Children of the night, p.1
Children of the Night, p.1Dan Simmons
Other Books by Dan Simmons
SONG OF KALI
PHASES OF GRAVITY
THE FALL OF HYPERION
ENTROPY’S BED AT MIDNIGHT
PRAYERS TO BROKEN STONES
SUMMER OF NIGHT
THE HOLLOW MAN
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publishers Since 1838
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New York, NY 10016
Copyright © 1992 by Dan Simmons
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof,
may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Designed by Rhea Braunstein
Endpaper map illustration by Kathleen McNeil Sherman.
Printed in the United States of America
To the children
Dreams of Blood and Iron
Dreams of Blood and Iron
Dreams of Blood and Iron
Dreams of Blood and Iron
Dreams of Blood and Iron
WE flew to Bucharest almost as soon as the shooting had stopped, landing at Otopeni Airport just after midnight on December 29, 1989. As the semiofficial “International Assessment Contingent,” the six of us were met at my Lear jet, escorted through the confused milling that passed for Customs since Romania’s revolution, and then herded aboard an Office of National Tourism VIP van for the nine-mile drive into town. They had brought a wheelchair to the bottom of the aircraft ramp for me, but I waved it away and made the walk to the van myself. It was not easy.
Donna Wexler, our U.S. Embassy liaison, pointed at two bullet holes in the wall near where the van was parked, but Dr. Aimslea topped that by simply pointing out the window as we drove around the lighted circular drive connecting the terminal to the highway.
Soviet-style tanks sat along the main thoroughfare where cabs normally would be waiting, their long muzzles pointed toward the entrance to the airport drive. Sandbagged emplacements lined the highway and airport rooftops, and the sodium-vapor lamps yellowly illuminated the helmets and rifles of soldiers on guard duty while throwing their faces into deep shadow. Other men, some in regular army uniforms and others in the ragtag clothing of the revolutionary militia, lay sleeping alongside the tanks. For a second the illusion of sidewalks littered with the bodies of Romania’s dead was perfect and I held my breath, exhaling slowly only when I saw one of the bodies stir and another light a cigarette.
“They fought off several counterattacks by loyalist troops and Securitate forces last week,” whispered Donna Wexler. Her tone suggested that it was an embarrassing topic, like sex.
Radu Fortuna, the little man who had been hurriedly introduced to us in the terminal as our guide and liaison with the transitional government, turned in his seat and grinned broadly as if he were not embarrassed by either sex or politics. “They kill many Securitate,” he said loudly, his grin growing ever wider. “Three times Ceauşescu’s people tried to take airport…three times they get killed.”
Wexler nodded and smiled, obviously uncomfortable with the conversation, but Dr. Aimslea leaned into the aisle. Light from the last of the sodium-vapor lamps illuminated his bald head in the seconds before we entered the darkness of the empty highway. “So Ceauşescu’s regime is really over?” he said to Fortuna.
I could see only the slightest gleam from the Romanian’s grin in the sudden darkness. “Ceauşescu is over, yes, yes,” he said. “They take him and that bitch-cow of a wife in Tîrgovişte, you know…have, how you call it…trial.” Radu Fortuna laughed again, a sound which somehow sounded both childish and cruel. I found myself shivering a bit in the darkness. The bus was not heated.
“They have trial,” continued Fortuna, “and prosecutor say, ‘You both crazy?’ You see, if Ceauşescu and Mrs. Ceauşescu crazy, then maybe the army just send them away in mental hospital for hundred years, like our Russian friends do. You know? But Ceauşescu say, ‘What? What? Crazy… How dare you! That is obscene provocation!’ And his wife, she say, ‘How can you say this to the Mother of your nation?’ So prosecutor say, ‘OK, you neither one crazy. Your own mouth say.’ And then the soldiers, they draw straws so many want to be the ones. Then the lucky ones, they take Ceauşescus out in courtyard and shoot them in heads many times.” Fortuna chuckled warmly, as if remembering a favorite anecdote. “Yes, regime over,” he said to Dr. Aimslea. “Maybe a few thousand Securitate, they don’t know it yet and still shooting peoples, but that will be over soon. Bigger problem is, what to do with one out of three peoples who spy for old government, heh?”
