In a top-secret government installation near the small town of Two Rivers, Michigan, scientists are investigating a mysterious object discovered several years earlier. Late one evening, the local residents observe strange lights coming from the laboratory. The next morning, they awake to find that their town was literally cut off from the rest of the world...and thrust into a new one!
Soon the town is discovered by the bewildered leaders of this new worldat which point, the people of Two Rivers realize that they've arrived in a rigid theocracy. The authorities, known as the Bureau de la Covenance Religieuse, have ordered Linneth Stone, a young ethnologist, to analyze the arrivals and report her findings to the Lieutenant in charge.
What Linneth finds will challenge the philosophical basis of her society and lead inexorably to a struggle for power centering on the mysterious object that Two Rivers' government scientists were studying when the town slipped between worlds.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Dex Graham woke with the sun in his eyes and the weave of Evelyn Woodward’s bedroom carpet printed on the side of his face. He was cold and his body was stiff and knotted with aches.
He sat up, wondering what had caused him to spend the night on the floor. He hadn’t slept on a floor since college. The morning after some nightmarish frat party blowout, drunk on the floor of a dorm room and wondering what happened to the strawberry blond grad student who had offered him a ride in her Mustang. Vanished in the haze. Like so much else.
A breath of cool air made him shiver. The bay window was wide open. Had he done that? The curtains tossed fitfully and the sky was as blue as china glaze. It was a quiet morning; there was no sound louder than the honking of Canada geese in the shallow water under the docks.
He stood up, a slow operation, and looked at Evelyn. She was awkwardly asleep under a tangle of cotton sheets. One arm was flung out and Roadblock lay stretched at her feet.
Had he been drunk? Was that possible? He felt the way he remembered feeling after a drunk—the same sensation of bad news hovering just out of reach, the night’s ill omens about to unreel in his head.
And he turned to the window and thought: Ah, God, yes—the defense plant.
He remembered the beams of light stabbing the sky, the way the bedroom had begun to pinwheel around him.
Beyond the window, Lake Merced was calm. The docks shimmered under a gloss of hazy sunlight. The masts of plea sure boats bobbed randomly, listlessly. And due east—beyond the pines that crowded the far margin of the lake—a plume of smoke rose from the old Ojibway reservation.
He stared for a time, trying to sort out the implications. The memory of Chernobyl came again. Obviously, there had been an accident at the Two Rivers plant. He had no way of knowing what kind of accident. What he had seen had not looked like a nuclear explosion but might have been something just as catastrophic, a meltdown, say. He watched the smoke make a lazy spindle in the cool air. The breeze was brisk and from the west; if there was fallout it wouldn’t travel into town—at least not today.
But what happened last night had been more than an explosion. Something had rendered him unconscious for most of six or seven hours. And he wasn’t the only one. Look at Beacon Road, empty except for a scatter of starlings. The docks and boat ramps were naked in the sunlight. No boaters or dawn fishermen had taken to Lake Merced.
He turned to the bed, suddenly frightened. “Evelyn? Ev, are you awake?”
To his enormous relief, she stirred and sighed. Her eyes opened and she winced at the light.
“Dex,” she said. “Oh-um.” She yawned. “Pull the drapes.”
“Time to get up, Evie.”
“Um?” She raised herself on an elbow and squinted at the alarm clock. “Oh my God! Breakfast!” She stood up, a little unsteady on her feet, and pulled on a house coat. “I know I set that alarm! People must be starving!”
The alarm was an ancient windup model. Maybe she had set it, Dex thought. Maybe it went off smack at seven, and maybe it rang until it ran down.
He thought: We might already be dying of radiation poisoning. How would we know? Do we start to vomit? But he felt all right. He felt like he’d slept on the floor, not like he’d been poisoned.
Evelyn hurried into the en suite bathroom and came back looking puzzled. “The light’s out in there.”
He tried the wall switch. The bedroom light didn’t work, either.
“House fuse,” she pondered, “or it might be a power failure … Dex, why do you look so funny?” Her frown deepened. “You were at the window last night, weren’t you? I remember now. You let Roadblock in....”
“And there was lightning. An electric storm? Maybe that’s why the power is out. Lightning could have hit the transformer over by City Hall. Last time that happened we were in the dark for six hours.”
By way of an answer he took her hand and led her to the window. She shaded her eyes and looked across the lake. “That smoke is the defense plant,” he said. “Something must have happened there last night. It wasn’t lightning, Ev. Some kind of explosion, I think.”
“Is that why there’s no electricity?” Now her voice took on a timorous note and he felt her grip tighten on his hand.
He said, “I don’t know. Maybe. The smoke is blowing away from us, anyway. I think that’s good.”
“I don’t hear any sirens. If there’s a fire, shouldn’t there be sirens?”
“Fire company may be there already.”
