light into the darkness, to offer hope to those without.
     The door opened into nothing. There was always nothing in the in-between. Only the unknowable distance between realities that he covered with his long strides. Despite the darkness, each foot was placed with care, so that in no time that could be counted he reached another door and turned its handle.
     He emerged to find a land on fire. Large oaks burned on either side of him. Dark smoke colored the sky above him an ominous shade of gray. The ground was covered in falling ash. He passed through and the door vanished behind him. In the distance he could hear men yelling, fighting. Burning… (part 1)

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Twelve

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Here is Cormic’s War, chapter twelve. Have a great weekend!

TWELVE

They were making their way back to Cormic’s apartment, seeing patrols pass in and out of hallways but doing their best not to be seen. Cormic knew they’d be sought after, one didn’t walk away from an accident like what happened on the elevator without people asking questions, but he was surprised at how quickly soldiers had been mobilized. He’d seen the cameras on the lift, figured Adams’ actions would be reported to Consortium military but the response had been nearly immediate. And if Cormic wanted any answers of his own, he’d have to keep both himself and Adams out of Consortium hands for the time being. Once he figured out what had happened, once he’d done his own investigation, then what happened to Adams wasn’t his problem. The man had exhibited signs of having both a split personality, and incredible telekinetic ability. Cormic’s professional curiosity was getting the better of him, despite a gnawing suspicion that he should instead get as far away from Cain Adams as he could. Now, while he had the chance. Instead he kept walking.

Adams paced just behind Cormic, not talking but breathing heavily, like he was holding back a sob, or scream. Cormic hoped it wasn’t the latter. The sound the soldier made on the elevator, before everything turned upside down, was still so fresh in his mind, he was holding his own breath hoping they could make it back to someplace safe before the private had another episode.

Adams hadn’t spoken since they left the elevator maintenance area. If was as if he were having a terrible dream, unsure of who or where he was and found that when he woke, the bad dream had simply continued. He could barely remember the dark catwalk yet the green emergency lights seem to glare bright in his mind’s eye. He had gotten on an elevator, blinked, and opened his eyes to a nightmare. A nightmare he had supposedly caused. It was all he could do to put one leg in front of the other, though with the doctor’s ducking and hiding behind corners as they made their way, it was a little easier to stay in the moment. They were evading something, or someone, he wasn’t sure. All he really knew was that he was tired. And the doctor was going to help him.

I was supposed to do something. The thought came to him but he couldn’t think of what it was. He could barely hold on to his own sanity let alone a wandering memory and so it passed him by.

They took a convoluted route back to Cormic’s apartment but had to wait by the small market across the large public area, still within view of the doctor’s front door. Two Gunners paced back and forth in front of it, rifles slung lazily on their shoulders. They kept dark eyes focused on anyone who passed, just the normal bodies who filed to and from offices and store fronts on the station. They were focused, but Cormic could tell from their postures that they weren’t entirely committed. Even so, it would be impossible to get inside the apartment this way.

Adams stood quietly behind Cormic, hands in his pockets.

“Shit, I knew they’d send someone but that was quick.” Cormic whispered, more to himself than Adams.

“Huh?”

Cormic turned, seeing Adams for the first time since they started walking. He was sweating, his eyes watery.

“Never mind. You need to sit private?”

“No, uh, I’m fine. Just a headache s’all.” Adams said. His lips were wet, and a vein throbbed high on his forehead. Cormic knew it was more than just a simple headache.

“Ok. Ok. But let me know if you do, alright? Unfortunately we’ll just have to sit tight till them Gunners decide to move. Though odds are they won’t. If folks know to look for me, I can’t think of a better place to start with than my apartment or the clinic.”

People were walking by them and around them though no one gave much notice. One man said “Hi doctor!” but Cormic had just nodded slightly and let him walk away. Doctor Cormic was recognized on this station, and if he was standing around with a sickly looking Gunner, then you just let him be; he knew what he was doing.

Adams continued to sweat. The pain in his head was growing so he grit his teeth to stop his vision from blurring. Why couldn’t those Gunners by the door just leave? All he wanted was to go and sit down someplace comfortable, rest his throbbing head against a cool glass and close his eyes. Not skulk behind a corner and wait. They should just leave him alone. Just move on and let him and Cormic get into the apartment. Just leave…him…alone. Leave…leave…

LEAVE!

     It felt like he had reached into a bowl of warm water, moving his hand in slow, deliberate circles. What little disturbance there was to the water’s surface, caused ripples that cascaded outward, transforming into gentle waves that lapped at the sides. Where he moved his hand, the water went with it, but just enough that he felt the slight resistance against his palm and moved through it.

The two Gunners by Cormic’s door looked up at the same time, hearing some soundless call. Then they turned around and walked in the opposite direction of where Adams and Cormic were hiding.

“Holy…they’re leaving.” Cormic said in disbelief. He laughed a short quick laugh. “Come on, quick. Before they change their minds and come back.”

