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Evil Ascending, Page 2

Michael A. Stackpole

  Sinclair surrendered with a smile. "I have seen news reports, but, no, I have not read 'Mutant Spider Attacks Phoenix.' As for the actual incident," he glanced down at his hands, "I managed to sleep through it. Then again, I was never one for sharing the hallucinations caused by mass hysteria."

  Crowley leaned forward. "And what if I were to suggest that there was fire beneath the smoke that is this article?"

  "I would suggest you get in touch with your father, because his act was much better than yours."

  "Good, Mr. MacNeal, very good." Coyote walked back around and sat behind his desk. "You'll need your skepticism, because what we are about to tell you will be very surprising. I assure you it is true, as odd as it may seem."

  MacNeal tossed the tabloid onto the gold-carpeted floor, "It gets odder? I can't wait."

  Coyote let the sarcasm slip past, knowing he shared Sinclair's attitude before he had seen and done what prevented Fiddleback's success in assaulting Phoenix. "Mr. MacNeal, the creature in the picture that accompanies that article is, in fact, real. The maglev circuit that connects all of the corporate towers here in Phoenix had incorporated into its design a highly advanced circuitry layout. When supplied with sufficient power, as was present in the thunderstorm two weeks ago, it opened a gateway to another reality. In that reality, this creature exists."

  Sinclair shook his head. "Another reality? I think you've been watching too much Star Trek: Captain Crusher's Log."

  "In fact, there are many alternate realities, or dimensions, that exist side by side. The dimension that contains our Earth is one that is unusual in that it appears to be a nexus point and, for whatever reasons, Earth creatures hold a fascination for the creatures from these other dimensions." Coyote shrugged. "They labor to make our lives hell for their own amusement."

  Sinclair stood. "They may find us amusing, and you may find me amusing, but I'm not amused right now. I don't know what you wanted me to do, but if I have to buy this nonsense to do it, I'm out. Good day, gentlemen."

  "Crowley, you were right. Show him."

  The man in the gray suit eased himself forward to the edge of his chair. "At the Deitrich party, you and I ended up washing our hands side by side in the reception center's bathroom. You noticed a peculiar scar on the back of my left hand and commented that you'd only seen anything similar on dead fish."

  Crowley tugged at each finger of the glove on his left hand. As it slid free, Coyote saw a circular mass of scar tissue on the back of Crowley's left hand, it looked twisted and knotted, as if someone had taken a circular sanding tool to his flesh and had ground on it for a while. Pulling the glove all the way off, Crowley showed his hand to Sinclair.

  "The lamprey scar. I remember it." Sinclair looked up at the man's face, then back down at his hand. "But the man with the scar was much older—20, 30 years your senior. You could have faked that."

  "Touch it, if you wish. See if it is real." Crowley extended his hand to him, but the challenge in the occultist's voice made Sinclair hesitate. "You will recall that only you and I were in that room at the time, so only you saw the scar. You would further agree, I think, that while I might have faked the scar through some complex makeup or surgery, planning to inflict the scar on myself far enough in advance to let it heal like this, then springing it on you here, is improbable."

  Sinclair stared at the hand, then looked up at Crowley. "Believing you planned ahead is easier than trying to figure out how you became younger."

  Crowley slipped his hand back into the glove. "There are dimensions out there where things . . . change."

  Coyote sat back in his chair. "The easiest explanation is not always the correct one. In order to defeat Fiddleback—the 'mutant spider' in question—Crowley undertook a dangerous mission to a dimension that formed the basis for part of mythological Greek hell, Tartarus. In that pocket dimension, the one in which the titan Tityus regenerates on a daily basis after having provided a meal for vultures, he helped a woman regenerate from injuries caused by Fiddleback's agents. In the process, he also regenerated from all that ailed him. In his case, this was the ravages of old age. The scar, which he had gotten before the age to which he regressed, remained unaffected."

  Sinclair sat slowly, his bright eyes flicking back and forth between Crowley and Coyote. "I'm listening, but I'm not convinced."

