Wednesday, 11.45 P.M. - fifteen minutes to midnight in Hartlepool on England's north-east coast - and a thin drizzling rain turning the empty streets shiny black. The last bus for the colliery villages along the coast had left the town half an hour ago; the pubs and cinemas had all turned out; grey cats slinked in the alleys and a last handful of people headed for their homes on a night when it simply wasn't worth being out.
But in a certain house on the Blackhall Road there was a muted measure of activity. In the garret flat, Brenda Keogh had fed her baby son and put him down for the night and was now preparing herself for bed. In the hitherto empty first floor flat, Darcy Clarke and Guy Roberts sat in near-darkness, Roberts nodding off to sleep and Clarke listening with an anxious awareness to the timbers of the old house creaking as they settled for the night. Downstairs in the ground floor flat, its permanent 'residents', two Special Branch men, were playing cards while a uniformed policeman made coffee and looked on. In the entrance hail a second uniformed officer kept his vigil just inside the door, smoking a slightly damp and ill-made cigarette while he sat in an uncomfortable wooden chair and wondered for the tenth time just what he was doing here.
To the Special Branch men it was old hat: they were here for the protection of the girl in the garret flat. She didn't know it, but they weren't just good neighbours, they were her minders. Hers and little Harry's. They'd looked after her for the better part of a year, and in all of that time no one had so much as blinked at her; theirs must be the cushiest, best paid number in the entire length and breadth of the security business! As for the two uniformed men: they were on overtime, kept over from the middle shift to do 'special' duties. They should have gone off home at 10.00 P.M., but it appeared there was this bloody maniac on the loose, and the girl upstairs was thought to be one of his targets. That was all they'd been told. All very mysterious.
On the other hand, in the flat above, Clarke and Roberts knew exactly why they were here - and also what they were up against. Roberts uttered a quiet snort and his head lolled where he sat close to the curtained window in the living-room. He gave a grunt and straightened himself up a little, and in the next moment began to nod again. Clarke scowled at him without malice, turned up his collar and rubbed his hands for warmth. The room felt damp and cold.
Clarke would have liked to put on a light but didn't dare; this flat was supposed to be empty and that was the way it must appear. No fires, no lights, as little movement as possible. All they'd allowed themselves by way of comfort was an electric kettle and a jar of instant coffee. Well, a little more than that. Comforting too was the fact that earlier in the day a flame thrower had been delivered to Roberts, and both men had crossbows.
Clarke picked up his crossbow now and looked at it. It was loaded, with the safety on. How dearly he would love to sight it on Yulian Bodescu's black heart. He scowled again and put the weapon down, lit up and drew deeply on one of his rare cigarettes. He was feeling tired and miserable, and not a little nervous. That was probably to be expected, but he put it down to the fact that he'd been taking his coffee blacker and blacker, until he felt sure his blood must now be at least seventy-five per cent pure caffeine! He'd been here since the early hours of the morning, and so far - nothing. At least he had that much to be thankful for.
Down in the entrance hall, Constable Dave Collins quietly opened the door of the flat, looked into the living-room. 'Stand in for me, Joe,' he said to his colleague. 'Five minutes for a breath of fresh air. I'm going to stretch my legs down the road a bit.'
The other glanced once more at the Special Branch men at their game, stood up and began buttoning his jacket. He picked up his helmet and followed his friend out into the hall, then unlocked the door and let him out into the street. 'Fresh air?' he called after him. 'You're joking. Looks like there's a fog coming up to me!'
Joe Baker watched his colleague stride off down the road, went back inside and closed the door. He should by rights lock it but was satisfied to throw home the single, small stainless steel bolt. He took his seat beside an occasional table bearing a heap of junk mail and some old newspapers - and a tin of cigarette tobacco and papers! Joe grinned, rolled himself a 'free' one. He'd just smoked the cigarette down when he heard footsteps at the door and a single, quiet knock.
He got up, unbolted the door, opened it and looked out. His colleague stood with his back to the door, rubbing his hands and glancing up and down the road. A fine film of moisture gleamed black on his raincoat and helmet. Joe flipped the stub of his cigarette out into the night and said, 'That was a long five - '
But that was all he said. For in the next moment the figure on the threshold had turned and grabbed him in hands huge and powerful as iron bands - and he'd taken one look at the face under the helmet and knew that it wasn't Dave Collins! It wasn't anybody human at all!
These were his last thoughts as Yulian Bodescu effortlessly bent Joe's head back and sank his incredible teeth into his throat. They closed like a mantrap on his pounding jugular and severed it. He was dead in a moment, throat torn out and neck broken.
Yulian lowered him to the floor, turned and closed the door to the street. He pushed home the light bolt; that would suffice. It had been the work of mere seconds, a most efficient murder. Blood stained Bodescu's mouth as he snarled silently at the door of the ground floor flat, He reached out his vampire senses and sent them beyond the closed door. Two men in there, close together, busy with whatever they were doing and totally unaware of their danger. But not for long.
Yulian opened the door and without pause strode into the room. He saw the Special Branch officers seated at their card table. They looked up smiling, saw him, his helmet and raincoat, and casually returned to their game - then looked again! But too late. Yulian was in the room, pacing forward, reaching a taloned hand to pick up a service automatic with its silencer already screwed in position. He would have preferred to kill in his own way, but he supposed that this was as good as any. The officers had barely drawn breath, were scarcely risen to their feet, before he'd fired at them point-blank, half-emptying the weapon's magazine into their cringing, shuddering bodies.
Darcy Clarke had been on the point of falling asleep; perhaps for a little while he had been asleep, but then something had woken him up. He lifted his head, all of his senses at once alert. Something downstairs in the hall? A door closing? Furtive footsteps on the stairs? It could have been any of these things. But how long ago - seconds or minutes?
The telephone rang and shocked him upright, rigid as a pillar in his chair. Heart pounding, he reached for the phone, but Guy Roberts's hand closed on it first. 'I woke up a minute before you,' Roberts whispered, his voice hoarse in the darkness. 'Darcy, I think something's up!'
He put the handset to his ear, said: 'Roberts?'
Clarke heard a tinny voice from the telephone, but couldn't make out what it said. But he saw Roberts give a massive start and heard his whooshing intake of breath.
