Necroscope III: The Source

Chapter 17


Khuv, Agursky and the others reeled as they entered the room of the thing. In the swirl and reek of the dead, frying creature in the tank, they failed to see that man-shaped space where the smoke rushed in to fill a sudden gap. Harry had made his exit just in time.
Agursky recovered first, leaped across the room and switched off the power. 'Who has done this?' he demanded of no one in particular. 'Who is responsible?' He clapped a hand to his brow, staggered toward the sputtering, smoking tank, where even now shards of glass were beginning to melt in the intense heat. Then, as the smoke began to clear, he saw the creature's blackened remains hanging out through the shattered glass wall; saw, too, something else - something which he didn't want anyone else to see. He ripped off his smock, quickly threw it over the monstrous remains.
Khuv had meanwhile turned to Leo Grenzel, the locator. 'You said he was here, an intruder. Well, someone has certainly been here - though I'm damned if I can see how! The door was locked, and there's a guard outside. Oh, a half-asleep, stupid guard, that's true, but he's not a complete idiot! So...just getting in here would be hard enough if not impossible - but as for getting out...?' Then Khuv grasped Grenzel by the shoulders, stared hard at him. 'Leo? Is there something else?'
Grenzel's face was pale again; his grey eyes were deep as deep space; he swayed where Khuv held him upright. 'Still here,' he finally said. 'He's still here!'
Khuv stared all about the room, as did the others.
Black smoke boiling from the mess under Agursky's smock, and the crackle of cooked, alien flesh starting to cool; but no sign of any intruder. 'Here? Where, here?'
The girl,' Grenzel swayed. The prisoner...'
Taschenka Kirescu?'
'Yes,' Grenzel's nod.
Khuv whirled on Savinkov and Slepak. 'How can this be?' he asked. But already his mind was working; memories of reports he'd read flashed before his mind's eye; it was something from before his time, but weren't the British supposed to have a man who could do this sort of thing? Harry Keogh was said to have been one such, and after him Alec Kyle. Keogh was dead but... but they never had found Kyle's body after the mess at the Chateau Bronnitsy.
'How can it be?' Savinkov repeated his KGB master. 'It can't be!' He was definite. But:
'Oh, it can,' Grenzel's far-away voice contradicted him. 'It is!'
'Quickly!' Khuv rasped. The cells. I want to know what the hell is happening here!'
They ran out of the room, left Grenzel swaying there, his face slack and vacant, but his eyes seeing, seeing. And Agursky, bundling up the dead creature and its dead parasite in his smock, trembling in his eagerness to get it back to his private quarters and away from any threat of inspection by others. For he now knew what had controlled this nameless thing, and he wanted to examine that controller most minutely.
Indeed, to Vasily Agursky there was nothing more important in the entire world but that he examine the thing's parasite - whose egg had been deposited and was even now maturing inside Agursky himself!
Tassi's nightmare - of the key grating in the lock on her cell door, and of Khuv entering, dark-eyed and evil - had kept her awake. It was that sort of nightmare, the sort you suffer when you're awake. It was doubtful if she would have slept anyway; she hadn't since... since the horror Khuv had shown her in the room of the thing. She couldn't sleep, for the face of her father kept smiling at her from the darkness behind her eyelids whenever she closed her eyes; her father's face - on the body of a beast.
She kept her cell light on, and lay warm on her cot but shivering, drained of energy, waiting for Khuv. For her time was up, and she knew he would soon be coming for her. That had been his threat, and Major Chingiz Khuv didn't make idle threats. If only there was something she could tell him, but she didn't know anything. Only that she was the most wretched, unhappiest girl in the world.
When Harry stepped out of the Mobius Continuum, Tassi had just turned on her side, turned her face away from his re-entry point into this universe. A quick glance about the cell told Harry they were alone; he took a single pace to the metal bed, put a hand round Tassi's face and over her mouth, cautioned her in Russian: 'Shhh! Be quiet. Don't shout or do anything stupid. I'm going to get you out of here.'
He kept his hand clamped to her face but let her turn her head to look at him. And with his hand still in place, he helped her to sit up. Then: 'OK?' he asked.
Tassi nodded, but she was trembling in every limb. Her eyes looked like saucers above her nose and the bands of Harry's fingers. He slowly took his hand away, gently urged her to her feet. She looked at the door, then at Harry, said: 'Who? - How? - I don't...'
