Overview

Wen the curiously exotic millionairess Klai Ford started telling him about ghosts in a uranium mine, Sawyer knew he’d better be ready for anything in his investigations.

But he didn’t count on being drawn into a passage between dimensions and tossed adrift in a world of islands floating in the sky, where strange brutelike creatures were attacking the cities in a vast struggle for power.

Lost in this new world, Sawyer realized that the key to ...

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Well of the Worlds

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Overview

Wen the curiously exotic millionairess Klai Ford started telling him about ghosts in a uranium mine, Sawyer knew he’d better be ready for anything in his investigations.

But he didn’t count on being drawn into a passage between dimensions and tossed adrift in a world of islands floating in the sky, where strange brutelike creatures were attacking the cities in a vast struggle for power.

Lost in this new world, Sawyer realized that the key to everything lay in the mysterious Well of the Worlds - and that the future of the universe lay in its secret.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440566974
  • Publisher: F+W Media
  • Publication date: 4/12/2013
  • Series: Prologue Books
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,309,827
  • File size: 619 KB

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I

OUTSIDE the hotel window, Clifford Sawyer could see the lights of Fortuna burning in the Pole's noonday darkness along all the plank paths of the little mining camp, glowing blue in the hospital windows, shining yellow in bunk houses and offices. He couldn't see the mine, of course, from here, but he could feel it. That deep, steady, almost sub-sensory whump--whump--whump had never stopped, day or night, for seventeen years now, since the mine was first opened in 1953. A great many people wanted uranium ore. The government needed its share, too, and the pumps never stopped, down under the frozen cap of the world.

Reflected in the glass, he saw the girl behind him stir impatiently. He turned his gaze back toward her, thinking that he had never seen eyes quite the shape and color of Klai Ford's. There was a touch of exoticism about her which he had been trying in vain to place, remembering what he had read yesterday in the files of the Royal Atomic Energy Commission, back in Toronto, about the curious background of this girl who had inherited half a uranium mine a few months ago.

She had smooth, caramel-colored hair. Her brow was bland and her eyes round, confiding and a singularly deep blue. Sawyer liked the way her front teeth stuck out ever so slightly, in an appealing sort of way that made him think of the ill-fated Lise Bolkonskaya in War and Peace, whose pretty little upper lip was too short for her teeth. The planes of Klai Ford's cheeks and the way the round eyes were set fascinated him. He had never seen just those structural lines before in any face on earth, and his experience had been wide.

Sawyer smiled at her. He had very white teeth ina very brown face, and his hair and eyes were a few shades lighter than his skin. About him was that relaxed air of alertness a man acquires who has reached a satisfactory compromise with life, and knows there will always be more compromises to make, as long as life lasts.

"I'll do my best," he told her, trying to place the curious little accent that had sounded in the girl's voice. "I don't even carry a gun, though. Our outfit usually works more with adding machines than with revolvers. Maybe you'd better tell me a little more. The Commissioner wouldn't have sent me up here if he hadn't figured I could solve your problem, in my own plodding way--which may be the best way to tackle--you said ghosts?"

"Yes, ghosts," the girl said firmly, and her odd little accent was as maddening as a tune you can't quite remember. "They're ruining our output. The miners won't even work some of the levels any more. Our refineries down south report the percentage of uranium in the pitchblende is dropping like that."

She snapped her fingers and looked at him anxiously. "The mine is haunted. I'm not crazy, Mr. Sawyer, but I'm perfectly sure my partner would like you to think I am. That man's trying to close the mine. I think--" She clasped her hands tight and looked appealingly at Sawyer. "I know it sounds mad," she said, "but somebody's trying to kill me."

"Can you prove it?" Sawyer asked mildly.

"I can."

"Good. As for closing the mine, I don't think the Commissioner would allow it, so you needn't worry about--"

"He won't have any choice, if the uranium ore keeps melting away," the girl interrupted. "After all, the government only manages die mines by courtesy these days. And Alper--" She paused, drew a long breath and met Sawyer's quiet gaze squarely.

"I'm afraid of him," she said. "He's a strange old man--half crazy, I think. He's up to something very odd. He's found something down in the mine. I should say he's found someone--" She broke off, laughing helplessly. "It doesn't make sense. But film doesn't lie, does it? What I've got on film, photographed in the mine, would be evidence, wouldn't it? That's why I sent for you, Mr. Sawyer. I want to put a stop to this before Alper and I go stark raving crazy together. There's a woman down in Level Eight--or the shadow of a woman. Oh, I know how it sounds! But I can show you."

