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All Good Things
by Davey Jones


   The man ran through the night. He ran as though his life depended on it, feet pounding the soft farmland, arms churning, breath coming in hoarse gasps. A band of rough cloth tied around his forehead did nothing to stem the flow of sweat that rolled into his eyes, down his cheeks.
   There! A noise from behind him. Pursuit; it had to be. He had been running down the center of a dirt road, the better to maintain his footing in the near-sunrise darkness. Now he jumped to the side of the road, seeking the pitiful protection of the ditch that ran alongside the track.
   Lights edged into visibility behind him, coming at the level of his chest, coming up fast behind him. His breath was loud in his ears, his pulse louder still. This had been a bad idea, he realized it now, but he knew he had to make it to the fence or die trying.
   The lights drew closer. There was a rattling grumble, recognizable as power machinery. The man grimaced in spite of himself; despite the darkness, he could imagine what would be on the vehicle they caught him with.
   He rounded a turn, saw a distant light. Sanctuary! He redoubled his efforts, determined to make it to that light before his pursuers could catch him. The light ahead drew closer; the lights behind drew closer much faster. I'm not going to make it—he had time to think, and those behind him reached him.
   There was a loud roar and a welcome, cooling breeze as the ancient Ford truck, piled high with machinery, three old men crammed into the weatherbeaten cab, zoomed by. The man grinned hugely, panting loudly as he slowed his run, and waved wildly to the passers-by. Probably thinking all kinds of nasty stuff about 'crazy durn furriners' who go runnin' afore the sun's up, too! He slowed his run to a fast trot, gathering his breath, checked his watch and decided to come in around back rather than take the shortcut up the driveway. He breathed deeply, in rhythm with his steps, thirty steps. Then he jogged out again.
   Up the hill to the left, visible in the darkness only by the front and back porch lights, the old two-story house that he and his daughter had called home for almost four years now hulked, silent, black on black. He fancied he could see his daughter's bedroom window, but knew it was probably only imagination; he could barely make out the ramshackle structure at all in the gloom.
   All in all, he supposed, it had not been so bad a life here. The people he rented the house from were friendly, and lived a couple of hours away, so there were never any awkward questions, and they seemed perfectly happy to let their boarder do his own repair work. He did not make much money with his job in town, but it was hard work, and kept him busy, and him and his child in food and clothing; and the work helped him forget things that might have driven others mad with rage or grief.
   He reflected ruefully as well that to get out and jog a couple of miles early in the morning, before a long day of back-breaking labor in Brewer's Auto Shop, on a Friday right before the Saturday he had sketched out as Roof Repair Day, could rightfully be thought by some as lunacy. Others would have husbanded their strength, saved it for the tasks to come.
   He had been trained differently. He had been trained by the best, by one of the greatest paramilitary experts the twentieth century had known. Those were habits ingrained into him through the years he had spent with his friend, habits that did not die easily.
   And the time spent with his old friend, the man who had been like a father to him, the man who had ended up as his father-in-law, was another reason he took his exercise in the early morning. The countryside was generally quieter in the hours before dawn, and the bright, star-filled skies calmed his soul, helped him remember the past with joy but without the soul-tearing sorrow that had consumed him for so long. Getting out in the early morning was about the only chance he really had at solitude, and he took that time with the same devotion that he went to work. Other times were filled with labor, or with the time he spent quite happily with his only child; this time was for him alone, to think about things past and things to come. It was a life that demanded strong discipline.
   That very discipline kept him breathing steadily and striding regularly as he circled around the land, following the rude fence that was barely visible in the early morning darkness. One long side, two, and he knew he was coming up to the gully behind the house. This was the part of the morning runs he always enjoyed, the part that made the extra last leg worth it. He waited until he saw the dark smear of the gap, thirty feet deep and forty wide, then gave a rebel yell and leaped. Takeoff went as usual, dirt flying from the edge of the gully, drifting down into blackness; but as he touched down on the other side he stumbled in surprise, tumbling to the grass in an awkward stop. What the hell was that? he thought.
