Someone Dying

The Necroscope's vampire - as yet a mere tadpole of alien, parasitic contamination - was immature. As such it had no desire for conflict either internal or external but wished only to evolve and get on with the long process of its host's conversion; which was why its influence was mainly enervating. Keep Harry mentally and emotionally drained, and he'd be less likely to jeopardize himself. Which by definition meant that he'd be less likely to jeopardize his horrific tenant. Hence his flashes of Wamphyri-awareness (half-glimpsed knowledge of burgeoning, ungovernable Power) and the burning need to argue and cross-examine, even to engage his own mind in long spells of intense self-inquisition, despite the bouts of inwardly-directed anger and mental exhaustion which invariably resulted.

But quite apart from the Necroscope's mind, his blood was also aware that the invader was here; it seemed filled with a weird psychic fever which kept him jumpy and constantly on guard. He was a man with a volcano inside him, which for now merely simmered and let off a little steam. Not knowing when the volcano was set to go off, he couldn't relax but must hold the cap firmly in place, and listen with a rapt, horrified and yet curious intentness to the rumbling within.

On the one hand Harry would like to test out his Wamphyri talents to the full (for they were part of him even now, while yet the physical side of the thing was still embryonic) but on the other he knew that to do so would be to accelerate the process. For one thing was certain: however immature his symbiont might be, it was also fast-growing and fast-learning. No slow starter, this vampire.

But while the parasite like all its kind would be dogged, the Necroscope was no less tenacious in his own right. His son had managed to keep his vampire in order, hadn't he? Like son, like father: Harry would do his damnedest to follow suit.

Except that would be hard enough in itself without the current recalcitrance of the Great Majority... and the knowledge or at least strong suspicion that E-Branch was gearing itself for war... and the fact that despite all of this Harry had determined to bring a certain fiend to justice but first must find him.

Previously he would have been able to work out a logical system of approach, like writing down an order of priorities. But his mental confusion and the weariness it produced obfuscated, so that while he was aware of the passage of time and of forces mobilizing against him, still he felt incapable of rising above and proceeding beyond his personal miasma. Which in turn brought frustration, more anger, and the first gale warnings that his whirling, gusting emotions craved physical release.

Like an alien autism incapable of self-expression, Harry could feel his violence lying just beneath the surface. His violence, yes, for the vampire in him was neither violent nor emotional: it merely amplified these properties in its host.

Perhaps most frustrating of all, he knew that none of the things he was doing - or would do if he felt capable -was of the slightest importance to his own personal survival. Another in his position might seek to change his identity, find a safe place, extricate himself permanently from all dangerous sources and focuses.

Or would he? Would he even be able to? For as Harry had pointed out to Pythagoras, the world is a small place.

And by definition any other in Harry's position would likewise be Wamphyri and territorial. This was his world; this house not far from Edinburgh was his house; especially his thoughts and actions were his territory -most of them, most of the time - at least when others weren't snooping on them.

Yesterday he had gone to the ruins of the Castle Ferenczy and spoken to Bodrogk the Thracian. Bodrogk was too recent a friend to have known Harry before the start of his transition; he accepted him for what he was now. Also, Bodrogk was fearless and in any case could not possibly fear the Necroscope, nor for that matter any other living man. His dust, and the dust of his wife Sofia, was scattered to the winds and only their spirits remained in the Carpathians now. They were quite beyond earthly harm.

The subject of Harry's inquiry had been the composition and proportions of the chemical ingredients of Janos Ferenczy's necromantic potions. He would retrieve Trevor Jordan and Penny Sanderson from their 'essential salts' only if he could bring them back perfect or as close to perfect as possible. Bodrogk, because he had been subjected to just such experiments, was an authority. Even so, he'd inquired at length into the Necroscope's purpose before passing on the necessary information.

And so today Harry had been ready to become a true necromancer in his own right, and would have proceeded... but at the last moment he'd felt that twinge, that covert tweaking at the corner of his mind, which had warned him that Geoffrey Paxton was close by and watching him. Knowing that Paxton was seeking to prove just such unnatural activity in him, Harry had been obliged to postpone the experiment. And then, barely able to control his rage, he'd spoken to Darcy Clarke at E-Branch HQ.