'Jesus!' Roberts exploded into life. He slammed the phone down, came rearing unsteadily to his feet. 'That was Layard,' he panted. 'He's found the bastard again - and guess where he is!'
Clarke didn't have to guess, for his talent had taken over. It was telling him to get the hell out of this house; it was even propelling him towards the door. But only for a moment, for his talent 'knew' that there was danger out there on the landing, and now it was heading Darcy towards the window!
Clarke knew what was happening. He fought it, grabbed up his crossbow, forced himself to follow Roberts's bulk to the door of the flat.
Out on the first floor landing, Yulian had already sensed the hated espers in the room. He knew who they were, and how dangerous they were. An old upright piano stood on broken castors with its back to the handrail at the top of the stairs. It must weigh almost a fifth of a ton, but that was hardly an obstacle to the vampire. He grasped it, gave a grunt, and dragged it bodily into place in front of the door. Its castors snapped off and went skittering, their broken housings ripping up the carpet as Yulian finally got the piano positioned to his satisfaction.
No sooner was he finished than Roberts was on the other side of the door, trying to push it open. 'Shit!' Roberts snarled. 'It can only be him, and he's trapped us in here! Darcy, the door opens outwards - give me a hand...'
They thrust their shoulders at the door together, and at last heard the piano's broken claws squealing on the scored floorboards. A gap appeared, and Roberts thrust out an arm into darkness, got a grip on the top of the piano and started to haul himself up and over it. He dragged his crossbow after him, with Clarke pushing from behind.
'Where the hell are those idiots from downstairs?' Roberts panted.
'Hurry, for Christ's sake!' Clarke urged him on. 'He'll be up the stairs by now...' But he wasn't. The landing light came on.
Sprawled on top of the piano, Roberts's eyes stood out like shiny pebbles in his face as he gazed directly into the awful visage of Yulian Bodescu. The vampire wrenched Roberts's crossbow from fingers made immobile through shock. He turned the weapon and fired its bolt directly into the gap of the door behind the piano. Then he gurgled something from a throat clotted with blood, and began to methodically batter at Roberts's head. The wire string of the crossbow hummed with the speed and force of his blows.
Roberts had screamed once - one high, shrill scream - before he fell silent under Yulian's onslaught. Blow after blow the vampire rained on him, until his head was a raw red pulp that dripped brains onto the piano's keyboard. And only then did he stop.
Inside the room, Clarke had heard the thrumm of the bolt where it missed him by a hairsbreadth. And looking out through the gap in the door, half-blinded by the light, he had seen what this nightmare Thing had done to Roberts. Numb with horror, nevertheless he tried to line up his own weapon for a shot, but in the next moment Yulian had thrust Roberts's corpse back inside the room on top of Clarke, and rammed the piano back up against the door. And that was when Clarke broke: he couldn't fight that Thing out there and his talent! The latter wouldn't let him. Instead he dropped the crossbow, stumbled back inside the flat and sought a window looking down on the street outside.
There was no longer any coherency left in him; all he wanted to do was get away. As far and as swiftly as possible .
In the garret flatlet, Brenda Keogh had been asleep for only twenty minutes. A scream - like the welling cry of a tortured animal - had snatched her awake, brought her tumbling out of bed. At first she thought it was Harry, but then she heard scuffling sounds from downstairs and a noise like the slamming of a door. What on earth was going on down there?
She went a little unsteadily to her door, opened it and leaned out to listen for any recurrence of the sounds. But all was silent now, and the tiny landing stood in darkness - a darkness which suddenly flowed forward to send her crashing back into the room! And now Yulian was within an ace of his revenge, and his coughing growl was full of triumph as he gazed with a wolf's eyes on the girl sprawled upon the floor.
Brenda saw him and knew she must be nightmaring. She must be, for nothing like this should live and breathe and move in any sane waking world!
The creature was or had been a man; certainly he stood upright, however forward-sloping. His arms were .
long! And the hands at the ends of those arms were huge and clawlike, with projecting nails. The face was something unbelievable. It might have been the face of a wolf, but it was hairless and there were other anomalies which also suggested a bat. His ears grew flat to the sides of his head; they were long and projected higher than the rearward sloping, elongated skull. His nose - no, his snout was wrinkled, convoluted, with black, gaping nostrils. The skin of the whole was scaly and his yellow eyes, scarlet-pupilled, were deep sunken in black sockets. And his jaws!... his teeth!
Yulian Bodescu was Wamphyri, and he made no effort to hide it. That essence of vampire in him had found the perfect receptacle, had worked on him like yeast in a potent brew. He was at the peak of his strength, his power, and he knew it. In everything he had done, no trace had been left which might definitely identify him as the author of the crime. INTESP would know it, of course, but no court could ever be convinced. And INTESP, as Yulian had discovered, was far from omnipotent. Indeed, it was impotent. Its members were merely human, and fearful; he would hunt them down one by one until he'd destroyed the entire organisation. He would even set himself a target: say, one month, to be rid of all of them for good.
But first there was the child of this woman, that scrap of life which contained his one and only peer in powers - his helpless peer .
Yulian swept upon the girl where she cringed, locked his beast's fist in her hair and half dragged her to her feet. 'Where?' his gurgling voice questioned. 'The child - where?'
Brenda's mouth fell open. Harry? This monster wanted Harry? Her eyes widened, flashed involuntarily towards the baby's tiny room - and the vampire's eyes lit with knowledge as he followed her glance. 'No!' she cried, and drew breath for a scream of sheer terror - which she never uttered.
Yulian threw her down and her head banged against the polished floorboards. She lost consciousness at once and he stepped over her, loped to the open door of the small room. .
In the middle flat, struggling blindly with an old sash window which seemed jammed, Darcy Clarke suddenly felt his terror drain out of him; or if not his terror, certainly his urge to flee. His talent's demands were ebbing, which could only mean that the danger was receding. But how? Yulian Bodescu was still in the house, wasn't he? As sanity returned, Clarke stopped trembling, found a switch and put on the light. Adrenalin flooded into his system. Now he could focus his eyes again, could see the catches with which the window had been made secure. He released them and, unprotesting, the window slid upward along its grooves. Clarke sighed his relief; at least he now had an emergency exit. He glanced out of the window, down into the midnight road - and froze.