He and Adams rushed across the space between where they were standing and Cormic’s door. He palmed the lock, hoping it hadn’t been programmed not remain locked and sighed in relief when he heard the familiar click and the door opened a few inches. He shoved it the rest of the way, waited until Adams was just inside, and closed it again in one smooth motion. Cormic stood by the door, looking around the room. Everything was where he had left it, which meant broken glass and cold tea were scattered on the floor. He had forgotten about that, even though it had been, what, less than two hours since he had rushed out of the apartment. But it wasn’t that that had suddenly given him pause. Something seemed…off. But it was nothing he could fully form in his mind, and so he put it off somewhere for later. There was too much to do right now.

Adams walked purposefully to the sofa, feet crunching on the remains of Cormic’s mug with indifference. He slumped down, immediately putting his head in his palms and sighing. Cormic kept his distance and circled around him towards the kitchen cabinet over the fridge. It was where he kept the little alcohol he allowed in the apartment. And his old service pistol.

“Listen, Adams. Do you want some water? Something stronger maybe? We probably don’t have a lot of time but I figure you have to be as frazzled as I am.” Cormic grabbed the Puerto Rican rum that had collected a thin layer of grit from lack of use and shut the cabinet on the .45 that had its own thin coat of dust for the same reason.

“Yes Doctor, I think I will take you up on that…it’s just my head.” Adams looked up for a moment but then buried his head forcefully in his hands.

Cormic grabbed two glasses and poured quick shots into each. He thought about it, and poured a little more into Adams’ cup. He stepped around the counter, careful not to walk on any of the glass on the floor and handed Adams the drink, sitting next to him on the couch.

“To figuring things out, eh?” Cormic made to clink glasses but Adams just tossed his head back and downed the liquor one gulp, inhaling sharply from the sting against his throat. He stood up and paced, concentration etched on his face.

“I’m not sure what’s going on Doctor. I got this feelin’ like I need to be doing something of great importance but I can’t for the life of me remember. I try ta clear my mind and it’s like I’m wading through molasses if you get my meaning.”

Cormic nodded. “You did say you had something very important to talk to me about. On the elevator, before…the incident.”

“And that’s another thing. I don’t remember any of that. I don’t. Now, hold on a second…” he saw Cormic about to interrupt. “I’m not saying I don’t believe it happened. I don’t know why but I have a strange feeling that things went down exactly like you said they did. And before, with those soldiers in front of your door? It was like I was inside their heads for just a second, long enough for them ta hear what I was thinking. I wanted them to leave Dr. Cormic, and they up and left. Not ‘cause they wanted to mind you, but because I thought it. Loudly. If that even makes sense.” He stopped pacing.

Of course it doesn’t make sense, Cormic thought. None of this makes any sense.

“No, I think I understand. Sure.” Cormic said, standing up. “You made those soldiers move. With your thoughts. And, how exactly did you do that?” He suddenly became all too aware of his proximity to Adams and wondered if he had tried to get into Cormic’s head at any point. If that was how it even worked.

Assuming he even believed this was happening.

“I couldn’t tell you Doctor. I just, I just know that’s how it happened.” Adams punched a fist into his hand.

“Ok well, here. Let me grab my medical bag from the other room. We’ll get out of here; go someplace where I can give you a proper look over.” Cormic walked towards his room as he spoke. “Now, ultimately, I think we’ll need to bring in your superiors on this. You are their responsibility and it won’t do to keep running around like we’re criminals or something.” He grabbed the leather bag he kept his spare medical supplies in and reached for the drawer in the cabinet by his bed. He opened it and stopped. His journal. There was something wrong with his journal. He grabbed it and opened the cover, her eyes met his and he let out a breath. Her picture was still there. She was still there. Waiting for him like she always did. And again he had the feeling that something wasn’t right. But he could only dismiss it now. They had to leave.

He threw the journal into his bag. “I’ll just do a preliminary examination and we’ll get to the bottom of this, ok Private?” He didn’t hear anything from the other room. So he rushed out.

“Private?”

“We have visitors Shale.” Adams stood by the door, fire burning in his eyes. He was standing tall, arms ending in tight fists at his sides. His accent was gone.

 

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Eleven

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Cormic’s War, chapter eleven. Thanks for reading!

Eleven

It took five minutes from when they received the call, to when Consortium soldiers were opening the damaged elevator doors in the 1-Ring atrium. The reinforced glass had stopped just short from fragmenting but had deep gauges spider-webbing from the bottom of the doors, throughout its entire face. Just behind them was carnage.

Sergeant Cysko inserted his key card into the terminal on the side of the elevator, overriding the door locks so that they could be opened manually. He could see the huge shards of glass just on the other side; the remains of the elevator that inexplicably fell multiple rings down the shaft. And it hadn’t been the fall that shattered the thick walls. Apparently it had fractured while still suspended. He had trouble believing that. In all his time on station detail, he’d seen these elevators take all sorts of abuse. Of course the video of how it broke had been deemed classified, even for him. If there was a way to shatter these glass lifts, the Consortium higher-ups didn’t want the knowledge spreading.

