Many demons are in woods, in waters, in wildernesses, and in dark pools…
“Of course I remember you.” Jorge Gould smiled pleasantly and held out a hand while she watched him try frantically to recall her name. “You’re the sister of Markis Kane’s model.” He waved an index finger at her as if to say who could forget?
“Kim Brandywine,” she said. “I wanted you to know how pleased I was with the Kane you sold me.”
“Oh yes. Yes, that was quite a good buy, Ms. Brandywine. You did well for yourself.” He came out from behind the counter and glanced around at the stock. “Were you interested in looking at more of his work?”
“Perhaps another time,” she said. “There are one or two others that I’d like to add to my collection.”
“No need to wait.” He rubbed his hands together. “We have a very liberal payment plan. Which ones did you want to see?”
“Yes,” she said, ignoring the question, “Kane does marvelous work.”
“He does indeed. Did I tell you I knew him personally?”
“You mentioned that.”
“So what can I show you?”
“Jorge, I don’t plan to make a purchase today. I don’t like to pile up debt. Buy outright, I say. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’m sure you do.” She mentioned Autumn and Night Passage, and implied that she would shortly be in the market for both. “Marvelous compositions,” she said. “He’s a genius.”
“Sometimes it takes time before the world recognizes this level of talent.”
He insisted on showing her more of Kane’s work. Candlelight depicted a couple having dinner on the observation deck of an interstellar. A candle glitters beside a bottle of wine, thick violet drapes cover the wall, and a waiter stands over them with a tray. The couple are handsome and absorbed in each other. Above, through a sheer overhead, the orange and red ring of a recent supernova casts an eerie light across the scene.
In Passage, a survey ship is silhouetted against a pulsar, caught in the moment that the star’s beam sweeps past.
“These would be excellent additions to any collection,” Gould said.
She agreed. “How marvelous it must be to have known him.”
“Yes. He and I were quite good friends, as a matter of fact.”
“I envy you.” She delivered a smile of pure innocence. “What sort of home did he have? I think when I was here before you said he lived in Severin?”
Gould offered her a chair and they both sat down. “Yes,” he said. “That’s right. That’s where he lived. My wife also lived there at the time.” He repeated the details while Kim listened patiently. Finally he asked whether she knew he was a war hero.
“I know,” said Kim. “Tell me about the villa.”
Gould recalled that the living room had been coldly formal; that Kane had lived in his den, had entertained his friends there. “Sometimes,” Gould said, “people he’d served with, in the fleet, came to town.” He shook his head. “Kane and his friends knew how to party.”
“It’s beautiful country,” said Kim. “He must have had a lovely view.”
“He had a deck on the side of the house where you could sit in the evenings and watch the sun go down behind the mountains—”
They continued in that manner for several minutes until Kim felt ready to ask the one serious question she’d brought with her. “Did I hear you say there was a secret room?”
“Yes. When I was here before, you told me that during his last couple of years there, he sealed off part of the house. Wouldn’t let anybody see it.”
“Oh yes. I’d forgot. That was the den. After the Mount Hope business, he stopped using it for guests and switched to the living room.”
“Why do you think he did that? Was he restoring it, maybe?”
“No, I don’t think so.” He made a face, signifying he was thinking hard. “You could see Mount Hope from the den. Maybe he didn’t want to look at it anymore. Or maybe he’d just developed an eccentricity. Artists are like that.”
“I suppose,” she said. “He wouldn’t let anybody in there?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“I wonder if it might have been that he’d begun to work there? To paint?” Or whether he’d hidden something he didn’t want anyone to get near. Like the Hunter logs?
“I doubt it. He had a workroom toward the front of the house.”
“Where was the den?”
“At the rear.”
“You never saw it again after he sealed it off?”
“No. Never did.” He looked at her and at the two Kane’s. “Now, why don’t we arrange for you to take one of these little beauties home?”
Kim had to pay the Rent-All Emporium for both the wet suit, which had been torn, and for the mask and converter, which were still in the river. They asked no questions, but snickered at her when she told them she wanted to rent a rubber boat and another wetsuit. It would require, they explained, a substantially heavier deposit.