At first his eyes refused to accept what they were seeing. Then he gasped his horror and felt the flesh creep on his shoulders and back. The road outside the house was filling with people! Silent streams of them were converging, massing together. They were coming out of the cemetery gates, over its front wall; men, women and children. All silent, crossing the road to gather in front of the house. But worse than the sight of them was their silence. For they were quiet as the graves they had so recently vacated!
Their stench drifted up to Clarke on the damp night air, the overpowering, stomach-wrenching reek of moulder and advanced decay and rotting flesh. Eyes popping, he watched them. They were in their graveclothes, some of them recently dead, and others.
others who had been dead for a long time. They flopped over the cemetery wall, squelched out of its gate, shuffled across the road. And now one of them was knocking on the house door, seeking entry.
Clarke might have thought he was mad, and indeed that thought occurred to him, but in the back of his mind he knew and remembered that Harry Keogh was a Necroscope. He knew Keogh's history: a man who could talk to the dead, whom the dead respected, even loved. What's more, Keogh could raise the dead up when he had need of them. And didn't he have need of them now? That was it! This was Harry's doing. It was the only possible answer.
The crowd at the door began to turn their grey, fretted heads upward. They looked at Clarke, beckoned to him, pointed at the door. They wanted him to let them in - and Clarke knew why. Perhaps i'm mad after all, he thought, as he ran back through the flat to the door. It's past midnight and there's a vampire on the loose, and I'm going downstairs to let a horde of dead men come inside!
But the door of the flat was immobile as ever, with the piano still wedged against it on the landing outside. Clarke put his shoulder to it and shoved until he thought his heart would burst. The door was giving way, but only an inch at a time. He simply didn't have the bulk .
But Guy Roberts did.
Clarke didn't know his dead friend had stood up until he saw him there at his side, helping to force the door open. Roberts - his head a crimson jelly where it flopped on his shoulders, with the broken skull showing through - inexorably thrusting forward, filled with a strength from beyond the grave!
And then Clarke simply fainted away.
The two Harrys had looked out through the infant's eyes into the face of terror itself, the face of Yulian Bodescu. Crouched over the baby's cot, the leering malignancy of his eyes spoke all too clearly of his intention.
Finished! Harry Keogh thought. All done, and it ends like this.
No, another voice, not his own, had spoken in his mind. No it doesn't. Through you I've learned what 1 had to learn. 1 don't need you that way any more. But I do still need you as a father. So go, save yourself.
It could only have been one person speaking to him, doing it now, for the first time, when there was no longer any time to question the hows and whys of it. For Harry had felt the child's restraints falling from him like broken chains, leaving him free again. Free to will his incorporeal mind into the safety of the Möbius continuum. He could have gone right there and then, leaving his baby son to face whatever was coming. He could have gone - but he couldn't!
Bodescu's jaws had yawned open like a pit, revealing a snake's tongue flickering behind the dagger teeth.
Go! little Harry had said again, with more urgency.
You're my son! Harry had cried. Damn you, I can't go! I can't leave you to this!
Leave me to this? It had been as if the infant couldn't follow his reasoning. But then he did, and said, But did you think I was going to stay here?
The beast's taloned hands were reaching for the child in his cot.
Yulian saw now that Harry jnr was... was more than a child. Harry Keogh was in him, yes, but it was even more than that. The baby boy looked at him, stared at him with wide, moist, innocent eyes - and was totally unafraid. Or were those eyes innocent? And for the first time since Harkley House, Yulian knew something of fear. He drew back a fraction, then checked himself. This was what he was here for, wasn't it? Best to get it done with, and quickly. Again he reached for the baby.
Little Harry had turned his small round head this way and that, seeking a Möbius door. There was one beside him, floating up out of his pillows. It was easy, instinct, in his genes. It had been there all along. His control over his mind was awesome; over his body, much less certain. But he'd been able to manage this much. Bunching inexpert muscles, he'd curled himself up, rolled into and through the Möbius door. The vampire's hands and jaws had closed on thin air!
Yulian strained back and away from the cot as if it had suddenly burst into flames. He gaped - then pounced upon the cot's covers, tearing them to shreds. Nothing! The child had simply disappeared! One of Harry Keogh's tricks, the work of a Necroscope.
Not me, Yulian, said Harry softly from behind him. Not this time. He did it all for himself. And that's not all he can do.
Yulian whirled, saw Harry's naked figure outlined in glowing blue neon mesh, advanced menacingly upon him. He passed through the manifestation, found himself tearing at nothing. 'What?' he gurgled. 'What?'
Harry was behind him again. You're finished, Yulian, he told him then, with a deal of satisfaction. Whatever evil you've created, we can undo it. We can't give life back to those you've destroyed, but we can give some of them their revenge.
'We?' The vampire spoke round the snake in his mouth, his words dripping like acid. 'There's no "we", there's only you. And if it takes me forever, I'll - '
You don't have forever. Harry shook his head. In fact, you've no time left at all!
There was a soft but concerted shuffling of footsteps on the landing and up the stairs; something, no, a good many somethings, were coming into the flat. Yulian swept out of the tiny bedroom into the flat's main room and skidded to a halt. Brenda Keogh no longer lay where he had tossed her, but Yulian barely noticed that.
The Keogh manifestation, suspended in thin air, moved after the vampire to watch the confrontation.
A policeman, his throat torn out, was leading them. And with steps slow and staggering, but full of purpose, they came on. You can kill the living, Yulian, Harry told the mewling vampire, but you can't kill the dead.
'You...' Yulian turned to' him again. 'You called them up!'
No, Harry shook his head. My son called them up. He must have been talking to them for quite some little time. And they've grown to care for him as much as they care for me.
'No!' Bodescu rushed to the window, saw that it was old and no longer opened. One of the corpses, a thing that shed maggots with every step, lurched after him. In its bony hand it carried Darcy Clarke's crossbow. Others had long wooden staves, taken from cemetery fences. Animated corruption was now spewing into the room like pus from a ruptured boil.
It's all over, Yulian, said Harry.
Bodescu turned on them all, scowled his denial. No, it wasn't over yet. What were they anyway but a mirage and a mob of dead men? 'Keogh, you bodiless bastard!' he snarled. 'And did you think you were the only one with powers?'
