The Dweller - The Problem at Perchorsk - In the Garden
Perhaps inspired by the reaction of the sphere-cave's ossified inhabitants, Harry's first reflex was to panic. Instinctively, he came close to conjuring - almost attempted to fashion - a Mobius door, and only just retreated from that action in time to avert a disaster. God alone knew where, or how, he would end up if he tried to use Mobius mathematics here, inside the grey hole!
And so he floated, drawn irresistibly upward - or passed - through the Gate; and almost before he knew it ...
... His resurgence was almost as big a shock as his entry: he passed through the skin of the sphere, then slid down its curve crashingly onto a jumble of stony debris between the sphere and the crater wall. For indeed he saw that the sphere was inside a crater, and directly overhead - a second sphere!
So that now Harry could see almost all of the picture. The jigsaw was very nearly complete. The Gate he had just traversed was the original. The one above, seated in the mouth of the crater, had appeared here simultaneous with the creation of its twin - its other 'end' - in Perchorsk. Perhaps the presence of the first had somehow influenced the location of the second, Harry couldn't say. Maybe Mobius would know.
If that decapitated corpse in the cave had come through comparatively recently, and also the walkie-talkie... were the Wamphyri now using the original sphere as a dumping site? And why dump a radio? But one thing was certain: they had passed through. They had entered the sphere - this sphere - from this side. And if they had found their way down here, then he could make his way up. No sooner had the thought occurred than he saw the magmass wormholes running through the rock. They were everywhere, cutting smoothly through the solid rock at all angles.
Under his duffle-coat, Harry still had his torch clipped to his belt. He took the torch out, chose a horizontal shaft and wriggled in. In a little while the hole turned to the right, then bent sharply into a descent. Harry abandoned it, came out backwards. Other holes were no better. But then, at his fifth attempt...
... He found a hole which climbed gently, not so steeply as to cause him to slide back. In a little while it, too, bent to one side, the left, following which it rose marginally more steeply. Then it levelled out and swung right. But beyond the level bend it shot almost vertically upward. Harry stood up, switched off his torch. After the claustrophobia of the hole this was a little better; for now it was as though he stood at the bottom of a shallow well. Up there, strange constellations of stars glittered brightly in a black, jewelled sky. He reached up a hand... the rim of the hole was at least twenty-four inches beyond his grasp.
He bent his knees, jumped. A hard thing to spring upright and make any height in the confined space of a hole two and a half feet across! Especially in a duffle-coat, carrying a heavy machine-gun, with a spare magazine and two hundred rounds in your pockets.
Harry took the weapon from his shoulder, extended the sling to its full extent. Taking the gun by the barrel, he pushed its stock up the smooth bore of the wormhole, hooked its pistol-grip over the rim. Then, wedging himself against the wall, he used elbows and knees to gain enough height to get his foot into the loop of the dangling sling. And after that it was easy. Gradually straightening up, he dragged himself out of the wormhole and hauled the gun up after him.
Panting a little from his exertions, he scanned the terrain. And just as it had affected Zek Foener, Jazz Simmons and others before them, so it affected Harry. Starside at sundown was - weird!
But while Harry observed Starside, so too was he observed. Keen-eyed shapes moved in the shadows of boulders to the west, and a flitting thing high overhead squeaked a cry beyond the range of Harry's ears to detect. Then the great bat, Desmodus, sped east, making for a distant stack, while on the ground a trog set off to lope westward, cupping horny hands to his Neanderthal face and sending a cry ringing ahead of him. The cry was heard, picked up, passed on. A straggled scattering of trogs spread out over many miles passed the eerie message down the line.
Almost at the same time the messages were received both in the stack and in the Dweller's garden. But where Lord Shaithis of the Wamphyri must order a flyer readied and descend to the launching bays, the Dweller was not dependent upon that sort of conveyance; he simply inclined his head and listened for a moment, turned his eyes eastward and sighed. The newcomer's identity could not be doubted; the Dweller would have known that mind anywhere, any time.
So, after all these years, finally he had come. And at such a time. Well, nothing for it but to welcome him; and who could say but that shortly he might be sorely needed? And so the Dweller simply went to Harry, where for long minutes he had stood, close to the glaring sphere, gazing on the world of the Wamphyri...
Harry was staring at the distantly rearing stacks, wondering about them just as Zek, Jazz and others had wondered before him. Suddenly ... he was aware that someone watched him. He spun round and fell into a crouch, swung his gun up and cocked it. Some forty yards north of the sphere, out on the boulder plain, there stood a figure, motionless, watching. It was a slim figure, male from what Harry could see of it, and its face was golden, burning in the reflected glare of the sphere.
