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Necromancer, Page 2

Gordon R. Dickson

  "You wouldn't expect a mechanic to go out to dinner in his working clothes, now would you?" The voice from the lips was deep and pleasantly sardonic. "If you people want to see me in my official robes, you'll have to make an appointment to meet me during my office hours."

  "Do they have office hours in the Chantry Guild, Mr. Guildmaster?" asked another reporter. There was laugh-ter, but not disrespectful laughter. The lips smiled with them.

  "Come and find out," said the lips. Paul frowned. A small closed pocket in his memory had opened up. He had heard of the Chantry Guild—or Société Chanterie. Come to think of it, he had heard of them now and again—quite often, in fact. They were a cult group—devil-worshipers, or some such. He had always dismissed them as a group of crackpots. But this man—this Guild-master—was nothing so simple as a crackpot. He was...

  Frustrated, Paul put his fingers instinctively out to the image of the man before him. But the cold glassy surface of the screen baffled his finger tips. The reporters were still asking questions.

  "What about Operation Springboard, Mr. Guildmaster?"

  The lips quirked.

  "What about it?"

  "Is the Guild against an attempt to reach the nearer stars?"

  "Well now, ladies and gentlemen..." The lips smiled. "What did the Sumerian and Semite say in the days of the older gods? I believe they called the planets 'sheep that are far away.' Did they not? Shamash and Adad were the deities responsible for that statement, as you can find by checking your ancient histories. And if habitable worlds are like sheep, then surely there must be a great many strayed around farther stars which we can find again."

  And the smile stayed on the lips.

  "Then the Guild is in favor of the station on Mercury? You don't object to work on methods for interstellar travel?"

  "Such," said the lips, and the smile vanished, "is not my concern, or the concern of the Guild. Man may play with the technical toys and sciences as he has in the past; he may play with space and the stars. But it will only sicken him further, as it has already sickened him almost to his end. There is only one thing that concerns us of the Guild and that's the destruction that will save Man from himself."

  "Mr. Guildmaster," said a voice, "you can't mean total—"

  "Total and absolute!" The deep voice strengthened in the speaker. "Complete. Destruction. The destruction of Man and all his works." The voice grew, sonorously near to chanting, on a note that sent a sudden wild surge of feeling through Paul, like a powerful shock from a vein-injected stimulant. "There have been forces at work for eight hundred years that would save Man from his destruction. Woe to Man when that day comes, that he is safe and saved. Woe to Woman and children unborn, when the last strength to destroy himself is finally stolen from him. For by his own eternal life will he be doomed, and only by his destruction may he survive."

  The buzzing of an alarm signaled the sudden jack-knifing and jamming of an ore train in surface tube A. Paul's hand went out automatically and slapped a fifteen-minute break on shaft power.

  "And so I charge you"—the voice rolled like drums below a guillotine from the screen before him—"that you look to the welfare of man and not to yourselves. That you turn your backs on the false promise of life and face the reality of death. That you charge yourselves with a duty. And that duty is complete—is utter—is total destruction. Destruction. Destruction! Destruction...."

  Paul blinked and sat up.

  The mine was all around him. The console was before him and in its center screen the group on the plaza of the Koh-i-Nor was breaking up. The newspeople were dispersing. The old man and the girl and man with him were following a fourth man—a thin young man with black hair and a tense, driving walk—into the hotel. Paul stared. He felt that only a minute had gone by, but even that was startling. For one of the peculiar facts about him was that he was completely unresponsive to hypnosis. It was a trait that had complicated matters for the psychiatrist who had worked with him following the boating accident. How, then, could he have lost even a minute?

  Sudden memory of the jackknifed cars in the surface tube broke him away from his personal puzzle. A more general power shutoff of equipment would be required unless he could solve that problem shortly. He left the console and took the chain lift alongside surface shaft Number One. The telltale on the console had spotted the jam-up at a hundred and forty-three feet below the shaft mouth. He reached Number Eight trouble hatch, turned on the lights in the shaft, and crawled through into the shaft himself. He saw the trouble, almost directly before him.

