Twilight Eyes Page 54

I slung the rifle over my arm, gripped the goblin by the feet, and dragged it backward into the tunnel we had just left. Rya opened a door, and I hauled our victim into one of the chambers fitted out with equipment for hydroponic farming.

I felt for a pulse. “It’s alive,” I whispered.

The creature was cloaked entirely in the pudgy body of a middle-aged man with a bulbous nose and close-set eyes and a wispy mustache, but of course I could see its true nature through that disguise. It was naked, which seemed to be the fashion here in Hades.

Its eyelids fluttered. It twitched.

Rya produced the hypodermic needle with the syringe full of sodium pentothal that she had prepared earlier. Using a length of elastic tubing of the sort nurses employed in hospitals for the same purpose, Rya tied off the captive’s arm, forcing a vein to pop up just above the crook of the elbow.

In the brassy light of the imitation suns that hung above the empty hydroponic tanks, our captive’s eyes opened, and although they were still dim and unfocused, the beast was coming around fast.

“Hurry,” I said.

Rya squirted a few drops of the drug onto the floor to insure that no air remained in the needle. (We couldn’t question the creature if it died of an embolism seconds after injection.) She administered the rest of the dose.

Seconds after the drug was administered, our captive went rigid, every joint locking tight, every muscle taut. Its eyes popped open wide. Its lips skinned back from its teeth in a grimace. All of this dismayed me and confirmed my doubts about the effect of pentothal on goblins.

Nevertheless I leaned forward, staring into the enemy’s eyes—which seemed to peer through me—and I attempted to interrogate it.

“Can you hear me?”

A hiss that might have been yes.

“What is your name?”

The goblin gazed unblinkingly and made a gargling, grudging noise through clenched teeth.

“What is your name?” I repeated.

This time its tongue came untied, and its mouth slipped open, and a meaningless knot of sounds unraveled from it.

“What is your name?” I asked.

More meaningless sounds.

“What is your name?”

Again it produced only a queer noise, but I realized this was precisely the same reply with which it had responded to the question before: not random sound but a multisyllabic word. I sensed that this was its name, not the name by which it was known in the world of ordinary men but that by which it was known in the secret world of its own species.

“What is your human name?” I asked.

“Tom Tarkenson,” it said.

“Where do you live?”

“Eighth Avenue.”

“In Yontsdown?”


The drug did not sedate their kind quite as it would one of us. However, the pentothal produced this rigid, mesmeric state and appeared to encourage truthful responses far more effectively than it would have done in a human being. A hypnotic glaze clouded the goblin’s eyes, whereas a man would have slept and would have spoken thickly and ramblingly in response to any inquiry put to him—if responding at all.

“Where do you work, Tom Tarkenson?”

“The Lightning Coal Company.”

“What is your job there?”

“Mine engineer.”

“But that’s not really the work you do.”


“What work are you really engaged in?”

A hesitation. Then: “Planning...”

“Planning what?”

“Planning . . . your death,” it said, and for an instant its eyes cleared and focused on mine, but then the trance recaptured it.

I shivered. “What is the purpose of this place?”

It did not respond.

“What is the purpose of this place?” I repeated.

It emitted another, longer chain of strange sounds that fell on my ear with no meaning whatsoever but with complex patterns that indicated meaning.

I had never imagined that the goblins might have a language of their own, which they used when there was no danger of our kind overhearing them. But that discovery did not surprise me. It was almost certainly a human language that had been spoken in that lost world of the earlier age, before civilization had succumbed to an apocalyptic war. The few human beings who had survived that long-ago Armageddon had reverted to savagery and had forgotten their language along with so much else, but the larger handful of surviving goblins had evidently remembered it and had kept the ancient tongue alive as their own.

Given their instinct to eradicate us, it was ironic that they should preserve anything of human origin—other than themselves.

“What is the purpose of this installation?” I persisted.

“. . . haven . . .”

“Haven from what?”

“... the dark . . .”

“A haven from the dark?”

