- 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
The Last Warrior - The Horror at Perchorsk!
These were Khuv's thoughts as he marched the steel and rubber corridors with his men flanking him. One of them was armed with a machine-gun, the other had a flame-thrower. Khuv himself carried only his issue automatic, but the safety-catch was off where it sat snug in its holster.
Eight days, Khuv thought. Eight days of sheer hell! Tomorrow he had no official duties and could rest, but the day after that... that was when he and his platoon were scheduled to be on their way, through the Gate. That in itself - the preparations, worrying about what was waiting in there and on the other side - would be troubles enough; but of course in the thirty-six hours between times there would also be the small matter of staying alive!
The Perchorsk Projekt had always been claustrophobic: its magmass levels had been eerie, frightening places ever since the accident which spawned them, and there was always the fear of further nightmare incursions from the Gate; but at least the creeping horror of the magmass was a familiar one, and the dangers of the Gate were known and appreciated. Now, however, the entirely unknown had entered into it, and someone or something was loose in the Projekt which struck and disappeared without trace, and which so far seemed quite invulnerable. It wasn't simply a case of stopping it, first it had to be found. For since the night of the triple murder... well, things had only got worse.
Now, to any outsider entering Perchorsk for the first time, it would seem a place of total madness. The main exit was guarded day and night by half a dozen men with a variety of weapons; people no longer moved about singly but in pairs or even threes; every face wore a strained look, with eyes hollow and bloodshot, their gaunt owners given to violent starts at every smallest unaccustomed sound. A terror had settled on Perchorsk, and there seemed no way to break its hold.
It had started with the deaths of the KGB men Rublev and Roborov, and the psychic locator Leo Grenzel; God alone knew where it would end. Khuv thought back on the string of murders since those first three:
A lab technician had been next, during a late-night power failure as he was clearing up in his lab. Something had entered in the darkness, crushing his windpipe to a pulp and crumpling his face and forehead with what must have been a single terrific blow. It had looked as though a giant bulldog grip had been allowed to snap shut on his face and the front of his head. Agursky had given his opinion that it was the work of a maniac with a tool of some sort, possibly a portable power-vise from the workshops.
Next had been a pair of soldiers going off duty, leaving the core and passing through the magmass levels, where they'd encountered something which they shot at. The shots had been heard, of course, and the bodies of the two eventually discovered. Their throats had been torn out and they'd been stuffed into one of the magmass holes. An examination had shown that under the massive bruising many bones had been broken, and the spinal columns dislocated.
Then, the night before last, one of Khuv's remaining four KGB men had gone missing and still hadn't been found; and just three hours ago...
That one was one of the worst. The body of Klara Orlova, a theoretical physicist working closely with Luchov's team of scientists, had been discovered in one of the ventilation shafts dangling upside-down from the pulley cables. Her throat, too, had been ripped out. And as with many of the other cases, there hadn't seemed to be very much blood around.
Khuv had barely arrived at the scene of that one when he was called on the double to the telepath Paul Savin-kov's room. The door, a light-weight timber frame with a thin metal skin, had a fist-sized hole in it and was hanging half-wrenched from its hinges. Inside was Savinkov, crumpled in a corner like a discarded doll and hideously broken. Although the snapping of his bones must have sounded out like a series of gunshots, apparently no one had heard a thing.
But at least this time it was seen how the murderer was wily as well as immensely strong and brutal. The cable to Savinkov's telephone had been cut outside his room in the corridor. The killer had been taking no chances that he might try to summon help. Which seemed to prove Vasily Agursky's theory: the murders were the work of a powerful, cunning madman, or at least a human being.
By then, however, it had been time for Khuv to prepare himself for his duty at Failsafe Control. He'd left Gustav Litve in charge of the new cases and gone to change into clothes suitable for the long shift ahead. And now that shift was about to commence.
