Tunnel Out of Deathby Jamil Nasir
In Jamil Nasir's Tunnel Out of Death, Heath Ransom, former police psychic turned machine-enhanced "endovoyant" private investigator, is hired to find the consciousness of the rich and comatose Margaret Biel and return it to her body. Tracking her through the etheric world, he comes upon a strange and terrifying object that appears to be a tear in the very/i>
In Jamil Nasir's Tunnel Out of Death, Heath Ransom, former police psychic turned machine-enhanced "endovoyant" private investigator, is hired to find the consciousness of the rich and comatose Margaret Biel and return it to her body. Tracking her through the etheric world, he comes upon a strange and terrifying object that appears to be a tear in the very fabric of reality. He falls into it—and into an astonishing metaphysical shadow-play.
For Margaret is a pawn in a war between secret, ruthless government agencies and a nonhuman entity known only as "Amphibian." Their battlefield is a multi-level reality unlike anything humankind has ever imagined. When Heath learns to move back and forth between two different versions of his life, and begins to realize that everyone around him may be a super-realistic android, that is only the beginning of a wholesale deconstruction of reality that threatens more than his sanity....
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“An intelligent novel about faith and human consciousness.” J. M. McDermott on The Houses of Time
“Well worked-out and agreeably challenging.” Kirkus Reviews on The Houses of Time
“This is an unusual and thought-provoking book about dreams, reality and the mind's power to change both…it's fascinating to fall into Grant's mind and watch what happens as he moves through alternate realities.” RT Book Reviews on The Houses of Time
“Worlds break and buckle under the weight of man's imagination, doors to new universes yawn open in suburban subdivisions, and dreams become deliriously--sometimes frighteningly--real.” Strange Horizons on Jamil Nasir
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Tunnel Out of Death
By Jamil Nasir
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Jamil Nasir
All rights reserved.
Ransom International's conference room was upstairs in the 1930s mansion that Heath Ransom used as both home and office. It had an antique cherry-wood table, an ambience system that was currently pumping out the invigorating air of a mountain pine forest, and remote conferencing lenses in the ceiling. Unfortunately today the lenses were dark: instead of a hologram, the actual physical body of a young man continued down past the surface of the table and pressed heavily into one of the conference chairs, which made slight sounds when he moved. Particularly unfortunate because the young man — a large, handsome, impatient person whose business card said "Dr. Eugene Denmark, President and CEO of GeneMark LLC" — had an unusually disturbing neural-field leakage, full of apprehension and grim determination, as if whatever business deal he wanted to propose to Ransom International was a matter of life and death.
Field leakage was a muted background murmur that Ransom heard around people, like a low-voiced discussion going on in the next room. He had bought this house to minimize such distractions: the spacious grounds that separated it from the street and neighbors kept it quiet enough for him to conduct his endovoyant investigations business, and relax when he wasn't working. His neurological bug/feature also made it tricky to choose employees: like Charles Tobin, the small, elegant man sitting next to him, they had to be both competent and benign — a less common combination than you might hope.
Tobin, well aware of his boss's sensitivities, was taking the brunt of the meeting, and Ransom had gratefully allowed his attention to wander. Just now he was discreetly watching out the window as a retro-style hippie minibus passed down Anglia Street in the distance beyond his lawn and autumn-colored trees, meter-high letters on its side scrolling out the message REAP WHAT YOU SOW. The current mania for religions had brought out amateur preachers all over the country. Not only that; more and more of his clients nowadays wanted religion-related services, like proving doctrinal fraud or locating the resting places of saints. An unpleasant feeling came over Ransom; he disliked that sort of work, which presumed he was some kind of witch doctor —
The unpleasant feeling grew stronger, and with a start Ransom realized that it had not come from the thought of his religious clients at all. Rather, his guest's field leakage had suddenly taken on a grating tone, and in some confusion Ransom realized that the man was staring at him.
He tried to take in what Denmark was saying. "— isolating Class One humans for long periods in a specific nerve-growth medium stimulates unusual development of the medulla, and consequently of the telepathic and clairvoyant faculties. We theorize that the enforced sensory and social deprivation stimulates activation of the telepathic areas to overcome the isolation. Then, once the subject emerges from the tank, you have a ready-made telepath or clairvoyant."