He crouched down, spread his shoulders, laughed in their faces. His neck elongated, the flesh rippling with a life of its own. His terrible head was now like that of some primal pterodactyl. His body seemed to flutter, flattening in depth and increasing in width until his clothes, unable to contain it, tore into so many rags around him. He reached out his arms and lengthened them, forming a blasphemous cross, then grew a webbing of wing down each side of his body. With greater ease, more fluency far than ever Faethor Ferenczy had possessed, he completely remoulded his vampire flesh. And where moments before a manlike being had stood, now a huge batlike creature confronted its hunters.
Then... the thing that was Yulian Bodescu turned and launched itself at the thin-latticed panes of the wide bay window.
Don't let him get away! Harry told them; but without need, for that wasn't their intention.
Yulian went out through the latticework, showering glass and fragments of painted woodwork down into the road. Now he formed an aerofoil, curving his monstrous body like a straining kite to catch a night wind blowing up from the west. But the avenger with the crossbow stood in the gap of the broken window and aimed his weapon. A corpse without eyes should not see, but in their weird pseudolife these pieces of crumbling flesh enjoyed all of the senses they'd known in life. And this one had been a marksman.
He fired, and the bolt took Yulian in his spine, halfway down his rubbery back. The heart, Harry admonished. You should have gone for his heart. But in the end, it was all to work out the same.
Yulian cried out, the raucous, ringing cry of a wounded beast. He bent his body in a contortion of agony, lost his control, sank like a crippled bird towards the graveyard. He tried to maintain his fight, but the bolt had severed his spine and that would take time to mend. There was no time left. Yulian fell into the cemetery, crashing into the damp shrubbery; and at once the crumbling dead turned in their tracks and began to file out of the garret flat, shuffling in pursuit.
Down the stairs they went, some with their flesh sloughing from their bones, and others who couldn't help but leave bits behind, which followed of their own accord. Harry went with them, with all of the dead he'd befriended, oh - how long ago? - when he'd lived here, and new friends he hadn't even spoken to yet.
There were two young policemen among them, who'd never return home to their wives; and another two from Special Branch, with bullet holes like scarlet flowers blooming in their clothing; and there was a fat man called Guy Roberts, whose head wasn't much of anything any more but whose heart was in the right place. Roberts had come to Hartlepool with a job to do, which he expected to finish right now.
Down the stairs, out of the door and across the road they all went, and into the graveyard. There were plenty of stragglers there who hadn't made it over the road to the flat, who simply weren't in any condition to do so. But when Yulian had fallen they'd ringed him about, advancing on him with their staves and threatening in their mute, mouldering way.
Through the heart, Harry told them when he arrived.
Damn it, Harry, but he won't keep still! one of them protested. His hide's like rubber, too, and these staves are blunt.
Maybe this is the answer. Another corpse, recently dead, came forward. This was Constable Dave Collins, who walked all aslant because Yulian had broken his back in an alley not a hundred yards down the road. In his hands he carried the cemetery caretaker's sickle, a little rusty from lying in the long grass under the graveyard wall.
That's the way, Harry agreed, ignoring Yulian's hoarse screaming. The stake, the sword, and the fire.
I've got the last. Someone whose head had collapsed utterly, Guy Roberts, stumbled forward dragging heavy tanks and a hose - an army flame-thrower! And if Yulian had screamed before, now he did so in earnest. The dead payed him no heed. They piled onto him and held him down, and in his extreme of terror - even Yulian Bodescu, terrified - he reshaped his vampire body to that of a man. It was a mistake, for now they could find his heart more easily. One of them brought a piece of a broken headstone for a hammer, and at last a stave was driven home. Pinned down like some ugly butterfly, Yulian writhed and shrieked, but it was nearly over now.
Dave Collins, looking on, sighed and said, An hour ago I was a policeman, and now it seems I'm to be an executioner.
It's a unanimous verdict, Dave, Harry reminded him.
And like the Grim Reaper himself, so Dave Collins advanced and took Yulian's hideous head as cleanly as possible, even though he had to strike more than once or twice. After that it was Guy Roberts's turn; he worked on the now silent vampire with roaring, gouting, blistering, cleansing fire until there was really nothing much left of him at all. And he didn't stop until his tanks were empty. By then the dead were dispersing, back to their riven graves.
It was time for Harry to move on. The wind had blown Yulian's fog away, the stench of putrefaction, too, and stars were shining in the night sky. Harry's work was finished here, but elsewhere there was still a great deal to be done.
He thanked the dead, one and all, and found a Möbius door.
Harry was almost used to the Möbius continuum now, but he suspected that most human minds would find it unendurable. For it was always nowhere and nowhen on the space-time Möbius strip; but a man with the right equations, the right sort of mind, could use it to ride anywhere and everywhen. Before that, of course, he would need to conquer his fear of the dark.
For in the physical universe there are degrees of darkness, and Nature seems to abhor all of them much as she abhors a vacuum. The metaphysical Möbius continuum, however, is made of darkness. That is all it consists of. Beyond the Möbius doors lies the very Primal Darkness itself, which existed before the material universe began.
Harry might be at the core of a black hole, except a black hole has enormous gravity and this place had none. It had no gravity because it contained no mass; it was immaterial as thought itself, yet like thought it was a force. It had powers which reacted to Harry's presence and worked to expel him, like a mote caught in its eye. He was a foreign body, which the Möbius continuum must reject.
At least, that was how it had used to be. But this time Harry sensed that things were different.
Previously there had always been this sensation of matterless forces pushing at him, attempting to dislodge him from the unreal back into the real. And he had never dared to let that happen except where or when he desired it to happen, else he might well emerge in a place or time totally untenable. But now: now it seemed to him that those same forces were bending a little, perhaps even jostling each other to accommodate him. And in Harry's unfettered, incorporeal mind, he believed he knew why. Intuition told him that this was his - yes, his metamorphosis!
From real to unreal, from a flesh and blood being to an immaterial awareness, from a living person to - a ghost? Harry had always refused to accept that premise, that he was in fact dead, but now he began to fear that it might indeed be so. And mightn't that explain why the dead loved him so? The fact that he was one of theirs?
He rejected the idea angrily. Angry with himself. No, for the dead had loved him before this, when he was still a man full-fleshed. And that was a thought which also angered him. I still am a man! he told himself, but with far less authority. For now that he'd conjured it, the idea of a subtle metamorphosis was growing in him.
