02. Shadows of the Well of Souls

BOOK: 02. Shadows of the Well of Souls
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SHADOW

OF THE

WELL OF

SOULS

A Well World Novel

Jack L. Chalker

 

Copyright © 1994 by Jack L. Chalker

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-73660

ISBN 0-345-38846-1

e-book ver.1.0

 

For Fritz Leiber,

who enjoyed the original Well saga

but left us before this one was done, and

likewise for my old friend Reg Bretnor,

also gone too soon, my writing opposite of sorts,

who packed more laughs into fewer words than

any science-fiction author in history.

The worst thing about growing old

is the increasing number of missing,

and missed, friends.

 

 

Preface

 

"Oh, No! Not Another
Trilogy
!"

A  FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON A JOURNEY BACK TO THE WELL
World . . .

The Well of Souls series was the only five-volume trilogy I had ever written, and I felt it was basically symmetrical and right; I had no intention of going back to it after I finished
Twilight at the Well of Souls
in 1979. For one thing, I didn't want to be "typed" and wind up cheapening the concept or the original book(s) by ripping off Well World No. 386. I didn't get into the writing business to do that.

Still, when Del Rey came to me with the proverbial Offer I Couldn't Refuse, it had been ten years since I'd as much as
looked
at the series, and I had a number of other very successful books, multivolume big books, and one or two series as well. Footnote: Publishers call all multivolume works "series," but actually only a couple of mine are. A series is an open-ended set of tales having in common a setting, a premise, or a set of characters. Anthony's Xanth is a series; so are King's Gunslinger saga, Zelazny's Amber, and, for that matter, Mark Twain's Sawyer and Finn books.

The multivolume novel is what happens to writers who like to write novels the size of
War and Peace
in an age of computerized budgets and mass market-publishing. The writer simply outlines a single, stand-alone novel as he would any other but then is informed that there are "price points" and that he has to cut to fit the prescribed maxi
IF
mums or, frankly, production costs on the book will push it beyond its "price point" where there is more sales resistance than acceptance. So you split it in two, or three, or whatever.

Tolkien's Rings books are in fact both a series and a multivolume, or "serial," novel.
The Lord of the Rings
is a serial novel; its middle volume, in fact, ends on a classic cliff-hanger (worthy of Republic film serials of the thirties) with Sam shut out of the evil dungeon and in the land of the enemy, beating his fists futilely against the closed gates while the narration says, "Frodo was alive, but captured by the enemy." To be continued. Of course, since the concept began with
The Hobbit,
a totally independent novel, and has continued even after the author's death, the Rings is in fact a series which contains a serial novel.

Midnight at the Well of Souls
was a single novel and remains today a single novel in one volume, a totally standalone work. Acceptance of it was so great that both I and the publisher couldn't resist so vast a canvas, so I outlined a second novel that, as it turned out ran about 250,000 words, or about twice the length of
Midnight.
Presto! It was a serial novel, a single book in two parts, that was also a sequel to an independent book.

I then found that even with this addition I couldn't finish the story I wanted to tell. Oh, I wrapped the novel up, but there was a ton of material I couldn't put in it and more that I wanted to do, particularly visiting the northern hemisphere. That brought forth another novel outline, which, again, ran very long and wound up as two books. Hence, a five-volume trilogy, a series containing three novels in five books.

This is a fourth novel in the series (and when you go beyond the trilogy that Tolkien seems to have defined as the cliche-length of a serial novel, you find that ad agencies say you're writing a "saga"), and it's longer than the preceding three. I really thought I could wrap it in two in the same way I was certain that I could do the second book in about the same amount of space that I'd used for
Midnight.
It didn't happen.

So, I could still have done it in two if I were willing to cut out much of this volume, which is the philosophic heart of this
fiber-
novel
and begins to make some sense of what happened in
Echoes of the Well of Souls.
Never mind all the heady discussions between characters and all the mushy stuff, some would say—cut to where you start the massacres. Well, I don't work that way, either. A novel is as long as it takes to properly tell the story; it shouldn't be any longer than that or be cut any shorter than it absolutely needs.

Hopefully, if you aren't familiar with the original "Saga of the Well World," you'll pick it up—it is, or should be, available at finer booksellers everywhere—and start from there. If you have read the original series but missed
Echoes of the Well of Souls,
it's still out there and you should find it. In fact, all competently run bookstores should certainly have copies of it available when this book comes out. If they don't have it where you found this, go back and tell them what you think about that fact and how it reflects on them.

There will be one more volume of this long novel. It's already outlined, and it's got my usual very big finish. Some of it will be what you expect after reading this, but I think there will be a number of surprises. There are in fact several surprises in store in
this
book, if you wait for them. But you can see we're shaping up here for one cosmic cataclysm, and I do not plan to disappoint you. So if you already have
Echoes,
let's go. If you don't, go out and get it first and "see it from the beginning"! This is, after all, the middle of my 350,000-word novel!

 

 

 

Somewhere

Between Galactic Clusters

 

 

THE KRAANG HAD GOOD REASON TO BE COMPLACENT. AFTER so long, so
very
long, its plans were coming to a head, and with each passing day its link to and power within the Well Net grew. It could already send within the field and could receive and track and monitor as well. While none of the principals in the drama it had concocted were directly addressable—unless they were in a full Well field such as traveling through and between hex gates and Zones—and the Watchers were outside its direct monitoring abilities, the others whom it had identified as they were processed by the system were far easier to track.