   He crept close to the edge of the ravine, more cautious now that he wasn't amusing himself while jogging. He stopped at the lip, knelt and leaned over. Sure enough, what he'd caught a glimpse of from the corner of his eye was still there. Something was glowing softly down there, glowing red-orange.
   His first thought was that a late-summer brush fire had started. Scattered fragmentary notions of the local students and their spare-time activities flashed through his mind as he stood up, uselessly brushed dry grass from his hands, and jumped into the gorge. There had been no rain for several weeks; the farmers who still had late-summer crops were angry and edgy because of it. Under these conditions, a fire could be disastrous. And out here, as far from the town as he chose to live, it could be worse; the fire might be able to climb the gorge wall and take his house before assistance could arrive.
   The first twigs and branches that scraped his cheeks made him slow his descent even more, a gentle fall turning into a lateral drift as he moved over the glow. He slapped his head and cursed. His daughter had given him a tiny flashlight to carry with him on these early-morning jaunts. He fumbled for it in the gloom, got it going, and flashed the dim light around.
   There was always a lot of brush and detritus piled into the gorge; the almost-constant prairie winds deposited a lot of it, and the small forest on the stateward edge took care of the rest through the long hot summers and long hot autumns. Even allowing for that, he could still make out a reddish, boxlike shape deeper in the tree limbs.
   He stopped, hanging alongside a larger tree branch, and examined his find. It was definitely constructed, some kind of plastic, pyramidal with a light bulb inside. Those damned new-wave tourists! he thought angrily. Dumping crap in my backyard! Part of him wanted to haul the junk out and take it to the sheriff, see if any of the local tourists showed any sign of recognition. Brief thoughts of a royal donnybrook erupting at the police station distracted him for pleasant seconds. He shook his head and decided against such joys; the last thing he needed was to draw attention to himself, and while Sheriff Cardno was friendly, there was no point in tempting fate.
   He settled for pettier but easier revenge. Twisting a larger branch loose from its mooring, he took aim and dropped it squarely on the dimly-glowing lamp. Anticipating a plastic crack and the extinguishing of the light, he was mildly disappointed when the branch bounced off of the thing. Goddamn japanese lamps. He picked up another one, and this one he put some force behind.
   It bounced as well.
   Now he was beginning to get interested instead of irritated. Hell, the kid'd probably love to have something like that in her room. Wonder if I can get replacement bulbs for it around here? He sighed in resignation. She'll probably blow the fuse on this one, too. Well, she needs stuff to practice on. He began picking his way through brambles and leaves until he was right next to the thing.
   He paused to reconsider once he reached it—it might be heavier than it looked. It was sitting canted on one side in the middle of a small crater. For all of him, it looked like someone had dropped a pebble into a plate of flour. He glanced back behind himself and thought he saw blackened branches and leaves leading back up toward the top of the gully. Maybe someone dumped it while it was burning and the sand put it out. He shrugged and reached for it—
   —and drew back, startled, when he heard someone speaking to him. Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger.
   Startled, he whirled, flashing his pitiful little flashlight in a dim arc. "Who's there?" He glanced in the other direction, up in the other direction of the ravine. "Barnes? Is that you, man? If this is another one of your stupid practical jokes, man, I'm gonna feed this thing to you!"
   Silence.
   He looked all around, straining, listening for some sign of life. It was still dark, but the distant, unseen horizon already had the faint lightening one always associated with rapidly-approaching dawn. The breeze rustled the grasses of the ravine's edge some thirty feet up. He strained, realizing suddenly that he could hear none of the ever-present insects or early-morning birdsongs. There was no sound save the wind and his own breathing. It was eerie; he snorted and jumped, startled at his own noise.
   He glanced back at the glowing pyramid. Goddamn remote control radios. "Barnes, I'm gonna take this thing apart and make a necklace for my kid!" he shouted at it, struggling now to worm through the branches and grasp the offending object, indignation overriding apprehension. "Hope it cost you a bundle, you sunnova—" His fingers touched the object again.
   Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger.
   This time he slowed down about ten feet up, breathing hard, glancing around in spite of himself at the otherwise dead-silent darkness. A few dislodged twigs dropped from his t-shirt; he heard each one tick to the ground. He jerked his head around, glaring at everything not in sight. Then he glared at the reddish-glowing object on the ground beneath him. "To hell with a necklace," he growled, settling back to the ground next to the box. "I'm gonna pull all the wires out and strangle him with 'em. Jesus H. Christ, this is stupid—"
   This time his fingers had not yet made contact when he heard a voice again. Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger.
   "Barnes?" he asked, half-angry, half-curious. Normally his overweight fellow worker did not have the kind of patience to set up one of his usual practical jokes with such finesse—or follow it through with such perseverance. "Barnes, c'mon, man, a joke's a joke, but this is getting ridiculous."
   Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger to facilitate contact.
   That stopped him in his tracks. Barnes was a clever mechanic and an avowed practical joker, but he would not have even recognized 'facilitate' as a word. "What the hell's going on here?" He glanced around suspiciously at the darkness. "Who's out there?"
   Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger to facilitate contact.
   "Jesus," he muttered. "The things I put up with. All right, anything for the joke. This'd better be good." He slapped his hand on the glowing side. Then his hair, matted with sweat, tried to stand on end. Something took a grip on his hand, holding it steady in spite of his sudden attempts to withdraw that limb. He jerked strongly at the hold on his palm.
   Then he felt a tingling begin to cover his hand and run up his arm. He swung the little flashlight around, yelled in panic at the sight of what looked like a living silver film swarming up his forearm. Visions of innumerable alien invasion films snapped through his mind's eye, and he kicked backward. He dragged the glowing box with him out of its crater as it held onto his hand. The silver flowed up his arm. Frantically, he scraped at the coating, to no avail; he could not even feel his own blows on his arm.
   He reached out in a way only he knew how to understand and twisted magnetic fields, pushing against the flow, his panic ebbing slightly as he saw the silver deflect and splay out from his arm; it began to look like an exploded shell casing, with his hand at the tip. As he almost forcibly peeled the silver away from his hand, he tried to pull his hand away from the box. The thing held on by some bizarre biomagnetism. Panic mixing rapidly with anger, he applied that same unseen force to the glowing pyramid, and was gratified to see it begin to twist and warp, the glow inside dimming and sharpening unexpectedly, pulsing with what seemed like panic. He could hear static squeal on several high-band radio frequencies as well, and took a grim satisfaction in knowing that he could, if he desired, destroy the invading thing. He felt a tremor go through the ground, then another, stronger one.
   The pyramid, for all that it was unliving, broadcast consternation; it was odd how he knew, but he did know, somehow. He felt the hold on his hand disappear; he toppled over on his back in the brush. Angry now, he reached out again and actively bent the magnetic fields he could sense so strongly around the glowing thing. It shifted and flowed, and a burst of light startled him enough that he eased up on it.
   Cease and desist this unlawful action a disembodied voice said to him again. I am a Recharger, empowered to deputize new members of the Patrol which defends Civilization. I require your assistance. To interfere with a Recharger in the course of a lawful action is to invite the sternest penalties.
   "Pa-Patrol?" the man got out, and snorted, reaction setting in. He eased up on the pyramid, allowing it to snap back to what he assumed was its normal shape, and scrambled back to a sitting squat, facing it. "You're one of those Patrollers?"
   I am a Recharger, empowered to deputize new members of the Patrol which defends Civilization. I—
   "You said that already." He looked it over carefully, shining his little flashlight all over it. "You don't have too many words recorded to say in that thing?" He reached a long arm forth, rapped his knuckles against it.
   Cease. I require your assistance.
   "Got a funny way of showing it." He scratched his head, wiping a cold sheen of drying sweat from his neck. "What are you, some kind of Patroller radio?"