  Coyote steepled his fingers. "Good. Stories of things from yetis and lake monsters to flying saucers and zombies have a basis in truth. Scholars have, by assuming the simplest answer is the best one, created scenarios for describing mythic epics as tales reflecting or explaining in magical terms concepts that ancient peoples could not understand. Like you, like them, I did not realize, until my encounter with Fiddleback, that another explanation existed: Other realities exist and, at various points in our history and prehistory, denizens of these other places have come here and been driven back by our ancestors."

  "So, you're trying to tell me that Count Dracula was really a vampire from another dimension?"

  "Perhaps. But more likely Vlad the Impaler was a human under the influence of a Dark Lord." Coyote unbuttoned his blue suit coat and leaned forward onto his desk. "I do not expect you to believe that everything weird is a result of Dark Lord action—plenty of human mountebanks make a living by spreading pseudo-scientific nonsense. I just want you to be aware that things, like Fiddleback, do exist and must be opposed. At the risk of sounding decidedly melodramatic, what I want you to do is help us prevent Fiddleback from taking over the world."

  "I've got the weekend free, not a problem," Sinclair quipped sarcastically.

  Coyote smiled at him. "I'm glad you have a sense of humor. You'll need it."

  "You said you had a job for me to do."

  "So I did. Until recently, Mr. MacNeal, I was an assassin being trained and maintained by Fiddleback's organization. I came to Phoenix to kill Nero Loring. I had my eyes opened to the nature of reality, or the realities, and now I have chosen to side with humanity over the whim of the Dark Lords."

  "Fiddleback being a Dark Lord?"

  Coyote nodded.

  Sinclair's eyes narrowed. "And there are more than just him?"

  Coyote nodded again.

  Crowley crossed his legs. "Fiddleback is but one of many. Pygmalion, Dead Tongue, Baron Someday and a dozen others all operate here on Earth. Fiddleback has been the most ambitious to date, but all are effective in their spheres of influence."

  "Fiddleback, as part of his plan to solidify his hold on Earth, has created a training school for assassins and other agents. I know its general location, but I want you to pinpoint it and scout it out for me." Coyote interwove his fingers and watched Sinclair closely. "This is why I am sending you to Japan."

  Sinclair's head came up as if someone had grabbed his hair and jerked it back. "Japan? I don't think you want me going to the Land of the Rising Sun. You may have a background file on me, but much of what it reports about my time in Tokyo is wrong, I'm certain."

  "I don't think so. Jytte is thorough and never settles for one source. I know about your situation vis-à-vis the Yakuza and the others in Japan. You are precisely the person I want in place there." Coyote punched the button on his desk phone when it lit up. "Yes, Lilith?"

  "The flight is standing by, Mr. Loring."

  "We'll be right up." He stood. "Sorry to cut this short, but I have to catch a shuttle out to the regional airport. I have a flight leaving very shortly."

  "Wait a minute. You can't just leave me in the dark here."

  Coyote pointed back toward the door. "My executive assistant, Ms. Acres, will give you a full set of briefing documents. She has also prepared your reservations in Tokyo, all the documentation you'll need, a credit line of $50,000 and has $5000 in cash for you. You still prefer the Beretta M92S as a side arm?"

  Sinclair looked a bit shocked. "Yes, but smuggling one into Japan will be impossible."

  "Agreed, which is why we will have one waiting for you in your suite in the New Palace Hotel.
Ms. Acres will remain in this office for a week, then she will transfer to the Lorica office in Tokyo. You can reach her here or there as needed." Opening his top drawer, Coyote pulled a sealed file folder from his desk and offered it to Sinclair. "I need you to do one more thing. I need you to take this to Phoenix General Tower, Room 10542."

  Sinclair accepted the file. "I give this to Hal Garrett?"

  Coyote nodded appreciatively. "Very good, Mr. MacNeal. How did you know?"

  "I have a head for figures." He tapped his right temple. "After your visit to my apartment, I checked on Garrett. I remember the room number."

  "Then you'll have no trouble finding it. I will contact you in Japan when I am able and you will likely see Mr. Crowley before you see me."

  "One thing, Coyote."


  "You said you were trained at this facility, which you put in Japan. Why am I going after it when you, it seems to me, would be the logical choice to uncover it?"

