World Of Tiers - A Private Cosmos Part 13

"Yeah, and where is Nimstowl? Come on. Let's start looking."

Anana groaned. He did not blame her. Both were drained of energy, but they could not stop now. He urged her up and soon they were examining the bodies in the corridors outside the control room on the staircase. He verified that he had killed two Bellers with the spy-missiles. While they were looking at a burned man rayed during the fight with Luvah, they heard a moan.

Beamers ready, they approached an overturned bureau from two directions. They found Nimstowl behind the furniture, sitting with his back against the wall. He was holding his right side while blood dripped through his fingers. Near him lay a man with a casket strapped to his back.

This was the missing Beller. He had a knife up to the hilt in his belly.

Nimstowl said, "He had a beamer, but the charge must have been depleted. He tried to sneak up and kill me with a knife. Me! With a knife!"

Kickaha examined Nimstowl's wound. Though the blood was flowing freely, the wound wasn't deep. He helped the little Lord to his feet, then'he made sure that Nimstowl had no weapons concealed on him. He half-carried him to the room where Luvah lay sleeping, put pseudoffesh on Nimstowl's wound and gave him some blood re-plenishers.

Nimstowl said, "He might have gotten me at that, he jumped at me so quickly. But this"-he held up a hand with a large ringjust like An ana's- "warned me in time."

"All the Sellers are dead," Anana said.

"It's hard to believe!" he replied.-"At last! And I killed the last one!"

Kickaha smiled at that but did not comment. He said, "All right, Nimstowl, on your feet. And don't try anything. I'm locking you up for a while."

Again, he frisked Nimstowl. The little Lord was indignant. He yelled, "Why are you doing this to me?"

"I don't believe in taking chances. I want to check you out. Come on. There's a room down the hall where I can lock you up until I'm sure about you."

Nimstowl protested all the way. Kickaha, before shutting the door on him, said, "What were you doing so far from the control room? You were supposed to be with us. You weren't running out on us, were you?"

"So what if I was?" Nimstowl said. "The fight was won, or at least I thought it was. I meant to get back to my universe before the b.i.t.c.h Anana tried to kill me, now that she didn't need me. I couldn't trust you to control her. Anyway, it's a good thing I did leave you. If I hadn't, that Beller might have gotten away or managed to ambush you."

"You may be right," Kickaha said. "But you stay here for a while, anyway." He shut the door and locked it by pressing a b.u.t.ton on the wall.

XXIV.

AFTER THAT, he and Anana continued the long search. They could have cut down the room-to-toom legwork if they had been able to use the video monitors in the control room, since many rooms and corridors could be seen through these. But Wolff had deactivated these when he left the palace, knowing that Kickaha was able to turn them on if he revisited the palace. The Bellers had not been able to locate the source of control, and they had not had time or enough hands to disa.s.semble the control console and rewire it. Now Kickaha could not use them because the fight had put them out of commission.

They looked through hundreds of rooms and dozens of corridors and scores of staircases and yet had covered only a small part of the one building. And they had many wings to go.

They decided they had to get food and sleep. They checked in on Luvah, who was sleeping comfortably, and they ordered a meal from the kitchen. There were several taloses there, the only taloses not involved in the attack on the Bellers. These gated a meal through to the two. After eating, Kickaha decided to go up to the control room to make sure nothing important had happened. He had some hopes that Wolff might come back, though this did not seem likely. The chances were high that the gate was one-way unless the Horn of Shambarimen were used, and Luvah had had that.

They trudged back up the staircases, Kickaha did not dare use the elevators until he was certain they were not b.o.o.by-trapped. Just before they went into the control room, he stopped.

"Did you hear something?"

She shook her head. He gestured to her to cover him and he leaped through the doorway and rolled onto the floor and up behind a control console. Listening, he lay there for a while. Presently, he heard a low moan. Silence followed. Then another moan. He snaked across the floor from console to console, following the sounds. He was surprised, though not shocked, when he found the Harpy, Podarge, slumped against a console. Her feathers were blackened and stinking; her legs were charred so deeply that some of the toes had fallen off. Her b.r.e.a.s.t.s were brown-red meat. A half-melted beamer lay near her, a talon clutched around its b.u.t.t.

She had come into the room while he and Anana were gone, and somebody had beamed her. Still on his belly, he investigated and within a minute found the responsible person. This was the soldier, Do Shuptarp, whom he had supposed was slain by the Bellers. But, now that he thought back, he had not been able to identify any corpse as his. This was not unexpected, since many were too burned to be recognizable.

Do Shuptarp, then, had escaped the Bellers and probably fled to the upper stories. He had returned to find out what was happening. Podarge had also returned after her flight from the room during the battle between the Bellers and Wolff. And the two, who really had no cause for conflict, had fatally burned each other.

