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Lowen crouched before Wyn
and stared him in the eyes.
Did you know that the
design of the Red Man, as you call him, was based on a Blood
Thirster from Khariton?”
All right,” Wyn said with a
hint of doubt in his voice, “I’ll bite. What’s a Blood
Well,” Lowen said, walking
around again, sounding more eager, “the Kharetie keep Blood
Thirsters as pets. But during what you might call the Jurassic
Period of my planet’s history, Blood Thirsters had been the
dominant life. They drank the blood of all the other animals and
they gained their abilities, the way you do – and I guess the way I
do too now. Who knows? One day, when the Kharetie invade earth, the
Blood Vivicanti might make excellent pets also.”
Wyn smirked. “Since you’re
a Blood Vivicanti too,” he said, “not to mention originally from
Khariton, yet have possessed a human mutation of Kharitonian DNA,
many might think of you as a bastard in the finest
Lowen picked up Wyn with
one hand and launched him across the room.
Wyn crashed through a desk
and a wall.
Nell and the other Sleeper
Devils went to retrieve him.
But he stood on his own. He
did not fight back.
So what am I in for?” he
Lowen looked confused.
“Sorry,” he said. “Was my human language not clear? Kharetie speech
might be less ambiguous. Let me explain it again,” he said and then
enunciated: “You will suffer as I break your body until you tell me
the procedure for making the Blood Vivicanti.”
Wyn laughed at him. “No,”
he said, walking closer, “I mean when you make me one of your
Sleeper Devils. I want to know what the experience will be
Lowen blinked at Wyn in
Wyn gave him a cheeky grin.
“That is your big plan, isn’t it,” he said, “to make me a Sleeper
The Sleeper Devils blinked
at one another.
Nell looked at Lowen with a
concerned expression on her face.
The Dark Man gaped at Wyn,
seemingly not sure what he should do or say. He folded his fingers
together at his mouth. He looked upset and pensive, trying to plan
his next move.
Wyn was boyishly
I haven’t spoiled any
surprises, have I?” he said. “I know you’re not going to kill me or
dismember me. You want me intact so that you can make me into a
Sleeper Devil, like that Nell thing you sent to Mary
He looked at Nell. She
looked down with a defeated expression.
You want me to be an
unbroken Sleeper Devil bent to your service,” Wyn said, feeling a
hint of sympathy for Nell, a slave, an addict. “I’m much more
valuable to you that way.”
Back in my
I reached 100mph. The truck
was now shaking violently.
Ms. Crystobal spoke through
her telepathic channel. “Ready?”
Now!” I shouted in
I heard nothing more for a
Back in the Black
Lowen lost his temper,
clenched his fists, and gnashed his teeth.
Theo,” Wyn said calmly to
Lowen hissed angrily.
“That’s not the name of this body any more! Theo is
Theo,” Wyn said again, more
softly, more calmly, “I have one last word for you before you make
me your slave.”
Lowen narrowed his
Back in my
An energy portal suddenly
opened before me in the middle of the road. My job was to drive
straight through it.
You see: A powerful
magnetic field had been preventing Ms. Crystobal from opening a
portal to the Black Building’s 120th floor.
She and Wyn had been a
diversion. They were to lure Lowen and Sleeper Devils away from
there before I arrived.
My eighteen-wheeler and me
were the lulu of a surprise that night.
We drove through the
It went from where I had
been to a place about, oh, 120 floors up – and
, too, just outside the Black
For a few very long, very
scary, and very exciting seconds, the road was gone from beneath
The eighteen-wheeler glided
grace-fully through the air like…well, like an eighteen-wheeler
gliding gracefully through the air.
The feeling of
weightlessness in that massive machine was kind of
The nearer we soared toward
the Black Building, the more I could see my reflection in its
I had the biggest smile on
Back inside the Black
All the lights turned red.
Lowen’s face was bathed in red light. He was grimacing.
Wyn was also bathed in red
light. But he was smiling. The plan was working.
My rig and I had collided
straight into the Black Building and we had burst through into the
I’d forgotten about my
airbag. It burst open in my face. I tore it away and tossed it
through the window.
bounced along for a second or two until I gained control of
Then I put it in line with
the metal coffin. It appeared to be a mile off in the center of the
room. I pressed the gas and drove straight toward it.
My job was to rescue the
By the time I got to the
Red Man’s coffin, a few Sleeper Devils were wandering into the room
with astonished looks on their ashen faces. They were very
surprised to see an eighteen-wheeler barreling toward
They looked even more
surprised when I ran them over.
