Swing Shift : a Psi-Kicks short story by: GF Willmetts

July 31, 2016 | By | Reply More

Most of the full-range Psionics avoided large population cities like the plague because of too much mental noise. For Sara Seeker, it was a necessary evil that her ability could sweep through when she was on the hunt for Psionics and becoming single-minded. Even so, she preferred the night hours when there were less active minds around. There might still be some low key Psionics able to live here, brought up in this environment and more tolerant to it. All the indications were the Pattern had gone to ground in London, thinking they would escape her tracking down the missing third Vampiri, Olicia Noctoree. They couldn’t leave their captive hungry because eventually she would lash out and feed off anyone from what Fernfaire had told her recently. Maybe they thought London would hide her doing this.

Even so, she was now detecting a really high-powered Psionic. Whether the two were linked or not was debatable. Olicia would certainly know it was there and lead the Pattern to it. If she could feel it, so could Olicia and her hunger would now drive her and the Pattern would hold her leash, anxious to have a powerful Psionic they could manipulate. If they couldn’t beat the Stable with their own abilities, then they would manipulate others. More so, if they took on her own appearance which they had had access to that might also creep into the collective unconsciousness and destroy the innate trust she’d built up. If this wasn’t their plan all along, then they were also good improvisers. Depending on how many Pattern were working together now.

Still, there was this strong signature. A familiar signature.

Finding a bench, she sat down, closed her eyes and relaxed and reached out.

‘Sara. Is that you?’

She looked up. Facing her was a lanky tall man. A hippy with a ponytail.

‘Hello Max. What are you doing up in the smoke?’

‘A first edition,’ he pointed at his bag, although didn’t open it.

‘Still collecting?’

‘Got to have something to fill my spare time.’

‘No more headaches?’

‘Not since we last met.’

Not all Psionics Sara found were suitable for the Stable. Max Undergrave was one of them. A potential reality shifter that she curbed from doing anything. It wasn’t a talent that should be triggered. Better for him to be ignorant of it and believe he only had a minor useless psionic ability in finding good deals.

Unconsciously, she scanned him. Still only a small signature. No change there. Unlikely to be a target. Even so, she had found him rather too easily.

‘You can’t stay, Max. I’m working. I’ll come and visit you in a while. Promise.’

‘You won’t forget.’

‘Do I? Last time, I got called on the way. I did spake to you and said I would try again but work has to come first.’

‘Can I help?’

‘No. You might actually be a potential target if they don’t find the person I’m tracking. Can you get out of here quickly please?’

‘If you think so.’

‘Only protecting you, Max.’ Sara stood up, not quite his height but still imposing. ‘Now go.’

Max nodded and walked.

She barely had to spike him, mentally making a note to fulfil her promise to go and see him. She doubted if he had many friends outside of the fiction he read or created.

Not sitting, she reached out again. The powerful signature was still there. It had been close.

Max!

It was a slow pulsate. As if something or someone was drawing out energy. Something like a hungry Vampiri might do. A really hungry one.

<Libertine?>

‘Sara?’

The red-headed Psionic turned. The voice came from a teenager behind her.

‘Trust me. Jump back as quickly as possible. I’ll wait.’

‘Whys?’

‘You might not recognise the bodies.’

The teenager slumped onto the bench.

Sara felt her stomach and screwed her eyes up. Would Libertine get back in time?

Her other senses registered an oily atmosphere before she opened her eyes. There was also a drop in temperature.

Enough! She opened her eyes.

This wasn’t the London of the last few minutes. The sky was mildly polluted enough to give a slightly smoggy feel and clouding the sky. No wonder the temperature had dropped. That wasn’t the only thing. People were now dressed in Victoriana. There was also a tram passing on the other side of the road. The teenager that Libertine had jumped from was dressed in an ill-fitted suit. Her own clothes had remained dark but was now in a long skirt and heels. A dark blouse and short coat. She didn’t care for the hat. Not that keen on skirts but this wasn’t a normal time period.

‘Damn!’