An hour later, in her rented flyer, she lifted off the Gateway pad into a cold gray afternoon and once more turned south. For a few minutes she ran above a train, but it quickly distanced her and lost itself in the craggy countryside.
She had not told Solly what she intended to do because he would have insisted on coming. That would have been comforting, but she was anxious to have the results on the Hunter logs. And she felt a compunction to confront her fears about the local demon. After her experience in the river, she told herself, she feared nothing that walked.
She looked up the train on the schedule. The Overland. Hauling dry goods, electronics, lumber, and machinery from Sorrentino to the coast. She liked trains. Always had. She’d have preferred at the moment to be aboard one.
She’d circled the location of Kane’s villa on her map of the village. It had been on the north side, in an area now in deep water.
She traced bearings from the Kane home to the dam, to the city hall (which was in fifteen meters of water, but whose tower still rose proudly out of the lake), and to a onetime flyer maintenance facility atop a low hill that had become an island when the dam came down.
The river looked cold in the somber light. She glided out over the lake and, minutes later, descended on Cabry’s Beach.
The flyer came to rest with one of its treads in the water. She watched the edge of the forest while changing into her wet suit. The tree branches swayed gently in the wind coming off the water. No blue jay fluttered through that sky; no deer came down to the shoreline to drink.
She opened the hatch and eased down onto the sand. It crackled underfoot. The wind was cold. She turned up the heat in her suit and tugged a woolen hat down over her ears. The sky was heavy and overcast.
She pulled the boat out of the back seat, hit the inflater, mounted the motor, and dragged it into the water. It had a transparent bottom. She tossed in a paddle, her flippers, and the converter. And her packet of pictures of Severin Village circa 573. She added forty meters of line, marked at two-meter intervals, and used a rock to make an anchor.
She strapped a lamp and an imager to her wrist, and looped a belt around her waist. She attached a utility pouch to it, and put in a compass and a laser cutter. Satisfied that she had everything, she launched the boat and started its waterjet engine.
The surface was choppy. Although she had a remote, she sat in the rear, steering by hand, headed out into the lake.
She moved onto the bearing with the dam and followed it until the city hall and the flyer repair facility lined up. Then she killed the engine and looked down through the bottom of the boat. The water was clear and she could see a bench. Nearby lay an abandoned flyer. Beyond the flyer she could make out a group of poles. A children’s swing set. The swings swayed gently as she passed overhead.
The boat rose and fell.
She saw a house, but it was not Kane’s, not the right shape. Her pictures indicated it was probably his neighbor on the south, a physician who’d performed well during the disaster.
She continued straight on until she saw what she was looking for: an arched pavilion, a stone wall, a Thunderbird house.
That was it. It had angled wings and courtyards and a long central spine. The roof, with its crests and ridgelines, was unmistakable.
Kim dropped her makeshift anchor over the side and watched the line play out to fourteen meters. Deep. She secured it to the gunwale, pulled on her gear, and slipped into the water. She immediately felt safer, as though she were no longer exposed.
She turned toward the bottom and rode down on her jets.
Gray light filtered through the surface. The water grew cool and then warm again as she passed through alternating currents. An eel glided past. She switched on her lamp and a few fish quickly retreated. The boat was a dark shape above.
She leveled off in front of the second floor, eye-to-eye with an oculus window. The interior was thick with silt. But she could see a bed, a dresser, a couple of chairs. A fish glided out of a venting pipe, turned toward the lamp, and then disappeared out of the room.
She descended to the front door. It had no power, no knob, no easy way to open it. She passed by, moved along the front of the building, found a gaping window, and swam in.
Her lamp picked out a couch, a fireplace, and a flatscreen in the down position on one wall. This, she thought, had been the formal living room Gould had described.
Amazing. Kane had apparently not bothered to move his furniture when he left, had simply given in to the rising water.
She passed into the central hallway. A staircase rose on one side, assorted chairs and tables were tumbled about, and a couple of beams lay in the debris.
Kim pushed across to the opposite wing. She had to struggle to get the door open. Inside, she looked into what seemed to be Kane’s work area. A wooden table was turned over, its legs sticking up like those of a dead animal. Several rolls of what might once have been canvasses were scattered in the silt. Artists’ brushes lay everywhere, and pieces of an easel.
