Back | Next


It was cold out here under the highway tonight, but Daniel Carradine tried to ignore it. There was money to be made, and the need to make it. Bobby wanted his money, and Daniel wanted his White Lady, the demanding mistress for whom Daniel had given up everything else.

Not that there’d been all that much. When home was a decaying Pennsylvania steel town and a father who couldn’t accept that times had changed, even the underside of the West Side Highway on a freezing December night was better.

The wind came whistling in off the Hudson, cold as memories. If he’d been able to fix before he came out, Daniel wouldn’t have minded the cold, he knew, but Bobby didn’t sell on credit. Still, Daniel told himself hopefully, it might be a good night. He was seventeen, and looked younger, and that was good. It was what the marks liked, the guys who came cruising down here with their Mercedes and their Jags, looking for what Daniel and the others were selling. Goblin fruit, like in the Rossetti poem, where no matter how much you ate, you were always hungry for more.

A friend of his—Tony—went by, and he smiled and waved. Bobby had come across for Tony before he left the flop tonight—it was obvious in the way Tony strutted, as if he were living in a warm world where the river wind didn’t blow—and for a moment Daniel felt a pang of envy that was shocking in its violence. He quashed the emotion firmly. There was no point. Nothing came free. That was the first lesson growing up in Cartersville had taught him. There was a price for everything, even freedom. And if the only freedom he could buy with the only thing he owned—his body—was the freedom of a derelict flop down in the Bowery that he shared with half a dozen other rentboys, then he’d take it.

A car cruised by—slowly, on the prowl—and Daniel smiled hopefully, arching his back and shaking his head so that a lock of bleached-blond hair fell down over his eyes. But the car moved on, and Daniel hunched back into himself again, seeking what comfort he could.

He wanted to get this over with and go find Bobby. He really did.

From a few feet away, beneath the body of a burnt-out and abandoned car, Urla watched its victim. The redcap had been about to rush out, but the cruising car had stopped it. The Great Lord had said there must be no witnesses, and Aerune’s command sat upon Urla like a geas.

He had also said that Urla must take no one who would be missed, and Urla knew that nobody would miss this one. Still young and strong, and filled with such self-hatred and despair that the redcap was nearly drunk with it, all laced through with a yearning, a fiery craving for something that was not food or drink or sex. Urla dismissed its own curiosity. It did not matter what the boy hungered for, for he did not hunger as much as Urla did for the bright warmth of the untasted years, the unspent years the boy would have had if Urla had not come hunting here tonight.

Another car passed, then two more, and each time the boy was assessed and refused. His fear was stronger now, and Urla licked its lips in anticipation. Soon, soon. . . .

At last the boy stumbled away from the pillar by which he stood and began shuffling up the street, his steps uncoðordinated. He shivered, wrapping his thin jacket tighter around his starved body as if the thin cotton had the power to grant him the warmth he lacked. In a few moments more he would pass directly before Urla’s hiding place.

But the redcap’s anticipated feast was not to be. Another great black chariot turned down the street, its night lamps pinning the boy in their beams. Urla saw its prey stop, hopeful once more, as the car drew level with him, and the door opened. The boy stepped forward, and a mortal—tall, tall, with the stink of Cold Iron about him—rose up out of the car and grabbed Urla’s prey, dragging him into the car as he began, too late, to struggle and cry.

The door shut. The chariot moved away, more quickly now, belching foul gasses that made Urla cough.

No! They will not have him! He is mine!

Snarling its disappointment, the redcap wrapped itself in shadows and began to trot after the black chariot that had taken its prey.

“I said no alkies, goddammit! Which word don’t you goons understand?”

The tall dark man with the sleepy eyes blinked at her. Jeanette wished she could kick him, but she didn’t dare, quite. She took a deep breath and tried again, marshalling her hard-won and inadequate social skills.

“Look, Elkanah.” Was the name on the tag first, last, or even his? Not her problem. “Most of these people are fine. But you see that one in the corner?”