The only thing she wasn’t provided with was a shoulder bag, so she searched her pockets and found her purse. The variety of identity cards were still there but with a different slant. Just identity. Would a sewing circle be useful to have a card for? Whether they would be valid here would be questionable until she tried to use them. At least there was money.

Sara strolled down the street to a street newspaper vendor, taking in how everyone was acting in period, and bought a paper with a few pennies, scanning its headlines as she walked back. If it wasn’t so crazy, it could have been a timeslip except the date was the date of today not a yesteryear. The news looked the same but different and muzzy. It hadn’t settled down yet. There might still be time.

She settled back on the bench. The person who Libertine had jumped out of was gone. No doubt fled confused. Closing her eyes, Sara reached out again. A double signature would stand out. There were other signatures but not Max but there was no other choice. The Pattern weren’t experienced with this reality shift but they adapted. Closer to the change, they probably saw it happen. They were, if anything, quick if they wanted to keep their prize. Two prizes. Things had got worse.

The noise of the street suddenly got quiet before a couple wolf-whistles broke the silence and then life carried on as before.

Stalking down the street were two women. Wearing a split skirt, long coat and a top hat and dark glasses, Libertine Rush was getting the attention and enjoying it while Maxine Caruthers, trying to keep up was dressed in a more sedate mustard and orange striped attire and walking clumsily in heels. Long skirts were all the thing.

‘Hello, Libertine.’

‘Sara.’

‘What is this shit?’ Maxine asked. ‘I see this odd street one moment and London the next. It keeps jumping between them.’

‘Things haven’t stabilised yet. I need to spake. Warn the rest.’

‘Dis ain’ts ah’s locals effect?’

‘Max is powerful. Really powerful. A hungry Vampiri liberated…his talent. I doubt if the Pattern knew that would happen but I can’t sense them. They wanted a Psionic for her to feed on. Followed me and picked the wrong person.’ Sara paused. ‘What happened to your swords?’

Libertine opened her coat. Both swords were tucked inside her coat. ‘Alls ins da details.’

‘Good. There might be hope.’

‘Can I…’

‘Shush, chile. Sara goes all-point.’

Maxine picked the newspaper off Sara’s lap and scanned the headlines but she kept quiet. Libertine looked around, taking in the scene. Sara remained still for over quarter of an hour before opening her eyes.

‘That took a long time.’

‘Comparing notes and what to do.’

‘So what is this? Reality or illusion? I thought we Blanks were immune to such things.’

‘A bit of each. Max is a reality manipulator. He might even be able to affect Blanks if he can work out what you are. We’re in whatever is his current fascination which is either Victoriana or steampunk. Probably the latter. Subconsciously, he’s also likely to manipulate any of us into whatever he’s imagined. How it affects you I don’t know but you might be an anchor to break us out of any adventures he gives us.’

‘Huh!’

‘Not to stop them happening. Max likes games. It’ll be like game layers but we have to get through them and follow any messages we get through them. You’ll be having a proper job for a change, Maxine. You OK, Libertine’

‘Dis place donts feels too weird.’

‘You ever visited London in Victorian times?’

‘Ah fews time.’

‘You’re probably better able to adapt to it. Mary Travers will as well.’

‘Mary manipulates reality.’

‘But only of herself. It’s just a different order of things. If they’ve stayed in London, we need someone who works here. They can’t be using official channels.’

‘Polly is deep cover and I’m surprised they didn’t spot her.’

Sara raised her eyebrow. ‘She was doing a con on the other side of the city. We’ll need her underworld connections.’

‘But they won’t be the same here.’

‘No, but they’ll be better than without.’

 

vvvvvvvvvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

 

Polly Kettle flipped the picture lid. Her con crew would unknowingly put the original back in place instead of the fake that it has been replaced with. Reality shifted and she found herself in an old pub. The briefcase gone and the crew on the other side of the pub drinking. They didn’t seem concerned about the change. What else had changed?

Looking down, her clothes for one. A long skirt and waistcoat over a flowing blouse. Dark still so at least she’d absorb heat, although she matched the pub’s own drabness.

‘Another drink, Pol’, a voice called out from her crew. She hadn’t been ignored. They were just happy drinking. She still was the landlady.

