- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
Necroscope III: The Source
The End of Zek's Story - Trouble at
Zek gave a massive start, drew air in a plainly audible gasp of terror. 'Vyotsky - he's coming!' she said. 'He's following us - and Shaithis himself is not far behind him!'
'Keep still!' Jazz grabbed her. 'Shhh!'
They listened, watched. Down below at the edge of the tree-line, the mist parted and Vyotsky came into view. He looked left and right but not up, started toward the base of the cliffs. Perhaps he thought they'd skirted the cliffs, and maybe they should have. But at least on the ledge no one was going to surprise them.
Jazz aimed his SMG, scowled and lowered it. 'Can't be sure of hitting him!' he whispered. 'These things are for close-quarters fighting - street fighting. Also, the shot would be heard.'
Again the mists parted and the awesome cloaked figure of Shaithis flowed out of them. He looked neither left nor right but inclined his head back to stare directly at the fugitives. His eyes glowed like small fires under the stars.
'There they are!' the vampire Lord shouted, pointed. 'On the ledge, under the cliff. Get after them, Karl. And if you'd be my man, don't let me down...'
As Shaithis glided forward, Vyotsky passed out of sight into the angles of the cliff face. Jazz and Zek heard shale sliding, Vyotsky's surprised yelp and his cursing. He was on the ledge and had discovered how slippery it was.
'Move!' said Jazz. 'Quick - climb! And pray this ledge goes somewhere. Anywhere!' But if Zek did pray, then her prayers weren't answered.
Where the cliff was notched and bent back sharply on itself, the ledge narrowed to an uneven eighteen inches. In the 'V of the notch a chimney of rock had weathered free, leaning outward over dizzy heights. Behind the chimney scree had gathered, forming the floor of a cave. The stars gleamed down on the ledge, but in the deeps of the cave all was inky blackness.
Shaithis, too, was on the ledge now; his commands came echoing: 'Karl, I want them alive. The woman for what she may be able to do for me, the man for what he has already done to me.'
Edging along the ledge toward the chimney and the cave behind it, Jazz asked Zek: 'Why hasn't Shaithis called up more help?'
'Probably because he's sure he doesn't need it,' she groaned. Even as she spoke a knob of rock crumbled underfoot where she stepped, causing her feet to slip. Her legs and lower body shot sideways, out over empty space. Jazz let his weapon swing from its sling, grabbed Zek's flying hand. He dropped to one knee, raked the cliff with his free hand to find a hold. His fingers contacted, grasped a tough root in the instant before the girl's weight fell on him.
Zek was dangling now, one elbow hooked over the rim of the ledge, the rest of her kicking and swinging. Only Jazz's grip on her offered any stability at all. 'Oh, God!' she sobbed. 'Oh, my God!'
'Drag yourself up,' Jazz groaned through gritted teeth. 'Try not to put too much leverage on me. Use your elbows. Squirm, for Christ's sake!' She did as he said, came slithering up onto the ledge in front of him. He grabbed her belt, hauled her unceremoniously against the face of the cliff. 'Now go on all fours,' he said. 'Don't try to stand up or you'll be over again. If we can just make that chimney...' Oh, and then what? But he refused to think about that.
Finally Zek crawled onto the scree beneath the overhang, collapsed face-down there and spread-eagled herself, dug her fingers deep into loose rock fragments and hung on. Jazz stooped, caught her under the arm and drew her upright. 'We have to get under cover, he said, 'otherwise -'
Ch-ching! came that unmistakable sound from behind them.
Jazz half-turned. Vyotsky had appeared round the sharp corner. His cruel lips drew back from his teeth as he lined-up his SMG on the pair he pursued. But from behind him:
"Alive, Karl, do you hear?' Shaithis's voice warned, that much closer now. Vyotsky's eyes went wide with fear. He glanced back. Jazz took the opportunity to swing his own weapon in Vyotsky's direction, squeezed the trigger. To hell with keeping quiet!
The gun chattered, and whining bullets chewed at the cliff like metal wasps, hurling chippings in Vyotsky's face. Instinctively he fired back, and a lucky round snatched Jazz's gun from his hands, sent it spinning out over the abyss. As the sling was yanked from his shoulder, only the chimney of rock stopped him from being drawn after it.
Zek clutched at Jazz and they clung together. And -
'Step over here,' said a cool, low voice from the shadows.
A figure was there, in the cave under the overhang, tall, slim, cloaked. Male, he wore an impassive golden mask over his face. Starlight gleamed on the gold. Jazz was struck with the thought that he looked like the Phantom of the Opera! 'Who - ?' he gasped.
'Quickly!' said the newcomer. 'If you want to live.'