He and his men grabbed at the doors, pulling each side until they stood open and allowed for easy access in and out of the mess. Large pieces of glass spilled out once there was enough room for them to cascade; a clean up crew would be by soon to remove it all. He didn’t even want to think about how Maintenance was going to replace the damn thing. Probably have it shipped from Earth. He didn’t care.

They worked their way through the debris, tossing glass to the side and searching until they found what they had been sent to recover. The distorted remains of a person lay under the shards; an arm severed by a particularly sharp piece lay just near the crushed corpse. He was wearing a maintenance worker uniform, stained a deep crimson from the man’s blood.

“You two, get this fucking thing out of here before clean-up comes.” Cysko barked at the two soldiers closest to the body. “We’re looking for two more, the rest of you; keep digging through all this shit.”

After a few minutes, a young Private approached him, eyes downcast and arms at attention. He was taller than Cysko, all the new guys seemed to be taller than he was.

“What.” Cysko growled.

“Sir it’s just, there don’t seem to be any other bodies Sir. We’ve moved most of the larger pieces and can see through the rest of the glass.” The other soldiers looked up, listening.

Cysko got in the soldier’s face, looking up into his eyes.

“Command said there were three men in this elevator when it fell. That means there should be three bodies. Right Private?” Cysko looked around at the other men while he spoke.

“Yes sir.”

“So we are going to keep looking until we find two other bodies. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.” The Private quickly turned and joined the others who had gone back to picking up and tossing glass.

Cysko wasn’t an idiot. He could see that the kid was right, they were standing on piles of glass for Christ’s sake. If there had been any other bodies in the wreck, they would be able to see them. But Command had been very clear. Find the bodies. Though if they weren’t here, where were they?

He climbed out of the elevator shaft and took out his comm unit, walking down the hall and out of earshot of his men. He called Command.

“Colonel Hera Sir. Sergeant Cysko.”

“Cysko, what’s going on? You find those bodies.” Hera asked.

“That’s the thing sir; we’ve only found one body in the wreck. There’s no one else.” Cysko said, his voice low.

“Was he wearing a military uniform?” There was urgency in Hera’s tone.

“No sir, just some maintenance guy. Mangled up really good. I don’t know, maybe there was a mistake?”

“There was no mistake Sergeant. There were three men in that elevator when it fell. The unfortunate maintenance worker, a Consortium soldier and a station doctor. Cormic. Shale Cormic.” Hera hissed the name.

“Sorry sir, of course. It’s just, they aren’t here.”

“Then they’ve somehow survived the fall. As improbable as it may be. Listen to me Cysko. Find them. Find them both. No matter what. Take your men and search the whole god damn station if you have to. I want Dr. Cormic and Private…Adams,” he hesitated, “…in my office by day’s end.”

“Yes sir. It will…take some time. If they got off before the elevator fell, they could be anywhere between here and 8-Ring.” Cysko said.

“Then why are we still discussing this.”

The line clicked off. Cysko made his way back towards the elevator.

———-

Hera had just put the communicator down when it started buzzing. He pressed the button to answer, knowing who would be on the other line. He put it on speaker and the sound of short, labored breathing filled the room.

“Ah, Hera.”

“Sir.” Hera said. He put his head in his hands.

“You, know why I am calling yes?”

Hera took a deep breath before answering. All of sudden his palms grew moist and warm. He swallowed.

“Yes sir. I do.” Hera answered.

“Yes. I would imagine so. I have seen the video Hera.”

“Yes sir.”

“Our Cain has been busy. It is, ah, of great importance that the video be destroyed Hera. And those who have already seen it, they must also be dealt with.” The voice on the other side seemed to grow more firm with each sentence.

“Sir, this is just a setback. I am sure I can…”

“No. No. We must continue forward with Private Hill. Do you understand me Hera? Cain is finished.”

“Sir…”

“Will that be a problem?”

“No. I understand.” Hera pressed the button on the comm. to end the call. He opened his desk drawer and took out the old, early model comm. unit that sat next to his service pistol. He turned it to the last channel and hit the call button. It was as if the person on the other end had been expecting the call, his voice came through within a second.

“Colonel.” Hill answered.

“You’ve been informed of the incident on the elevator Private?” Hera said.

“Yes Colonel, I have.”

Did Hill sound pleased? Hera could never tell with the man. To be honest, he had always been unnerved by him.

“Find Adams, in addition to the doctor. And remove him. Is that understood?” Hera said.

“It will be my pleasure Colonel.” Hill said. Yes, he was most definitely pleased. Hera could practically hear the man’s smile.

“Good. Oh, but first, I need you to visit the Station Supervisor’s Office. There’s a tech, Salem…something or other and the woman working under him. They’ve seen the elevator video. It’s imperative they forget what they’ve seen.”

“Of course Colonel. I’m on my way.”

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Ten

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Cormic’s War, chapter 10. Enjoy!

TEN

He was standing in the living room, his eyes closed and his mind open.

After turning off the air conditioning, Hill had walked to a spot, just in the center of the apartment and stood, unmoving, allowing his mind to see with his other self. Time crawled. His breathing slowed. And the apartment was suddenly there, bare and open before him. He could touch every corner, look into every crevice, nothing would be hidden from him. He just had to keep his mind open.