It had come as a relief to know that Paxton wasn't Darcy's man; but if not his, whose? Maybe Darcy would find out and let him know, and maybe not. And in any case what odds? For Harry knew that sooner or later Darcy and the others must all join forces against him. The hell of it was that the boss of E-Branch had been a good friend, once. The Necroscope couldn't see any way that he would ever be able to hurt Darcy. But how to explain that to the thing inside him?

At two in the afternoon Harry had sat quite still in his study and 'listened'. But his vampire awareness was still a fledgling thing and he'd detected nothing. Or maybe he had: the very briefest wriggle of something on the outermost rim of his perceptions. Whatever, it was suspicious enough that he'd put back his experiment yet again, then rammed his wide-brimmed hat on to his head and gone outdoors to talk to his mother.

Now, sitting on the crumbling river bank, Harry dangled his legs and looked down into the gently swirling water which had been Mary Keogh's grave for most of his life, and let his deadspeak thoughts reach out to her. Since there was no one here to see him, he simply spoke to her, which was also deadspeak and felt far more natural: 'Ma, I'm in a mess.'

If she'd answered: 'So what's new?' he would understand; it seemed he was always in a mess. But Mary Keogh loved her son as all mothers do, and death had not diminished that.

Harry? her voice seemed very faint now, very distant, as if she'd been washed away downriver along with her physical shell. Oh, Harry, I know you are, son.

Well, and that was only to be expected. He'd never been able to hide anything from his Ma, who had warned him often enough that there are some things you daren't get too close to. This time he'd let himself get too close. 'Do you know what I'm talking about?'

There's only one thing you can be talking about, son, (she sounded so sad, so sorry for him). And even if you hadn't come to speak to me, still I would know. All of us know, Harry.

He nodded. 'They're not so keen to talk to me any more,' he said, maybe a little bitterly. 'And yet I never harmed a single one of them.'

But you should try to understand, Harry, she was at pains to explain. The Great Majority were once living and now are dead. They remember what life was, and they know what death is, but they don't understand and want nothing to do with anything that lies between. They can't understand something which preys on the living to make them undead, which takes away true life and replaces it with soulless greed and lust and... and evil. The children and grandchildren of the teeming dead are still in the world of the living, and so are you. And that's what worries them. It makes no difference how long people are dead, Harry, they still worry about their children. But you know that, son, don't you?

Harry sighed. Her deadspeak, however faint (and possibly even chiding?) was as warm as ever. It covered the Necroscope like a blanket, kept him safe, made it easier to think and plan and even dream. It was so alien to the nightmare thing inside him that that part of Harry could neither understand nor interfere with it. Namely, it was the love of his mother, soothing as nothing else could ever be.

'But the point is,' he said, in a little while, 'that I've one more thing to do before I ... before I'm finished here. And it's important, Ma. Important to me, and to you and the teeming dead alike. There's a monster running loose, and I have to nail him.'

A monster, son? Her voice was very soft, but he knew what she meant. Who was he to talk about monsters?

'Ma, I've done nothing wrong,' he answered. 'And so long as I'm me, I'm not going to.'

Harry, she said, son, I'm all used up. And she wasn't only faint but very tired, too. We're not inexhaustible. Left alone we'd just go on thinking our thoughts, gradually fading as all things do. We do fade in the end, be it ever so long. But torn by outside influences we go that much faster. I think that's how it works, anyway. You were a light in our long night, son, and it was like we could see again. But now we have to let you go and suffer the darkness. Alive we used to wonder: is there anything on the other side? Well, there was, and then you came and joined us up, and there was a kind of life again. So now I wonder: what's next? What I'm telling you is I haven't long here. But I'd hate to leave you not knowing you were all right. What are your plans, Harry?

And for the first time he realized that he really did need a plan. As simply as that, his mother had cut through all of his confusion.

'Well, there's a place I can go,' he finally answered. 'Not much of a place, but better than dying ... I think. And there's someone there who can teach me things, if he's willing. He had problems, too, but the last time I saw him he was coping. Maybe he still is. Maybe I can learn something from him.'

She knew where, who and what he meant, of course. But isn't that a sinister sort of place, Harry?

'It was.' He shrugged. 'Maybe it still is. But at least I won't be hunted there. I would be hunted here, eventually, if I stayed. Which means I'd be forced to hunt, too. And that's what I'm afraid of and what I'm trying to avoid. I'm a plague in a bottle, Ma, safe only so long as no one shakes or tries to break me. But in that other place the plague has already run its course. What's unthinkable here is understood there. Not acceptable, never that, but a reality all the same.'