Jeanette gestured toward the monitor in the Security Room. It showed the space they called Large Primate Containment—a euphemism for the Black Labs and holding cells set up for human experimentation. Just now it was dressed to look like a police holding cell—an environment she was sure all of her guests were more than familiar with. Junkies, rentboys, and hookers, the lot of them, and that was fine with her.

Except for the man in the corner, the one in the tattered vomit-stained trenchcoat, his face long-unshaven and caved in upon missing teeth and malnutrition. The others gave him a wide berth, and she could imagine why. He probably stank to high heaven.

“That guy is a juicehead. I can’t use him. His liver’s already shot to hell—drugs process through the liver, Elkanah, did you know that? Alcohol’s legal—by the time a juicehead gets to the street he’s already a walking corpse; all his insides pickled and shot to hell. I told you guys when you went out: no alkies, no crazy street people. Junkies and whores, that’s what I told you to get.”

The man in the uniform of Threshold Special Security blinked down at her, as impassive as a cigar-store Indian, and for a moment Jeanette didn’t think he’d heard her. Didn’t any of Robert’s hardboys speak English, for God’s sweet sake?

“So what do you want me to do with him, Ms. Campbell?” Elkanah finally said. His voice was slow and deep and thoughtful, and despite her fury, Jeanette did not for one moment make the mistake of thinking he was stupid. Stupid people did not rise to key positions in Threshold’s Black Ops.

She took a deep breath.

“I don’t care what you do with him. Throw him in the East River for all I care. But get rid of him before lights out, because if he’s still there tomorrow when my Judas Goat goes in to offer these losers a trip out of this world, I am going to be seriously pissed. And when I’m pissed, Robert Lintel is pissed. Are we communicating?”

“Yes, Ms. Campbell. I’m sorry about the confusion.”

He wasn’t sorry and there’d been no confusion. Jeanette knew that perfectly well. But she’d won, and that was all that mattered.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.”

She turned away and walked quickly out of Security before this Elkanah person could guess how scared she was. When she’d been running with the Sinner Saints, she could have eaten corporation rent-muscle like Elkanah for breakfast, but it had been years since she’d had to face off anything but chimps and wimp lab technicians, and, unlike riding a Harley, some skills didn’t stay with you forever.

Security and personnel were Robert’s problem. They always had been. She supplied the science. He supplied the money and muscle. That was the deal. So why did she have to do everything around Threshold herself?

She reached the safety of her own private lab and closed the airlock behind her gratefully, irritation and a feeling of narrow escape both fading as she surveyed her private kingdom. Nobody would bother her in here. Nobody would dare.

The room had been cleansed of all traces of the chimps’ occupation, though they were still looking for the one that had vanished. The two that had died instantly had been autopsied, and she’d found about what she’d expected: massive stroke and brain hemorrhage, the inevitable side effect of chemical Russian roulette.

The other two—the ones that had manifested the bizarre powers—had also died, but several hours later and of something that looked surprisingly like starvation, though how the old female could have died of starvation with all she’d eaten was an interesting question. She was the one who’d survived the longest, and Jeanette was looking forward to seeing those autopsy results, but right now both bodies were in freezers awaiting their turn. Ramchandra had better work fast, because in a day or so those chimps were going to have a lot of company.

Jeanette fully expected that the people Robert had gotten for her off the New York streets would die of the drug the same way the chimps had. That was what lab trials were for—to find out what killed them and to try to refine the next batch even more. She’d obviously found the right button to push, the one she’d been looking for ever since she was a teenager.

Now all I have to do is keep their heads from exploding. A few more hours alone would clean her test subjects out of whatever they’d been using, then another of Robert’s goons would be thrown in with them, the packets of T-6/157 in his pockets looking like any other sample of party dust. He’d say he needed to get rid of it before the police searched him, and if Jeanette knew junkies, they wouldn’t ask too many questions when there was free dust on offer. They’d suck the stuff right down, and then . . .

Then she’d finally start getting some answers.

* * *

Hell couldn’t be worse than this, Daniel thought. And to think, he’d thought his luck had changed when that limo had pulled up.

He could still feel the shock of anger, almost of betrayal, when the big man had seized him and dragged him into the limo. He and his buddy had tried to make it look like they were vice cops ringing him in on a solicitation bust, but Daniel had been through that mill more than a few times since he’d gotten to New York, and he’d never seen a vice cop that rode around in the back of a fancy car—or that put a hood over your head so you couldn’t see where you were when they dragged you out of it.

That was weird, and for a while he’d tried to console himself with the fantasy that they were just two kinks looking for a wiggy party, but he couldn’t make himself believe it. He’d never seen a co-ed holding tank, for one thing, and no matter how much this place might look like the Tombs, it just didn’t smell right. And it was way too quiet. In prison there was always somebody screaming, somebody crying, somebody jonesing for a fix that wasn’t going to come any time soon.

That would be him, in a couple of hours. He needed his White Lady, his beautiful lady who made the world all soft and sweet. He didn’t know about the other eight people stuck in here with him, and he didn’t care. Life on the street was rough enough without caring about other people, and Daniel had jettisoned his emotional baggage early.

They fed him a couple of times, and once the lights went down low and he’d slept a little, but by the second day he was too sick to care about his breakfast. A lot of the others were just as bad off, and when one of them started screaming and wouldn’t stop, two guys in black almost-a-cop uniforms had come in and dragged her away pretty quickly. The rest of them sat, huddled in silent misery, waiting for the torture to end.

No lawyers, no bondsmen, no arraignment. This isn’t any bullpen I’ve ever been in. But I ain’t gonna be the one to say it. They’re probably watching everything. Whoever they are.

The word must have gone out to make up the numbers after the woman disappeared, because a little while after dinner—he’d forced himself to eat, but thrown up again almost instantly—they brought in someone new.

He was dressed better than they were, but still street. Daniel’s internal radar prickled instantly. He was pretty sure he knew what this guy was, and he was only hoping that the rest of his guess was right as well. The guy was holding. He could smell it. Nobody had searched Daniel when they brought him in. Why should they search any of the others?

He waited until the lights went out, when everyone was curled up in their bunks. There were twelve bunks—four sets of three tiers each—for nine people, which meant that nearly everyone could have his pick of places to sleep. The New Guy took what was left—a bottom bunk, of course, since anyone with brains wanted a top one.

Daniel made sure he had the top bunk on the New Guy’s tier. It wasn’t his to begin with, but he got to it first and stared down the woman who’d been sleeping there. She just shook her head bitterly and went to find another bed.

“Hey,” Daniel called softly. “Hey, New Guy?”

“That’s me.” The voice came out of the darkness, pleased and mellow and unafraid. “You got a name, pilgrim?”

“Danny-boy.” It was what Daniel answered to on the street, as if keeping the name he had been called at home a secret could somehow lend him armor against the cruelty of the streets.

“Well, Danny-boy, you can call me Keith.”

“Hey, Keith.” Daniel’s voice was ragged with relief. He knew the moves of this dance, and knew he’d been right. The man was holding, and Daniel meant to cut himself a slice of that pie.

“Now Danny-boy, I got me a problem that maybe you could help me with. I was checking you out earlier, when I came in. You look like an intelligent kind of a guy.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He wasn’t entirely successful at keeping the bitterness out of his voice. If he’d been really smart, would he have ended up here?

“Well, I’ve got this inventory. And I kind of need to hold a fire sale, as it were.”

Daniel dropped down out of the top bunk, quick as a cat, and squatted beside the bottom bunk. Keith was resting on one elbow—looking toward him, though it was hard to see that in the darkness. A gold ring in the shape of a phoenix glinted in one ear, the brightest thing Daniel could see.

He’s holding. And he needs to get rid of the stuff before the cops figure that out. Daniel held out his hand.

Keith dropped the small white packet into it. “There’s plenty for everyone,” he said in his mellow voice, as the other inhabitants of the holding tank began converging on him with a slow tidal movement.