'Don't shoot!' the other called out in a young-old voice, holding up a hand. 'There's no danger. Not yet.'
There was something about the voice. Harry relaxed a very little, tilted his head on one side enquiringly. 'Not yet?'
'No,' said the other. 'But soon. Look!' And he pointed at the sky to the east. Harry looked.
Dark blots were growing large in the sky. Two of them, with others mere dots far behind. They came from the direction of the stacks. One was winged, shaped something like a manta. The other was ... a nightmare shape! Gigantic, it squirted through the sky like a squid. 'I should think that's Shaithis,' said the Dweller, pointing. 'And the other thing, that'll be one of his warriors. And see behind them? More flyers, carrying a couple of his lieutenants.'
'Wamphyri?' Harry guessed.
'Oh, yes. You'd better come over here.'
Go over there? Harry believed he knew why: to be away from the gate. He knew the voice, too. He didn't know it - couldn't possibly know it - but he knew it. He moved to obey, and the flying shapes came closer.
The two leading shapes, Shaithis aboard a flyer, and a riderless warrior, swooped down out of the sky. They began to circle, and Shaithis's beast sank lower, the wind of its great wings blasting dust and grit up from the plain into Harry's and the Dweller's faces. Its shadow fell on them as it shut out the stars, and Shaithis's booming voice called:
'Surrender! Surrender now, to the Lord Shaithis!'
'Are you ready, father?' said The Dweller. He held up one wing of his cloak.
Harry believed. No, he knew. The child he had searched for was eight years old, and this young man was at least twenty, but the two were one and the same. How didn't matter, not right now. Harry's whole world, his entire life, had been filled with things just as strange as this. Stranger.
'I'm ready, son,' he answered, his voice catching a little. 'But... does it work here?'
'Oh, it works. Except you mustn't use it too close to a Gate.'
'I know,' said Harry. 'I tried it once.'
Shaithis settled his beast to earth to the west, his warrior crunched down to the east. Other shapes loomed in the sky, almost directly overhead. 'Ho, Dweller,' Shaithis called, dismounting. 'It seems I have you!'
'Let me take you to our garden,' said Harry Jnr to his father.
Harry stepped forward, took him in his arms and hugged him. He felt his son's cloak close around him.
Shaithis, striding forward, jerked to a halt. Dust leaped up from the plain, formed itself into a devil that swirled in the vacuum that the two men had left behind. They were no longer there.
For long moments Shaithis stood, his flattened, convoluted snout sniffing the air. Then his great nostrils flared and his eyes blazed their fury. He threw back his head and roared. And as the plain echoed his cry, so he began to curse. And then he made his vow:
'Dweller, I shall have you!' he snarled. 'You and your garden and all you possess. I shall have your magic, your weapons, your cloak of invisibility, your every secret. Do you hear? I shall have you, and the hell-landers, and everything. And when I have these things, then I shall use them to make myself the most powerful Lord there ever has been or ever will be. So speaks Shaithis of the Wamphyri. So let it be!'
The echoes of his cry, his cursing and his vow died away, and for a long time Shaithis stood there alone with his dark Wamphyri thoughts...
Ten days later:
At Perchorsk, Chingiz Khuz paraded, inspected and briefed his troops, 'Khuv's Kommandos', as he had named them: a platoon of top-quality infantrymen from the famous Moskva Volunteers. Thirty armed men and machines, specially uniformed (or painted) in the colours of their task: black combat suits with white discs on the upper arms, plus the usual badges of rank with the hammer and sickle sigil blazoned over. Their vehicles -five light-weight, jeep-like trucks and trailers, plus three outrider motorcycles, all for the moment waiting in the Projekt's loading! unloading bays - were likewise black, marked on their doors and panniers with the white disc of the Gate. They bore no number plates, carried no documentation. No requirement for such encumbrances where they were going.
For the next ten days these men would sleep in a converted Projekt warehouse here 'on the premises'; they'd be briefed, given all available details of what they could expect, shown films of the same, and intensively trained in the use of one-man flame-throwers and three larger, trailer-transported units. Their mission: go into the sphere, through the Gate, and set up a base camp on the other side. They were in short an expeditionary force.
Each man was hand-picked; they left no loved ones behind, had few friends or relatives, were all volunteers as befitted the history and traditions of their parent regiment. And they were as hard as foot-soldiers come.