‘What am I? A barmaid?

Behind the bar, a barmaid laid out a tray with drinks and a bottle on it. Polly took it across to the table of her con crew.

‘Who’s paying?’

‘Highest card?’

‘Sure why not. Ace high OK?’

‘Sure.’

‘You first.’

The con man laid a deck of cards on the table and pulling up half the deck showed a king. Polly did likewise but showed an ace and then a second.

‘You always were better than us, Pol.’ He dutifully flipped a coin onto the tray.

‘That’s why you work for me. Real money.’

He picked up the coin and replaced it. ‘Sorry.’

No change there, then.

‘What’s our next job, Pol,’ another asked.

‘Don’t drink too much. I’m expecting visitors who want help. They’re even more dangerous than me. Give respect.’

‘OK, Pol,’ they said in unison. She was still their boss and didn’t see anything wrong with their change or the slight spike on their obedience.

Polly returned to the bar but not behind it. After all, she was the landlady. Where had she got the feeling of visitors, unless…

The pub slowly filled for the mid-day drink but her staff kept up. All locals and all knew to keep their distance. That hadn’t changed. As much as she wanted to go outside, it made more sense to wait here.

‘Hello Polly.’

‘Hello Sara. Thought you might come in the back way.’

‘You shared me some of your tricks. Never do the expected. How’s my favourite career criminal?’

‘Let’s have a booth. The last time I looked, the police had bugged my office. I don’t know what would be there now. Bar noise is a great shield.’

‘This is a steampunk reality. There’s bound to be a mixture of new tech posing as old tech. Probably a man with a glass on the other side of the wall now.’

‘I’ll send him a drink. Do you want a drink, too?’

‘Not yet.’

Soon as they sat in the booth, two others joined them. Libertine didn’t look well.

‘Wow! The Baroness. Nice to meet you at long last. Nice threads. Hello, Caruthers.’

‘Polly.’

‘Ma ‘ead spins,’ Libertine complained.

‘Max’s reality hasn’t stabilised yet. I think he’s now found us. He can’t make sense of Libertine which might mean he won’t sense you, Polly. It could have been worse, Libertine. You could have been in someone else’s body.

‘This instability might work in our favour, Polly. There’s a couple shape-shifting Pattern out there with a Vampiri hostage and now a reality-shifting Psionic to feed her. Can you get your people to see if they’re on your patch. I doubt if a Vampiri will change her overall look. Pale skin. Hungry look. The Psionic might still have his ponytail. A group of four strangers trying to hide and probably not familiar with what’s going on. Maybe one of them might but certainly not the other three.’

‘You can’t?’

‘We got hit by this energy wave on the way here. I could barely find you. I had to ask Maxine to point out your pub and that’s only cos she’s seeing both realities. In his head, Max is probably seeing us as the enemy. If we don’t find him quickly, we’re going to be caught in his mind games.’

‘I thought you said this was a physical reality, Sara,’ Maxine complained, ‘and I only had double-vision.’

‘It is. Max can manipulate it. Think Mary Travers, only affecting the UK and expanding.’

‘Shit! Will I still have this double vision?’

Sara shrugged. ‘This is the first time I found one. Max was on my list to leave well alone so I spiked his memory.’

‘So we have a Forbidden Planet ID coming after us? Terrific!’

Sara shrugged again. ‘For once, your guess is as good as mine. He’s trying to make sense of his own reality. He’s finding Psionics hard to pin down.’

‘I’ll be right back.’ Polly walked over to one of the other tables, gave instructions and several people left immediately. She collected a tray from the bar and handed out orange juice to all of them before sitting down again.

‘Why aren’t I affected?’

‘You blend. As I said, Libertine is probably stronger than you and you’ve adapted to these changes without a thought, didn’t you? You were also off my radar. He’s probably working his way through the…consultants.’

Polly nodded. ‘I figured you or someone would tell me what happened later.’

‘I’ll need to share with you. Send those who can to you for the same share treatment.’

Unquestioningly, Polly put her hand down and Sara touched it. ‘We’ll be equal?’

‘Or enhanced. No one has ever been able to share my ability to find people.’

‘Shame. We could triangulate.’

‘Can the Baroness share?’

Libertine looked up but shook her head. ‘Ah’s coulds dos wit’ ah reals drink.’

‘Hold hands instead, Baroness.’

‘Ah’s says ah’s kin’t share,’ she insisted.

‘No, but we might be able to shield you. Give you a chance to get your head together.’

‘He seems to be having problems fitting you in. Maybe Max had tuned into you. Maybe we can link you.’

‘Until we get to him, he needs to accept you. Tell him who you are and we’ll rescue him if he can tell you where he is.’

Libertine raised her eyebrow. ‘Ahs coulds jump inta ‘im. Dat wid turns ‘im off.’

‘No. You might not be able to get back. Just tell him who you are and to get out of your head.’

‘Ah is Libertine Rush-eskow. Ah isk alsos Baroness Samedi. Is ah isk to rescue youse, we’s needs youse outta ma ‘ead an’ youse tells wheres youse are.’

‘Spake it as well. Non-verbal. We’ll pitch it.’

[Ah is Libertine Rush-eskow. Ah is also Baroness Samedi. Is ah isk to rescue youse, we’s needs youse outta ma ‘ead an’ youse tells wheres youse are.]

[She spakes with an accent?]

[Can you get into her head, Polly?]

[She has some weird shielding. I feel the throbbing she’s getting. It’s like he’s trying to break down her resistance.]

[Wait until she trusts you. The Baroness is unique.]

[Let’s hope Max can understand her.]

[He’ll know she’s authentic. Can you feel anything at the other end?]

[No. Whatever else Max is, he can’t spake. We just have to hope he understands he’s changing the world…literally.]

[Can he stop?]

[No idea. I doubt if he’s ever released his full power or even know this is himself doing it. He might be out of control. He is out of control.]

[But you knew enough to stop him.]

[His signature was more powerful than Mary’s. At least he’s not turned on most of the time. We’ll only know if he backs away from Libertine as to how much control he has.]

[How much are the Pattern controlling him?]

[It depends on what they look like and how much he believed them before they fed him to Olicia Noctoree…the Vampiri, although it looks like she lashed out.]

[How much energy would she have taken?]

[Enough to have caused this to happen. She wouldn’t have been able to help herself if she hadn’t fed in a while. He could have over-fed her.]

[So she’s not likely to be hungry any time soon?]

[Hopefully, she might recognise Max as a poisoned well, especially if she’s seen the effect.]

[If she knows?]

[Can you contact your Vampiri friend…Fernfaire or that other one…Basilee Elyn?]

[Depends on what Max has done to them. I’d rather have face to face contact first. We have no idea what Max might have turned them into.]

[That should be interesting…considering they vanish on the side.]

[We ought to reach out to the Oberon clan and see how it affects the Fey.]

[Same way. How are you doing, Libertine?]

[Ah is Libertine Rush-eskow. Ah is also Baroness Samedi. Is ah isk to rescue youse, we’s needs youse outta ma ‘ead an’ youse tells wheres youse are. Is ah wastin’ ma time?]

[Max can’t spake but he should receive your message. Does your head feel any clearer?]

[Ah’s nots so shure. Dis is so’s news.]

[Your voice sounds stronger.]

[Its does?]

[This is Polly. Do you feel any impressions of where he is?]

[Impressions? Wot’s dat? He makin’ fun ins dis place?]

[Images. Names. Something that doesn’t feel like you. Something not here.]

[Dey atside. Air smells. Green. Das ah buildin’. Dey ‘ave churchies ‘ere?]

[Dunno. We’re new here ourselves, Baroness. I can’t even touch your mind.]

[Don’t, Polly. Libertine is somewhat different.]

[In what way different?]

[Want your mind dragged through hell different.]

[Wow!]

[What was my first introduction to her. Do you think you have enough info to find them?]

[I might not recognise it but the crew have been adapted to this reality. I’d better tell them in person. I’ll get you your drink on the way out, Baroness. A Hard Eight?]

[If youse has da ingredients?]

Polly opened her eyes and smiled. The Baroness was studying her.

