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Authors: Steve Perry

Time Was

BOOK: Time Was
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DEDICATION

F
or Dianne

—
Steve Perry

F
or Eric Robert Dickey and Kylie Ann Connor. Someday you'll be old enough to read this, and then you'll understand why everyone looks nervous when Uncle Gary comes around.

—
Gary A. Braunbeck

CONTENTS

Dedication

Acknowledgments

All This Darkness

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part One: Wheels of Confusion

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Part Two: Wheels of Illumination

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Part Three: Wheels of Fire

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

After All

About the Author

Also by the Steve Perry & Gary A. Braunbeck

Copyright

About the Publisher

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T
he authors would like to acknowledge some of the people who helped us along the way as we wrote this book. First, thanks to Denise Little, for her enthusiasm and some much needed shots in the ego. Next, thanks go to Larry Segriff, for continuously putting Gary in his place. Thanks to Ed Gorman, for being a fine teacher by example. And last but hardly least, thanks to Isaac Asimov, for the legacy he left us, and in the sincere hope that this minor footnote is worthy of his memory.

ALL THIS DARKNESS

“It is one of the greatest tragedies of this age that as soon as Man invented a machine he began to starve.”

—
Oscar Wilde
, T
HE
S
OUL OF
M
AN
U
NDER
S
OCIALISM

1

 

08/08/2013
23:54:00

Time was he knew happiness, hope, and acceptance.

But now . . .

Now, in the grave-silent, ink-black darkness where even the deepest shadows would shine brightly, the child thought:
If only I could scream.

Blackness above, below, all around him.

Or so he imagined.

This darkness had been his home for so long he could no longer tell if his eyes were open or closed. Sometimes he wondered if he still
had
eyes; he had no sensations of blinking, of crying, of fluttering lids
—
he couldn't even reach up to rub them, to find out if they were still there or if Father had blinded him.

If only he could scream . . . but there was just numbness, a consuming nothingness where he knew his mouth should be. He'd long ago forgotten what it felt like to whistle, to click his teeth together, to moisten his lips with the tip of his tongue before letting fly with a good, loud raspberry.

Why did you do this to me, Father?
he thought.
If I did something bad, I'm sorry. Just, please . . .
please
let me out of here. It's so dark.

I'm scared.

I hurt.

Please, someone, come get me.

He remembered the faces of other children he'd seen (though he could never be sure
where
it was he'd seen them), faces filled with joy, mischief, glowing with laughter, and he wondered if any of them had noticed him, if they remembered what he looked like,
if they were now
, right now,
asking their mother or father where that little boy was, if he was coming back.

The memory made him smile (he thought/hoped), because that meant he wasn't blind, after all. The darkness had just lasted a lot longer this time, but maybe that was okay because then he'd appreciate the Light all the more, and maybe, just maybe, if he appreciated it enough, then Father would never put him back here in this awful, dead, silent, dark, and lonely, lonely place.

Sometimes, when he remembered the threat (and Father
had
made it, hadn't he?) and the Bad Feeling came over him, the child would think about his own face. He thought he knew what he would look like, and the face he gave himself was a good one, yes it was; a good, friendly face, the face of someone another child would want to have as their bestest buddy in the whole wide world.

He pictured his face now and felt a little better.

But only a little.

Only a little was often all he had.

He remembered ice cream, and hot dogs with mustard (he didn't think he liked mustard), and big, juicy cheeseburgers. It all looked so good and tasty.

He could not remember the last time he'd eaten anything.

He couldn't even remember what they tasted like.

Or even if he'd ever tasted anything.

Why wasn't he hungry? He should have been starving
—
but then he remembered seeing pictures of other children in faraway countries, their bellies bloated from starvation, and some voice telling him that these deprived children reached a point where their hunger was so great they were no longer aware of how hungry they were.

Was that why he didn't feel hungry? Below him, somewhere in the darkness, was his stomach swollen?

He slowly became aware of occasional flickers of dim light
piercing the darkness, flowing inward, and for a moment he thought Father had come back for him, smiling forgiveness and understanding, and Father was going to turn on the lights and say, “All right, then, you've learned your lesson. Now come on out. There are a bunch of your friends waiting outside, see? Run along, have fun. But behave yourself. You know what happens when you misbehave, don't you?”

The child waited, so excited and happy he could barely contain himself.

If he could have felt his hands, he would have clapped them together with glee.

If he could have found his legs, he would have bent his knees and bounced on his toes with anticipation.

If he could have laughed, that would have made everything all right. Forever.

Never again this darkness.

He tried to laugh, to force the sound out from the back of his throat and make everything All Right.

He thought about strands of cotton candy swirling onto paper cones.

He thought about playing catch with his friends in open summer fields when night was kept away by the buzzing lights surrounding the baseball diamond.

He thought about the music of a calliope and wondered why he couldn't remember ever hearing it.

Above him the blackness snowed a blizzard of images from his memory as the lens of night burned, blinding him once again with white-hot darkness in his eyes. Then:

Silence.

The crackle of fear.

Loneliness.

Abandonment.

No echo of laughter, for there had been none.

The child remained still, almost lifeless, and knew that he'd made a mistake about that light, those images and memories. It was part of his Forever-punishment. Father would show him all the things he was missing, all the joy and happiness and fun that would never include him, and it was mean and hurt so much and made him want to cry or shout or raise his fists and strike out or maybe smash through one of the windows in this room if it had windows, if it was a room, if he could move, if . . . if . . .

. . . if only he could scream.

But he knew he couldn't.

He also knew what Father was planning to do to him.

Soon.

Very soon.

Please don't,
he silently called out to the night.

. . . and as much as he was capable, the child began to whimper, wishing for the release of tears. . . .

2

 

There was something in the air, something more than the humidity of another seventy-one-degree night; not quite tension, perhaps, but a sense of something unnameable impending. In the city below, it beckoned solitary figures to their windows to watch the murky light of the streets, their gazes following it upward to stare transfixed at the massive, brightly lit compound atop the somber hill, motionless as some ancient sleeping animal on the edge of civilization. There was a great insect humming in the air, singing in ceaseless, bumbling tones, rising a bit, falling a bit, but keeping the same pitch.

The breeze soughed and leaves fell silently from trees, tumbling with dry whispers, the rattling sound of a paper cup caught in the wind.

Crickets chirruped.

Frogs croaked.

Dogs howled mournfully in the distance.

The moth was unaware of any of it, save for the light.

It fluttered in ever-smaller circles toward the light, only the light, allowing nothing else to draw its attention away from a destiny its race was genetically predisposed to fulfill.

It felt the force of the light and, beneath it, something thrumming.

So close now, circling, so near to the light—

—the tip of its left wing touched the electrified chain-link fence and in a millisecond its fate was realized in a flashing
crackle-buzz
burst of two hundred and ten thousand volts that reduced the moth to ashes before its remains hit the ground. The moment of its fiery death was captured by the lens of a video camera positioned atop the nearest post; the image simultaneously appeared on one of the numerous screens in the security kiosk five yards behind the fence.

“Hot damn—zapped another one!” In his enthusiasm Ed Ransom accidentally spilled some of his coffee on his uniform, staining the
PRESTON TECHNICAL SYSTEMS, INC.
logo sewn to his shirt.

His partner, Daniel Gorman, shook his head and sighed. “You've got a real nasty streak in you, you know that? Pay attention to your monitors, all right?”

Another flicker on one of the screens, and Ransom turned just in time to see another moth bite the big one. “You suppose moths just get despondent and decide to, y'know, end it all? Think there's such a thing as moth depression?”

BOOK: Time Was
9.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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