   A Recharger is the source of power and authority for a Patroller. You are aware of the Patrol. This statement was not made as a question.
   "Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess," the man admitted. "Yeah, there're Patrollers all over the place. Had 'em for, oh, I guess a year now. Some places have 'em thicker than fleas on my dog. Right now a bunch of 'em are in trouble for bombing some city out East. Nobody much likes the Patrol right now." He snorted again. "What the hell? What am I doing answering your questions? Why don't you start talking, and start with why you attacked me."
   The Recharger, as the man was already starting to think of it, seemed surprised and unbelieving. That is not possible, it told him. No Patroller may deliberately cause harm to any sentient being. And I did not attack you—I attempted to install the Gauntlet on your arm to facilitate contact.
   "Don't tell me Patrollers can't hurt anyone, tell Boston," the man said. He shook his hand to make certain no traces of Mysterious Alien Silver Paint still stuck to it, then looked the pyramid over again. "And we're communicating just fine without any silly shiny tricks. You a radio, or a computer of some kind?"
   I repeat, it is forbidden for any Patroller to cause harm, or through deliberate inaction to prevent the harm, of any sentient being. Such action you ascribe to Patrollers cannot be actual. You must be mistaken.
   "Don't tell me, tell CNN," the man advised the Recharger. "They're the ones covering it right now." He shifted, picked up a branch and poked at the Recharger. "You haven't answered my question yet," he hinted, trying to sound menacing.
   The Recharger was silent for a moment. How did you resist the Gauntlet? it asked.
   Jamie's half-interested expression became stony. "None of your damn business." In the rush of events he had not thought much about it, but this thing had witnessed him using the abilities he had tried so hard to live without for so long, the abilities that marked him as a hunted man. If it was really connected with the Patrol, it would be able to pass this information on to others of its ilk. "I think I may be as well off just dismantling you now," he decided aloud. "Dead stoplights don't spread secrets."
   The Recharger, as if suddenly remembering that this being did have the power—somehow!—to disrupt the forcefields that made it up, tried a different tactic. It is the duty of all sentient beings to aid the forces of Civilization, it told him, almost plaintively. It seemed honestly puzzled. It is your duty to aid me in fulfilling my mission.
   "Duty," the man said angrily. "Yeah, right. Trust me, pal; helping the forces of law and order right now ranks just about the bottom of my wish-list. No, say your prayers."
   But with such power as you possess, you should be a leader on your world, guiding them to Civilization, aiding the Patrol in their own mission. How can you refuse such a signal honor, such a great responsibility?
   "Easy," the man said. "I just remind myself that there're a whole slew of Patrollers out there doing it for me." He reached for the gravitic fields that surrounded the pyramid, and took hold with invisible fingers.
   And paused.
   He knew, logically, that he had to destroy this creation. It had witnessed him using his powers, abilities that he had struggled to hide for six long years now, abilities that he had tried to keep his young daughter from herself displaying. There was too much danger should anyone find out that he could do what he could do, too much risk that any witnesses might follow a trail back several years to a crime and an accused hero who had fled.
   He knew this, and tried again to tighten his immaterial grip on the thing. And yet, it was not in him to destroy something that sounded so much like a living, thinking being. He could kill, if he had to—he was firmly convinced of that. Someday, two men would die at his hands for what they had done to his friend, to his wife, to his world. But until now he had never taken a life, and had never given much thought to why—subconsciously he knew he simply valued life too much to cheapen it with empty justifications for taking it.
   He knew, if this thing was telling the truth—and he had no reason, really, to doubt it—that it was an almost-living computer of some kind. He had seen the news footage of the Patrollers that had been spotted in the last year or so; he knew his daughter wanted desperately to grow up to become one, an idea he constantly discouraged without notable success. And knowing this, he knew as well that he could not just cold-bloodedly destroy it.