She could make out sketches, or parts of sketches, on the walls. Women’s faces, mostly. Framed by trees, lanterns, a vestibule. But always the woman was prominent.
They were incomplete, as though he were trying out ideas. The expressions were inevitably wistful, melancholy, mournful. No life of the party here. The hairstyles were different, the hair itself sometimes cut short, sometimes shoulder length, inevitably in the fashions of the 570s. But it struck her, as she passed along the wall, examining the figures in the glow of the lamp, that each was an aspect of Emily.
Kim’s scalp prickled.
She drew the imager out of her utility pouch and began taking pictures. She tried to record everything.
She had come hoping to find the original Hunter logs. The possibility suddenly seemed remote, but the table had a drawer, so she opened it. It contained only a couple of rags.
There was a door at the far end of the room, leading to an enclosed porch, beyond which lay a washroom. She went through the door, and saw plastic containers and flowerpots on the porch floor. She found a medicine cabinet in the washroom and opened it. One of the containers still had air trapped inside. The container floated out and rose to the ceiling.
She went back the way she’d come, through the formal living room and on into the far wing.
She opened drawers, broke into cabinets when hinges wouldn’t work. She searched everywhere, and then went upstairs and prowled through bedrooms and washrooms. A broken pot or two remained in the kitchen cabinets. She was shocked to find several of Kane’s trophies in the mud, including the Conciliar Medal of Valor, the highest award the Republic had to give. It seemed odd that no one had been here before her and claimed the treasure.
Tora should have it. She wiped it off and put it in her pouch.
She felt movement in the water.
And sensed that she was not alone.
She listened, heard nothing, and surveyed the room for another way out. She’d have no choice but to go through the window if she had to, risking the glass shards still jutting out from the frame. She turned abruptly, as if to catch someone watching her. But the room was empty save for shadows drifting around the walls.
It was not at all hard to imagine that the spirit of Markis Kane lingered about the place. Had she been in sunlight, she’d have smiled at the notion and dismissed it with contempt. But down here—There must be a part of us, she thought, that’s wired to accept the paranormal. Science and the experience of a lifetime don’t count for much when the lights go out.
She returned to the hallway, swept it with her lamp, and started toward the rear of the house, stopping to examine a cabinet and a small desk. She’d acquired an escort of fish, long, rainbow-colored creatures that moved with her but darted back whenever she turned toward them. She was pleased to have their company.
Another bedroom opened off left. Here the furniture was still more or less in place. Clothing, or possibly bedding—it was impossible to know—lay in gray piles on the floor.
She continued down the corridor to the last doorway, which was on the right hand side of the corridor.
The sanctum sanctorum.
Its door was closed.
She pushed on it, gently at first, and then with as much force as she could muster. It did not budge. She took out the laser and cut a hole big enough to pass through.
Within, she saw a desk, a credenza, some cabinets and tables. And a chair.
She passed inside.
There was a closet across the room. Drapes covered the wall on her right. Two of the other walls had large windows. This window, she thought, looked north toward Eagle Point. The one on her left opened onto Mount Hope. She visualized Kane seated in here, watching the sun drop behind that scarred peak. What had he been thinking?
She rifled everything, breaking into cabinets, opening drawers, trying not to spill their contents, as if that mattered, searching the closet, which contained more clothes and several unopened packages of sketch paper. When she’d finished she drifted back into the center of the room, allowing her lamp to point where it would.
The beam touched the drapes. Still in place after all these years.
They covered an interior wall.
She thought of the sketches of Emily in the west wing, and the murals Kane had done for local libraries. Her converter came on, startling her. It murmured gently as it went about its business of renewing her air supply.
What was behind the drapes?
She raised her lamp. There must have been something jerky in the movement because the fish accompanying her vanished. Kim floated in the center of the room, fighting the natural buoyancy that kept lifting her toward the ceiling. She approached the curtains, touched them, tried to grasp them, to draw them back. But they dissolved in her hands. She tried again and brought another section away.
There was a sketch on the wall.
A ringed world.
She pulled the rest of the drapes down.
