martes, 24 de julio de 2018

JOKERTOWN 7

 “You let anything happen to the senator, boy, and your name is Shit, you got that?” the old man snarled.
Corporal Danny put a gentle hand on Hartmann’s arm. “Come with me, Senator. We’ll keep you safe.”
He wrenched away from her violently. “No,” he said. “They’ll find me. They’ll get me.”
The cracker colonel spat. “Shit, boy, get a hold of yourself. It’s just someone out walking his dawgs.”
Hartmann backed away from them. His head twisted back and forth, like a rabbit about to bolt. “Run,” he shouted over the wind, over the sounds of automatic weapons fire from the street outside. “We have to run. We have to get away from them…”
A lightning bolt flashed down and touched one of the light towers. For a moment a brilliant shower of sparks lit the night. Then the field went dark. The hounds were very close now. Outside the walls, someone screamed.
Even the grizzled old colonel looked shaken by that scream. He spit, and made a decision. “You up there,” he shouted at Tom. “The senator’s a little nervous. Maybe you should get him someplace safe. Can you do that?”
“NO PROBLEM.” Tom thought of a hand. Invisible fingers closed gently around Hartmann, lifted. Tom deposited him on top of the shell. Hartmann was hyperventilating, his eyes wide. “HOLD ON, SENATOR,” Tom told him. “THIS COULD BE A BUMPY RIDE.”

“I just don’t have time for this,” said Bloat. “I don’t. I really don’t.” He rolled his head distractedly.
Wyungare gazed up at the immensity that was the overgrown boy. The joker called Kafka set one chitinous appendage on the Aborigine’s shoulder. Wyungare shook it off.
“Sorry,” said Kafka. “That’s it for the audience. I’m afraid there’s a war on.”
Wyungare ignored him. “You have to listen to me,” he said to Bloat. “What I described to you about the destruction wrought to the dreamtime is, if anything, understated.”
“Later,” said Bloat. “I can’t worry about it now.”
“There are millions, many millions of human beings around this world whose lives are being destroyed by you, however inadvertently.”
’No!” said Bloat. “There are hundreds on this island whose lives will be destroyed if we don’t figure a solution. They count more to me than your millions. Sorry.”
Bloat’s advisers murmured, mumbled, nodded appreciatively.
“I can appreciate that,” said Wyungare. “Your loyalty to your friends here, your colleagues, is admirable. But is it possible that both our purposes can be served? Perhaps if we simply reason this out."
Bloat said. “How many penguins can skate on the head of a pin?”
The penguin performed a series of tight infinity signs, each one precise and equal to the one before it.
Bloat nodded. “We will talk, but another time.” He pointedly directed his look toward Kafka.
Agitated, the joker looked from Wyungare to Bloat. He took a step forward. The sound of his body was like the sound of a barrel of steel flatware rolling downhill. “So where do you want I should take him?”
“A cell, I think,” said Bloat. “For tonight, anyhow. Tomorrow, we’ll talk. I promise,” he said to the Aborigine.
“I think it will be too late.”
“Can’t be helped,” said Bloat. “The feds didn’t consult me before setting up their offensive.”
“What about the gator?” said Kafka.
Bloat rolled his eyes. “Put him in the moat. He can earn his keep as one of the guards.”
“How we gonna get him there?” said the joker practically.
Bloat thought for a moment. “I’ll have one of the guards waiting out front on his fish mount. If that doesn’t work as bait, I don’t know what will.”
“What about the cat?” said Kafka.
“What cat?” said Bloat.
Kafka glanced around the huge chamber confusedly. “He was right over — shit, I don’t know where he went.”
The Aborigine smiled. No one but he had seen the black cat depart.
“I’m ready to go to my room,” Wyungare said. He held out his wrists as though expecting iron shackles.
“Just go,” said Kafka disgustedly. “I’ll tell you which way to turn and when to stop. If that doesn’t meet with your approval, well, then I’ll just fill you with nine millimeter.” He hefted his rifle suggestively.
“It’s not too late to discuss this,” said Wyungare over his shoulder. 
"Yes, it is.” Impatient, Bloat clearly turned his attention to other things. Kafka gave a shove to his prisoner and Wyungare moved toward the door.
Wyungare sensed the presence of the black cat as Kafka and he moved up a spiral climb of stone steps. Good.
The cat would know the Aborigine was confined. And thus, so would the alligator. And that seemed, to Wyungare, to be important.