  The Number One surface shaft, like the skip tube, approached the surface from the mine below at an angle of roughly sixty degrees. A single powered rail ran up the bottom center of the shaft, and the fat-bodied, open-topped ore cars, filled with pebble-sized rock from below, rolled their cogwheels up the cleated rail. The cleats themselves served Paul now as hand and footholds as he climbed up to where one of the cars sat off the rail, angled against the stony wall.

  Still wondering about the familiar-looking girl and the extraordinary cultist who called himself the Guildmaster, Paul braced himself against the sharp-pointed wall of the shaft and the last car. He kicked at the hitch between the two cars. On the third kick, the hitch suddenly unbound the kink it had acquired when the car had jack-knifed. With a snap and a grunt from the stored power in the motorized base of each car, the train suddenly straightened out.

  As it did, the lights in the shaft dimmed, then flashed up again without warning as all the motors in all the cars hummed steadily to life. The train jerked and moved up the shaft, and without thinking, instinctively, Paul leaped and clung to the final car of the train.

  It burst on him then, brilliantly as mountains seen suddenly against a high spring sky, that in his preoccupation with the news broadcast he had only put a temporary fifteen-minute hold on power to the shaft. And afterward, following his little blackout, he had omitted to set the power controls for the shaft on manual.

  Now he was being carried up the shaft by the last car in the train. A few inches below him, the powered rail promised instant electrocution if he touched it. And the high-sided cars, all but filling the shaft, would block any try he could make to open the emergency hatches yet between him and the surface, as the train passed them.

  The walls and the roof were close.

  The roof in particular pressed down near to him. Rough-chewed from the granite and quartz, it rose and" dipped unevenly. At points along the shaft, Paul knew, ft would all but scrape the tops of the ore cars. If he could keep low, he might be able to ride the car he was holding to, to the surface. But, clinging to the back of it as he was, he felt his grip weakening.

  He pulled himself upward, flat onto the bed of ore in the car. The roof under which he was passing scraped harshly against the back of his head as the ore train, leaving the lighted section where he had put it back on the track, plunged upward into darkness. His hands pawing at the small sharp rock in the car, Paul dug furiously, burrowing himself in. Swaying and rumbling, the train climbed on. In the blackness Paul did not even see ahead the low point of the roof that was approaching....

  Out in the clear mountain morning the surface engineer on duty had been drawn to the mouth of the Number One shaft by the blinking of a white trouble light on his own console, and a later automatic signal that power to that shaft had been cut. He had come to the shaft mouth, only to be joined a few minutes later by the managing engineer, who had been keeping his eye on the telltales in his office, this day with a new man underground for the first time.

  "There it goes," said the surface engineer, a slight man named Diego and as young as Paul, as the hum of motors echoed once more up the natural speaking tube of the shaft. "He got it fixed."

  "A little slow," said the Malabar mine manager. He frowned. "Let's wait a minute here and see what the trouble was."

  They waited. The humming and the clank of the cogwheels approached. The first car poked its front out into the sunlight and
leveled off on the flat

  "What's that?" asked the mine manager, suddenly. There was a shadowy outline visible in the gloom around the approaching final car.

  The train trundled automatically on. The last car emerged into the sunlight and the bright illumination fell full on the shape of a man, half-buried and unmoving in the load of ore.

  "My God!" said the mine manager. "Stop those cars and help me get him off there!"

  But the young surface engineer was already being sick, turned away and leaning against the millhouse wall, in the early shadow of the mountains.

  Chapter 3

  The clerk working the afternoon division, day shift, on the room desk of the Koh-i-Nor Hotel in the downtown area of the Chicago Complex, was conscious of the fact that his aptitude tests had determined that he should find work in a particular class of job. The class was that of ornament—actually unnecessary from the point of view of modern hotel equipment. Accordingly he worked conscientiously at the primary virtue of a good ornament— being as hard to overlook as possible.

