WINDEMERE LIT A cigarette. It was the first time that Gibson had seen him smoke tobacco. "This is my home, damn it. You know what they say about Englishmen and their castles."
Abigail Voud regarded him calmly from behind her small square-cut glasses. Although she hadn't actually pounded on the door of Thirteen Ladbroke Grove with her own tiny fists, there wasn't a shadow of doubt that she was the absolute instigator of the nighttime disturbance. Madame Voud was quite as old as Casillas and equally as frail, "Don't get so angry, Gideon. This is not an invasion. We have to assume that we are all working for the common good." Her head turned slightly so the three streamheat were included in her penetrating gaze. "At least, we have to assume that for the moment, until we have information to the contrary." Also in common with Casillas, the eyes behind the wire-rimmed glasses appeared far younger than her apparent age.
Windemere's anger seemed to be the only thing that was keeping him on his feet. Wrapped in a hastily donned bathrobe, he looked haggard and exhausted, as though the rite in the basement had totally drained all his reserves of energy.
"When someone comes beating on my door in the middle of the night, backed up by an assault team of the local dreads, I tend to treat it as an invasion, even when that someone is one of the Nine."
The pair of tall, burly Rastafarians who stood on either side of the chair in which Abigail Voud was seated maintained implacable stone faces that silently cautioned Windemere he could rant and rave all he wanted but if he went any further, he was dead meat. That this seemingly fragile old lady could recruit herself a personal bodyguard from the pubs and shebeens of the Portobello Road said a great deal about her personal power. It was rare that these hardman Rastas, heavyweights who ran with the London end of some of the baddest posses out of Trenchtown, would demean themselves to take orders from a woman, particularly a woman who stood little more than four feet tall and was old enough to be their great-great-grandmother. It went against every grain of their intractable Jamaican machismo.
Once again, the entire household had assembled in the drawing room of Number Thirteen Ladbroke Grove, roused from their beds by the beating on the door and the sudden intrusion of Abigail Voud and her hastily assembled entourage.
"I flew from Paris when I heard that Yancey Slide was out of the woodwork. I'm sorry that I couldn't give you warning or arrive at a more genteel hour, but I felt that you had a situation building up here."
"I'm handling the situation."
"The way that you've been powering up this place has set the whole neighborhood in an uproar." Somewhere outside a dog was barking, hysterical and out of control. Abigail Voud slowly shook her head. Gibson marveled at the way that she seemed to be talking to Windemere as if he were some headstrong schoolboy. "Did you really think you could load on that much psionic energy in an area as densely populated as this without anyone noticing?"
The Rasta standing on Abigail Voud's right-a thickset, bearded six-footer in a combat coat and camouflage pants, with his locks tucked into a red, green, and black wool cap, whose name was Montgomery, and who was reputed to control a sizable chunk of the West London wholesale ganja market-nodded in agreement.
"You can't be doing shit like that round here, Windemere. We got enough rasclat troubles without all this nonsense, see?"
The tension in the room was downright dangerous. Cadiz and O'Neal were still holding the weapons that they'd grabbed when the disturbance had first started. Gibson, barefoot and bleary-eyed, in the shirt and pants that he had thrown on when people had begun streaming into the house, felt himself at a distinct disadvantage. Christobelle had removed the Balinese headdress and wrapped herself in a floral-print robe, but the bangles and beads of her odalisque outfit still clanked and jingled on her wrists and ankles. Even Rita stood angrily at the back of the room in a pink housecoat and with her hair in rollers, muttering about no-account rude boys and ready to join in any fray that might develop. Only the streamheat remained pin-neat and apparently unconcerned.
Windemere was adamantly shaking his head. "You're pushing me too far, Abigail. I mean, look at it from where I'm standing, I didn't ask to take charge of Joe Gibson. The Nine dumped him on me and now the Nine, through you, are complaining about the way I'm handling things. Either you let me do things in my own way, or you get Gibson out of here and stash him someplace else."
Abigail Voud raised a thin, blue-veined hand. "Calm down, Gideon, please. I'm not here to criticize you. None of us were aware that matters would escalate so quickly. We, the Nine, made the original mistake in assuming that the attacks on Gibson were a purely localized, New York threat. Nobody expected either Yancey Slide or a UFO."
Windemere's mouth twisted into a half smile. "Nobody ever expects Yancey Slide or a UFO." He had, however, calmed down quite considerably.
The authority that seemed to be contained in the old lady's tiny body amazed Gibson. Wrapped in a heavily embroidered purple sari that made her look like a cross between Indira Gandhi and the Witch of Gagool, she seemed easily to assume control of the whole room. Nobody had taken time out from this latest crisis to fill Gibson in about what it was in her background that qualified her for a place in the Nine, but from the look of her Gibson could only assume that she was extensively traveled in whatever secret labyrinth linked the occult undergrounds of Europe, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Gibson knew that during colonial days, strange crossovers had taken place and links had undoubtedly been forged that had lasted to the present, and he wondered what she must have been like when she was young. Perhaps she had been one of those mysteriously seductive dragon-women who, according to legend, film, and fable, moved, fingernails clicking and eyes flashing, through the dark intrigues of the twenties and thirties, spreading chaos and disorder as they played off British military intelligence against the Abwehr and Manchu warlords against the Imperial Japanese Secret Service in that long-gone twilight zone of steamship voyages, romance behind bamboo shutters, and secret assignations in Cairo or Shanghai,
Madame Voud's spectacles flashed as she quickly agreed with Windemere. "Exactly. It's simply that none of us foresaw how the situation would build."
Montgomery glanced over his shoulder. "Seems you got a situation building on the street right now, mon,"
"Oh, Jesus." Windemere quickly crossed to the window and inched back the curtain. "Damn it to hell."
Gibson moved to look for himself. "What is it?"
"You see those two white vans parked across the way there?"
"SPG. That's all we needed."
"What's the SPG?"
