Twilight Eyes Page 55

She was right, of course.

I sighed. I nodded.

“We love,” I said stubbornly, though I knew there was no point in arguing.

As Rya slowly administered more pentothal, I went on with the interrogation. I learned there were five levels to this pit in which the goblins hoped to survive doomsday; each level extended only halfway over the one below it, so they formed a sort of staircase through the heart of the mountain. There were, the demon said, sixty-four chambers completed and provisioned, a figure that astonished me but was not unbelievable. They were industrious, a hive society that was unhindered by the determined individuality that was a glorious—if sometimes frustrating—element of the human species. One purpose, one method, one overriding goal. Never a disagreement. No heretics or splinter factions. No debates. They marched inexorably toward their dream of an eternally silent, barren, darkened earth. According to our captive, they would add at least another hundred chambers to this haven before the day came to send the missiles flying aboveground, and many thousands of their kind would trickle in during the months prior to the start of the war, arriving from all over Pennsylvania and from a few other Eastern states.

“And there are more nests like Yontsdown,” the demon said with relish, “where shelters like this are secretly under construction.”

Horrified, I pressed hard to learn where those pits were, but our captive did not know the locations.

Their plan was to complete shelters on every continent at the same time that the engines of nuclear destruction reached a level of perfection equivalent to those in the lost age that had ended in the War. Then the goblins would act, pushing the buttons of cataclysm.

Listening to this madness, I had broken out in a cold, sour sweat. I unzipped my ski jacket to let in some cooling air, and I smelled the stench of fear and despair rolling off my own body.

Remembering the malformed goblin offspring caged in the cellar of the Havendahl house, I inquired about the frequency of birth defects in their broods, and I discovered that our suspicions were correct. The goblins, engineered as sterile creatures, had acquired the ability to reproduce by a freak mutation, but the mutagenic process was continuing, and during the past few decades it seemed to be accelerating; as a result, more and more goblins were born in the condition of those pitiable beasts in the cage, and fickle chance was stealing back the gift of viable reproduction. Indeed the worldwide population of goblins had been declining for a long time. The birthrate of healthy offspring was too low to replace those elders whose incredibly long lives finally ended and those who were killed in accidents or who died at the hands of men like me. For this reason, having glimpsed their own certain—if gradual—extinction, they were determined to prepare for and launch the next war before the turn of the century. After that their declining numbers would make it increasingly difficult to patrol the rubble of the post-holocaust world and exterminate the few human survivors living in the ruins.

Rya had another vial of pentothal. She held it up, raising her eyebrows inquiringly.

I shook my head. There was nothing more to learn. We had learned too much already.

She put the vial away. Her hands were shaking.

Despair hung about me like a shroud.

Rya’s pale appearance was a mirror of my feelings.

“We love,” I told the demon, who began to twitch and flop weakly on the floor. “We love, damn you, we love.”

Then I drew my knife and slit its throat.

There was blood.

I took no pleasure from the sight of blood. Grim satisfaction, perhaps, but no real pleasure.

Since the goblin was already in its human state, no metamorphosis was required. The human eyes glazed over with an icing of death, and within the costume of malleable flesh, the potential goblin eyes went dim, then dark.

When I rose from the corpse, an alarm sounded, booming off the cold concrete walls: whoop-whoop-whooooop!

As in the nightmare.


“Oh, shit,” I said, and my heart stuttered.

Had they found the dead goblin on the lowest level of the haven in its inadequate grave of shadows? Or had they missed the one whose throat I had just slit and, missing him, grown suspicious?

We hurried toward the door. But when we reached it, we heard goblins shouting in that ancient language and running in the tunnel beyond.

We knew now that the shelter contained sixty-four rooms on five levels. The enemy had no way of knowing how deeply we had penetrated or where we were, so they were not likely to check this chamber first. We had a few minutes to take evasive action. Not long, but surely a few precious minutes.

The siren wailed, and the harsh sound crashed over Rya and me as if it were powerful waves of water.