  He did not look up when he heard footsteps approach his desk and stop before it. He continued to write in elegant longhand at the list of currently newsworthy guests he was making on a bulletin sheet laid down beside the guest register.

  "I have a reservation," said a man's voice. "Paul For-main."

  "Very good," said the clerk, adding another name to his list without looking up. He paused to admire the smooth, flowing loops in the p's and l's of his penmanship.

  Abruptly, he felt his hand caught and held by a fist considerably larger than his own. It checked his pen's movement. The strange grasp held his hand like an imprisoned fly—not crushingly, but with a hint of unyielding power in reserve. Startled, a little scared, the clerk looked up.

  He found himself facing a tall young-old man with only one arm, the hand of which was holding him with such casual power.

  "Sir?" said the clerk. His voice pitched itself a little higher than he would have preferred.

  "I said," said the tall man, patiently, "I have a reservation. Paul Formain."

  "Yes sir. Of course." Once more the clerk made an effort to free his trapped hand. As if by an afterthought, the tall man let go. The clerk turned hurriedly to his desk register and punched out the name. The register lighted up with information. "Yes sir. Here it is. An outside single. What decor?"


  "Of course, Mr. Formain. Room 1412. Elevators around the corner to your left. I'll see your luggage is delivered to you immediately it arrives. Thank you...."

  But the tall, one-armed man had already gone off toward the elevators. The clerk looked after him, and then down at his own right hand. He moved the fingers of it experimentally. It had never before occurred to him what wonderfully engineered things those fingers were.

  Up in room 1412 Paul stripped and showered. By the tune he stepped out of the shower, his single suitcase had emerged from the luggage-delivery chute in the wall of the room. Half-dressed, he caught sight of himself in the mirror, which gave back his lean, flat-muscled image wearing the gray-green disposable slacks he had pressed for from the room dispenser after the shower. Above the waistband of the slacks, his chest and shoulders showed a healthy tan. The fine scars left by the plastic surgery had now faded almost to the point of invisibility. It was eight months since the accident in the mine, early in a new spring, with gray skies and a March wind blowing chilly off Lake Michigan.

  The stub of his left arm looked shrunken. Not so much, it seemed, because it no longer had the rest of the limb to support, but in contrast to the right arm that remained to him.

  The compensation development of the right arm had proceeded with unusual speed and to extremes, according to Paul's physicians. It hung now, reflected in the mirror's surface, like a great, living club of bone and muscle. The deltoid humped up like a rock over the point where clavicle toed into shoulder frame; and from the lower part of the deltoid, triceps and biceps humped like whale-backs down to the smaller, knot-like muscles above the elbow. Below the elbow, the flexors and the brachioradialis rose like low hills. The thenar group was a hard lump at the base of his thumb.

  And it was as a club that he sometimes thought of it. No—nothing so clumsy as a club. Like some irresistible, battering-ram force made manifest in flesh and skeleton. In the three-quarters of a year since the mine accident, through the long process of hospitalization, operation, and recuperation, that invincible part of him which sat in the back of his mind seemed to have chosen the arm for itself. The arm was that part of Paul, the part that doubted nothing, and least of all itself. Nor had time to waste on the posing of a hotel clerk.

  Obscurely, it bothered Paul. Like a man testing a sore tooth continually with a tongue, he found himself frequently trying the arm's strength on things, and being disturbed anew each tune by the result. Now, standing before the mirror, he reached out and closed his hand around the single ornament in the starkly modern hotel room—a tulip-shaped pewter vase about nine inches high, with a single red rose in it, that had been sitting on the dresser top. The vase fitted easily into his grasp, and he lifted it, slowly tightening the grip of his fingers.

