Authors: Aaron Allston
Tags: #Science fiction
Harris looked dubiously at the black leather shoes, long-sleeved white shirt, silk boxer shorts, and gray two-piece suit with a lace-edged handkerchief in the breast pocket. The clothing was dated, with the jacket's wide lapels and trousers' high waistline, but not too garish, if you overlooked the two-tone red-and-green suspenders and matching tie.
In the attached bathroom, Harris shucked the baggy brown pants they'd given him minutes ago, then stooped to pull on the new pair. He moved carefully; it wouldn't do to make his injury any worse.
Wait a second. He'd kicked the guts out of the man with the submachine gun and hadn't even felt the wound pull. Adrenaline and painkillers could only mask so much; he'd have felt additional injury after he started to wind down. Curious, he unwrapped Alastair's bandage from his thigh.
His wound was gone.
Where Adonis' claws had torn open his flesh, angry red marks remained, like scars left from an injury that had been healing for days. They hurt when he pressed hard on them, but gave him no trouble otherwise.
He sighed. It really was no use getting upset over strange things anymore, so he pulled on his new underwear and trousers. "Alastair?"
The doctor called through the door, "Yes?"
"What exactly did you do to me?"
Alastair's chuckle was faint but unmistakable. "Thatched you, of course. A good mending. You took to it well. Which reminds me, you'll be ravenous in a bell or two. How does it look?"
"Great. Like it's been weeks since I scrapped with something with teeth and claws."
"Good. Don't strain that leg for a few days unless you absolutely have to. Though if you decide you have to `scrap' again with Jean-Pierre, I'll allow it . . . provided you let me watch. Oh, and something else."
"Don't bring any silver against that wound. You'd hate to see it spring open again."
They returned to the lab just as brown-clothed workmen carried out the last of the dead assassins on a stretcher. The living attackers were already gone, and more men were at work with mops on the bloody patches of floor.
Doc stood in the center of the room, the lead assassin's volt-meter in his hand, and looked up as Harris and Alastair entered. He indicated the volt-meter. "Harris, it's you they wanted. This little device let me follow your movements to within a few paces."
"Oh, great. Does that mean I have a radio on me?" Seeing Doc's blank look, he explained, "Am I carrying some gizmo that this thing can trace?"
"No. It follows
. Probably the charge of energy Alastair sees as an aura around you." He closed his right eye and widened his left to look at Harris. "I can see it a little, too. We'll have to subject you to some tests when we return."
"How do you know Gaby?"
Doc hesitated. "I've actually never met her in the flesh. A few years ago, she started calling me on the talk-box. Always with hints and clues. News about what the crime gangs were doing. Sometimes things they were planning to do to me. She never told me how she learned them. She's never told me about herself." He shrugged. "And now you come with her cameo in your pack . . . and she seems not to recognize you."
"I can't explain that part."
"We'll think on it later. For now, we need to begin our search."
Noriko, a yellow topcoat thrown over her clothes, straightened up from the television set. "Not so. Harris appeared at Six Heinzlin Corners, Brambleton South."
Doc gave her a curious look. "How do you know?"
"I called to Civic Hall on the talk-box and asked if anyone had reported a damaged walkway in a good neighborhood."
Doc looked pained. "Angus Powrie's attack. If I had been thinking . . . "
"They said there was. And that there was blood on the walk not far away. Workmen will fix it all tomorrow."
"After we look at it."
Harris gave Noriko a disbelieving look. "Your city hall is open at this hour?"
"Of course. Why not?"
"Because it would be too convenient?"
Doc's private elevator took them down to floor level and below, to a spacious basement garage filled with cars. All of them were the antiques Harris had come to expect, but they were otherwise of every imaginable type and color: a long, low two-seat roadster in an abusive glowing orange, a slab-sided panel truck in a shade of drab green Harris was already thinking of as comparatively inconspicuous, a pair of matching black-and-silver motorcycles, a long red monstrosity of a car with a decadently comfortable-looking interior, perhaps a dozen more cars in all. They settled on Jean-Pierre's black-and-gold sedan, and the pale-faced, dark-haired mechanic on duty—Jean-Pierre introduced him as Fergus Bootblack—told them that it was fueled and ready.