'It's OK,' Harry put a finger to his lips.
'But how did you get in here? I didn't hear you come. Was I asleep?' Then her hand flew to her mouth. 'Did the Major send you? But I've told him: I don't know anything! Oh, please don't hurt me!'
'No one's going to hurt you, Tassi,' Harry told her. And then he made his mistake: 'Your father sent me.' Seeing her expression, he could have bitten his tongue through.
She shook her head and backed away from him. There were tears in her eyes now. 'My father's dead,' she wept. 'He's dead! He couldn't have sent you...' And accusingly: 'What are you going to do to me?'
'I've told you,' Harry answered, an edge of desperation in his tone, 'I'm going to take you out of this place. Do you hear those alarms?'
She listened, and indeed she could hear the klaxons, sounding from deep down in the heart of the place. 'Well,' Harry continued, 'I'm what those alarms are all about. They're looking for me, and pretty soon they'll be looking in here. So now I'm asking you to trust me.'
What he was saying was impossible. It was either a trick of Khuv's or else this man was insane. No one could get out of this place, Tassi was sure. But on the other hand, how had he got in? 'Do you have keys?' she asked.
Harry could see he was making an impression. 'Keys?' he grinned, however tightly. 'I have an entire door! Lots of doors!'
He was mad, surely. But he was different from the others here, totally different. 'I don't understand,' she said, still backing away. Her legs struck the edge of her bed and she flopped down on it again.
Running footsteps sounded, and the tight grin slipped from Harry's face. 'They're coming,' he said. 'Get up.' The sudden authority in his voice had her on her feet again in a moment.
There was shouting outside, the jangle of keys, Khuv's voice hoarsely commanding: 'Open it! Open it!'
Harry grabbed Tassi by the waist. 'Put your arms round my neck,' he said. 'Quickly, girl. No arguments, now!' She did it. She had no reason to trust him, but she had no reason not to. 'Close your eyes,' he said. 'And keep them closed.' Tightening one arm around her narrow waist, he grunted as he lifted her feet from the floor.
She heard the cell door grating open, then silence - but such absolute silence.
'Wha - ?' she commenced a question she couldn't finish, and shrank from the booming of her own voice. Startled, she opened her eyes for a moment - but only for a moment. Then she snapped them tightly shut again.
'There,' said Harry, and he lowered her feet to a solid floor. 'You can open your eyes now.'
She did, the merest slit... then opened them wide, wider - and sagged against him. Her eyes rolled up and she began to slide down his body.
Harry caught her up, lifted her, laid her on the Duty Officer's desk. Behind his newspaper, the DO had just this moment realized that he had visitors. Then the girl's arm and hand flopped into view under his open newspaper and he reared up and back with an inarticulate cry: 'G-yahhh!'
'It's OK,' said Harry, who was growing accustomed to excusing himself. 'It's only me, and the friend of a friend of mine.'
'Jesus! Jesus! - oh, sweet Jesus!' the DO clutched at his desk for support. Of all people, it was Darcy Clarke. Harry nodded the very briefest of greetings, began to massage the unconscious girl's hands...
It had been 1:15 a.m. when Harry arrived at E-Branch HQ, and it was almost an hour later when he left. In between times he passed on some information, told Clarke all he had learned, and in return received a little information from the other. His instructions for the welfare of Tassi Kirescu were these:
She was to be given refuge, comforted as best the staff of E-Branch knew how, offered permanent political asylum. A Russian interpreter was to be provided for her, and she should be debriefed (but with a great deal of care and sensitivity) with regard to the Perchorsk Projekt. For the present she was to keep a low profile: her presence here in the West should be kept secret, and when she was released it must be with a new identity. Lastly, E-Branch was to use such usual and paranormal means as were required to discover the whereabouts in the USSR of her mother. Harry had made Kazimir Kirescu a promise and it was one he intended to keep - eventually.
As for the information Darcy Clarke had for Harry:
'It's Zek Foener,' he had told the Necroscope.