Fortuna chuckled again, and in the sudden glare from an oncoming army truck, I could see his silhouette as he shrugged. There was a thin layer of condensation turning to ice on the inside of the windows now. My fingers were stiff with the cold and I could barely feel my toes in the absurd Bally dress shoes I had put on that morning. I scraped at some of the ice on my window as we entered the city proper.
“I know that you are all very important peoples from the West,” said Radu Fortuna, his breath creating a small fog that rose toward the roof of the bus like an escaping soul. “I know you are famous Western billionaire, Mr. Vernor Deacon Trent, who pay for this visit,” he said, nodding at me, “but I am afraid I forget some other names.”
Donna Wexler did the introductions. “Doctor Aimslea is with the World Health Organization… Father Michael O’Rourke is here representing both the Chicago Archdiocese and the Save the Children Foundation.”
“Ah, good to have priest here,” said Fortuna, and I heard something that may have been irony in his voice.
“Doctor Leonard Paxley, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Princeton University,” continued Wexler. “Winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economics.”
Fortuna bowed toward the old academic. Paxley had not spoken at all during the flight from Frankfurt, and now he seemed lost in his oversized coat and folds of muffler: an old man in search of a park bench.
“We welcome you,” said Fortuna, “even though our country have no economy at present moment.”
“Goddamn, is it always this cold here?” came the voice from deep in the folds of wool. The Nobel Prize-winning Professor Emeritus stamped his
“And Mr. Carl Berry, representing American Telegraph and Telephone,” continued Wexler quickly.
The pudgy businessman next to me puffed his pipe, removed it, nodded in Fortuna’s direction, and went back to smoking the thing as if it were a necessary source of heat. I had a moment’s mad vision of the seven of us in the bus huddled around the glowing embers in Berry’s pipe.
“And you say you remember our sponsor, Mr. Trent,” finished Wexler.
“Yesss,” said Radu Fortuna. His eyes glittered as he looked at me though Berry’s pipe smoke and the fog of his own breath. I could almost see my image in those glistening eyes—one very old man, deep-set eyes sunken even deeper from the fatigue of the trip, body shriveled and shrunken in my expensive suit and overcoat. I am sure that I looked older than Paxley, older than Methuselah…older than God.
“You have been in Romania before, I believe?” continued Fortuna. I could see the guide’s eyes glowing brighter as we reached the lighted part of the city. I spent time in Germany shortly after the war. The scene out the window behind Fortuna was like that. There were more tanks in Palace Square, black hulks which one would have thought deserted heaps of cold metal if the turret of one had not tracked us as our van passed by. There were the sooty corpses of burned-out autos and at least one armored personnel carrier that was now only a piece of scorched steel. We turned left and went past the Central University Library; its gold dome and ornate roof had collapsed between soot-streaked, pockmarked walls.
“Yes,” I said. “I have been here before.”
Fortuna leaned toward me. “And perhaps this time one of your corporations will open a plant here, yes?”
Fortuna’s gaze did not leave me. “We work very cheap here,” he whispered so softly that I doubt if anyone else except Carl Berry could hear him. “Very cheap. Labor is very cheap here. Life is very cheap here.”
We had turned left off of the empty Calea Victoriei, right again on Bulevardul Nicolae Bălcescu, and now the van screeched to a halt in front of the tallest building in the city, the twenty-two-story Intercontinental Hotel.
“In the morning, gentlemens,” said Fortuna, rising, gesturing the way toward the lighted foyer, “we will see the new Romania. I wish you dreamless sleeps.”