  For a moment it almost seemed that the thick metal walls would resist. Then slowly the vase crumpled inward, until the rose, pinched halfway up its stem, toppled to one side, and water, brimming up over the rim of the vase, ran down onto Paul's contracting hand. Paul relaxed his grasp, opened his hand, and looked down at the squeezed shape of the vase lying in it for a second. Then he tossed the ruin—vase, flower, and all—into the waste-basket by the dresser and flexed his fingers. They were not even cramped. With that much strength the arm should already be becoming muscle-bound and useless. It was not.

  He finished dressing and went down to the subway entrance in the basement of the hotel. There was a two-seater among the empty cars waiting on the hotel switchback. He got in and dialed the standard 4441, which was the Directory address in all cities, centers, and Complexes over the fifty-thousand population figure. The little car moved out into the subway traffic and fifteen minutes later deposited him forty miles away at the Directory terminal.

  He registered his credit card with Chicago Complex Bookkeeping, and a routing service directed him to a booth on the ninth level. He stepped onto the disk of a large elevator tube along with several other people and found Ms eye caught by a book a girl was carrying.

  The book was in a small, hand-sized portable viewer, and the book's cover looked out at him from the viewer's screen. It gazed at him with the dark glasses and clever old mouth of the face he had been watching that day in the mine. It was the same face. Only, below the chin instead of the formal white collar and knotted scarf, there was the red and gold of some ceremonial robe.

  Against this red and gold were stamped the black block letters of the book's title. DESTRUCT.

  Glancing up from the book, for the first time he looked at the girl carrying it. She was staring at him with an expression of shock, and at the sight of her face he felt a soundless impact within himself. He found himself looking directly into the features of the girl who had stood beside and a little behind the Guildmaster in the viewing tank of the console at the mine.

  "Excuse me," she said. "Excuse me."

  She had turned, and pushing blindly past the other people on the disk stepped quickly off onto the level above that level on which Paul had entered.

  Reflexively, he followed her. But she was already lost in the crowd. He found himself standing in the heart of the musical section of the Directory library. He stood, brushed against by passers-by, gazing vainly out over the heads of the crowd for the sight of her. He was only half a pace from a row of booths, and from the partly-open door of one of these came the thin thread of melody that was a woman's soprano singing to a chimed accompaniment in a slow, minor key.....

  In apple comfort, long I waited thee

  The music ran through him like a wind blowing from far off, and the pushing people about him
became distant and unimportant as shadows. It was the voice of the girl in the elevator just now. He knew it, though he had only heard those few words from her. The music swelled and encompassed him, and ope of his moments of feeling moved in on him, on wings too strong for love and too wide for sadness.

  And long I thee in apple comfort waited.

  She was the music, and the music was a wind blowing across an endless snow field to a cavern where ice crystals chimed to the tendrils of the wind....

  In lonely autumn and uncertain springtime

  My apple longing for thee was not sated....

  Abruptly he wrenched himself free.

  Something had been happening to him. He stared about him, once more conscious of the moving crowd. The music from the booth was once more only a thread under the shuffle of feet and the distant sea-roar of conversations.

  He turned around and saw nothing on every side but the prosaic music section of a library floor in the directory. The magic was gone.

  But so was the girl.

  Paul went on up to the ninth level and found an open booth. He sat down, closed the door, and punched for a list of local psychiatrists, giving his now-registered credit number. As an afterthought, he added a stipulation that the list be restricted to those psychiatrists who had been interested or concerned with the problems of amputees in the past. The board before him flashed an acknowledgment of the request, and a statement that the answer would require about a ten- to fifteen-minute wait.

  Paul sat back. On impulse he coded the title of the book the girl had been carrying with a purchase request, and a second later a copy in a commercial viewer was delivered to the desk in front of him from the delivery chute.

  He picked it up. The face on the book's cover seemed to be staring at him with a sardonic expression, as if it amused itself with some secret it was keeping from him. The imaged face was not as he had seen it in the viewing tank at the mine, when the features had seemed to refuse to join in a clearly observed face. Now Paul saw the whole face, but something else was wrong. It was not so much a face but a wax mask. Something lifeless and without meaning. Paul punched the trip that would change the cover picture to the first page within.