'Stand still!' Vyotsky shouted, but Jazz and Zek were already moving to obey the stranger. As they stepped toward the cave, so he came out to meet them. Vyotsky saw him. Because of his cloak, at first the Russian mistook him for one of Shaithis's lieutenants.
The stranger held out an urgent hand to the pair, held up his cloak almost as if to shield them. He drew them toward him...
So much Vyotsky saw, but in the next moment... the big Russian blinked, used his free hand to rub furiously at his eyes. They'd gone - all three, gone! But he hadn't seen them step back into the cave.
A huge hand fell on Vyotsky's shoulder and he froze. Shaithis's monstrous voice hissed in his ear: 'Where are they? Did your weapon strike them? I hope for your sake it did not!' Vyotsky didn't look back, simply continued to gape at the empty ledge ahead.
'Well?' Shaithis's fingers dug into Vyotsky's shoulder.
'I didn't hit them, no,' the Russian gulped, shook his head. 'There was someone else. A man in a cloak, and a mask. He came... and he took them!'
'Took them? A man in a cloak and - ?' Shaithis's breath was hot on Vyotsky's neck. 'A mask of gold, perhaps?'
Now Vyotsky looked at him - and at once shrank back, cringing from the horror of his face. 'Why... why, yes. He came - and he went! And they went with him...'
'Ahhh!' Shaithis hissed. 'The Dweller!' His fingers were like the jaws of a steel clamp, crushing Vyotsky's shoulder. For a moment the Russian thought he intended to hurl him down from the ledge.
'It ... it wasn't my fault!' he gibbered. 'I found them, followed them. Maybe they slipped into the cave there. Maybe all three of them are there!'
Shaithis sniffed the air, his blunt snout quivering. 'No,' he finally said. 'Nothing. No one. You failed me.'
Shaithis released him. 'I won't kill you, Karl. Your spirit is puny but your flesh is strong. And there are uses to which good strong flesh can be put in the aerie of Shaithis of the Wamphyri.' He turned away. 'Now follow me down. And be warned: do not try to run away. For if you do that a second time it will make me very, very angry. I would give you to my favourite warrior. All except your quivering heart, which I would eat myself!'
Vyotsky watched him commence the descent, gritted his teeth and slowly lifted the barrel of his gun.
Without looking back, Shaithis said: 'Yes, by all means do, Karl - and we shall see which one of us is caused the most pain.'
The Russian's tense expression slowly slackened, relaxed. How could you fight beings like these? What hope did any man have of ever defeating or even damaging something like Lord Shaithis? He let out his pent breath, gulped, put his weapon on safe and followed timidly on behind the other where he made his way down from the ledge.
Below in the woods a great wolf howled piteously - Zek's Wolf, who knew that his mistress was now removed from him and gone far away. He lifted his head and howled again, the cry rippling from his taut throat. Then he sniffed the air and looked north and a little west, across the mountains. She was there, yes. That was the way he must go.
Grey as the night, Wolf began to climb through the trees. Two figures passed him going down. He curled his upper lip back, writhing from his carnivore teeth. But he made no sound. They passed out of sight into the misty woods. Wolf let them go and continued on his way.
The siren call of his mistress was strong in his mind...
It was noon at Perchorsk, but in the metal and plastic bowels of that place it could be midnight and nothing would be changed. One change at least was occurring, however, and Direktor Luchov and Chingiz Khuv were watching as a team of workmen fitted pipes high in the wall of the perimeter corridor. The pipes were maybe seventy millimeters in diameter, made of black plastic, and might in other circumstances be conduits for heavy-duty electrical cable. But that was not their purpose.
'A failsafe?' Khuv said. He looked flustered. 'But I know nothing about this. Perhaps you'd explain?'
Luchov looked at him, tilted his head on one side a little. 'You work here,' he shrugged, 'and I have no reason to keep it from you. I proposed this mechanism some time ago. It is simplicity in itself, and quite foolproof. What's more, it's cheap and very quick and easy to install - as you can see. If you follow these pipes you'll see that they go straight back to the loading bays inside the main doors. There you'll find a fifteen-thousand-litre container on the back of a truck. The truck is locked in position with its brakes on, rotor arm removed. That, too, is a failsafe. The pipes connect directly to the truck and they're being laid throughout the Projekt.'
Khuv's frown grew deeper. 'I've seen the truck,' he said. 'It's a military supply vehicle, carrying chemical fuel for flame-throwers. Are you telling me that these pipes will carry that stuff? But it's highly corrosive! Man, it would eat through this plastic in a matter of minutes!'
