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She blew it from her hands.
Gently it floated inside.
Wyn pressed the 120th
floor. The elevator doors closed.
The two went to the stairs,
as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
I hit everything I see,
Tweedledee,” said Wyn whimsically to himself.
A minute later:
An explosion shook
violently the whole building with the force of an
He and Ms. Crystobal looked
down the stairwell. They were on the ground level, but the
stairwell wound just as far down as it did up.
Ms. Crystobal leaped up the
stairs as silently as a cat.
Wyn leaped down the stairs,
no less stealthily.
They didn’t say goodbye to
one another. That would have been crossing into the undiscovered
country of intimacy –
from whose bourn no
It took about fifteen
minutes before Wyn finally came close to the lowest level. He
paused to study the bottom. It was a very far drop.
A troop of Sleeper Devils
was waiting for him. They were walking around in a melancholy
circle. Two were in the middle, slouching.
Lowen was blaring his
message of misery and hate inside their heads. But it would be a
mistake to think of him in Orwellian terms. He was not the Thought
Police. He was not Big Brother.
He was just a bad
And the earth was quite
used to his kind by that time.
Wyn leaped down the rest of
In the second before he
landed, he grabbed the two center Sleeper Devils and slammed them
into the floor.
It cracked beneath his
Their black blood
bespattered his sunglasses. One died instantly. The other exhaled
one last word before death.
Elsewhere in the Black
Lowen the Dark Man had been
on the uppermost floor the whole time, watching this scene play out
through the eyes of his Sleeper Devils.
He could see and hear their
thoughts as if they were his own. They always thought about him.
His power over them made them do so.
The nigh-life of a Sleeper
Devil was to always think of Lowen, of doing his will, of loving
him – if you could call that love.
His power made them think
that their nigh-life was perfectly natural. They thought it was
unnatural to disobey him. They could not imagine living their
nigh-lives without the echo of his voice always inside their heads
and penetrating their hearts.
He was like that jingle
that gets stuck in your head – only his jingle was the torpid
twinkling sounds of death always on the horizon, death that never
Lowen the Dark Man was in a
room that he had made to be as much like Khariton as possible.
Everything was egg-shaped in some way: The desk and the computer,
the tables and the chairs and the sofa and television
The only object that was
not ovular was the operating table in the middle of the room. It
was shaped like a T.
Theo was clamped to it with
very strong metal bars. He was sweating from suffering pain
recently and he was shivering from the cold air. His body lay along
the length. His arms were strapped to the sides.
Theo looked like the Son of
God on the Cross.
Lowen did not know how to
make a Blood Vivicanti: He did not know how to do a peripheral
blood stem cell transplant.
But he did know how to
possess a human. For years he had known how to brutally Guantánamo
He had been trying to
possess Theo that night. But his usual method was not
Normally his violet ghost
would have issued out from his host body like a mist rising from
the skin. After that, his ghost would have enshrouded his next
victim like a thick cloud and he would have seeped into their
bodies, shoving out their souls.
But the body of a Blood
Vivicanti was protected somehow – perhaps by the mind, perhaps by
some sheer indomitable willpower.
Lowen could not shove out
Theo’s soul. He could not make room for himself. And he found this
both annoying and impressive. That made him even more desirous to
possess the body of a Blood Vivicanti.
He was like an addict when
the pleasure stops and the pain of dependence kicks in.
Lowen had already learned
from Theo everything that Wyn had told him about the Red Man: That
the Red Man had been scientifically developed on Khariton, that his
name was Silent because Kharetie scientists would not give him a
voice to add to society, and that he had come to take Lowen’s ghost
back to the planet to potentially fix the cracks in the Great
Lowen laughed at that. He
laughed to think of his note of discord being so powerful that it
cracked the planet’s once commonplace life.
But he also wept that the
Great Harmony was now called “the Noise.” He had fond memories of
harmonizing with someone else.
Lowen could relate to the
Red Man as I could relate to Nell.
Those who are misunderstood
and ostracized by society usually do feel that peculiar bond of
But the Dark Man felt no
bond with Theo whatsoever. In fact, he already considered Theo to
be his private property. The Red Man’s blood – Kharetie blood – was
flowing through Theo’s veins. And who else should have Kharetie
blood but a ghost from Khariton?
But the problem of Theo’s
soul prevented Lowen from taking full ownership of his body. He
would not torture Theo because he would not damage the thing he
wanted to possess.
So he had been torturing
Theo’s mind and heart instead.
He thought about killing
Theo, releasing his soul, and then slipping in. But that peculiar
idea had no guarantee of success. He might not be able to slip
inside. And if he did, the body would have to be revived somehow.