Something less than a year ago he had argued with August Ferdinand Möbius about a possible relationship between the physical and metaphysical universes. Möbius, in his grave in a Leipzig cemetery, had insisted that the two were entirely separate, unable to impose themselves in any way one upon the other. They might occasionally rub up against each other, the action producing reaction on both sides - such as 'ghosts' or 'psychic experiences' on the physical plane - but they could never overlap and never run concurrent.
And as for jumping from one to the other and back again.
But Harry had been the anomaly, the fly in Möbius's ointment, the spanner in the works. Or perhaps the exception that proves the rule?
All of that, however, had been when he had form, when he was corporeal. And now? Perhaps now the rule was at last asserting itself, ironing out the discrepancy. Harry belonged here; he was no longer physical but metaphysical, and so should remain here. Here forever, riding the unimaginable and scientifically impossible flux of forces in the abstract Möbius continuum. Perhaps he was becoming one with the place.
Word association: force-flux - force fields - lines of force - lines of life. The bright blue lines of life extending forward beyond the doors to future time! And suddenly Harry remembered something and wondered how it could possibly have slipped so far to the back of his mind. The Möbius strip couldn't claim him, not yet, anyway, because 'he had a future. Hadn't he seen it for himself?
He could even witness it again if he wished, by simply finding a future-time door. Or perhaps this time it wouldn't be so simple. What if the Möbius continuum should claim him while he traversed time? That was an unbearable thought: to hurtle into the future forever! But no need to take the risk, for Harry could remember it well enough:
The scarlet life-line drifting closer, angling in towards his own and Harry junior's blue threads. Yulian Bodescu, surely?
And then the infant's life-thread abruptly veering away from his father's, racing off at a tangent. That must have been his escape from the vampire, the moment when he'd first used the Möbius continuum in his own right. After that - then there'd been that impossible collision:
That strange blue life-thread, dimming, crumbling, disintegrating, converging with Harry's own thread out of nowhere. The two had seemed to bend towards each other as by some mutual attraction, before slamming together in a neon blaze and speeding on as one thread. Briefly Harry had felt the presence - or the faint, fading echo - of another mind: but then it was gone, extinct, and his thread rushing on alone.
Yes, and he had recognised that dying echo of a mind! Now he knew for sure where he must go, who he must
seek out. And with something less than his usual dexterity, he found his way to INTESP HO in London.
The top floor - self-contained suites of offices, labs, private quarters and a communal recreation room - which comprised INTESP HO were in turmoil. Fifteen minutes ago something had occurred which, despite the nature of the HO and the various talents of its personnel, was completely beyond all previous experience. There had been no warning; the thing had not telegraphed itself to INTESP's telepaths, precogs or other psychic sensitives; it had simply 'happened', and left the espers running round in circles like ants in a disturbed nest.
'It' had been the arrival of Harry Keogh Jnr and his mother.
The first INTESP had known of it was when all the security alarms went off simultaneously. Indicators had shown that the intruder was in the top office, Alec Kyle's control room. No one but John Grieve had been in that room since Kyle flew to Italy, and the place was now secured. There couldn't possibly be anybody in there.
It could be a fault in the alarm system, of course, but and then had come the first real intimations of what was happening. All of INTESP's espers had felt it at the same time: a powerful presence, a mental giant in their midst, here at HO. Harry Keogh?
Finally they'd got the door to Kyle's office open - and found mother and child curled up together in the middle of the office carpet. Nothing physical had ever manifested itself in this way before; not here at INTESP, anyway. When Keogh himself had visited Kyle here, he had been incorporeal, without substance, a mere impression of the man Keogh had been. But these people were real, solid, alive and breathing. They had been teleported here.
The 'why' of it was obvious: to escape Bodescu. As for the 'how', that would have to wait. Mother and child - and therefore INTESP itself - were safe, and that was the main thing.
At first it had been thought that Brenda Keogh was simply asleep; but when Grieve carefully examined her he found the large soft lump at the back of her head and guessed she was concussed. As for the baby: he had looked around, alert and wide-eyed, appeared a little startled but not unduly afraid, lying in his mother's relaxed arms sucking his thumb! Not much wrong with him.
With the greatest care and attention to their task, the espers had then carried the pair to staff accommodation and put them to bed, and a doctor had been summoned. Then INTESP's buzzing members had concentrated themselves in the ops room to talk it over. Which was when Harry came on the scene.
While his coming was startling, if anything it was less of a shock and more of an anticlimax; the previous materialisation had prepared them for it. It might even be said that he was expected. John Grieve had just taken the ops room podium and turned the lights down a little when Harry appeared. He came in the form all of the espers had heard about but which few of them, and none present, had ever seen: a faint mesh of luminous blue filaments - almost a hologram - in the image of a man. And again that psychic shock-wave went out, telling them all that they were in the presence of a metaphysical Power.
John Grieve felt it, too, but he was the last of them to actually see Harry, for he'd appeared on the podium's platform slightly to Grieve's rear. Then the permanent Duty Officer heard the concerted gasp that went up from his small audience where they'd taken their seats, and he turned his head.
'My God!' he said, staggering a little.
No, said Harry, just Harry Keogh. Are you all right?'
Grieve had almost fallen from the podium, only finding his balance at the last moment. He steadied himself, said, 'Yes, I think so,' then he held up his hand to quiet the buzz of excited, expectant conversation. 'What's happening, Harry?' He got down off the podium and backed away.
Try not to be frightened, Harry told them all. This was a ritual he was getting used to. I'm one of you, remember?
'We're not frightened, Harry,' Ken Layard found his voice. 'Just... cautious.'
I'm looking for Alec Kyle, said Harry. Is he back yet?
'No,' Grieve shook his head, turned his face away a little. 'And he probably won't be. But your wife and son got here OK.'
The Keogh manifestation sighed, visibly relaxed. This told him the extent of the baby's delving into his mind. Good! he said, - about Brenda and the baby, I mean. I knew they'd be somewhere safe, but this place has to be the safest.
The handful of espers were now on their feet, had come forward to the base of the raised platform. 'But didn't you, er, send them here?' Grieve was puzzled.