Out in the streets of Brooklyn, nature had gone mad.
The street lamps were shaking in the grip of gale-force winds. Thunder was booming all around. Down below were screams, shouts, howls, a tank rumbling around a corner, the chatter of machine guns and the whine of rifles. Soldiers were scrambling everywhere like frantic cockroaches. The hounds were among them, dozens of them, more than he could count, huge pale wolfhounds with glowing eyes.
A spear of lightning flashed down, throwing everything in sharp relief for a split second, etching the scene forever in Tom’s memory. The images seemed frozen on his screens. Blood swirling into a gutter. A white hound as big as a pony, tearing out the throat of a downed soldier. Another bounding after a jeep, dissolving into mist as a stream of tracers ripped it open.
The light faded; darkness closed in. It took his eyes a moment to adjust. The thunder slammed into the shell with an almost physical force. For a moment it broke his concentration. Twenty-three tons of steel and armor plate dipped, then plummeted down like a dropped saucer. Hartmann yelled something incoherent into his mikes. Tom jerked the shell to a sudden stop, tasted blood in his mouth where he’d bitten his tongue. Too close, only ten feet off the ground, he had to get higher. He saw motion from one corner of his eyes, glanced back…
The hound smashed up against the glass, snarling. “Jesus!” Tom said. If the TV lens had been a window, the thing would have come right through. The shell slid sideways. Tom heard claws scrabbling for purchase against his armor as they began to fall again. Hartmann shrieked. Tom was breathing hard. The sound was deafening; thunder, gunfire, howling. On top of the shell, Hartmann was on his knees, fighting for his life. The hound had his right hand in its jaws. Its eyes glowed a baleful green. Other hounds were closing in.
Tom reached up with his telekinesis. He reached deep inside the hound, wrapped a telekinetic hand around its heart.
He thought of claws, and squeezed.
The beast’s massive head snapped back, and it howled in sudden agony, shuddered… and then it was gone, melting away into green mist, dissolving on the wind. Tom pushed up, hard and fast. The hounds leapt after him, missed the rising shell by inches.
“Senator,” Tom said. Hartmann had collapsed atop the shell, sobbing, cradling his mangled fingers. “I’m sorry,” Tom said, not even knowing if Hartmann could hear a word. “I didn’t know they could jump so high, I…”
Another lightning bolt blew apart a street lamp ten feet below him. He had to get the fuck out of here. The shell would draw the storm better than a lightning rod. All it would take was one hit to fry his electronics… not to mention the senator.
Torn pushed and the shell rose straight up, a steel balloon. The thunder battered at him. He turned off his exterior mikes. The sudden silence was a blessed relief. He was pushing higher, higher. He never heard the horn wind, but when he scanned his cameras again, the Hunt was coming down the street.
There were a dozen riders on huge horses with glowing green eyes. They flowed down the center of Bedford Avenue like water. Behind came a ragtag mob of animals, some with two feet and some with four. Feral dogs, poodles, and cocker spaniels with glowing eyes, street punks and winos and cops, for chrissakes, a whole phalanx of bikers on chopped Harleys. His sound was off, but Tom could see how their mouths twisted as they screamed, and he knew they were screaming for blood. There was nothing human left in any of those faces. Ahead of the mob, ahead of the armed jokers on the horses, he came. The Huntsman… It was the joker he’d seen on the Rox, the stagman with the antlers, but now he seemed transformed. He was naked, his shaggy red mane moving in the storm winds, his eyes glowing green. A golden dragon horn hung across his chest. Green fire played along his antlers and flickered around the great spear he held.
“Holy fuck,” Tom said aloud.
Somehow the Huntsman seemed to hear him. He pulled up suddenly, the great black stallion rearing as if it were about to prance into the sky. The hounds seemed to go wild, leaping, snapping. Then the street in front of the Huntsman exploded.
Horses, hounds, and riders went tumbling through the air. A burst water main fountained upward. Somehow the Huntsman kept his mount, leaping nimbly over the torn pavement, then moving toward the ballpark at a full gallop, more hellhounds coming hard at his heels.
In front of Ebbets, the tank had settled into position. Tom let out a cheer. A thin tendril of smoke trailed from the turret gun.
The Huntsman threw his spear without breaking stride.
It sliced through the air like a cold green thunderbolt, dead on, right up the barrel of the turret gun.
The gunner must have fired at the same instant, that was all Tom could think. The tank exploded. A huge gout of orange flame and green witch-light flowered in the street.
When the fire faded so Tom could see again, the Huntsman had his spear in hand once more. He gestured with it, pointing upward.
Pointing at the shell.

“You’re late,” Battle said flatly at the entrance to the graveyard of Our Lady of Perpetual Misery. Crypt Kicker stood slackly behind him, slumped against the moss-covered rock wall that cordoned off the tiny cemetery from the rest of the church lawn.
“You know how hard it is to find a shovel in New York?” Ray asked, dropping it at Battle’s feet. “I had to go all over the damn city looking for one. Who the hell ever digs in the ground in New York City?”
Battle gestured to Puckett who bent over slowly and laboriously to pick up the implement. The dead guy may be as strong as shit, Ray thought, but that’s also about how coordinated he was. The battle computer that was Ray’s mind filed that tidbit away for future reference.
“This way,” Battle said, leading the way into the graveyard. “And quickly. I’ve got to be someplace very soon.”
It was quiet inside, and peaceful except for distant thunder to the south. Ray looked up at the sky. It was clear above them, but there seemed to be a hell of a storm brewing in Brooklyn. Ray hoped that it’d stay there. The last thing he wanted was a rainstorm when he was screwing around in a graveyard at night.
Many of the cemetery’s headstones were small and plain. Only jokers were buried in the confines of Our Lady of Perpetual Misery, and most jokers couldn’t afford elaborate graves. The stones were also crammed closely together. A lot of jokers had been planted within the cemetery’s walls.
Battle stopped. He’d found the grave he’d been looking for. The tombstone was a simple one, with a grinning death’s-head chiseled into its top with the name “Brian Boyd” engraved below it. Boyd had been dead for two years.
“This who we’re looking for?” Ray asked doubtfully as he leaned against another tombstone that read simply “Chrysalis.”
Battle nodded. He gestured at Puckett and the ace began to dig. He was strong and he could move dirt fast. Ray, knowing the man had been dead once, considered asking him what it was like to lie in the ground. But then he decided it would be better not to know. Besides, he had a more pertinent question for Battle.
“What do you expect to get from this guy, anyway?” Ray asked.
Battle looked at him. “Boyd was known as Blockhead when alive —” Battle began, but his jaw slung open wordlessly as a ton of bricks landed on Ray’s back. Ray had time to think only, Christ, now what? then all conscious thought tied as he flowed into action.
He grabbed one of the arms that encircled his chest and pulled at it, but whoever had grabbed him was stronger, and that meant he was a strong fucker. Ace category. But Ray could also tell from the distribution of weight on his shoulders, back, and legs that whoever was holding him from behind was relatively human-shaped, unlike the flying squirrel man he’d fought that very morning. Human shape meant human weaknesses.
Ray fell forward, bringing his attacker with him, using him to break his fall. Whoever had him still wouldn’t let go, but Ray twisted like an eel, turned, and butted hard enough with the top of his head to bring tears to his eyes.
His head connected with the bottom of his attacker’s chin. Whoever had him pulled back at the sudden pain and Ray wriggled free.
Ray hit the guy three times before he realized who it was.
“Christ,” he said, and stood up.
Quasiman, Father Squid’s handy joker, lay on the ground, bleeding from his lips and nose. No wonder, Ray thought, he hadn’t heard anyone sneaking up on him. Quasiman was a teleport. He’d probably swooped down on Ray from his favorite position atop the church’s roof like a hawk on a pigeon, stepping off into space and materializing right before landing on Ray’s back.
“What are you doing?” Ray asked the joker-ace.
Quasiman straightened up slowly. He was big and ugly, hunchbacked and half-witted as well. But in the strength department he was up there with heavyweights like Modular Man and the Golden Weenie.
“Guarding the cemetery,” Quasiman said, “from grave-robbers.”
“Well, shit,” Ray said, “we’re not grave-robbers. We’re federal agents.”
He turned to Battle and Puckett. Battle was watching with a guarded expression. Ray found it as difficult as ever to read what was going on in his devious brain. Puckett was also looking on, frozen in mid-motion with a shovelful of dirt. The events of the last few seconds had totally overwhelmed what passed for his mental processes and he was still trying to figure out how to react. He came to a decision and resumed shoveling.
“We have a court order to exhume this body,” Ray explained. He turned to Battle. “Don’t we?”
“Indeed we do,” Battle said. He reached into his jacket pocket, extracted a folded sheaf of papers, waved them at Quasiman, and then put them away again.
Quasiman nodded slowly. “Why do you want the body?”
“It’s not the body,” Battle explained impatiently. “It’s — ah!”
There came the scrape of shovel on wood, and everyone gathered around the grave as Puckett scraped dirt off the top of the casket. He tossed his shovel on the back-dirt pile, then horsed the coffin out of its hole using brute strength. He tipped it over the lip of the hole and pushed it onto the ground. He clambered stiffly out of the grave, somehow looking very much in his element.
“Open it,” Battle commanded.
Puckett didn’t need a crowbar. He hooked one hand under the coffin’s lid and pulled. There was a squeal of protest as nails were yanked from holes they’d been in for two years. Ray screwed up his nose, expecting a hideous odor, but it wasn’t too bad.
There wasn’t much left of Brian Boyd, a.k.a. Blockhead. He hadn’t been a big guy to begin with and his remains had shrunken down to the size of a withered child.
Battle peered closely at the body, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet like he did whenever he was excited. “There,’ he said, bending down and pointing. “The ring.”
Puckett bent stiffly and reached into the casket. There was a brittle cracking sound and he offered Battle the corpse’s desiccated left ring finger, ring still attached.
Battle shook his head. “I don’t want the goddamn finger. Just the ring.”
Puckett stripped the gold wedding ring off the finger and tossed the digit back into the coffin. He gave Battle the ring. Battle took it and put it into his coat pocket, smiling, happy as a goddamn clam.
Ray looked at Quasiman and suppressed a shrug. He still didn’t get it. But Battle was the boss.
The boss checked his watch. “Ah, good,” he said. “I still have time to make my appointment. Ray, I have one last thing for you to do tonight.”
He swept out of the graveyard, Puckett following him. Ray paused and looked at Quasiman, but found nothing to say. He followed Battle and Puckett from the graveyard. He looked back when they’d reached the gate and saw that Quasiman had retrieved the shovel Puckett had discarded. He was standing by the open coffin and empty grave, a bewildered expression on his sad, ugly face.