Daniel backed away, defending his prize. In one pocket, along with other odds and ends, was a chopped off bit of soda straw. He tore open the small glassine packet—ðcarefully, oh so carefully—and dipped the straw end into the white powder. It wasn’t as good as spiking a vein, but it would do, oh, yes. He snorted hard, pulling the powder up into his sinuses, and from there, straight to the bloodstream. He didn’t know what Keith had offered him—coke, horse, one of the new supposed-to-be-legal concoctions—and right now he was too far gone in need to care. Just a little something to quiet the dragon trying to gnaw its way out of his bones.

He felt it come on almost instantly: a velvet-wrapped pile driver that made his heart race, even while it wrapped him in soft clouds of not-caring. He blinked, forced himself to look up, and saw Keith handing out packets to everyone.

“Hey,” Daniel croaked. “Save me some for later.” The white tide was rising, carrying him off to a place where nothing hurt and no one was cruel.

“Don’t worry, Danny-boy.” He heard Keith’s slow rich voice as from a great distance. “This stuff, nobody ever needs two.”

And the heaven and hell of it was, Daniel heard him. Heard him and didn’t care.

Five minutes after the last of the meat had gone on the nod, Keith stood up and stretched. The floor of the cell was covered with unconscious junkies. He shivered, looking down at them. Whatever this stuff was, he was sure as hell glad he hadn’t sniffed any of it.

He looked up at the main security camera in the ceiling.

“Hey. What are you guys waiting for? An engraved invitation?” he demanded.

There was no response, but a few minutes later the lights came up in the corridor outside, and technicians in white lab coats wheeling gurneys appeared. The one in the lead opened the cell door, and Keith stepped outside hastily, as if whatever had sent the eight people in the cell off to dreamland might be catching.

“Everything go all right?” Beirkoff asked.

“Fine as frog hair. What the hell was that stuff, anyway?”

Beirkoff smiled, and the lights turned the lenses of his tinted glasses silver. “Hey, you know the drill. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Keith growled wordlessly under his breath, and stalked off to report.

Jeanette had slaved the security cameras to her desktop PC. She could have been down in the security room, where all eight holding cells were being monitored on visual and audio as well as by a whole spectrum of other devices, but she didn’t want to share this moment with some wage slave of a technician. She could see all she needed to from here, anyway. By tapping a few buttons, she could watch as her unconscious subjects were transported to separate holding cells, implanted with transceivers that would monitor their heart and brainwaves. As soon as the pickups were live, she killed the picture and brought up the telemetry. Slow rolling delta waves billowed across her screen like the waves of an ancient ocean.

What are you feeling? she asked the silent screen. Where are you?

But the answers, she knew, would have to wait. Until the awakening.

Beneath the edge of the desk, her hands tightened into fists. Give it to me, she demanded silently. Give me something I can use!

Outside the building, wrapped in a darkness of its own weaving, Urla watched the metal door through which the car had gone. Day had come and gone while the redcap waited. When the sun rode high in the sky, Urla retreated to the friendly darkness of the city’s sewers, killing rats to amuse itself while it waited. Their tiny deaths were only an appetizer, though, one that left the redcap restless and unsatisfied. Urla hungered for its stolen prey, taken by the men in the black night-wagon, the one that had burned with such painful inner fire.

There were others like that one in the grimy yellow building, and Urla comforted itself with fantasies of a gluttonous feeding, one that might slake even the redcap’s eternal hunger, for there were many within the yellow building filled with terror and such a burning despair that it made Urla’s mouth water. When night came again it took up its watching post once more, though by now it had lost all hope that the prey it had tracked here would emerge once more.

Its tiny mind had been occupied for several hours with the question of whether it would be better to abandon its waiting and go once more in search of the Bard its dark master had commanded it to find, but instinct told it that this place contained many secrets, and secrets were always good to know.

The moon rose high and began to set. And then, just before the sky began to lighten and Urla must once more choose whether to retreat into the sewers again or to admit its failure, something happened. The prey-creatures’ lives burned in Urla’s consciousness like bright candles, but suddenly several of them simply . . . went out.