'Zek? What about her?' The last time Harry had seen Zek was eight years ago. She had been a telepath at the Chateau Bronnitsy, the USSR's equivalent of E-Branch HQ, which had made her an enemy, but a reluctant one. Harry could have destroyed her, but he'd sensed a deep-rooted decency in her, a desire to be free of her KGB masters. All she had wanted was to return to Greece. He had suspected she would. But ... he had warned her not to come up against him again.
'She may be part of this,' Clarke had told him.
'How do you mean? Part of Perchorsk?' Was Zek the one who'd betrayed his presence there? She would have known his mind at once, as soon as he materialized in the place. Of course, there was also Khuv's detachment of espers; they could have picked him up just as easily. For the moment Harry preferred to believe the latter. At least he hoped so.
'Part of Perchorsk, yes. A cog in the wheel of the place. We've kept an eye on her ever since the Bodescu affair.
She was doing time at a forced labour camp; not especially hard stuff, but not pleasant either. Then they sent her to Perchorsk. This was some months ago and we've just had news of it. We can only assume she's working for Soviet E-Branch again. And for the KGB...'
Harry's face soured. 'Again,' he said. 'I warned her not to. Well, if I have to mix it with them again...' He let the threat hang there.
Clarke stared hard at him. 'But isn't it more serious than that, Harry? At the end of the Bodescu affair, Zek Foener was working with Ivan Gerenko - '
'Had been working with him,' Harry cut in, correcting him. 'But she'd quit. I thought so, anyway.'
'But you know what I mean,' Clarke insisted. 'Gerenko had some crazy idea about using vampires. That's why he and Theo Dolgikh - and Zek - went back to that mountain pass east of the Carpathians: to see if, after all those centuries, anything remained of Faethor Ferenczy's buried creatures. Zek knows about vampires! It makes it that much more definite that the Russians have discovered a way to make the damned things, and that they're doing it there at Perchorsk!'
'So you're saying...?'
'Harry, you remember how you dealt with the Chateau Bronnitsy?'
After a moment, Harry had nodded. Oh yes, he remembered it well enough. Using the Mobius Continuum, he'd laid plastic explosive charges there. Gouting, shattering fire and lashing heat, and the Chateau reduced to smouldering rubble. And the Soviet E-Branch reduced along with it, for their sins. In the space of less than a minute, enough sheer destructive savagery to last any man a lifetime. 'I remember,' he had finally answered. 'Except -'
'Darcy, if you're right, well, obviously the place has to go. But not until we're sure one way or the other, and not yet. I have this feeling that the answer to my one big problem is right there. It may be risky - I mean, I know what has escaped from that place, and what could presumably escape from it in future; indeed, I've seen and dealt with an example - but for the moment I can't, daren't, try to close it down. Not if I want to see Brenda and Harry Jnr again.'
For a moment it had seemed that Clarke understood, but then he'd said, 'Harry, it's not just a case of "risky" -it's deadly! Unthinkable! You must see that?'
And then it had been Harry's turn. Coldly he had answered: 'There are a couple of things you have to see, too, Darcy. Like old man Kirescu being dead - his death probably precipitated by your sending Jazz Simmons in there. And that poor girl having lost both her father and her brother. And her mother, probably in a forced labour camp by now, half out of her mind with grief and worry, no doubt. These are things you can't write off, Darcy, and you're certainly not going to write off Brenda and Harry Jnr. So for now we'll continue to play this my way.'
White-faced, Clarke could only agree. 'So ... what's your way going to be? What's your next step, Harry?'
'Well, there are questions I need answered. It looks like I'll have to go right to the top to get them answered.'
The top?'
Harry had nodded. 'The Perchorsk Projekt. If I'm right and it's not about breeding vampires, then what is it about? Someone in that place knows and is going to tell me. There has to be a boss, a controller. Not Khuv but someone above him.'
'Of course there is,' Clarke had answered at once. 'Khuv's in charge of security, that's all. The man you want is Viktor Luchov.' And he'd gone on to fill Harry in on Luchov's background.
When he was done Harry had nodded grimly. Then he's the man I need to talk to. If anyone has the answers, Viktor Luchov has to be the one.'
'When will you try to see him?'
'Now?' Clarke had been taken aback. 'But the place will still be on top alert!'
'I know. I'll create a smoke screen.'
'A what?'
'A diversion. Let me worry about it. You just look after that girl.'
Clarke had nodded, stuck out his hand. 'Best of luck, Harry.'