It took Modular Man hours to deliver the messages to all the joker combat groups hidden in various parts of the New York area. Most of them had been hiding in small apartments for days and — when he could read the jokers’ expressions at all — they seemed happy at last to have a chance to get out of their claustrophobic surroundings and attack something.
All the groups seemed to have television sets, and CNN’s bluish glow illuminated their crowded apartments full of sleeping pallets and weaponry. The rooms were crowded with the mingled scents of Cosmoline and unwashed bodies.
“They’re just discussing you,” said one adolescent. He was part of the last group to be visited, thin to the point of anorexia and pale enough to remind the android — with a private shudder — of the albino Croyd. He dressed all in gothic black and wore shades even at night. He seemed to be this group’s jumper.
Modular Man glanced up at the set and felt something flutter through his macro-atomic heart. The screen was full of a close-up of a blond woman named Cyndi. The television identified her as soap opera actress.
“I know Modular Man,” she said. “I know he’s not doing this from choice.”
“You tell um, bitch,” laughed one gray-skinned joker. He brandished his k-bar suggestively.
“Maybe he’s been jumped,” Cyndi said.
The interviewer’s response was reasonable. “How do you jump a machine?” he asked.
“Are you kidding? How do you jump a human?”
Modular Man had to admire her.
“He’s got to do what his creator tells him,” Cyndi continued. “He has to have been ordered to do this. Or maybe somebody’s messed with his programming. But if he’s fighting the government, I know it’s not from choice.”
The adolescent grinned up at Modular Man. His teeth were bad. “That true?” he asked.
“More or less.”
“Life sucks, huh?”
“That interpretation has occurred to me.” Images of Cyndi floated through his memory.
“And now you’re stuck on the Rox.” The kid laughed. “Man, I’m glad I’m not on that island being a target for napalm an’ cruise missiles an’ shit.”
“Your sympathy is noted.”
The kid laughed again, then jumped as lightning struck nearby and a blast of thunder rattled the windows. “Shit,” he said again.
Modular Man left to return to the Rox.
A strange, dark storm was hovering over Brooklyn, more or less where Zappa had his headquarters at Ebbets Field.
Modular Man didn’t want to know.

The Aborigine realized he was not the only prisoner in the drab cell block as Kafka led him down the narrow passage. At the very end of the hall was a young woman. She slumped against the barred door of her cell. Wyungare caught a glimpse of dark spiked hair and stained leather. He could smell her hysteria, a pungent odor that ate corrosively at his nostrils.
Two doors farther, the joker jammed a key into a lock and twisted. Then he tugged at the door. Wyungare helped him wrestle it open. Kafka stared at him sideways. 
“Thanks,” he said. 
“You’re weird, guy.” He shut the door after the Aborigine and locked it. “Sleep tight, people,” he said to the two prisoners.
Wyungare looked around at his new — temporary, he hoped — home. It looked like a medieval monk’s cell, or something out of a dungeon, which figured, considering what he could deduce about Bloat’s maturity level and range of interests. He put his palm against the wall. Hard, cold stone blocks. Unyielding.
The cell had no furniture. The only amenities were a hummock of loose straw in one corner, a galvanized steel bucket in the corner opposite. Wyungare shook his head. Obviously Bloat wasn’t expecting many guests.
But the environment didn’t matter. It was time to work.
He would make the formal acquaintance of his fellow prisoner later. Then he stopped. He heard the woman weeping softly and his heart went out to her. It didn’t take supernormal powers to pick up her feelings. The dark terrified her. So did the loss of power that came with imprisonment. Wyungare took a deep breath and let his soul range out.
The black cat yowled low in his throat just a short distance away. He had followed Wyungare and Kafka first up, then down to the cell block. Wyungare pushed just a little, made a suggestion.
The cat purred and ambled up to the barred door of the woman’s cell. He flowed between the bars almost as fluidly as quicksilver.
There was silence for a few seconds. Then, “Kitty?” said the woman. Wyungare felt the sense of arms wrapping tightly around the cat, hot tears spotting his warm fur. Wyungare offered thanks to the mirragen’s spirit.
Then he sat cross-legged on the stone, conscious of the fissures of the irregular surface imprinting in his flesh. He took a deep breath, another, began deliberately to control his respiration. Wyungare let the rhythm of his breathing fall into synch with the cycles of his body. One breath, four beats of his heart, then six beats. He slapped the stone with the heels of his hands. If he had no drum, he could make one.
And he descended into the lower world.
Wyungare found himself in something that looked like swampland. Good, that was what he had hoped for.
In the distance, he heard the mournful cries of a harmonica. He walked toward the sounds.
He had to circle the huge complex trunks of cypress. Most of the sun was shut out by the foliage canopy. The water now lay on either side of him, brackish and green with moss.
Finally, as the music grew louder — it was a French ballad, he finally decided — Wyungare rounded a clump of scrub oak and found a young boy, perhaps eight or ten, sitting on a fallen log and playing his juice harp.
The boy stopped when he saw Wyungare.
“You can keep on if you like,” said the Aborigine.
“I don’t mean to bother you, sir,” said the boy shyly. His hair and eyes both were the black of starless nights.
“It’s no bother,” said Wyungare. “Hello, Jack.”
“Do I know you, sir?”
Wyungare nodded. “We’ll take a walk, young man. We need to talk. I have a favor to ask of you.”
Jack looked at him curiously, but got up from the log.