Urla crawled forth from its concealment beneath a parked car, leathery brow wrinkling in puzzlement. They had been there a moment before, and now they were not there. It did not sense the tang of death, and sleep alone could not render prey invisible to a redcap’s hunger. Urla crept closer to the strange building, wondering.

The riptide of fury that followed the strange quenching was enough to send the redcap sprawling stunned in the middle of the street, visible to any who might look. After the first shock, Urla dragged itself to concealment again, shaking its head as if to ward off the effects of a mighty blow. The rage still keened through its senses—an unhinged fury worthy of a mighty Unseleighe lord, black and all-devouring.

It had to know more.

Forcing itself forward against the tempest of madness, Urla began searching for ways to enter the building.

She’d ordered someone to go out for pizza—one good thing about New York, you could get takeout at any hour—and most of a deluxe pie now sat on the corner of Jeanette’s desk, cold and forgotten. Styrofoam cups, half full of cold coffee, studded every available surface within reach. Across the screen the readouts scrolled, changing only slightly from moment to moment.

The first effects of the drug should be wearing off now, Jeanette thought. It had been four hours, and her psychoactive cocktail was layered, like a fine perfume, to deliver its effects in calculated stages. So at least some of those loser-freaks should be coming around by now. Jeanette ground her teeth in impatience. They couldn’t all just die on her!

Suddenly two of the readouts . . . vanished. Jeanette stared at the screen, galvanized to alertness by the impossibility of it. A moment later she heard the faint hooting of the situation alarm sounding through the building. She pushed herself to her feet and ran.

“What is it?” she shouted, flinging open the Monitor Room door. The technician turned toward her, white-faced and scared. Galliard, her nametag said.

“I was watching them every moment,” the tech babbled. “Every moment! They didn’t go anywhere, they couldn’t have, I locked them in myself—”

The denials made no sense until Jeanette looked at the screens. Eight were live. Six showed sleeping subjects, lying on the floors of their padded cells.

Two cells were empty—as in, nobody home.

Well, Galliard, you’re going to wish you’d chosen another career when I get done with you.

“Where the hell are they?” Jeanette asked in dangerously reasonable tones. She took a step toward the cringing girl.

A scream from the monitors stopped her. The subjects were awake, going from a comatose sleep to full consciousness in instants. She watched, spellbound, as first one, then another, of her test cases began throwing himself about his cell, violently seeking escape, battering and tearing at the padded walls until streaks and flowers of blood appeared.

After a timeless moment, Jeanette realized that the technician was staring at her, waiting for her to give orders. Jeanette reached out and turned the master audio control on the console to “Off.” It didn’t totally shut out the screams, audible even through the soundproofing, but it did make it easier to think as she mulled over what to do next.

Sedate them? No, with the dose in their systems, that would be a quick ticket to the boneyard, and even if they were doomed, she didn’t want to kill them so quickly. Restrain them? Gazing down at the gyrating madmen, Jeanette wasn’t sure there was enough money in the world to pay anyone to enter one of those cells. One of the madmen—the display at the bottom said his name was Nelson—cheated of any other outlet for his rage, had turned his fury on himself. He’d gouged out both his eyes and clawed his skin to bleeding ribbons, and was still tearing at himself, howling in a deep voice as he drooled blood from a mouth from which he’d torn his own tongue.

Galliard was still staring at her, eyes wide and scared.

“Go find Mr. Lintel. Tell him two of the subjects have escaped. Tell him to find them,” Jeanette ordered. That should keep both Robert and this bimbette busy!

Galliard scuttled out. Jeanette settled down in the vacated chair to watch the show.

Urla was inside the building now, crawling through the ventilation system unseen, making slow progress against the invisible headwind of madness that buffeted it. The presence of Cold Iron was a palpable weight against its bones, but unlike others of the Seleighe kin, the redcap was not affected by its poison. It winced as the first mind was joined by one, two, three others, until the four of them raged in a torment that was almost Power—the rage of a demon lord. What was it the mortals did here to cause such anguish? Urla desperately wished to learn their secret, for it would make the redcap’s kind a rich banquet. Some there were among the Unseleighe Court who fed on emotion as Urla fed on lives, and did it own the secret of such cosmic despair, it could trade it to them to its advantage.

