Authors: Aaron Allston
Tags: #Science fiction
Bright light, the color and warmth of noonday sunlight, glowed from banks of overhead lights that resembled fluorescent light fixtures. Along the far wall, a bank of tall windows looked out over a glittering vista of skyscrapers at night.
Harris found that he was lying on a long paisley sofa in a corner of the room; there was other living-room furniture arranged nearby, including a very large version of the round-screen TVs he'd seen earlier.
On a nearby stuffed chair sat Jean-Pierre, his tuxedo jacket off, a blue bruised spot on his jaw the souvenir of their meeting; he looked irritable. Nearby, curled up in a corner of a divan, sat the woman who'd clobbered Harris. From ten feet away, she seemed tiny, even more dainty than most of the women he'd seen earlier. She wore some sort of pantsuit cut from burgundy silk, the jacket sleeves full and flaring; her expression was serene. Next to Harris, the man with the nut-brown skin sat on a sturdy high-backed wooden chair.
Jean-Pierre rubbed his jaw and the bruise Harris had given him, then narrowed his eyes. "Awake, are we? Then it's time to answer a few questions."
Harris ignored him for the moment; he struggled to sit up and pulled himself back so that the high arm of the sofa supported him. Only then did he realize that under the blanket they'd thrown over his legs he wore only underwear; his pants and shoes were gone. "Hey!"
The moon-faced doctor grinned. "Sorry, son. Had to tend your wound. Your breeches were a loss, torn and bloody." He reached down behind his chair, where a pair of gray trousers lay folded across an old-fashioned doctor's bag. He handed the pants over to Harris. "Try these."
"Thanks." Harris hurriedly pulled the trousers on, barely glancing at the white bandage wrapped around his thigh. His injury wasn't giving him much trouble; the doctor must have given him something for the pain. "Okay. Where am I?"
"The Monarch Building, up ninety. I am Alastair Kornbock. I hear you have already met Jean-Pierre Lamignac and Noriko Nomura; formal introductions are probably moot."
Jean-Pierre picked up something from his lap, a wallet, which he flipped open. "Is your name Harris Greene?"
"Yeah. Hey, that's my wallet." Harris tried to stand, but weariness tugged at him and he thought better of it.
"Yes, it appears to be." Jean-Pierre flipped it shut and negligently tossed it to Harris. "I gather from the way you defended yourself that you really weren't trying to harm yourself on the bridge. So what injured you?"
Harris actually felt himself flinch away from the memory of Adonis. "You'd never believe it."
"Tell me anyway."
"No, you tell
. Tell me what the hell is going on. What all this crap is about Neckerdam. What happened to the Brooklyn Bridge. The streets. The cars, for Christ's sake. Barefoot truck drivers and dwarfs who've filed their teeth. Because, believe me, I was knocking down some pretty good vodka before all this started happening, and I don't want to waste time talking to you if you're just DTs." Harris glanced through his wallet to make sure everything was in place, then pocketed it.
The three of them looked blankly from one to the other before returning their attention to Harris. "So," said Jean-Pierre, his pleasant tone not quite concealing his irritation, "what injured you?"
"You know, that was just about the worst attempted tackle I ever saw. If that's the way you normally try to rescue people, I'd be amazed if most of them didn't make it into the water."
Jean-Pierre flushed red and stood. He grabbed at something on his belt—something that wasn't there, but just where the handle of a hunting knife might protrude under other circumstances. In spite of his exhaustion, Harris stood up and readied himself for the attack he saw in the other man's face. The doctor merely scooted his chair back and got out from between them; he looked from one to the other with interest.
The Asian woman spoke; her speech bore a faint accent that was exotic and appealing to Harris' ears. "Jean-Pierre. Sit down. He is correct; the attack was clumsy. He has suffered more than you today." Harris didn't miss the extra stress she put on the last word, nor that she was communicating something else, but he couldn't read the extra meaning in her statement.
At least Jean-Pierre got himself under control. He sat and angrily drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair. Alastair assumed the same pose and drummed his fingers the same way, a cheerful mockery of Jean-Pierre's motion. Harris sat too, but did not relax.