By the time he neared the Brooklyn Bridge, Tom knew what he had to do. Hartmann was curled up on top of the shell, his bloody hand pressed to his chest, moaning. “Hospital… my hand…”
“I can’t,” Tom said. “They’d be on you in no time. The Hunt’s only five blocks behind me. I’ve been doubling back, dodging through alleys and over rooftops, trying to lose them, but they’ve got the scent, I can’t shake them.”
Thunder pealed behind them. The storm went before the Huntsman, it seemed.
“… hurts… “ Hartmann whispered.
“I’m sorry. Hang on a little longer.”
There was no reply. Tom glanced up at his overhead screen. The senator’s eyes had closed. He started to slide down the curve of the shell. Tom caught him with his teke, shoved him back up top. Hartmann whimpered in pain.
The great stone arches of Brooklyn Bridge loomed ahead of him. Tom slowed, hovered, looked around. There wasn’t much to work with, except…
“This is going to make me real fucking popular with the natives,” Tom muttered. But he didn’t see that he had a whole lot of choice. He summoned all his concentration.
A half-dozen cars parked along the bridge approach floated into the air, yanked upward by his teke. One slipped from his mind’s grasp. The windshield shattered as it hit the ground. “Fuck,” Tom said. The sound of the Huntsman’s horn came echoing through the night, and he heard the baying of hounds. There was no time.
He thought of a net.
He held it high in the air, above the street lamps, and began scooping parked cars into it, fast as he could. Three, five, ten, twelve, he grabbed them with his teke, shoveled them up into the net, where they slammed together. Twenty, twenty-five, thirty…
A dozen hounds came howling around a corner, a block away.
Tom fled, dragging his net behind the shell. Metal screeched, glass broke, and sparks shot off concrete as the jumble of cars bounced along in his wake.
The Hunt came howling after him.
He pushed harder. The shell picked up speed. He started gaining on his pursuers. The baying grew more frantic.
At the approach to the bridge, the Turtle stopped, hovered, and began to slam the shattered cars into place.
By the time the hounds reached him, the wall was there: a solid barrier of twisted metal, not as high as the one in his junkyard, but high enough to shut off the roadway.
A yellow cab, coming on too fast and braking too late, fishtailed and sideswiped the barrier. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE,” Tom roared down at him. The cabbie must have seen the hellhounds in his rearview mirror. He smoked his tires backing up, then lit out of there. One of the hounds bounded right over the taxi, staving in the hood as it bounced off.
Tom flew back over his barrier, onto the bridge.
More traffic was coming from Manhattan. “TURN AROUND,” the Turtle told them. “YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HERE.” A big limo saw the wall, slowed, stopped. “MOVE IT,” Tom thundered down. A taxi swerved around in a sudden U-turn. The limo began to back up. It got rear-ended by a Mercedes. “OUT OF HERE!”
If the drivers had any doubts, the sight of the first hound coming over the cars made up their minds.
The wall of wrecks barely slowed them. They were climbing it in the blink of an eye, leaping down the far side, baying up at the shell. The Mercedes reversed, backed, fled. The limo followed. Other traffic was turning back halfway over the span.
More hounds were bounding onto the bridge now. Behind came the Hunt. The Huntsman sounded his horn again, and took the barrier in full gallop. The great black stallion leapt clean over it, with a good five feet to spare. The other riders followed.
“OKAY, YOU CAN JUMP,” Tom said. “BIG FUCKING DEAL.”
He pushed higher, taunting them, way up in the air out of their reach, watching his cameras until the mob came into view.
Tom zoomed in on the faces. Cops, streetwalkers, bums, bikers, old women who’d taken their poodles out for a walk and gotten caught up in the blood lust as the hunt went by. People, that’s all. They had no part in this.
He thought of a portcullis. Made it a gate. Wide, solid, heavy, strong as iron. He pictured it in his mind’s eye. Then he brought it down. The metal barrier jumped with the impact. Cars crunched. A biker tried to ride his Harley over the wrecked cars, hit the invisible wall, and went flying. The mob found they could go no farther. They groped at nothingness, hit it, clawed at it.
“NO WAY PAST,” he told them. Nobody listened. This bunch wasn’t going to give up and go home. Lightning fingered the cables of the bridge like a demon harpist. Close, too close. Thunder swept over the shell. Beyond the wall, the mob was howling louder than the hellhounds.
He had to keep the wall in place, Tom thought wildly. He moved the shell out over the span. “The wall,” he muttered to himself, a frantic mantra. “The wall, wall.” The microphone caught his plea, sent it booming out into the storm. He held the wall firmly in his mind even as he left it behind.
The Hunt came howling after him.
He’d never moved the shell so fast before. He was forty feet above them, skipping along like a twenty-ton Frisbee. The massive stone arches of the bridge loomed overhead. Far below, the East River churned and foamed. The storm was whipping the river into a frenzy. Whitecaps danced a madman’s frenzy, waves crested and broke against the huge stone pylons. Lightning played among the drooping cables and lashed at the waters. The world had gone mad.
“The Wall,” Tom prayed. He clung desperately to the image.
The Huntsman had outdistanced the hounds and the other riders. For a moment it almost seemed as if the great bridge was shaking beneath him. His eyes were fixed on the Turtle’s shell, burning like two green stars. He blew his great horn, and now the bridge did shake. The hellhounds and the other riders followed, hot for blood.
“COME ON, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS,” the Turtle roared down at them. “COME TO POPPA.”
The Huntsman drew up beneath him, lifted his spear, threw.
There was a flash of green light that burned the eyes, and Tom felt his shell shudder, heard the scream of tortured metal. He blinked. Four feet of spear was sticking out of the floor, not a foot in front of his face. Smoke was still rising from the carpet where it had punched through. He could smell fused metal. The spear was golden, ornate, crackling with green fire. Without thinking, Tom reached for it, but it faded and dissolved before his fingers could touch it.
Wind whistled through the hole in the floor. Solid battleship plate, Tom thought numbly. He was too stunned to be afraid. The wall was forgotten. He only prayed the mob wasn’t on the bridge yet.
He thought of a hammer.
Bigger than that.
Bigger than that.
The biggest fucking hammer in the world.
He pictured it, half as wide as the East River, hanging in the air above the bridge. The hammer trembled. It was heavy. It was too fucking heavy for him to support it. He made it heavier still. Down below, the Huntsman raised another spear.
Tom let the hammer fall.
The center span of the Brooklyn Bridge exploded.
Stone, steel, and pavement blew apart like paper. The cables snapped with a screech straight out of hell. A huge fragment of roadway came spinning up past the shell. Tom barely had an instant to savor his glimpse of hounds, horses, and hunters all tumbling toward the river.
Then the shock wave hit, and swept him away.