Approaching Failsafe Control, Khuv and his men heard footsteps behind them, turned on their heels to see Gustav Litve coming at a run. White-faced, he was thrusting a sheet of paper before him, waving it at Khuv. 'Comrade Major,' he gasped, drawing close. 'This is it! I found it stuffed down the back of Savinkov's chair.'
The paper was a little crumpled; Khuv smoothed it against the wall, saw shaky lines written in pencil. They said:
I've been checking all the staff one by one. I would have done it sooner, but Andrei Roborov saw it with his own eyes and what he saw wasn't human. So I thought it must be something from the Gate, something we'd missed. Then I thought: how is it that with all these espers we can't find the intruder? Maybe it was shielding itself psychically; maybe it was hiding behind its own mind-screens! But if it could do that, then I should be able to detect the shields. Grenzel would be proud of me: I found it! He would have done it better, of course - which is why it stopped him! How I did it: I found an area where there were no telepathic readings, where there was powerful psychic interference. It was the mortuary. I checked to be double sure, and found I'd been wrong. But then I got the same sort of reading in the accommodation area - in the scientific section. I narrowed it down. It's Agursky! He keeps the bodies in the mortuary. He must have been in there when I checked the place the first time. And he was in his room when I went there a few minutes ago. I managed to contact his mind - and I think he recognized me! But be sure, he's the thing that Roborov saw! My telephone is out of order. I think there's someone outside. If I listen at the
The note stopped right there. Khuv read it again, his eyes wide, skipping over the words. Something of the meaning of the thing sank in and he felt the short hairs stiffen at the back of his neck. His blood seemed to turn to ice in his veins; but he forced himself to leap toward the heavy metal door of Failsafe Control and hammer on it, yelling:
'Viktor, open up for God's sake!'
Direktor Luchov was on duty. Red-eyed, he came to the door and opened it, was bowled backwards as Khuv burst in. 'What in the name of- ?'
'Read this!' said Khuv, thrusting Savinkov's note at him. 'It's something of a dying declaration. Things are beginning to add up, making a monstrous sort of sense. Savinkov seems to be saying that there's a connection between Vasily Agursky and the thing he kept in that tank of his. I still don't know what it's all about, but I'm damned well going to find out! Now listen, Viktor: get on the phone. Let's have no alarms, for that would only alert him, but I want everyone looking for Agursky. God, I've known there was something weird about him for weeks, ever since... since...'
Luchov stared at him, said: 'Since that time when he had his breakdown? When they found him down there in the thing's room? Poor Vasily, and he always seemed to me such a harmless little man.'
'Well, he's not harmless now!' Khuv snapped. 'Right, we're off to find him. Put the word about: if anyone gets to him first they're to hold him, by any means possible. And if they can't hold him they must kill him - also by any means possible.' He ushered his men out of the room, called over his shoulder: 'Search-parties in threes, Viktor. For God's sake don't let anyone tackle him alone!'
The mortuary was situated off the main perimeter corridor above the magmass levels. In its time it had housed the victims of the Perchorsk Incident, and for a while it had been a cold storehouse, but right now it was a mortuary again. And Agursky was the only one with a key. On their way to the place Khuv and Litve had separated from the other two KGB men; Litve had commandeered one of the Projekt's flame-throwers from its bracket on a wall, and the Major had equipped himself with a snub-nosed sub-machine gun taken from a reluctant soldier. They'd been to Agursky's laboratory and found it locked, with the lighted sign over its door proclaiming it 'vacant'. Likewise Agursky's room, which Khuv had opened with skeleton keys. Agursky could be anywhere in the complex, but they might as well try the mortuary. All of the bodies from the murders were down there, on ice, where Agursky had supposedly been examining them. Word of the manhunt had not got down to the core, and the magmass levels were silent as usual. Khuv and Litve looked down there for a moment - down to where the lights were low and the wormhole-riddled walls moulded into weird shapes - before turning off along the short straight corridor through solid rock to the door of the mortuary. It was locked but it wasn't a security door; Khuv's keys opened it. They swung the door wide and stepped inside, and Litve went to put on the lights. They didn't come on. The light-bulbs had been removed from their fixtures in the low ceiling.
A little light filtered in from the corridor. Khuv and Litve stood just inside the open doorway, glanced at each other, then at the tables against the wall, and at the long narrow boxes on the tables. At the back of the mortuary machinery made a slow, regular breathing sound, sending frigid air circulating. Other than that there was no sound, no motion. The room was a giant refrigerator.
Litve primed his flame-thrower, lit the pilot light. Its blue flicker threw the shadows back a little. 'Major,' Litve said, his voice nervous and echoing, 'there's nowhere he could hide in here. Let's go.'
Khuv tucked his elbows in and shivered. He blew into the palm of his free hand. 'All right,' he said, 'but don't be in such a hurry.' He turned in a slow circle, paused for a moment to watch his breath pluming in the air. Then he relaxed a little. 'OK, we'll make for the - ' and again he paused, listening intently. After a moment: 'Did you hear something?'
Litve listened, shook his head. 'Just the pumps back there.'
Khuv stepped toward the makeshift coffins where they lined the walls. 'While we're here,' he said, 'it might be a good idea to check on what Agursky's been up to. You don't know him quite as well as I do.' He shivered again, but not from the cold. 'He has funny ways with dead bodies, that one.'
With Litve moving up beside him, he looked into the first casket. Klara Orlova had been brought down; white as a 'candle and stark naked she lay there. The gash across her neck, which went from ear to ear, looked like a black velvet choker. On a young girl it would have looked erotic - if one was unaware that in fact it was a fatal wound.
The two men stepped to the next box. The contorted face of a young soldier, still silently screaming, looked up at them. God! Khuv thought. You'd think someone would have closed his eyes!
The next box was empty, and as Khuv moved on Litve quickly crossed the room to where a box stood on its own on a separate table. It had a lid loosely laid on top, which he lifted down. On Khuv's side of the room, the next box contained the second soldier. His face was a raw red mess, completely unrecognizable. Two more boxes to go. Khuv made to move on, and -
Across the room Litve drew breath in a shocked gasp. 'Erich!' he said.
'What?' Khuv strode over to where he stood. Litve seemed frozen in horror; but he was right, the man in the box was the missing KGB agent, Erich Bildarev. He was naked and of course dead; the ribs over his heart were crushed in, as badly as if he'd fallen on a bear trap. Khuv grasped Litve's arm, more for support than any other reason. His breath came faster, making a string of tiny plumes. At last he managed to gasp: That's the last bit of proof we needed. Savinkov was right, Agursky's our man!'
Then, across the room, someone - something - said, 'Ahhh!'
'Jesus, Jesus!' Litve cried out, going into a crouch and whirling to look across the room. Khuv turned with him, his eyes bulging to penetrate the gloom. The last two coffins lay there, their contents as yet uninspected. But even as the two men clung together and stared, so there was movement. A tiny plume of air rose up from the first coffin, and another from the second. And Andrei Roborov and Nikolai Rublev sat up in their boxes and stared back at them!
Their injuries, visible even in the poor light, said that this could not be. But it could be, it was. Rublev's cheek was absent from the left side of his face, so that the left eye gazed from a bony orbit; the cadaverous Roborov's skull dripped pus and brain fluid, which crept like wax down his pallid cheeks. They sat there in their coffins, stared, then smiled - and their upper eye-teeth curved down like fangs over their lower lips!
Khuv tried to gasp, 'Oh God - oh, my God!' but his tongue had stuck to the roof of his mouth. The eyes of the dead men - no, of the corpses, the undead men -were pits of glowing sulphur cratered with blood, and they continued to smile.
'Burn them!' Khuv finally managed to gasp. 'Quickly, man, burn them!'
'Oh?' said a sly, familiar voice from the door. Then you must hope that your flame-thrower is not one of the many which I have emptied!'
They looked that way, saw Vasily Agursky step back out into the corridor and close the door. His key grated in the lock. 'Agursky, wait!' Khuv yelled after him.
'Oh no, Major,' came Agursky's faint answer. 'You've found me out, and so there's no more time for waiting.' His footsteps rapidly faded.
Meanwhile, Roborov and Rublev had climbed out of their coffins. Khuv saw them, ran for the door. Astonished that his legs obeyed him, he hoped his hands would do the same. As he went he took his keys from a pocket, trying to distinguish the right one from its feel.
At the door, fumbling with the bunch of keys, he glanced back. The two dead men (and for the first time Khuv thought of them as vampires) were advancing on Litve, their hands starting to reach for him. Khuv shouted from a sandpaper throat: 'What are you waiting for, you idiot? Burn them! Burn the fucking things!'
Litve came out of his trance, aimed his weapon and squeezed the trigger. Nothing! The flame-thrower hissed but that was all. The pilot-light flickered. 'Jesus.r Litve screamed. He came scrambling, dodged Roborov where he went to grab him.
Khuv had tried half of his keys. In the near-darkness he couldn't make out which was which. He wrenched the ones he'd tried from the key ring and hurled them down. Litve clawed at him, gasping: 'Open the door! For God's sake open the door!' Khuv shoved him away, thrust his remaining keys at him.
'You open it!' he shouted. He cocked his sub-machine gun, turned it toward the vampires where they came almost mincingly forward out of the mortuary's shadows. Roborov's smile was malicious as he said:
'Why, Comrade Major! I do believe that this is the first time I've seen you in a real flap! Has something upset you?'
'Get back,' Khuv shrilly warned.
'Back?' Rublev seemed to mimic him. 'Have we offended in some way, Major? But that's too, too bad...'
They were almost within arm's reach, and still Litve babbled and cursed while he tried to find the right key. Khuv fired, a deafening cacophony of sound in the enclosed space. He squeezed the trigger of his gun and kept it squeezed until the stink of cordite stung his eyes and clawed the back of this throat. Then he released it, and as the fumes cleared saw the two where his sleeting lead had picked them up and hurled them half-way across the room. They lay there moaning, but even as he stared in disbelief they were struggling to rise up again.
Litve gave a sobbing gasp - and the key he was trying turned in the lock. He yanked the door open, stumbled outside. Khuv was right on his heels. As the Major came he stooped to retrieve Litve's discarded weapon. Litve locked the door and both of them leaned on it, Khuv scowling while he checked the flame-thrower over.
'You can tell by its weight that it's loaded,' he said. 'What?' He pointed a shaking finger at the mix-lever on the stock. 'Look! You were giving it too much air and not enough juice. Fool!'
He adjusted the lever, aimed the weapon along the corridor and fired. A jet of flame instantly roared out, white at its core and tapering to a shimmering blue tip. He killed the flame, said: 'Now open that door.'
Litve unlocked the door, kicked it open and stood back. Roborov and Rublev were on their feet, advancing. Behind them, the young soldiers were also out of their boxes. Khuv didn't wait for further developments. He turned all four to shrieking, crackling torches, burned them until they collapsed, melted them to bubbling, crumpled, stinking piles of fused flesh. Then, as Litve once more locked the door, he turned away and fought to retain his control, fought desperately not to be ill.
'Grenzel wasn't in there,' said Litve. That pulled Khuv out of it.
'That's right,' he choked the words out, holding up a hand to his mouth. 'Which means there are two of them on the loose!'
'Where to now?' Litve was in control of himself again; and now that the immediate horror had been dealt with, Khuv's mind got back in gear and began working with its usual efficiency. Perhaps too efficiently. His bottom jaw fell open and he grabbed Litve's arm, then released him and set off down the rock corridor at a run.
'Where to?' he called back. 'Where would you go if you were Agursky, or Grenzel? What would you do?'
'Eh?' Litve came running after him.
'We know what they are,' Khuv cried. 'He knows we'll burn him if we can. He can't let any of us live. There's only one place he can go!'
Of course. Failsafe Control!
- 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