  Coyote smiled. "The short form is that I no longer know where it is, so I need you to find it for me. More importantly, though, Crowley believes—and I have come to agree with him—that I need to complete the training Fiddleback had intended for me, albeit without his sponsorship. This means I must go away, but for how long, I do not know. If I learn what I must quickly enough, and you find Fiddleback's beachhead in Japan, we can defeat him."

  "And if you or I fail?"

  Coyote pointed to Crowley. "Remember what the lamprey did to his hand?"

  Sinclair nodded solemnly.

  "Imagine life after Fiddleback does that to the Earth."

  Sinclair MacNeal shielded his eyes from the dust storm raised by Lorica's CV-27 Peregrine. As the dual-rotor craft lifted off, the pilot rotated the nacelles at the end of the wings forward, transforming the hybrid craft from helicopter to more conventional plane. The silvery craft dipped toward the ground to pick up airspeed, then swooped up and headed directly out toward the regional airport in the distance.

  Raking windblown hair back into place with his left hand, Sin looked out over the city of Phoenix. From high atop the Lorica Industries corporate citadel, he had a clear view of the black, photovoltaic cell ocean that covered the city 100 feet above the ground. He saw two Arizona Public Service crews working to repair cells damaged in the storm two weeks earlier.

  Seven man-made islands floated in the black sea called Frozen Shade. To the northwest he saw the Build-more complex and even allowed himself a proud smile. The largest of the islands, dead west from the Lorica complex, dwarfed all the others. City Center sat at the hub of the maglev-elevated train lines that connected all of the corporate citadels and very much formed the center of life for the people living in those towers.

  Raised in the Build-more tower, and having lived there when not in Japan or Europe, Sin found what he surveyed normal. On his 18th birthday, his father had taken him to the top of the Build-more tower and swept his arm wide over the city. "Sinclair, someday this will all be yours." I'd have believed him, except I knew he'd said the same thing to my three older brothers when they turned 18.

  "Mr. MacNeal?"

  Sin looked over toward the accessway into the tower. "Yes, Ms. Acres, what is it?"

  The blonde woman nodded once and smiled. "Mr. Loring asked me to prepare your things for you. If you would follow me."

  Sin took one last look at the city. He drew in a lungful of the dry, desert air and let himself revel in the 110°F heat. "May be hot, but it's a dry heat," he laughed to himself. "Unfortunately, Tokyo is a very wet heat at this time of year."

  "Mr. MacNeal?"

  "Sorry." He shook his head and followed Lilith through the doorway and down the dark stairwell. Above him, the door shut automatically and, as they descended, the air cooled appreciably. "Outsiders always note that Phoenix has dry heat, as if that makes it bearable. Trying to explain to them that an oven has dry heat also never seems to make the point. Still, the dry heat here is preferable to Tokyo during the summer."

  Lilith nodded politely, but Sin definitely had the impression she did so merely because it was mannerly, not out of any interest. The stairwell ended in a stout metal door with a one-foot square of white Lucite in the wall beside the jamb. She pressed her hand to it and a neon green bar passed from top to bottom and back up again, scanning her palmprint. The light went out, then the door lock clicked.

  She held the door open as Sin paused and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. He wiped the plate down, then stepped into the foyer of Loring's office suite. Lilith followed him, and an oaken panel slid down to hide the door. Sin smiled at her as he refolded his handkerchief and returned it to his pocket.

  Lilith's green eyes studied him for a moment, then she rested her hands on her hips. "Excuse me, but why did you do that?"

  "I'm a security specialist, remember? The green light and the scan rate makes that the Tojicorp knockoff of the Allard Technologies Argus Security Scanner. The Allard system has some proprietary software burned into its chips that Tojicorp never cracked, so there are a couple of tricks that can be used to defeat the TC system." Sin shrugged. "They're not that simple, and few thieves carry that sort of equipment around with them, anyway."

  "I see." Lilith pulled back the cuff of her green silk jacket and activated the wrist-recording device she wore. "Note: have all security scanners replaced with Allard Technologies Argus systems." Switching the device off, she directed Sin toward her office. "This way, please."

  "Neat toy, that."