Kickaha spoke to the Teutoniac, who muttered something, Kickaha bent close to him. The words were almost unintelligible, but he caught some of them. They were not in German. They were in Lord-speech!

Kichaha retured to Podarge. Her eyes were open and dulling, as if layer upon layer of thin veils were slowly being laid over them. Kickaha said, "Podarge! What happened?"

The Harpy moaned and then said something, and Kickaha was startled again. She spoke, not in Mycenaean, but in Lord-speech!

And after that she died.

He called Anana in. While she stood guard, he tried to question Do Shuptarp. The Teutoniac was in deep shock and dying swiftly. But he seemed to recognize Kickaha for just a moment. Perhaps the l.u.s.t to live surged up just enough for him to make a plea which would have saved him-if Kickaha had had mercy.

"My bell... overthere ... put it... my head... I'll be ..."

His lips twitched; something gurgled in his throat. Kickaha said, "You took over Do Shuptarp, didn't you, instead of killing him? Who were you?"

"Ten thousand years," the Beller murmured. "And then . . . you."

The eyes became as if dust had sifted into the brain. The jaw dropped like a drawbridge to release the soul-if a Beller had a soul. And why not, if anyone did? The Bellers were deadly enemies, peculiarly horrible because of their method of possession. But in actuality they were no more vicious or deadly than any human enemy, and though possession seemed especially horrible, it was not so to the victim, whose mind was dead before the Beller moved into the body.

Kickaha said,' 'A third Beller usurped Do Shuptarp 's brain. He must have taken off for the upper stories then, figuring that if his buddies didn't get me, he would later. He thought I'd accept him as Do Shuptarp.

"Now, there's Podarge. I would have said a Beller had transferred to her on the moon, but that couldn't be. There were only two Bellers, von Tubat and von Swindebarn, on the moon. And Luvah said he saw them gate into the control room. So the transference must have taken place after Wolff and Chryseis had gotten away. One of those two Bellers took over Podarge, but not until the two had rayed down the Drachelander troops with them to make it look as if everybody had been killed by Wolff and Chryseis.

"Then they switched to Pordarge and one soldier they must have spared for this purpose. And the Beller in that soldier was the one who jumped Nimstowl. So now von Turbat and von Swindebarn are dead, despite their trickery! And the Beller in Podarge's body was to pretend that she had given up the attempt to get me, I'll bet. She was to plead friendship, act as if she'd really repented. And when my guard was down, powie! It's real funny, you know. Neither the Podarge-Beller nor the Do Shuptarp-Beller knew the other was a Beller in disguise. So they killed each other!"

He whooped with laughter. But, suddenly, he became thoughtful.

"Wolff and Chryseis are marooned somewhere. Let's go to his library and look up the code book. If he's logged that gate, then we can know how to operate it and where they are."

They walked toward the door. Kickaha hung back a little because the sight of Podarge saddened him. She had Anana's face, and that alone was enough to make him downcast, because she looked like Anana dead. Moreover, the madness of the Harpy, the torment she had endured for 3,200 years, weighed him down. She could have been put into a woman's body again, if she had accepted Wolff s offer. But she was too deep* in her madness; she wanted to suffer and also wanted to get a horrible revenge on the man who had placed her in the Harpy's body.

Anana stopped so suddenly that he almost b.u.mped into her.

"That tolling!" she said. "It's started again!"

She screamed and at the same time brought her beamer up. Kickaha had already fired. He directed his ray perilously close to her, at the doorway, even before anyone appeared in it. It was on full-power now, raised from burning effect to cutting effect. It sliced off a piece of Nimstowl's left shoulder.

Then Nimstowl jumped back.

Kickaha ran to the doorway but did not go through.

"He's von Turbat or von Swindebarn!" Kickaha yelled. He was thinking furiously. One of the two chiefs had possessed Podarge; the other had switched to a soldier. Then they had burned their former bodies and left the control room, each to go his own way with the hopes of killing their enemies.

The one in the soldier's body had attacked Nimstowl. Perhaps he had actually wounded Nimstowl. He had, however, managed to switch to the Lord.

No, that could not be, since it required two h.e.l.lers to make a switch. One had to handle the bell-shape for the transfer of the other.

Then Podarge-rather, the Beller in her body -must have been with the one in the soldier's body. She must have performed the transference and then left. The Beller in Nimstowl's body had put a knife in the belly of the soldier, who must have been knocked out before the-switch.

The change to Nimstowl might have worked, if Kickaha had not operated on his usual basis of suspicion. Somehow, the Nimstowl-Beller had gotten out of the locked room. With what? A small low-power beamer hidden in a body cavity?

The Nimstowl-Beller had come back hoping to catch Kickaha and Anana unaware. If he had been successful, he would have been able to fulfill the Seller's plans of conquest. But he had not been able to resist taking his bell with him and so Anana had detected its presence just in time.

Podarge may have been the one to help effect the transference for the soldier-Beller into Nimstowl. But if she were not the one, then there was an extra Beller to be identified, located, and killed.

First, the business of the Nimstowi-Beller.

Kickaha had waited long enough. If the Beller were running away, then he could have gotten far enough so that Kickaha could leave the control room safely. If the Beller were lying out in the corridor bleeding to death-or bled to death- then Kickaha could go into the corridor. If the Belief were not too badly wounded, he might be waiting for Kickaha to come out.

Whatever the situation, Kickaha could not wait any longer.

He motioned to Anana to stand aside. He backed up a few paces, then ran forward and leaped through the doorway. He turned as he soared, his beamer already on, its ray flashing along the wall and digging a two inch deep trough in the marble, striking out blindly but ready to move down or outward to catch the Beller.

The Beller was crumpled against the base of the wall with blood pooling from around his shoulder. His beamer lay at his feet, his head was thrown back, and his jaw sagged. His skin was bluish.

Kickaha landed, shut the beamer off, and slowly approached the Beller. Convinced that he was harmless, Kickaha bent over him. Nimstowl looked at him with eyes in which the life was not yet withdrawn.

"We're a doomed people," the Beller croaked. "We had everything in our favor, and yet we've been defeated by one man."

"Who are you?" Kickaha said. "Graumgra.s.s or the one calling himself von Swindebarn?"

"Graumgra.s.s. The king of the Sellers. I was in von Tfcrbat's body and then that soldier's."

"Who helped you transfer to Nimstowl-to this body?" Kickaha said.

The Beller looked surprised. "You don't know?" he said faintly. "Then there is still hope for us."

Anana unsnapped the casket from the Belter's harness. She opened it and, grimacing, removed the big black bell-shape. She said, "You may think you will die without telling us who that Beller is and what he is going to do. But you won't."

She said, "Kickaha, hold his head! I'm going to ut the bell on it!"

Grumgra.s.s tried to struggle but was too weak to do anything except writhe a little. Finally, he said, "What are you going to do?"

"Your mind contents will automatically be transferred to the bell," she said. "As you well know. This body will die, but we'll find you a healthy body. And we'll put your mind in it. And when we do, we'll torture you until you tell us what we wish to know."

Graumgra.s.s said, "No! No!" and he tried again to get away. Kickaha held him easily while Anana placed the bell on his head. After a while, Graum-gra.s.s's eyes glazed, and death shook a castenet in his throat. Kickaha looked at the bottom of the bell as Anana held it up for his inspection. The two tiny needles were withdrawn into the case.

"I think his mind was taken in before the body died," he said. "But, Anana, I won't let you stripa man's brain just to put this thing in his body so we can get some information. No matter how important that information is."

"I know it," she said. "And I wouldn't do it, either. I've regained some of my lost humanity because of you. Furthermore, there aren't any living bodies available to use."

She paused. He said, "Don't look at me. I haven't the guts."

"I don't blame you," she said. "And I wouldn't want you to do it, anyway. I will do it."

"But. . . !" He stopped. It had to be done, and he supposed that if she had not volunteered, he would have done so, though very reluctantly. He felt a little shame that he was allowing her to be the subject, but not enough to make him insist that he do this. He had more than one share of courage; he would be the first to say so. But this act required more than he had at this moment or was likely to have, as long as someone else would act. The utter helplessness it would produce made a coward of him. He could not stand that feeling.

He said, "There are drugs here which can get the truth, or what the subject thinks is the truth, anyway. It won't be hard to get the facts out of you-out of the Beller, I mean, but do you really think this is necessary?"

He knew that it was. He just could not accept the idea of her submitting to the bell either.

"You know what a horror I have of the bell," she said. "But I'll put my mind into one and let one of those things into my body if it'll track down the last Beller, the last one, for once and all."

He wanted to protest that nothing was worth this, but he kept his mouth shut. It had to be done. And though he called himself a coward because he could not do it, and his flesh rippled with dread for her, he would allow her to use the bell.

Anana clung to him and kissed him fiercely before she submitted. She said, "I love you. I don't want to do this! It seems as if I'm putting myself in a grave, just when I could look forward to loving you."

"We could just make a search of the palace instead," he said. "We'd be bound to flush out the Beller."

"If he got away, we'd know who to look for," she said. "No. Go ahead! Do it! Quickly! I feel as if I'm dying now!"

She was lying on a divan. She closed her eyes while he fitted the bell over her head. He held her then while it did its work. Her breathing, which had been quick and shallow with anxiety, slowed and deepened after a while. Her eyes fluttered open. They looked as if the light in them had become transfixed in time, frozen in some weird polarity.