Once Modular Man returned he reported to Bloat, who he found awake, with a few members of his staff and a bodyguard of fish-knights. Travnicek was nowhere to be seen. Modular Man made his report, then looked up at the vast figure. “May I speak with you, Governor?”
“Is it important?”
“To me.”
“Very well.”
“You know,” the android began, “if you’ve been in my creator’s head, that I’m here involuntarily. Seeing as that’s so, I’d like the same opportunity to surrender as was given your other followers.”
Bloat looked startled, then confused. “That’s Dr. Travnicek’s decision,” he said. “Not mine.”
Travnicek. So Bloat knew Travnicek’s name, presumably having plucked it from his mind. The android wondered if Travnicek would even care.
“As I understand it,” Modular Man continued, “your society on the Rox is based on ideals. Presumably your ideals don’t condone slavery.” The next piece had to be run several times through the android’s macro-atomic mind so that he could phrase it properly without disobeying his creator’s orders. He found himself having to phrase it as a theoretical problem.
“If someone brought a slave onto the Rox,” he said, you could make it a condition of that person’s presence that the slave be freed.”
Even that was misleading: there was no way, short of ripping out circuits, that Bloat could “free” Modular Man from Travnicek. But Bloat could refrain from assigning him to any dangerous tasks.
“This is ridiculous!” Kafka said. “You’re a machine! The governor might as well free a Mixmaster!”
The android turned to him and tried to put quotes in his voice. “’The governor might as well free a roach.’ I am a sentient being, as are you. Either we are equal under Rox law, or we are not.”
“We are a society of ideals,” Bloat said. His high-pitched voice did not point to justice. “We’re fighting for our freedom, for our new country. All we ask is to be left alone.”
“I will leave you alone, if I can.”
“We hope you will join us of your own free will.”
“I am programmed to fight the enemies of society, barring my creator’s intervention. You would seem to be society’s enemy.”
“The enemy of what society? Have you noticed there’s more than one? How do you know George Bush ain’t the enemy of society?”
“I’m very careful in assigning those labels, if it’s left up to me.”
“That’s big of you, Mister Judge Your Honor Sir. We want nothing from the outside, let alone your labels.”
“You want nothing except the money you’ve stolen. The bodies you’ve stolen. The drugs and arms you’ve brought in illegally. The criminals to whom you give shelter, and the kidnap victims you permit them to bring here. And of course you want me to fight for your right to do that.” 
Bloat’s voice was getting more insistent. “We’ve only taken what we’re owed. The outside doesn’t care about jokers! We do! That’s why we came here! We are a principled people.”
“If you wished to act with principle, you could have come out here with your group of idealistic jokers and occupied the place and issued your proclamations —”
“And starved to death.” Kafka’s voice was scornful. “That’s what happened to us — no one gave a damn. We needed those others to make it work.”
“As I understand it, idealists often suffer for their beliefs. It would seem to be part of the job description. And f you had starved here, you might have attracted favorable attention to your cause, sympathy, perhaps aid. But you didn’t want to suffer that way, so you let in the jumpers and the murderers and the drug dealers and the kidnappers and the arms merchants and the fugitives from the law.”
“The signers of the Declaration of Independence were criminals in the eyes of the British government,” Bloat said. “I don’t see any difference.”
“With respect, Governor, I see a number of differences between Thomas Jefferson and Governor Bloat. Not the least being that Jefferson and his allies were fighting to keep a land they already possessed, and hold it free from tyranny, while the other is trying to steal a land owned by others, with money he’s filched from strangers who have nothing to do with him, and in doing so is imposing tyranny on a rather wide variety of people, including myself, and I presume Pulse, and all those other people whose bodies the jumpers have stolen and hold in bondage.”
Jefferson had slaves.”
“He didn’t create that system; he inherited it, and he had the decency to be embarrassed about it. What is more to the point, he didn’t demand that they fight for slavery.”
“Yeah?” There was a sneer on Bloat’s face. “Since you admire Jefferson so much, I tell ya what — I’ll follow his example. Jefferson didn’t free his slaves till after his death, right? I’ll give you the same consideration. Once I’m dead, you can leave.”If that’s the way you want it. The cold thought rolled through the android’s circuitry. He knew better than to say it.
He had used the wrong approach, he knew. He had expected to argue with an idealist, a figure knowledgeable on political and revolutionary theory. He hadn’t quite realized that Bloat was a barely educated adolescent whose political thought derived more from MTV than the Federalist Papers.
He was the pawn of a willful, desperate, and ignorant teenager.
If that’s the way you want it. That was always an option.
“Go away!” Kafka made shooing gestures with his hands. “We’ve got important things to consider! Go help your creator!”
“I am not aware that my creator needs any help.”
“He’s with the Wild Hunt! Go help him kill Hartmann and make yourself useful!”
Calculations snarled through the android’s circuits, ran into brick-wall hardwired imperatives. “That storm?” he said. “You let him go?”
“Hey, it wasn’t my idea.” Bloat laughed. “The guy jumped down from his tower, knocked Roly-poly right off his horse, hopped on, and rode off. He must have been susceptible to Herne’s message.”
Modular Man’s programming lifted him into the air and fired him out of the room like a gunshot. He had an image of Kafka and Bloat gaping in surprise and then the night and fog enveloped him.
He shot straight up to get out of the radar clutter and the fog, then took visual bearings. The dark storm was prowling over the eastern approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge, and Modular Man fired himself straight for it, streamlining his guns back over his shoulders to decrease air resistance.
He didn’t know what to hope for.
The storm seemed to lose intensity even as he raced for it — the lightning ceased to crackle, and the thunder died away. There was the brief radar image of a small flying object — the Turtle? — racing off to the north.
And then Modular Man was above the broken bridge, absorbing the shattered image of the shattered span, watching as emergency vehicles poured up the bridge approaches.
What if his creator was dead but never found? he wondered. He’d have to obey the dead man’s orders forever, defending the Rox till there was nothing left.
In cold panic he spiraled toward the water. A few figures splashed forlornly in a boiling tide that carried them toward Sandy Hook. The android floated down over the cold, choppy water, saw hands raised toward him in pleading. Stag horns jabbed high above the water, and the android sped toward them.
Where is my creator!” he shrieked.
“Ah dinnut ken!” This did not seem to be Received Standard English. Herne gulped water, spat it out. “Find the hoern!”
Both Herne’s horns seemed to be all right. Modular Man ignored the frantic cry and began a swift spiral in search of Travnicek.
He found him close to the Brooklyn shore, swimming strongly across the tide toward land. Modular Man dropped into the water beside him, lifted him with arms across the chest, and brought him to the end of Brooklyn Pier 5.
Travnicek stood on the end of the pier, water pouring off his torn clothing. “Magnificent!” he shouted. There was a gloating tone in Travnicek’s voice; he didn’t seem injured. “I never knew how glorious it was to kill!”
“Sir? Are you hurt?”
“Pah!” He gave a contemptuous wave. “The horse broke my fall.” He tilted his head back and gave a howl. “Magnificent! I snapped that woman’s neck! I felt the shock run through her brain! I felt her terror. I tore at her neck with a piece of broken glass and licked her blood before she died.”
The android was appalled. His mind was refusing to process any of this. “I should return you to the Rox.”
“Lemme tell you something,” Travnicek said. He sounded exalted. “I learned an important lesson when the Krauts machine-gunned my family back at Lidice, okay? As I was lying under a bloody pile composed of my second cousins, I realized something. There are two kinds of people in this world — the shooters and the shootees.”
He gave a laugh. “The shooters are the ones with authority, and they have authority because they control the guns. The shooters kill other people, or they get other shooters to do it for them. And the rest — they’re bullet fodder. Bloat’s a shooter — you don’t see him out on the front lines risking his ass, do you? Even as the Outcast? Zelda’s a shooter — she’s got a whole other body to do the killing for her. And” He pointed at himself with his cilia. “I’m a shooter too. I got the best gun in the world — that’s you, toaster.”
Travnicek leaned closer to the android. His sensory necklace pulsed with emotion. “Are you a shooter or a shootee, toaster? A winner or loser? That’s what you gotta decide.” He pointed commandingly back out at the East River. “Find Herne and bring him here. I’ll want to ride with him again.”
“Yes, sir.”
There were fewer swimmers now, and the huge rack of horns made Herne easy to spot. The big joker was racing frantically toward the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge, but the tide was carrying him away faster than he could swim.
The android grabbed him by his shaggy mane and began to pull him toward shore.
“No!” Herne was almost sobbing. “Find thee the hoern! The hoern!”
“Your horns seem to be intact.”
“The hoern, the hoern! Aa lost me goelden hoern! Aa kinnut sommon th’ Hoont!”
Modular Man lifted the ace from the river, hauled him to where Travnicek waited by the pier. “Where is it?” he asked.
“Oonder thon bridge!” Herne pointed desperately.
Somehow Modular Man knew that, even with a featureless face, Travnicek was leering at him.
“Fetch, doggie!” Travnicek said.
The android arrowed toward the bridge, calculating distances, flow rates, wind velocity. The storm cloud overhead had completely dispersed, and only a few people were still swimming. Modular Man dove into the water and propelled himself toward the bottom.
Radar was useless under the water and the water was completely black. Even infrared vision revealed only crumpled ruin, huge chunks of bridge span lying in opaque clouds of bottom mud.
Finding the horn took him almost twenty minutes, working methodically, by feel alone. He was lucky he didn’t need to breathe.
When he rose from the water with the battered old hunting horn, the water was empty of survivors. So far as he knew, only Herne and Travnicek, of those who had fallen, had survived the end of the Wild Hunt.