But then something happened that thrust all thought of self-interest from the redcap’s mind. For the last of the mortals prisoned here awoke, and the uprush of true Power nearly blinded his Sidhe senses. Here was the power of Bard or Elven mage trapped in mortal flesh—a wellspring of such Power as the dark lord Aerune had sent him to find. It was here, somehow here where it had not been a moment before, in mortals who had not possessed it before this instant.

Daniel Carradine awoke with a sudden start, shivering and sweating, his strongest emotion a cheated anger that whatever it was that Keith had supplied, it hadn’t taken the edge off his need. The long-unslaked craving, stronger than he had ever known it, filled him now like a wild thing desperate to be free.

His Lady . . . his beautiful White Lady . . . . Somehow Daniel could sense her somewhere near, somehow certain that this was Truth, and not some withdrawal-fuelled hallucination. His hunger was strong enough to tear down walls, to see into all the hidden places of the world as if they were made of glass. He knew she was here, knew that all he had to do was reach out for her, and he could have her.

Daniel reached. The first attempt brought pain, enough almost to blot out the fire in his bones, but it also carried a teasing promise of certainty. If he could only try a little harder . . .

He reached out again, whimpering as he did it, his whole body shaking and drenched in a greasy sweat. The pain flared again, blinding him, but behind it he felt a strange cool flexing of senses he’d never known before, and abruptly there was a hard roundness in his hand—the object of his desire, summoned to him through all the walls and barriers that separated them. In his surprise, he dropped it, and then crawled frantically across the padded floor after it until he’d grabbed it in both hands.

He looked down at the stoppered jar half filled with glistening white powder. He didn’t need to open it to know what it was. His Lady. The White Lady. Pure, ðpharmaceutical-grade heroin.

He could have taken her that way, opened the bottle and snorted its contents or spilled it across his tongue, but now Daniel knew he didn’t need to. The rest of what he needed to make everything perfect was out there. All he had to do was imagine it, and its location appeared in his mind. Then all he had to do was . . . reach. This time, when his hand was filled, he clutched the bottle tightly, chuckling with success. Here—and here—and here. And wilderness is paradise enow,3 he quoted out of some half-full store of memory.

He broke the seal on the pint of distilled water, and slopped a little into the Pyrex beaker. The powder dissolved into the water easily, turning it a milky moonstone color. The rest of what he needed was here, summoned from the same place as the water and the beaker. He syringed the mixture up with the ease of long practice.

Now everything will be all right, he thought, tapping his arm to find a vein.

And it was, for those few moments before the massive overdose of uncut heroin—far more, far purer than any fix he’d ever known—carried Daniel down into the darkness and the safest place of all.

Ellie Borden woke suddenly out of a long confused dream. Her whole life the last few months had been a dream—a bad one—as she lost first her job, then her health insurance, then her apartment, ending up on the street doing whatever she could just to survive one more day.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The automatic protest no longer held either fury or grief, only a weary resignation. She’d paid her taxes, obeyed the law, been kind. She was supposed to be safe, protected by Society from cradle to grave. But that hadn’t happened. All the social services’ safety net that was supposed to be there to catch people like her had melted away the moment she needed it. The programs that were supposed to help had waiting lists months long, and Ellie didn’t have months. She’d discovered that the halfway houses were not for people like her, that the only place that would take her in on that terrible day she’d gone home to find everything she owned piled on the curb in front of her former apartment was the street.

She’d quickly learned there were ways to take the edge off the pain, to gain the minimal money that would buy her a room in a flophouse she’d never have dared enter when she’d had a life, to buy her the things that would let her live with the sickness that was eating her life away, but the things she’d had to do to get them were best forgotten.

When she’d been arrested, it had almost been a relief, because you got medical care in prison, didn’t you? Only that had turned out to be another grim joke like the rest of her so-called life, because all they’d done was dump her in a cell with a bunch of other street people and forget about her. She’d taken the packet from the dealer the way a starving man would take food, not caring what it was, half-hoping it would kill her if it would only end the pain.

