Exits And Entrances
[VO, done by a voice actor who sounds almost, but not quite, unlike James Earl Jones]
Dark and twisted mirror universe to our own.
Where magic and science have spun out of control, creating ever more terrible visions.
This is a universe of demons, of monsters, of unnameable *things* which wait in the shadows.
And where these horrors arise, people will arise to hunt them.
[Cut to a city-scape. If you like, you can think of it as New York.
Only with less morality, more monsters, and more disturbing mecha.]
A young man is pushing his way through the teeming crowd.. Most of which looks human... at first sight.
He has purple hair, a really well-made cloak and gloves, and one of those funky magical staffs. The purple hair is cut in a bowl-cut, slightly ruining the overall effect, but still managing to make him... disturbing.
In fact, if one were inclined so, you could almost suspect that he'd deliberately _chosen_ the cut, simply for the disturbing effect.
He is pushing and shovng his way through the crowd, looking back behind him nervously.
'Xellos!! Come back here and DIE!!' screams a voice behind him.
'Afraid no can do, oh Enemy of All Who Live,' he yells. 'I've got my tax returns to do tomorrow, and you _know_ how they get...'
'You know they say there are only two inevitable things, death and taxes?' the voice behind him says sweetly.
'They're wrong, yaddayadda, the only inevitable thing is _you_...' he rattles out. 'I assume that's the sort of tired old line you were thinking of, oh Master of the Holy Cliche?'
The voice behind him pouts. Then explodes into rage. 'HOW DARE YOU!!'
'Oh, it's quite simple,' he says. 'All I have to do is open my mouth, say something like "Look, there goes the Flat-Chested Terror"... and watch you explode...'
He stops in the middle of the square, and turns round.
The crowd draws back, stunned at this display of obviously suicidal behaviour.
A teenage girl with red-orange curls, in red tights and a tunic, with a black cloak, boots, headband and a short sword, steps forward, a look of purely murderous rage in her eyes.
She begins to intone.
'Darkness beyond twilight
Crimson beyond blood that flows
Buried in the flow of time...'
'Still need that copy of "Black Magic for Dummies", I see...' the young man observes.
The crowd draws back even further (what there is of it - those who recognise the spell having wisely hightailed it for somewhere safer, like Hell).
The girl ignores him, though her eyes burn that little more fiercely.
'In thy great name I pledge myself to the darkness
Let all the *fools* who stand before me...'
The young man simply stands there, tapping his feet, humming tunelessly and filing his fingernails.
'Be destroyed by the power you and I possess!
Vile red energy lashes out towards the young man, incinerating him in a blast of purest hellfire, leaving his blackened and smoking corpse on the ground, at ground zero of a massive crater.
Or it should.
The vile red bolt of energy lashes out... and disappears.
The crowd holds its breath.
The young woman looks steadily more furious, if that were possible. 'YOU... YOU...'
The young man grins, and holds up a crystal. 'Recognise this? Mnemonic crystal from the Old Time. Activates when *someone* is fool enough to cast a particular spell at it... and activate its own power. Like, say... oh, the Dragon Slave?'
The crowd gasps.
The young man throws the crystal on the ground. It explodes into a seething mass of red flame.
'And _this_ one's been keyed to open a gate, elsewhere, elsewhen... where I have a date with destiny. I must thank dear Coyote... he was _so_ helpful in retrieving it....'
The young man takes a run up... and jumps into the flame.
His voice echoes back, 'Adios, Nyssa Inverse...'
'Oh _no_ you don't, Adric-Xellos. You're not getting away _that_ easily...' the girl hisses.
And takes a flying leap in after him.
The ball of flame collapses inward with a *WHUMPH*.
The crowd mutters amongst themselves about how that wasn't a _patch_ on the great Adric-Nyssa duels of yesteryear, and slowly go back to their normal business.
...a car pulls up in a driveway.
The house it's attached to is three-storey, mock-Victorian, with bay windows. It looks rich and expensive.
To the man who leaves the car, however, it's just the place where he sleeps, nothing more.
He has long brown curly hair, framing a long, thin face, with eyes that seem to be eternally sad. He's wearing a dark-green frock coat, a waistcoat and Edwardian cravat, with grey trousers.
He goes up to the door, fumbles for his key, and lets himself in.
Switch on the light, check the answering machine...
...'Oh, that's right, I promised I'd call Irving after I got back...' he mutters, pulling the wig off his head to reveal short dark hair in a crewcut. 'Let him know his little brother got back safe... What good he thought that party would be, anyway...'
He shrugs the coat off, placing it on a hook next to the painting which faces the stairway. 'Must remember... back to the costumiers' in the morning...'
He turns around and picks up the phone. 'Let me see...'