"Wait a minute," Ransom said, now roused completely. "Is this some kind of government research? The NGF tanks you're talking about are USAdministration military, aren't they?"
Denmark's eyes went vacant for a second, as they had every time Ransom had talked during the meeting. Of course, one of the few reasons anyone would ask for a physical meeting nowadays was to sneak snoop gadgets into the venue, and RI observed the usual business protocol of ignoring such things if they weren't too intrusive. On the other hand, business protocol also prescribed that the wired party keep his surveillance subtle. Did this Denmark really think he was going to close a deal by making a bug-eyed display of peeping all over Ransom's somatic indicators during their talk?
Denmark's attention came back. "Mr. Ransom, I can assure you that there are no legal or national security strictures barring GeneMark from selling this technology, or you from buying it."
The sentence came out smoothly, but Denmark's background murmur had changed. The man wasn't exactly lying, but he was holding something back. This made Ransom uneasy. NGF tanks turning out ready-made telepaths would have been huge news in the endovid detective community, but he had heard nothing about it. Could Denmark be a federal agent? USAdmin made an enormous income from industrial espionage, using spy technology that was illegal for nongovernment entities to possess; but it was rumored to still be light on endovid talent. Catching a prominent investigator breaking federal law — by trying to buy top-secret government technology, for example — might be a good way of blackmailing him into working for them.
Tobin's field also expressed unease. He used his own smooth voice: "Frankly, Dr. Denmark, we would normally consider such a radically new technology only if it came from one of the established firms in the field. I for one have not had the pleasure of dealing with GeneMark previously."
"GeneMark is a start-up formed specifically to market this technology."
"I would think that most start-ups couldn't afford the FDA licensing costs. Has FDA cleared you to do Phase Two studies?"
"Ah, right, let me explain," said Denmark, smiling. There was a slight stiffness about his face, Ransom thought, as if he had recently had some cheap plastic surgery, like a mobster. Or maybe the man's bad vibes were making him imagine it. "Your concern is understandable, but this technology is actually perfect for a start-up like GeneMark. Under FDA's regulations, gene-expression modifications taking place strictly in response to environmental factors are presumptively Class One. That means that the burden of any testing would be on a party trying to prove that our medulla enhancements are not Class One."
"And are they Class One?" Tobin asked.
"We believe so, yes."
Again the murmur from Denmark's etheric "other room" underwent a change. There was an iceberg somewhere under the tip the man was showing. But even if there hadn't been, as far as Ransom was concerned the meeting was over. Nowadays even some Class Two mutations were legal, but he had grown up in the late twentieth century, and such things disturbed him. He had been a successful endovid for almost three decades without any engineering; if his competitors started packing on gene enhancements that left him in the dust, he would simply close up shop. He had more than enough money to retire on, even if they kept up the advances in life extension.
Providentially, at that moment his assistant Clarice buzzed. With a murmured "excuse me," he took her out of his pocket and looked into her attractive Japanese face. "Sorry to disturb you, Heath, but a prospective client is requesting an urgent meeting. They're here in person. Anna is with them in your office. They say it's an emergency."
"In person?" The knot in his stomach tightened; two physical visits in one morning.
But he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He said: "Dr. Denmark, I'm terribly sorry, but I've just been summoned to an emergency meeting downstairs. I want to thank you very much for coming in to talk to us. Obviously, we'll have to discuss your proposal internally before getting back to you."
Denmark looked taken aback. "Well, actually, Mr. Ransom, I was hoping very much to have a few minutes alone with you. To discuss a somewhat delicate —"
"I'm really awfully sorry," said Ransom, rising. "I hope you'll send us any additional materials you think we need in order to evaluate your product."
"But it's very important." Denmark stood up, too. A flare of panic suddenly expanded from him like a flame, catching Ransom off guard. He steadied himself against the edge of the table.
"Perhaps I could continue with Dr. Denmark while you run to your meeting," said Tobin, reading Ransom's body language.
"Good idea," said Ransom dizzily, now desperate to get away. "Dr. Denmark, my assistant Mr. Tobin has my complete confidence. I will rely on his recommendation in any event."