Lowen’s vast army would be
there soon. I didn’t have much time.
I parked the truck beside
the Red Man’s coffin. I opened the lid.
Inside, the Red Man seemed
to be resting peacefully.
In his ears were metallic
Mozart’s Symphony No.
, otherwise called “the Jupiter
Symphony.” It seemed oddly fitting for a man from another
The fourth movement was
playing on a loop. That amazing counterpoint in the finale, with
all five motifs combined in the fugal coda was brilliant and
I fear that the Red Man
might never move again after that.
I tried removing the
earbuds, but Lowen had implanted them somehow. If I tore them out,
they would also tear off the Red Man’s skin, perhaps his whole ear.
And I couldn’t do that.
So I closed the lid and
hoisted the coffin onto my shoulder with the Red Man
Yes, I am that
I am a Blood
Hundreds of Lowen’s Sleeper
Devils started swarming inside the room. They saw me and chased
toward me like a stampede of wild animals, their mouths open
hungrily, their hands reaching toward me like claws, and in their
eyes flickered the flame of madness.
Hurriedly I put the coffin
in the back of the truck and I climbed into the driver’s
The Sleeper Devils reached
me and climbed all over my rig.
I put it into gear and
pressed the gas.
There were so many Sleeper
Devils before the windshield that I could not see a thing. I drove
by intuition. I knew that the hole I’d knocked into the Building
was behind me so I turned the truck around and hoped I was heading
in the right direction.
It was like shooting an
arrow in the dark and hitting a target on Mars.
My rig rode on. I could
feel its great weight crush numerous Sleeper Devils under all
Their bile and black blood
made the way slippery. It was as slippery as driving over a swarm
More Sleeper Devils smashed
through the windshield and flooded inside the cockpit like a swarm
of stinking locusts. Their filthy bodies pressed against
I tried fighting them off
me but I had no other choice. I turned the steering wheel hard and
the truck rolled over onto its side. It flipped a few times and
then slid for a few hundred feet.
For some reason, my
photographic memory was blaring Sondheim’s
Send in the Clowns
Dizzy, bruised and cut,
though healing quickly, I clambered out of the truck.
It was crumpled like a
All around me was a field
of crushed Sleeper Devils.
But in the distance more
were coming, running fast toward the truck.
I had a slight limp. But I
was healing quickly.
I made my way to the back
of the truck. I opened the doors and took out the Red Man’s coffin.
It was still shut and he was still inside. I hoped he was all
I shouldered the coffin and
came around the rig. I could not quite believe what I saw
At least a thousand Sleeper
Devils must have been running toward me. They were running so
quickly and so wildly that they did not have any regard for one
another. The faster ones trampled over the slower.
The riot of moving bodies
got so intense that they formed a tsunami of arms and legs and
gnashing teeth. This demented wave rolled higher and higher and it
towered over me. It would come crashing down at any
Me on the
Them in the
Send in the
I took the Red Man’s coffin
from off my shoulder, opened the lid, and slid inside with
That was perhaps the first
time in my life that I was happy about being petite. His body was
huge! His muscular chest was practically smushed against the lid. I
had to coil up around his waist and legs.
His natural body odor was a
delightful mixture of lilacs and raspberries.
Outside the coffin was the
thud of the wave of Sleeper Devils crashing down on us. The
metallic frame was strong. But under that great weight, I could
hear the metal groan as it bent inward.
For a moment I dreaded that
all those Sleeper Devils would crush us.
But then there was
It sounded as if the
Sleeper Devils were gone.
I waited a moment to see if
my ears were hearing things accurately. But I could not even hear
the sigh of a gnat for miles around.
I was going to wait another
minute or so, just to be safe.
Then someone outside the
coffin knocked on the lid.
Slowly, I opened the lid
and looked out.
To my great surprise, I saw
before me, with her arms folded and her usual
pursed-lipped-cocked-eyebrow-expression of impatience, Ms.
You coming?” she said. “We
haven’t got all night.”
Send in my hero!
Ms. Crystobal seemed to be
all by herself. There appeared to be no Sleeper Devils at
Slowly I crawled out of the
coffin. Slowly I looked around.
All around us was the vast
room of the 120th floor. It seemed empty too. No Sleeper Devils. No
eighteen-wheeler. Everything appeared to be completely
What happened?” I asked,
looking at Ms. Crystobal.
She didn’t miss a beat.
“Now that you punched a hole through the energy barrier protecting
this room I was able to open a dimensional portal
What happened to the
I opened another portal,”
she said matter-of-factly.