Taschenka - Harry's Quest - The Trek Begins
Taschenka Tassi' Kirescu was nineteen, small and slim, completely unpolitical and very frightened.
Her skin was a little darker than that of the rest of her family; her eyes were large and very slightly tilted in an oval face; her hair was black and shiny to match her eyes, and she wore it in braids. Tassi's father, Kazimir, whom she hadn't seen since the night they were arrested, had used to explain jokingly that she was a throwback. There's Mongol blood in you, girl,' he'd told her, his eyes sparkling. 'Blood of the great Khans who came this way all of those hundreds of years ago. Either that ... or I don't know your mother as well as I think I do!' Following which Anna, Tassi's mother, would invariably sputter furiously and chase him with whatever she could lay her hands on.
That, of course, had been in the good times, all of a few weeks ago, which now felt like several centuries.
Tassi had known nothing of Mikhail Simonov's real reason for coming to Yelizinka in the Ural foothills; the story she'd heard was that he was a city boy who'd been something of a wild one, that he'd always been getting himself into one sort of trouble or another, until finally he'd been sent logging as a punishment, a penance guaranteed to cool him off. Well, places didn't come much cooler than Yelizinka, not in the winter, anyway; but Tassi wasn't at all sure that Mikhail's blood had been cooled by it. In fact they'd very quickly become lovers, in a strange sort of way. Strange because he'd always been quick to warn her that it couldn't last, and that therefore she mustn't fall in love with him; strange, too, in that she'd felt exactly the same way about it: he'd serve his time here and wipe his record clean, and then he'd move on, probably back to the city, Moscow, and she would find herself a husband from the logging communities around.
The attraction had been the loneliness she'd felt in him, and a contradictory bowstring tension lying just beneath the surface of him. For his part: once, in a dreamy, faraway moment, he'd told her that she was the only real thing in his life right now, that sometimes he felt the entire world and his place in it were just an enormous fantasy. And now she'd been told that he was a foreign spy, which to Tassi had seemed like the greatest possible fantasy - at first. But that had been before they took her down into the Perchorsk Projekt.
Since then... everything had turned into a real fantasy, a horror story, a living nightmare.
Her father had been incarcerated in the cell next door to hers and she knew he had been tortured on a number of occasions. She'd heard it all coming right through the sheet-steel walls. The hoarse, terrified panting, the sharp slapping sounds, his anguished cries for mercy. But there'd been precious little of that last. Then, three days ago, there'd been one especially bad session; in the middle of it, at its height, the old man had screamed... and then, he'd stopped screaming - abruptly. Since when Tassi had heard nothing from him at all.
She couldn't even bear to think what might have happened; she hoped the silence meant that her father was now in a hospital somewhere, recovering; she prayed that's what it meant, anyway.
Almost as bad had been Major Khuv's questioning. The KGB Major had not once laid a hand on her, but she'd had the suspicion that if he did he would hurt her terribly. The awful thing was that she didn't have - didn't know - anything to tell him. If she had then fear on its own would have obliged her to tell it, or if not fear certainly the desire to stop them hurting her father.
And then there had been the beast Vyotsky. Tassi hadn't stood so much in fear of that one as in horror of him. And she had sensed - had known instinctively - that he enjoyed her horror, feeding upon it like a ghoul on rotting flesh! There had been little or nothing sexual about his treatment of her that time when he'd had her photographed naked with him. It had all been done for effect: partly to shame her, underline her vulnerability and make her feel the lowest of the low; partly to show her the power of her tormentor - that he could strip her naked, leer at her and paw her body, while she was incapable of lifting a ringer to stop him - but mainly to aid him in the mental torture of someone else. The sadist Vyotsky had told her that the photographs were for the 'benefit' of the British spy, Michael Simmons, whom she had known as Mikhail Simonov: 'to drive the poor bastard out of his mind!' Plainly the idea had delighted Vyotsky. 'He thinks he's so cool - hah.r he'd said. 'If this doesn't get him boiling, then nothing will!'
The KGB bully was quite mad, Tassi was sure. Even though he hadn't been back to torment her for quite some time now, still she would freeze whenever she heard someone approaching the door of her cell; and if the footsteps should pause... then her breathing would go ragged at once, and her poor heart begin beating that much faster.
It had started to beat that way just a little while ago, but on this occasion her visitor was only Vyotsky's superior officer, Major Khuv.
Only Major Khuv! Tassi thought, as the suave KGB officer entered her cell. That was a laugh! But she wasn't even close to laughing as he cuffed her wrist to his own, then told her:
Taschenka, my dear. I want to show you something. It's something I feel you really ought to see before I question you again at any great length. You'll understand why soon enough.'