   "Shit," he muttered, and relaxed his hold on the thing. His stomach felt queasy; part of him had known that as long as he remained a fugitive from the law, especially a fugitive with paranormal abilities, he could not really settle in one place and put down roots, however much he wanted to. But this small town had been a good place to stop and rest and rebuild his shattered life, a good place for his daughter to grow up, with enough anonymity that he had gradually come to forget the fear and anger of being the hunted.
   Now those feelings were coming back. As soon as this thing passed word on to others of its kind, no doubt Patrollers would be streaming in to capture the renegade hero, the one who had gone bad. His life of relative peace and quiet was about to come to an end. He pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes, and breathed hard, trying not to think at all.
   The Recharger, either ignoring the stay of execution or attempting to distract its attacker, resumed its conversation.
   It is the duty of all civilized beings to assist the forces which protect and expand Civilization. It seemed honestly puzzled how anyone could believe otherwise. When the man failed to respond with either anger or sarcasm, it switched directions. Will you at least converse with me? I would learn how a being can refuse the call of civilization. You are obviously not antisocial or psychopathic; I would have sensed such on first contact. The man remained silent. The Recharger almost seemed to sigh. I wish to learn more of this world on which I am stranded. You have said that you are aware of the Patrollers of this world. Do they not advance the cause of Civilization?
   "Yeah," the man growled, not looking up. "Like I said, we've got 'em. Way too many of 'em. They're in big trouble right now for destroying some city over to the east of us. They sure have advanced civilization there, eh?"
   That is not possible. The Recharger's assertion was flat and final.
   "Yeah?" The man's anger needed an outlet. "Well, why don't you call some of your other Patrol friends and ask them?" he snarled. "They'll tell you the same thing." The man levered himself up out of his cradle of thorns and began brushing leaves and dirt from his shorts and t-shirt. "The whole lot of your fancy-pants Patrollers aren't worth a hill of beans."
   With such powers as you possess, why do you not assist the Patrol in the furtherance of civilization? Can it be possible that you do not realize the urgency of the situation for which I have charged you with responsibility?
   "Sorry, no, thanks," the man said, and sighed deeply. "Responsibility's not something I care to take on right now. I'm avoiding it as hard as I can. So go ahead and call one of your other pet Patrollers."
   I cannot. I was damaged on entry into the atmosphere of your world. I have been able to access the local planetary database, but as yet I have not succeeded in repairing my communications to send for assistance.
   The man's spirits raised a little; hope sparked. "Reentry problems, huh?" He tilted his head. "Tough break," he said, and almost managed to sound sympathetic. Maybe if I can find somewhere to hide it for a while… He turned, both feet drifting gently from the ground. "If I thought I could trust you to keep your mouth shut—" He considered what he was talking to. "—or whatever, I might just take you into town and give you to Sheriff Cardno and be rid of you. I'd bet he could find you another Patroller or something. But I'm just not interested in being a Patroller, thanks." He sighed. "I guess it's because of that power you noticed I've got that I don't want to get involved."
   Why?
   "Nosy, aren't you? I don't know that it's any of your business." He grimaced, unseen, and sighed heavily. He had four years of hiding saved up; he had a lot to get off his chest. "Look, those powers got me in trouble a long while back, cost the lives of some people who were pretty dear to me, and a lot of people are after me because of that. I'd rather just live quietly by myself."
   And your daughter? You have a child? A daughter?
   The man's blood ran cold. "How—how d'you know that?"
   I read it from your mind during our contact and accessed briefly the planetary database, maintained by the Rechargers of this world. I accessed historical records of anyone possessed of such abilities as you have displayed. You are the individual known as Phaeton, whose real name is Jamie Kinnison, are you not?
   Jamie was too shocked to be angry. For four years he had gone by the name of Jim Dawson, successfully keeping his identity a secret, giving himself and his young daughter some crippled semblance of a normal life, far away from the hatred that had brought on the death of her mother, her grandfather. Now a glowing box from space calmly, spat out a name and information that Jamie had hoped and prayed was buried forever.
   You see? You know what I am speaking of. I require your assistance. It is a life and death matter. I charge you to take up the Gauntlet of the Patrol. Place your hand on the side of the Recharger.