From the landing at the top of the wooden stairs Viktor Luchov watched Khuv strut, listened to his voice echoing up as he paraded before the platoon on the boards of the Saturn's-rings circumference, saw the goggled faces of the thirty where they stood at ease turning to follow him up and down, up and down, as he delivered his welcoming address.
Welcome - hah!
And would the hostile new world they were invading welcome them, too? - Luchov wondered. With what would it welcome them?
Finally the initial introduction to Perchorsk was over; Khuv handed over to his Sergeant-Major 2I/C; the men were fallen out, told to leave the core in an orderly fashion and return to their billets. They came up the steps single-file, passed Luchov and disappeared through the magmass levels. Khuv himself was the last to leave, and looking ahead up the steps he saw Luchov waiting for him. 'Well,' he said, as he came up the stairs to the landing, 'and what do you think of them?'
'I heard what you said to them.' Luchov's voice was cold, almost distant. 'What difference does it make what I think of them? I know where they're going, and therefore that they're dead men!'
Khuv's dark eyes were bright, less than inscrutable. There was a fever in them, which while it told of excitement refused to hint at the source. So perhaps they were inscrutable after all. 'No,' he shook his head, 'they'll survive. They are the best. Men of steel against entirely flesh-and-blood monsters. Self-supporting, working as a perfectly co-ordinated team, equipped with the best personal weapons we can given them... they'll do much better than just survive. Against the primitives we know exist through there - ' he glanced down on the shining Gate, ' - they'll appear as supermen! They're a bridgehead, Direktor, into a new world. Oh, a military bridgehead, I agree - but that's only temporary. One day soon,' (and here his eyes narrowed a little, Luchov thought) 'you, too, shall visit that other world, when they've made it safe for you. And who can say what resources will be found there? Who knows what wealth, eh? Don't you understand? They'll claim and tame that world for the USSR!'
'Pioneers?' Luchov hardly seemed impressed. They're soldiers, Major, not settlers. Their prime function isn't to farm or explore, it's to kill!'
Again Khuv shook his head. 'No, their prime function is to protect themselves and the Gate. To open it up, keep anything else from breaking through to us. From the time they go in, this Gate becomes literally - one-way. From here to there. That's what I call security.'
'And what about them?' Luchov's voice was colder than ever. 'Do they know they can't come back?'
'No, they don't,' Khuv's response was immediate, 'and they can't be told. You'd better understand that: they can't be told. I have instructions for you on that matter, and on other matters...'
'Instructions for - ' Luchov sucked in air implosively. 'You have instructions for me?'
Khuv was impassive. 'From the very highest authority. The very highest! Where those soldiers are concerned, Direktor, I am in charge.' He produced and handed Luchov a sealed envelope stamped with the Kremlin crest. 'As for not coming back: no, they won't, not immediately. But eventually...'
'Eventually?' Luchov glanced at the envelope, put it away. 'Eventually?' he snorted. 'How long do we need, man? This Gate has been here for over two years - and what have we learned about the world on the other side? Nothing! Except that it's home for ... monsters! We've never even communicated with the other side.'
'That comes first,' said Khuv. 'Field telephones.'
'We know sound travels through the sphere,' said the other, 'and light - both ways! However warped the effect, men can talk and communicate with each other in there. These men will lay a cable as they go. It can be tested after they've travelled no more than a few paces! And if that doesn't work they'll set up temporary semaphore stations. At least we'll get to know what it's like through there. What it's like on the other side.'
Luchov shook his head. 'That still won't get them back,' he said.
'Not yet, not now,' Khuv grated, losing his patience. 'But if there is a way back we'll find it. Even if it means building another Perchorsk!'
Luchov took a pace backwards, was brought up short when the small of his back met the handrail. 'Another Per - ?' His jaw fell open. 'Why, I hadn't even considered - '
'I didn't think you had, Direktor.' Now Khuv grinned, his face a grim, emotionless mask. 'So now consider it. And stop worrying about these men. If you must worry, then worry for yourself, and for your staff. You'll find that in those orders, too. Once the bridgehead is established - you're next!'
Luchov tottered where he stood grasping the rail. He was furious, but shock had made him impotent as Khuv turned away. Then he found his voice, called out: 'But oh how neatly you've escaped the net yourself, eh, Major?'
Khuv paused, slowly turned to face him. He was as pale as Luchov had ever seen him. 'No,' he shook his head, and Luchov saw his Adam's apple working, 'for that, too, is in the orders. You'll be happy to know that in just ten days' time we part company, Viktor. For when they go through, I go with them!'
At the other end of the shaft to the magmass levels, out of sight round the corner, Vasily Agursky had been privy to all their conversation. Now, as Khuv's footsteps sounded on the boards, he turned and ran silently for the upper levels. He wore rubber-soled shoes, moved with the litheness of a cat. No, like a wolf! He loped, and revelled in the strength of his thighs as they effortlessly propelled him. Strong? Even in his youth he'd never known such strength! Nor such passions, desires, hungers...
But for all Agursky's speed and stealth, still Khuv caught a glimpse of him before he could pass out of sight. It was only that, a glimpse, but it caused the KGB Major to frown. On top of all his other worries, now there was this thing with Agursky - whatever it was. Khuv hadn't seen much of him lately, but whenever he had ... he couldn't put his finger on it but something was wrong. And there he went, swift as a deer, head forward, silent as a ghost and just as weird.
Khuv shook his head and wondered what was ailing the strange little scientist. Wondered what had got into him ...
The next morning, early, Khuv jerked awake to the clamour of alarms. In the moment of waking his heart almost stopped - tried to tear itself free and leap up into his throat - until he realized that these were only the general alert alarms, not Luchov's damned failsafe. Thank God - whom Khuv didn't really have any faith in, anyway -for that!
A moment later, as he hurriedly dressed, came the hammering on his door. He opened it to let in the unctuous Paul Savinkov; except that apart from the sweat on his fat, shining, frightened face, there was nothing at all slimy about him now. He smelled now not of grease but fear!
'Major!' he gasped. 'Comrade! My God, my God.r
Khuv shook him. 'What is it, man?' he snarled. 'Here, sit down before you fall down.' He shoved Savinkov into a chair.
The fat esper was trembling, wobbling like a jelly. 'I... I'm sorry,' he said. 'It's just... just...'
Khuv slapped him, backhanded him, deliberately slapped him again. 'Now perhaps you'll tell me what's wrong!' he growled.
The white burn of Khuv's slim fingers came up like long blisters on Savinkov's face. His eyes lost their glaze and he shook his head, as if he was the one who had just woken up and not Khuv. Then - Khuv thought the man was about to burst into tears. If he did, Khuv knew he would hit him right in the teeth! 'Well?' he rasped.
'It's Roborov and Rublev,' Savinkov gasped. 'Dead, both of them!'
'What?' Khuv knew he must be imagining this; it had to be some crazy dream. 'Dead? How, for the love of - ? An accident?' He finished dressing, slipped into his shoes.
'Accident?' Savinkov grinned like an idiot, but his features quickly melted into a sob. 'Oh, no - no, it wasn't an accident. When it happened, their thoughts woke me up. Their thoughts were - awful!'
Thoughts?' Khuv's mind, still not fully awake, sought for an explanation. Of course: Savinkov was a telepath. 'What about their thoughts?' -v
'Something... something was attacking them. In Roborov's room. I think they'd been playing cards, gambling, and that Roborov was a heavy loser. He'd been to the toilet. When he came out... Rublev was nearly dead! Something had him by the throat! Roborov tried to pull it off, and ... it turned on him! Oh, God - 1 felt him die! Huh... huh... he...'
'Go on, man!' Khuv gasped.
'He grabbed the thing and turned it around, and he saw it. He was thinking: "I don't believe this! Oh, mother, help me! Sweet God, you know I've always loved you! Don't let this happen!"'
'Those were his thoughts?'
'Yes,' Savinkov sobbed. 'The rest of it was just background stuff, but it was Roborov's thoughts that really woke me up. And as he died - I saw it too.r
'What did you see?' Khuv took Savinkov's face between the flats of his palms.
'God, I don't know! It wasn't human - or maybe it was? It was a nightmare. It was ... its shape was all wrong! It was like... like that thing in the glass tank!'
Khuv's blood ran cold. He gulped air into his lungs, released Savinkov's face. He grabbed his lapels and dragged him to his feet. 'Take me there,' he snapped. 'Roborov's room? I know it. Were you there? No? Then who is there? You don't know? Fool! Well, we're going there right now!'
On their way, the alarms stopped clamouring. 'Well, let's be thankful for that, anyway,' Khuv grunted. He jostled Savinkov ahead of him. 'At least I can hear myself think! Now, are you sure you can't remember who you told? I mean, did you simply forget all the procedures and come running straight to me? God, but if this is a wild-goose chase I'll -!'
But it wasn't.
Outside the door of Roborov's room a sleepy, nervous soldier stood on guard. He saluted sloppily as Khuv and Savinkov came into view. They rushed by him. Inside were two more espers, and a KGB man named Gustav Litve. All were whey-faced, shaken to their roots. Crumpled on the floor, there lay the reason. Or reasons.
Nikolai Rublev could be Savinkov's twin! thought Khuv, grimacing at what he saw. They were, or had been, much of a kind. But now there were differences, the main one being that Savinkov was still alive. And he was also intact.
Whatever it was that had killed Rublev, it had taken half his face from him. The fleshy part of the left side of his face was missing, flensed from the bone, from his ear to his nose and down to his chin. But it wasn't the work of a scalpel or knife. The flesh had been ripped off. In addition his throat was torn - torn, as by an animal - with the main arteries severed and exposed. Khuv thought: where's all the blood?
Perhaps he'd said something out loud, for his underling Litve said: 'Sir?'
'Eh?' Khuv looked up. 'Oh, nothing. Fetch Vasily Agursky, will you, Gustav? Bring him here. I want to know what kind of an animal could do this, and he might be able to tell me.'
Litve gratefully made for the door, called back: 'The other's not much better, sir.'
'Other?' Khuv's mind still wasn't on business.
Khuv realized he'd been wandering. To make up for it he snapped, 'He was your colleague, wasn't he?'
'Was, sir, yes,' Litve answered. He went out.
Behind an overturned table, amidst a litter of bloodied paper money and cards, lay 'the other', Andrei Roborov. The two espers were standing looking down on him. Khuv shoved them aside, took a look for himself. Roborov's face was a mask of sheer horror. His dead eyes bulged; his jaws gaped in a frozen rictus of terror; his tongue projected, blue and glistening. Mainly cadaverous in life, he was totally grotesque in death. His thin head from the ears up looked like it had been trapped in a toothed vise and crushed. The skull had caved in, and blood and brain fluid seeped from the cracks and the deep punctures of... teeth marks?
'Good Lord!' said Khuv; to which one of the espers added:
'Something bit his head like it was a plum! Major, look at his arms.'
Khuv looked. Both arms were broken at the elbows, bent back on themselves until the bones had parted at the sockets. Whatever it was, it had found a simple and effective way of stopping Roborov from fighting back.
Khuv shook his head, felt his gorge rising. He could almost feel the pulse of the Projekt quickening as morning came and the place started to wake up. There was a faint throbbing underfoot, like the heart of a great beast. And within the beast, a lesser beast: the one that had done this. Or perhaps, a greater beast? What sort of beast? Not human, surely. But if not human...
There was a telephone out in the corridor. Khuv ran to it and called the Duty Officer at Failsafe Concen. He didn't let the man speak but rasped: 'Have you been sleeping? Have you been asleep on duty?'
'Who is this?' came a wide-awake, alert voice from the other end. Khuv recognized the voice: a senior scientist on Luchov's team. A very responsible person.
'This is Major Khuv,' he lowered his voice. 'It seems we may have an intruder. Certainly we have a murderer in the place.'
'An intruder?' the voice on the other end hardened. 'Where are you, Major?'
'I'm in the corridor close to KGB quarters. Why?'
'Do you mean an intruder from outside, or from the Gate?'
'Well, obviously that's why I'm on the phone!' Khuv snapped. 'To find out!'
Now the other came back just as venomously: 'In which case it should also be obvious that your intruder is from outside! If it was anything else - by now you'd be burning, Khuv!'
'Listen, I've got the screens right here in front of me. Everything is normal down there, except they're all a bit nervous because of those bloody alarms. Nothing, repeat nothing, has come through that Gate!'
Khuv slammed the phone down. He stood glaring at it. Something was loose in here. Maybe it had been let loose in here. By whom? British E-Branch?
He ran back into Roborov's room, told the two espers: 'Out, leave all this. If you come up with something let me know. But until then leave this to my investigators.'
Savinkov was making himself as small and insignificant as he could in a corner. 'You,' Khuv said. 'There are three more KGB men stinking in their beds just down the corridor, a stone's throw from the scene of a double murder. Go wake the idle bastards up. Wake them all up! Tell them I want them here, now.'
Khuv ushered the espers out into the corridor and closed Roborov's door. Viktor Luchov had just arrived, looked bewildered, only half-awake. 'Don't go in there,' Khuv warned him, shaking his head. Luchov took one look at the KGB officer's face and was sensible enough to take heed.
'But what's happened?'
'Murder - at least I think so.'
'But don't you know?' Luchov gaped.
'I know two people are dead, and if their killer is human, then it's murder.'
Luchov was waking up quickly. 'Is it that bad? Have you checked with Fail - '
'Yes,' Khuv cut him short. To both questions.'
'No buts,' Khuv interrupted again. 'If it's something from the Gate, then it's invisible.'
At that moment Litve returned with Agursky. Khuv's eyes went straight to the tiny scientist. Except... Agursky hardly seemed that small any more. He slumped a little, yes, but if he were to stand up straight...
Agursky had on his night things with a dressing-gown thrown over them. And he was wearing dark spectacles. 'Something wrong with your eyes?' Khuv frowned.
'Eh?' Agursky squinted, peered at the Major through tinted lenses. 'Oh, yes. It comes on now and then. Photophobia. It's with being down here, out of the natural light. All this artificial lighting.'
Khuv nodded. He had more than enough with which to concern himself without worrying about Agursky's weird-ness. 'In there,' he nodded, indicating the door to Roborov's room. 'Two dead men.'
Agursky seemed hardly concerned. He opened the door, made to go in. Khuv caught his arm, felt the tension in him. Strange, because it hadn't shown in his movements or his mannerisms. 'I want you to tell me what killed them, if you can. Give me some sort of idea, anyway. Gustav, go in there with him.'
While they were inside the room, Khuv told Luchov all he knew. Impossible to work if the Projekt Direktor was going to be prying into everything. Better to put him firmly in the picture right now, from square one. By the time he was through, Litve and Agursky had come back out of the room. Litve was still very pale; Agursky seemed his usual self.
'Any ideas?' Khuv asked him.
The other shook his head, averted his eyes. 'Something terrifically strong. Immensely strong. A beast, certainly.'
'Beast?' Luchov blurted.
Agursky glanced at him. 'In a way of speaking, Direktor, yes. A human beast. A murderer. But as I said, a very large, very strong man.'
Khuv said: 'And the teeth marks in Roborov's skull?'
'No,' Agursky shook his head. 'His skull was smashed in with a hammer or something very similar. Yes, something like a small-pane hammer. But wielded with considerable force.'
Remembering that garbage Savinkov had spewed out, Khuv scowled. 'But I have an esper,' he said, 'Paul Savinkov, who says he "saw" the killer. And he says it was something nightmarish!'
Agursky had started to turn away, but now he slowly turned back. 'He saw this happen, you say?'
'In his mind, yes.'
'Ah!' Agursky nodded his understanding. Then he smiled, shrugged half-apologetically. 'Well, my science takes note of physical evidence only, Major. Metaphysics isn't my scene. Will you be requiring me any more? I have many things to do now, and - '
'Only one more thing,' said Khuv. 'Tell me, what did you do with the corpse of the dead creature from the tank?'
'Do with it? I photographed it, studied it to the point of stripping it down to cartilage and bone, finally destroyed, burned it.'
Agursky shrugged again. 'Of course. It was from the Gate, after all. There was nothing else to be learned from it. And... best not to take chances with things like that, don't you agree?'
Luchov patted him on the shoulder. 'Of course, Vasily, of course we do. Thank you very much.'
'If we do want you,' Khuv called after him, 'you'll be hearing from me. But with any luck we won't.' To Luchov he said, 'God, he gives me the creeps!'
"This whole place,' Luchov muttered, 'gives me the creeps!'
As Agursky went off, so Savinkov returned with Khuv's KGB operatives. They'd had civil police training, and since this now appeared to be a case of routine murder...
Khuv scowled at them. They looked ruffled, unshaven. He dressed them down, told them what had happened and what he wanted. They went into Roborov's room. By now Savinkov had disappeared, probably sneaked off before Khuv could find more work for him.
But as Khuv and Luchov made to return to the upper levels, so the telepath came back. He was reeling, sobbing, seemed totally uncoordinated. 'Major - help! I ... I... oh, God!'
Khuv pounced on him, grated: 'What now, Paul?'
'It's Leo!' he gasped.
'Leo Grenzel?' The locator! 'What is it with Leo?'
'I wondered why he hadn't picked up the presence of the intruder,' Savinkov babbled, 'and so I went to his room. The door was ... it was open. I went in, and... and...'
Khuv and Luchov looked at each other. Their expressions were much the same: shock, disbelief, horror! Savinkov's reasoning was faultless, of course: Grenzel, if he was awake and well, should have appeared on the scene long before now.
Leaving Savinkov leaning against the metal wall, sobbing, Khuv and Luchov set off down the corridor at a run.
Khuv called back: 'No alarms, Paul! Only set them off one more time and the entire Projekt will take flight!'
In Grenzel's room it was a repeat of the same story. His spine had been broken, looked bitten through to the marrow and spinal cord. His sharp features seemed even sharper in death, and his huge, bulging eyes an even deeper shade of grey.
What had those esper's eyes of his seen before he died, Khuv wondered? And then he stilled the bobbing of his Adam's apple and staggered out of the room, until he was no longer able to hear Luchov's throwing up into Grenzel's toilet ...
The Dweller's garden was a marvellous place.
It was a miniature valley, a gently hollowed 'pocket' at the rear of a saddle in the mid-western reach of the mountains. In extent the garden was something a little more than three acres in a row, with the length of its rear boundary against the final rise of the saddle, and its frontage where the saddle started to dip toward frowning cliffs. A low wall had been built there, to keep people from moving too close. In between there were small fields or allotments, greenhouses and a scattering of clearwater ponds. One of the ponds swarmed with rainbow trout, while some of the others bubbled with heat from thermal activity deep in the ground; hot springs, in fact.
Because of the abundance of water the place was lush with vegetation, but only a handful of species were unknown to Earth. The rest of the flowers, shrubs, trees in the garden would have been perfectly at home in any English garden. Harry Jnr's mother tended them, when she felt up to it. But usually his Travellers looked after the garden, as they looked after almost everything here.
Harry Jnr's bungalow house was centrally situated, built of white stone with a red tile roof, its front perched over the wide mouth of a well that occasionally gave off streamers of steam. He swam and bathed in the pool regularly. His Travellers (no longer true Travellers, in fact, for they were permanent dwellers here themselves now) inhabited similarly constructed stone houses at the sides of the saddle, where the level ground met rising cliffs. All such homes were centrally heated, with a system of plastic pipes carrying hot water from a deep, gurgling blowhole. They had glass windows, too, and other refinements utterly unheard of before Harry Jnr's time.
The Dweller (as all of his tenants insisted on calling him) had built greenhouses in which to grow an abundance of vegetable produce. Heated and watered from the springs, his crops were amazing. Also, he had found ways round the long, cold, dark sundowns. Plant species which would adapt already had, but others which wouldn't received artificial sunlight. The permanently running water drove his generators (small but incredibly powerful machines such as Harry Snr had never seen or even dreamed of before), which in turn powered ultraviolet lamps in the greenhouses - and electric lights in the houses!
'You've done ... so much!' Harry Keogh told his son, where he walked with him along the edge of a plot shady with sweet corn grown tall. 'All of this is nothing short of... astonishing!'
Harry Jnr had heard much the same thing from Zek Foener, Jazz Simmons, every Traveller who ever made it here; it was a common reaction to things he'd come to take for granted. 'Not really,' he answered. 'Not set against what I'm capable of doing. Chiefly I wanted a place to live, for myself and for my mother. So it had to be made liveable. And what is it really but a strip of fertile soil some two hundred or more yards long by eighty wide, eh? As for the running of the place, the Travellers do that for me.'
'But the buildings,' Harry said, as he'd said it so often during the course of the past sunup. 'Oh, I know they're only bungalows, but they're so, well, beautiful! They're simple but delightful. The great span of their arches, the delicate buttresses, the cut of the roof timbers. They're not Greek, not anything I can put a finger on, just so pleasing. And all built by these... well, by these cave-dwellers of yours!'
The trogs are people, father,' Harry Jnr smiled. 'But the Wamphyri never gave them a chance to develop, that's all. They're no more primitive than your Australian bushmen, all considered. But on the other hand they're eager to learn. Show them a principle or a system and they catch on quick. Also, they're grateful. Their old gods didn't treat them too well, and I do. As for the architecture which so impresses you: well, that surprises me. Surely you realize that I'm not the designer? I got all this from a Berliner who died back in 1933. A Bauhaus student who never did make it when he was alive, but he's designed some beautiful stuff since then. I'm a Necroscope, like you, remember? All of the very simple, very efficient systems you see in use here were given to me by the dead of your own world! Don't you realize how far you could have gone, the things you could have done, if you hadn't spent the last eight years of your life tracking me?'
Harry shook his head, still a little dazed by what his son had shown him, by what he'd been told. 'See,' he finally said, perhaps a little desperately, 'that's another thing. Eight years, you said. Now, in my mind you're a boy, an eight-year-old boy. In fact I've prided myself in picturing you that way, in imagining what you'd be like. It would have been far easier to think of you as a baby, which is how I remember you. But I made myself see you as you'd be now - or as I thought you'd be. And... and just look how you are! I still can't get over it.' He shook his head again.