Stumbling along behind him, she made no effort to even guess where he was taking her. Essentially a peasant girl, to her the Projekt was a maze, a nightmare labyrinth of steel and concrete. Her claustrophobia had so disoriented her that she was lost from the first step she took across the threshold of her cell.
'Tassi,' Khuv murmured, leading her on through the almost deserted, dimly lit night corridors, 'I want you to think very carefully. Much more carefully than you've been thinking so far. And if there's anything at all you can tell me about the subversive activities of your brother, your father, the people of Yelizinka in general - and in particular about the underground, anti-Soviet organization to which any or all of them belonged ... I mean, this really is going to be your last chance, Tassi.'
'Major,' she gasped the word out, 'sir, I know nothing of any of these things. If my father was what you say he was -'
'Oh, he was,' Khuv glanced at her and nodded gravely. 'You may be sure that ... he was!'
It was the way he said the last word, its ominous emphasis. And in a moment it had Tassi's free hand flying to her mouth. 'What... what have you done to him?' Her question was the merest whisper.
They had arrived at a door bearing a legend familiar to Khuv but one which Tassi had never seen before. She only glanced at it; it said something about a keeper and security classified persons only. Using his plastic ID tag, and as the door's mechanisms were activated, Khuv turned to Tassi and answered her question:
'Done to him? To your father? Me? I have done nothing! He did it all himself - with his refusal to cooperate. A very stubborn man, Kazimir Kirescu...'
The door opened with a click. Khuv held it open a crack, called out: 'Vasily, is all in order?'
'Oh, yes, Major,' came back an unctuous reply. 'All ready.'
Khuv smiled at Tassi. The smile of a shark on its attack run. 'My dear,' he said, shoving the door open wide and leading her into the room of the creature, 'I'm going to show you something unpleasant, and tell you something even more unpleasant, and finally suggest the most unpleasant thing of all. Following which you shall have the rest of the night and all day tomorrow to think about where you stand. But no more time than that.'
The room was in near-darkness, to which the ceiling lights added only an eerie red glow. Tassi could make out the figure of a small man in a white smock, and the shape of a large oblong box or tank covered with a white sheet. The tank must be of glass, for a small white light in the wall behind it shone right through, casting on the sheet a milky, ghostly outline, the silhouette of something that flopped sluggishly inside the tank.
'Come closer,' Khuv drew Tassi toward the tank. 'Don't be afraid, it's perfectly safe. It can't hurt you - not yet.'
Standing beside the KGB Major, unconsciously clutching his arm in her innocence as she stared wide-eyed at the weird silhouette on the sheet, Tassi heard him say to the scientist in the white smock: 'Very well, Vasily, let's see what we have here.'
Vasily Agursky tugged at one corner of the sheet and it began to slide slowly from the tank, letting a little more of the subdued light shine through. Then the slide accelerated and the sheet whispered to the floor. The thing in the tank had its back to the three; feeling their eyes upon it, it glanced over one hunched shoulder. Tassi looked at it, stared at it in disbelief, shuddered and clung to Khuv that much more fiercely. He patted her hand almost absent-mindedly, in a fashion which in other circumstances might almost have seemed fatherly. Except this was not her father but the man who had let Karl Vyotsky terrorize her.
'Well, Tassi,' he said, his voice very low, very sinister, 'and what do you think of that?'
She didn't know what to think of it, and later she would give anything to be able to forget it entirely. But for now: the shape of the thing was vaguely manlike, though even in this poor light it was quite obviously not a man. It appeared to be feeding, using taloned hands to tear its food and stuff strips of raw red meat into its mouth. Its face was mainly hidden, but Tassi could see the way its jaws worked, and the baleful glare of the very human eye that peered back over its shoulder.
Hunched down, crouching or squatting there on the sandy floor of its tank, the thing might have been an ape; but its leprous skin was corrugated and its feet gripped the floor with too many hooked, skeletal digits. An appendage like a tail - which was not a tail - lay coiled behind it; Tassi gasped as she saw that this extraneous member, too, was equipped with a rudimentary, lidless, almost vacant eye.
The thing was entirely freakish, and as for what it fed upon...
Tassi gave a massive start, jumped back from the tank. The creature had snatched up more food from the floor of its glass cell - and a human arm had suddenly flopped into view, dangling from its terrible hands! As Tassi's eyes bulged in horror, so the thing commenced munching on the dismembered arm's hand and fingers.
'Steady, my dear,' said Khuv quietly, as the girl moaned and reeled beside him.
'But... but... it's eating a... a -'
'A man?' Khuv finished it for her. 'Or what's left of one? Indeed it is, yes. Oh, it will eat any sort of meat, but it appears to like human flesh the best.' And to Agursky: 'Vasily, do you have something for Tassi?'