   "No!" Jamie struck at an overhanging branch; it snapped and fell into the crater beside the Recharger. "Dammit, I can't! D'you know what would happen if they found out about me and Becky—"
   It does not matter. This is far more important to your world.
   "How," Jamie snarled, "do you intend to convince me that anything is worth more to me than my daughter's life?" He shook his head. "No. Not ever. You'll have to find someone else to bestow yourself on. And you can't call for help, so that means you're stuck here in the hole. Too bad." Part of him believed it.
   I cannot. Moreover, even if I could, whoever I could deputize would have to be trained in the use of the Gauntlet. My former Patroller had many decades of training and service behind him, and he was not the equal of the task which took his life. There is simply not time to train a new Patroller. I require a new Host. I perceive that your abilities, in concert with the power of the Gauntlet, would make you a force for Civilization on this world potentially equaled by none. The need is immediate. Accept your duty. Place your hand on the Recharger.
   Jamie listened incredulously, then responded, sounding almost desperate. He did not like to think about the part of him that was responding to the Recharger's plea. His paramilitary teacher had given him perhaps too good a sense of responsibility. "Look, you give me your word to keep my secret and I'll see to it that someone finds you before too long. You can start all over with another Patroller, and—" He stopped, startled, as the Recharger's words percolated further. "What do you mean the last thing your Patroller tried was too much for him? What happened to him?"
   He died in battle with the attacking qthono. With his dying breath he placed stasis fields around that enemy of civilization, fields which it has escaped.
   "Yeah. Whatever all those are."
   My Patroller was Proslaus Selpat Rajhar, ranked twenty-fourth on Erawtib, conqueror of the Trakenian Rings, treader of the Ways of Um'r at'Tawil. He was charged with responsibility for the safe arrival of—you would call her a Princess—to the planet Ketpada for an arranged mating.
   Jamie's curiosity warred with his nervousness. Curiosity won, however momentarily. "Tough break, I guess. The princess get away?"
   I do not know. The fields Proslaus placed around her ceased to exist at the same moment as did those around the qthono.
   Jamie snorted. "Dammit, knock it off. I'm not gonna be a Patroller. Quit asking. Just give me your word to stay shut up about you and me, and I'll see that the Sheriff finds you sooner or later, really. It shouldn't be more than a few days or a couple of weeks, and—"
   There is not time, the Recharger started.
   Jamie interrupted. "Make time. Either you give me your word, or I'll get back here tomorrow with one of old man Peterson's cat tracks and fill this whole damned ravine up so high you'll never see daylight again."
   There is not time, the Recharger insisted. The qthono has escaped its bonds. It is for this that I require your assistance. It must be recaptured or destroyed, and the princess must be located and returned to safety.
   "What, this kuhthonuh wants a princess for ransom or something?" Jamie made hollow breathing sounds.
   No. It wishes the princess destroyed. Jamie's sneer faded to a frown. Without the arranged marriage, hopes for a closer alliance between Erawtib and Ketpada would be forestalled for another generation at a minimum. The two share many common interests, and working together, they are a force to be reckoned with, but even in Civilization disagreements can arise, and this marriage was agreed to by both parties of the argument as the best solution. From birth, the Princess has been trained in her duty; there is no other to take her place. It was difficult enough for the other worlds of Civilization to keep the two arguing worlds from taking their disagreement more public until the Princess was of an age to attend her mating. But during our leap through hyperspace three, a starship of the Zendo, emerging from a cloud of second-degree irreality, located us, waylaid our escort, and pursued us. There was speculation even then that it had been an ambush from the beginning. This is in theory not possible, but it is known that the Zendo have access to facets of science that Civilization does not.
   "I thought you said this space pirate was a kuthonuh?" Jamie said. "Hell, I don't know why I'm still here listening to this. If you can't even keep your story straight, how d'you expect to convince anyone to adopt you?"