Montgomery supplied the answer. "Special Patrol Group, the heavy mob. They keep them bastards in cages and feed 'em on raw meat, vodka, and copies of Mein Kampf. Only let 'em out when heads gotta be broke."
Smith stood up. "I can deal with the local law enforcement. May I use the phone?"
Gibson continued to peer out of the window. Ever since Voud and her Rastas had come beating on the door, a small silent crowd had been standing on the sidewalk staring at the house as though waiting for a sign. The majority of them were wearing dreadlocks or sculpted hip-hop hairdos, but there was also a sprinkling of leftover hippies and other local weirdos. Three teddy boys even stood with hands thrust into the pockets of their long drape jackets. This was a little odd, given the average ted's extreme and overt racism. The uniformed figures inside the white Ford Transit vans, with the screens over the windows and the riot-control cowcatchers on the front, were now watching the crowd on the sidewalk, and a good many of the crowd were looking right back at them with challenging hostility. For decades, the Ladbroke Grove area had been famous for its riots, and all the ingredients for another one were rapidly gathering right outside the house.
Montgomery seemed to sense this, and he squinted at Smith. "I hope you can pull this off, lady. It's like Windemere say, we don't need the aggravation."
Smith appeared to be on hold. Abigail Voud glanced up at Montgomery. "Can't you get your people to go home?"
The big Rastafarian shook his head. "No chance. Too much blood between jah man and pig rasclat SPG. Pride, see? You know what I'm talking about?"
Smith was now talking fast into the phone. Christobelle glanced at French. "Can she really get the SPG pulled out?"
French nodded. "We maintain close ties with the locals in all the major cities in which we operate."
Gibson caught the remark. The more he learned of the streamheat, the more they started to resemble an interdimensional CIA, and he was feeling more and more that he trusted them about as much as he would trust the domestic version.
Smith put down the phone. "It's done. The SPG are being removed."
Montgomery looked at her disbelievingly. "How you do that?"
Smith shrugged as though it was the easiest thing in the world. "All under the blanket of national security."
Sure enough, within a matter of minutes, the headlights of the first of the two white Transits came on and it pulled away from the curb, quickly followed by the second. A ragged cheer came from the crowd outside as though they thought the official retreat had been a result of their own hostile stares and intractable attitudes.
Gibson turned away from the window. "They've gone."
Abigail Voud brought the meeting back to order. "Now we have to decide what's to be done with Joseph Gibson."
Every eye in the room turned in his direction, and Gibson felt profoundly uncomfortable. "I'm getting a little tired of listening to people discuss what's to be done with me."
Everyone ignored the remark except Montgomery, who glared at him. "You gotta go, mon, before you cause any more bother."
Gibson stood his ground.
"And doubtless someone's going to tell me where I'm going to be shipped off to next and what drug I'm going to be filled with to keep me quiet on the trip."
Smith's face was cold, as if, as far as she was concerned, he was little more than a recalcitrant package. "It's my opinion that we should take you out of this dimension entirely. "
Gibson's jaw dropped. "Say what?"
"I think the only answer is to transport you out of this dimension entirely. While I'm not totally convinced that all the phenomena that are showing up are solely attracted by you, I think the situation has become far too unpredictable for you to remain."
Abigail Voud was nodding in agreement. "This is also the opinion of the Nine. Although I don't share some of my colleagues' absolute faith in our extradimensional friends, I believe that, in this instance, they are right,"
Gibson couldn't have controlled his anger even if he'd wanted to. "Hold everything just a goddamned minute! Being flown to London is one thing, but being shipped out to another fucking dimension is something else entirely."
French raised an eyebrow. "You have a problem with transfer to another dimension?"
Gibson was close to snarling, "Damn right I have a problem. I've got a serious problem."
"I doubt you have a workable alternative, however."
"I've got one, a real good one. I'm not going, so think of another plan."
The chill of Smith's expression dropped another twenty degrees. "You're being ridiculous."
Gibson finally lost it. "Oh, yeah? I've been chased, scared shitless, followed by UFOs, and visited by demons, and you're telling me I'm being ridiculous because I don't want to go rushing off to someplace that I can't hardly conceive except as some abstract science-fiction concept. Oh, sure, excuse me, I'm being ridiculous." He turned in appeal to Windemere. "Do you have anything to say about this?"
Windemere shook his head. "It's out of my hands."
Gibson's mouth twisted into a sneer. "Fucking great. Even in the occult, passing the buck seems to be a fine art."
Christobelle straight away sprang to her boss's defense. She glared at Gibson. It seemed that the ties formed by lovemaking were peripheral compared with home-team loyalty. "You can't blame Gideon for this. He's done the best he can for you. It's not only a matter of protecting you from whatever may be coming after us next. Already we've got a mob outside the house. If things go on as they've been going, it's highly likely that one of the locals will become sufficiently pissed off with the weirdness going on here to toss a Molotov cocktail through the front window. What are you going to do then, Joe?"
Gibson felt himself being backed into yet another corner. He rounded on Abigail Voud. "Do you and your eight chums have anything to say about this? Is your best idea just to hand me over to the goddamned streamheat and let them do what they want with me? I didn't ask to be brought into this. Casillas dragged me in on behalf of the Nine and, the way I figure it, the Nine are responsible. You started this shit and you've got to come up with something a bit more satisfactory than handing me over to these three cold bastards and pretending that I never happened."
Abigail Voud was very calm. "We're not pretending that you never happened or ducking our responsibilities. I've already told you that I don't put as much faith in the streamheat as Carlos Casiltas and some of the others, but, in this instance, I can't see another viable alternative."
"Viable alternative? Shit! You're the Nine. You're supposed to be defending the planet, and you can't even protect one man without outside help. You claim to have secure installations all over, so why don't you take me to one of those? Hide me out in Tibet or somewhere like that."
Smith was staring at him with open contempt. "We were in Lhasa just a week ago. Believe me, it's a lot less safe there than it is here."