"The ghost?" Sawyer inquired. He was watching her alertly, keeping his mind open or trying to. This wasn't the time to believe or disbelieve anything.

"No. They look like--" She hesitated, and then, oddly, said, "Wheat. They look like wheat."

"Wheat," Sawyer echoed thoughtfully. "I see." He paused. Then: "About this woman, though--you mean he meets one of the Fortuna women down in the mine?"

"Oh no. I know all the Fortuna women. Besides, this isn't a real woman. You'll see what I mean in a minute. Alper's forbidden me to set foot in Level Eight, and the miners won't work there either; but he goes down and talks to this--this shadow of a woman, and when he comes back he--he frightens me. I'm afraid to go out alone any more. I take two men with me whenever I check the cameras in Level Eight. It seems idiotic to be so afraid of an old man like Alper, when he even has to walk with a cane, but--"

"No," Sawyer said carefully. "You're quite right about William Alper. He could be dangerous. We have a pretty complete file on him. In the old days he'd never have been allowed near this mine, you know. Owner or not. Luckily there are enough uranium sources now to let the owners have their whims, up to a point. But Alper's still on our list of potentially dangerous people. Partly because he's a very wealthy man, partly because he's an expert technician, and partly, you know, because of that peculiar obsession of his about--rejuvenescence."

"I know." The girl nodded. "He's a strange man. I don't think he's ever failed at anything in his whole life. He's got an absolute conviction that he's the only man on earth who's always perfectly right about everything. He's determined the mine must close, and it drives him wild when I say no. Power's another obsession with him, Mr. Sawyer. He's imposed his will on so many people he must feel as basic as the law of gravity by now."

"He's getting old," Sawyer said. "He's getting panicky. Most people learn to compromise with age, but I doubt if Alper ever will."

"He isn't really as old as all that," Klai Ford said. "It's just that he's driven himself so hard all his life, as hard as he tries to drive others. Now he's beginning to pay for it and it makes him furious. I think he'd do anything in the world to get his youth back. He--he seems to think there may be a chance of it, Mr. Sawyer. That woman--that shadow--he meets in the mine seems to be playing on his obsession. She could talk him into doing anything at all. And she seems to want to get rid of me."

Sawyer regarded her with a steady gaze. "This woman in the mine," he said, "leads me right into a personal question I've got to ask you, Miss Ford. A strange woman appearing from nowhere, right down there in the mine. Is that what you say is happening?"

All Klai Ford said was, "Oh, dear!" in a voice of misery. "I've been trying to place your accent," Sawyer went on with calm relentlessness. "Would you mind telling me, Miss Ford, what country you come from?"

She jumped up abruptly, leaving the little nest of furs which was her thrown-back coat and hood. She paced up and down the room twice, then whirled.

"You know perfectly well!" she said accusingly. "Don't make it harder!"

Sawyer smiled and shook his head.

"I know, but I never really believed it," he said. "Naturally the Commission ordered a full investigation when you--ah--turned up here, but--"

"I don't know who I am!" the girl said angrily. "I don't know where I came from. Can I help it if I have a funny accent? I don't do it on purpose. How would you like to wake up with amnesia some morning and find yourself down in a uranium mine you'd never even heard of before, with no idea how you got there or who you were?" She hugged herself with both arms and shivered. "I hate it," she said. "But what can I do about it?"

"If you hadn't picked out a uranium mine to appear in--" Sawyer began.

"I didn't! It picked me!"

"--we wouldn't feel so baffled," Sawyer went on imperturbably. "I wish we hadn't tried so hard to find some explanation about you. Then at least we could say, 'Maybe there's some answer.' But we still know nothing whatever. I was wondering if any sort of answer has ever occurred to you."

She shook her head. "All I remember is waking up on the wet floor in the mine. I knew my name. Just one name--Klai. Old Sam Ford found me and took care of me, and finally adopted me when nobody could figure out where I came from." Her voice softened. "Sam was so good, Mr. Sawyer. And so lonely. It was he who made the strike up here, you know, back in '53. Alper financed it, but he almost never came to Fortuna, until after Sam died."