And if it were, would he be worse than his Sleeper Devils? A
zombie? An undead? All the while Theo’s body would be
Lowen shuddered to think of
himself trapped in a decaying body.
Moreover, he had no idea
how to kill a Blood Vivicanti – or how to revive one
Lowen studied Theo’s
Probiscus and he had an idea.
The Red Man – the Origin
Blood – had been scientifically programmed to communicate himself
by means of jabbing the stinger at the tip of his tongue into
someone’s neck, by drinking their blood, and by filling them with
In life, Lowen had been a
scientist on Khariton. He understood the science behind the
creation of the Red Man. And now he theorized that he might be able
to communicate his
– his being, his soul – into someone else if he
reverse-engineered the same Kharetie procedure on his human host
He smiled as he planned to
outfit himself with a humanoid Probiscus.
Elsewhere in the Black
Wyn defeated the small band
of Sleeper Devils on the bottommost floor, far
Then he went to the
electrical room. His job was to sever the power to the building, in
the hope of lowering Lowen’s defenses. Wyn suspected that he might
be up against alien technology, but he could not have guessed that
he would be dealing with Lowen’s latest recreation of the human
race, a new cybernetic life form.
This thing he now
confronted had once been a group of people and a power generator.
But now it was a horrible mingling of people sewn together and
interwoven through a machine.
Several heads of this
cybernetic thing swiveled together as one body, turning to glare at
The cyborg spoke as one
voice: “Invalid entry.”
By far, this was the most
disgusting thing Wyn had ever seen. It was some sort of cybernetic
entity. In his head, he gave it a name:
Wyn looked for a switch to
flip, a button to press, a plug to pull – he searched for anything
that he might use to turn off the power. But there was nothing, as
far as he could see.
But the power came from the
Cybent’s life. And the power would remain on as long as the Cybent
lived. Wyn would have to kill this monstrous mangling of the human
frame to turn off the power.
was not in Wyn’s vocabulary.
But being a Blood Vivicanti
means living a life of constant learning and adapting.
It’s why I’m so good now at
who I am
And that’s why I’m so happy
now at being
how I am
Wyn would do what needed to
be done for the sake of the plan.
But it was more than that.
He felt sorry for all those people. And he asked himself what he
would want if he were in their place.
He would want death. He
So he severed one head. But
that did nothing since there were so many more.
He ripped the heart out of
one spot, but that did nothing also. The Cybent had several more
hearts in several more places.
Wyn had one last idea left.
It had been a last resort measure until now, since the thought of
it repulsed him. But he knew what he had to do: He had to pierce
the Cybent. He had to drink its Blood Memories.
He shuddered at the
But he chastised himself:
He was a scientist:
wasn’t in his vocabulary either.
Reluctantly he opened his
It took a little prompting
to get his Probiscus to stick out. It seemed to have a mind of its
own and it apparently had no desire to pierce the
He had to trick it. He
imagined himself consuming the Blood Memories of Isaac Newton,
Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs.
That did the trick. His
There was no clear “sweet
spot” where the Cybent might be pierced. Wyn just closed his eyes
and thrust in the tip of his tongue.
He drank the Cybent’s
blood. He feasted on the Blood Memories of over twenty people that
had been painfully and gruesomely woven into one machine. They had
all been individuals at one time. Now they were one. The din of
their voices was a mockery of the Great Harmony on Khariton. It was
a sadistic homage to the Noise.
Wyn pitied all those poor
people. His venom flowed freely from his Probiscus. He let it flow
and flow and flow. There seemed no end to it. Then it flowed some
His venom filled the Cybent
and the Cybent was filled with pleasure in our poison.
In no time, each twisted
face in this machine-thing smiled contentedly.
And still his venom flowed.
It flowed until every fleshy part of the Cybent perished from
The machine shut
All the lights went out.
The AC and the computers turned off. Everything shut
Wyn’s Blood Vivicanti eyes
could see perfectly well in the dark. He went to the service
elevator, opened the doors, and peered up the shaft.
It seemed endless. He was
over a hundred floors below ground. He had over another hundred
floors to climb to get to Lowen.
He leaped up the floors
along the elevator shaft, clinging to the walls with his powerful
grip, the way a human might go up the stairs, two or three at a
usually isn’t a word in a scientist’s vocabulary
Elsewhere in the Black
Ms. Crystobal stopped at
the 99th floor.
Her unusual powers could
detect something strange about that floor. It hadn’t felt this way
the last time she was in the Black Building, when she and Theo
failed to rescue the Red Man. But she now knew that, if she were to
cross the threshold and enter the 100th floor without permission, a
powerful gravitational force would pull her inside out.