She sighed. I'm glad you're not just giving in, son. And with something of her old fondness: You're a fighter, Harry. You always were.

'I suppose I was,' he agreed, 'but I can't fight here. That would only bring it on. And in the end I'm afraid it might be stronger than me. There are still things I have to do here, that's all, business that needs clearing up. Which is how I'll occupy myself until it's time. You asked about my plans.

They're simple, really. When my head's on straight I can read them like words in a book. There's a girl who died horribly and didn't deserve it, because no one deserves to die like that; and there's the creature who killed her and other innocents like her, who does deserve it. There's a long talk - an explanation - which I owe to Darcy Clarke; and oh, there are talents I'd like to gather, which might be useful to me in the other place.

'That's all of it: a few things to do, something I have to straighten out, and one or two new things to learn. And then it will be time I walked. I'd rather walk than be chased.'

And you'll never come back?

'I might, if I learned how to hold the thing permanently in check. But if I can't... no, never.'

How will you deal with this man, murderer, monster you're looking for?

'As quick and as cleanly as he'll let me. You don't know what he does, Ma, but I can tell you I won't soil my hands on him, not if I can help it. Killing him will be like cutting out a tumour in the flesh of humanity.'

You've cut out a few of those, son.

'And one more to go,' Harry nodded.

And the girl who doesn't deserve to be dead? That was a strange way of putting it, Harry.

'It's such a recent thing for her, Ma,' (Harry knew he'd strayed into a minefield, looked in vain for a safe landmark). 'She's not used to it yet. And... and she doesn't have to get used to it. I mean, I can help her.'

You've learned a new thing, Harry, she answered, but very slowly, and he sensed something different in her voice which was never there before - fear? You learned it from Janos Ferenczy, and I can feel it. Yes, and it's what puts you apart from us now. We can all feel it! And suddenly her deadspeak was wracked with small shudders.

His Ma, too? Had he alienated even his warm, sweet Ma? Suddenly he had the feeling that if he let her go she'd just drift away from him and keep on drifting. Perhaps into that beyond place which she sensed waiting there.

But he had one trump card left, and now played it: 'Ma, am I good or bad? Was I born good or evil?'

She read the anxiety in his deadspeak and returned at once. Oh, you were good, son. How can you doubt it? You were always so good!

'Well, nothing's changed, Ma. Not yet, and not here. I promise you, I won't let anything change me, not here. If and when I feel it - as soon as I feel I can't hold it any longer-then I'll go.'

But if you bring that girl back, what will she be?

'Beautiful, just as she was. Maybe not physically beautiful - though it's a fact she was lovely - but alive. And that's to be beautiful. You know that.'

But for how long, son? I mean, will she age? Will she die? What will she be? What will she be, Harry?!

He had no answer. 'Just a girl. I don't know.'

And her children? What will they be?

'Ma, I don't know! I only know she's too much alive to be dead.'

Are you doing it for... yourself?

'No, just for her, and for all of you.'

He sensed her shaking her head. I don't know, son. I just don't know.

Trust me, Ma.'

Well, I suppose I'll have to. So how can I help?

Harry was eager now, except: 'Ma, I don't want to weaken you. You said you were all used up.'

So I am, but if you can fight so can I. If the dead won't talk to you, maybe they'll still talk to me. While they can.

He nodded his gratitude and in a little while said: 'There were others before Penny Sanderson. I know their names from the newspapers, but I have to know where they were laid to rest and I need an introduction. See, they were badly hurt and probably won't trust someone like me, who can touch them from this side. I mean, the one who killed them, he could do that, too. While I do need to talk to them, I don't want to frighten them more than they already are. So you see, without you it would be just too difficult.'

So you want to know which graveyards they're in, right?

'Right. It probably wouldn't be too hard to find out for myself, but there are so many things on my mind that keep getting in the way. And so time goes by.'

All right, Harry, I'll do what I can. But I don't want to have to track you down any more, so it would be better if you came to see me. That way I... She paused, cut off abruptly.

'Ma?'

Didn't you feel that, son? I always feel it, when they're close by like that.

'What was it?'

Someone joining us, she answered, sadly. Someone dying. Some thing, anyway.

