Read 03. The Maze in the Mirror Online

Authors: Jack L. Chalker

03. The Maze in the Mirror

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THE MAZE IN THE MIRROR

 

Copyright © 1989 by Jack L. Chalker
ebook ver. 1.0

 

From Williamson to Leinster to Piper . . .
H.
Beam Piper, who perfected it and to whom this book
is affectionately dedicated.
I feel honored that you all,
at some point in my life,
called me friend

 

Some Warnings for the Reader

 

This book is the third in a series featuring my two parallel worlds detectives Sam and Brandy Horowitz in the universes of G.O.D., Inc. Like the first two,
The Labyrinth of Dreams
and
The Shadow Dancers,
both Tor, 1987, it is a complete novel, as all good series novels are. It is not, strictly speaking, a serial continued from book to book, as are many other of my works. However, the time frame on these books is progressive; this book is set considerably after the time of the first two and the characters are the older, more knowledgeable, more experienced characters who have undergone those previous cases and remember them and assume you do, too. Also, one of our villains this time is a leftover deliberately loose end from
The Shadow Dancers,
and the solution to the case of the Maze in the Mirror is, in many ways, also a final solution to the progression and loose ends of the first two books.

As such, while sufficient information is provided for you to read this book as complete and independent of the others, I have made no other concessions and some of the references and background might be a bit vague or confusing for a new reader, as they are not explained but rather taken for granted. For that reason,
The Maze in the Mirror
will be best appreciated by those who have read either or preferably both of the preceding books. This is particularly true since, while there is an element of mystery involved, this series is basically a* set of private detective procedurals-that is, figuring out by legwork, evidence, and deduction just what the dastardly plot is here and how to prevent it is the object, not necessarily unmasking some unknown murderer, even though unknown murderer there might be. I make that comment in light of some reviews of the earlier books which were under the mistaken impression that these were primarily whodunits and who therefore reviewed the whodunit rather than the plot-and the two are not the same thing in a procedural.

Your bookstore should have the first two books if you do not. Any good, well-managed bookstore run by intelligent owners of good taste should have all my previous novels on their shelves. If not, then buy this one so you'll have it and then order the first two from that store or find a better bookstore who keeps the essentials in stock.

To forestall a bunch of letters to me complaining that there are real anachronisms when the earlier novels are compared to this one, I should point out that nowhere have I stated that Sam and Brandy are natives of our own universe, just one that's rather close to ours.

Also, I want to reassure all of you out there that General Ordering and Development has no connection (that I know of) with Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, Inc., a firm of which I was ignorant until recently when I was passed on the highway by a G.O.D., Inc. tractor trailer truck to my enormous shock. I understand that some of my readers who are truckers have been giving drivers for that real company a really uncomfortable time.

It might also be noted that this series is the first set of my books to be banned anywhere in the U.S. A few distributors, primarily in some southern states, have refused to take it because the overtitle appears to be sacrilegious to them or they fear reader reaction for that reason. If something this minor elicits that reaction, one worries about the fate of poor truckers for Guaranteed Overnight Delivery who roll through those states and areas with the big black G.O.D. letters on their sides. . . .

Also, in the course of this book, many readers, particularly Americans and Canadians, will find a lot of more or less familiar names and products, some but not all valiantly spelled, here and there. These are used in good fun and for internal logic and are not intended to cast aspersions on (nor endorse) products or possibly popular musicians or anyone or anything else. I hope the companies involved just consider them free commercials and take them in the spirit in which they're used.

It is impossible to say if this is the last G.O.D., Inc. book at this point. Certainly if I come up with another plot I think good or better than the first three, or if I get to missing these characters, it's a possibility, although not very soon. Perhaps your own reactions and the number of these books sold will be the final answer. That's not to say that I write any book on the basis of potential popularity, but certainly, having done these, whether I give in to any inclination to do more or use the same limited time to create something new and different
will to some extent be influenced by whether or not there are sufficient numbers of you out there who want to read more.

Jack L. Chalker
Uniontown, Maryland
October, 1987

 

1.

A Visitor in the Night

 

The sky was dark and overcast as it usually was in the central Pennsylvania mountains in winter, where the locals would refer to good days as "between snows." There was certainly enough snow on the ground-about two feet had yet to be given the chance to melt, and in January's still dark days it wasn't likely to improve for quite a while.

Most of the nation, particularly the west, thinks of the eastern United States as one vast paved-over region full of contiguous city stretching at least from Boston to Richmond and perhaps all the way down.

None of the country is ancient to human beings, particularly those whose ancestors came from Europe, but in comparative terms the east coast of the U.S. is "old," with a history of settlement ranging from nearly five hundred years in Florida to going on four hundred years in the original Thirteen. It seems inconceivable to both westerners and Europeans, and even many eastern city dwellers, that anything could remain relatively unspoiled after so long.

Yet, in fact, much of even such states as New York and Pennsylvania are actually wilderness, with almost all the people bunched up on opposite
sides of the state, and even some of the smaller ones like New Hampshire and Vermont have comparatively vast areas of unspoiled wilderness. Black bear still roam the Pennsylvania hills in season, and deer threaten to overrun southern' New Jersey; every time the cougar is declared extinct in the northern states one will miraculously make an appearance. They've declared that animal extinct north of Florida at least twenty times in the past fifty years.