When the Kraang's ship itself was not in the slingshot gateways, it was now possible to see through the eyes and hear through the ears of the others who had been processed, and that was more than sufficient to monitor the Watchers' track, while both Watchers and their monitors were unaware even of its very existence. And although unable to send to them under normal circumstances, it could do more than merely receive; it
knew
them. It knew their innermost thoughts, their loves, hates, fears, and nightmares. It knew that little band better than they knew themselves. That not only allowed the Kraang to filter out subjective impressions from the raw data, it also provided such deep individual knowledge of them that when more
was
possible, when they finally opened the gate that would bring it to them, they would be as soft clay, as easily remolded inside as they had been outside to serve the Kraang's purposes.

It had been nothing less than the remaking of the cosmos that had allowed the Kraang's liberation, although close to a billion years had passed until chance had ultimately given it access to the net once again, access the Ancient Ones believed had been denied it for eternity. The rest of the system had provided just a moment, mere nanoseconds, when the program that had bound it for billions of years could not control its destiny. That tiny moment had been sufficient for the Kraang to alter the system, however slightly, without detection by the net or the Watchman, so that when the program was reimposed, it was flawed. Afterward it had been a mere matter of waiting, suspended of activity, until eventually chance would place the Kraang and its prison within distance of possible direct contact with a Well Gate. The Well computer became aware of the flaw only when that contact came, and then it was too late: the Kraang had access to the net. And the Kraang could be disengaged from the net only by the Watchman, since the Well was powerless in and of itself to do harm to one of its creators. Only another Maker could do that.

So the Kraang had done what it had to do. The world upon which the Watchman lived was still primitive; there was no space travel of consequence, no way to create a situation by which the Watchman could be drawn to a gate. The gate, then, had to come to the Watchman by the crude but effective method of sending Well Gates down to the planet of the Watchman as meteors.

But there had been two Watchers instead of one at this juncture, the second created by the original Watchman when the cosmos was reset. Multiple gates were required because the two were separated. And so the gates had fallen, remaining open until the Watchers were collected, operating in their normal manner until the Well could safely close them. During that period it was almost inevitable that others, natives of the planet, would fall through, and it was amazing how few had actually done so.

Few, but enough.

The newspeople—Theresa Perez, the producer; Gus Olafsson, the cameraman; and Dr. Lori Ann Sutton, the university astronomer tapped as the expert for the newspeople—had been captured by a primitive Amazonian tribe deep in the jungles of Brazil. A tribe whose mysterious leader was the female Watcher, who had taken them through with her to the Well World, along with the Peruvian gangster and drug lord Juan Campos. And, before them, two of the always-inevitable investigators of the meteor, Colonel Jorge Lunderman, Brazilian Air Force regional commander, and Julian Beard, U.S. Air Force scientist-astronaut.
Those
two had been taken while posing for photos atop the "meteor," perhaps as an object lesson for all others to stay away.

The other, the original Watchman, had also been in Brazil, but on the civilized coast, taking a sort of holiday in the nation that shared his name. Only two natives had been taken in with him, both at his invitation: the blind former airline pilot Joao Antonio Guzman and his dying British wife, Anne Marie.

Eight natives who were processed by the Well, each becoming
something else,
another creature, another race, yet with their memories and essential selves, their souls as it might be colorfully put, intact, for good or evil. The Kraang had no influence over what they had become, but it ever after had been along for the ride.

During the processing, a link could be and was established.

Even communication with the Watchers was possible during that period, but it was dangerous to go too far. Surface thoughts and surface memories triggered by the experience had been available even though the Watchers themselves remained essentially out of the Kraang's control. One thought, however, one memory, one weakness, particularly on the part of the newer Watcher, was sufficient. Had
been
sufficient.

Now the game was commencing. Now one of them certainly would open the way. Now one of them, at least, would be the unwitting agent freeing the Kraang and summoning it home. Home to the Well. Home to become God.

 

 

Hakazit

 

 

ALTHOUGH IN MANY WAYS THE WELL WORLD FELT FAMILIAR, even comfortable to him, in other ways, Nathan Brazil reflected, he always had a sense of wrongness when on it.

It wasn't the bizarre variety of creatures and cultures, the things that made new entrants so uneasy; rather, it was the common things.
Some
things might be expected to change when crossing a national boundary, but not the climate, and absolutely not the gravity, yet one could cross from the tropics to snow in a few footsteps or have gravitational fluctuation of up to twenty percent in the same distance if one were near one of those borders. And of course it should be cold at the poles and grow warmer toward the equator, even more so than on Earth, as the Well World had no appreciable axial tilt and thus no natural seasons. The days, and nights, a bit longer than back on Earth, were nonetheless always pretty close to equal.

But Glathriel, near the south polar region, was tropical; Hakazit, a thousand kilometers or so west of Glathriel yet only a bit north, was raw and cold, the winds off the Ocean of Shadows brisk and biting, carrying small droplets of ice and snow and swirling them around, not in the sense of a storm but rather as persistent irritants, felt but not really seen.

BOOK: 02. Shadows of the Well of Souls
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