We ran around the perimeter of the room, looking for a place to hide, not sure what we hoped to find, finding nothing—until I spotted one of the ventilation system’s large intake grilles set in the wall at floor level. It was more than one yard square and was fastened in place not with screws, as I feared, but with a simple pressure clamp. When I pulled on the clamp, the grille swung outward on hinges. The metal-walled passage beyond was one yard square, and the indrawn air coursed along the duct with a soft hollow susurration and an even softer thrumming.

Putting my lips to Rya’s ear to be heard above the siren, I said, “Take off your backpack and push it ahead of you. Same with the shotgun. Until the sirens cut off, don’t worry about how much noise you’re making. But when we don’t have that cover, we’ll have to be a lot more quiet.”

“It’s dark in there. Can we use the flashlights?”

“Yeah. But when you see the incoming light from another intake ahead of you, douse the flash. We can’t risk the beams being seen through the grille from out in the corridors.”

She entered the duct ahead of me, squirming along on her belly, pushing the gun and the backpack ahead of her. Because she filled more than half the space, little of the light from her own flash was reflected back past her, and she gradually disappeared into the gloom.

I pushed my pack into the duct, nudged it even farther ahead with the barrel of the rifle, then entered on my stomach. I had to wrench myself around painfully to reach behind in that narrow space and pull the vent grille shut with sufficient force to snap the pressure clamp in place.

The whoop-whoop-whoooooop of the alarm came through every grille in the intake half of the ventilation system, and it rebounded from the metal walls of the ductwork even more shrilly than it had echoed off the concrete in the room we had just departed.

The claustrophobia that I had felt on entering the nineteenth-century mine shafts with Horton Bluett recurred with a vengeance. I was more than half convinced that I would get stuck in there and suffocate. My chest wall was pinned between my fiercely slamming heart and the cold metal floor of the duct. I felt a scream building in the back of my throat, but I choked it down. I wanted to turn back, but I went on. There was nothing to do but go on. Certain death lay behind us, and if the likelihood of encountering death ahead was only marginally less certain, I nevertheless was obliged to go forward where the odds were better.

We were getting a different view of Hell than that enjoyed by the demons: a rat’s view from within the walls.

Chapter thirty


The insistent shrieking siren reminded me of the come-on at the Wall of Death motorcycle act on the Sombra Brothers’ midway, which used a similar sound to electrify the tip. The dark maze of the ventilation system seemed like a fun house. Indeed the secret society of the goblins, in which all was different from the straight world, was in some ways a darker version of the closed society of carnies. As Rya and I wriggled through the ducts, I felt somewhat as a young mark might feel if, on a dare, he had ventured onto a carnival midway after it had closed for the night, intending to test his courage by sneaking into the freak-show tent when all the lights were off and when none of his own kind was near enough to hear his screams.

Rya came to a vertical duct that opened in the ceiling of our horizontal channel, and she shone her flashlight up into it. I was surprised when she went that way, pulling her backpack after her by its straps. But when I followed, I discovered that one wall of the shaft had shallow rungs to make maintenance of the system easier; they were little more than toeholds and fingerholds, but they made it possible to ascend without struggle. Even the goblins, who were capable of walking on walls and ceilings, would find it difficult to scramble up the smooth metal surfaces of a vertical duct without this sort of assistance.

As I climbed, it seemed a good idea to flee the level of the installation on which we had left the second dead goblin, because when the corpse was discovered, the search for us would most likely be concentrated in that area. Approximately fifty or sixty feet above our starting point, we came out of the shaft into another horizontal duct on the next floor, and Rya led us through a series of connecting passageways on that level.

The siren finally died.

My ears continued ringing long after the alarm fell silent.

At each air intake Rya paused to peer through the grille into the room beyond. When she moved forward again, I came after her and put my eyes to the metal slats as well. Some rooms were deserted, dark, and still. But in most chambers armed goblins were hunting for us. Sometimes I could see little more than their feet and legs because the grilles provided only low vantage points; nevertheless, judging by the urgency of their shrill voices and by their cautious yet hasty movements, I knew they were engaged in a search.