A medium in life, in death Mary Keogh's contact with death was that much sharper. But what had she meant? It wasn't clear, and Harry felt the short hairs prickle on the back of his neck. 'Some... thing?' he repeated her.

A pet, a puppy, an accident, she sighed. And some poor child's heart broken. In Bonnyrig. Just this minute.

The Necroscope felt his own heart give a start; he'd lost so much during his life that the thought of another's loss, however small, stung him with its poignancy. Or maybe it was just the way his mother had reported the occurrence, so soulfully. Or there again it could be an effect of his heightened emotional awareness. Maybe there was someone he could comfort.

'Bonnyrig, did you say? Ma, I'll be going now. I'll come and see you tomorrow. Maybe you'll know something by then.'

Take care, son.

Harry stood up, looked up and down the river and across it to the other side. The bright sun had passed behind fluffy, drifting clouds, which was a relief.

He climbed a tottering fence and entered a small copse, and in the dappled heart of the greenery conjured a Möbius door. A moment later and he emerged in a back alley close to the high street in Bonnyrig. And letting his deadspeak sensitivity spread out around him like a fan or cobweb, he searched for a newcomer among the ranks of the dead.

And there it was, close by: a whining yelp in memory of the panic and pain of a few moments ago, and a certain astonishment that the pain was no longer here, and disbelief that the bright day could so quickly turn black and blacker than night. A dumb animal's perception of sudden death.

Harry understood it very well, for it wasn't too dissimilar to the reaction of a human being. The only difference being that dogs have neither foreknowledge of nor preoccupation with death, so that their surprise is that much greater. But strike or kick a dog unjustly or cruelly and it will draw back with just the same astonishment, the same disbelief.

Taking a chance that he wasn't observed, the Necroscope used the Möbius Continuum to follow the pup's thoughts to their source: a kerbside in the main village street, at a junction where the street turned left on to the main road into Edinburgh. A workday, there weren't many people about; the handful which had gathered had their backs to Harry anyway where he emerged on to the pavement as if from thin air. And the first thing he saw was the long, dark skidmark burned into the road's surface.

The pup's deadspeak thoughts were more desperate now as it realized that it couldn't extricate itself from this new predicament. There was no feeling, no contact, no light. Where was its God, its young master?

Shh! Harry hushed. It's OK, boy! It's all right! Shh!

He moved to the forefront of the handful of onlookers, saw a young boy kneeling there in the gutter, his cheeks shiny with tears, the broken pup dead in his arms. One of the pup's shoulders was askew and its spine kinked; its right foreleg flopped like a rubber band; its crushed head oozed brain fluid from a torn right ear.

Harry got down on one knee, put an arm round the boy and stroked the dead pet. And again: 'Shh, boy!' He comforted both of them. And in his mind the pup's whines and yelps quietened to a panting whimper. It could feel again. It felt Harry.

But the boy couldn't be comforted. 'He's dead!' he kept moaning. 'He's dead! Paddy's dead! Why didn't the car hit me and not Paddy? Why didn't the car stop?'

'Where do you live, son?' Harry asked the boy, a towhead of maybe eight or nine.

The other glanced at him through blurred-blue eyes. 'Down there.' He nodded vaguely over his right shoulder. 'Number seven. We live there, Paddy and me.'

Harry took the dog gently into his arms and stood up. 'Let's get him home then,' he said.

The crowd parted for them and Harry heard someone say, 'It's a shame. What a terrible shame!'

'Paddy's dead!' The kid clutched the Necroscope's elbow as they turned the corner into a narrow, deserted street.

Dead? Yes, he was, but ... did he really have to be? You don't have to be, do you, Paddy?

The deadspeak answer which came back wasn't quite a bark and it wasn't quite a word - but it was an agreement. A dog will usually agree with his friends, and rarely if ever disagree with his master. While Harry wasn't Paddy's beloved master, he certainly was a new friend.

And the decision was made as quickly as that.

Before they reached the small garden in front of number seven, Harry looked down at the lad and said: 'What's your name, son?'

'Peter.' The other could scarcely get it out past his tears and the lump in his throat.

'Peter, I - ' Harry jerked to a halt. Play-acting for all he was worth, he glanced at the pet in his arms. ' - I think I felt him move!'

The boy's mouth fell open. 'Paddy moved? But he's so bad hurt!'