He was looking for something specific though he couldn’t have told anyone what it was. Only that he would know when he found it. It had been the same with the other survivors. The ones who made it home from the Hephaestus disaster six years earlier. No one was supposed to have lived through it, that these three men and one woman did had created countless problems for the people Hill worked for. There were supposed to have been no survivors. And it had taken six years to find those who did.

The first person he visited was Petra Nemoynov. She was living with the Callisto colony, one of three colonies that had been established on a Jovian moon. Hill liked Callisto, preferred it to Io and it’s volatile volcanic surface but it was still an unsavory place to live. Nemoynov had set herself up as an ombudswoman to the colony, generally well liked. Fair and just depending on who you asked. He stood, just as he was now, in her home and found the data disk hidden in the space between the inner and outer walls. It had called to him. And when he inserted it into his handheld and saw the information it contained, he couldn’t help but smile at his own skill. That disk had encompassed all of her research, all her findings on the accident on the Hephaestus. Nothing conclusive but enough to lead to still more questions and inquiry. The disk would be destroyed, or not, he didn’t know. His job was only to steal it now that it had been found. That, and deal with the woman. He was off world by the time he received the report that her body had been found. Not a strange thing on so alien a place, settlers died every day in one way or another. They were replaced by new pilgrims from Earth and those children who were being born for the first time in human history on other worlds. He doubted she was truly missed.

Omar Jenneson was the next name on his list. The man was just another mine worker on Luna Prime. Another face in the incessant crowds that shuttled between Luna and Earth every month to work or see their families. Hill had found nothing with Jenneson. The man apparently was just happy to be alive and lived his life free from any concern of the accident that had nearly taken it. Hill would have still liked to have dealt with him, but his orders were clear. Jenneson would be allowed to continue working the mines, continue living his no fuss life. He would never know that he had survived yet another near brush with death, this time at the hands of an assassin who enjoyed his work more than most.

Sandalio De La Fuente hadn’t been so lucky. Hill found him via the conspiracy forums De La Fuente frequented from his home in Barcelona. He didn’t use his real name, the man wasn’t that stupid. But using his considerable skill and resources, it was easy for Hill to find who consortiumhater9398 really was and track the name to the man, and the man to his home. De La Fuente was a special case. Most of his wild (and not so wild) speculations where right there on the net, not hidden in private notes like Nemoynov had done. Getting rid of the information on the forum had been fairly easy work. The Consortium already made it a habit of monitoring similar sites and had back doors into the administration of most all of them. One day consortiumhater9398 was just gone, deleted from the registry and data files. As if he had never existed. Information he provided was disproven, or replaced by new conspiracies; these specifically selected by Consortium analysts as having the best chance at wide spread dissemination and repeat-postings. All that had been fairly banal, a normal response to online information the Consortium wanted to dismiss. What made De La Fuente special though was the accumulation of research and back up data he claimed to have. Hard copies of notes and interviews supposedly giving credence to the rumor that the Hephaestus accident hadn’t been caused by a rogue asteroid shower, but by something or someone more insidious.

Hill shadowed De La Fuente for two weeks before finding the storage facility where this very real hoard was stored. And De La Fuente’s body was found a few days later under the charred remains of file boxes and data disks. He had a burned cigar in one hand, and a lighter in the other; the unfortunate victim of a supposed heart attack while smoking in a dry and dusty room.

That had only left doctor Shale Cormic.

It took Hill all of five minutes to find what he was looking for. It seemed Dr. Cormic didn’t realize how dangerous his private musings actually were, and that anyone might try to find them. In the bottom drawer of his nightstand was a journal, thick with pages full of the doctor’s slanted writing. And there were pictures of a woman Hill recognized from the dossier on the Hephaestus that he had within his mind. Doctor Kayla Bissette.

Interesting, Hill thought. Cormic and Bissette were an item.

Perhaps then it was her death that motivated him to find answers. Yes. As soon as he thought it, Hill knew it to be true. The doctor was driven by the unexplained death of a loved one. Hill could only laugh to himself.

I can kill him now.

Dr. Cormic would have to be dealt with. Despite the motivations, the journal was full of surprisingly accurate speculation and hypotheses. Where had the man gotten his information? One particular entry had stood out.

In other study of asteroid related in-situ accidents, recorded interval of collisions more regular than H. What was different? Too irregular to be natural. Planned?

Hill put the journal back in the drawer, removing any evidence that he had ever been in the room or the apartment. He would make sure the journal was confiscated later. It could stay where he found it for now. It was important Cormic not be alerted to his investigation.

By the time he walked out of the apartment, deleted the entry log on the door and walked back towards the elevators, only ten minutes had passed.

So easy.

He took out his comm-unit, an older model less susceptible to interference or interception and turned to the last channel. A second later there was a click.

“Hill.” A voice breathed into the line.

“Number four is confirmed. Will proceed with clean up.”

“There may be a problem.” The voice replied, clear but labored. Then the line went silent.