“I didn’t hear any sirens during the night. The fire hall’s just down on Armory. It always wakes me up when they run the sirens at night. Did you hear anything?”
He admitted he hadn’t.
“Dex, it’s way too quiet. It’s a little scary.”
He said, “Let’s do something about breakfast. Maybe we can run that little battery radio in the kitchen, find out what’s going on.”
It seemed as if she weighed the suggestion and found it weak but adequate. “Everybody needs to eat, I guess. All right. Let me finish dressing.”
It was the off-season, of course, and with Mrs. Friedel gone, Howard Poole was the sole remaining guest—and Howard hadn’t come down to breakfast.
The stove was electric. Evelyn rummaged in the warming refrigerator. “I think we’re reduced to cereal,” she said. “Until the milk spoils, anyway.”
Dex opened the utility cupboard and found Evelyn’s Pana-sonic radio. The batteries weren’t fresh, but they might still hold a charge. He put the radio on the kitchen table, pulled its antenna to full length, and switched it on.
There was a crackle of static where WQBX used to be. So the batteries were good, Dex thought, but there was no broadcast coming out of Coby, some fifty miles west, where the relay tower was. The nearest actual radio station was in Port Auburn, and neither Dex nor Evelyn cared for its round-the-clock country-and-western music. But it would do, he thought, and he turned the dial clockwise.
Evelyn said, “There must be something wrong with it.”
Maybe. It seemed unlikely to Dex, but what other explanation made sense? Ten years ago he might have guessed there’d been some kind of nuclear war, the doomsday scenario everybody used to dread, that it had wiped out everything beyond the horizon. But that possibility was slim. Even if some Russian had pushed some antiquated red button, it wouldn’t have destroyed the entire civilized world. Surely it wouldn’t have wiped out Port Auburn or even closed down the radio station there.
An explosion at the Two Rivers plant and a radio with a dead transistor. He wanted to make a logical connection between the two, but could not.
He was still turning the dial when Howard Poole came into the kitchen. Howard was wearing a white T-shirt, Saturday jeans with a rip starting at the left knee, and an expression of sleepy bewilderment. “Must have missed breakfast,” he said.
“Nope. Cold cereal,” Evelyn said briskly, “and we haven’t really started yet. The power’s off, you may have noticed.”
“Trouble at the defense plant,” Dex put in.
Howard’s attention perked up instantly. “What kind of trouble?”
“Some kind of explosion during the night, from what I could see upstairs. There’s smoke coming off it now. The town’s pretty much still asleep. And I can’t find anything on the radio.”
Howard sat down at the table. He seemed to have trouble absorbing the information. “Jesus,” he said. “Fire at the research facility?”
“I believe so.”
Now Dex caught something on the radio. It was a voice, a masculine rumble distorted by static, too faint to decipher. He turned up the volume but the intelligibility didn’t improve.
“Put the radio on top of the refrigerator,” Evelyn said. “It always works better up there.”
He did so. The reception was marginally better, but the station faded in and out. Nevertheless, the three of them strained to hear what they could.
And for a time, the broadcast was quite clear.
Moments later it faded altogether. Dex took the radio down and switched it off.
Evelyn said, “Did anyone understand any of that?”
“It sounded like a newscast,” Howard said cautiously.
“Or a radio play,” Evelyn said. “That’s what I thought of.”
Dex shook his head. “There hasn’t been a radio play on the air since 1950. Howard’s right. It was a news broadcast.”
“But I thought—” Evelyn gave a small, puzzled laugh. “I thought the announcer said something about ‘the Spaniards.’ A war with the Spaniards.”
“He did,” Dex said.
For a few moments, the announcer’s bored voice had risen from the rattle of noise and distance into rough intelligibility. Issued was the first word Dex had understood.
… issued reports of great successes along the Jalisco front in the war with the Spaniards. Casualties were light and the cities of Colima and Manzanillo are under Allied control. In the Bahia, amphibian landings—
Then the swell of electronic noise buried the voice.
“Pardon me,” Howard said, “but what the hell kind of accent was that? Guy sounds like a Norwegian funeral director on Quaaludes. And excuse me, but Spaniards? It’s like the news from 1898. It has to be a joke. Or, Evelyn’s right, some kind of radio drama.”
“Like last Halloween,” Evelyn put in, “when they played a tape of the old Orson Welles War of the Worlds.”
“It’s not Halloween,” Dex said.
She gave him an angry glare. “So what are you saying, that it’s legitimate? We’re suddenly at war with Spain?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what the hell it’s about, Evie. But let’s not make up an explanation when we don’t have one.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” She raised her voice, and it might have become an argument—not a real argument, Dex thought, but one of those peevish debates with more of fear than hostility in it—but she was interrupted by the keening of the Two Rivers Volunteer Fire Department, both trucks rolling out of the Armory Street fire hall and speeding past on Beacon Road.
“Well, thank God,” she said. “Somebody’s doing something at last.”
“Wait a minute,” Howard said, and there was an expression of sick foreboding on his face.
“It’s the fire department,” Evelyn told him. “They must be headed for the Indian reserve.”
“God, no,” Howard said. And Dex watched in perplexity as the younger man stood and ran for the door.
Dick Haldane struggled out of a confused sleep at eight A.M., and from the front window of his house, with the view overlooking the brickworks and the west end of Lake Merced, he saw smoke rising from the old Ojibway reserve.
Haldane had the misfortune of being the acting chief of the Two Rivers Volunteer Fire Department. The chief and most of the Fire Board trustees were in Detroit until Monday for a conference on ISO grading policy. And it looked as if an emergency had fallen into his lap in the meantime: the electricity didn’t work and neither did the phones. Perhaps worse, there was no water pressure in the bathroom—the toilet gave a sad last gasp when he flushed it. Two Rivers took its water pressure from a reservoir in the highlands north of the Bayard County line, so this might be a local problem… but it might not, and the idea of a major fire without the means to fight it was one of Haldane’s personal bad dreams. Lacking alternatives, he hopped into his aging Pontiac LeMans and drove like hell to the Beacon Road fire hall.
The Two Rivers Physical Research Laboratory—obvious source of the smoke—was supposed to have its own fire control team, and certainly no one had told Haldane the facility was inside his response area. Quite the opposite. The Department of Defense had had a long talk with the Municipal Fire Ser vice. They didn’t want volunteer brigades on the property unless they were specifically called for, and according to the DOD’s Man in a Suit, that was about as likely as a 911 call from God Almighty.
Still that smoke kept on curling into a lazy sky.
Haldane kept the night shift on duty and waited for the morning crew to arrive. A couple of Honda generators in the basement provided AC for the dispatcher’s radio, but there was nobody talking back. He made a couple of attempts to reach City Hall and the mayor at home, but it was no go. This whole mess was squarely on his back.
There had been a fire in the National Forest land north of town in 1962, when Haldane was twenty years old, and he had been among the men cutting the firebreak. He had witnessed many fires since, but none as terrifying. He imagined the Ojibway reserve as it had been before the feds moved in: weedy mead-owland and tall wild pine, a few shacks where the traditionals still persisted in their old ways. Those shacks had been razed and a perimeter drawn on the county maps: DOD, Enter at Your Own Risk, Here There Be Tygers. But a fire, as Haldane told his troops, observes no limits. A fire goes where it feels like.
This fire didn’t look all that serious, at least not yet, not from here, but still—he didn’t want anybody saying a forest burned down because Dick Haldane was waiting on a telephone call.
He kept the engine company at home but dispatched a ladder company to survey the scene. He followed behind in the chief’s car, a red station wagon with a roof light.
The siren cut the Saturday quiet like a hot, sharp knife. Not that there was much traffic to get in the way. Two Rivers was slow to wake this peculiar morning. He saw a few people on their porches out to stare at the ladder truck, a few kids in their PJs. No doubt they were wondering whether the TV would begin to work pretty soon—or the telephones. Haldane was troubled by the same question. There was no sign of an emergency except that smoke from the federal project, but how could a fire out there, even a bad fire, shut down so much of Two Rivers? Some kind of power surge, he supposed, or maybe a dead short across those kilovolt lines that had gone in last year. But he had never seen anything like it in his career, that was for sure.
They were quickly out of the crowded part of town, three miles down the highway and then east along the wide dirt road. All the federal money pouring in, couldn’t they have paved the access? Haldane’s kidneys protested this rattling. The woods were dense here, and although he saw the plume of smoke now and again, there was no clear line of sight to the plant itself until the road crossed a ridgeline overlooking the site.
He topped the rise and stood on the brake too hard. Even so, he only just managed to avoid ramming the rear end of the ladder unit. Who was driving? Tom Stubbs, as he recalled. Stubbs, too, was probably transfixed by what he was suddenly able to see.
The Two Rivers Physical Research Laboratory was a nucleus of low concrete bunkers in an asphalt-paved flatland where the old social hall used to be. At the extreme north of this paved space stood a tall administration building; at the south, a residence that looked like a stucco apartment complex misplaced from some L.A. suburb.
Two of the bunkerlike buildings had been damaged in some kind of explosion. The walls were blackened and the roofs were in a state of partial collapse. From the most central and badly damaged structure, that pall of oily smoke curled into the sky. No open flame was visible.
Excerpted from Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson.
Copyright © 1994 by Robert Charles Wilson.
Published in September 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Table of Contents
Mysterium: Part One,
Mysterium Tremendae: Part Two,
Axis Mundi: Part Three,