The Necroscope wasn't one for holding grudges. He shook hands, conjured a Mobius door. Clarke watched him take his departure, thought: I was there once! Pray God he'd never be there again...
Viktor Luchov was back in his own executive quarters (which meant that they were slightly less austere than anyone else's at Perchorsk) and he was furious. Quite apart from this latest incident - this 'intrusion', if such it had been - the Projekt Direktor had chosen the period of the alert to approach and challenge Khuv in respect of certain rumours which were beginning to circulate through the Projekt, rumours alleging brutality and murder. They concerned the KGB officer's prisoners, Kazimir and Taschenka Kirescu.
Perhaps Luchov's approach had been a little too liverish (he had after all been shocked awake in the middle of the night, with klaxons sounding all around like wailing demons out of hell) but that could not excuse Khuv's response, which had been brusque to put it mildly.
Namely, he had told Luchov that he should get off his back and let him attend to the Projekt's security with a minimum of interference. Or better still, with no interference at all. This confrontation had taken place not in private but in the detention area, where Khuv's espers had been crowding one of the cells in their search for something or other. 'Sniffing the ether!' as one of them had put it.
Appalled at the apparent chaos and confusion, Luchov had demanded to see the prisoners, which was when Khuv had rounded on him.
'Listen, Comrade Direktor,' the KGB Major had hissed. 'I would be delighted if I could show you the girl Tassi Kirescu. This was her cell. A little over one hour ago she was here, and a guard on duty in the corridor outside. Then - ' he had thrown up his hands, ' - she was no longer here, and the door still locked! Now, I know you hold E-Branch in small regard, and the KGB in no regard at all, but surely it must be amply apparent even to your oh-so-scientific mind that something quite exceptional - something, indeed, entirely metaphysical - has occurred here? My espers are attempting to discover what that something was. And I, who have no ESP talent of my own, am trying to make sense of what they're telling me. So ... now is not the ideal moment for you to come interfering!'
'You go too far, Major!' Luchov had shouted.
'And I shall go further,' Khuv had shouted back. 'If you do not get out of my way I shall have you escorted back to your quarters and locked in!'
'What? You dare -!!'
'Listen, you damned scientist!' Khuv had then snarled at him. 'In my capacity as the Projekt's security supervisor I dare almost anything! Now I'll tell you one more time: the creature from the Gate is dead, destroyed by some unknown person or thing; the Kirescu girl, formerly my prisoner, is missing; her father is ... dead: an unfortunate accident. I shall ensure that you get a copy of the report. And finally, the Projekt has had an intruder. Our security has been breached in the worst possible way. I repeat: our security. My sphere of work, Direktor, not yours. So go back to bed. Go back to your mathematics and your physics and what all. Go study your magmass and your grey holes and your particle beam acceleration - only leave me alonef
And Luchov, shouted down, had returned to his rooms and commenced to write a furious, comprehensive report on Khuv's suspected activities and his rank insubordination.
For the last five minutes Harry Keogh had been making a nuisance of himself. First he'd appeared outside the Projekt, on the patrolled ramp cut into the Perchorsk ravine's wall, where he'd taken a half-hearted pot shot at a guard. He hadn't attempted to hit the man, for he'd need serious reasons before sending yet another human being to join the Great Majority. Before the soldier could fire back at him, Harry had ducked into the cover of darkly swirling snow - and through a Mobius door.
From there he'd returned to the room of the thing. Emerging there, he'd been ready on the instant to return into the Mobius Continuum. But the room was empty and so he'd simply gone to the locked door and banged on it, shouting to be let out. The guard outside the room had responded to this, of course, and moments later so had the alarm system.
Tassi Kirescu's cell had been next; Harry emerged amidst a handful of baffled espers, struck two of them rapid, stunning blows, retreated to the Mobius Continuum. Behind him he left Leo Grenzel and Nik Slepak groaning on the floor, and others white-faced and wide-eyed, astonished by what they'd seen and felt. Grenzel was still feeling it, and not just the two front teeth Harry had loosened.
That's him!' he gurgled, sitting up and spitting blood. That's him!'
Khuv was heading for KGB accommodation when the klaxons began to sound again. He cursed, put on speed. Coming through a door between sections of the corridor, he ran into Harry Keogh. He knew him at once - or thought he did. Khuv had a good memory; he'd seen photographs of this man: a one-time head of British E-Branch - Alec Kyle!
Harry pressed his Browning up under Khuv's chin, said: 'I can see by the look on your face that you know me. Which puts me at a disadvantage - but let me guess anyway. Major Chingiz Khuv?'
Khuv gulped, nodded, shoved his hands high in the air.
'Major, you're in the wrong business,' Harry pressed harder with his gun. Take some good advice and get out while the going's good. And pray you never see me again.' He stepped back away from Khuv, looked for a door.
In the moment of Harry's distraction, Khuv snatched his own gun from its holster, triggered off a shot. Harry felt the bullet buzz past his face like an angry wasp to speed forever through the Mobius Continuum. Then Khuv and the corridor blinked out of existence and he headed for somewhere else.
He emerged in a military Duty Room situated just inside the Projekt's service bays, put the muzzle of his pistol in the Orderly Sergeant's ear where he sat at his desk and ordered him to tell him the way to Direktor Luchov's quarters. The terrified Sergeant showed him what he wanted to know on a wall chart, a diagram of the Perchorsk complex, and Harry rewarded him with a chop to the neck that would keep him out of things for at least half an hour. Then he was on the move again.
Harry's 'smoke screen' was now established. It was 5:22 a.m. precisely, local time, when he materialized in Viktor Luchov's claustrophobic suite of rooms. Luchov was on the phone, demanding to know what this fresh spate of clamouring alarms was all about, when Harry arrived. His back was to Harry, who let him finish his conversation and slam the telephone down before he spoke:
'Direktor Luchov? I'm what those alarms are all about.' He pointed his automatic at Luchov's heart, said: 'Better sit down.'
Luchov, whirling from the telephone, saw Harry, his gun and where it was pointed, in that order. He staggered as if he'd been struck in the temple. 'What - ? Who - ?'
'Who doesn't matter,' Harry told him. 'And what is what I'm here to find out.'
'Khuv's intruder!' Luchov finally gasped. 'I thought it was all part of some elaborate scheme of his.'
'Sit,' Harry said again, waving his gun toward a chair.
Luchov did as Harry ordered, the yellow veins pulsing rapidly under the scar-tissue skin of his seared skull. Harry looked at Luchov's disfigurement, saw that the damage was fairly recent. 'An accident?'
Tight-lipped, breathing just a fraction too quickly, Luchov said nothing. Both he and Harry jumped as the telephone came janglingly alive, ringing repeatedly. Then Harry scowled. They must have some clever people working here; it seemed they'd already located him; he wouldn't have time to interrogate Luchov - not here, anyway. 'Get up,' he said, reaching out and jerking Luchov to his feet.
And still holding him, he conjured a door and dragged the other through it.
In a moment, for the moment, they were out on the ramp in the ravine, snow stinging their eyes and a cold wind rushing down the length of the canyon. Harry looked up at the bleak mountains showing their fangs through the snow. Luchov, seeing where he was - where according to all the laws of science he had no right to be - had barely sufficient time to voice some inarticulate query before -
- Harry dragged him squalling through another door, passed through the Mobius Continuum and exited-on a ledge high over the Perchorsk ravine. Luchov saw the sheer drop under his feet and almost fainted. He let out a wild shriek and pressed himself back into the face of the cliff behind him. And again Harry commanded: 'Sit -before you fall.'
Luchov carefully sat down, hugged his dressing-gown to him, shivered partly from the cold and partly from the terror of this totally unbelievable and yet entirely inescapable experience. Harry went down on one knee before him and put his gun away. 'Now,' he said. 'I should think that dressed as we are, we've about ten to fifteen minutes before we freeze to death. So you'd better talk fast. There are things I want to know - about the Perchorsk Projekt. And I have it on good authority that you'd be the one to tell me. So I'll ask the questions and you'll answer them.'
Luchov collected his whirling senses as best he could, recovered something of his dignity. 'If ... if I have only fifteen minutes left, then so do you. We both freeze.'
Harry grinned wolfishly. 'You don't catch on too quickly, do you? I don't have to stay here. I can leave you right now. Like this -' And he was no longer there. Snow swirled in the space where he had kneeled. He returned, said: 'So what's it going to be? Do you talk to me or do I simply leave you here?'
'You're an enemy of my country!' Luchov blurted, feeling the cold start to bite.
'That place of yours,' Harry nodded toward the grey sheen of lead far below, 'appears to be an enemy of the world - potentially, anyway.'
'If I tell you anything - anything - about the Projekt, then I'm a traitor!' Luchov protested.
This wasn't getting Harry anywhere, and now he was cold, too. 'Listen,' he said. 'You've seen what I can do -but you haven't seen everything. I'm also a Necroscope: I can talk to the dead. So I can talk to you alive, or I can talk to you dead. If you were dead you'd be only too glad to talk to me, Viktor, for then I'd be your only real contact with the world.'
'Talk to the dead?' Luchov shrank even further down into himself. 'You're a madman!'
Harry shrugged. 'Obviously you don't know much about espers. I take it you and Khuv don't get on too well?'
Luchov's teeth had started to chatter. 'ESP? Is this something to do with ESP?'
Harry had run out of time and patience. 'OK,' he said, straightening up, 'I can see you need convincing. So I'm going to leave you now. I'm going somewhere else, somewhere warm. I'll come back in about five minutes, or maybe ten. Meanwhile you can make up your mind: to talk to me or to attempt to climb down from here. Personally I don't think you'd make it. I think you'd fall, and then that we would talk again when I found your body at the bottom of the ravine.'
Luchov grasped his ankle. It was all a nightmare - had to be a nightmare, surely - but it felt horribly real, as real as the flesh-and-blood ankle he was grasping. 'Wait! Wait! What... what is it you want to know?'
'That's better,' said Harry. He drew Luchov to his feet, took him somewhere more comfortable: an evening beach in Australia. Luchov felt the hot sand under his feet, saw a shimmering ocean with its endless lines of whitecaps, sat down abruptly as his legs gave way. He sat there in the sand, wide-eyed, shivering and very nearly exhausted. The beach was deserted. Harry looked down at Luchov and nodded. Then he stripped down to his underpants, went for a swim. When he came out of the sea, Luchov was ready to talk ...
When Luchov was finished (which is to say when Harry had run out of questions) it was getting dark. A handful of cars had come roaring down to the beach a quarter of a mile away, spilled young people with blankets and barbecue gear. Laughter and rock music came wafting on a crosswind.
'Back at Perchorsk it'll be morning, daylight,' said Harry. 'But they'll still be running around in circles looking for you. If Khuv has a locator, they'll know approximately where you are. To be absolutely sure, though, they'll go over the Projekt with a fine-toothed comb. And by now everyone involved will be very tired. One thing is certain: Khuv now knows something of what he's up against.
'Now listen: you've co-operated with me and so I'll give you fair warning. It may be that I have to destroy Perchorsk. Not for my sake or in the interest of any nation or specific group of people, but for the sake of the world. But in any case, even if anything should happen to me, eventually Perchorsk will be destroyed. The USA won't sit still for any more monsters coming out of that place.'
'Of course,' Luchov answered. 'I had foreseen that eventuality. Some months ago I passed on my warning to people in authority, made my recommendations. The warning was heeded and the recommendations accepted. Within the week, possibly as soon as tomorrow - today - trucks will start to arrive at Perchorsk from Sverdlovsk. They will deliver a new failsafe. So you see, on this one point if on no other, we are in agreement. Nothing - alien - must ever again get out of Perchorsk...'
Harry nodded. 'Before I take you back there,' he said, 'I'd like to ask you one more thing. With that space-time Gate down there in Perchorsk's guts, how come you found me so incredible? I mean, surely the two principles come pretty close? In Perchorsk you have ... a grey hole? And I make use of a dimension or space-time plane other than my own.'
Luchov stood up, stiffly brushed sand from his clothes. 'The difference is this,' he said. 'I know how the Perchorsk Gate came into being. I've worked out most of the mathematics. The Gate is a physical reality, with nothing transient or insubstantial about it. It is physical, not metaphysical. The result of an accident, yes, but at least I know how that accident happened. You, on the other hand - you're just a man! I can't understand how you could ever possibly have happened.'
Harry thought about his answer, eventually nodded. 'Actually, I believe I was an accident, too,' he said. 'The product of a one-in-a-million combination of events. Anyway, I've warned you about Perchorsk. You risk your life staying there.'