Harry shook his neon head. That was the baby's doing. He brought them both here, through the Möbius continuum. You'd better look after that one, for he's going to be a hell of an asset! Listen, there are things that can't wait, so explanations will have to. Tell me about Alec.
Grieve did, and Layard added, 'I know he's there, at the Château, but I read him like... well, like he's dead.'
That hit Harry hard. That strange blue life-thread, dimming, crumbling, disintegrating. Alec Kyle!
There are things you'll want to know, he told them, apparently in a hurry now. Things you have every right to know. First, Yulian Bodescu is dead.
Someone whistled his appreciation, and Layard cried, 'Christ, that's wonderful!'
It was Harry's turn to avert his face. Guy Roberts is dead, too, he said.
For a moment there was silence, then someone asked, 'Darcy Clarke?'
He's fine, Harry answered, as far as I know. Listen, everything else will have to wait. I've got to go now. But I've a feeling I'll be seeing all of you again.
He collapsed in upon himself to a single point of radiant blue light, and disappeared.
Harry knew the route to the Château Bronnitsy well enough, but the Möbius continuum fought him all the way,. It fought to retain him, to keep him to itself. The longer he remained unbodied, the worse it would become, until finally he'd be trapped in the endless night of an alien dimension. But not yet.
Alec Kyle was not dead and Harry knew it; if he had been then Harry could simply reach out his mind and talk to him, as he talked to all the dead. But though he tried - however tentatively at first, cringingly - mercifully there was no contact. This made him bolder; he tried harder, putting every effort into contacting Kyle's mind, while yet hoping that he'd fail. But this time -- Harry felt horror wash over him as indeed he picked up the faint, failing echo of the man h~ had known. An echo, yes: a de-pairing, fading cry tailing off into nothing.
But it was all the beacon Harry needed, and he homed in on it in a moment.
Then... it was as if he were caught in a maelstrom! It was Harry Jnr all over again, but ten times worse, and this time there was no resisting it. Harry did not have to fight free of the Möbius continuum but was ripped out of it intact. Torn from it and inserted - Elsewhere!
It hadn't been easy but Zek Föener had eventually fallen asleep, only to toss and turn for hours in the throes of sheerest nightmare. Finally she'd started awake in the small hours of the morning and looked all about in the darkness of her spartan room. For the first time since coming to the Château Bronnitsy the place seemed alien to her; her job here was empty now; it offered neither reward nor satisfaction. Indeed it was evil. It was evil because the people she worked for were evil. Under Felix Krakovitch things had been different, but under Ivan Gerenko... his very name had become a bad taste in Zek's mouth. Her life would be impossible if he took control here. And as for that squat, murderous toad Theo Dolgikh.
Zek had got up, splashed cold water in her face, made her way down to the cellars which housed the Château's various experimental laboratories. On her way, on the stairs and in a corridor, she'd passed a night-duty technician and an esper: both had nodded their respect but she'd hardly noticed, merely brushed by them and continued on her way. She had her own respects to pay, to a man as good as dead.
Letting herself into the mind-lab, she'd taken a steel chair and sat beside Alec Kyle, touched his pale flesh. His pulse was erratic, the rise and fall of his chest weak and abnormal. He was almost totally brain-dead, and less than twenty-four hours from now... The authorities in West Berlin wouldn't know who he was or what had killed him. Murder, pure and simple.
And she had been part of it. She had been duped, told that Kyle was a spy, an enemy whose secrets were of the utmost importance to the Soviet Union, while in reality they were only of the utmost importance to Ivan Gerenko. She had defended herself before that sick creature, made excuses when he said she'd been party to it - but there was no defence against her own conscience.
Oh, it was easy for Gerenko and the thousands like him, who only ever read reports. Zek read minds, and that was a different matter entirely. A mind is not a book; books only describe emotions, they rarely make you feel them. But to a telepath the emotion is real, raw and powerful as the story itself. She hadn't simply read Alec Kyle's stolen diary, she'd read his life. And in doing so she had helped to steal it.
An enemy, yes, she supposed he'd been that, in that he held allegiance to another country, a different code. But a threat? Oh, in higher echelons of his government there were doubtless personalities who would wish to see Russia devolve, become subservient. But Kyle wasn't a militarist, he'd been no subversive strategist worrying at the foundations of Communist identity and society. No, he'd been humanitarian, with an overwhelming belief that all men were brothers - or should be. And his only desire had been to maintain a balance. In his work for the British E-Branch he'd been used, much as Zek herself was now being used, when both of them could have been working towards greater things.
And where was Alec Kyle now? Nowhere. His body was here, but his mind - a very fine mind - was gone forever.
Eyes filming, Zek looked up, looked scathingly at the machinery backed up against the sterile walls. Vampires? The world was full of them. What of these machines, which had sucked out his knowledge and sluiced it all away forever? But a machine can't feel guilt, which is an entirely human emotion .
She came to a decision: if it were at all possible, she'd find a way to break free of E-Branch. There had been cases before where telepaths lost their talent, so why shouldn't she? If she could fake it, convince Gerenko that she was no longer of any use to this sinister organisation, then - Zek's train of thought stopped right there. Under her
fingertips where they lay on Kyle's wrist, his pulse had suddenly grown steady and strong; his chest was now rising and falling rhythmically; his mind... his mind?
No, the mind of another! An astonishing wave of psychic power washed outwards from him. It wasn't telepathy - wasn't anything Zek had felt before - but whatever it was, it was strong! She snatched back her hand and sprang to her feet, found her legs wobbly as jelly, and stood gulping, staring at the man lying on the operating table that should have been his deathbed. His thoughts, at first jumbled, finally fell into a rhythm of their own.
It isn't my body, Harry told himself, without knowing that someone else was listening, but it's a good one and it's going free! There's nothing left for you, Alec, but there's still a chance for me - a good chance for Harry Keogh. God, Alec, wherever you are now, forgive me!
His identity was in Zek's mind and she knew she'd made no mistake. Her legs began to buckle under her. Then the figure - whoever, however it was - on the table opened its eyes and sat up, and that finished the job. For a moment she passed out, two or three ticks of the clock, but sufficient time in which to slump to the floor. Time enough, too, for him to swing his legs off the table and go down on one knee beside her. He rubbed her wrists briskly and she felt it, felt his warm hands on her suddenly cold flesh. His warm, alive, strong hands.