Luchov shrugged. 'By which time it wouldn't matter anyway,' he said. 'A failsafe only has to work once, Major, and that's the beauty of this one. Gravity fed, fifteen thousand litres of highly combustible fuel will rush downward through these pipes and circulate right through the Projekt in less than three minutes. As it courses along its way there are sprinklers. They will spray the fuel under pressure into every corner. Its fumes are heavy but they'll spread very rapidly. The Projekt has laboratories, boiler rooms, electrical fires, workshops, a thousand naked flames of one sort or another.' He shrugged again. 'But I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at. We can sum it up in one very descriptive word: inferno!'
A short distance away, Vasily Agursky had paused to listen. Khuv had noticed him and now he deliberately stared at him. Still looking at Agursky, Khuv said: 'I take it this information is not sensitive? If it is, you should know we are being eavesdropped.'
'Sensitive?' Luchov glanced along the corridor, saw Agursky. 'Ah, but it is sensitive, yes! Everyone who works here in the Projekt will soon be aware exactly how sensitive it is. It would be criminally irresponsible for anyone to try to keep it a secret. There will be notices posted everywhere explaining the system in great detail. This is not a matter for the KGB, Major, but for humanity. It is not your sort of "security" but mine - and my superiors'. And your superiors'!'
Agursky came closer, joined Khuv and Luchov. 'If this system is ever used,' he said, in a strange, emotionless voice, 'the Projekt would be destroyed utterly.'
'Correct, Vasily,' Luchov turned to him. That is its purpose. But it will only be used if another horror like Encounter One should ever escape from the Gate!'
Agursky nodded. 'Of course, for fire destroys them. It's the only way we can be sure that nothing like that ever gets out into the world again.'
'More than that,' said Luchov. 'It's the only way we can be certain that this place never becomes the focal point of World War III!'
'What?' Khuv snapped.
Luchov rounded on him. 'Oh? And do you think the Americans will sit still for a second of those nightmares launched from here into their airspace? Man, you know as well as I do that they think we're manufacturing them!'
Khuv drew air in a gasp, became suspicious in a moment. 'Who have you been talking to, Viktor? That sounded very much like something the British spy Michael Simmons once said to me. I hope you haven't been interfering in things which don't concern you. I accept that this failsafe of yours is probably necessary, but I will not accept anyone meddling in my work!'
'Are you accusing me of something?' Luchov kept his anger under control.
'Maybe I am,' Khuv's tone was icy. 'We still don't know where you disappeared to for three hours when that damned esper ran amok in here. Is that it? Has Alec Kyle been talking to you?'
Luchov scowled, the veins in his seared skull pulsing. 'I've told you, I don't know what happened to me that night. I suppose I was unconscious. Maybe it was an attempt to kidnap me - bungled, as it turns out. As for this - Alec Kyle? - I've not only never met him, I've never even heard of him!' Which was true enough, for the man he'd spoken to was called Harry Keogh.
Agursky had turned away, leaving them to their argument. Khuv watched him go, staring hard after his departing, white-smocked figure. Was there something wrong with the peculiar little scientist? Or ... not wrong but different? Something... different about him?
'Aren't you interested how it's triggered?' Luchov asked, still glaring.
'Eh? Oh, yes, very interested. I'd also like to know if there's a failsafe for your failsafe!' Khuv's attention was back on the Projekt Direktor. 'This place houses some hundred and eighty scientists, technicians, soldiers at any given time of the day and night, and it contains many millions of roubles' worth of equipment. If there was an accident -'
'Oh, there'll be no accident,' Luchov shook his head. 'If it's ever used it will be a very deliberate act, I assure you. Let me tell you how it works.
'There's empty accommodation close to mine. That becomes the failsafe control centre, with access only to the officer on duty and round the clock access to myself. Oh, and yourself, too, I suppose, since you'll probably insist upon it. However, I shall expect you to make your name available for the duty roster, as mine will be.'
'Control centre?' said Khuv. 'And what will this control centre contain?'
'A closed circuit TV monitor panel with three screens. One will watch the Gate and the others the stairwell through the shaft and the exit from it into the Projekt proper. There will be evacuation alert klaxons, too, though I admit a man will have to be pretty nimble to get out once they start sounding. As for the failsafe mechanism: two buttons and a heavy electrical switch. Button one will sound the evacuation alert in the upper levels the very moment that the Duty Officer sees anything come through the Gate. Button two will only be used if the creature is of that sort, and if the electrical fence, flamethrowers and Katushevs don't stop it. The button will control subordinate machinery: the alarms will sound more urgently, and steel doors will close in the ventilator shafts. If and when the creature passes from the core area, through the magmass levels and into the complex itself... then the switch is thrown. This cannot be done accidentally, or until the two buttons have been pressed. The switch, of course, opens the stopcocks on the tanker.'