'Do you think I don't know that?' Luchov shrugged. 'Still, it's my job. I'll see it through. And you. What will you do now?'
'After I've taken you back? I have to know what's on the other side of that Gate. There has to be more there than the nightmares you've described.' There had to be, for how else could little Harry and his mother exist there? If they exist there. But what if there are other dimensions beyond that one? What if Harry Jnr has taken his mother even further afield?
Harry dropped Luchov off outside the great sliding doors of the service bays, left him in the grey morning light and the sullen snow, hammering at the wicket-gate and bellowing to be let in. Then Harry went to Luchov's quarters (which he found empty and locked from the outside), where he donned a white smock which on his last visit he'd seen hanging there. The smock was the insignia of a Projekt scientist or technician. In the garment's pocket he found tinted spectacles and put them on.
And without more ado he went straight to the magmass heart of the place, materializing on the Saturn's-rings circumference midway between two sets of manned Katushev cannons. He stayed perfectly still, held a Mobius door fixed in his mind, ready to take cover - but all seemed well. A soldier lounging against the smooth magmass wall saw him, looked a little startled, straightened up and gave a half-hearted salute. Harry stared hard at him, much to the man's discomfort, then turned and scanned the great unnatural cavern in which he found himself. Especially he stared at the blinding white sphere which was the Gate...
There were other technicians about. Everyone looked tired following their night-shift, even the gunners in their padded bucket-seats where they sighted their weapons on the Gate. Two scientists walked past Harry, talking, moving in the direction of the walkway to the sphere. One of them glanced his way as they passed, smiled and nodded in a familiar manner. Harry wondered who the man thought he was. He nodded back, began to follow the pair, and as he drew level with the walkway turned off and moved toward the centre, heading directly for the sphere of light.
Behind him a soldier shouted: 'Hey! - not in our line of fire, sir! Regulations!'
Harry glanced back casually over his shoulder and kept going. He left the outer platform behind and moved onto the walkway. Even as the gate in the electrified fence began to close, he passed through it, reached the spot where the boards were scorched. Behind him the gates opened again; footsteps came hurrying; Harry was aware of a low, angry muttering. But he was more aware of the Katushevs aimed directly at him; or rather not trained on him but on the Gate, which amounted to the same thing. 'Sir!' a voice shouted in his ear, from directly behind him.
Harry conjured a Mobius door - and with a tremor of unaccustomed panic saw that it was all wrong!
The outline of the door wasn't clear-cut in Harry's mind. Its edges shimmered like a heat-haze mirage. It floated up alongside him, drifted toward the sphere as if attracted by it, and was held there, gradually fading where it trembled above the wooden walkway. Harry had seen nothing like this before. He conjured a second door with the same result: the sphere both attracted and repelled the doors; it made them less substantial, pinned them down and broke them up. It cancelled them!
A hand fell on Harry's shoulder, and at the same time he heard shouts from the wide wooden staircase where it emerged from the magmass shaft. Someone with a high-pitched voice was screaming: 'He's here! He's here!' As the Sergeant who'd grabbed Harry's shoulder turned him about-face, he glanced toward the stairs, saw Chingiz Khuv and a second man coming down from the shaft. Harry thought: God! Doesn't that bastard ever sleep?
Khuv seemed to be holding his companion up, keeping him from toppling headlong. The man he helped was one of the espers Harry had struck while he was laying his smoke screen. And he was the one who was doing all the shouting. Then he pointed directly at Harry C screamed one last time, "That's him!' - and Khuv's dark gaze followed his shaking hand.
Khuv's eyes blazed in a moment. 'Open fire!' he shouted at once. He too pointed at Harry, shouting, 'Shoot him! Kill him! He's an intruder!'
The Sergeant who had taken hold of Harry let go of him, stepped back, went to draw the pistol at his hip. Harry moved quickly after him, drop-kicked him and sent him flying off the walkway. Falling to the boards, Harry stayed low, out of the line of fire of the Katushevs. He conjured a Mobius door level with the walkway, hanging over empty space. It was his notion to dive headlong through it - but the door shimmered and warped, was drawn up and toward the sphere of light!
Harry could hear the Katushev commander yelling: Target to the front - take aim - ' and knew that the next command would be 'fire!' He mustn't be here when that order was given. Before the shimmering, disintegrating door could disappear entirely, he sprang for it. Even though it appeared printed on the very face of the sphere itself, still it was his one chance.