Since we had taken the elevator up from the unfinished level of the facility to the fifth level and had begun to poke around, we had been aware of vibrations in the floors and walls of the tunnels and rooms through which we passed. It sounded like massive machinery grinding boulders into pebbles in a far place, and the assumption was that this was the sound of heavy mining equipment in those distant shafts where coal actually was being extracted from the earth. When the siren cut off and my ears stopped ringing, I realized the rumble noted elsewhere was also discernible inside the ventilation system. Indeed, as we went farther into the fourth level, the noise became louder, escalating from a grumble to a dull roar. The vibrations also grew more noticeable, passing through the walls of the duct and all the way into my bones.

Near the end of the fourth-floor ductwork, we reached an intake through which Rya saw something that interested her. More flexible than I, she managed to turn around in those cramped quarters without much thumping or clanging, so we came face-to-face at the grille.

I did not need to look out to know that the source of the deep and continuous rumble was in the chamber beyond, for both the noise and the vibration had peaked. When I did peer through the narrow spaces between the bars of the grille, I saw the cast-iron bases of what appeared to be huge machine housings, although I could not see enough to figure out what they were.

I also had an opportunity to study the well-clawed feet of many goblins close up. Too close. Others were far enough away for me to see that they were carrying weapons and were searching between the enormous machines.

Whatever the source of the noise and vibration, it was not coal mining, as we had thought, for there was no smell of coal here, no dust. Furthermore, there were no grinding or drilling sounds. The quality of the rumble was essentially the same close up as it had been at a distance, though much louder.

I did not know why Rya had stopped there. However, she was very clever and quick-witted, and I knew her well enough to sense that she had not paused out of mere curiosity. She had an idea, maybe even a plan. I was ready to follow her lead because her plan was certainly better than mine. Had to be better. I didn’t have a plan.

In a few minutes the search party had probed into every obvious hiding place in the room beyond the grille. The goblins moved on; their disagreeable voices faded.

They had not thought to look into the ventilation ducts. Soon, however, they would correct that oversight.

In fact, goblins might already be inside the intake half of the system, slithering from shaft to shaft in search of us—close behind.

The same thought must have occurred to Rya, for she clearly had decided that the time had come to escape from the ductwork. She put her shoulder to the grille and pressed outward. The pressure-clamp latch popped open, and the grille swung on its hinges.

It was a risky move. If a single member of the search party had lingered, or if there were goblin workmen in the chamber, the enemy might be near enough to see us creeping out of the wall.

We were lucky. We exited the duct, pulling backpacks and guns and the duffel bag after us, and closed the grille without being seen.

Because we would have had to raise our voices to be heard above the din of the laboring machinery, we had not debated Rya’s decision to depart the ventilation system. Now we continued to act without consulting each other. In spite of this lack of communication, we moved in concert, scurrying toward the cover of a huge machine.

We had not gone far before I realized where we were. This was the powerhouse of the complex, where the electricity was generated. In part, the rumbling was the sound of scores of enormous turbines turning under the influence of water or perhaps steam.

The cavernous chamber was impressive, more than five hundred feet long and at least two hundred feet wide, with a ceiling that must have soared six or eight stories. Encased in cast-iron housings that had been painted battleship-gray, five generators as big as two-story houses were lined up one after the other down the center of the room. Attendant equipment, most of it on a similarly gigantic scale, was clustered around the bases of the generators.

Always seeking the concealment of shadows, we made our way across the room by dodging from one large piece of machinery to the next, from crates full of spare parts to a row of electric carts that the workers evidently used to get around the facility.

High along both walls and directly overhead, steel catwalks were provided for maintenance and inspection.

Also overhead, a mammoth red crane was suspended from rails that were embedded in the ceiling; it looked capable of moving from one end of the chamber to the other, providing service to any of the five generators that required heavy repairwork. It was not in use now.

As Rya and I dashed from one bit of cover to the next, we not only studied the lower reaches of the powerhouse but frequently looked closely at the catwalks. We saw a goblin worker, then a pair of them, on the floor. Both times they were a couple of hundred feet away, absorbed by their jobs, monitoring the plant, and they never noticed us as we scurried rat-quick from shadow to shadow. Fortunately we saw none of the enemy on the overhead walkways; from up there they would have spotted us more easily than from the floor, for down at our level the plentitude of equipment and supplies made a long view difficult.

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