Christobelle joined in. She seemed quiet adept at herding Gibson in directions that he didn't want to go. "Why don't you get real, Joe? You'd hate Tibet. There's nothing there but monks, yaks, and the army of the People's Republic of China. They don't even have decent booze. I would have thought you'd treat going to another dimension as an adventure."
Gibson scowled. "So you go. This boy's had his share of adventures. I'm sick of fucking adventures. That's why I became a drunk."
Klein made an attempt to cool him down. "Perhaps if you heard a little about the dimension we had in mind you might…"
"I don't want to hear shit. Read my lips, Jack. I ain't going. Hell I don't even know why I have to go. I still want to know what's so bloody special about me. Why's everyone after my ass?" He stabbed a finger at Abigail Voud. "You want to tell me? You got an answer to that? And I don't want to hear no aura talk, either."
Abigail Voud laughed, and her eyes flashed with an electrical sparkle that had to come from somewhere out of her past. The sparkle quite convinced Gibson that, once upon a time, she could have been a killer Dragon Lady.
"My dear boy, I don't know why you're in me trouble you're in, but you really ought to stop pouting about it. Pouting only hampers practical action. I don't doubt you'd rather not hear about auras, but ignorance is no protection at all, believe me, particularly as you're walking around with a black cloud hanging over you that would terrify the hardest old soothsaying crone on the Street of Mirrors. Are you sure you don't want to see it? Just as a part of your education?"
Gibson continued to pout. "I don't want to see anything. I'm sick of all this."
"Sure I'm scared."
"Maybe if you saw what you're carrying around with you, you might be more able to accept the things that are happening to you."
Gibson sighed. "Okay, okay, show me the rucking aura."
Smith made an impatient gesture. "Do we have to have more party tricks? Weren't Slide's this afternoon enough?"
Abigail Voud looked at her sharply. "I think it might help Gibson."
"I'm starting to think that Gibson's beyond help."
Madame Voud paid no attention to Smith's last remark and faced Gibson. She held up her right hand with the palm inward. "What I'm going to do first is show you a comparatively normal aura. Christobelle, do you mind if I use you for an example?"
Christobelle didn't look exactly pleased, but she nodded her assent. "Okay."
There was a ruby ring on the third finger of the old woman's left hand with a stone the size of a pigeon's egg. Abigail Voud closed her eyes and concentrated. The stone started to glow.
"This isn't going to hurt, so don't be frightened."
Christobelle's eyes widened as tiny points of blue light sparkled in the air around her. They increased in both number and density for about a minute, and then Madame Voud lowered her hand. The lights around Christobelle and the glow of the ruby both faded.
Abigail Voud opened her eyes. "Now that was a normal aura. Are you ready to see yours, Joe?"
"What do I have to do?"
"Just stand still and don't panic at anything that happens."
Gibson stood still. Abigail Voud held up her hand again. The ring began to glow. At first nothing happened, and then, just as Gibson was about to open his mouth to protest, he was suddenly enclosed in a pillar of cold black flame.
Through the weird flames, he could see everyone in Windemere's drawing room staring at him open-mouthed. It was like he was looking at them through dirty water. Montgomery's eyes were wide with shock. Even though there was neither heat nor pain, Gibson's first instinct was to try and beat out the flames, to shake them from his body-but then he remembered Voud's warning not to panic. When he spoke, though, his voice was far from stress-free.
"Okay, I think you made your point. Could you stop this please?"
Madame Voud lowered her hand, the ruby ceased to glow, and the flames around him vanished.
"That's my aura."
"That's your aura, Joe."
"I think I'm in a lot of trouble."
"That's what we've been trying to tell you."
Gibson sat down. "I need to sort my head out."
Smith stood up. "Don't take too long. The sooner we're out of here the better."
Gibson looked up. "Did I say I was coming with you?"
Smith's shoulders sagged slightly, as though she was weary of Gibson's objections. "What other real choice do you have? The Nine obviously can't do anything for you, and Windemere doesn't want you."
"Aren't you forgetting one thing?"
"I'm still my own man. I didn't ask to get into this mess and I can walk away from it any time I want to."
"After what you've seen."
"After what I've seen, I don't trust anyone. I may be in a lot of trouble but I've been in trouble before and got myself out of it."
French sneered. "From what I've heard, you've mainly drunk your way out of it."
"So? At least everyone can be assured that a drunk isn't a cosmic danger."
Smith sighed. "And where exactly would you walk to?"
Gibson smiled for the first time since he'd been dragged out of bed by the hammering on the door. "I'd walk out of here and that'd be that. You wouldn't have to worry about me anymore. I wouldn't be your problem. The one thing that you're all forgetting is that I'm Joe Gibson. I know people in London. People you wouldn't even imagine. I'll make it."
"You think so?"
"Like I said, you don't have to worry about it."
"You wouldn't last through tomorrow morning."
It was Gibson's turn to sneer. "You think I'm completely helpless?"
Smith turned and faced him. "I think after the police get a call from me, they'll pick you up pretty quickly."
Gibson's eyebrows shot up. "For what?"
"For being an illegal immigrant."
"What are you talking about?"
"There's no record of you entering the country."
"It was all arranged with the State Department. Casillas told me that."
"I think you'll find that those arrangements have been quite forgotten. You entered the country as J. Edgar Hoover. Try convincing the London bobbies that you're the late director of the FBI."
Light dawned on Gibson. "Now you're blackmailing me."
"It's an ugly word."
"You really think I couldn't go to ground in London?"
"Without money and without papers? You might manage it, but would you like it?"
Gibson shrugged. "So what's the worst that could happen to me? I could be deported back to the U.S., right?"
"I imagine that there might be a couple of agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division waiting to arrest you when you got to JFK."
"Another phone call?"
Smith nodded. "Another phone call."
Gibson looked helplessly round the room. "None of this makes any sense. Remember me? Worthless Joe Gibson, the no-account, burned-out drunk. How come you streamheat are suddenly so keen to whisk me off to another dimension? "
Christobelle, who had been sitting quietly since Madame Voud had used her as a guinea pig, leaned forward in her chair. "Joe's got a point. You streamheat have done nothing but call him a drunk and treat him as an unwanted burden. Now you're all but putting a gun to his head to force him to go with you. Would you care to explain?"
Now everyone in the room was looking at the three streamheat. For the slightest fraction of an instant, Klein glanced at Smith to see what she was going to say, and, in that same fraction of an instant, Gibson knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that for some mysterious reason of their own, the streamheat wanted him; they had wanted him all along, and they'd been lying to him ever since they had all left New York on the private jet. It was like a weight being lifted. He still didn't know what they intended to do with him, but at least they'd shown a part of their hand and given him some slight idea of how to play his own sorry collection of cards. Smith's response to Christobelle only confirmed what Gibson was thinking.
"We haven't put a gun to his head yet."
Gibson almost smiled. "But you would if you had to?"
Smith realized she'd blundered by being too glib and hastily spun into damage control. "You have to face it, Gibson, what with the aura that Madame Voud showed you and all the things that have been happening, your best chance is with us."
Now Gibson did smile. "That's bullshit and you know it. For some reasons of your own that I can't even get near, you want to take me out of this dimension."
Silence filled the room like physical pressure, and the sightless eye sockets of the rattlesnake skull in the glass dome on the mantel seemed to stare into space as everyone waited to see what the streamheat were going to say or do next. Smith had the look of a woman backed up into a corner, and after being cornered so often himself Gibson couldn't help but relish the spectacle.
Finally she let out a careful breath. "Yes, you're right. It's our mission to remove you to another dimension. We received our orders while we were at Greene Street."
Gibson stood up and faced Smith. He allowed a few seconds to pass before he spoke. "So let me ask you one more time, what is it about me? Why am I so important?"
"I can't tell you that."
Gibson sighed. "Here we go again."
"I can't tell you that because I don't know."
Gibson's face was hard. "I don't believe you."
Smith was on the defensive. "All I know is that you are a key figure in one of our future projections. Because of that, we were ordered to get you to safety even if it meant transporting you to another dimension."
"You're just following orders?"
Windemere coughed. "That phrase has unfortunate connotations in this dimension."
Gibson abruptly sat down again. "Does anyone have a cigarette?"
Montgomery pulled out a pack of Silk Cut and offered him one. "I think you getting screwed, mon."
Gibson looked up at the big Rasta and grinned. "So do you want to take me in and look after me?"
Montgomery shook his head. "Fuck, no. You too much trouble for jah man."
Gibson scanned the room. He'd miss it when he was gone. Despite the problems, the mysteries, and the dangers, he'd begun to really enjoy the company of Windemere and Christobelle. "So it looks as though I'm going to another dimension."
"I have a question." Madame Voud had apparently been deep in thought, but now she was looking at Smith. "Was it you that caused the psych attack on Gibson in New York?"
Once again there was a split moment of hesitation on the part of Smith. "Of course not. Why should we do a thing like that?"
"Perhaps you thought you had to convince Casillas and the others at Greene Street that Gibson needed your special protection."
"And we staged it? That's an outrageous suggestion, particularly coming from someone who's supposed to be an ally."
"Allies sometimes play games with each other. It's hardly unknown."
Smith took refuge in anger. "I suppose we also arranged for the UFO to follow our plane?"
Abigail Voud smiled from behind her glasses. "It was just a thought." Without pausing, she looked up at Montgomery. "I think we can leave now. Gibson will be going with the streamheat, so what we came here for has been accomplished."
To Gibson, this sounded too much like a dismissal. "So the Nine are washing their hands of me?"
As Montgomery helped the old woman to her feet, she looked sadly at Gibson. "These are troubled times, Joe Gibson. None of us is exempt."
Madame Voud and her Rasta escort had left the room with Windemere and his two bodyguards going along to show her out. Gibson and Christobelle went to the window to watch them go. When the old woman emerged from the house with her Rastafarians on either side, the crowd outside immediately surrounded them and, en masse, they headed up Ladbroke Grove on foot.
Christobelle put a hand on Gibson's arm. "Are you scared?"
Gibson glanced back at the three streamheat. They seemed to be locked in a muttered conversation in a language that wasn't English. "I'm not crazy about going anywhere with that bunch, let alone to another dimension,"
"You'll make it through."
Gibson raised an eyebrow. "You know something I don't?"
"Just a feeling that you're not the total fuck-up that you pretend to be."
Windemere came back into the room alone, brisk and businesslike, cutting short both convocations.
"So you're out of here, Joe."
Gibson nodded. "So it would seem."
"I'm sorry I couldn't do more to look out for you."
"That's okay, you did your best."
"I wouldn't worry too much. Another dimension shouldn't be so bad. A lot of them are very like our own."
" Have you ever been to another dimension?"
Windemere shook his head. "No, but…"
"So let me worry."
As soon as he'd said it, Gibson felt bad. Windemere had done his best for him and he didn't need to be on the receiving end of Gibson's panic and anger. After the near snub, Windemere turned to the streamheat to hide his resentment. "Where are you taking him?"
Smith looked at Windemere as though it was hardly any of his business. "A nearby semiparallel."
Gibson detached himself from Christobelle. "What's a semi-paiallel?"
"A dimension very like this just twelve or so points across the divides."
Gibson's face hardened. "I know it's company policy to not tell poor dumbfuck Joe Gibson anything if you can possibly help it, but since we're going to have to be traveling together, I'd suggest you start talking to me in terms that I can understand. We'll get on a whole lot better if you do."
Smith had the expression of a woman who'd been pushed far enough. "Okay, Gibson, this is the start of the first lesson. Semiparallel dimensions are those in very close tuning, ones that follow paths in the time stream that are only slightly divergent."
"Some parallels are very close, varying in only minor details. Others have undergone radical changes at some point in the past and, although they follow similar courses and share a broadly common pattern of events, the differences are major."
"And this one?"
"There are some significant differences."
Klein answered this question with a grin. "Like this one never had a World War II the way that you did here."
Gibson thought about this. "It must have slowed them down some."
Smith looked puzzled. "Slowed them down?"
"Yeah, think about it. Here in this dimension, we went from the first powered flight to a landing on the moon in a little over sixty years, just one human lifetime, and a hell of a lot of the momentum for that dizzy surge of progress was World War II."
Smith nodded as though surprised that Gibson should have the brains to come up with an idea like this. "In fact you're right. The UKR in many ways resembles North America in the fifties."
"United Kamerian Republics. Our destination will be the capital city of Luxor. We have a primary installation there."
Gibson was thinking about something else. He turned to Klein. "The fifties?"
"Did they invent rock 'n' roll yet?"
Klein shook his head. "I really don't know."
Smith looked sourly at Gibson, clearly disapproving of this flippancy about rock 'n' roll. "There is a footnote to the lesson."
Gibson didn't like the sound of this. "Yeah? What's that?"
"You are now in my charge. The transition to Luxor can be either easy or hard. I suggest you remember that."
Gibson's gaze didn't waver. "So I've been warned, have I?"
"Indeed you have."
Gibson and Smith continued to stare each other down until Windemere stepped into the conversation. "How do you intend to make this transition?"
Smith finally turned away from Gibson. "We have to go to the south of Germany."
Windemere frowned. "Why Germany?"
"We have access to a hidden transition substation in the Bavarian Alps. It was built by the Nazis in 1944 with some extradimensional help. I believe it was designed to be an escape route for Adolf Hitler at the end of the war. Later it was carrier plugged and modernized."
"Did Hitler actually use it?"
Smith shook her head. "I've no idea."
French was eyeing Smith and frowning. "Should you have told him all that?"
"Any harm that could be done has been done already."
Gibson was thinking again. "How are we getting to Germany?"
"I imagine we'll have to take a scheduled Lufthansa flight to Munich and drive from there. There isn't time to do anything fancy."
"Isn't that kind of exposing ourselves?"
"Perhaps, but it can't be helped."
Windemere laughed. "You don't have to do that. There's a transition point just a couple of hours out of London."
Smith's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"
"It's a very ancient one, near a village called Glastonbury. It' s under a pyramid earthworks
"Are you sure about this?"
"It's been there for fifteen thousand years."
Smith was not quite buying the idea. "You've used it?"
Windemere shook his head. "Not me, I've had quite enough fun to keep me busy here, but I do know a couple of individuals who have."
Gibson stuck his iace into the conversation. "They came back intact?"
"They looked okay."
Smith glanced at French and Klein. "You think we should take a chance on this?"
Klein shrugged, but French looked doubtfully at Windemere. "I don't think we should trust either it or him."
Now it was Gibson's turn to start running out of patience, "You don't trust Windemere but you're prepared to trail all across Europe with me being a sitting duck for whatever may turn up next to have a shot at me? That's real smart, French."
Klein nodded. "I hate to say it, but I think Gibson's right,"
Christobelle joined in. "I don't know if I'm supposed to have an opinion, but I also think Gibson's right. You say your orders are to get him to this Luxor place alive, and it would seem obvious that the less he's exposed to danger the better."
Smith actually looked worried. "I'd use the transition point in a moment, if I thought that it would actually take us to where we wanted to go."
Windemere poured himself a drink and then did the same for Gibson. "I imagine that it would be a damn sight more reliable than a bunch of botched-together Nazi mad-scientist gear. This is superbeing hardware. I don't know how much you people have studied this dimension, but that stuff was supposedly built to last to infinity." He glanced slyly at Smith. "Of course, if you don't know how to operate the ancient stuff, maybe you'd better stick with this Kraut setup of yours."
Smith wasn't going to let Windemere's slur on her competence go unchallenged. "I think what we'll do is go to this Glastonbury place and see what's there. If it doesn't seem right, we can always fall back on the Bavarian transition point."
French still wasn't happy. "Suppose Windemere's sending us into a trap of some kind?"
"That's a chance we'll take."
With a decision made, Smith got down to the details. "How long will it take us to drive to this place?"
Windemere put down his drink. "Two, maybe two and a half hours, but you could be there a lot faster if you used the lays."
"The laylines, imposed tracks of magnetic force also laid down by the superbeings. This whole island is riddled with them. The Glastonbury Tor, that's the name of the earthworks, is a major convergence. Any line in southern England will take you right inside. I assume you have a Cody Groove?"
Klein nodded. "Sure, its hard-wired into the subframe of the Caddy."
"So all you have to do is hook into the wavelength and that's it. If you don't have a computer that can figure it, I'm sure one of mine can. Why don't you come down to my study and I'll show you some charts
Windemere and the streamheat left the room. Gibson and Christobelle were alone.
Gibson put his hands on her shoulders. He suddenly felt a great deal of warmth for the woman. "You think we'll see each other again?"
Gibson raised an eyebrow. "You mean that?"
Christobelle looked him straight in the eye. "Yes."
Gibson stroked her hair. "I sure as hell hope so."
"Why don't you kiss me?"
He kissed her. She let her robe fall open and pressed herself against him. Her body felt good. "I wish there was more time."
"You're not the only one."
"Are you scared?"
Gibson buried his face in her hair. "I'm fucking terrified."
For a long time, they just held each other; then Christobelle pushed him away and held him at aim's length. She looked at him sadly. "I'm not going to stand at the door and watch you go."
Gibson sighed. "I'll just vanish into the night."
The first phase of the journey to another dimension was anticlimactically normal. They drove to the bottom of Ladbroke Grove and turned right onto Holland Park Avenue. There was very little traffic, just the odd taxi and a couple of newspaper trucks. The tree-lined street was still wet from the day's rain. At the start of Shepherds Bush Green, they passed a small gang of skinheads, no more than eight or nine of them in bother boots and ankle-swinger jeans, gathered round a banner, a Union Jack with a swastika in a white circle superimposed on it. They glared sullenly at the car as it went by.
Gibson watched through the rear window as they dwindled in the distance. "You think they know something?"
French shook his head. "What could they know?"
"A lot of people seem to know a lot of things."
Smith made a dismissive gesture. "They probably just resent big American cars."
Gibson, keyed up for the start of what promised to the weirdest experience of his life, was surprised at how things continued to remain normal. Klein drove the Cadillac through the western suburbs of London like any other traveler getting a jump on the morning traffic. They might have simply been heading for Heathrow Airport rather than another dimension. Before the airport, however, they took the route to the M4 motorway. Gibson finally had to say something.
"What happened to the mystic laylines we were going to use?"
Klein glanced back at him. "According to Windemere, it isn't possible to enter the grid while we're still in the city. Most of the ancient access points have been built over and there are too many man-made magnetic fields. There's the underground rail network, the electrical power system; even home stereos and TV sets do their bit to distort the original pattern and make it unusable."
"So what's the plan?"
" Windemere claimed that our best option is to take the M4 until we see an exit for a place called Kings Ridley. We take that exit and follow this country road until we pass through the village, then we go on for another two miles. At that point we'll be almost over what they call a barrow, a prehistoric burial mound. It's also a grid access point. We simply engage the Cody Groove and that's it. Inside of a matter of seconds, we should be inside this Glastonbury pyramid. Unless, of course, your friend Windemere has been lying to us."
There was a certain amount of traffic on the six-lane motorway, but not enough to conceal the fact that they were being followed. It was Klein who first spotted the tail. "Slide's behind us."
"Are you sure?"
"There can't be too many '51 Hudsons in this country."
Smith didn't even bother to look round. "Go. Use the overdrive."
Klein stamped hard on the gas pedal. The Cadillac suddenly rocketed forward, pressing Gibson back into his seat. Klein shouted over the tortured howl of the engine. "I have a feeling that we aren't going to be able to lose him."
Smith leaned forward, holding on to the seat in front of her. "I don't think so either, but this sudden burst of acceleration may take him by surprise and gain us a few minutes. I'd like us to have all the slack that we can get."
Gibson looked out of the window. The Cadillac seemed to be traveling at an impossible speed. The speedometer was hard over, and the car appeared to be moving at something well in excess of the 120 mph that was showing on the clock. The trees at the edge of the highway were flashing past as though the Caddy were about to sprout wings and fly. He knew that there had to be some advanced gizmo from another dimension juicing the mill.
It seemed that Klein must also have had something juicing his reactions. The signs were coming too fast for Gibson to read, but Klein was quite able to spot the one for the Kings Ridley exit and send the car hurtling into the off ramp in a scream of tires.
On the country two-lane, they had to slow down considerably, but Klein was still able to throw the car through its twists and turns at an average of ninety. Kings Ridley was a picturesque piece of rural England with cottages set around a village green, a Saxon church with a squat, square tower, a pub called The Ox, and even a duck pond, but Gibson saw almost nothing of it as they roared through like a motorized banshee. Two miles outside the village, they halted, just as Windemere had suggested. Klein turned off the headlights, and Gibson looked through the rear window, but he could see no signs of Yancey Slide's Hudson. Smith peered out at the fields that surrounded them. The sky was overcast and vision was further hampered by the lack of a moon.
"Does anyone see this burial mound thing?"
Klein was also staring into the darkness. "There's something over there but it's hard to tell what it is."
Smith thought for a moment. "We can't go back with Slide somewhere behind us. I fear our only course is to engage the groove and see what happens."
French scowled. "If there's nothing there for the groove to lock on to, it could create a random displacement and that'd be the effective end of us."
"We're going to have to take that chance."
French was not only scowling but also shaking his head. "You're placing one hell of a bet on the accuracy of Windemere's information."
Smith nodded. "Believe me, I'm very aware of that. If there was an alternative course of action, I'd take it."
Gibson watched with a frightened fascination as Klein dropped the flap of the glove compartment. A complex keypad was built into its inside surface with three decks of keys, one marked with normal roman characters, the second with Japanese, and the third with an alien script. Klein tapped in a twelve-character code, six roman, four Japanese, and two alien.
All through the drive, Gibson had been bracing himself for the unexpected, but none of his fears or imaginings had prepared him for what happened next. For the briefest instant, the surrounding countryside was lit up as bright as day. It was as though the bomb had gone off, but then, as quickly as it came, the flash faded into retinal aftershocks and the very nature of the light itself began to change. Both land and sky took on brilliant emerald radiance as though a vast green fire had suddenly blazed at the core of the Earth. The horizon started to curve upward. It was like giant hands were attempting to roll the actual fabric of the landscape into a giant tube. Perspective was shot to hell by the curvature of this distortion, and Gibson reflexively grabbed for a handhold as the visual distortion tilted him sideways. Then the Cadillac started to vibrate. At first it was a smooth tremor, but it rapidly became more violent and erratic, and as Gibson was bounced up and down in his seat he became quite convinced that something was wretchedly wrong and the car was going to shake itself to bits. Then the buffeting stopped, and all that remained was a high-pitched whistle.
Klein's voice floated to him from a long way away. "We have groove lock."
With no apparent acceleration, the Cadillac started to move forward. It seemed to be floating down a huge emerald tunnel of merging earth and heaven. For the first fifteen seconds, the tunnel remained absolutely straight, and, still with no feeling of motion, the Cadillac began picking up speed. Suddenly the tunnel abruptly curved.
French voiced the general alarm as the Cadillac began to slide into the curve like a surfer entering the pipeline. "This isn't right."
"It's got to be a power plant or something throwing a stress pattern."
"It'd take more than a power station to produce a stretch-out like this."
Klein, who was no longer steering the car, just letting it take its own course, pointed through the windshield. "There's the culprit."
A glowing disk of bright white light surrounded by a blue aura had appeared in the area of sky that was contained by the unnaturally curved horizon.
Gibson's jaw sagged. "I don't believe it. Every time I step outside the house, I'm set on by UFOs."
Despite the tension, Klein grinned. "Maybe you should stay indoors,"
A second white UFO with a blue aura appeared beside the first. Gibson turned anxiously to Smith. "What can we do about this?"
Smith looked at him blankly."Your guess is as good as mine. It's like I told you on the plane, UFOs are way outside our field of expertise."
The first disk held its position, but the second one dropped into the path of the Cadillac. It was coming rapidly toward them.
French stared at it, transfixed. "This looks unpleasantly like the start of a strafing run."
A strange detachment had taken hold inside the car. Gibson knew that he should have been convulsed with terror, but he wasn't. He was frightened, but there was a distance to the fear. The environment had become so unreal that it was hard to relate to the idea that they were under attack by hostile UFOs. It was something that just didn't happen. The worst part was the unreal quiet. Events silently drifted. With no outside sound except the high-pitched whine, the UFO seemed to be floating at them through a vacuum. It rose and fell slightly but kept getting bigger and bigger, and with no idea of its size and no intelligible perspective, it was impossible to judge how far away it was and how soon it would be upon them.
Gibson shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Can't we take some kind of evasive action?"
Klein shook his head. "Once you lock the groove, you give up all control. You're on a cosmic railroad."
Gibson groaned. "Mystery train and out of control."
A bright point of ruby-red light detached itself from the disk's leading edge. It zigzagged toward them. Gibson shut his eyes. He was certain that it was an alien missile. He opened them again just in time to see it explode short of the car. He wasn't even sure that it was an explosion. For a brief instant the world as he could see it turned scarlet, and then it returned to the way it had been. All that remained was a column of glittering vapor. The Cadillac plunged into it, and where the car came in contact with the mist a blue-gray deposit was left behind on the bodywork.
Gibson looked at the others. "I think we're okay."
Smith was peering suspiciously at the blue-gray deposit on the outside of the windows. "Don't speak too soon, we've no idea what this stuff may be doing to us."
The UFO lifted slightly and passed over them. As it did, their hair stood on end and Gibson was aware of an acute electric tingle running through him. He twisted around in the backseat and peered out of the rear window. The UFO seemed to be turning in preparation for another pass. Gibson was surprised to see the amount of room the UFO had to maneuver in the weird, enclosed sky. The emerald world beyond the car's windows was starting to slowly corkscrew along its length, like an Escher drawing in which the normal rules of spatial relationships had been canceled and comparative distance made no sense at all.
"I think it's coming back!"
The UFO had completed its turn and started to drop again. Two more ruby points of light detached themselves from the white disk, but, once again, they exploded short in two more brief, silent flashes of red. Again, they were apparently unharmed, but now the original UFO had started dropping from its previous vantage point and was coming at them, seemingly joining the attack, if indeed it was an attack.
Klein glanced out of the side window and grunted a warning. "Uh-oh. Here's an added complication."
Three more UFOs had appeared on the scene, coming in from the right-hand side of the car, following the up curve of the landscape, and moving in a tight triangular formation. They were completely different from the white disks. These had the traditional flying-saucer configuration that resembled the detached top of a Victorian streetlamp, the central turret with its circle of portholes, the conical skirt, and the three hemispheres on the underside.
Gibson shook his head in amazement. "Adamski saucers."
Smith looked at him sharply. "What's an Adamski?"
"Not what, who. Adamski was a guy back in the early fifties who wrote a bunch of books claiming that he'd been abducted by aliens. He had photographs of flying saucers exactly like these."
"What happened to him?"
"Nobody believed him. They said his photos were fakes and everyone assumed that he was running a con. I guess in the end he just kinda went away."
The saucers headed straight for the two white disks, and revolving golden stars flashed from their turrets. The disks immediately took what seemed to be frantic evasive action.
"What are these new guys? The cavalry?"
The white disks ran an evasion pattern of short dashes and abrupt changes of direction, doing anything to get away from the golden stars. Finally they seemed to concede defeat. They broke from the engagement and began climbing away. The saucers went up after them. Inside of a second, all five of the strange craft had vanished. Inside the car, there was a general sigh of relief. Gibson wiped his face. Somewhere along the line, he'd broken out in a cold sweat.
"So what the hell have we been watching? The war of the worlds?"
There was no time for discussion, however, or even answers. The curve in the emerald tunnel was straightening out, and the Cadillac accelerated to a dizzying speed. After a moment of blur and shimmer the lights went out and Gibson was in a darkness more complete than anything that he had ever experienced before. His first assumption was that he'd died. He'd become discorporate. He was in limbo between dimensions. He put a hand up to his face and was somewhat amazed to find that his face was still there.
Smith's voice came from right beside him, "Turn on the headlights,"
After the total darkness, the headlights were blinding, and when Gibson's eyes finally adjusted, he found that they were stationary in what appeared to be a large underground chamber, the walls of which were constructed from huge slabs of solid rock, each one larger than the car itself.
"The pyramid, I presume?"
Klein rested his hands on the steering wheel. He looked drained. Slowly he shook his head."I guess we're going to have to get out and take a look around. Whatever the transfer mechanism is, it's going to be incredibly ancient, and we're going to have to teach ourselves to operate it."
French handed out flashlights, and the streamheat left the car, gingerly avoiding the residue of the strangely ineffective UFO weapons that was all over the exterior surfaces of the Caddy. They started a detailed examination of the walls and floor of the chamber, searching for the key to the dimension bridge. Gibson also climbed out, although, having no idea of what the others were hunting for, he took no part in the search. He looked slowly around the chamber. The air was cool and dry, and his boots kicked up a fine powdery dust as he walked. It was as if no intruder had entered the place in centuries. The walls were by no means as bare as they had first appeared. Large areas were covered in carved reliefs in a style that could have easily been the fountainhead of both Egyptian and Aztec art. Directly in front of the car there was a complicated circular sun symbol that, as far as Gibson could tell, seemed to contain stylized diagrams of the Solar system and a lot of other stuff that made no sense to him but looked equally impressive.
As Gibson approached the thing, Smith called out a warning. "Don't touch anything. We have no idea if this stuff is just decorative or if it has some practical control function. "
Gibson walked back to the car. He was quite grateful to have nothing to do and was more than content to take the time to try and gather his wits. The madness in which he was embroiled was turning into his moment-by-moment normality at a speed that was shocking. It did seem to be true that the human mind could adapt to just about anything. Given the right combination of time and intensity, even pure terror could be unconsciously tuned down to little more than a constant background noise.
It was forty minutes before the streamheat, going over the stones of the chamber inch by inch with flashlights, like archeologists in Tut's tomb, came across the first clue to the operation of the transfer. It was Klein who made the discovery. He slowly straightened up with a satisfied sigh. His voice echoed hollowly, reinforcing the feeling that the chamber was a huge stone sepulcher. "I think I've found what we're looking for."
He placed the flat of his hand carefully on a spot on the wall about three feet above the floor, and a fine tracery of delicate, glowing lines that greatly resembled a highly elaborate printed circuit appeared on an area some six feet square. In rapid sequence, he touched a series of points on the tracery, and a section of the stone wall melted away, leaving a low doorway in the solid rock-a doorway that, according to the regular terrestrial rules of both life and physics, simply shouldn't exist. Gibson expected the streamheat to go through it immediately, and he had started toying with the idea of following them when he saw that Smith and French were waiting while Klein walked to where Gibson was standing by the car. His face was very serious.
"This is an ancient mechanism and it almost certainly will require an energizing procedure before it will work for us. The energizing techniques needed to make dimension crossing are the most closely guarded secrets of our people. We'll be going through them in the room beyond that doorway. We'd like you to stay in the car and not try to follow us or observe it in any way. Can I trust you to do that?"
Gibson nodded. "I get the feeling that if I don't say yes, Smith and French will have a few more drastic ideas for stopping me learning the secret."
Klein smiled wearily. "You got it."
"I probably wouldn't understand what I was seeing anyway."
"That's why they're letting me do it my way. Do I have your word that you'll stay in the car?"
Gibson nodded again. "I'll stay in the car."
Klein walked back to the others. For some time, Gibson had been noticing that Klein was a little different from the other two. Where Smith and French had a tendency to act like well-programmed automatons, Klein demonstrated a degree of wit, humor, and a certain lack of respect for authority. On the journey out of London, however, it had gone deeper than that. His handling of the car and his being the first one to get the chamber to give up its secrets seemed to indicate that he was the tech specialist of the trio. When the going got bizarre, Klein apparently got going. Gibson was growing to trust him, and he hoped the trust was justified.
The streamheat vanished through the doorway, and Gibson settled himself in the front seat of the car. He knew that the big one was almost upon him, the actual shift to another dimension, but he tried not to think about that. It actually wasn't easy to worry about something that he couldn't even visualize. Instead he concentrated on wondering what was going on in the room beyond the chamber.
The word "procedure" was so ambiguous that it could mean virtually anything, but, with the image of Windemere's energizing ritual so fresh in his mind, Gibson couldn't help wondering if what the streamheat were doing was anything along the same lines. They were such creatures of logic, programs, and systems that it was hard to imagine them in any kind of sexual context, but he couldn't stop himself from conjuring images of the variations that could be achieved by two men and one woman. He was very tempted to sneak a look into the other room, but the thought of how the trio might react held him back. He'd given his word to Klein, and even though the world had him pegged as a degenerate, his word was his word.
Whatever Smith, Klein, and French were doing in the side chamber, it took them just over half an hour by the dashboard clock in the Cadillac, and when they came out, it wasn't only Klein who looked drained. They were all showing signs of strain, and they appeared to be avoiding each other's eyes.
Gibson looked at them questioningly. "So what happens now? When do we make the move?"
French scowled at him. "Any moment now, so shut up."
Smith gestured to Klein. "Kill the headlights."
The Caddy's headlights went out and darkness was again total. And then things started to appear. Glowing silver tracery, more of the delicate circuitlike designs, spread quickly across the walls of the chamber, dancing from stone to stone like fine lines of living mercury, covering the interior of the room like geometric, speeded-up vines. It was as if they were inside some huge ancient computer that was rapidly powering up, section by section. The sun symbol at the end of the room also came to life, shining with a golden light. It slowly began to rotate, and the planetary-system diagrams contained inside it also turned on their axes. It quickly grew much brighter than the silver circuitry on the walls, a huge moving mandate, so magnificent that it had them staring open-mouthed.
It was about that time that the Cadillac became transparent.
They'd started out watching the spectacle that was unfolding inside the chamber through the windows of the car, but suddenly they could see it through the bodywork. It was as though the car had lost all substance. Gibson put out a hand. It still felt solid but there was nothing to see. Now the sun symbol was moving. Originally they had been looking at it head-on, through the windshield, but now, without any perceivable transition, it was above them. They were looking at it through the roof of the car, and it was rapidly expanding, becoming a ceiling and then a blazing sky, stretching to an impossible horizon that immediately started to drop downward, producing absolute disorientation. The gold sun seemed to be passing through them, and at the same time they were falling. Gibson felt sick. His body, the car, and everything around him was being impossibly stretched. He had no shape, and the signals from his nervous system made no sense at ail. He was falling headfirst and fast. There was no sign of the others, and he couldn't even locate the car. All that surrounded him were sheets of golden flame. He was riding the flames but still falling. He was a streak of flashfire, a burning meteor. He was spiraling, leaving a trail of gold, a downward helix lighting up the void. He knew that it couldn't last. He was going to burn out. There was no travel to other dimensions. This was the end. He no longer had a body. He wasn't going out in a blaze of glory, he was a blaze of glory. The pain was monumental. The screaming in his ears shut out everything else. A black sea was beneath him and he was plunging toward it. He was falling and falling, down into the dark sea. Once he hit the water, it wouldn't matter anymore.