'Huh.r Khuv grunted. 'I note that your quarters - and the control centre - are not far removed from the loading bays and the main entrance.'
'Your own quarters are similarly situated, albeit on a different bearing,' Luchov pointed out. 'We would have equal chances. So would anyone in that area, including your KGB men and parapsychologists.'
Khuv grudgingly conceded that. 'And you think it's a wise move to tell everyone just exactly how this failsafe operates? You don't think it will scare them witless?'
'I think it probably will,' Luchov answered, 'but I see no alternative. In the event of ... a disaster, as many as possible should have the chance to live. And where the military is concerned: well, they are the only ones who can't run when the alarms start sounding. The Katushev crews and the flame-thrower squads. And here I'm afraid I begin to sound too much like you for my own liking -but at least they now have the ultimate incentive to stop any emergence from the sphere!'
Khuv pursed his lips, made no reply.
'And now that I have satisfied your curiosity,' Luchov continued, 'perhaps you'd be so good as to tell me how your - experiments? - are proceeding? Have you had any message from those poor bastards you hurled through the Gate? Or have you simply written them off? And what about your investigations into this intruder affair? Do you know how he got in? What have you discovered about him?'
Khuv scowled, turned on his heel and strode away. Over his shoulder he called back: 'At this moment in time I have no information for you, Direktor. But when I have all the answers, and when they make sense, then rest assured that you will be among the first to know of it.' He paused in his striding and looked back. 'But you are not the only one who has been busy, Comrade, and I have made certain recommendations of my own. So far you have only considered an invasion from the other side, but my imagination is more wide-ranging. In a few days you will more fully comprehend my meaning, with the arrival of a platoon of crack assault troops - under my command!'
Before Luchov could enquire further, Khuv had passed through a bulkhead door and so out of sight...
In his private quarters, Vasily Agursky stared at himself in a mirror on his toilet wall. He stared, and had difficulty believing what he saw. As yet no one else appeared to have noticed, but then no one took a great deal of interest in him. But Agursky knew himself very well indeed, and he also knew that what he saw in the mirror was more than the sum total of his parts. Of his parts.
His first reaction, when he'd noticed the early changes, had been to distrust the mirror, a distrust which had quickly turned to a strong dislike. Ridiculous for a man to dislike a mirror, but it was true, he did. He disliked all mirrors, probably because they reminded him of certain undeniable alterations, which he'd be only too happy to forget about.
The changes were... weird! He wouldn't have believed them possible.
He had positioned this mirror on the wall himself, so that his face would be exactly centered in the glass. But now he had to bend his knees a little to get the same effect. He had gained two or more full inches in height. That fact should have delighted him, who had always considered himself as being little more than a dwarf, but instead it terrified him. For he could actually feel the ability of his body to be tall! And if the vampiric growth continued - then someone would notice.
His hair, too, was undergoing something of a metamorphosis. Its dirty-grey down was darkening, showing signs of a long-delayed virility, and the halo was contracting toward the centre of his head's dome, filling itself in. No one had noticed that, either, but he supposed they must when finally the growth was complete. Why, already he looked - and felt - years younger. Felt ready now for ... almost anything. And yet for a little while longer he must continue to play the part of the old Vasily. The old, despised, neglected and contemptuously treated Vasily...
Still gazing at himself, Agursky was surprised to feel a growl rising unbidden in his throat. It came up soft, purring from his chest, then thickened to a snarl. His lips curled back from his teeth - from his strong, white, animal teeth, whose canines had grown so as to interlock with each other more surely than they ever had in all his previous life - and he snarled like a beast! But he cut it off right there, took a grip on himself. For a moment there'd been a power in him like none he'd ever known before; and knowing where it came from, he knew too that he must control it. As long as he could.
For at the Perchorsk Projekt, they had this habit of burning things like Vasily Agursky.
Finally he took off his thick-lensed spectacles. The old curved lenses were gone now, removed from their frames and disposed of. In their place, flat discs of common glass which he'd cut in the workshop: 'eyepieces for my instruments,' as he'd explained it. No need now for aids to eyesight which had improved to an entirely incredible degree. Why, he could even see in the dark!
But in connection with his eyes, there was something else which might soon begin to show, though what he could do about that was quite beyond him to imagine. Contact lenses? By the time he could order and receive them it might well be too late. In a way that frightened him, too, but in another way ... it was fascinating.
Slowly he reached out a hand to the cord of the light-switch, gave it a single sharp tug. Click! - and the light went out.
But in the mirror two lesser lights had taken its place. Agursky couldn't suppress the strange smile, the wolfish grin, which spread over his darkly-mirrored features then. A smile in which the pupils of his eyes burned like tiny censers, filled with hell's own sulphur...
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold