- 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
Beyond the Gate
'I'm saying that, against my better judgement, I'm giving you your life,' Jazz told him. 'See, I'm not the sort of murderous lunatic that you appear to be. Yesterday, in my cell - if I'd had you then in this position - things might be different. And your own fault because you worked me up to it. But I'm damned if I can kill you here and now.'
Vyotsky tried to sneer, managed only a wince. 'Lily-livered chickenshit son of a - ' He jerked himself to his feet.
Jazz lowered his own SMG and put a single round between Vyotsky's feet. It whupped where it ricochetted off the ground. 'Sticks and stones,' he reminded, 'can't hurt my bones, but names can certainly do yours a hell of a lot of damage!' He got on the bike and kicked it into life.
'You're leaving me here, without my gun?' Vyotsky was suddenly alarmed. 'Then you might as well kill me after all!'
'You'll find your gun waiting for you when you come through the Gate,' Jazz told him. 'But remember this: if I ever catch you on my trail again, it'll be a story with a different ending. I don't know how big that world is up front, but from here at least it looks big enough for the two of us. It's your decision. So that's all from me, Comrade. Here's hoping I won't be seeing you.'
He put the bike in gear and rolled forward past Vyotsky, upped the gear and picked up a little speed, looked back once, briefly. The big Russian was watching him go. It was hard to say what sort of an expression he was wearing. Jazz sighed, climbed through the remaining gears and headed for the sunlit scene ahead. But in the back of his mind something kept telling him he'd made a bad mistake...
Another mistake was this: failing to recognize where the Gate ended and the strange world beyond it began!
Jazz had been riding only three or four minutes, had kept his speed even at maybe twenty, twenty-five miles per hour, when without warning he breached the sphere's outer skin. For it was a sphere on this side, too, he realized as he tumbled in mid-air. The trouble was that on this side the sphere seemed parked in the throat of what looked like a crater, and the crater's rim was three feet higher than the surrounding terrain.
The bike fell, Jazz too, managing somehow to kick himself free of the rotating machine, and both of them collided jarringly with hard earth and scattered rocks. Winded, Jazz lay there for a moment and let his senses stop reeling. Then he sat up and looked all about. And then he knew how lucky he'd been.
The dazzling white sphere was perhaps thirty feet across, and all around its perimeter, penetrating the earth and the crater walls alike to a radius of maybe seventy feet, magmass wormholes gaped everywhere. Jazz had landed between two such holes, and he knew it was only a matter of good fortune that he'd not been pitched headlong down the throat of either one of them. Their walls were glass smooth and very nearly perpendicular, and their depth entirely conjectural; once in, it would be one hell of a job to climb out again.
Jazz glanced at the sphere, turned his face away before the dazzle blinded him. A giant, illuminated golf ball plopped down in wet mortar and left to dry out. That's what it looked like. 'But who in hell drove it here?' Jazz muttered to himself. 'And why didn't he shout "fore"?'
He stood up and checked himself over, finding only bumps and bruises. Then (and despite the fact that he felt almost compelled to stand still and simply gape at the weird world he'd entered) he went to the bike and examined it for damage. Its front forks were badly twisted and the wheel jammed immovably between them. If he had a spanner and could get the wheel off, then he might be able to straighten the forks one at a time using brute strength. But... he had no spanner.
So ... what about tools in general?
He released catches on the bike's seat and tilted it back... the tool compartment underneath was empty. Now the machine was doomed to lie here until it rusted. So much for transport...
Now Jazz gave a thought to Karl Vyotsky. The Russian was maybe one-and-a-half to two miles behind him. Forty minutes at the outside, even weighed down with equipment. The last thing Jazz wanted was still to be here when Vyotsky arrived. But he must do one more thing before he moved off.
He had a small pocket radio, a walkie-talkie that Khuv had insisted he bring with him. Now he switched it on and spoke briefly into the mouthpiece: 'Comrade bastard Major Khuv? This is Simmons. I'm through to the other side, and I'm not going to tell you a bloody thing about how I got here or what it's like! How does that grab you?'
No answer, not even static. Or perhaps the very faintest, far-distant hiss and crackle. Nothing that remotely constituted an answer, anyway. Jazz hadn't really expected anything; if the others hadn't been able to get through, why should he be different? But:
'Hello, this is Simmons,' he tried again. 'Anyone out there?' Still nothing. The radio, for all that it weighed only a pound, was now 'dead' weight, useless to him. 'Balls!' he said into the mouthpiece, and pitched it into one of the magmass holes where it slid from view.
And now... now it was time to take a deep breath and really have a good look at where he'd landed.
Jazz was glad then that he'd dealt with things in their correct order of priority. For the fact was he could have just stood and gaped at the world on this side of the Perchorsk Gate for a very, very long time. It was in part familiar and fascinating, in part strange and frightening, but it was all fantastic. The eye was quite baffled by contrasts which might well be compared to a surreal landscape, except that they were all too real.
Jazz dealt first with the familiar things: these were the mountains, the trees, the pass that lay like the void of a missing tooth in stone fangs that reared up from scree bases and forested slopes, through the tree-line to gaunt, vertical buttresses of grey stone that seemed to go up forever. In awe of their grandeur, Jazz was drawn by the mountains away from the sphere maybe a hundred yards, and there he paused and put up a hand to his eyes to guard them from lingering sphere-glare; and he stared at the marching mountains again.
Even if he had not known he was in an alien world, he might have guessed that these were not Earth's mountains. He had skied on the slopes of Earth's mountains, and they had not been like these. Rather than born of some vast geological heaving, they seemed to have been weathered into being; and while this could scarcely be called a rare feature in Jazz's own world, still he had never imagined it on a scale such as this. An incredible feat even for an alien Nature: to have sculpted a fortress range of planet-spanning mountains right out of the virgin rock! So high, jagged, sheer and dramatically awesome -why, only take away the trees under the timber-line, and these could well be the mountains of the moon!
The mighty range ran (Jazz glanced at his compass, which appeared to be working again) east to west, in both directions as far as the eye could see. Its peaks marched away to far horizons and merged with them, passing into purple, indigo and velvet distances and disappearing at the very rim of the world. And apart from this pass, where in ages past the mountains had cracked open, their march seemed entirely unbroken.
Now, with the sphere behind him, Jazz stared at the 'sun' - or what he could see of it. Those weak beams he had seen when he was passing through the Gate, which came from the right of the picture to give light to this land, had been filtered through the pass from the rim of the distant sun. But that was all it was, a rim.
There at the other side of the pass, a blister of red light was rising (or setting, perhaps? For there'd been no enlargement of it while Jazz had been here) and shooting its feeble rays through the wall of the mountains. But it was the sun, or a sun, however weakly it shone; its light felt good on Jazz's face and hands where he shielded his wondering eyes. As for what lay beyond the mountains on that far, as yet unseen sunlit side: impossible to tell. But on this side...
To the west there was only the wooded flank of the mountain range, and at the foot of the range a plain stretching northwards, turning blue then dark blue into the apparently featureless distance. Directly to the north, to the far north beyond the dome of the sphere, all was darkness, where stars glittered in unknown constellations like diamonds in the vaulted jet of the skies. And under those stars, dimly reflective and reflecting too the far-flung beams of the blister-sun, the surface of what might be a sullen ocean, or more likely a sheet of glacial ice.
A chill wind was now blowing from the north, which was gradually eating its way through Jazz's clothing to his bones. He shivered and knew that 'north' was a very inhospitable place. And instinctively he began to pick his way across the plain of rocks and boulders toward the pass in the mountains.
But... this was strange. If the mountains ran east and west, and the - icelands? - were north, then the sun was due south. And still that blister of light and warmth hadn't moved. A sun lying far to the south, apparently motionless there? Jazz shook his head in puzzlement.
And now, finally he paused to let his gaze turn eastward, which was where anything real or vaguely familiar came to an abrupt end and the unreal or at best surreal took over. For if Jazz had wondered at the seismic or corrosive forces of nature which had created the mountains, what was he to make of the spindly towers of mist-wreathed rock standing to the east: fantastically carven, mile-high aeries that soared like alien sky-scrapers up from the boulder plain in the shadow of the rearing mountains? All the time he'd been here, Jazz had been aware of these structures, and yet he'd managed to keep his eyes averted; another sign, perhaps, that his choice of direction - the pass, and through the pass - was a good one.
Possibly these columns or stacks had been fretted from the mountains, to be left standing there like weird, frozen sentinels as the mountains themselves melted from around them. Certainly they were a 'natural' feature, for it was impossible to conceive of any creatures aspiring or even requiring to build them. And yet at the same time there was that about them which hinted of more than nature's handiwork. Especially in the towers and turrets and flying buttresses of their crowns, which looked for all the world like... castles?
But no, that could only be his imagination at work, his need to people this place with creatures like himself. It was a trick of the spectral light, a mirage of the twining mists which wreathed those great menhirs, a visual and mental distortion conjured of distance and dreams. Men had not built these megaliths. Or if they had, then they were not men as Michael J. Simmons understood them.
So ... what sort of men? Wamphyri? Flight of fancy it might well be, but again, in his mind's eye, Jazz saw the warrior burning on the walkway, and heard his voice raised in savage pride and defiance: 'Wamphyri.r
Mile-high castles: the aeries of the Wamphyri! Jazz gave a snort of grim amusement at his own imaginings, but ... the idea had taken hold of his mind and for the moment was fixed there.
Suddenly a mood was on him; he felt as lonely - more lonely - than he'd ever felt in his life. And the thought struck him anew that he was alone, and totally friendless in a world whose denizens...... What denizens? Animals? Jazz hadn't seen a one!
He looked at the sky. No birds flew there, not even a lone kite on the lookout for an evening meal. Was it evening? It felt like it. Indeed it felt like the evening not only of a place but of an entire world. A world where it was always evening? With the sun so low in the sky, that was possible. On this side of the mountains, anyway. And on the other side... morning? Always morning?
Reverie had taken hold, out of phase with Jazz's character, from which he must forcibly free himself. He gave a sigh, shook himself, set out with more purpose toward the opening of the pass and the blister-sun beyond it. The pass didn't lie level but climbed toward the crest of a saddle; and so Jazz, too, must climb. He found the extra effort strangely exhilarating; also, it kept him warm and was something he could concentrate on. Along the way grew coarse grasses and stunted shrubs, even the occasional pine, and above the scree the steep slopes were dense with tall trees. Just here the place was so like parts of the world he knew that... but it wasn't the world he knew. It was alien, and he'd had proof enough that it housed creatures whose natures were lethal.
Twenty-five minutes or so later, pausing to lean against a great boulder, Jazz turned and looked back.
The sphere was now a little less than two miles behind and below him, and he had actually entered the mouth of the 'V where it lay like a slash through the mountain range. But back there on the rock-littered plain ... the sphere was like a brilliant egg half-buried in its magmass nest. And a dark speck moved like a microbe against its glare. It could only be Vyotsky. A moment more - and Jazz nodded sourly. Oh, yes, that was Vyotsky all right!
The crack of a single ringing shot came echoing up to Jazz, bouncing itself from wall to wall of the pass. The Russian had found his gun where Jazz had left it for him; now he was telling this alien world that he was here. 'So look out!' he was saying. 'A man is here, and one to be reckoned with! If you know what's good for you, don't try fooling around with Karl Vyotsky!' Like a superstitious peasant whistling in the dark. Or maybe he was just saying: 'Simmons, it's not over yet. This is just to warn you: keep looking back!'
And Jazz promised himself that he would...
Down beside the sphere, Vyotsky quit cursing, laid aside his gun and turned to the bike. He saw the seat laid back on its hinges and his face twisted into a grin. Tucked loosely into a pocket of one of his packs he had a small bag of tools. It was the last thing they'd given him on the other side, and he'd been in such a hurry that he hadn't stored his tools away under the seat. Then the sneering grin slid from his face and he breathed a sigh of relief. He'd not once thought of those tools since Simmons took the bike off him. If he had, then for sure he'd have thrown them away somewhere in the last couple of miles.
Now he unhooked a small kidney-pack from his back harness, got the tools out and loosened the front wheel. He stood on one of the forks with his foot wedged under the wheel, bent his back and hauled on the other fork one-handed until he could feel it giving, then slid the wheel free. Now it was only a question of straightening the forks. He picked up the front end of the bike, half-dragged, half-wheeled it over to a pair of large boulders where they leaned together. If he could jam the twisted forks into the gap between the boulders, and apply the right amount of leverage in the right direction...
He upended the bike and got the forks in position, began to exert leverage - and froze! He stopped panting from his exertions, stopped breathing, too. What the hell was that? Vyotsky raced for his gun, grabbed it up and cocked it, looked wildly all about. No one. Nothing. But he'd heard something. He could have sworn he'd heard something. He went warily back to the bike, and -
There it was again! The big Russian's skin prickled, broke out in gooseflesh. Now what - ? A tiny voice? A tinny, metallic calling? A cry for help? He listened hard, and yet again he heard the sound. But it wasn't a whisper, just a tiny, distant voice. A human voice - and it came from one of the magmass wormholes!
That wasn't all - Vyotsky recognized the voice. Zek Foener's voice, breathless and yet full of desperate hope, eager to communicate with someone, with anyone human in this entirely alien world.
He flung himself face-down beside the wormhole, peered over its rim. The smooth shaft was perfectly circular, about three feet in diameter, curving sharply inward toward the buried base of the sphere and so out of sight. But just where the shaft disappeared from view... there lay a small radio like the one Vyotsky carried in his own pocket! Obviously it had been Simmons's, and he'd discarded it. Every time Foener's voice came, so a little red monitor light flickered on and off on the control panel. It warned of reception, that light; it advised its operator to turn up the volume.
'Hello?' Zek Foener's voice came again. 'Hello? Oh, please answer! Is anyone there? I heard you speaking but ... I was asleep! I thought I was dreaming! Please, please - if there's anyone out there - please say again who you are? And where you are? Hello? Hello?'
'Zek Foener!' Vyotsky breathed, licking his lips as he pictured her. Ah, but a different woman now from the acid-tongued bitch who'd spurned his advances at Perchorsk! This world had seen to that. It had changed her. Now she craved companionship. Any sort!
Vyotsky took out his own radio, switched it on and yanked up the aerial. There were only two channels. He systematically transmitted on both of them, and this was his message:
'Zek Foener, this is Karl Vyotsky. I'm sure you'll remember me. We've discovered a way to neutralize the one-way drag effect of the Gate. I've been sent to seek out any survivors of through-Gate experiments and bring them back. Find me, Zek, and you find your way out of here. Do you hear me?'
As he finished speaking, so the red light on his set began to flicker and blink. She was answering, but he couldn't hear her. He turned up the volume and got broken, crackling static. He shook the set, glared at it. Its plastic casing was cracked, and the miniature control panel in the top was badly dented. It must have got damaged when he was flung from the bike. Also, its proximity to Simmons's discarded radio was jamming reception on that set, too.
'Shit!' he hissed from between clenched teeth.
He set the broken radio aside and lowered his head, one arm and shoulder into the wormhole. He gripped its rim with his free hand and hooked one foot round a knob of rock. And he stretched himself down and around, inching his fingers toward Simmons's radio. Its antenna was fully extended, formed a slender, flexible half-hoop of telescoping metal sections where it had somehow jammed against the sides of the shaft to halt the radio's descent. Vyotsky's straining fingers touched the antenna - dislodged it!
The set went clattering out of sight into unknown depths below.
Vyotsky snatched himself viciously up and out of the hole and jumped to his feet. Of all the bloody luck! He picked up his own set again, said: 'Zek, I can't hear you. I know you're out there and you can probably hear me, but I can't hear you. If you get my message you'll most likely want to start looking for me. Right now I'm at the sphere but I won't be staying here. Anyway, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for you, Zek. It looks like I'm your one hope. How's that for a novel situation?'
The red light on his set started flickering again, a brief, unintelligible morse message that wasn't intended to be understood. He couldn't tell if she was pleading with him or screaming her defiance. But sooner or later she would have to search him out. He'd been lying when he said he was her one chance, but of course she couldn't know that. She might suspect it, but still she couldn't afford to ignore him.
Vyotsky grinned, however nervously. At least there was one thing in this damned world he could appreciate. And would appreciate. Still grinning, he switched his radio off ... ,
- 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