Modular Man deposited Travnicek, a naked Dylan Hardesty, and a weed-snagged horn on the floor of the Crystal Castle. The Outcast was waiting there, below the dreaming Bloat, below the spectacle of Liberty’s torch. A bit of dirty East River water dribbled from the bell of the horn onto the tile floor.
The Outcast stared at the scene grimly. “So many gone… One-Eye, Bumbilino… God damn it!” His nostrils flared, the amethyst gleamed in purple fury. “How?”
Modular Man answered before Herne could speak. “Moose Man here did his best. Morning traffic’s going to be hell, that’s for sure.”
“Ye Tuhtle… destroyed the Hoont.” Dylan shuddered. The Outcast made a gesture with his hand; a large blanket appeared around the huge figure. In Dylan’s mind there was residual horror — remorse for what he’d done as Herne, fear from the memory of the bridge. The Manchesterian accent was thicker than usual. The coloring of dialect drifted into Dylan’s usual impeccable cultured British. “Ah dinnut see anything, but alla soodden sommting cum a’smashin’ inna oos and yonder bridge was toomblin’…” He pulled the blanket tightly around his shoulders. He paused and corrected his speech in his head. “Sometimes I hate myself, Governor. I really do.”
“I saw it,” Travnicek said. “A hammer of gravity and air. Excitement. Blood lust. It was.. pleasant.” There were odd images in the man’s head — he was seeing with some other sense than any the Outcast had ever experienced. It made for extremely confusing but very colorful images, like falling into a whirling Mandelbrot set.
“Hartmann?” the Outcast asked, and then plucked the thoughts from Dylan. “Still alive, yet my jokers are dead… Damn it!”
The Outcast pondered. Teddy was getting tired. Staying in the Outcast’s form for the last several hours had drained him. He could feel all the links; to Bloat’s body sleeping above him, to the demons, to all the physical changes he’d made here. They weighed on him, as if the Rox were a shell that he carried tortoise-like on his back. It would be very easy to fall into dreams right now. He could fall like a ghost through the caverns and gawk at the strange creatures there; he could maybe find Kelly and talk to her again, maybe even kiss one more time.
Ted shook his head, bringing himself back to the present. Travnicek had brought those strange eyeless tendrils around toward him. Yes … he was thinking, as if in sympathy. Dylan, with the mournful demeanor of an alcoholic regarding an empty bottle of Mad Dog, had picked up his horn from the floor.
One of the guards had gone to wake Kafka; Ted could hear his adviser rising, his thoughts still confused with the vestiges of dreams.
“The Hunt has failed,” the Outcast said slowly as Kafka scuttled in from his alcove. “I think we can still gain something from this. I really do. We forced an ace and the political leader of the military to run from their own headquarters. We caused panic and fear throughout New York for most of the night.” The Outcast was nodding, more because he could sense the uncertainty in the thoughts around him than because he believed what he was saying.
“Kafka — I want you to prepare a statement. Tell them that this was just a little of what they can expect if the Rox is attacked. Tell them that the Wild Hunt wasn’t destroyed, that it can return each and every night. Say that unless Hartmann and General Zappa and the others are reined in and any plans for attacking the Rox are shelved, we will continue to defend ourselves. We’re willing to talk, to negotiate, to do whatever we can to live peacefully here in our own country, but we won’t tolerate threats. We won’t be responsible for the destruction or the deaths that will occur if President Bush and the government of the United States persist in their current course of action.”
The Outcast waved a hand at Kafka. “Or something like that, anyway. You know how to word these things. Maybe they’ll reopen negotiations.”
“Governor, there isn’t going to be a political solution to this,” Kafka said. “I’m sorry, but, don’t see it happening.”
So tired. Well I do,” Ted said, more harshly than he wanted to, then softened his tone slightly. “I have to, Kafka. I don’t want any more people to die than already have.”
“Nobody dies if you surrender,” Modular Man pointed out quickly. “We just dial that number”
“Shut up, tin-face,” Travnicek snarled. Modular Man’s mouth clicked shut audibly.
“We have a chance,” Ted continued. “We made Hartmann and the Turtle run; we’ve beaten off the two previous attacks.”
“And they beat off the Hunt,” Dylan said. “From their perspective, they’re probably calling it a victory.”
“Then let’s get our own victory,” the Outcast said loudly. “We know where the ammo dumps are located, where they’ve placed the artillery batteries. Let’s take them out. We can use Modular Man, Pulse, some of the jokers who served in the Brigade and have experience. We can do it.”
If they hadn’t been so tired, he might have been able to rouse them. They just looked at him dully. Even their thoughts were dull. Only Kafka was moving, barking orders at the guards. Dylan clutched his horn to his breast and walked out of the hall like a wounded, dripping stag. Modular Man looked at Travnicek. “Do I have to, boss?”
“You heard the governor.” Travnicek chuckled. “Go hit some ammo dumps for your poor father, would you?”
As Modular Man took off, Ted felt the weariness over taking him. He willed the Outcast’s body to dissolve, expecting that he would find himself back in Bloat’s form again.

Wyungare regarded the other boy, the one who lay dozing beneath the tree. He showed little sign of who he eventually would grow into. But he was clearly dreaming.
The Aborigine watched with fascination as the dream generated within the dream. It was almost like watching a werewolf movie, one with decent transformation special effects. The boy’s figure blurred and lengthened and solidified. Now a man’s form stirred on the moss, a man dressed in a cowled medieval robe.
“Outcast,” said Wyungare. “Wake.”
The man opened his eyes, stared in confusion. His eyes narrowed and he struggled to his feet.
“You?” he said. “You’re in a cell.”
“Indeed,” said Wyungare. “And so are you.”
“I don’t understand.” Outcast yawned and stretched his arms.
“You will.”
“I don’t have time to understand,” said Outcast a little petulantly. “I’ve got so many things I have to do.”
“Don’t worry,” said Wyungare. “The time you’re spending here is a series of tiny bits of being that fit very comfortably into your normal time stream. Believe me, this is hardly taking any time at all.”
“Oh,” said Outcast uncertainly. “Okay.. I guess.”
“Let’s walk.” The Aborigine led the way. “Tell me about yourself.”
“There’s really not much to say,” said his companion.
But Wyungare made encouraging noises and what seemed half an eternity later, Outcast was still elaborating out all the things that comprised “really not much to say.”
“Let’s talk about your parents,” said Wyungare. Outcast looked back at him suspiciously, fearfully. “Let’s talk about loneliness.”
After a while, Outcast did.

Dead Nicholas was dead.
Ray had been to the club a couple of times before. They grilled a decent steak and a certain amount of excitement could be found in the gaming rooms in back. Usually Dead Nicholas was crowded. Tonight, though, the pale-skinned waitresses dressed in tattered shrouds that gave tantalizing glimpses of their smooth white flesh were mostly standing around the bar gossiping. There were few customers to serve. Dead Nicholas had always relied on the tourist trade. And now tourists were staying away from Jokertown in droves.
Ray got a table in the lounge. He leaned over its glass top to see who was interned in the coffin that formed its base. It was a woman, no more than a girl, a beautiful and lifelike Sleeping Beauty. The figures were supposed to be waxworks, made by the Bowery Dime Museum, but they looked damned real. Ray found himself staring intently, trying to see if it was breathing, as two waitresses raced to the table. The one with the white streak through the middle of her long black hair beat the ash-blonde. “What can I get you?” she asked.
“A babe named Cameo,” Ray said.
The waitress frowned. “She expecting you?”
Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty. He held it up, showing it to the waitress. “What do you care?”
“Right this way.”
Ray recognized Cameo right away from the photo in her dossier. She was young, maybe twenty, maybe less, with long wavy blond hair and big brown eyes. She was dressed in an outfit from an old Cagney gangster movie. She looked good in it. She also wore an antique cameo on a black ribbon choker around her long, graceful neck. Ray wondered what kind of lingerie she preferred. Something old and lacy and expensive, Ray thought. Something about this girl suggested money. Lots and lots of money.
“Cameo?” Ray said. “Or would you rather I call you Ellen?”
She looked at him and frowned. “How do you know my name?”
“Shouldn’t I? It’s in your dossier.” Ray sat down in the chair opposite her. There wasn’t much else in Cameo’s private back room. The table that they sat at was small and round, well suited for intimate conversation. Atop it were Cameo’s beaded clutch purse, a cordless phone, and a crystal-stemmed goblet that she toyed with as Ray sat opposite her.
“If you’ve read my dossier,” Cameo said, “you must be from Battle.”
“That’s right. My name is Ray.” He flashed his lopsided smile. “You can call me Billy.”
“Well, Mr. Ray, what exactly do you want?”
All business, no banter, Ray thought sourly. “I have something for you.”
For the first time eagerness showed on Cameo’s face. “Did you bring the jacket?”
“Which jacket is that?” Ray asked with a frown.
“The jacket that was my price for going on this expedition of Battle’s. The leather jacket that once belonged to the ace called Black Eagle.”
Ray frowned. “What, you collect clothes from dead aces? Weird hobby.”
Cameo frowned back. On her, it looked pretty. “I thought you read my dossier.”
Ray shrugged. “I did. It said you were a psychosomatic trance channeler.”
Cameo rolled her eyes. “A psychometric trance channeler, Mr. Ray.”
“Oh. Okay. What’s that?”
“I didn’t know that my discussion with Mr. Battle would lead to my secrets becoming common knowledge,” Cameo said frostily.
“Hey, you can trust me to keep my mouth shut. Besides, we’re both on the team. I’ll see you in action tomorrow. It won’t hurt to tell me what you can do tonight.”
Cameo nodded. “All right. I read psychic impressions from objects and then channel the psyche of the dead from the things they once owned.”
“Wow,” Ray said. “Sounds like fun.”
Cameo shrugged.
“Exactly how would that help us take Ellis Island?” 
"Well… this is not something that’s widely known, but if the deceased is an ace —”
Ray snapped his fingers. “Then you can channel his powers!”
“If,” Cameo said, “the powers were mental in nature. I couldn’t channel, say, the Harlem Hammer’s strength, but I could channel Dr. Tachyon’s telepathy.”
“If,” Ray said, “Tachyon was dead and you had a pair of his socks or something.”
Cameo pursed her lips. “Yes. Interesting example.”
Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring they’d taken from the graveyard earlier that night. He put it on the table between them. “That explains this, then.”
“Whose is it?”
“It belonged to a guy named Brian Boyd, an ace also known as Blockhead. He’s dead now.”
Cameo reached out, not quite touching the ring.
“I guess Battle wanted you to have it so you could do your mumbo-jumbo and be ready first thing tomorrow.”
Cameo nodded abstractedly, still looking closely at the ring.
“I guess he has the jacket and he’ll give it to you tomorrow.”
Cameo looked up at him. For the first time there was uncertainty in her liquid eyes. “That when everything starts?” she asked. “Tomorrow morning.”
“Well,” Ray said, leaning close, “if you want we could have some real action tonight. Just the two of us.”
Cameo looked back at him steadily. “Tomorrow will be quite soon enough, Mr. Ray, thank you very much.”

“It’s another cunt,” the bodysnatcher said. “Someone’s cut it with a straight razor. You can see where it’s bleeding.”
The psychologist sighed and put down the Rorschach card. “We’ve looked at fourteen cards now. You’ve seen images of sexual mutilation in every one of them.”
The bodysnatcher tilted back his chair. “I’m a twisted motherfucker, what can I say? Too bad you gave me amnesty.”
“I don’t think there’s any point in continuing with this test,” the psychologist said.
“Don’t give up,” the bodysnatcher told him. “Come on, show me the rest of the inkblots. I promise, I won’t see anything but butterflies and puppy dogs.”
The psychologist opened a drawer and put the cards away. “Why don’t we just talk instead.”
The bodysnatcher yawned, like he could care less. Or maybe the meat was just tired. Pulse was an old fuck, after all. The bus had delivered them to a low cinderblock building behind an electrified fence somewhere in Jersey. Inside, the place was bigger than it looked, with at least four levels hidden under the surface. It had airlocks instead of regular doors, and closed-circuit TV cameras everywhere. The jumpers had been fingerprinted, photographed, run through a physical, then split up for a battery of tests that reminded the bodysnatcher of college entrance exams. After that he was given to this shrink.
“You look to be much older than the other jumpers,” the psychologist said.
“I’m young at heart. And this isn’t my original body.”
“I see,” the psychologist replied. He didn’t let any reaction show on his face. “Where is your real body?”
“Worms are eating it,” the bodysnatcher said. “It was a great body. I kept myself in shape. Not like you. When’s the last time you did a sit-up?”
The shrink ignored that. “What happened to your body?”
“An ace threw oven cleaner in my eyes,” the bodysnatcher told him. “Then some weights fell on me and broke my back. The ace left me there and killed the man I was supposed to be protecting.”
“I see.” He made a steeple of his fingers. “How did that make you feel about aces?”
“I want to kill every last one,” the bodysnatcher said.
The psychologist made a notation.
“I’d like to kill all the nats and jokers too,” the bodysnatcher added. The shrink wrote faster.

“They finally found me,” the bodysnatcher said. “They took me to some hospital. It was too late to save my eyes. Being crippled, that didn’t matter, but I needed my eyes. You can’t jump what you can’t see. All I could do was lay there and wait to die. You know what saved me? My cunt.”

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