He passed through the door - into a hell of physical and mental agony!
When Harry regained consciousness he was adrift in the Mobius Continuum, apparently in motion through a region of the continuum which was new to him. His body and his psyche both felt badly battered, and that sixth sense of Harry's which was usually sharp as a razor felt tarnished and dull. Not without a deal of effort, he formed the mental equations and conjured a door; it opened on deep voids of space shot with stars in alien constellations. He closed the door at once and groped for others.
He found a door on future-time and peered through it. No blue life-threads raced into the future here, only his own, which bent violently aside beyond the door to disappear at right-angles to Harry's viewpoint. The past was equally hostile: indeed there seemed to be no past in this place, just an ocean of interminable, impersonal stars. The lack of human activity, of even traces of activity, reinforced Harry's opinion that he had been blown off-track and had left the mundane world of men far behind.
Beginning to panic, he tried one last door - and gazed out on the surface of a roaring furnace star! He closed that door, too, then forced himself into a state of calm, a condition in which he might at least apply a little reason to the problem. He was lost, yes, but what is lost can be found again. He didn't know where he was or how he had got here, true, but since he had come here there must be a way back. Except... space is a big place and Harry Keogh felt like an exceedingly tiny mote in the eye of the infinite.
Harry? whispered a familiar, distant voice in his mind. I thought I recognized you! The voice sped closer, rapidly grew stronger. But what's this? Are you trespassing?
'Mobius! Thank God!' said Harry.
God? That's outside my line of research, Harry, Mobius told him. I prefer to thank my equations, if it's all the same to you. Though I suppose it could be argued that they are one and the same!
'How come you're out here?' Harry was calmer now. 'Wherever "here" is.'
Here is in the constellation of Orion, Mobius answered. And the point is, what are you doing out here?
Harry explained.
Hmm! Mobius mused. Well, first let's get you home again, and then we'll see if we can find an explanation for what's happened. If you'll just follow me...
Harry stayed with Mobius, sped with him homeward, materialized in the Leipzig graveyard. It was evening, which told him he'd spent an entire day (or possibly two?) in the Mobius Continuum. In the grey, wintry light of the graveyard, Harry blinked, staggered; his legs wouldn't hold him up, so he sat down on the gravel beside Mobius's marker.
You could do with a good long rest, my boy! Mobius told him.
'You're right,' Harry agreed. 'But first I'd like to know if you can explain what happened to me.'
I think 1 can, yes, said the mathematician. You yourself have likened my strip dimension to a parallel plane, and this gate at Perchorsk leads to another; they are both gates between planes of existence. Both are negative conditions, blemishes on the perfect surface of normal space-time. Now: take two magnets and push their negative poles together, and what happens?
'They repel one another,' Harry shrugged.
Exactly. And so does the gate and the doors which you create in your mind. But the Perchorsk Gate is stronger, and so the repulsion is that much more fierce. When you used that door close to this sphere gateway, you were hurled across the Mobius Continuum like a shot from a gun! Your equations were warped out of focus; your body underwent stresses it could never hope to survive in the physical world; in three-dimensioned space you would have died instantly! The continuum itself saved you, because it is infinitely resilient. Lesson: you may not impose your metaphysical self upon the Gate. Go through it as a man, by all means, if you must; but never again attempt entry using the Mobius Continuum.
Harry frowned, then slowly nodded. 'You're right,' he said. 'And I've been foolish - but that wasn't entirely my fault. I hadn't intended to use the continuum in conjunction with the Gate, it just worked out that way. But my curiosity has worked against me. I had to see what this Gate looked like - see it with my own eyes. And by now there won't be a man in the entire Perchorsk Projekt who doesn't know what I look like! The next time I stick my nose in there, be sure someone will blow it right off my face.'
What will you do?
Harry leaned back against the headstone and sighed. 'I don't know. But I know I'm tired.'
Go home, said Mobius. Sleep, rest. Things will be that much clearer in your mind when you wake up.
Harry said his thanks, his farewells, did as Mobius advised. He emerged back in Jazz Simmons's flat in a prone position two inches over his bed, gently fell onto it. Almost before his head hit the pillows he was asleep...