The northern half of Pennsylvania is a vast and mostly unspoiled forest land through which Interstate 80 carries traffic from the metropolis port of New York in the east out to Ohio and then all the way to San Francisco, but through Pennsylvania it finds little civilization. People are there, all right, but not many of them, and they are scattered in small towns like Bellfonte and Liverpool with nary a Philadelphia or Pittsburgh to be seen.

Penn State University, in fact, is probably one of the more isolated major universities in the country. Not even I-80 comes too near, and it sits in Happy Valley surrounded by stark mountains and a northern climate, often nearly unreachable in mid-winter, its tens of thousands of students having to content themselves with the small town of State College and a few others nearby who exist only to serve them. The only other industry of note is the State Pen, the counterpoint of Penn State (although many locals claim to have problems differentiating the two), and because of its isolation and the climate around a very difficult one to successfully get out of by other than legal means. You might escape, but after that you'd stick out like a sore thumb and it would be very difficult to get away.

Some areas do have farms; either truck farms for the University and other small towns; mostly, or breeding farms for dairy cattle and horses. On one such farm, even more isolated than most and off any main roads, concealed by forest and mountains, there stands a particular thick grove of trees and in the center of that grove a very strange area with a high fence around it. It's not much to look at, even inside, if you get past the warnings from the electric company, or so it is stated, warning of high voltage dangers. In the middle is
a
cistern-like cavity made of smooth, virgin concrete that has almost a marble-like texture. It goes down perhaps ten feet, with an old and rusty ladder to the bottom, but, once down, it doesn't look like much of anything, either. Just a lot of crud and no outlet and no panels or anything else.

In fact, the only unusual thing about it is that even in the dead of winter the immediate area of the concrete has no snow. It simply won't lay there, as if the entire thing is heated-although if you dared it is cold to the touch-and there is no water at the bottom as if there is some sort of concealed and clever drain. Where the water goes and where the heat comes from is not apparent, and there are few clues.

A driver on the nearby main road is going along listening to the local rock station, on his way in to town for something or other, and suddenly there is a bad burst of static that continues, going in and out, making the listening experience unpleasant. He tries a few other stations and finds the same thing happening, and curses, but within two minutes the effect is gone.
Atmospherics,
he thinks, grumbling, and forgets about it.

The pulses, however, come from the recessed well concealed on the farm, and they have determined that no one is within the grove at this time. This feeds a signal back-somewhere-and, inside that concrete urn, something begins to happen.

It begins with a crackling noise, and the slight smell of ozone, and then a beam of remarkably solid-looking blue-white light shoots up from the center, so sharp and exact that it appears to be almost a pole that can be picked up. It shimmers slightly, then bends once, twice, three times, as if on hinges, until it is now a square. In the immediate area there is the sound of heavy but unseen machinery, and the ground vibrates slightly.

The square appears to fold in upon itself and now there are two squares, then they do it again and there is a cube, suspended just above the concrete floor and slightly angled, the sides shimmering and glassy yet impenetrable. Then one facet shimmers and a figure steps through; the figure of a man ill-dressed for this climate and this weather. He is of medium height, darkly handsome, and he is dressed in white tie and tails, including spats, although the outfit looks not only out of place but rather wrinkled and the worse for wear.

He glances nervously around, then sees the ladder and heads for it, climbing up with quick and confident purpose as if the demons of hell might pop out of the cube at any moment themselves. At the top, he's somewhat stunned to see deep snow and then a high fence, but he does not consider turning around. The spats will have to get wet.

The cold, raw wind hits him in spite of the
protection of the trees, but he is already studying the fence, Finally he decides, takes off his jacket, and throws it up so that it lands over the barbed wire. Then he concentrates and leaps, pulling himself up by his fingers, reaches the top, then falls over into the deep snow on the other side.

The cube emits more crackling noises, and he picks himself up fast. The jacket is impaled on the barbs but it's down enough on the outside that he can reach its bottom, and he pulls on it and it comes free, with an unpleasant tearing sound. He needs far more than the jacket in this country at this time of year, but he does not want to leave evidence that here is where he got off.

It's growing quite dark in the winter afternoon, which suits him in spite of the temperature that might well freeze him and will certainly frostbite him if he doesn't get someplace warm fast. The snow is less an obstacle for its depth and chill than for its virginity; perhaps the darkness will hide his, tracks.

Laboriously, the man makes his way through the depths to the open field beyond and looks around. There is little to see except up on the hill perhaps a quarter mile away. A large Georgian style house along with a barn, silo, and stables, lights on both inside the house and floodlighting the grounds is the only civilization in view. He heads for it as fast as he can, and now he really begins to feel the horrible cold.

Heading straight for the house in the deep snow takes him a good twenty minutes, and only willpower is keeping him going at this point. Breaking into the plowed area in front of the house with its solid packed rock-hard base he trips and falls, and
struggles back to his feet. Only a few yards to the porch, only a few yards to the door . . .

He makes it, leaning against the door, and pounds on it with what little strength he has left. For a few precious moments there is no answer, and then he pounds again, knowing that time for him is running out.

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