But it hadn’t.

She awoke in a strange room, not the holding cell, all by herself. The pain was gone. Gone! She felt better than she had in almost two years. The evil shadow that lived in her bones had vanished forever, she knew it. She felt reborn.

What have they done? she thought in slow-growing wonder. What did they do to me? She stared at her hands, marveled at the soft brown skin. No longer cracked, scarred, covered with sores. New again, reborn.

Just as she had been reborn.

Thank You, God, Ellie thought silently. I won’t forget this. I won’t throw it away.

One was dead, killed by his overreaching appetite, but the other remained, still connected somehow to the magic so very like that of Underhill. In the air ducts, Urla gnashed its teeth, hating the choice it must make, the choice of gluttony deferred.

This was not the answer that its dark master sought, the news of a human Bard who could form the Nexus Aerune sought to build, but it was news worth the bringing, regardðless. The redcap abandoned its own hunt and turned back the way it had come, hurrying back to the door in the air that led into Underhill and the road that led to the Dark Court.

Jeanette glanced at the clock on the wall of her office. The digital readout said 11:36 in glaring red numbers—a 24-hour readout, so it was a little before noon of some damn day or other. She rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t slept all night—she hadn’t left the lab for two days—and the strain was beginning to tell on her.

It had been a busy morning, full of new discoveries. And mistakes, but those happened in any research program.

The first mistake she’d made had been in assuming that all six of the surviving test subjects would react the same way. Obviously they hadn’t. The four that had gone psychotic had fixed everybody’s attention on them until it was too late . . . sort of. And by the time they’d gone catatonic, what was going to happen, had happened.

For the thousandth time, she replayed the tape of Cell One on her computer screen. That had been a young white male, early 20s. Keith said he’d given his name as Danny-boy. She watched as Danny-boy awoke, agitated but obviously not as crazy as the berserkers. She watched him reach out and pluck things out of the air—a jar of white powder, a bottle of water, a beaker, a syringe. He’d teleported them all from her lab—she’d been able to tell by the invenðtory number engraved on the beaker, and the bar codes on the stock—but how had he gotten them through a locked door and a solid wall? And how had he known they were in her lab in the first place?

If we’d been watching, could we have stopped you? she wondered. She watched as he fixed, hands shaking with his addiction, and watched as he slumped a moment later, dead in a heartbeat from an overdose of pure heroin.

Stupid boy. Don’t you know street drugs are stepped on six or seven times—if you’re lucky—before they get to you? This was the pure stuff. You should have cut back the dose. You should have WAITED, you blockhead.

She sighed, and rubbed her tired eyes. Now, dammit, she had no way of knowing if her mix would have killed him without the heroin, and an autopsy probably wouldn’t be able to sort it out either.


She looked up from the screen with an effort as Robert came into the office. If he’d spent as many sleepless hours as she had, it didn’t show. He had an ulcer, too—she’d hacked into his personal files once out of idle curiosity—and that didn’t show either. Robert Lintel was the original Teflon boy. His three-piece grey suit was immaculate, and he was wearing the particular smug expression that Jeanette liked least. But Robert always had only seen the possibilities in her work, the ultimate goal, and not the long process that led there.

“What?” she said sullenly, knowing that letting him see her mood was weakness, and weakness had always been the thing she defended herself hardest against showing.

“Hey, Campbell. Smile. We’re almost there, you know. It worked!”

“Two missing—have you found them yet?—four crazy, and of the two qualified successes, one dead. Some success,” she grumbled.

“We’re looking for the two that vanished, but frankly, I think they went to the same place the chimp did. I had Elkanah dump the other four out on the street. They should be dead by now, or at Bellevue. Either way, not our problem.” He walked into the room and stood over her desk, beaming down at her paternally.

“So that leaves—what’s her name?—Borden? And her readings have gone back to normal. Whatever she had, it’s gone,” Jeanette said.