/You have called the Eternal Assistance Helpline. Please wait while your access request is processed./
'Hey! I think this is a wro-' the man begins.
/Your access request has been accepted. Please wait for an operative to arrive./
'Hey, wait a minute...'
At the sound, the man slowly turns around.
A young woman with pale white hair is pulling herself out of the painting.
The man knocks into the side table, knocking the phone off. 'Wh... Wh...'
The young woman looks up. Her eyes shimmer and sparkle as she smiles. 'Oh, good evening. What is your desire?'
The man lands on the floor.
The young woman pulls herself out of the painting. 'Oh, dear... This isn't going at all well, is it?'
She's wearing a sleeveless ballgown of the darkest blue, the inset crystals catching the light as she moves, and a pair of white elbow-length gloves. A hourglass hangs around her neck.
She's _also_ floating a foot above the floor.
'Please, allow me to introduce myself. It's the least I can do,' she says, her voice clear and soft and without irony. 'I am the Eternal...Tarda.'
'The Eternal Tarda?' the man repeats.
Tarda sighs. 'I wish that we had chosen something else, it causes so much confusion... I am an Eternal, and my name is Tarda. We specialise in helping people like you.'
'People with problems,' Tarda explains. 'We recieved an access request from you by telephone... My business card.'
The man blinks. A _business card_?! From a woman who's floating a foot off the ground?
Something _weird's_ going on here... What is this? Candid Camera? A dream after too much eggnog at the party?
'This isn't a joke, and you're not dreaming.' Tarda says, looking concerned. 'As I said, I'm here to help you with your problems by granting you a wish.'
'A _wish_?!' the man says. 'What, for anything at all?' His voice has slipped, becoming more Liverpudlian under stress.
Tarda nods. 'Yes. If you wish for fame and fortune, we can grant it. If you wish to destroy the world... we can grant it. Although we prefer not to deal with people like that...' she adds.
'Right. Right...' the man says. He's already decided this is a set-up, a plan by his brother to get him to start dating again. He'll just play along, after all the trouble they've gone to. Although it _is_ a shame they've dragged this girl into this...
And suddenly, he knows what to wish for. 'All right. I know what I'm going to wish for.'
Tarda leans forward excitedly. 'You've already decided?'
The man nods. 'I wish that whatever _you_ most desire will be granted!'
Tarda's eyes widen in shock, and she steps back.
'How's that for a wish?' he asks. 'There must be something _you_ want, after all..'
He picks himself off and dusts himself down. 'It's probably going to take some time, but my...'
Tarda starts to hum, a deep, low, resonant sound that has the glass humming in sympathy.
The man looks up. '...!'
A third eye has opened in Tarda's forehead. And it's glowing. In unison with her other two eyes
Then... a beam of light bursts from her third eye, through the ceiling, and into the sky above.
Tarda floats up, her head almost touching the ceiling.
The man is knocked off his feet as the furniture crashes over in the turbulance. 'Wait a sec... Wait a second... I...!'
The light in Tara's eyes snaps off. The third eye shuts.
And she falls to the floor.
The man is _just_ able to catch her... 'She's _light_...'
Tarda opens her eyes. The man looks down at her, sheepishly. 'Ah... I'm sorry. Would you like me to...'
'OH NO!!' Tarda shouts. 'Quick, give me your phone!'
'Umm..' He hands her the phone. '...get you a drink?'
Tarda's already punching in a sequence of numbers. A _long_ sequence of numbers.
'International?' he wonders.
'Yes, this is Tarda... Yes. It's about that last wish... Did it go... What? But it shouldn't... It's _final_?' She puts the phone down. 'Well, _there's_ a first!'
'Hnm?' the man says.
'Your wish has been accepted by the Matrix. It's too late to change it.'
'Hu... Oh! That 'whatever you most desire' thing?' he says.
Tarda nods. 'Yes. Normally, we can't grant wishes to ourselves... but the wish _was_ your heart's desire...' She looks down.
'And... what _did_ you most want...?' he asks, more than a little nervously. To destroy a world he's never heard of? To get a hamburger? To rewrite history?
She looks up, her eyes gentle. 'To be with you, always.'
'Well, that's... You wanted *what*?!' he splutters.
She crosses her hands. 'It's not a problem; not now, anyway...'
'B-But... surely there must... You _must_ be able to cancel it... can't you?' The sad look on her face has him stumbling backwards.
'Once a wish is stored in the Matrix, it acquires incredible force. No one is able to resist it...'
'You... You mean...'
'Unfortunately, the force of the wish works on me, too. If you even _say_ a wish like that, there's likely to be... trouble.'
'Trouble?' he says nervously. 'What sort of trouble?'