For the first time during their meeting, Ransom felt that Denmark looked into his eyes without the split second of glassy distractedness. "This is something you need to hear, Heath," he said, too loudly, as if trying to get his attention in a crowd. Ransom had not invited him to use his first name. "Reality is more malleable than you can imagine. This fact is being exploited. I need to talk to you — to you personally. Someone very dangerous —" He stopped talking abruptly, as if he had said too much.
With difficulty, Ransom maintained his professional demeanor. "I really am very sorry, Mr. Denmark, but I have to rush."
Denmark's field was hopeless now, as if he had lost a fatal gamble. Wordlessly, he leaned across the table and held out his hand. Long practice at being polite overcoming his reluctance to touch another person, Ransom extended his own. Denmark's hand was cold. And at the touch, the unfocused murmur of the man's psychic leakage suddenly sharpened.
A still summer morning rose up around Ransom, nearly erasing the conference room. Birdsong and the gentle wash of surf were the only sounds. He stood at the top of a high bluff, a sandy path leading down among trees to a beach. But a feeling of menace and danger hung about the peaceful scene, like ominous music at the beginning of a horror movie.
Quickly disengaging his hand, Ransom nodded politely and found his way unsteadily from the room.CHAPTER 2
Shaken, Ransom took the stairs to the first floor. If only Viewing could be confined to when you were actually working — but of course the brain didn't operate that way. Years ago he had tried low doses of neuroleptics, first in the evenings and then only on weekends, but they had occluded his trances. He was going to retire one of these days, he promised himself for the thousandth time, and then he would take whatever drugs made him feel better and subtle perception be damned. He especially hated getting impressions from people who, like Eugene Denmark, seemed to have some serious misfortune in the offing: natural scenes where a path or road led to a geographic boundary — like a shore or cliff — were usually auguries of death. But without an investigation using his full array of techniques and analytic systems there was no way to tell for sure, and so the information he had picked from Denmark was cryptic and garbled — a source of distress rather than enlightenment.
And what the devil could the man have meant by "reality is more malleable than you think?"
He had a moment of swelling anger at Denmark, at everyone who pressed upon him with their uncontrolled leakages and incomprehensible fates. He quickly calmed himself. It was his own "talent" that made him vulnerable, not anyone's intentional intrusion. Besides, he had a meeting — with a prospective client this time, not a salesman — and it wouldn't do to go in full of angry self-pity.
Anna Heatherstone was waiting in the hall outside his office, tall, slim and dark-haired, wearing a fashionable 1940s-style suit, her freckled Irish face lighting up when she saw him. Ransom felt himself relax. Anna's emanation was like barely suppressed giggling, and being with her always made him feel that nothing was so terribly serious. She murmured a five-second summary: Boston society people, family issue, research shows they have plenty of money but also plenty of debts, refuse to talk to anyone but the boss. Ransom nodded, and Anna briskly opened the door to the large, paneled office.
"Mr. and Mrs. Merrivale, Dr. Heathcliff Ransom, President and Principle Endovoyant Investigator of Ransom International," she said to the two people sitting in the visitors' chairs.
The male Merrivale stood up and gave Ransom a firm, manly handshake accompanied by a firm, manly look in the eye. "John Merrivale," he said. He was over six feet — which made him half a head taller than Ransom — looked about ninety, wore 1940s-style yachting clothes, and his silvery hair was cut short enough to suggest both late-middle age and virility. Ransom glanced at the hair enviously; he had to keep his own head shaved for the View tank induction leads. The female Merrivale stayed seated and gave Ransom a long, slender aristocrat's hand, smiling and murmuring politely. She was a handsome, slim woman, also silver-haired, with bright blue eyes, perhaps a few years older than her husband. In the murmur of their psychic tone Ransom could feel confusion and anxiety.
Everyone sat down, Ransom behind his desk. He looked at the Merrivales benignly.
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"We've come to see you on a matter of some delicacy," began John Merrivale. "Great delicacy, actually." He glanced at Anna.
"Ms. Heatherstone is my trusted employee," said Ransom. "She assists me in my investigations, so I will have to apprise her of the facts in any case."
The Merrivales exchanged a look.
"Our aunt — Ardice's aunt, actually," said Mr. Merrivale finally, "fell ill several days ago, and went into a coma."
"There was no sign of any health problems. It came out of a blue sky."
Ransom nodded sympathetically.
"We — well, to be very blunt about it, Mr. Ransom, we suspect foul play."
The Merrivales looked at him plaintively, as if there was no more to say, until Ransom felt obliged to continue. "And you want me to try to identify the malefactor?" He sometimes got cases like this based on his years as a Metropolitan Police Force forensic endovid, but he usually didn't take them; they were often ugly, and the police resented private operators mucking up the waves for their own people.
"Well — not exactly," said John Merrivale. "We want our aunt back."
Anna Heatherstone shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
"I can certainly understand that," said Ransom sympathetically, waiting for more.
Mrs. Merrivale spoke up for the first time. "Mr. Ransom, we hoped you might be able to help us." Her hushed, moneyed voice had a warmth Ransom felt in the middle of his chest. "Aunt Margaret isn't dead. Her consciousness is still somewhere on or near this plane. We are told that you find lost things, and that you are the best in your field. Will you find Aunt Margaret and bring her back to us, Mr. Ransom?" She said it as if she were willing to seduce him if necessary, her wide, appealing eyes on his face.
Ransom exchanged a glance with Anna. "I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Merrivale; I find corporeal objects, not people — or rather, the people I find are still alive. Or if they're not, I find their bodies, not their ... spirits."
"But John's friends in the police department told us that you have solved crimes by contacting the spirits of the recently departed."
"Well, it's more complicated than that." Long practice had given Ransom an instinct for which version of his introductory spiel to give which clients, though the current religious upheavals and schisms made it a constantly moving target. "It's true that in trance you often speak to people, but the working assumption is that this is just anthropomorphized information. The theory — though it's not accepted by everyone — is that the endovid's brain acts like a radio, somehow tuning in to fluctuations in the vacuum field left there by specific thoughts or other mental events. But because the mind has no model for this kind of cognition, it dresses it up in familiar forms: so you may experience it as someone talking to you, the spirit of a murdered man naming his killer, for example."
"Or it could be that you are actually talking to a person's spirit, couldn't it?" asked Mrs. Merrivale. "Isn't that what souls are — semi-stable torsion waves in the Hamiltonian? And bodies, too, for that matter? Aren't we — both body and soul — just anthropomorphized information?"
"I take it you are a religious woman, Mrs. Merrivale?"
"Ardice and I belong to the CUEC," said her husband quietly.
"Well then, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know," Ransom said, shifting gears smoothly. The Cosmic Universal Evolutionist Catechism was a little far out for wealthy people of European stock, but anything was possible these days. "Holographic torsion wave interference patterns in the vacuum field constitute the forms of this world, including the forms of what we call matter and consciousness. The matter patterns of the body dissipate after death. Do the consciousness patterns also dissipate? I leave that to the theologians. But if they do persist, I know of nothing to suggest that they do so in any part of the field accessible to living humans. And even if they do, I have no experience or training for finding them, much less reconnecting them with their bodies. In the couple of cases you heard about I was looking strictly for information — time of death, location of the body, and so on — and I didn't care where it came from. I have no idea whether the people I seemed to talk to were spirits or completely nonpersonal etheric field fluctuations that my mind invested with human shapes and voices. A lot of luck was involved, too." Not to mention neurological and psychological wear and tear, he thought. And a great deal of the client's money.
"But you might apply the same methods to finding Aunt Margaret, mightn't you?" asked Mrs. Merrivale. "That's how flux doctors work, they say — they find the person's consciousness field and communicate with it, coax it back into the body."
Excerpted from Tunnel Out of Death by Jamil Nasir. Copyright © 2013 Jamil Nasir. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
Jamil Nasir's third novel, Tower of Dreams, won France's top science fiction award, the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, and was runner up for the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback published in the United States. His short story "The Nomalers" won a first prize in the Writers of the Future Award. Tunnel Out of Death is his sixth novel.
Jamil Nasir's third novel, Tower of Dreams, won France's top science fiction award, the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, and was runner up for the Philip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback published in the United States. His short story “The Nomalers” won a first prize in the Writers of the Future Award.
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