'I'm Harry Keogh,' he said, as her eyes fluttered open.
Zek had learned a little English from British tourists on Zakinthos. 'I... I know,' she said. 'And I... I'm crazy!'
He looked at her, at her grey Château uniform with its single diagonal yellow stripe across the heart, looked all around at the room and its instruments, finally looked - with a great deal of wonder - at his own naked self. Yes, at his self, now. And to her he said, accusingly, 'Did you have something to do with this?'
Zek stood up, looked away from him. She was still shaky, not quite certain of her sanity. It was as if he read her mind, but in fact he merely guessed. 'No,' he said, 'you're not crazy. I am who you think I am. And I asked you a question: did you destroy Alec Kyle's mind?'
'I was part of it,' she finally admitted. 'But not with.
that.' Her blue eyes flickered towards the machinery, back to Harry. 'I'm a telepath. I read his thoughts while they...'
'While they erased them?'
She hung her head, then lifted it and blinked away tears. 'Why have you come here? They'll kill you, too!'
Harry looked down at himself. He was becoming aware of his nakedness. At first it had been like wearing a new suit of clothes, but now he saw it was only flesh. His flesh. 'You haven't sounded the alarm,' he said.
'I haven't done anything - yet,' she answered, shrugging helplessly. 'Maybe you're wrong and I am crazy. .
What's your name?'
She told him.
'Listen, Zek,' he said. I've been here before, did you know that?'
She nodded. Oh, yes, she'd known about that. And about the devastation he'd wrought.
'Well, I'm going now - but I'll be back. Probably soon. Too soon for you to do anything about it. If you know what happened last time I was here you'll heed my warning: don't stay here. Be anywhere else, but not here. Not when I come back. Do you understand?'
'Going?' She began to feel hysterical, felt ungovernable laughter welling inside. 'You think you're going somewhere, Harry Keogh? Surely you know that you're in the heart of Russia!' She half turned away, turned back again. 'You haven't a chance in - ,
Or perhaps he did have a chance. For Harry was no longer there .
Harry called out Carl Quint's name into the Möbius continuum, and was at once rewarded' with an answer. We're here, Harry. We've been expecting you, sooner or later.
We? Harry felt his heart sink.
Myself, Felix Krakovitch, Sergei Gulharov and Mikhail Volkonsky. Theo Dolgikh got all of us. You know Felix and Sergei, of course, but you haven't met Mikhail yet.
You'll like him. He's a real character! Hey - what about Alec? How did he make out?
No better than you, said Harry, homing in on them.
He emerged from the infinite Möbius strip into the blasted ruins of Faethor Ferenczy's Carpathian castle. It was just after 3.00 A.M. and clouds were fleeing under the moon, turning the wide ledge over the gorge into a land of phantom shadows. The wind off the Ukrainian plain was cold on Harry's naked flesh.
So Alec copped it too, eh? Quint's dead voice had turned sour. But then he brightened. Maybe we'll be able to look him up!
'No,' said Harry. 'No you won't. I don't think you'll ever find him. I don't think anybody will.' And he explained his meaning.
You have to square things up, Harry, said Quint when he'd finished.
'It can't be put right,' Harry told him. 'But it can be avenged. Last time I warned them, this time I have to wipe them out. Total! That's why I came here, to see if I could motivate myself. Taking ,life isn't my scene. I've done it, but it's a mess. I'd prefer the dead to love me.'
Most of us always will, Harry, Quint told him.
'After what I did to Bronnitsy last time,' Harry continued, I wasn't sure I could do it again. Now I know I can.'
Felix Krakovitch had been silent until now. I haven't the right to try and stop you, Harry, he said, but there are some good people there.
'Like Zek Föener?'
She's one of them, yes.
'I've already told her to get out of it. I think she will.'
Well, (Harry could hear Krakovitch's sigh, and almost picture his nod,) I'm glad for that at least.
'Now I suppose it's time I got mobile,' said Harry. 'Carl, maybe you can tell me: does E-Branch have access to compact high explosives?'
Why, Quint replied, the branch can get hold of just about anything, given a little time!
'Hmm,' Harry mused. 'I was hoping to do it a bit faster than that. Even tonight.'
Now Mikhail Volkonsky spoke up: Harry, does this mean you're going after that maniac who killed us? if so, maybe I can help you. I've done a lot of blasting in my time - mainly with gelignite, but I've also used the other stuff. in Kolomyya, there's a place where they keep it safe. Detonators, too, and I can explain how to use them.
Harry nodded, seated himself on the stump of a crumbling wall at the edge of the gorge, allowed himself a
grim, humourless smile. 'Keep talking, Mikhail,' he said.
'I'm all ears . .
Something brought Ivan Gerenko awake. He couldn't have said what it was, just the feeling that something wasn't right. He dressed as quickly as possible, got the night Duty Officer on the intercom and asked if anything was wrong. Apparently nothing was. And Theo Dolgikh was due back any time now.
As Gerenko switched off the intercom, he glanced out of his great, curving, bulletproof window. And then he held his breath. Down there in the night, silvered by moonlight, a figure moved furtively away from the Château's main building. A female figure. She was wearing a coat over her uniform, but Gerenko knew who it was. Zek Föener.
She was using the narrow vehicular access road; she had to, for the fields all around were mined and set with trip-wires. She tried to walk light and easy, casual, but there was that in her movements which spoke of stealth. She must have booked out, presumably on the pretext of being unable to sleep. Or maybe she really couldn't sleep, was simply out for a walk and a little night air. Gerenko snorted. Oh, indeed? A long walk, presumably - probably right to Leonid Brezhnev himself, in Moscow!
He hurried down the winding stone stairs, took the key to his duty vehicle from the watchkeeper at the door, and set off in pursuit. Overhead, to the west, the lights of a helicopter signalled its approach: Theo Dolgikh, hopefully with a good excuse for the mess he'd earlier hinted at on the phone!
Two-thirds of the way to the massive perimeter wall that surrounded the entire grounds, Gerenko caught up with the girl, pulled up alongside and slowed to a halt. She smiled, shielded her eyes from the dazzle of the headlights - then saw who was hunched behind the wheel. Her smile died on her face.
Gerenko slid open his window. 'Going somewhere, Fraulein Föener, my dear?' he said. .