   The Zendo are beings from a world of different shadows, the Recharger said flatly. The words were all perfectly ordinary, but something in the Recharger's tone still sent a shiver down Jamie's spine. They are as multifold as the stars in the sky. The qthono is not their deadliest tool, but it is far more powerful than anything this world would be able to muster to stop it, and it was only one of many which attacked the ship. This is why you must assist me. That most deadly of our attackers is still alive and free to create chaos.
   "This Patroller of yours," Jamie said quietly. "He was pretty hot stuff?"
   As I understand you, yes. He was ranked twenty-seventh in a star system of seven worlds with over eight hundred Patrollers. He was very 'hot stuff.'
   "Well, if he had all that practice and he wasn't successful in beating off this space thingy, how would you expect me to be?" Jamie demanded. "I only had about four, five years with Confederate before—" He bit off the end of his sentence.
   He was successful, the Recharger corrected him. The field he placed around both the attacking qthono and the princess was intact until—approximately seven of your minutes ago.
   Jamie felt another chill run up his back. "Seven minutes?" he asked. He glanced around in the darkness. "Why seven minutes?" He remembered the tremor that had shaken the earth when he had been actively resisting the Recharger's attempts to forcibly recruit him.
   The fields would hold until I was able to charge another to take up the Gauntlet of the Patrol, or until I could repair myself and call for assistance. If not interfered with, they would have lasted for approximately one half of your years. The battle with the attacking Zendo took place approximately four of your days ago.
   "Four days, huh?" Jamie brightened. "That meteor shower we saw!" Then his surprise vanished. "Uh—sorry. I guess that was you guys, huh?" He stopped again. "Four days—you know, that's just how long the Patrol's been in trouble about Boston. You don't suppose—"
   I know that Patroller Proslaus lost vital control of the flow of the Gauntlet at a critical moment. There was a surge in the force which I could furnish him. It was a small enough disruption, but it was enough.
   "Wow. Tough break."
   Tougher than you think. When you disrupted me after my attempt to gird you for combat, the fields that Proslaus created ceased to be.
   Jamie stood up quickly, looked around sharply in the slightly rose-tinged darkness for something, anything else out of the ordinary. The night was still deathly still. "What do these kuthonows look like?" he whispered, unwilling now to speak loudly.
   There are as many appearances to the Zendo as there are grains of sand on the shores of your oceans. They do not walk fully in this universe, but partly here and partly elsewhere. This is what makes them so dangerous—this and their alliance. The Recharge paused, shifted gears, aware that it had Jamie's attention focused now. Place your hand on the side of the Recharger. I will show you the appearance of the qthono which has escaped its bounds, and indicate potential weaknesses for you to exploit.
   Jamie was silent, casting about for magnetic disturbances of any kind. The morning darkness was even more quiet than it had been when he had stumbled across the Recharger—even the breeze seemed to have died down, ominous silence bearing down on him. He glanced back quickly at the crackling of a leaf; his head twisted around again as he thought he heard something slithering up to him in the ravine.
   Nothing was there.
   Touch your hand to the Recharger. I will—
   "Shut up!" Jamie snarled quietly, and kicked the recharger once to emphasize the order. He listened as hard as he could, convinced that some eldritch alien horror was even now creeping up on him from behind, ready to leap and— "Recharger! Where's this kuh—damned thing at right now? Can you detect it?"
   I can detect it only weakly, but the trace seems strongest in the direction you consider West-Northwest, and—
   From the distance, in the direction of the house, he heard the barking of Bark, his dog. He stopped, cold with fear, listening. The barking became a howling, then an insane canine shrieking as something drove the dog almost insane with fury.
   Jamie! The Recharger communicated emphatically. Touch your hand to the side of the Recharger, and I will—
   Jamie was not there any more. Branches and leaves drifted down in his wake as he darted into the dawn sky, racing his own terrified thoughts back to the house where his only child was alone in the darkness…


To be continued:
Next Issue: A former hero forced to confront an alien terror from beyond the stars!

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