'Son, I'm a vet,' Harry lied. 'Maybe I can save him. You run quickly now and tell your people what's happened, and I'll take Paddy to the surgery. And whatever happens, I'll be in touch just as soon as I know how bad he is - or how good. OK?'

'But -'

'Don't waste time, Peter,' Harry urged. 'It's Paddy's life, right?'

The other gulped, nodded once, flew to the gate of number seven and through it, and as he vanished pell-mell into the garden Harry conjured a Möbius door. By the time Peter's Ma came out of the house wringing her hands - came flying to see the vet - Harry was at a different address entirely ...

The Necroscope had perhaps too few friends among the living, but one of them was an old potter up in the Pentlands who fired his own kilns. Paddy was absolutely dead, no doubt about that, when Harry handed him over to Hamish McCulloch for calcination in one of his ovens. 'It's worth a twenty to me, Hamish,' he told the old Scot, 'if you can bring him down to ashes. Well, if not to me, to his master, a young lad with a broken heart. And I'll pay you for one of your pots, too, to keep him in.'

'I reckon we can manage that, Harry.' Hamish nodded.

'Only one thing,' said the Necroscope, 'be careful how you gather him up. I mean, the young lad wants to know he has all of him, right?'

'Just as you say.' Another nod. And Harry waited for five hours until the job was done, but stayed calm and patient and controlled throughout. For now he was the old Harry who, while he had little enough time left of his own, nevertheless had all the time in the world for this.

And anyway it would serve his wider purposes too, wouldn't it? A little preview of what was to come? A chance to observe any possible... discrepancies? For Trevor Jordan's brain had also been shattered, and Penny's flesh had been torn.

At 10:00 p.m. Harry was down in the spacious, dusty cellar of his old house a mile or so out of Bonnyrig. He'd cleaned the place out as best he could and scrubbed an area in the centre of the stone floor until it was smooth as glass. Old Hamish had told him the weight of the dead pup's body before calcination, so that even if Harry's grasp of maths had been meagre it wouldn't be too difficult to calculate pound for pound the various amounts of chemicals required. His knowledge was anything but meagre and he'd calculated it down into grams.

Finally ashes and chemicals were poured together, making a very small mound in the scrubbed floor space, and Harry was ready. And this time there was no pausing to check if his own personal mind-flea was up and jumping, for this time he wasn't worried for himself but for a little kid who wouldn't be sleeping easy tonight.

Except now that he was ready it all seemed so ridiculously easy. Was this all there was to it? Had he perhaps forgotten something? Had those weirdly esoteric words he'd uttered down in the bowels of Janos Ferenczy's ruined castle - that formula out of hideous aeons - really sufficed to bring about... resurrection? And if so, had it been an act of blasphemy? On the other hand, where was the profit in worrying about that now? If the Necroscope was to be damned for his works then he was already damned. And purgatory has to be something like infinity: if you're to suffer for all eternity, there's no way you can be made to suffer twice as long. Is there?

As always his arguments went in a circle, making his head spin. But suddenly he 'knew' that it was the vampire in him, working to confuse him, and in that same moment he acted and so broke the thread. Directing a rigid finger and his thoughts at the pile of ingredients, he spoke the words of evocation:

'Y'ai 'Ng'ngah,

Yog-Sothoth

H'ee-L'geb,

F'ai Throdog

- Uaaahr

It was like putting a lighted match to a pile of incendiary materials: there was phosphorescent light, coloured smoke, a not-quite-sulphur stench. And there was a yelp!

Paddy, called up from his ashes, came staggering from a mushrooming smoke-ring of rapidly dispersing gas or vapour. His ears and stump of a tail were down, trembling, and he wobbled on legs of jelly which seemed incapable of supporting him. He had returned from death and weightlessness - from incorporeity - to life and substantiality in a moment, but his pup's legs were already unused to it.

'Paddy,' the Necroscope whispered, going down on one knee. 'Paddy - here, boy!' And the little dog fell down, stood up, shook himself so as almost to fall again, and came to him.

Black and white, short in the leg, floppy-eared, a mongrel entirely - and entirely alive!

... Was he?

Paddy, the Necroscope spoke again, this time in dead-speak. But there was no answer.

Paddy lived. Truly.