"Now," Noriko said, "please. We don't know the answers to your questions. We don't even know what they mean. If you tell us the story of how you came to be on the Island Bridge, perhaps we can puzzle it out."
"That's . . . reasonable." For the briefest of moments, Harris saw himself through these peoples' eyes, as he sometimes saw himself from the perspective of his opponents; and this time he was an inexplicable creature, a wounded man who was too big and strange, possibly also dangerous and insane. He didn't like that image. "I guess it started at tonight's fight."
When Harris reached the encounter with the pointy-toothed dwarf in the street, Jean-Pierre jumped up again. Harris tensed, but the other man wasn't angry this time. Even paler than before, he stared in disbelief at Harris. "Angus Powrie," he said.
Alastair shook his head. "There are a lot of redcaps out there, Jean-Pierre. And a lot of hooligans from the Powrie clans."
"Maybe." Jean-Pierre dug around in a jacket pocket and brought out his own wallet. He flipped it open, pulled free a piece of cardstock and shoved it at Harris.
It was a black-and-white photograph, blurry and grainy; it looked like a police photo. The man in it was a little younger than the one who'd chased Harris earlier, but recognizable. Harris nodded. "That's him."
Jean-Pierre took the photograph back and looked numbly at it. "What have you been doing all these years, Angus?"
"Mind telling me why you carry his picture around?"
Jean-Pierre ignored the question. He retreated to his chair and sat, still looking dazed. He fingered the bruise on his jaw. "Kick-boxing, eh?"
"Yeah. It's the professional form of a whole bunch of martial arts."
"Well, I certainly feel as though I've been kick-boxed. Noriko, I know some of the people of Wo and their descendants in the New World fight like that."
Noriko nodded. "Not so much Wo, but Silla and Shanga. I do not think I have ever met a westerner trained in the arts."
Alastair said, "There's more to him than that. He's got an aura. All-asparkle. I see it with my good eye. But it's not like anything I've ever seen before. I'd love to test his Firbolg Valence."
Harris sighed. "It sounds to me like nothing I said means a thing to you. Jesus."
"To speak the truth, it doesn't," said Noriko. "Except one thing. Are you of the Carpenter Cult?"
"I have heard you invoke the Carpenter twice. Once just now."
"Who the hell is the Carpenter?" Then Harris had a sudden suspicion. "Wait a minute. Jesus Christ."
"Yes. Though his followers hesitate to name him as . . . freely as you do."
"Oh." Harris had to think about it. "No, I guess I'm not. I'm not anything that way. My parents are, though. Of the `Carpenter Cult'." He sat back frowning as it came home to him that one of the world's largest religions had suddenly been reduced to the status of cult. But there was a little comfort to that, as well. Noriko had heard of something he knew about. One lonely point in common.
The other three looked helplessly among themselves. Alastair said, "I think we need Doc."
"Who's Doc? I thought you were a doctor."
Alastair beamed. "I am. But I'm not Doc. Doc is Doc. And Doc is due . . . " He reached inelegantly under his shirt and pulled out a large pocket watch. "Two chimes ago. Late, as ever."
"So this Doc can get me figured out?"
Jean-Pierre shrugged. "If anyone can. He's a deviser, you know."
"Ah. Well, that explains everything, doesn't it?" Harris shook his head dubiously . . . and caught sight of what was tacked up on the wall behind him: a map. A map with the recognizable outlines of the continents.
He read some of the names printed there . . . and suddenly found himself standing on his sofa, both palms pressed against the map as he stared disbelievingly at it.
There was Manhattan, but the name Neckerdam was printed next to it, and some of the other boroughs were colored more like park than city. And New York State wasn't outlined with familiar borders. Its boundaries reaching about as far north as Albany should be, and much farther south, to the Philadelphia area ("Nyrax"); the whole area was labelled Novimagos.
Farther north, Nova Scotia and some of whatever province was next to it—New Brunswick? Harris couldn't remember—were labelled Acadia. To the south, much of Central America was labelled Mejicalia, a name that at least looked a little familiar, but few borders were drawn in that area of the map. Southeast of Mejicalia, what was Aluxia?
Things were no better in Europe. Most of central Spain was taken up by Castilia, a name Harris thought he remembered from school. All of England and Ireland were labelled Cretanis. These nations were further broken up into hundreds more small territories with names he didn't know. So was all the rest of Europe.
There was no sign of Hawaii, or most of the islands of the South Pacific, just the words "Many Islands" and a picture of a sea serpent.
Harris turned away from the map, feeling faint and not entirely able to accept what he'd just seen. He sank back down to sit on the sofa, feeling the gaze of the others on him, and didn't bother to ask them if that thing on the wall were a joke.
Nearly a thousand feet below, a dozen men entered the lobby of the Monarch Building. They paid no attention to the doorman who admitted them, to the veined white marble walls and reflective black marble floor, to the bustle of people moving in and out of the building even at this late hour. With the nonchalance of office workers familiar with the building, they moved straight to the elevators and boarded the first available car.
But they weren't office workers. The green-uniformed elevator operator took a look at the large instrument cases they carried, at the cheap red suits they wore, and sighed. Musicians. Rowdy musicians with their bad tips. Still, he adjusted his cap and put on his most professional face, and as the band entered his car he said, "Floor, goodsirs."
The smallest of the musicians, the one who stood right by the door with the trumpet case in his hands, smiled winningly at him. "Roof."
"I'm sorry, this car only goes up eighty-nine. The remaining floors are private property."
The trumpeter frowned. "Private? We have an engagement on the roof. A wedding."
The elevator operator tried not to look as confused as he was. "I don't think so, sir. There's no place up there to have a wedding. A talk-box reception tower and some machinery, I think."
"Then what's that black thing on your uniform?"
The uniformed man looked down at his front and finally showed confusion. "Sir, there's nothing—"
He did not see the other musician wield the blackjack. He did feel blinding pain as the lead shot-filled weapon rapped down on his uniform cap, and that was the last he knew. His legs gave way and he thudded onto the carpeted floor of the elevator car.
The trumpeter tipped his hat at the unconscious elevator operator, then nodded at the sap-wielder. "Now. Take us up."
The big man pocketed the sap. He took the car's control handle. "He was telling the truth. You know whose building this is."
"So this car won't go up past up eighty-nine. You know he has to be higher than that."
"Yes. Take us up eighty-nine." The trumpeter smiled and patted his instrument case. "Everything we need is in here. Trust me. Trust
The big man grimaced, then set the car into motion.
Noriko tilted her head to the side, concentrating. "Rotorkite," she announced. "Doc is here."
The others listened. At first Harris could hear nothing but a constant, dull wash of noise—the faint remnants of street sound from a thousand feet below. Then he caught the sound that had alerted Noriko: a faint
that began to grow louder. It sounded just like an incoming helicopter.
Noriko and Jean-Pierre were up in an instant, headed out through the nearest door in the wall; Harris and then Alastair followed. The door nearest the sofas opened into a dim, carpeted corridor, and Noriko and Jean-Pierre led the way to a nearby bank of elevators.
One elevator was already open. They piled into it, Jean-Pierre sliding shut first the gratelike outer door and then the matching inner door, pulling up on the handle that sent the elevator upward.
The elevator rose three stories into what had to be a hangar. It was enormous, taking up at least two building stories; the floor was concrete and splashed with oil. There were work-benches and tools, rolling carts, and what looked liked oversized car engines hanging from chains and pulleys. On one side of the big chamber was a strange carlike vehicle, a rounded lozenge forty feet long and ten wide; it rested on a series of struts with wheels at the bottom, and a large, irregular mass of what looked like tan sails lashed to the top.
Noriko headed over to a wall-mounted board of large mechanical switches and pushed one up.
There was an immediate grinding noise from overhead and the lights dimmed briefly. Then, slowly and ponderously, one large section of roof, directly over the flooring, began to open up. It was a huge door powered by mechanical hinges. Above it, Harris could see a widening stripe of nighttime sky, clouds reflecting the city lights below them. It had clouded up in the time since he was brought here. It was sprinkling, and a stray breeze tossed droplets of rain into their faces.
grew louder. It took Harris a moment to spot its source: a vague, dark shape with tiny red and green lights glinting on its belly. It got bigger until light from the hangar bathed the underside.