'I've explained that.'
'What, how you tricked me?' Harry didn't try to disguise the bitterness in his tone. 'How you not only crossed the divide between universes but displaced yourself in time, too? You went back in time! Long before you were born, and long before I lost you, while I was growing up you were growing up too - here! Just exactly how old are you, anyway?'
'I'm twenty-four, Harry.'
Harry nodded, sharply. 'Your mother's now fifteen years my senior! Not that she'd recognize me, anyway. And... and you have looked after her. That was always one of my biggest worries: that she be looked after. But through all of those years I didn't know! Couldn't you have let me know, just once?'
'And prolong the agony, Harry? So that you'd always be there, just one step behind us?'
Harry grimaced, turned away. 'I noticed you've skipped the "father" bit, too. You're a man, not the boy I expected. You wear that damned golden mask, so that I can't even see your face. You're ... a stranger! Yes, we're like strangers. Well, I suppose that's the way it had to be. I mean, we're hardly father and son, are we? Let's face it, I'm not all that much older than you, now am I?'
Harry Jnr sighed. 'I know I've hurt you. I knew it all the time you were chasing me.'
'But you kept running?'
'I might have come back, but... oh, there were a lot of things. Mother wasn't improving; there were good places I could take her, where she'd be happy; many reasons for not coming back. One day you'll understand.'
Harry felt something of his son's sadness. Yes, there was a sadness in him. He nodded again, but not so sharply now. For long moments he wrestled with his emotions. In the end blood won. 'Anyway,' he relaxed, took a deep breath, somehow managed to grin, 'just how did you do it?'
Harry Jnr had felt the tension go out of his father, knew he'd been forgiven. He, too, relaxed. 'Time-travel, you mean? But you did it too, and long before me - relatively speaking.'
'I was immaterial - literally. I was incorporeal, al! aura. You're flesh and blood. Mobius reckons it can't be done. It would create too many irresolvable paradoxes.'
'He's right,' Harry Jnr nodded. 'In the purely physical sense - in any entirely physical universe - it can't be done.'
Are you telling me there are other sorts of universe?'
'You know of at least one.'
Harry felt he'd had this conversation before. 'The Mobius Continuum? But we've already agreed that - '
'Harry,' his son cut in, 'I'll tell you. You took the universe you knew and gave it a Mobius half-twist. You did to space-time what your mentor had done to a strip of paper. And the ability to do that came down to me. But let's face it, you always knew I'd go one better than that. Well, I did. I took the Mobius Continuum itself and did to it what Felix Klein did to his bottle! That allowed me to break the time barrier and retain a physical identity, and come through to this place. But you know, this is only one place...'
Harry said nothing, just stood very still and absorbed what his son had said. There were more places, more worlds, an infinite number. Just as space and time were limitless, so were the spaces in between space and time.
Now Harry knew what Darcy Clarke had meant when he said he felt like he stood in the presence of an alien. Harry Jnr was that far ahead! Or was he?
'Son - ' said Harry eventually, ' - tell me: are you still vulnerable?'
'Can you be hurt - physically?'
'Oh, yes,' Harry Jnr answered, and he sighed again. 'I'm vulnerable, and never more so than now. In about one hundred hours it will be sundown again. And that's when I'll discover just how vulnerable I am.'
Harry frowned. 'Do you want to explain?'
'Just like the Wamphyri have their spies, so I have mine. And I get ... a feel for what the opposition is up to. This place has been under observation for months, close scrutiny. Bats on high; trogs down below, on the plain; even Wamphyri mentalists trying to wriggle into my mind - as they've doubtless got into the minds of my Travellers. All of which corroborates things that Zek Foener has already told me. But what reads can be read, you know? What observes can be observed.'
'An attack?' his father frowned. 'But you told me they'd tried that before, with no success. So what's different now?'
"This time they're united,' Harry Jnr answered. This time they'll all come! Their combined army will be massive. Three dozen warriors; countless trogs; all the Lords and their lieutenants. Shaithis has stirred them up.'
'But... you can get out of it,' Harry was bewildered, saw no real problem. 'You know the way - all of the ways! We can all be long gone from here.'
Harry Jnr smiled a sad smile. 'No,' he shook his head. 'You can, and the others, the Travellers and trogs -whoever wants to go. But I can't. This is my place.'
'You'll defend it?' Harry shook his head. 'I don't understand.'
'But you will, father. You will...'