"Surely, Miss Ford," Sawyer suggested, "you've connected your own appearance in the mine with the appearance of this strange new woman? From the same place as yourself, do you think? Another woman, like you, who--"

"Oh, not a bit like me!" the girl said instantly. "She's one of the Isier, and they are gods!"

Then, as Sawyer stared at her, she clapped both hands over her mouth, gasped, and demanded, "Why did I say that? How did I know? Just for a second, I--I seemed to remember. That word I used--Isier. Does it mean anything? Is it English?"

"I never heard it. Try to remember."

"I can't." Klai shook her head wildly. "It's gone. I learned English after I came here, you know. I learned it in my sleep, mostly, from those hypnosis-tapes they have. But surely the word couldn't have--no, I know it isn't English. It's part of my dreams. I--oh, this is nonsense! Let's get down to facts. I've got proof of a few things, anyhow."

She pushed up the sleeve of her blouse, uncovered a flat case taped to forearm, and grimaced as she tore the adhesive patch free. In her palm she held out a miniature case of ultra-small tape film.

"You have no idea what a lot of trouble I had getting this," she said. "I've got cameras hidden in Level Eight with all sorts of special shielding against radioactivity. Even that doesn't help when the--the ghosts come. They seem to be pure radiation. Anyhow the film goes black every time. But--well, just wait!"

She went efficiently across the room to unlock a cabinet and swing out a small film-projector. "Will you turn that picture over?" she said, nodding toward the opposite wall. "It's got a beaded screen on its back. I had everything ready, you see. This film's never been out of my hands since I took it from the camera. I did everything myself. Now I think you'll have real evidence to take back. Alper doesn't know a thing about this, thank goodness. I don't even want him to know I've talked to you, until I can prove enough to protect myself."

She clicked the switch. A square of pale light sprang across the room and flickered on the small screen. Dark, shadowy walls took shape upon the square, and a low throbbing came from the sound-projector, blending with the steady thumping of the great pumps themselves, under Fortuna.

As the pictured walls of the mineshaft flickered on the screen, Klai said suddenly, with a note of hysteria in her voice, "Mr. Sawyer, you haven't asked me a word about the ghosts."

"That's right," Sawyer said. "I haven't."

"Because you don't believe that part? It's true! They come out of the rock. I think that's why they're seen so seldom." She hurried on, frantic now. "Don't you see? How many shafts are there, compared to the roads--of pitchblende underneath? It's just accident when they blunder into a shaft, but the men do see them, like--like pale flames--"

Something like a pale flame nickered gently across the screen.

The girl laughed unsteadily.

"Not a ghost," she said. "A flashlight. Watch. Now ft begins."

The flash-beam moved over rock, over jagged surfaces wet and shining and marked by the teeth of drills. Above the throbbing of the pumps a new sound came, the crunch of a cane among rubble and the noise of a man's heavy feet. Into the camera's range came a stooped, bulky figure, dimly seen. Sawyer breathed in with a sharp sound of recognition. The tiny square that flickered on the wall suddenly ceased to be a miniature reflection, and seemed reality itself. He heard Alper's familiar, thick voice calling urgently.

"Nethe!" he said. "Nethe!" and the walls gave back the echoes until the whole tunnel was calling with him.

"Watch!" the girl whispered. "There to the left--see?"

It looked like a reflection upon the rock itself, except that the flash-beam did not touch it and there was nothing here to cast reflections. It looked like a tall woman, incredibly tall, incredibly slender, bending toward the half seen Alper with an inhuman grace and flexibility. Now water dripped and tinkled, or--no, this was the laughter of a woman, pure silver, cold, inhuman as her motion.

A voice spoke, not Alper's. It was a voice like strong music. English was the language it used, but an English accented strangely--in the same way as Klai's, Sawyer realized suddenly. He slanted a glance at her, but she was watching the screen intently, her lips parted and her pretty teeth showing.

The voice was indistinct throughout the brief exchange of talk in the film. Echoes blurred it, laughter blurred it, and the woman seemed a shadow indeed, for she appeared to flicker now and then and her voice flickered with her.

Alper spoke. He sounded out of breath, and a desperate urgency was in his heavy voice.

"Nethe," he said. "Are you there?"

Laughter, like music, clear and rippling, "Nethe, you're late! You're three days late. I'm running low. How long do you think I can last, without energy?"

The sweet, strong voice with music running through it said carelessly, "Who cares how long you last, old man? Have you killed the girl for me?"

"I can't kill the girl," Alper's voice said angrily. The flash-beam danced across the rocks as he moved. "You don't understand. If I do it, I'll get into trouble, and who'll get the ore for you then? I might even lose the mine if she died. I've got a better way. I'm working on it. Any day now--"

"Who cares if a Khom dies?" the musical voice asked. "She's only a Khom. Worthless. Like you, old man. Why do I waste my time on you?"

"I tell you, I have a way! Give me a week. Give me energy to last and I'll have control of the mine. I'll close it, I promise I will! I'll find some way to close it down tight and hand it over to you. Only give me energy, Nethe! I tell you, I'm almost--"

"No," the voice of the shadow said. "No more. I'm tired of you, old Khom. I'll finish off the girl myself."

Alper lurched forward, obscuring the camera with his broad, hunched back. His cane scraped on the floor, his feet stumbled. Fierce despair was in his voice.

"I must have more energy!" he cried. The walls took up his words and the pitchblende itself seemed to be crying, "Energy! Energy!" out of the rock as if the mine were boasting of the potent power locked up there for the taking. "I must have more! Nethe!"

"No more," the shadow said carelessly. "Until you kill the girl."

"If you understood!" Alper said in a savage voice. "If you ever came up to the surface, you'd see what I mean. Who are you, Nethe? What are you?"

The cool, sweet, resonant laughter echoed among the rocks.

"Ask who I will be, three days from now," the shadow said. "Goddess! Goddess of--Oh, go back to your hovel, old man, and do what you please. But you get no more energy until you clear out the mine for me and kill the girl."

"No," Alper shouted. "Nethe, I've got to get more! I can't do anything without it! Nethe!"

The tall shadow bent toward him, inhumanly graceful, featureless in the gloom, laughing with a sound like water falling over rocks.

"Goodbye, old man," it said. "You'll get no more."

Alper stumbled forward toward the corner where the shadow flickered and faded. His desperate cry echoed down the endlessly repeating tunnel. His flash swept to and ho over the empty corner where a moment before the shadow of a woman had stood.

Then the film ran out. The picture died and a square of blank white shimmered on the wall.

Sawyer shook himself a little. For those brief few moments he had been standing in the tunnel, hearing the rocks drip and the pumps pound. The illusion had been so compelling that he was almost startled to realize that the hotel room still closed him in and that the girl called Klai was watching him with anxious blue eyes.

"Well?" she said impatiently. "What do you make of it?"

Sawyer gave her one of his alert, quick looks. Then he walked across to the window and gazed out upon the noonday bustle of Fortuna in the dark. He got out a cigarette, lit it, blew smoke at the glass.

"I'll tell you what I make of it. Not what you expect. I don't think some mysterious creature from beyond the veil has persuaded Alper to sell his soul. The film's very interesting, yes. The Commissioner will be fascinated by it. Faked or not, and you could have been deceived, Miss Ford, it's still very illuminating."

"I couldn't have been deceived," the girl said hotly. "I tell you, the film was never out of my hands. But--never mind that. Who is this Nethe? What do you think?"

"I think somebody's going to great pains to get control of the mine," Sawyer said. "That's obvious. There are countries that could use more uranium ore than they've got. This seems like a very ingenious little scheme to take advantage of an old man's obsession. It's high time we put a stop to it. Do you understand what Alper kept saying about energy?"

The girl shook her head.

"I don't understand anything. But I seem to remember--it's like a shutter opening and closing so fast all I get is a glimpse before the memory blacks out. But Nethe--" She shivered. "Nethe frightens me."

"This is the only thing you've filmed to date that shows any clear pictures?" Sawyer asked. "I'd like to get back to Toronto with whatever you have. I do believe you're in danger. So is the mine. I want to start wheels turning to protect you. There seem to be all sorts of interesting possibilities."

"I've still got some film running off, down below," the girl told him. "Shall I get it?"

"I'd like to see what you have, but--isn't Level Eight a pretty dangerous place?"

"I never go alone," she said, turning to reach for her furs. Sawyer helped her into them dubiously.

"I'd better come along," he said. "I'd like to take a look at--"

The door jarred under the impact of a violent blow. Simultaneously a thick voice from the outside called, "Open the door!"

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