“But while she had it, it was enough to get her clean. I had Dr. Ramchandra give her a quick once-over. According to his interview with her, she’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But she doesn’t have it now. In fact, she’s in perfect health. What do you think of that?”

“I think you aren’t paying me to find a cure for cancer,” Jeanette answered, but Robert’s smug smile only grew wider.

“That’s right. But actually, I don’t think you need to work on refining your formula any more. We know it works on ten percent of the population. We just have to find the ten percent it works on.” He sat down in the chair opposite her desk, the big comfy leather one that only Robert ever sat in.

He was talking about mass trials.

“So where are you going to get enough people to put together a profile for that? Carradine and Borden both manifested Talent, but other than that, they have nothing in common. He was white. She’s black. He was a teenager. She’s in her thirties. They were both users, but we don’t even know they were using the same things.”

“Campbell, Campbell, Campbell. When are you ever going to learn to trust me? I have this all figured out.” He leaned forward, and she caught a whiff of soap and expensive cologne.

“I want you to go into production with this. Whip me up a few kilos of Batch 157 and portion it out into single-dose packets—we’ll call it something like T-Stroke. I’ll put it out on the street—we’ll sell it of course, but we’ll underðcut everything else—crank, Mexican brown, snow, the whole menu. They’ll buy it, and you’ll have your test pool—cheap, easy, and nothing for us to clean up after. We’ll rope in the ones that survive, run them through the mill, and find the common thread. Once we have that profile, we can use it to find volunteer subjects.”

Jeanette had always been serenely convinced that nothing could shock her, that she didn’t care about all those faceless drones she shared the world with. But the butcher’s bill Robert was proposing so guilelessly startled even her.

One out of the eight in the first group had survived. Statistically, that meant the odds were that if eighty people received T-6/157, seventy would die. And if you took those numbers out to the thousands of doses that Robert was recommending they spread across the streets of New York . . .

“There’s going to be dead junkies stacked like cordwood on every street corner,” Jeanette said slowly, trying to decide how that made her feel. She knew she ought to like the idea, but instead she felt curiously numb inside. How confident must Robert be, how eager for his results, to suggest a plan that held so much possibility of . . . unforeseen consequences.

But Robert didn’t even seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm. He bored in, eyes glittering like a high-pressure salesman closing a big deal.

“And your point is? C’mon, Campbell, we’re looking for results here, not scientific validation. If we generate the Survivor Profile, nobody’s going to care how we got it.”

“You’re right,” she said, knowing it was true. Who cared how a lot of junkies died, anyway, so long as the deaths couldn’t be traced back to Threshold? She got to her feet, making Robert stand also. “Look, I’ve got to crash. Beirkoff knows the stuff to order to make up about ten keys of T-Stroke. I’ll come back tonight and put it together.”

“We could take care of that,” Robert said, too casually. “The formula’s in your lab notebook, isn’t it?”

Jeanette smiled at him, the street predator that had been hidden beneath a veneer of years and good living suddenly stark and plain in her eyes. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Robert—she didn’t, that had never been an issue. But T-Stroke was an entirely bigger deal than the other compounds she’d handed over. She intended to keep control of it until she was satisfied.

Of what, she wasn’t sure.

You’re hoping you’ll fit the Survivor Profile he’ll come up with, don’t you? The Survivors—Robert’s new race of psionic hitmen. What’re you going to do if you do, Campbell? What are you going to do if you don’t?

“Aw, c’mon, Robert. You don’t want a numb-nuts like Beirkoff to futz this up at the eleventh hour, do you? You don’t want to be wondering if he got the formula exactly right and have to do it all again to be sure? Give me a couple of hours. It’ll take him that long to get the stuff here anyway. You can call me when it comes in. And meanwhile, you gotta make up your mind what you want to do with the Survivor bitch you’ve already got.”

She didn’t wait for him to reply. She grabbed her coat and headed out the door before he’d quite rearranged his face into whatever expression he’d chosen. She knew he’d go looking for the formula. He always did. She knew that.

And she always left one ingredient out of her notes.

He knew that.

3 The Rubiyat

Back | Next