She smiles bravely at him. 'It'll be all right. I'll be here with you from now on.'
The deliveryman raises his goggles. 'James Bowman?'
'Package for you...'
James signs the paper and takes the parcel. 'Hmm. Why is somebody sending me parcels at this...?' He realises Tarda is staring at the parcel in horror. 'Oh _no_!'
She rips open the paper to reveal...
James stares at it. 'A diary?'
'Not just any diary...' Tarda puts it on the floor and flips it open.
And a short, dark-haired woman in a _spectacular_ evening frock pulls herself out. '_Goddess_, I need a drink... Hi, sis.'
Tarda is seething. 'Benny, *what do you think you're doing*?'
'Umm... Who is this?' James asks.
'Oh, hi there!' Benny says. 'I'm Benny, Tarda's big sis. And you are...?'
'James. Um, Doctor James Bowman...' James stutters.
'Sorry 'bout this, Tarda, but Jason and I had another fight...'
'_Another?_' Tarda says.
'...And, well, I decided to go and stay with my little sister. Hope you don't mind...' Benny looks embarrassed.
'Trouble?' James murmurs.
Tarda nods. 'Trouble.'
In the 39th century...
A tube of blue goop, which occasionally bubbles and glorps.
There seems to be something... floating in it.
Fitz Fortune, idol star from the twentieth century, holds his drink up to the light and squints. 'What _is_ that?'
_Dead Kaled mutant. Adds body._ his hostess tells him.
'Umm... right.' Fitz sticks a finger in his ear. 'You know, I was expecting more to a medical study than you pointing a cube at me and going "done!".'
_What, containment vats, a full panoply of arcane, mysterious and terrifying medical instruments, and a cackling henchbeing?_ Stacie says. _I may be *insane*, but I'm not *backwards*. Even we mad scientists have to move with the times..._
'You.. umm..' Fitz hemms. How do you tell someone that claiming you're _mad_ is, well...
_Oh, I *am* insane,_ Stacie explains. _I hold degrees in Psychology from most universities in the Galaxy._ She shrugs. _It was an off-day. But I do have the psychological records to prove it._
'Right...' Fitz says.
_Now... Hmm. Intriguing. Assuming your claim to be from the twentieth century to be correct..._ Stacie says. _...you are developing antibodies to all viruses evolved after your time, including the incurable ones..._
'*What?*' Fitz blurts.
_I know. Fascinating, isn't it? And then there's the matter of your psi-talent..._
'I wondered when we'd get on to that...' Fitz says guardedly.
_Spatial distortion? Nothing special. But your power level..._ Stacie frowns. _It's not *off* the charts, it's on a different chart altogether. I'd heard rumours..._
'Hello,' someone says.
_Oh, hello, Angie._ Stacie says. _Come for that appointment?_
'A word, Stacie? Before Sullivan turns up and rants and yells about his "project"?'
_Can't it wait? I've just discovered..._
'_Now_, Stacie. Whatever you've discovered can _wait_.'
_Science never waits..._ Stacie grumbles.
Fitz looks around. Stacie _must_ be crazy. Letting a five year old wander around her lab.
A five year old with a pet _monster_, but still...
Laura pokes at the cerebral matter. There's a whole host of wires and gadgets inbetween.the brain and the end node, but Laura doesn't care about that. 'Eeeeuuuwww....'
[Dog brain. Or as close to it as makes no difference. I _don't_ think the dog was alive when it was removed, though...] Cammy says.
Laura's eyes light up. 'Where's the body?'
[Probably long gone] _At least, I hope it is. Some things are too disgusting to think about..._ [Hmm... Basic matrix of an AI. Though I don't recognise...]
'You _don't_ know something?' Laura says innocently.
[Yes, yes, no need to rub it in...] Cammy uses Laura's eyes to look back at it. [Hmm...]
Laura's attention, however, is on something else. 'Cammy... can you feel that?'
Cammy reaches out... and _feels_.
The lines in space, linking one place to another. One _thing_ to another.
And there is the Revolution Man, Fitz Fortune... who seems to _resonate_ with those lines...
And there... Cammy gasps.
The woman turns to face them, dark skin, brown eyes, jet-black hair, but Cammy's eyes are elsewhere...
'Cammy? Cammy, what is it?'
The woman reaches out a hand... comfort? fear? anger? No time, no time..
[We have to go! Laura, we have to *go!*]
And they are gone.
That screaming, twisting...
It's hurting, it's hurting...
(and... Laura's disappearing, fading before his eyes, but he doesn't have *time* for that...)
It's tearing, burning, and he can't... can't...
Make it stop, make it stop, make it *stop*...
And the power _responds_...