After waiting some extra minutes to make sure the bell was finished, he gently lifted it off her head. He placed it in a casket on the floor, after which he tied her hands and feet together and then strapped her down tightly. He set the bell containing the mind of Graumgra.s.s on her head. When twenty minutes had pa.s.sed, he was sure that the transference was complete. Her face worked; the eyes had become as wild as a trapped hawk's. The voice was the lovely voice of Anana but the inflections were different.

"I can tell that I am in a woman's body," she- it-said.

Kickaha nodded and then shot the drug into her arm. He waited sixty seconds before beginning to dredge the information he needed. It took less time to get the facts than it had for the drug to take effect.

The Lords had been mistaken about the exact number of missing Bellers. There had been fifty-one, not fifty, and the Bellers, of course, had not enlightened their enemies. The "extra" one was Thabuuz. He had been down in the palace biolabs most of the time, where he was engaged in creating new Bellers. When the alarm was raised about Kickaha, he had come up from the labs. He did not get a chance to do much, but he was able to help Graumgra.s.s knock out Nimstowl and then transfer him.

Graumgra.s.s, as the little Lord, was to make one more attempt to kill the two remaining enemies of the Sellers. In case he did not succeed, Thabuuz was to gate to Earth with his bell and his knowledge. There, on Earth, that limbo among the universes, hidden in in the swarms of mankind, he was to make new Sellers for another attempt at conquest.

"What gate did he use?" Kickaha asked.

"The gate that Wolff and Chryseis used," Graumgra.s.s-Anana said. "It leads to Earth."

"And how do you know it does?"

"We found the code book and cracked the code, and so found that the gate was to Earth. Thabuuz had orders to take it if an emergency required that he get out of the palace to a place where he could hide."

Kickaha was shocked, but, on reflection, he was pleased. Now he had two reasons to go to Earth. One, and the most vital, was to find Thabuuz and kill him before he got his project started. Two, he must find Wolff and Chryseis and tell them they could return home. That is, they could if they wished. Undoubtedly, Wolff would want to help him and Anana hunt down the Belter.

He replaced the bell on Anana's head. In fifteen minutes, the withdrawal of Graumgra.s.s' mind into the bell was completed. Then he put the bell containing Anana's mind on her head. In about twenty minutes, she opened her eyes and cried out his name. She wept for a while as she held him. Being in the bell, she said, was as if her brain had been cut out of her head and placed in a dark void. She kept thinking that something might happen to Kickaha and then she would be locked up forever in that bell. She knew she would go mad, and the idea of being insane forever made her even more frenzied.

Kickaha comforted her, and when she seemed to be calmed, he told her what he had learned. Anana said they must go to Earth. But first, they should dispose of Graumgra.s.s.

"That'll be easy," he said. "I'll embed the bell in a plastic cube and put it in the museum. Later, when I have time-that is, when I come back from Earth-I'll gate him to Talanac. He can be discharged into a condemned criminal and then killed. Meantime, let's get ready for Earth."

He checked the code book for information that the Beller had not given him. The gate transmitted to an ancient gate in southern California, the exact area unspecified. Kickaha said, "I've had some twinges of nostalgia for Earth now and then, but I got over them. This is my world, this world of tiers, of green skies and fabled beasts. Earth seems like a big gray nightmare to me when I think about having to live there permanently. But still, I get just a little homesick now and then."

He paused and then said, "We may be there for some time. We'll need money. I wonder if Wolff has some stored somewhere?"

The memory bank of an underground machine told him where to locate a storage room of terrestrial currency. Kickaha returned from the room with a peculiar grin and a bag in his hand. He dumped the contents on the table. "Lots of U.S. dollar bills," he said. "Many hundred dollar bills and a dozen thousand dollar bills. But the latest was issued in 1875!"

He laughed and said, "We'll take it along, anyway. We might be able to sell it to collectors. And we'll take along some jewels, too."

He set the machines to turn out clothes for himself and Anana. They were designed as he remembered the latest American styles circa 1945. "They'll do until we can buy some new."

While they were getting ready, they moved Luvah to a bigger and more comfortable room and a.s.signed the kitchen taloses to look after him. Kickaha left Anana to talk to her brother while he busied himself collecting the necessities for the Earth trip. He got some medicines, drugs, beam-ers, charges for the beamers, a throwing knife, and a little stiletto for her with poison in the hollow hilt. The Horn of Shambarimen was in a case.

He carried the case into the room where the two were. "I look like a musician," he said. "I ought to get a haircut as soon as I get a chance after we get there. My hair's so long I look like Tarzan-I don't want to attract attention. Oh, yes, you might as well start calling me Paul from now on~. Kickaha is out. It's Paul J. Finnegan again."

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