“. . . from the dark lightning . . .”

Before I could pose the next—and obvious—question, the goblin suddenly drummed its heels against the stone floor, twitched, blinked, hissed. It tried to reach for me with one hand. Though its joints were no longer locked, they were still uncooperative. Its arm fell back to the floor; its fingers trembled spastically, as if electric current was coursing through them. The sodium pentothal was quickly wearing off.

Rya had prepared another syringe while I questioned our captive. Now she slipped that needle into a vein and squirted more of the drug into the beast. In the human body pentothal was relatively quickly metabolized, requiring a slow, steady drip to maintain sedation. Apparently, in spite of the somewhat different response from man and goblin, the duration of the drug’s effectiveness was approximately the same in both species. The second dose took hold of the creature almost at once; its eyes clouded again, and its body went rigid.

“You say this is a haven?” I inquired.


“A haven from the dark lightning?”


“What is the dark lightning?”

It emitted an eerie keening, and it shuddered.

Something in that disconcerting sound gave the impression of pleasure, as if merely contemplating the dark lightning sent delicious thrills through our captive.

I shuddered, too, but with dread.

“What is the dark lightning?” I repeated.

Staring through me at a vision of unimaginable destruction, the goblin spoke in a voice thick with malevolence, hushed with awe: “The white-white sky is a sky bleached by ten thousand huge explosions, a single blinding flash from horizon to horizon. The dark lightning is the black energy of death, nuclear death, crashing down from the heavens to annihilate mankind.”

I looked at Rya.

She was looking at me.

That which we had suspected—and that of which we had dared not speak—was proven true. The Lightning Coal Company was preparing a redoubt in which the goblinkind could take shelter and hope to survive another world-destroying war of the sort they had launched in that forgotten age.

To our captive I said, “When will the war occur?”

“Perhaps . . . ten years...”

“Ten years from now?”

“. . . perhaps . . .”

“Perhaps? You’re saying in 1973?”

“. . . or twenty years . . .”


“. . . or thirty . . .”

“When, damn you? When?”

Beyond the human eyes, the radiant eyes of the goblin flickered brighter, and in that flickering was an insane hatred and an even more insane hunger. “There is no certain date,” it said. “Time . . . time is needed . . . time for the arsenals to be built . . . time for the rockets to become more sophisticated . . . more accurate. . . . The destructive power must be so tremendous that, when unleashed, it will leave not one spawn of humanity alive. No seed must escape the burning this time. They must be purged . . . the earth scoured clean of them and all they’ve built . . . clean of them and of all their excrescences. . . .”

It laughed deep in its throat, a chilling cackle of pure, dark delight, and its pleasure in the promised Armageddon was so intense that for a moment it overcame the rigidifying grip of the drug. It writhed almost sensuously, twitched, arched its back until only its heels and head were touching the floor, and it spoke rapidly in its ancient tongue.

I was stricken by a shiver so unremitting that it seemed as if every fiber of bone and muscle was engaged. My teeth chattered.

The goblin’s involvement with its religious vision of doomsday became more intense, yet the effects of the drug prevented it from surrendering itself entirely to the passions that it was driven to express. Suddenly, as if a dam of emotion had burst within it, the creature released a shuddery sigh, “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh,” and loosed its bladder. The flood and stench of urine seemed to flush out not only some of the beast’s fervor for destruction but some of the pentothal’s grip as well.

Rya had prepared a third syringe of the sedative. Two empty vials, two disposable needles, and some plastic wrapping lay on the floor beside her.

I held the creature down.

She inserted the needle into the twice-punctured vein and started to depress the plunger on the syringe.

“Not all at once!” I said, trying not to retch on the acrid stink of urine.


“We don’t want to overdose it, kill it. I’ve got more questions to ask.”

“I’ll let the stuff out slowly,” she said.

She squeezed only about one fourth of the dose into our captive, enough to make it go rigid again. She kept the needle in the vein, ready to squirt more dope into the goblin when it showed signs of emerging from its mesmerized state.

