Read 03. The Maze in the Mirror Online

Authors: Jack L. Chalker

03. The Maze in the Mirror (10 page)

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At the same time, a political cleanup crew was at work with the local authorities-cops, the motel manager, you name it. Somebody from the local paper had been tipped, probably by a cop, and it was easier to arrange for an authentic cover story than to deny it all and have the press down on them with a vengeance. The Company people, however, were very efficient, as Sam had good reason now to know.

They had captured twelve heavily armed men and rescued a hostage and had done so at the cost of one broken nose, said nose broken on one of the kidnappers who hadn't had the good luck to go completely under.

There were, however, lots of interrogations to be done and tests to be made. For one thing, even Dash would have to be microscopically examined and compared with his data recordings. The mere fact that no world had ever been discovered other than this one in which Sam and Brandy had gotten together, let alone had a kid, was insufficient. You could take nothing for granted in the parallel world business, and they wanted to make absolutely certain that this was no ringer, even though Sam was positive that no kid would or even could fake this.

The captives were also microscopically examined using technology created for this purpose, to see if any of them showed any signs whatever of having been born somewhere other than this Earth. Then the real interrogations would begin.

Sam called Brandy, who seemed ecstatic at the news. It was several minutes before she herself stopped crying, then she said, "Sam, I swear I'll be walkin' again once Dash walks in the door."

"I bet you will, too," he responded. "Look, he really wants to see you-he's been very worried since I told him you were hurt and that's why you weren't here-but it's going to be at least another day before we can wrap it up here. Figure Monday evening. Then it'll just be getting you back to normal and everything will be back in place."

She paused. "Sam-why'd they do it? Not just for Bond, that I know. They was lookin' for you and then they snatched Dash even though they was then playin' our game on our turf. What's it all about, Sam?"

"I'm not sure yet," he told her honestly, "but now that Dash is safe I'm going to be working full time on it. This one's a freebie, babe. It's personal."

She was silent a moment, then just whispered, "Yeah, Sam. I guess it is."

Dash was easily authenticated; even without his I.D. implant and his apparent uniqueness, it wasn't hard to tell him. Doctor Macklinberg took samples during the six-month checkups and this, with the Company's high technology machinery, gave a listing not only of the genetics, which would be identical in a parallel world "clone," but also things that would be different-the effects of diet,
levels of various substances breathed in or absorbed or eaten, that kind of thing. The lab work was done up the line, not by the Doctor, so there was little probability of a switch. It was done too often and too consistently for that.

But the bottom line was that six-year-olds weren't good at faking anything and a father and only son had common memories that would be unlikely to be absolutely duplicated anywhere else.

On the kidnappers, Bill Markham had good news and bad news, but mostly the latter.

"We'll get nothing from the pair who were with them from the attack," he said ruefully. "We figured as much and tried to prevent it but if it was easy to prevent we wouldn't use it ourselves. They do it a bit rougher, though. Something-no telling what-just exploded inside their skulls before we got a single question in; something we didn't detect in the exams. They'll be lucky to remember how to tie their own shoelaces, let alone who they are and where they came from and who was with them."

"Any more happy news?" Sam asked sarcastically.

"Oh, there's a bright side. As we figured, the rest were hired guns who took over on the road. They're a nasty, macho bunch, I'll tell you- spouting threats and being generally belligerent. They're just nuts, Sam. I think they would go down in a blaze of fury if they could be sure of taking some of us with them. They're all associated with something called the Futurist People's Revolutionary Cells, a bunch of fanatical drug dealers centered in the South American jungles who believe
it's their revolutionary destiny to destroy America by filling it with cheap and super powerful drugs. No excuse, either-they believe it. It's the kind of organization the Company can never get its hooks into because we can't even find it, let alone infiltrate it. We're going to get a lot of information from them now, though. Where's Dash?"

"Asleep downstairs and under guard and nurse. Why?"

"Come on. Let's see what the bully boys have to tell us."

The room looked like a normal police interrogation room, one for the worst kind of criminals, with a gun port and the prisoner shackled to the floor and to the arms of a very strong metal chair that was welded down. Sam took a look at him, though, particularly his eyes, and knew that Bill had underestimated their insanity if anything.

The man looked up at them with a surly gaze and a slight sneer on his lips. "Where is my lawyer?" he snapped. "I know my rights. I don't say nothin' without my lawyer." The Spanish accent was heavy, but clearly he could and did think in English when he wanted to.

"We are attending to the lawyer you told us to phone," Markham responded smoothly. "He's about to mysteriously disappear on his way to the golf course and whether he's ever seen again will depend on what he can tell us."

The man suddenly looked very startled. "What the hell you mean by that?"

"We are not the police, Senor, nor the feds. You seem to be under a mistaken impression. We took great pains to keep the cops out of this, since we
don't want them any more than you normally would."

At least
something
could get to the man. There was a glint of panic in his eyes now, but they were still mean, crazy.

"Who are you? Mafia?"

Markham chuckled. "Now, you know that there is no such thing as the Mafia. No, Senor, not the Mafia. We are far worse than the Mafia. We are the ones who use even organized crime as a tool. We're the ones behind every bush and in every shadow that you can never see out of the corner of your eye. You went a step too far this time, Senor. We don't like your business and we don't give a damn about your politics, for if you ever got big enough to take over a country you would find our strings upon your leaders as sure as they are on the ones you might overthrow. Do you know us now, Senor?"

The man's eyes widened and he looked at each of them.
"Conquistadores!"
he breathed.

"That is the name the smartest and slimiest of the dark corners of this world know us in your area," Markham admitted. "Your two employers have taken themselves out of the game. Maybe I'll let you see them at some point so you can see that there are those even more fanatical than you. Right now, though, I want some information."

"You can go to Hell!" the man snarled. "I will die rather than betray my comrades!"

Markham sighed and sat down and leaned back in a chair. Sam had already sat down facing the man but remained silent.

"That," said Markham softly, "is not an option."

He waved his hand in the air, and suddenly two small traps slid back in the ceiling out of which dropped two small ball-shaped devices, like tiny turrets, with pencil-like guns protruding from them. Suddenly the tips of both "barrels" glowed -one white, the other red-and they shifted until both were pointing directly at the prisoner's head, making tiny little dots of light on his hair. The man eyed them nervously and then tried to move his head to louse up their aim, but they followed his every move instantly-and he could only move so far.

Markham reached into his sports coat jacket and brought out a small device resembling an electric pager with two buttons on it, one red and one white.

"Now, let's start with the basics. I want your name. I hate to have a nice conversation with somebody and not know their name."

"Fidel Castro," the man responded bravely. Markham pressed the red button and suddenly the man screamed in pain, his face contorting in almost unbelievable horror, his body writhing against the bonds.

Markham's thumb came
off
the red button and the man suddenly seemed to collapse, sweating profusely. Sam found the whole thing unpleasant to watch, but this bastard had been one of them who had kidnapped his son, and God knows how many other people's kids he and his organization had hooked, or killed, or sentenced to a fate worse than death. Besides, there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it anyway.

"Madre Dios! Who.-what
is
that which you did?"

"Want me to do it again?"

"No, no!"

"There's a rule you probably know, and that is that nobody is unbreakable," Markham told him. "Sooner or later, everybody breaks. It's just a matter of time. That's why so many important people with things to protect will commit suicide or trigger self-lobotomies rather than be subjected to this. You, unfortunately, don't have that option. Those two little beams are very complicated devices and I must confess I don't understand how they work, but I know what they do and how to use them. The red one somehow stimulates the pain center directly-no intermediaries. It's quite level-sensitive, though, and now that we've used it once the computer driving it knows just where your pain threshold is and will keep it just a microscopic hair below your pass-out point. I could let that thing play almost indefinitely and you'd be conscious the whole time. Want to see?" His thumb made for the red button.

"No! Stop! You are
Diablo!"

Markham smiled. "I thought you folks didn't believe in gods or devils. No, not gods, not devils, but we
are
a bit, uh, other-worldly, and we've had a
lot
of practice." He paused for a moment. "Now, this white button does the opposite. Stimulates the pleasure center directly. It's the most intense high you can possibly imagine. I'll demonstrate-if you tell me your
real
name. It doesn't matter anyway, you know. This is just a quick and dirty way of getting information. In a while, you and your friends will be put under a machine that will read out every memory you have from your first memories inside the womb to right now. We'll know far more about you than you. But it takes a lot of time
to sort and edit that kind of information and that can't be done best on this world. We'd like some answers now."

"My-my name is Ramon Gloriona," the man said, not quite believing all that but definitely remembering that intense pain. Markham sighed. "Red button," he mumbled, and his thumb went up.

"
I
swear on my mother's grave that is my true name!"
the man screamed with such conviction that Markham relaxed.

"You know, I think it just might be," the security chief commented. "All right, Ramon, we'll show you what cooperation brings." He pushed the white button, just briefly, and the man's face and body suddenly went into contortions of sheer ecstasy that seemed to last after Bill took his finger off and stopped it.

"The same principal as the narcotics you dump on the West, Ramon," Markham told him, "only without all the messy chemicals and middlemen and simon-pure. Even we have to have a computer override on the white button, because you never forget it and you always want more." He sighed. "Sam, I think he's softened up a bit. Want to ask your questions?"

Sam nodded, but he was feeling somewhat queasy about this even though it was kind of a revenge dream come true. He was beginning to have some difficulty distinguishing on a moral basis between his old friend Bill and this bastard in the chair.

"Where did you meet the other group?" Sam asked him.

There was a moment's hesitancy, but Bill's thumb only had to head for the red and the man
answered. "Asheville."

"How were you hired?"

"We do not hire out like common criminals!" the man responded with some of the pride he'd had before getting the pain treatment. "It was a fraternal favor between revolutionary groups. They have done some favors for us, we do some for them."

Sam's eyebrows rose. "And who exactly is 'them'?"

"Why, the American Revolutionary Brigades."

Sam looked at Bill, who shrugged. "I thought that shit went out with the Sixties," the security man muttered. "At least here. Beruit, maybe, but not here. Still, it's a nice cover for dealing with these kind of folks if you're really other-worldly."

Sam nodded and turned back to Ramon. "We know about the pair who transferred with you and the boy. Who were the others? The ones who didn't come along?"

The prisoner tried to shrug. "Who knows? We have only dealt directly with the comrades who remained with the boy up to now, and even then we knew them only by code names."

That figured, Sam thought. "All right, then, tell me what the others looked like. Did they look different or speak in a different language or was there anything odd about their clothes?"

The man frowned. "Yes, in fact. Most looked sort of-Chinese or Japanese or something like that. Oriental, you know. Smaller. They all wore heavy wool coats and pull-down caps and you could not tell much else. They did speak to each other in some nonsense-sounding tongue, though."

That was jibing with what little Dash had been
able to tell them. "What about the leader with the funny voice?"

"There was one fellow. A
mestizo,
I think. He did not speak with us but spoke briefly with the other two. He had an odd accent, I remember that. We thought he might have been Puerto Rican."

All Spanish accents sounded alike to Sam, but he knew from experience that, in the Western Hemisphere, dialects differed so sharply that it made the linguistic differences between a Maine farmer and a Mississippi cotton grower seem trivial by comparison. He did not, however, think that the accent was Puerto Rican. Most probably this fellow's dialect had no equal anywhere on this Earth.

"Where did these others go?" Sam asked him. "After you took over, that is." The fellow was certainly being very cooperative after the demonstration, but neither Sam nor Bill was likely to loose those bonds. The eyes still said it.

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