Jean-Pierre drove them up the ramp out of the garage and onto the still-busy street with a disregard for traffic and the laws of physics that Harris found unsettling.
Ten minutes later, they were parked outside the walled estate Harris had fled earlier that night. There was the hole in the sidewalk made by Angus Powrie; there were the gates . . . hanging open.
And half an hour after that, as the sun began to send tentative shafts of light slanting between the tall buildings, Harris and the others prowled around the estate's mansion. They looked at furniture long stored under dusty sheets and moved through echoingly empty rooms.
"Hasn't been lived in for months," Alastair said. He and Harris, in the kitchen, peered into the empty walk-in pantry and saw nothing but memories of crumbs. "I wager your friends hired it from the homelord, or moved in when he wasn't looking. When you got away, they fled."
"So what's that ex-in-a-circle thing out on the front lawn?"
"A conjurer's circle."
"That's what you called the circle in your lab. The thing with the paint."
Alastair nodded. "Same principle. Same use. There are always two: one here, one there. What starts in one—"
"— ends up in the other. I get it. I
it." Harris paused, worrying briefly about how easy it was for him to speak the language of the impossible when he was confronted with it. "Alastair, the other one of the circle out there is where I'm from, and that's an awful long way away."
"You want to return."
"Right now. No offense. I have to find Gaby."
A smile tugged at Alastair's lip. "I doubt we can help you so soon. We have to know which rituals they used on this circle. But if anyone can help you find your way, it's Doc."
Harris asked, "Why?" Seeing Alastair's blank look, he continued: "Why would he want to help?"
Alastair thought about that for a moment. "I don't know too much about it. He's almost the last of his kind, and he'd like for them to be remembered kindly."
"Who is `them'?"
"Purebloods from a long time ago." Alastair opened a floor-level cabinet and bent over to peer within it. "Amapershiat itifuwadda—"
"I can't hear you."
"Sorry." Alastair straightened, looking dubious. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't bandy this about. A lot of it is public record, but Doc doesn't care to have it discussed in his presence."
Alastair kept his attention on the door. "There was a bad one a while back. One of the Daoine Sidhe, like Doc. Did a lot of harm in the years leading up to the last war. Made their kind infamous. Doc fought him several times, but the people mostly remembered the bad that one did. If you said `Daoine Sidhe' to the average man on the walk twenty years ago, he'd have bit his thumb and spat."
"Whatever that means."
"Well, it just means that Doc ended up being the heir to a very nasty legacy. That's why the Sidhe Foundation. It's all charities and philanthropies and fixing problems. Nowadays, you say Daoine Sidhe to the man on the walk, and he's just as likely to think of the Foundation. Which is a victory."
"I guess it'd kind of be like growing up with the name Hitler."
"Whatever that means."
The night had brought Gaby very little sleep, so she substituted caffeine for wakefulness and tried to keep her manner pleasant. She'd be dealing with people all day.
She called the police. There was no news about Harris or the old man.
She called work to tell them why she wouldn't be coming in that day, or for the next several. She didn't tell her boss where she'd be staying, and he said he understood. She hoped it was true. It would be monstrously unfair for her to be replaced for something that just wasn't her fault.
She called in the theft of her credit cards to all the issuers.
That afternoon, she went for her first shooting lesson with Elaine's husband Jim.
The directed explosions from the revolver rattled her nerves. Still, he complimented her on learning not to flinch with each pull of the trigger. Soon he was making approving noises at the way her wadcutter rounds punched holes in the paper silhouette of a target. "Not a bad grouping," he said. "And we're talking about self-defense here, not target shooting. That means closer range than this. You'll do just fine . . . if you don't let adrenaline mess up your reactions and your aim. You have to stay controlled."
"Controlled," she repeated, and flipped the switch on the booth to send the new target back on its mechanical rail. She steadied her aim, mentally superimposed the horrible image of Adonis over the target, and prepared to give it a chest full of holes. Then, in tones so low that Jim couldn't hear through the protective earmuffs: "I'll show you controlled."
Through the open door of the bathroom, Harris could see late-afternoon sun angling into the bedroom. He lay in the claw-foot bathtub, legs drawn up—the thing was too short for him; he absently scrubbed at himself as the water cooled.
In spite of his worry and his intermittent nausea, he'd fallen asleep almost as soon as they got back to the Monarch Building.
Endless chiming noises had wakened him long after sunlight spilling over his eyes had failed to do so. Once he understood that the device that looked like a lizard's arm with a balled fist at either end was the handset of a telephone, or "talk-box double," he could answer it. On the other end was Doc, asking him to get ready for a trip in an hour or so.
Sitting in the tub, he reached out a finger and drew it over the cool tile of the bathroom floor, felt the texture, the roughness of the grout between tiles. The air just a little stuffy. Water nearly scalding hot when he'd drawn his bath, merely lukewarm now. It was all there with a level of detail he'd never experienced in a dream.
And it was so big. He'd found somewhere that no one else knew about. The map he'd seen suggested that this . . . place . . . was as big as the entire world he knew.
What the hell was he supposed to do about this? Go home and tell somebody? If he couldn't bring people back—preferably guys with minicams and sound equipment—he couldn't prove anything to other people.
And what if he
prove it? They'd want to come here, of course. There'd be a hell of a lot of press. Naturally, most people back home wouldn't believe it no matter how much press there was. Except big business; they'd be setting up McDonald's restaurants on every block as fast as they could bring in the yellow-arch signs. . . . That bothered him. It just didn't seem that Neckerdam would be improved by an invasion of junk food, tabloids, and grunge rock.
So hard to think about it. Every time he tried to put the scattered pieces of his thoughts together, other things floated up to the forefront of his memory. Gaby telling him good-bye, Gaby running for her life. Gabrielle's gaze flicking away past him as though he were unrecognizable pixels on the TV screen. Sonny Walters' face, the Smile, floating forward on the audience's roar of contempt. Nothing seemed to banish these images.
With a defeated sigh, he rose, toweled himself dry and set about dressing in his new clothes.
He tried to let the view from his window distract him. The ninety-third floor of the Monarch Building afforded him an amazing panorama of tall, bizarre buildings and tiny cars moving along the tree-lined avenues.
He loosely knotted his tie and reminded himself that it was not the ninety-third floor. It was "up ninety-two." If he were to take the elevator down to the twenty-fifth floor, that would be "up twenty-four," even if he started out above that floor. The ground floor was "down," the basement was "down one." It didn't make much sense, he didn't like it, and he knew he'd never remember it; but trying to figure out all the differences was a helpful distraction.
Differences. Like the skyscrapers all around the Monarch Building. Half of them were cylindrical towers, capped with pointed cones for roofs or with battlements like the tops of medieval castles. The other half tended to be more like the skyscrapers he was used to, comforting in their squareness, though they all had the kind of art-deco-era architecture he associated with the Empire State and the Chrysler Building.
Some of these were odd, all bright and garish. The one opposite the Monarch Building was a checkerboard of alternating squares of white and green marble; back home, no one could have found investors to build something so ghastly. He hoped not, anyway.
The Monarch Building itself took up a city block, without the setbacks that characterized the Empire State Building and other skyscrapers from its era. It was an unsettling black and had broad ledges every twenty stories; he couldn't see the next one down, but had given them a good look on their return last night. On each ledge was a line of white marble statues of monsters like griffins and rampant dragons, men and women in medieval dress, odd symbols he could not recognize.
A single sharp rap on his door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in."
Doc entered. He wore the same clothes as last night, and though no sign of lack of sleep marred his face, Harris thought he could see a certain weariness in the man's posture. "Are you ready to go?" Doc asked.
"I guess. Where are we going?"
"A construction site. I'm looking for someone who can help us. I want him to see you, to convince him that the gap between the two worlds has indeed been bridged."