The strange little scientist came forward, pressed something - several somethings - into her hand. A wallet? A ring? An ID card? And however familiar these things were, for a long moment her mind wouldn't recognize them, refused to make the final, terrible connection. Then-
She felt dizzy and put her free hand on the glass wall of the tank to steady herself, and her eyes went from the items in her hand to the thing where it crouched. Horrified but at the same time fascinated, she stared and stared at it. Were these men trying to tell her that... that this creature was eating her father?!
Agursky had gone to one side of the room, where suddenly he switched up the lighting. Everything sprang into sharp, almost dazzling definition. The creature threw its food to one side and turned snarling toward Khuv and Tassi where they both shrank instinctively back.
And that was when she fainted and would have fallen to the floor if her wrist hadn't been cuffed to the Major's, and if he hadn't turned quickly to catch up her sagging body in his arms.
For the thing in the glass tank was ... oh, it was something hellish, yes, nightmarish. But the greater nightmare was this: that however monstrous and warped, however altered and alien that thing's caricature of a face was when it had snarled at her, still she'd recognized it as the face of her father!
Jazz Simmons's Georgian terrace bachelor flat in Hampstead was colourful, cluttered, and when Harry Keogh had first moved in a little over twenty-four hours ago it had been bitterly cold and the telephone was off. He'd had E-Branch clear it for him to use the place as his base, and he'd warned them not to come bothering him. He had Darcy Clarke's word that he could play the entire game his way, without interference.
His way had been to attempt to absorb something of the atmosphere of the place first. Maybe he could get to know Simmons by understanding how he'd lived: his tastes, likes and dislikes, and his routine. Not his work routine, his private routine. Harry didn't believe that a man was what he did professionally; he believed a man was what he thought privately.
The first thing that had impressed itself upon him was the clutter. Privately, Jazz Simmons had been a very untidy man. Maybe it was his way of relaxing. When you're trained to a knife-edge you have to have a place where you can sheathe yourself now and then, or else you might cut yourself. This had been Jazz's unwinding place.
The 'clutter' consisted of books and magazines dropped any and everywhere, more off the bookshelves than on them. Spy-thrillers (not unnaturally, Harry supposed) lay alongside piles of foreign language publications, most of the latter being Russian. There was also, beside Jazz's bed, a dusty, foot-thick stack of Pravdos - topped by a copy of the latest Playboy. Harry had had to smile: hardly the most compatible meeting of ideologies!
Also in the bedroom were dust-free framed photographs of Jazz's father and mother; on the wall a life-size Marilyn Monroe poster; a cabinet standing close to the window, containing cups won in various ski events; and again affixed to the wall a battered pair of bright yellow skis and sticks which must be of some special significance. A recessed cupboard in a narrow passageway had showered Harry with an accumulation of skiing requisites, and beside Jazz's video cassette recorder were haphazardly stacked films of all the main winter athletics for the last five years. While Jazz hadn't been available to participate, still he hadn't been willing to miss out entirely.
There were photographs of girls, too, quite a pile of them, in one corner of a bedroom drawer; a scrap-book contained a photographic record of Jazz's military term; perhaps significantly, a second album carefully wrapped in an old pullover consisted of faded letters to Jazz from his father.
Harry had let the feel of all of these things sink in. He'd slept in Jazz's bed, used his kitchen and bathroom, even his dressing-gown. He discovered several phone numbers of old girlfriends, called them and asked about Jazz, discovered them to be a mixed bunch with little in common except their obvious intelligence, and the fact that one and all they thought Jazz was 'a very nice guy'. Harry was starting to think so, too; and where before Michael J. Simmons had been merely a means to an end - hopefully to the discovery of Harry's family - now he had become something of an issue in his own right. In short, the horizon of Harry's obsession was expanding beyond purely personal interests.
At this stage, too, Harry had felt that he now must get a little closer to Simmons himself. Or if not the real man, then at least his metaphysical echo. Simmons no longer existed in this universe, but he had once existed in the past...
In Harry's incorporeal days he had been able to travel into the past and 'immaterialize' there: he'd been able to manifest a ghostly semblance of himself on the bygone event screen. Now, embodied and fully corporeal once more, this was no longer possible; it would create unthinkable paradoxes, perhaps even damage the structure of time itself. He could still travel in time, but while doing so he must never attempt to leave the metaphysical Mobius Continuum for the real world.
Not that this was a necessity; to achieve his aim on this occasion, time-travel itself should suffice. And so he entered the Mobius Continuum, found a past-time door and journeyed back a little way, less than two years into the past. In doing so Harry had altered his position in time but not in space; he still 'occupied' Jazz Simmons's flat. And so, when as he judged it he had journeyed far enough and reversed his direction to head once more for 'the future', he knew beyond a reasonable doubt that the strong blue life-thread which travelled parallel to his own must be that of Simmons. For after all, he'd picked it up in Simmons's flat. And following that life-thread into the future, he also knew that he was now about to prove one way or the other any similarity between Simmons's -transference? - and those of his wife and son.
The proof wasn't long in coming, and temporaneously it agreed exactly with the time Darcy Clarke had specified in defining Simmons's exit point. Although he expected it, still Harry didn't see it coming, just an eyeball-searing blaze of white light; following which ... he journeyed on alone. Jazz Simmons had gone - elsewhere! The same elsewhere, presumably, as Harry Jnr and Brenda before him.
Harry didn't need to go back and play it all over again; he'd seen the same thing plenty of times before, and it was always the same. There was nothing new here, the only difference being that Simmons had gone in a single white instantaneous blaze, while the departure of Harry Jnr and his mother had been accompanied by twin bomb-bursts. As for what those terminal flares signified, Harry was at a complete loss. He only knew that before the white dazzle blue life-threads raced for the future, and that after it those life-threads no longer existed. Not in this universe, anyway.
Which led to his next line of enquiry: Mobius himself.
August Ferdinand Mobius (1790-1868), a German mathematician and astronomer, lay in his grave in a Leipzig cemetery. His dust was there, anyway, which to Harry Keogh, Necroscope, was one and the same thing. Harry had been to see Mobius before, to discover the secret of the Mobius Continuum. In life Mobius had invented it (though he personally had denied that, telling Harry that in fact he'd merely 'noticed' it) and in death he'd gone on to develop his theories into precise sciences, albeit sciences no living person would ever comprehend. None, that is, except Harry Keogh himself. And Harry's son, of course.
The last time Harry was here he'd come by rather more conventional means: by air to Berlin, then through Check-Point Charlie to the east - as a tourist! But mundane as his arrival had been, his exit from Leipzig had been along an entirely different route - through a Mobius door. That had been Harry's first experience of the Mobius Continuum, since when he'd become an expert in his own right.
But there had been far more than that to Harry's visit, and even now he might not have discovered the correct mental formulae but for the spur he'd received at that time. Harry had been on the 'wanted' list of the Soviet E-Branch. The emerging vampire Boris Dragosani, a member of that branch, had wanted to take Harry - alive if possible - and draw from him the secret of his weird talents. Dragosani was a necromancer who ripped the private thoughts of the dead out of their ravaged bodies, who read their secrets in brain fluids and torn ligaments, in ruptured organs and eviscerated guts. It would be so much easier if he could simply talk to the dead, like Harry. They might not respect him as they did Harry, but the threat of defilement should suffice to open them up. If not... well, there was always the other way.
Dragosani had issued a detention warrant, ordering the East German Grenzpolizei to pick Harry up on trumped-up charges. They had tried, and out of necessity Harry had solved the final equation of Mobius's metaphysical space-time dimension, with which he could summon 'doors' on the entire space-time universe. Barely in time, Harry had used one of these doors. Ironically, perhaps, it had floated into view (but only Harry's view) across the face of Mobius's headstone!
From then on Harry's invasion of the Soviet E-Branch and the destruction of Dragosani had been an inexorable process, in the course of which his own body had been destroyed and abandoned as once more he escaped to the Mobius Continuum. There, as an incorporeal being, a bodiless mind and soul, eventually he had discovered and entered into the drained shell of Alec Kyle. This had been an almost involuntary event - Kyle's body, a living vacuum, had seemed to reach out and suck Harry in - but it had given him a place among men again and ended what was otherwise an interminable existence in the matterless Mobius Continuum.
And now Harry was back in Leipzig, standing by Mobius's grave as before. Almost nine years had passed since last he was here, but he hadn't forgotten those events which terminated his first visit. And so on this occasion he'd come by night.
A moon hung low over the city's skyline, and the stars were very bright between streamers of fast-fleeing cloud. The night wind, moaning through the headstones, sent wrinkled leaves scurrying like mice, and Harry felt a chill in his bones which was born partly of the natural cold of a November night, and partly of his feeling of alienation here in this place. But the cemetery gates were closed for the night, the lights in the city subdued, and apart from the scrape of leaves all was silence.
He sought Mobius out and found him, and as before the great mathematician was busy with his formulae and his calculations. Tables of planetary mass and motion, the 'weights' of the sun and her satellite worlds in their careening round, were balanced against orbital velocities and gravitic forces; formulae so complex that even Harry's intuitive grasp found their purpose elusive, together with simultaneous equations whose answers filled themselves in even as he watched; all of these figures and configurations beat on Harry's awareness like the ever-changing results of an on-going process on the screen of some vast computer. And Harry saw that the problem was so complex and so close to completion that he let it go on undisturbed by his presence to the end. At which time the screen went blank and Mobius sighed. It was a strange thing, even now, to hear the 'sigh' of a dead man.
'Sir?' said Harry. 'Are you available now?'
'Eh?' said Mobius, in that moment before he recognized Harry's thoughts. Then: 'Is that you, Harry?' he continued eagerly. 'I thought there was someone here. You very nearly put me off just then, and I was working on something which is very important!'
'I know,' Harry nodded. 'I saw it, but I didn't want to disturb you. Those are very wonderful discoveries!'
'Oh?' Mobius seemed surprised. 'You could understand my working, then? Very well, and what have I discovered?'
Harry drew back a little, hesitating. He was in the presence of genius and he knew it. Mobius had been a great mathematician all his life, and after that life he had continued his work unabated. Where Harry's mathematical skills were intuitive, Mobius had worked hard to achieve his results. No quantum leaps for him but dogged trial and error and an unwavering, all-consuming passion for his subject. It seemed somehow improper for Harry to have come here at this time, spying on the man in his triumph.
'Not at all,' Mobius tut-tutted him. 'What? - a man who can impose his physical being on the metaphysical universe, and use it at will? Spying on me? I consider you a colleague, Harry, an equal! And truth be told, you couldn't have come visiting at a more opportune time. Now come on, tell me what I've been doing. What is it that I've proved with my numbers, eh?'
Harry shrugged. 'Very well,' he said. 'You've shown that instead of the nine planets we believed to exist in the solar system, there are in fact eleven. Both of the new worlds are small, but true planets for all that. One occupies a position exactly behind Jupiter, with the same rotation period, so that it's always occluded, and the other's a non-reflector and lies about as far out again as Pluto from the sun.'
'Good!' Mobius applauded him. 'And their moons?'
'Eh?' Harry was taken by surprise. 'I read only the problem you'd set yourself and the answers to the problem as you arrived at them! There were slight deviations -percentages of error, I suppose - but...' He paused.
'But? But?' Harry could almost picture Mobius raising his eyebrows. 'All the clues were there in the equations, Harry. No? Very well. I'll tell you:
The inner world has no moon, but the "percentage of error", as you call it, for the outer world was just too big to be ignored. I have checked it and it indicates an almost spherical nickel-iron moon three kilometres in diameter orbiting the parent at a distance of twenty-four thousand planetary circumferences. Now that is what we call a calculation! Of course, I shall prove it by going there and seeing it for myself.'
Harry shook his head in defeat, offered a wry grimace. 'You're too good for me,' he said. 'You always will be.' And after a moment: 'Do you want me to let this "leak out", as it were? I could do that easily enough, with just sufficient information to set the entire astronomical fraternity jumping! It could be done anonymously, by an "amateur", you understand, on the solemn promise that when the calculations are shown to be correct, then one of the two worlds should be named Mobius!' Mobius was stunned. 'Could you really do that, Harry?' 'I'm sure I could find a way.'
'My boy... God!' Mobius was overjoyed at the prospect. 'Harry, how I wish I could shake your hand!'
'You can do rather more than that,' Harry told him, growing serious in a moment. 'You remember the last time I came to see you I had a problem? Well, now I have an even bigger one.'
'Let's have it, then,' said the other at once, and Harry told him of his quest for his wife and son. He finished by explaining:
'And so you see, it's no longer simply a question of my family, but I also have the British agent Michael Simmons to consider.'
Mobius seemed nonplussed. 'And you've come to me for help? Well, obviously you have - but for the life of me I can't see what I can do! I mean, if they're not here, these three people - if they have physically ceased to exist in this universe - then how can I or anyone else suggest where or how to find them? The universe is The Universe, Harry. Its very name defines it. It is THE ALL. If they're not in it, then they're not anywhere.'
'That was my line of reasoning, too.' Harry admitted, ' - until recently. But you and me, why, don't we both contradict that very fact?'
'Eh? How's that?'
'The Mobius Continuum,' Harry answered, by way of explanation. 'You yourself admit that it's a purely metaphysical plane, not of this universe. Step into the Mobius Continuum and you step out of the three mundane dimensions. The Mobius Continuum not only transcends the three dimensions of mundane space but time also, and runs parallel to all of them! And what of a black hole?'
'What of it?' (Mobius's mental shrug.)
'Well, isn't a black hole an exit from this universe? That's how they've always been explained to me: a focus of gravity so great that space and time themselves are drawn into the whorl. And if they are exits from the here and now, then where the hell do they lead?'
To another part of the universe,' Mobius answered. That seems the only likely explanation to me. Mind you, I haven't really looked at black holes yet. I have them scheduled, though.'
'Are you missing the point or deliberately avoiding it?' Harry wanted to know. This is my question: if a black hole goes somewhere, emerging maybe light-years away, what of the space in between? Where is the material which is drawn into the hole, between its disappearing and its reappearing? You see, to me this all seems very much like our Mobius Continuum.'
'Go on,' Mobius was fascinated.
'OK,' said Harry, 'let's look at it this way. First we have the ... let's call it the mundane universe. And we'll say it looks like this:'
He showed Mobius a mental diagram.
'Why the bends?' the mathematician was immediately curious.
'Because without them it would just be a pair of straight lines,' Harry told him. 'The bends give it definition, make it look like something.'
'Like a ribbon?'
'For the purpose of the exercise, why not? For all I know it could be a circle, or maybe a sphere. But this way we can envisage a past and a future, too.'
'Very well,' Mobius conceded.
'Now in this diagram of the universe,' Harry went on, 'we can't go from "A" to "B" without crossing the edge. We can go up the ribbon from "A" to the edge, then down to "B". Or down to the edge and up, it makes no difference. The edge represents the distance between "A" and "B", right?'
'Agreed,' said the other.
'Now this is how I see the Mobius Continuum,' said Harry:
And he continued: 'It's the ribbon universe we know with the half-twist of your Mobius strip. "Now" has turned through ninety degrees to become "forever". Which means that "A" and "B" are now on the same plane. We no longer have to cross the edge. We can go from one to the other instantaneously - "now"!'
'Go on,' said Mobius again, but much more thoughtfully.
'Previously we've thought of it like this:' said Harry. 'Like... like putting on a pair of seven-league boots and striding to our destinations in seconds. Covering distances that should take hours in minutes. But I've checked it out and it's not like that. In fact we go there instantaneously -accordingly to Earth-time, anyway. It's not simply that we go there faster, but that the space in between actually disappears!'
After a little while Mobius said, 'I think I understand. What you want to know is this: if for us the space between "A" and "B" reduces to zero - if it disappears - '
'Exactly!' Harry cut in. 'Where does it go to?'
'But it's an illusion,' Mobius cried. 'It's still there. It's we who have disappeared - into the Mobius Continuum, as you insist upon calling it!'
'Now we're getting somewhere,' Harry took a deep breath. 'You see, the way I see it, the Mobius Continuum is no-man's-land, it's limbo, it's the middle ground between universes. "Universes" - plural! It has doors to the past, the future, and to every point in present time. Using it, we can go every-where and -when - or at least I can, because I still have a life-thread to follow. But the point I'm trying to make is this: I believe there may be other doors which we haven't found yet. We don't have the equations for them. And I believe that one of those doors, when I find it, will - '
' - Lead you to your wife and son, and to Michael J. Simmons?'
Mobius nodded (in his fashion) and gave it some thought. 'Other doors,' he mused. Then: 'Grant me this -that I know more about the Mobius dimension than you do. That I have had one hundred and twenty years to examine it more thoroughly than you could ever hope to. That I discovered it, and have used it to go places you can never go, not in your lifetime.' 'Oh?' said Harry.
'Oh?' Mobius raised his eyebrows again. 'Oh? And can you go to the centre of a star in Betelgeuse to measure its temperature? Can you visit the moons of Jupiter or sit in the middle of that planet's monumental tornado which we call the Red Spot? Can you journey to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and every other deep on Earth to calculate the mass of water in this world? No, you can't. But I can - and have! Now grant me this: that I know the Mobius Continuum better than you do!'
When the point was made like that, there seemed little use in arguing it. Harry could only agree, but: 'I think you're going to tell me something I don't want to hear,' he said.
'You know I am!' Mobius told him. 'There are no other doors we haven't discovered, Harry. Not in the Mobius Continuum. Other universes? - which seems to me something of a contradiction in itself - I can't say. And in any case you're talking to the wrong man, for I only deal in the three-dimensional worlds we know. But of one thing I'm sure: you won't find your way into any parallel world through the Mobius Continuum...' He fell silent as Harry's disappointment swelled like a physical thing, until it hung heavy over Mobius's grave like a blanket of fog.
'Sir,' Harry finally said, 'I thank you for your time; I've already wasted far too much of it.'
'Not at all,' Mobius answered. 'Time is only important to the living. I have more than enough of time! I just wish I was able to help.'
'You've helped,' Harry was grateful, 'if only to settle a point I've argued with myself time and time again. You see, I know Harry Jnr and his mother are alive, and I know that he can use the Mobius Continuum maybe even better than we can. He's alive but not in this universe, so he must be in some other. There's no way round that. I thought he'd gone there, wherever, along the strip. You've assured me that he hasn't. So ... there has to be some other route. I already have a clue where to start looking for it, except... from here on in my work becomes that much more dangerous, that's all. And now-'
'Wait!' said Mobius. 'I've been considering your diagrams. Can I show you one for a change?'
'By all means.'
'Very well: here's your ribbon universe again - and a parallel universe of a similar construction:'
'As you can see,' Mobius continued, 'I've joined them by use of - '
'A black hole?' Harry guessed.
'No, for we're talking about survivability. Nothing of solid matter and shape can enter that sort of awful maw and retain any sort of integrity. No matter what you are when you enter a black hole, you come out - if you come out - gaseous, atomic, pure energy!'
'Which cancels out white holes, too.' Harry was growing gloomier by the minute.
'But not grey ones,' said Mobius.
'Grey holes?' Harry frowned.
'... Yes, I see it now,' Mobius mused, almost to himself. 'Grey holes, without the disruptive gravity of black holes, and lacking the awesome radiation of white ones. Gateways pure and simple, between universes. Entropy radiators, perhaps? Inescapable once entered into, there would have to be more than one - if a traveller intended to make the return journey, anyway...'
Harry waited, and in a little while weird equations began flickering once more on that amazing computer screen which Mobius called his mind. They came faster and faster, calculi in endless streams, which left Harry dizzy as he tried to grasp their meaning. For seconds merging into minutes the mental display continued - only to be shut off, suddenly, leaving the screen blank. And in a little while longer:
'It is ... possible,' said Mobius. 'It could occur in nature, and might even be duplicated by man. Except of course that men would have no use for it. It would be a by-product of some other experimentation, an accident.'
'But if I knew how - if I could translate your math into engineering - you're saying I could manufacture this, well, gateway?' Harry was clutching at straws.
'You? Hardly!' Mobius chuckled. 'But a team of scientists, with enormous resources and a limitless energy supply - yes!'
Harry thought of the experiments at Perchorsk, and his excitement was now obvious. 'That's the confirmation I needed,' he said. 'And now I have to be on my way.'
'It was good to talk to you again,' Mobius told him. 'Take care, Harry.'
'I will,' Harry promised. And hugging his overcoat close to him (or if not "his" overcoat, one which he'd borrowed from Jazz Simmons's wardrobe) Harry conjured a Mobius door and took his departure.
Leaves blew skitteringly between the graves and along the pathways. One such leaf, taken by surprise as it leaned against Harry's shoe, suddenly went tumbling across the empty flags where a moment ago he'd been standing. But now, under the high-flying moon and cold, glittering stars, the Leipzig graveyard was quite, quite empty...
Some three days prior to (and an entire dimension away from) Harry's visit to Mobius:
Jazz Simmons journeyed west with Zek, Lardis and his Travellers, journeyed in the golden glow of the slowly setting sun. He'd been pleased to be relieved of his kit, all except his gun and two full magazines, and knew that even though he was dog-tired he could now hold out until the Travellers made camp.
By this time, too, he'd had the opportunity to get a good close look at Zek in the extended evening light of Sunside, and he hadn't been disappointed. She had somehow found the time to snatch a wash in a fast-flowing stream, which had served to greatly enhance her fresh, natural beauty. Now she looked good enough to eat, and Jazz felt hungry enough, too, except that would be one hell of a waste.
Zek had wrapped her sore feet in soft rags and now walked on grass and loamy earth instead of stone, and for all that she too was tired her step seemed lighter and most of the worry lines had lifted from her face. While she'd cleaned herself up, Jazz had used the time to study, the Travellers.
His original opinion seemed confirmed: they were Gypsies, Romany, and speaking in an antique 'Romance' tongue, too. It was hard not to deduce connections with the world he had left behind; maybe Zek would be able to explain some of the similarities. He determined to ask her some time, yet another question to add to a lengthening list. He was surprised how quickly he'd come to rely on her. And he was annoyed to find himself thinking about her when he should be concentrating on his education.
Many of the male Travellers wore rings in the lobes of their left ears, gold by the look of it, to match the bands on their fingers. No lack of that precious metal here, apparently; it decorated in yellow bands the hauling poles of their travois, studded their leather jackets and stitched the seams of their coarse-weave trousers, was even used to stud the leather soles of their sandals! But silver was far less in evidence. Jazz had seen arrows and the bolts of crossbows tipped with it, but never a sign of the stuff used for decoration. In this world, he would in time discover, it was far more precious than gold. Not least for its effect on vampires.
But the Travellers puzzled Jazz. He found strange, basic anomalies in them beyond his understanding. For example: it seemed to him that in many ways their world was very nearly primal, and yet the Travellers themselves were anything but primitive. Though he'd not yet seen an actual Gypsy caravan here, he knew that they existed; he'd observed a small boy of four or five years, sitting on a loaded, jouncing travois, playing with a rough wooden model. Between its shafts a pair of creatures like overgrown, shaggy sheep, also carved of wood, strained in their tiny harnesses of leather. So they had the wheel, these people, and beasts of burden; even though none were in evidence here. They could work metals, and with their use of the crossbow their weaponry could hardly be considered crude. Indeed, in almost every respect it was seen that theirs was a sophisticated culture. But on the other hand it was hard to see how, in this environment, they'd achieved any degree of culture at all!
As for the 'tribe' Jazz had expected to see, so far there were no more than sixty Travellers in all: Arlek's party (now fully accepted back into the common body) and Lardis's companions, plus a handful of family groups which had been waiting in a stand of trees to join up with Lardis at the Sunside exit from the pass and head west with him through the foothills. And all of these people going on foot, with the exception of one old woman who lay in a pile of furs upon a travois, and two or three young children who travelled in a similar fashion.
Jazz had studied their faces, taking note of the way they'd every so often turn their heads and stare suspiciously at the sun floating over the southern horizon. Zek had told Jazz that true night was a good forty-five hours away; but still there was an unspoken anxiety, a straining, in the faces of the Travellers, and Jazz believed he knew why. It was that they silently willed themselves westward, desiring only to put distance between themselves and the pass before sundown. And because they knew this world, while Jazz was a newcomer, he found himself growing anxious along with them, and adding his will to theirs.
Keeping his fear to himself, he'd asked Zek: 'Where is everyone? I mean, don't tell me this is the entire tribe!'
'No,' she'd told him, shaking her damp hair about her shoulders, 'only a fraction of it. Traveller tribes don't go about en masse. It's what Lardis calls "survival". There are two more large encampments up ahead. One about forty miles from here, the other twenty-five miles beyond that at the first sanctuary. The sanctuary is a cavern system in a huge outcrop of rock. The entire tribe can disappear inside it, spread out, make themselves thin on the ground. Hard for the Wamphyri to winkle them out. That's where we're heading. We hole up there for the long night.'
'Seventy miles?' he frowned at her. 'Before dark?' He glanced at the sun again, so low in the sky. 'You're joking!'
'Sundown is still a long way off,' she reminded him yet again. 'You can stare at the sun till you go blind, but you won't see it dip much. It's a slow process.'
'Well, thank goodness for that,' he said, nodding his relief.
'Lardis intends to cover fifteen miles between breaks,' she went on, 'but he's tired, too, probably more than we are. The first break will be soon, for he knows we all need to get some sleep. The wolves will keep watch. The break will be of three hours' duration - no more than that. So for every six hours' travel we get a three-hour break. Nine hours to cover fifteen miles. It sounds easy but in fact it's back-breaking. They're used to it but it will probably cripple you. Until you're into the swing of it, anyway.'
Even as she finished speaking Lardis called a halt. He was up front but his bull voice carried back to them: 'Eat, drink,' he advised, 'then sleep.'
The Travellers trudged to a halt, Zek and Jazz with them. She unrolled her sleeping-bag, told Jazz: 'Get yourself a blanket of furs from one of the travois. They carry spares. Someone will come round with bread, water, a little meat.' Then she flattened a patch of bracken, shook out her bed on top of it and climbed in. She pulled the zipper half-way shut from bottom to top. Jazz lit her a cigarette and went to find himself a blanket.
When he too lay down close by, food had already been brought for them. While they ate he admitted: 'I'm excited as a kid! I'll never get to sleep. My brain's far too active. There's so much to take in.'
'You'll sleep,' she answered.
'Maybe you should tell me a story,' he said, lying back. 'Your story?'
The story of my life?' she gave him a wan smile.
'No, just the bit you've lived since you came here. Not very romantic, I know, but the more I learn about this place the better. As Lardis might say, it's a matter of survival. Now that we know about this Dweller - who apparently has a season ticket to Berlin - survival seems so much more desirable. Or more correctly, more feasible!'
'You're right,' she said, making herself more comfortable. 'There have been times when I've just about given up hope, but now I'm glad I didn't. You want to hear my story? All right then, Jazz, this is how it was for me...'
She began to talk, low, even-voiced, and as she got into the story so she fell into the dramatic, colourful style of the Travellers - and of the Wamphyri themselves, for that matter. Being a telepath, their manner and modes of expression had impressed themselves upon her that much more quickly, until now they were second nature. Jazz listened, let her words flow, conjured from them the feel and the fear of her story...