When he wakes up, Stacie is peering down at him. _You're paying for that._
Fitz sits up. 'Urrrggghhh...'
Stacie ignores her devastated lab. _Now, I didn't have *her* marked down as a teleporter..._
'Her...?' he mumbles.
_She's just teleported my boss Kronos above knows where._ Stacie almost grins. _Under *other* circumstances, I might have been pleased, but..._
Fitz ignores her. The power's dormant, overtaxed, reluctant, and slow but...
_Feel it, feel it... Doesn't hurt, doesn't hurt, hmm, odd, but doesn't hurt..._
Further, further... Nothing, nothing...
And _there!_ The first ripples.
Space being torn, cut, _injured_...
He calms himself. Not an injury. Not an injury. Don't panic...
He looks up. 'I know where they are.'
As they leave, Stacie waving the defences off, a light flickers on by the mass of equipment near the dog brain.
Then holographic letters form in the air.
/Hello? Hello, is anyone there? Hello?
Hey, I'm stuck here! Somebody get me out!/
But there's no-one there.
'Where am I?'
-sister. child of the vortex?-
'Who said that?'
-angie, angie, angie...-
'Rezoul?' Ms Cooper says disbelievingly. 'No... It can't be...'
-because I'm dead?- the voice chuckles. -that's no barrier to an exciting
'Oh, of course. Like you had one...' she says, sarcasm covering the fear.
-and would you say you have any more of a life?- the voice taunts.
'_Yes_,' Ms Cooper snaps. 'I reached out and *grabbed* the opportunities that came along, I _clawed_ my way up the ladder, to become what I am. I _never_ forgot a social life, a life outside work... I remembered there was a world out there, unlike _some_ people...'
-you never understood, did you? I was always aware of the world outside... I just never acted on it. I _reacted_... and you never understood that.-
'How could you do that? Just lie back and let it all walk over you?'
-I dealt with whatever life threw at me, angie...- her brother's voice says. -that's the way I worked.-
'Why? Why should we have to deal with that? We shouldn't have to deal with _any_ of that crap.' Ms Cooper says. 'What _we_ do, life throws back at us. Sometimes, it does it for no good reason, but we shrug it off, and go on...'
-but sometimes...- Ms Cooper jumps. Her brother's voice is whispering in her ear, closer than close. -sometimes, we _can't_...-
Then the darkness closes in.
'I... I don't _know_, sir!! The girl... the five year old... she just _teleported_ into the main chamber of the Room... Wait, wait... registering life form in the Room... wasn't there a moment ago...'
'Hold on!' Harry yells. 'I'm coming down!'
_This_ is the Room With No Doors.
On the outside... a hexagonal chamber levitating in a circular room. No doors, no windows. All known methods of teleportation have been blocked, preventing anyone from leaving or entering.
Which is, to all intents and purposes, the point. To develop a way of slipping people _between_ the dimensions... without teleportation. A safe, effective means of transport, without the attendant risks of teleporting.
...now, a five year old girl with red hair, in a 21st century anorak, is in the circular chamber, looking up at the Room.
She appears to be waiting for something.
In the booth that monitors the Room's central chamber...
Harry rushes in. 'Current situation?'
'Still registering that life form. The girl's just standing there... watching.'
'All right. Prepare for another visitor. I want another security team on red alert...'
'Hold on...' The technician lifts a hand to his ear. 'Security Team Alpha reporting. Stacie's on her way...'
'And she's with that TKer...'
'Not a problem, not a problem... Keep Alpha with them - we'll need Stacie, no matter what comes out. Is that other security team coming?'
The technician nods.
'Good. Keep me-'
Another technician looks up. 'Sir... the Room is shrinking.'
The technician nods at the observation screen.
And indeed, the Room is shrinking.
Smaller, smaller... rotating faster and faster and faster...
'Where's it going?! Where's the mass going?!'
'I don't _know_! It's not teleporting, it's just... dissolving!'
Faster and faster and _faster_...
It's only then that Harry realises a sound he was hearing has stopped.
A humming sound.
Hanging above the floor where it used to be is a woman.
In a dark business suit and mirrored sunglasses.
'Cooper...' Harry breathes. 'It's Cooper... What the-?'
Ms Cooper lowers gently to the floor.
The girl steps back.
Ms Cooper steps forward, looks at the observation screen, and grins. 'Hello, Harry. You wouldn't _believe_ what I've seen...'
Still grinning, she reaches up and takes off her sunglasses.
... in the holes where once there were brown eyes, human eyes...
...darkness. The darkness of colours refracting, reflecting, shading, turning...
Where her eyes once were.
Horrified, repulsed and fascinated, he barely hears her next sentence.
'Life's a bitch. And so am I.'
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat