The following short story was submitted a couple of different times between 2010 and 2014. It’s action-scifi. Looking back over it, there are some definite issues. It’s not as character-centered as modern scifi tends to be. It’s more event-centered, which isn’t as popular. The main character is kind of a jerk too. Maybe that was the reason for the rejections. Let me know what you think. What follows is unedited, as it was submitted last in 2014. Obviously, I’m a much better writer now.
Chase the Devil
“This your first time?” she asks. “In London, I mean?”
A silly question. Of course I’d been to London before. Well, some Londons, anyway. I’d been to the London of the late 20th century, where I fought alongside the rocketeers lead by the dashing Roger Buckingham against the Martian invaders. I’d been to the London of Universe 54, where cotton candy was never invented. And I’d been to the London where Oliver Cromwell’s Regency never ended and the New World remained dominated by Spain well into the 18th century.
However, this was my first time in the London of Universe 16. Of course, I wasn’t about to tell her that. I couldn’t just start mouthing off about my life as a ranger, fighting across time and space for the glory of the Quorum. The mission had to be done discretely. My superiors have it on good authority that the Devil fled to this time period on this Earth after the Battle of Saturn 9. He has already killed four people and I’m determined to save his final victim. I’m going to save Mary Kelly.
Mary tugs on the sleeve of my coat once more. One of her friends has been killed here in Whitechapel back in September. The murderer remains uncaught. He’ll never be caught. At least, not by the Metro police. Mainly because they don’t know what they’re looking for. These London bobbies think they’re after a man. A madman, perhaps, but a man nonetheless. If only that were true. “What’s your name, love?” Mary asks.
“Maurice,” I reply. “What’s yours?”
“Call me ‘Emma,’” she says, twirling her ginger hair in her fingertips. “You look tired and worn. Why don’t you come to my apartment for some tea?”
Now, we’re both well aware that there will be very little tea beyond the thin plywood of her doorway. Still, that doesn’t stop us from walking up to her one-room hole in Dorset Street. In all likelihood, she shares that flophouse with thirty or forty other women, all actresses or dancers or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves this week. It’s early November in London, and the snow is falling. I can tell by the way Mary clutches at her shawl that she’s positively freezing. In all likelihood, she’d only picked the doorway of the Ten Bells to stand in on account of the roof providing shelter from the snow. But the wind is another matter. It runs right through us like a ghost, carrying with it flecks of snow and ice that speckles the sides of our clothes like splotches of blood flecked from a long, thin knife.
Without a word, she guides me through the darkened streets, barely lit by the gas streetlamps. We can hardly see anything through the London fog, but Mary knows these streets by heart, and I’m used to traveling in darkness. When my unit arrived at the Orion Causeway in Universe 17, the Devil had shut off electrical power to the station. We had only three days’ worth of oxygen, but my unit lasted only two. The Devil hunted us there, in the darkness. Occasionally, we’d find a member of the space station’s staff floating by, bubbles of blood still surrounding him like tiny planets around a misshapen star. Three of my unit were killed while using the lavatory, their heads crudely torn free and missing, hearts ripped out and left to float inside the tiny rooms.
I try to fight back the memories as Mary puts her hand to my cheek. Her skin is soft. She looks at me, and I know she can see the pain in my eyes. She’s beautiful, despite the wrinkles at her cheeks and the crookedness of her teeth. I let her nuzzle at my neck. I feel her breath on my skin, warm and wet. As her hands drift into mine, I keep my cane out of her reach. Don’t want it going off suddenly in her hands.
If my plan works right, the Sentinel should be upon us soon. According to our records, Jack the Ripper slew his fifth canonical victim on this cold London night. That is history on my Earth, but it’s not the same everywhere. Multidimensional sensors showed a new reality spawning in the first twenty or so universes within the Greater Dimensional Group.
Universe 16 wasn’t supposed to have a Jack the Ripper, but something in the past had changed. Universe 16 had spawned Universe 16a. My enemy was at work, reenacting a series of murders that this Earth should never have known. But not for long. I was here now, and I would stop him. By coming here, to this place, to this time, I would save this woman’s life and defeat my enemy once and for all.
“Sir? What’s wrong sir? You look a million miles away.” Her voice brings me back to the here and now. We’re turning onto Dorset Street, as I expected. Up ahead is a boarding home of sorts A flophouse for young, wayward girls. Some of them I see wandering about in the cold, their shoes barely thick enough to keep their toes from freezing. They can’t be more than fourteen years old. I begin to wonder if Mary is really 20. I turn to look at her. Her hair is light brown, like her eyes, and as she guides me through a side entrance of the house, I catch sight of the curve of her hips as she struts across the threshold into her modest apartment. Although, it’s likely this isn’t even her room at all. Probably a guest quarters, of sorts. For girls like Mary to bring her clients.
Mary sits on the bed and picks up the bottle of cheap port from off the nightstand. She takes a drink and offers me some. No glasses. Classy. I accept the bottle and drink sparingly. I sit by the bed next to her. She leans in and kisses me on the lips. I return the kiss, but I do not feel any passion. No stirrings deep within, no. My mind is too wrapped up in the mission. It will be soon now. Mary Kelly will be discovered dead in this room on November 9, 1888, around noon. That is twelve hours from now. Our forensic historians hypothesize the Ripper will come for her in approximately 42 minutes. The Devil is on his way.
Mary pulls away, her teeth lingering on my lower lip as she backs away from the kiss and walks over to the wardrobe. She opens the right hand door, so I can’t watch as she undresses. I see her long stockings hanging over the edge of the door, then the folds of her skirt. Despite my focus, I feel the blood rising in me. Small sparks of desire threaten to overcome my inhibitions. Maybe it’s the wine, but I find myself considering a brief frolic before the coming battle. I’ll have her, and then I’ll save her.
I reach over to take another drink of wine from the bottle on the nightstand, when I see it. There, in the tiny, guilty crack between the stand and the bare sheet of the bed, lying cold and stiff, is the hand of a young woman, not yet thirty years of age. Her fingertips show smudges of red nail polish, probably applied long before but now almost totally worn off.
My heart starts beating even faster than before. I raise my head slowly. My cane is by the door, a good five feet away. Damnation. A black figure of steel with two red, laughing eyes edges from behind the wardrobe. There is no mouth, no nose. Just those terrible eyes. It must be emitting some kind of pheromone, as I find myself sickly attracted to the Devil as it approaches, its entire left arm morphed into a curved blade that thirsts for my blood.
“When did you kill her?” I ask. The Sentinel laughs and raises its blade.
“You care?” it replies. Its eyes shine with cruelty, though luckily the Devil seems too amused by my helpless condition to take the killing strike. I may yet have a chance. The Devil stands between me and my weapon, but I can see the failsafe, a small sliver of red beneath the brass knob at the top of the cane. “I drank her life hours ago,” the Devil tells me. “I took her place because I felt the need to slay some young gentlemen while I’m here. The usual customers are not always polite to the midnight women of Whitechapel, and I have always possessed an inclination towards justice.”
“You mean vengeance,” I sneer.
The Devil laughs. Vaporous trails of shadow surround it. Its body is formed of a darkness deeper than night, the type of dark encountered in terrifying dreams which freeze the blood and send you screaming into wakefulness. No creature of flesh and blood, the Devil was formed as the byproduct of genetic engineering, when the Quorum strove to erase evil from the human genome. But Nature abhors a vacuum, and every acting force must have its reacting force. Hence, the Devil: A being formed from clouds of nano-bots, surging with an energy and power our scientists still don’t quite understand and struggle to classify. “Then we have something in common,” the Devil replies. “You came seeking vengeance for your slain men.”
“You remember them,” I say, a bit shocked. The Devil has been to thousands of worlds, killed countless men and women. I slowly edge my way to the far corner of the bed. The Devil follows me with its eyes, and though its head and body never seem to move, somehow it continues to face me from the front.
“Of course,” it replies. “What fun would it be otherwise? Oh, how I relish each kill. The thrill of the first slice. The pressure of your flesh beneath my blade. The sound of your heart as it beats faster and faster, as yours does now.”
The Devil lifts its bladed left arm back, preparing to strike. Then it relaxes and sits upon the bed, next to me. “Unless, of course, you’d rather have me, first?” The Devil’s form shimmers into a cloud of nano-bots. After a second or two, the form of Mary Kelly is in its place, naked and flush with lust. “Fancy a cup a’ tea, sir?” it says with her voice. I glance my eyes toward the door. My cane is still there. It follows my gaze. “Your cane? You want to use the cane, sir?” it says. “Come, I’ll fetch it.” The Devil, in Mary Kelly’s form, strides over to the cane and lifts it in its pseudo-human hands. It walks toward me, its grin almost seductive, save for the bloodstains on its lips
I grit my teeth ever so slightly, breaking the false cap near the back of my mouth. As quickly as it takes for the Devil to detect the slight energy fluctuation and register a sense of panic across its assumed facial features, my cane hums and rises above the floor of its own volition. A last-ditch protocol.
“You’re mad,” the Devil says. “The blast will kill us both, as well as the innocents outside.”
“What’s a few more dead in this war?” I ask, amazed at the chill in my voice. The world goes white as my laser lance’s self-destruct activates. It’s not a clean bomb, but it carries a minimal payload. Fifty, maybe sixty dead in the initial blast that sends me careening through the wall, the Devil’s burning form on top of me. A few hundred, perhaps, in London will wake up tomorrow with radiation poisoning. If they survive the first three weeks, they will most likely recover.
My mouth opens, but the air boils my screams away, as the two of us flow through plasma and fire. Flesh and bone sublimate in an instant. I should be dead by now. The human mind can recall years in seconds, but an atomic blast — especially at close range — leaves only microseconds of possible experience. The flash alone burns the retinas, continuing along the optic nerve until the brain is instantly destroyed by the inrush of air and radioactive particles. Yet somehow still I live.
The sun shines above me. I sit up and look around in surprise. The blast must have sent me through a portal. I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t known there were any portals in that part of London. My positioning computer should have alerted me. No matter. The air is fresh here and warm. Through an opening in the jungle canopy high above, I spot a pair of moons hanging low in the sky. With my guidance system destroyed in the blast, I can only guess that I’ve traveled to a parallel Mars. Mars 150 is covered in jungle, at least along the equator. Valles Marineris is an ocean on this Mars, and the jungle stretches along both sides of the shore.
I raise myself to my knees. My head aches. I massage the top of my skull with my hand and use the other hand to lean against a nearby tree. I hear the screech of pterosaurs flying high above, and I look up quickly, too quickly. My head aches and my eyes are sore. But still, I look around. No sign of it. No sign of the Devil. Good.
I raise myself to my feet and start heading north. For a moment, I think about calling out for others, but then I remember that this parallel Mars is inhabited only by unintelligent dinosaurs. My limbs feel heavy, and my mouth is dry. I stop walking and stare into the brush until I spy a stream at the base of a massive tree. I kneel down to scoop the water up with my hands. As I’m slurping, I catch a glimpse of something in the water. I gasp and choke and lean away. Impossible. Slowly, I creep back toward the stream and lean over the water, and I see the Devil staring back at me.
The thought springs to mind before my saner self can repress it: The kiss. Before dropping its disguise, the Devil had kissed me and bit my lower lip. It must have transmitted some sort of nanotech into my blood through its bite. I realize now that I didn’t survive the explosion at all. Neither of us did. Only the Devil’s seed, carried within my body, preserving what remained of our DNA. Not too much, just enough to clone my mind within its body.
It starts as a faint shiver at the tips of my claws, and soon I am filled with rage. Rage at what has been done to me, to us. I do not deserve this. I am a hero. I fought the Devil. I beat him. This isn’t fair. I stand and roar in pain and madness as my eyes cloud over with red. I see memories of a life spent at war. I see all the moments that have led to this, and I feel only anger and hate. Now, I have seen where the twin paths of good and evil lead, and they lead only to fire and death. I remember a thousand worlds burning, bleeding, and I consider that there are a million cracks in creation, billions of fissures separating alien worlds and alternate times. I turn away from the stream, away from who and what I used to be. I turn toward horror and hatred and despair. I will find them all, those fissured and disparate worlds and times. I shall spread my new gospel of chaos across the stars. The whole multiverse shall pay for what it has done to me. None of you are safe.