It was hard to make out in the uncertain light. But the planet was part of a mural embodying a woman. Another Emily. No question: her own image, brave and resigned, smiled out at her. She looked as she had on the Hunter, wearing the blue jacket open at the throat, her hair shoulder length, her eyes pensive. The ringed world was in her left hand.
And there was something in her right.
Kim went closer with the lamp, trying to make it out.
It looked like a turtle-shell.
She stared at it while the chill from the water crept into her bones. A flared teardrop on an elliptical platform.
The toy warship.
The turtle-shell vessel from Ben Tripley’s office.
It was the Valiant!
There was more: Although most of the sketch had faded during its long immersion, the background had been filled with star fields and—what? Roiling clouds? Impossible to be sure. But there, in one corner was the unmistakable image of NGC2024. The Horsehead Nebula.
Horsehead and ringed world and turtle-shell and Emily. All she could think of was Turtles all the way down.
The water seemed to have gotten colder and the suit’s automatic heating function wasn’t keeping up. She adjusted the control a couple of degrees, and then started taking pictures.
The most logical explanation was that the Valiant had been a real ship, and that Kane had once served on it. But it seemed unlikely that Ben Tripley would not be aware of that piece of information, would not in fact be conversant with every known make of starship. That was, after all, his business.
She moved in close and peered at the vessel.
No propulsion tubes. Just like the model.
What kind of ship didn’t have propulsion tubes?
She caught her breath: Was the bookshelf model a reproduction of a vessel from another civilization? A celestial? The Horsehead was in Orion, and would have been visible along the projected course of the Hunter. If there had in fact been contact, Kane and Kile Tripley might each have recorded it in his own way, one in a painting, the other by using a tech shop to build a reproduction. Her earlier guess that Ben Tripley’s model starship was a replica of a vessel from another place suddenly looked quite prescient.
Something caught her eye, a movement, a flicker, outside the range of her lamp. Over near the hole she’d cut in the door. A fish momentarily passing through the light?
She put the imager away, wondering if it would be worthwhile to arrange for a team to come in and recover the wall, to bring it out into the sun. The villa had been abandoned, so surely she could do that without legal consequences.
The thought drained away as she became aware that light was coming from the passageway. It was dim, barely perceptible, but it was there.
She shut off her lamp and backed into a corner. Marine life. It had to be: a luminous eel of some sort, probably. Nevertheless, she edged toward one of the windows. The frames were jammed with broken glass.
She did a final survey of the room, refusing to be rattled, and was rewarded with the sight of a mug all but buried in the silt. When she picked it up and wiped it off, she saw that it was emblazoned with the designator and seal of the 376. She added it to the Medal of Valor.
The illumination grew brighter. A soft green glow, like phosphorous.
She pushed off the wall and drifted easily across the room, getting an angle so she could look out into the passageway without getting too close.
A pair of eyes stared back. Great, green, unblinking eyes. They locked on her.
She could see no head, only the eyes, floating almost independent of one another just outside in the corridor. They were big. Enormous. Too large to belong to any creature that could have reasonably fit into the hallway.
Her heart exploded and she almost lost her breather. She dived back away from the door, crossed the room, turned on her jets, and crashed through the broken frame, taking wood and glass with her.
She made for the surface, thinking, there had been nothing attached to the eyes, no body, no corporeal presence of any kind.
It was dark when she broke the surface. Kim looked around, located her boat, and raced to it, half expecting to be seized from below and dragged beneath the water. She hauled herself quickly over the gunwale, cut loose the anchor, tore off her breather, and started the engine.
The boat moved away with maddening deliberation.
She didn’t know where the flyer was. The sky was full of stars but the shore was featureless. She forced herself to slow down. She checked her compass and brought the boat around to a southeastern heading.
Behind her, something snorted. But nothing showed itself.
When she got close to land she had to cruise the shoreline, past forest broken up by buildings and strips of beach.
Occasionally she saw flickers of light in the trees, moving in conjunction with her as though she was being tracked.
Then her lamp picked out the welcome shape of the flyer. She turned the boat quickly inshore, ran it onto the beach, abandoned it, and made a dash for the aircraft. Once inside, she directed the vehicle to take off.
“Where?” it asked.
“Anywhere,” she said. “Up.”