To the captive I said, “Long ago, in the era that men have forgotten about, in the era during which your species was created, there was another war....”

“The War,” it said softly, reverently, as if speaking of a most holy event. “The War . . . the War . . .”

“In that war,” I said, “did your kind build deep shelters like this one?”

“No. We died . . . died with the men because we were creations of the men and therefore deserved to die.”

“Then why build shelters this time?”

“Because . . . we failed . . . failed . . . we failed . . .” It blinked and tried to rise up. “Failed . . .”

I nodded at Rya.

She squeezed a little more of the drug into the beast.

“How did you fail?” I asked.

“. . . failed to wipe out the human race . . . and then . . . after the War . . . there were just too few of us left alive to hunt down all human survivors. But this time . . . oh, this time, when the war is over, when the fires have burned out, when the skies have disgorged all the cold ashes, when the storms of bitter rain and acid snow have faded away, when the radiation has grown tolerable . . .”

“Yes?” I urged.

“Then,” it continued in a whisper that was ripe with the reverent tones of a religious fanatic recounting a miraculous prophecy, “from our havens, hunting parties will go aboveground from time to time . . . and they will track down every man and every woman and every child who remains . . . exterminate whatever humans are left. Our hunters will keep searching and killing . . . and killing until their food and water runs out or until residual radiation brings about their own death. We will not fail this time. We’ll have enough survivors to keep extermination teams in the field for a hundred years, for two hundred, and when the earth is unquestionably barren, when there’s only perfect silence from pole to pole and no smallest hope of human life reborn, we will then eradicate man’s only remaining work—ourselves. Then everything will be dark, very dark, and cold and silent, and the perfect purity of Nothingness will reign eternally.”

I could no longer pretend to be mystified by the pitiless void that I perceived clairvoyantly when I looked at the symbol of dark lightning. I did indeed understand the awful meaning of it. In that sign I saw the brutal end of all human life, the death of a world, hopelessness, extinction.

To the captive I said, “But don’t you realize what you’re saying? You’re telling me that the ultimate purpose of your species is its self-destruction.”

“Yes. After yours.”

“But that’s senseless.”

“That’s destiny.”

I said, “Hatred carried to such an extreme is purposeless. It’s madness, chaos.”

“Your madness,” it said to me, grinning suddenly. “You built it into us, didn’t you? Your chaos: you engineered it.”

Rya injected more of the drug.

The grin faded from the creature’s face both on the human and goblin level, but it said, “You . . . your kind . . . you are the unequaled masters of hatred, connoisseurs of destruction . . . emperors of chaos. We are only what you made us. We possess no potential that your kind could not have foreseen. In fact . . . we possess no potential that your kind did not approve.”

As if I were, in fact, in the bowels of Hell, confronted by a demon that held the future of humanity in its taloned hands and would consider mercy if properly persuaded, I found myself driven to argue the value of the human race. “Not all of us are masters of hatred, as you say.”

“All,” it insisted.

“Some of us are good.”


“Most of us are good.”

“Pretense,” the demon said with that unshakable confidence that is (so the Bible tells us) a mark of the Evil Ones and is an instrument with which doubt can be implanted in the minds of mortals.

I said, “Some of us love.”

“There is no love,” the demon said.

“You’re wrong. It exists.”

“It is an illusion.”

“Some of us love,” I insisted.

“You lie.”

“Some of us care.”

“All lies.”

“We have courage, and we are capable of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. We love peace and hate war. We heal the sick and mourn the dead. We are not monsters, damn you. We nurture children and seek a better world for them.”

“You’re a loathsome breed.”

“No, we—”

“Lies.” It hissed, a sound that betrayed the inhuman reality beneath the human disguise. “Lies and self-delusions.”

Rya said, “Slim, please, there’s no point in this. You can’t convince them. Not them. What they believe of us is not just an opinion. What they believe about us is coded into their genes. You can’t change it. No one can change it.”

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