Ten minutes earlier Harry had stepped out of the Möbius continuum into one of the Château's pillbox gun emplacements. He'd been there before and knew the exact locations of all six, and guessed that they'd only be manned in the event of an alert. Since that might well be the current state of readiness if Kyle's absence had been discovered, he carried a loaded automatic pistol in the pocket of an overcoat he'd stolen from a peg in the ordnance dump in Kolomyya.
Across his shoulders he bore the weight of a bulky sausage-shaped bag that weighed all of one hundred pounds. Putting it down, he unzipped it and took out the first of a dozen gauze-wrapped cheeses: that was how he thought of the stuff, like soft grey cheese, except it smelled a lot worse. He moulded the ultra-high-explosive plastic over a sealed ammunition box, stuck in a timer-detonator and set the explosion for ten minutes' time. This had taken him maybe thirty seconds; he couldn't be sure for he had no watch. Then he moved on to the next pillbox, where this time he set the detonation for nine minutes, and so on.
Less than five minutes later he began to repeat the process inside the Château itself. First he went to the mind-lab, where he materialised beside the operating table. It seemed strange that he (yes, he, now) had been lying on that table something less than three-quarters of an hour ago! Sweating, he stuffed UHEP into the gap between two of the filthy machines they'd used to drain Kyle's mind, set the detonator, picked up his much lighter bag and stepped through a Möbius door.
Emerging into a corridor in the accommodation area, he met face to face with a security guard doing his rounds! The man looked tired, shoulders drooping where he ambled down the corridor for the fifth time that night. Then he looked up and saw Harry, and his hand went straight for the gun at his hip.
Harry didn't know how his new body would react to physical violence; this was when he'd find out. He'd learned his stuff long ago from 'one of the first friends he'd ever made among the dead: 'Sergeant' Graham Lane, an ex-Army PT instructor at his old school, who'd died in a climbing accident on the beach cliffs. 'Sergeant' had taught him a lot and Harry hadn't forgotten it.
His hand shot out and trapped the guard's hand where it snatched at the pistol, jamming it back down into its holster. At the same time he drove his knee into the man's groin and butted him in the face. The guard made some noise but not much. And then he was out like a light.
Harry set another charge right there in the corridor; but now he noticed just how badly his hands were shaking, how profusely he was sweating. He wondered how much time he had left, considered the possibility of getting caught in his own fireworks.
He made one more jump - straight into the Château's central Duty Room - and in the instant of emerging caught the Duty Officer a blow that knocked him clean out of his swivel chair. The man hadn't even had time to look up. Moulding the rest of his UHEP onto the top of the desk between the radio and a switchboard, Harry fixed a final detonator and straightened up - and looked straight down the barrel of a Kalashnikov rifle!
On the other side of the raised counter, unnoticed, a young security guard had been dozing in a chair. This was obvious from his gaping mouth and dazed expression. The sound of the Duty Officer hitting the floor must have roused him. Harry didn't know how awake he was, how much he'd seen or understood, but he did know he was in big trouble. He'd only set one minute on the last' detonator!
As the guard gabbled a startled question in gasping Russian, Harry shrugged and made a sour face, pointed at a spot just behind the other. It was an old ploy, he knew, but the old ones are often the best. And sure enough it worked. The guard jerked his head that way, turned the ugly snout of his weapon, too - And when he turned back Harry was no longer there.
Which was just as well, for his ten minutes were up.
The pillboxes went up like Chinese firecrackers, blowing their concrete lids off and bursting their walls. The first explosion - the intense flash if not the blast itself, which was minimal at this distance - caused Zek Föener to stagger and cower back where she was about to climb up into Gerenko's jeep. Then the crack and rumbling roar sounded, and the earth gave the first and least of many shudders. Anti-personnel land mines, fatally disturbed in the fields around, began to go off, spouting fountains of dirt and turf. It was like a bombing raid.
'What?' Gerenko turned in his seat and looked back, couldn't believe what he was seeing. 'The pillboxes?' He shielded his eyes against the blaze of light.
'Harry Keogh!' Zek breathed, but to herself.
Then the main building went; its lower walls of massive stone seemed to inhale and go on inhaling. They bowed outwards, and finally blew apart in white light and golden fire! This time Zek did feel the blast: it tossed her down on the road and stung her hands where she held them up before her face.
The Château Bronnitsy was slowly settling down into itself. A sandcastle caught in the first wave of a swelling tide, it crumbled like so much chalk. Volcanic fires burned in its guts, and spewed out through its cratered walls; and as the upper storeys and towers fell inwards, so there came secondary blasts to throw them up again. Already the Château was a total ruin, but then the big one in the Duty Room added its voice to the cacophony of destruction.
By this time Zek had managed to climb into the jeep beside Gerenko. They felt a huge fist batter at the rear of the vehicle, shove it forward; felt their ears savaged by the massive detonation, shuttered their eyes against a sudden incendiary glare. A brilliant fireball like the breath of hell turned everything to a negative photograph, blotted out the entire scene and made night into blinding day, then slowly faded and revealed the truth - that the Château Bronnitsy was no more. Bits of it, from pebbles to huge blocks of concrete, still rained to earth. Black smoke curled up across the moon; white and yellow fire seethed and roiled in the gutted ruins; a mere handful of figures stumbled about like crippled flies, trying to make their way outwards from the centre of the inferno.
Gerenko, stunned, had stalled the jeep and it wouldn't start again. Now he got out, ordered Zek out, too. The helicopter had veered sharply away as the first explosion occurred; it circled, came down and landed with a bump on the road near the perimeter wall. Theo Dolgikh spoke briefly to the pilot, climbed out and advanced at a run. Zek Föener and Gerenko made their way staggeringly towards him.
'For Alec,' said Harry Keogh softly to himself.
He stood in the shadows at the foot of the perimeter wall and watched the three people moving towards the helicopter. He took note of the two men - one the mere husk of a man and the other a hulking brute - and the way they manhandled the girl into the chopper. Then the machine lifted off and Harry was alone with the night and his hideous handiwork. But like an after-image, a mental picture of those two men kept superimposing itself over the leaping flames. Harry didn't know who they were, but his intuition told him that these two above all others ought not to have escaped the holocaust.
He'd have to speak to Carl Quint and Felix Krakovitch about them..