‘Shaltn’t be long.’

‘So what have you people spaking for the last minute?’ Caruthers asked.

‘Turning Libertine’s problem into a helpful retaliation. We might have found where they’ve got Max. Polly’s getting some of her people to check.’

‘What’s wrong with Libertine?’

‘Max has some the same problem we have. We can’t scan her so he’s trying to break through her defences to find out what she is.’

‘Libertine isn’t the only one like that. What about her brother and mother?’

‘They’re dead and buried…well, buried anyway?’

‘I thought I only knew that, Sara.’

‘It was part of the deal of her joining the Stable. Spaking is getting difficult at a distance at the moment but we ought to have the area guarded.’

‘A bit difficult to stop them.’

‘They can’t jump into Blanks.’

‘Ah!’

‘Do you think you can get yourself to the local Stable and see if you can get some Blanks guarding. Phones should work. They might still be around depending on how far we’ve been plunged into Victoriana.’

‘If they get out?’

‘Den, chile, youse shoot.’ Libertine interrupted. ‘Ma won’ts rise but Tullius shoulds be shot befores hes jumps.’

‘Your brother…’

‘You heard it from the lady, Maxie. Make sure they’re armed. Go with them if you don’t think they’ll obey you or there’s not enough there.’

‘Yes, Sara.’

‘Go! We’ll leave messages here for those passing through.’

Maxine Caruthers got up reluctantly and took one of the swords the Baroness offered her and then drank Libertine’s drink before leaving. Sara gestured to the bar for another Hard Eight, watching Caruthers coughing as she left.

‘Must be the bitters.’

The waitress brought out a tray with two cocktails and went back to the bar. Sara gingerly tasted it while Libertine downed half of the glass.

‘Better not have too much of a kick from the rum.’

Sara took a sip. ‘How can you drink this stuff?’

‘Ah uses ma mouth. Ah thoughts youse didn’ts drink.’

‘Now I know why. How are you feeling now, Libertine?’

‘Ah’s better. ‘Ows dis Max change anyones else?’

‘You must have someone in mind?’

‘Medea is Kali. Ifs dere cult lives in Max’s minds…’

Sara screwed her eyes up. ‘Shit! I hope the Vampiri keep Stheno in her coffin. There’s still Euryale but as she hasn’t surfaced yet…’

Pondering, she continued, ‘There’s no air traffic. Except dirigible. If any Indian Kali followers are going to get here then they won’t for a week. More than enough time to sort something out.’

‘Youse scans?’

‘A little. There’s one floating above.’

‘Dat ah goo’ sign?’

‘Well, at least Max isn’t letting people fall to their deaths without aeroplanes.’

‘Dat good?’

‘He’s a god with a heart. He’s not deliberately malevolent. He’s a victim not an inflictor in all of this.’

‘An’ wease haves ta stop ‘ims?’

‘Contain him. This really isn’t his fault. I also have no idea what would happen if he died. The world might stay this way.’

‘Is dere mores likes ‘im?’

Sara shrugged. ‘Who knows. He makes Mary Travers look like a starter and she’s barely sane half the time. If other reality shifters are out there, they might be like he was and had a low enough profile to be ignored so far.’

‘Whats happen if two o’dem meets?’

‘I don’t know. Merged realities would make this worse. I doubt if they’d neutralise each other.’

‘’ppreciates dat, Sara. Ah takes it wease da targets wit’ outs the chile an’ Polly?’

‘We’re also the closest threat. Me because Max knows me. You because he couldn’t make sense of you. He’s going to test himself against us. We’ll be the template for whatever else he does so we have to win until we can find him. This reality hasn’t settled yet.’

‘Whats youses reallys means is dat soons wease stands up, things happens.’

‘Until you’re orientated, try to avoid body jumping. He might not let you get back.’

‘Shit, Sara. Dis wonts stops mes uses ma sword.’

‘I’m making this up as I go along. I have no idea what is real and what isn’t. Err on caution. Whatever we do wrong is what the others will have to avoid.’

[Sara. I think we’ve found the place.]

[We’ll be right there. Polly. Get your team out of there.]

 

vvvvvvvvvvvvvVVVVVVVVVVVVvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

 

Polly was as good as her word. St. Anne’s Church was a little place in Soho, not its large size from the rebuild after the fire before the time shift. The locals could find it but out-of-towners invariably came by it by accident when exploring Soho in the present, not expecting to come across it, especially as it wasn’t accessed via the main roads. Surprisingly, it even had a small graveyard in such a vast metropolis. London had grown up around it. Had the Pattern known about that? Max certainly wouldn’t have. Olicia Noctoree, based purely on her unknown age, might have. Even so, it was a good place to hold up in. It was the perfect place for the epicentre of the change even if Max hadn’t known it. The old was now amongst the old.

Sara looked around, instinctively looking around and scanning for any other trouble. Libertine glared at a few passerbys who wisely hurried on. She was wearing the Victorian long skirt better than her. Then again, if she was going to wield her sword, the last thing she needed to fall over it or her heels.

The plan as simple. Libertine would take on the Pattern and she would hit the neural link in Max and hopefully revert things back to normal. Olicia Noctoree would only be knocked out if she started feeding again. Who knew how hungry she was? She might even be tempted by her or Libertine. That would be interesting. Would the Baroness have the right kind of psionic energy?

The edge they had was that the Pattern probably didn’t know what had made the change or even that they were responsible for it. That was an outside bet. If they did, then they might be ready. For what and how to stop them was more debatable. It was only as assumption until now that they were all shape-shifters. With earlier pantheons they needed more than that to convince the local population that they were gods and that included their proclivities. That would have to be something needed to be checked. They had been here long enough to have some half-breeds and that were a lot more sub-species to pick from now. Was that why they kept this Vampiri? They’d been thwarted in their other plans. What would they need in London other than some Psionic for her to feed off of?

Polly would have cleared her crew out of the way. No sense them seeing any more than they needed to. She would be there purely as a back-up or to shield Libertine from another psionic attack. One would only have to hope that Max wouldn’t spin another reality in defence. Who knew what else was in his mind. She should have examined him deeper than she had but even she wasn’t sure what would have happened.

Sara directed her attention at the church. Behind her, she felt the presence of Polly Kettle. Libertine was giving off multiple signals. In front of her, four signals. At least, there wasn’t likely to be any misguided vicar getting in the way. The brightest was Max himself. Glowing bigger than a Christmas tree, tendrils reaching out and manipulating whatever was causing it. She mentally recorded the impression, not sure if she could share it or not. The share was an automatic response. Would she manipulate reality as much as this. Would she make a reality even worse and who could sort her out?

Enough thoughts. Only two Pattern. Libertine had already drawn her sword, keeping the scabbard in her other hand. She had seen her practice, using the scabbard to ward off strikes. No wonder the Baroness had a distain for modern weapons. She didn’t always strike to kill…sometimes.

‘They’re in the church’, she muttered under her breath rather than spaking. If their senses were as acute they might even have picked that up. Would they really need a confined space when out in the open would give an opportunity to escape, even without Max and Olicia. That meant a stand-off. Libertine strided forward and in a few steps, Sara stayed parallel.

‘Stays cool, Sara. Weese shoulds bes glads Max is not succubus.’

‘You’ve ever come across one?’

Libertine smiled.

They pushed the door open.

There was a bright light.

From the church gate, Polly looked on in disbelief. Both Libertine and Sara were gone.

 

More

 

(c) GF Willmetts 2016

‘Psi-Kicks, Sara Seeker, Libertine Rush, Maxine Caruthers,

Polly Kettle and Olicia Noctoree

Max Undergrave can look after himself

all rights reserved.

ask before borrowing.

 

For those who are wondering what a Hard Eight is:-

http://www.drinksmixer.com/cat/3049/ for ‘Hard Eight cocktail:

– 1 1/2 oz rum (dark)
– juice of 1/2 limes
– 2 dashes bitters (angostura, campari, amer picon…)
– fill with beer (lager)

and no, I haven’t tried it as I’m not allowed to drink.

Category: MEDIA, Scifi, Short fiction

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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