Hill put the comm back into his jacket. Why would there be a problem? He had found the evidence. Had Cormic shared his suspicions with another person? Had he somehow been alerted to their search. Had…

He seethed suddenly, pounding his fist into his thigh and growling under his breath.

Cain.

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Nine

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Here you are, “Cormic’s War” chapter nine. See you next week!

NINE

He wasn’t sure how he had moved so quickly, but Cormic suddenly found himself holding onto Adams by a tenuous grip; one hand around the unconscious man’s wrist and the other holding the catwalk railing with all the strength he had. His knees pressed hard against a vertical bar that seemed to offer additional support to the walkway by connecting the thin rail to the floor of the serrated walkway. A second iron rail ran the length of the space at thigh level.

His grip began to weaken. His chest and legs began to ache from the force of them against the iron and he began to hear what sounded like metal straining. The weight of both men was proving to be too much for the thin railing, and he could feel it begin to give outward.

The hum of machinery rose from the depths underneath him and for the first time he noticed the emergency lights situated throughout the shaft. Their dull green light cast eerie shadows across all the walls but at least he was able to see Adams, his eyes closed and his pale face taut and waxen.

Suddenly there was a sound like a gun shot. Cormic jumped, nearly losing his hold; what felt like a rock fell into the pit of his stomach before he was sure he had Adams securely again. He looked around, breathing hard and sweating onto Adams’ passive face below him. On his left, where the railing met the wall in a bolted support, he only saw the blank space between the railing’s end and the broken bolt in the wall.

He turned to his right, and gave himself the visual security of knowing that the other end of the rail was still bolted securely. For now.

The pain in his knee intensified and he moaned, the frustration hitting him in waves.

“Wake up Private.” He growled. “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!” He yelled the last words, the echo working it’s way all around him.

The pain in his leg was becoming too much and the muscles in his shoulder and back screamed for him to just let go, let Adams fall and stop the fire that burned through them. Without thinking he shifted all his weight onto his surgically replaced leg, feeling the enhanced muscles engage to support both men. He slowly lifted his real leg off of the ground, and off of the metal bar that indented itself into his knee. The change was immediate. The pain subsided.

He leaned back, letting more weight rest on his leg, and allowing his lower half to take up most of the strain. Why hadn’t he done this sooner? For all the thought he put into his fake leg, all the stress and pain it had caused him, he had never thought to actually use it any differently than before. Now, he would put it to the test.

The railing gave some more. Any minute the far end would snap and the catwalk would swing down, dropping them both onto the catwalk below, some fifty yards down.

He slowly bent his leg. The muscles tightened like a spring pulled from both ends, only it felt so natural. He could have supported even more weight if he needed to, if his arms could hold it. He bent his leg more, pulling the spring so that he could feel the energy waiting to burst and release.

He counted to three.

One.

Two.

Three.

He exploded up, using the built up force as momentum to swing Adams up and over the railing. They both felt backwards onto the catwalk, just as the other railing bolt snapped from it’s support and the walkway swung sickeningly down, slamming flat against the wall in its best attempt at throwing Cormic and Adams off before settling at an unsteady forty-five degree angle.

Cormic only just hung onto Adams, grabbing the man under his shoulders and luckily getting his own legs secure on the same bar his knee had previously been pressed against. But he wouldn’t last in this position. He could already feel the catwalk straining under him.

Adams’ eyes suddenly fluttered open and he stared up at Cormic. Gone was the hardness that he had seen in the elevator, before the soldier had seemingly tossed men around with his mind. Back was the softness of the Southern private who Cormic had first seen when he got onto the lift.

“Doctor Cormic?” Adams said softly. And to reinforce the change in his eyes, the southern accent returned to his voice, color returning to his amber skin. “Doctor Cormic, what are you doing?”

Cormic didn’t answer. He just turned towards the door on the far side.

“See the door Private? There behind you?” his voice was labored. His arms felt like they had needles trying to burst out of his skin.

Adams, whether because he was still dazed from his bout of unconsciousness or because he genuinely hadn’t noticed that he was being supported by Cormic’s trembling arms, finally jolted with understanding of the situation. And it was a testament to his training as a soldier that he didn’t just gesticulate wildly in both surprise and shock. Cormic saw the panic swim over his eyes, but it was momentary and instead of getting unhinged, he just raised his arms and grabbed hold of the rail above their heads, his feet finding their own foothold on the broken rail beneath them.

“I don’t…I don’t know what’s happening Doctor.” Adams said. His voice shook and he looked over his shoulder towards the door. “But I think we need to get to that door over there before this whole thing comes down.” Except instead of ‘over there’ it sounded like ova theh in his soft twang.

Cormic just nodded, relieved to have some of the weight literally taken from off his shoulders.

“Whenever you’re ready Private. Just, just use that mind mojo you used before in the elevator. I don’t know if this thing will hold much longer.”

Adams cocked his head to the side. “Mind mojo Doctor?” Doctah.

“Lift us, over to the door. Like you did in the elevator, and again in the shaft. I don’t know how you did it, but it happened. Make it happen again.” Cormic said more forcefully.

“All I remember is getting onto the elevator sir, and now I’m hanging here for my life. You can wait Doctor Cormic but I’m going to start making my way to the door.”

Adams edged his way towards the door, inching along the rail, hand over hand while his feet shuffled along with him. Cormic had no other option but to follow. He didn’t know what sort of game was being played here, why Adams wouldn’t just use his impossible ability of manipulating objects with his mind that he was so willing to show off before.

Then again, this Private Adams, the one without the intense glare, who spoke with a southern accent didn’t seem like the same one from before. It was as if he had been another person. And that person could move people with just a thought. This person though, the one making slow but steady progress towards the maintenance door, well, Cormic would figure him out one way or another.

They made their way to the door but it was locked. In one smooth movement, Cormic crossed in front of Adams, his face inches from Adams’ face long enough to confirm the lack of aggression and determination he had seen from the man’s eyes before. The Doctor gave the door a swift kick where the handle met the wall, sending it swinging backwards to bang loudly against the other side. He climbed out into the hallway and helped Adams do the same. Then he sat down.

“Doctor Cormic, are you ok?” Adams asked.

Cormic shot up into Adams’ body, shoving him back into the wall and grabbing at his shirt with tremoring hands.

“Am I ok? No I’m not ok. I am not ok. You’re going to tell me what the hell is going on or I’m going to snap your neck. How did you do what you did in the elevator?” Cormic growled into the soldier’s face.

Adams moved quickly, jutting his arms between Cormic’s and grabbing the Doctor’s shirt. He pivoted, placing a well trained leg behind Cormic and turning. The result was that now Cormic was the one pressed up against the wall.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I barely even remember being on the gawd damn elevator.” The man’s accent appeared to come in thick when he was angry.

Adams released his hold on Cormic and took a step back. “Sir, I don’t know what happened, ok. We were talking, and then suddenly we’re hanging from some catwalk. I mean, did I blackout? And what the hell happened to the elevator?”

Adams genuinely looked frightened and Cormic didn’t blame him. Did Adams truly not remember what he did? Could it actually have been some other part of him? The inquisitive part of Cormic’s mind began to take over and demanded answers.

“Ok. Ok Private. You did black out, only you were standing and talking like you were a man possessed. Then you…you did some things that were impossible. I saw you do them, and I still don’t know if I saw that I saw. Now if you don’t remember what that was I don’t think you need me to tell you. Just know you weren’t yourself. I think people are going to be looking for us soldier and before the Consortium deals with any of this, I need to check you out. I know you’re scared son. Shit, I am too.”

“Why am I so scared sir?” Adams asked, the same way a child asks his father about monsters under the bed.

“Because I think you know what happened. I think you do. But that doesn’t matter right now. We need to go to my clinic ok? Can we do that?” Cormic extended a shaky hand.

Adams took it.

“Yes sir, I think we can.”

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Eight

P1000317

Here is this week’s chapter of “Cormic’s War”. I had wanted to write more before posting, but I thought it important to keep to this weekly schedule and write write write. See you all next week!
 

EIGHT
 
For the second time in his life, Cormic felt himself falling through space.

They fell for a full four seconds but it felt like so much more.

She came to him then. Kayla. Asked him about his last surgery, if the Gunner had survived. She placed her hands in his, and let him place them on his face. They smelled like rubbing alcohol and tea-tree oil. She must have washed them recently

Four seconds.

She always made sure to wash her hands after the O.R. Always got on Cormic for invariably walking around the ship with some of the last emergency on his sleeve. He never minded when she chided him though. He wanted to be better for her. It didn’t matter to her that he wasn’t.

Four seconds.

She lay there outside his room, eyes closed, face serene. She had looked so peaceful. Even as her life drained from the wound on her head and spread around his feet. The smell of tea-tree oil wafted up into his nostrils through the smoke and blood. But he had decided to deal with her later. He had gone to find answers. And never saw her again.

He was falling. Cormic felt the rush of air, the dance of equilibrium as his body lost its reference to solid ground. Cormic didn’t feel panic though, even as Adams fell to one side of him and Homer, the maintenance man, fell to the other. He was taking measure of the encroaching ground. It didn’t even matter how Adams had done what he did, they would all be dead soon. Whatever secrets Adams had wanted to tell him, however he had manipulated their personal gravity in that elevator, it didn’t matter now. He was going to see her again and he closed his eyes and smiled.

All at once he stopped falling. It hadn’t even hurt. Had death come to him so quickly? He opened his eyes and saw the floor of the elevator shaft still a great distance below him. He had stopped falling, and was now simply suspended in mid air. He tasted blood in his mouth where he had bit his tongue when he stopped moving and it throbbed with every frantic beat of his heart. Was he already dead?

     How is this possible?

Cormic looked to either side, the already dead maintenance man on his left and the unconscious Adams to his right. Except the soldier was awake. And looking right into his eyes. Cormic felt a flood of emotion course through his body. Like a faucet turned all the way to free  a flood of cold water waiting to burst out. He didn’t want to die. How had he been so yielding to it just a moment ago? Being faced with immanent death had resigned him to it, freed him from the fear. Now, as he hung impossibly aloft, his death seemingly no longer a given, the fear creeped back in and held on somewhere inside him. He didn’t want to die.

Something else was there too, somewhere in Cormic’s mind. An awareness about Adams. The man was laid bare inside Cormic’s mind and he understood how it was they had come to float there.

Adams had opened his eyes around the 3rd second. His instinctive mind recognized that he was falling before his conscious mind had had any awareness of the fact and so it simply told his body to stop. By second number four, Adams was awake in a way he hadn’t been in some time, as if he were coming out of a waking coma. Adams was aware. He reached out with his conscious mind and stopped Cormic from falling as well, allowing the poor maintenance man to continue on into the darkness. There he held them, half way down the dark elevator shaft. And that awareness filled Cormic along with the desire to live, entering his being like sunlight through a window whose curtains were thrown open.

He was afraid to move. To even breathe since he didn’t know how tenuous this momentary reprieve might be. He returned Adams’ stare.

“Can you move us towards that service door, just behind you?”

“Yes Shale, I can.” Adams replied in the same tone he had used in the elevator. Was the man even from the South Cormic wondered?

The service door just behind Adams burst inward from an unseen force, revealing only darkness. Cormic knew there had to have at least been a catwalk just inside, something to allow a worker access to the inner workings of the elevators. That he couldn’t see it disturbed him. Not as much as floating like a leaf caught in a breeze.

Cormic wiggled his fingers, then moved his arms in small circles, trying to figure out how to propel himself towards the open door without risking falling from whatever invisible threads that were keeping him aloft. Adams laughed, straightening himself in one fluid motion so that he was floating upright, his arms at his sides and feet flat as if standing on solid ground.

“Let me Doctor.”

At once Cormic began to move towards the open maintenance door until the dark interior surrounded him on all sides and he could hear the soft humming of machinery. The only light came from the small opening he had just passed through and he could see that he had been correct about there being a small catwalk. He was hovering right over it. And then he wasn’t.

He crashed down, hard, hitting his chin on the steel and biting his tongue for a second time. He cursed and wiped the blood from his lips. He never liked tasting his own blood.

The light went out behind him and he heard the sound of metal on metal where the door was being replaced. Cormic got to his hands and knees, aware of how the ground fell off to either side of him.

“I am sure you have questions my dear Doctor. And trust that had we the time, I would indulge them gladly. Alas, we do not. What has just transpired was unfortunate. I am sure, at another time, when I am again free to think and act with my truest of selves, I will mourn that poor man in the elevator who had the lamentable misfortune of being with us at the time of my…impairment. It was not my intention that he die. Yet another life to lay at the feet of the Consortium.”

Adams stopped talking and Cormic could hear the sound of the man’s shoes as they stepped towards him. He jumped to his feet, turning and facing the dark figure of Cain Adams who was only a few inches away from him.

“I fear I have already wasted too much time. I can feel my mind slipping back. I need your help Shale. And you need mine. I can not stress this enough. We are both in immense danger. We are…”

Adams’ voice faded and before Cormic could say anything, the obscure figure in front of him, the man who had just shown an ability that Cormic had never before thought possible, edged precariously towards the railing of the narrow catwalk.

And fell over into the darkness.

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Seven

P1000317

Chapter Seven of “Cormic’s War”. Enjoy 🙂

SEVEN 

Alarms sounded.

Shit.

Alarms were always sounding. A way of life on a station as big as Persephone, what with all the morons the Consortium continued to allow to live within her expertly crafted rings. Salem had always liked individual people. He loved his mother. Thought highly of Philip, one of the Station Supervisors who worked under him. Then there was Olie, the seventy-five year old cook who worked the graveyard shift in the mess hall. Salem liked them all. It was people that he hated; the masses. They were know-nothing simpletons who only got dumber as their numbers increased.

On a station as big as Persephone, there were bound to be emergencies of one kind of another on any given day. Yet instead of the advanced technical issues that Salem had been hired to monitor and handle, most of the “emergencies” he had had to deal with included faulty door locks and random staff smoking in unventilated storage rooms. This, on a station whose primary purpose was to support the exploration of space, and spread the human race far beyond the boundaries of Earth. Here Salem sat, with essential station controls spread out in front of him, all of the station’s emergency services instantly reachable from his chair, and yet he had to deal with stupid people setting of one alarm or another with their damn stupidity. God he hated this job.

He had once loved the work. How could he not? For someone in his field, the Persephone had been a dream come true to work on. His was the responsibility of helping to upgrade the station’s surveillance and emergency systems and monitor for potentially disastrous malfunctions. As he figured it, he was the front line of survival for those peons scrambling about on his monitors. His job was to catch an error as it was happening, assess the situation and assign the issue to one of the station’s support services. He could dispatch station safety in the event of a fire. Could notify and send out station mechanics to a malfunctioning engine. Those were the types of things he thought he’d be doing. Instead, he more often than not, when he wasn’t just sitting there staring at monitors and sensors all day, silenced non-emergency alarms that came up when someone locked themselves out of their room, or some dumb kid tried to pry open a maintenance hatch. He was a goddamn babysitter.

He rolled his eyes and sighed, taking a drink from his water bottle. Another damn alarm. Maybe one of the others in the room would deal with it. It was most likely the Co2 levels in the number four bio-lab. Hadn’t one of the scientists tipped him off that there may be some issues today?

A ballpoint pen hit him in the temple.

“What the hell? Don’t start that shit again.” Salem yelled, reaching for a few of the pens on his desk and turning around. “I’m not in the mood Wendy. And shut off that fucking alarm.”

“Vid-6 Salem.” Wendy, another of the techs yelled to him.

“Whatever, just deal with it. Turn off the sensor, notify security or whoever. I’m busy.” He turned back to his desk.

Another pen hit him in the back of the head.

“Fuck! Wendy!” Salem roared.

“Vid-6 Salem!” Wendy roared back, pen in hand and ready to throw if he didn’t look

“Fine, toss it to my screen. Shit, can’t you do any…”

Salem looked at the screen.

On the monitor were three men in a station elevator. Two of them were lying on the floor; the third was kneeling down trying to resuscitate one of them. He was ignoring the other guy, who looked to be wearing station maintenance clothing. Wendy was already calling Persephone medical staff and arranging for Emergency Mechanical Support to get to the disabled elevator as soon as possible. He assumed she was thinking about those cracks in the walls. So much for the impenetrable glass evaluators of the Persephone space station.

The kneeling man stood up, hands on his head in obvious frustration. He was wearing sweat pants and sandals and Salem finally got a look at the person he was working on. He was wearing a military uniform.

“Call 8-Ring. Now. Get me whoever is on duty at the Barracks. Quick!” Salem said, turning, ordering anyone who would listen.

He turned back to the screen. “Oh god.”

The floor of the elevator began to crack, long spines making their way past the corner edges and up the side of the walls, meeting cracks that had made their way down from the ceiling. What in God’s name had happened? The guy in sweat pants started looking around the elevator, eyes following the growing cracks. He looked up into the camera, or maybe at a crack right near where the camera was hidden; his eyes were resigned.

And then the floor gave out, and they all fell.

 

“Cormic’s War” – Chapter Six

P1000317

Another happy Thursday and another “Cormic’s War” chapter. See you next week!

SIX

     He wasn’t so tall.

Private Hill walked by Shale Cormic, fighting an urge to strike him as he passed. Instead he kept his head down, doing his best to avoid any eye contact as he got off the elevator. They had timed it perfectly, he and Cain, making sure the elevator was there to meet the doctor after watching him leave his apartment.

   I could kill him right now. Hill thought as he headed towards Cormic’s now empty apartment. Strike him where no physical parry could stop me.

Not that Hill didn’t think he could take the little man in hand to hand combat. Even with the enhanced leg. Cormic had put some of his own innovations into its design and it was, frankly, brilliant how the Doctor had suggested the hip and pelvic reinforcements while helping to design the inorganic mechanisms from his own notes. But in the end, no, from the beginning, it was all Consortium technology. And that meant it was his people’s technology. Just as he was.

Hill stopped walking for a moment, to remember who he was.

I am Private Hill. He thought. Private Hill of the Consortium Military.

This was his identity now, the only self he could allow himself to be. Yet shades of his real self often bled through, and he had to remember to always have the mission in mind. Remember who he was.

Hill was good at going between his two selves. Unlike Cain Adams. He hated Cain. The man was a redundancy, a backup plan. The “just in case” to Hill’s great mission. It had belonged to Cain at one time, some years ago, but the man was too unreliable. How had it ended that last time? In failure. And how many seeds of discord had been allowed to spread through the masses? Too many. Now it was Hill’s chance. Cain was just an unneeded contingency.

Hill strode casually towards Cormic’s apartment; he knew exactly where it was. This wasn’t his first time there. Of course he had done his research, same as with the other three marks. The other “survivors”. He knew each Ring by memory, never needing to look at a map of the station to figure out a shortcut or safe space for surveillance. That was just how his mind worked.

He placed his hand above the palm-sensor, careful not to get close enough for the virtual readers to capture his vein patterns and compare them to the pre-programmed data points identifying whose palm it actually was. Hill didn’t bother looking around. Either he was noticed, or he wasn’t. It was acting natural that was most important. And people who were where they were supposed to be didn’t look around to see if they were being watched. Instead he just concentrated on the mechanisms inside the lock, which was already beginning to react to the heat from his hovering palm. He had to hurry. He saw the inner workings of the sensor in his head, points of data like grains of sand. He could move them like a soft wind, shifting code and programming so that the sensor recognized the blood vessel patterns of Doctor Shale Cormic in the random branches of Hill’s own veins.

The door opened into the cool interior of the doctor’s apartment. The heat immediately turned on, but Hill turned towards the hidden vents and decided he could do without the heat. So he saw their switches in his mind and turned them off. The apartment would remain cold while he was there. Nothing would give him away.