Half an hour later Harry delivered Paddy to house number seven of a row of neat terraced houses in Bonnyrig. He didn't mean to stay, would escape immediately if he could, but there were things he needed to know. About Paddy. About Paddy's character. Was he the same dog exactly?

And apparently he was. Certainly Peter thought so. Paddy's master had been ready for bed for an hour, but he wouldn't go until he'd heard from his 'vet'. And Paddy's return was a miracle to him, though only the Necroscope knew how much of a miracle.

Peter's father was a tall, thin, callused man, but a kind one. 'The boy told us he thought Paddy must be dead,' he said, pouring Harry a liberal whisky, after Peter and his pup had disappeared for the night. 'Broken bones, blood and brains from his ear, a spine all out of joint - it had us worried. He loves that pup.'

'It looked a lot worse than it was,' Harry answered. 'The pup was unconscious, which made his limbs flop; there was some blood from a few scratches, and that always looks bad; and he'd coughed up some slaver. Shock, mostly.'

'And his shoulders?' The other raised an eyebrow. 'Peter said they weren't working, that they were definitely broken.'

'Dislocated.' Harry nodded. 'Once we fixed that everything else came right.'

'We're grateful to you.'

That's OK.'

'What do we owe you?'

'Nothing.'

That's very kind of you...'

'I just wanted to be sure that Paddy was the same dog,' said the Necroscope. 'I mean, that the bump he took hadn't changed his personality. Did he seem the same to you?'

There came a yelp and a bark, and laughter from Peter's bedroom.

'Playing.' The boy's mother nodded, and smiled under-standingly. They shouldn't be, but tonight's special. Oh, yes, Mr...?'

'Keogh,' said Harry.

'Oh, yes, Paddy's just the same.'

Peter's father saw Harry to the garden gate, thanked him again and said goodnight. When he went back inside his wife said: 'What an uncommonly decent, nice person. His eyes, so soulful!'

'Hmm?' Her husband was thoughtful.

'Didn't you think so?'

'Oh, aye, certainly. But - '

'But? Didn't you like him, then? Is there something you can't trust in a man who won't accept payment for a job well done?'

'No, no, it's not that! But, his eyes...'

'Soulful, weren't they?'

'Were they? Down at the garden gate, in the darkness, when he looked at me -'

'Yes?'

But: 'Nothing,' said Peter's father, shaking his head. 'A trick of the light, that's all...'

Back home Harry felt good. Better than at any time since Greece, when he'd got his deadspeak and numeracy back. Maybe he could feel even better, and cause others to feel better, too.

In his study he sat in an easy chair and talked to an urn where it stood shadowed in one corner of the room. Or it would appear that he talked to an urn, but urns don't talk back: Trevor, you were a telepath and a good one. Which means that you still are. So I know that even when I don't speak to you, still you're listening to me. You listen to my thoughts. So ... you know what I did tonight, right?'

I can't help what I am, Harry, Trevor Jordan answered, his deadspeak voice 'breathless' with excitement. No more than you can. Yes, I know what you did - and what you're planning to do. I can't believe it yet, and don't suppose 1 will for quite some little time after it has happened, if it happens. It's like a wonderful dream that I don't want to wake up from. Except there's a chance it will be even more wonderful when I do wake up. There was no hope, none, and now there is...

'But surely you knew my intention all along?'

Knowing what someone wants to do doesn't make them capable of doing it, the other answered. But now, after the dog...

Harry nodded. 'But a dog's a dog, and a man's a man. We still can't be sure until... we're sure.'

Do I have anything to lose?

'I suppose not.'

Harry, any time you're ready, then so am I. Boy, am I ready!

Trevor, just a second ago you said you can't help being what you are any more than I can. Did that mean more than it sounded? You must have read quite a lot, in my mind.'

And after a long pause: I won't lie to you, Harry. I know what's happened to you, what you're becoming. You don't know how sorry 1 am.

'Pretty soon,' said the Necroscope, 'the whole damn rat pack will be after me.'

I know. And I know what you'll do then, and where you'll go.

Again Harry's nod. 'But it's like my Ma told me,' he said. 'It's a strange and sinister place. Any help I can get, I'll probably need it.'

Is there something I can do? Not much, I reckon. Not from where I am right now.

'Actually, yes,' said Harry. 'We could do it right now. But I won't take that sort of advantage. If the thing works, that will be soon enough. And even then - especially then - the decision will still be yours.'

So ... when? (Again Jordan's breathlessness.)

Tomorrow.'

Jesus!

But: 'Don't!' the Necroscope cautioned him then. 'Curse all you want, but be careful who you name...'

After that they talked generally and remembered old times. A pity there wasn't anything good to remember. Oh, good had come out of it, but it had been evil as Hell at the time.

And after a lull in their deadspeak conversation: Harry, you know that Paxton's still watching you, don't you? It was Jordan who had first brought the mindspy to the Necroscope's attention. Harry remembered that with gratitude. But ever since the initial warning a week ago, it had been his own intuition which alerted him to the telepath's proximity.

His first instinctive reaction to the problem had been to invoke a talent he'd inherited from Harold Wellesley, an ex-boss of E-Branch who had suicided after being found out as a double-agent. Wellesley's talent had been a negative sort of thing: his mind had been better than the vaults of a bank, literally impregnable. But it had seemed to make him the ideal candidate for head of the British mindspy security organization. Had seemed to, anyway. By way of atonement, he'd passed on his talent to Harry.

But Wellesley's talent was sometimes a two-edged sword: if you bolt your doors against your enemies, your friends get locked out, too. Also, when you blow out the candle in a deep cave, everyone goes blind. Harry would prefer the light, prefer to know Paxton was there and what he was about.

And in any case it was draining to have to keep his guard up like that. Power, all power, has to be generated somewhere, and with the Necroscope's constantly increasing emotional stress his batteries were already sufficiently drained.

Now it was the business of Harry's intuition to keep tabs on the mindspy, his intuition and the expanding intelligence of the thing inside him, its waxing talents. Eventually these would develop into a sort of telepathy in their own right - into telepathy and other forms of ESP -but it could do no harm to have Jordan's brand of the art as an 'optional extra'.

Jordan heard that, too.

Harry, there's no sweat on that. I know you're different. Anything I can give you, take it. Now or after you ... try it out on me, it makes no difference. I'm not going to change my mind. You'll use it to protect yourself, of course you will, but not to hurt us, I'm sure.

'Us?'

People, Harry. I don't think you could hurt people.

'I wish I could be so sure. But the thing is, it won't be me. Or it will be, but I won't think the same any more.'

So all you have to do is stick to your plan. When you know it's coming - or when circumstances force you to take defensive or evasive action - that's when you get the hell out of it.

'Chased out of my own world!' the Necroscope growled.

That or let the genie out of its bottle, yes.

'You're a straight talker, Trevor.'

Isn't that what friends are for?

'But in a way you're a kind of genie in a bottle yourself, right?' Harry's contrary Wamphyri side was surfacing, his need to argue the point. Any point. Jordan hadn't sensed it yet, but in any case he was trying to keep the conversation light.

Maybe that's where those old Moslem legends spring from, eh? A man with the Power, who knows the magic words, calling up a powerful slave from dust in a bottle. What is your wish, O Master?

'My wish?' Harry's voice was gaunt as his face. 'Sometimes I wish to fuck I'd never been born!'

And now Jordan sensed it: Harry's duality - the strange tides in his blood, eroding the coastline of his will - the horror which challenged his human ascendancy even now, whose challenge was strengthening hour by hour, day by day.

You're tired, Harry. Maybe you should take it easy for a while. Get some sleep.

'At night?' The Necroscope chuckled, but drily, darkly. 'It's not my nature, Trevor.'

You have to fight it.

'I've been fighting it!' Harry's growl was deeper. 'All I do is fight it.'

Jordan was silent for a moment. Then: Maybe... Maybe we should give it a break now. His deadspeak was full of trembling. Harry could feel his fear, the terror of a dead man. And to his innermost self, where Jordan couldn't reach:

Oh, God! Even the dead are afraid of me now.

He stood up abruptly, starting to his feet so as almost to topple his chair. And lurching to the curtains he looked out through an inch of space where the drapes came together, across the river and into the night. At which precise moment, on the far river bank and under the trees there, someone struck a match to light a cigarette. Just for a second Harry saw the flare before it was cupped in the windshield of a hand. And then there was only a yellow glow, brightening when the watcher took a deep drag.

The bastard's out there right now,' Harry spoke, almost to himself.

It might as well be to himself, for Jordan was too frightened to answer...
 

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