  "I will have one ordered for you." Lilith nodded at her red-haired secretary, then ushered Sin into her office. She closed the door behind them, which gave him a moment to survey the blond-ash paneled room. The warm, golden carpet and open airiness of the room made it seem far larger than it really was. This impression was aided by a window that took up the whole north wall and provided a breathtaking view of Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain.

  She nodded and pointed him to a straight-backed chair in front of her blackened-steel and smoky-glass desk. The desk itself was utterly bare, and he wondered how she got any work done at all without a computer or a phone. As she walked around behind it and touched the desk at several seemingly random spots, he realized her secret.

  The whole desk surface is a touch-sensitive LCD computer screen! "That's the Big Blue-Delicious XR-8500, isn't it?" He leaned forward, but the polarized glass over the desk's surface only let someone looking at it from her angle see anything. "I've read about it, but I've never seen one."

  Lilith smiled, and Sin thought it certain she was taking joy in having turned the tables on him. "This is actually a prototype XR-9900." She hit an invisible icon on the right side. "Daphne, can you bring Mr. MacNeal's briefcase in here, please?"

  Behind him the office door opened and Lilith's trim secretary brought him a brushed aluminum attaché case. Sin looked at the twin locks and saw all the dials were set at 0. He held it in his lap until Daphne left the room, then set it down on the floor. He waited to see if that surprised Lilith, but she did not react to his behavior.

  "The locks are keyed to your birthday. In there you will find your new passport, ID, credit cards, plane tickets and $5000 in cash. I've also put the file for Hal Garrett in there." She glanced at her desktop. "He is in room . . ."


  "Very good, Mr. MacNeal. I would have not expected you to remember."

  Sin smiled easily. "I trained myself to memorize numbers. The case here, for example, is keyed to a number that I can remember. It's also a number that anyone who has a file on me can remember. If I want that stuff to be secure, I change the combination to something utterly random and memorize the numbers."

  Sin half expected her to make another note on her wrist-recorder, but she did not. "Do you want to check the material before you go?"

  "No, I trust you." You're efficient. It's your boss I wonder about. "You'll be in touch when you arrive in Japan?"

  "If you need me, I'll be available."

he gave him a quixotic smile that, if he saw it on the face of the women he met in his social circle, he would have taken to be a come-on. With Lilith Acres, however, he read it as some sign of inner amusement—as if he had spinach stuck in his teeth or had a shirt-tail out. To him, this meant their relationship would never extend beyond business and that suited him fine. He anticipated his return to Japan would be odd enough without trying to carry on any sort of social life.

  Lilith directed him from the office to the elevator. "Have a pleasant trip, Mr. MacNeal."

  "Thank you, Ms. Acres." He entered the empty cylinder and punched the button for the level with access to the maglev train. The cage dropped away as if the cables had been cut above him, but it gradually slowed as it neared the 12th floor. The descent let Sin look out through the many levels of the Lorica tower and at the crowds of people there. Level after level of shops and offices and apartments strobed past, yet, while he saw them all and cataloged the weaknesses of Lorica's security, his mind wandered to gnaw on a more immediate problem.

  Michael Loring/Coyote and Damon Crowley had clearly bought the tabloid story about a giant spider attacking Phoenix. Even though he had slept through the whole storm, he'd heard enough people talk about it that he knew it was decidedly odd. He'd even heard rumors about what the APS crew working at the base of the Lorica tower had found amid the ashes and broken PV cells. Even so, he couldn't buy it.

  He knew he had a good imagination—a necessity to successfully work a corporate security beat. Thinking ahead of all the impossible ways to break security was the only way to ensure that it would not be broken. During his time in Japan, he showed his corporate masters tricks they had never dreamed of. He'd personally played for hours with one of the Tojicorp units to figure out how to crack it.

  Despite that, however, he found himself rigidly skeptical about all the odd things reported about the world. He fully accepted that yeti might exist in Tibet's mountains, but he wasn't going to believe it until he and someone like Lilith spent an evening lounging on a yeti pelt in front of a warm fire. That went double and triple for tales of zombies and downed flying saucers and aging Nazi menaces from the hollow Earth.