OUR group spent the next day meeting with “officials” in the interim government, mostly members of the recently cobbled-together National Salvation Front. The day was so dark that the automatic streetlights came on along the broad Bulevardul N. Bălcescu and Bulevardul Republicii. The buildings were not heated…or at least not perceptibly…and the men and women we spoke with looked all but identical in their oversized, drab wool coats. By the end of the day we had spoken to a Giurescu, two Tismaneanus, one Borosoiu, who turned out not to be a spokesman for the new government after all…he was arrested moments after we left him…several generals including Popascu, Lupoi, and Diurgiu, and finally the real leaders, which included Petre Roman, prime minister in the transitional government, and Ion Iliescu and Dumitru Mazilu, who had been President and Vice President in the Ceauşescu regime.
Their message was the same: we had the run of the nation and any recommendations we could make to our various constituencies for help would be eternally appreciated. The officials treated me with the most deference because they knew my name and because of how much money I represented, but even that polite attention was tinged with a distracted air. They were like men sleepwalking amidst chaos.
Returning to the Intercontinental that evening, we watched as a crowd of people—most, it looked, office workers leaving the stone hives of the downtown for the day—beat and pummeled three men and a woman. Radu Fortuna smiled and pointed to the broad plaza in front of the hotel where the crowd was growing larger. “There…in University Square last week…when peoples come to demonstrate with singing, you know? Army tanks roll over persons, shoot more. Those probably be Securitate informers.”
Before the van stopped in front of the hotel, we caught a glimpse of uniformed soldiers leading away the probable informers, encouraging them with the butts of their automatic weapons while the crowd continued to spit and strike them.
“Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” muttered our Professor Emeritus, while Father O’Rourke glared at him and Radu Fortuna chuckled appreciatively.
“You’d think Ceauşescu would have been better prepared for a siege,” Dr. Aimslea said after dinner that evening. We had stayed in the dining room because it seemed warmer than our own rooms. Waiters and a few military men moved aimlessly through the large space. The reporters had finished their dinner quickly, with a maximum of noise, and left soon after to wherever reporters go to drink and be cynical.
Radu Fortuna had joined us for coffee, and now he showed his patented, gap-toothed grin. “You want to see how prepared, Ceauşescu, he was?”
Aimslea, Father O’Rourke, and I agreed that we would like to see. Carl Berry decided to go to his room to get a call through to the States, and Dr. Paxley followed him, grumbling about getting to bed early. Fortuna led the three of us out into the cold and down shadowed streets to the soot-blackened shell of the presidential palace. A militiaman stepped out of the shadows, raised an AK-47, and barked a challenge, but Fortuna spoke quietly and we were allowed to pass.
There were no lights in the palace except for occasional fires in barrels where militiamen and regular soldiers slept or huddled to keep warm. Furniture was tossed everywhere, drapes had been ripped from twenty-foot-tall windows, papers littered the floor, and the formal tiles were smeared with dark streaks. Fortuna led us down a narrow hall, through a series of what appeared to be private residential rooms, and stopped at what seemed to be an unmarked closet. Inside the four-foot-square closet there was nothing but three lanterns on a shelf. Fortuna lighted the lanterns, handed one to Aimslea and one to me, and then touched the molding above the back wall. A sliding panel opened to a stone staircase.
“Mr. Trent,” began Fortuna, frowning at my walking stick and shaking, old-man arms. The lantern light tossed unsteady shadows on the walls. He held out his hand for the lantern. “There are many stairs. Perhaps…”
“I can make it,” I said through tensed jaws, I kept the lantern.
Radu Fortuna shrugged and led us down.
The next half hour was dreamlike, almost hallucinatory. The stairway led down to echoing chambers from which a maze of stone tunnels and other stairways branched. Fortuna led us deep into this maze, our lights reflecting off the curved ceilings and slick stones.
“My God,” muttered Dr. Aimslea after ten minutes of this, “these go for miles.”
“Yes, yes,” smiled Radu Fortuna. “Many miles.”
There were storerooms with automatic weapons on shelves, gas masks hanging from hooks; there were command centers with radios and television monitors sitting there in the dark, some destroyed as if madmen with axes had vented their wrath on them, some still covered with clear plastic and waiting only for their operators to turn them on; there were barracks with bunks and stoves and kerosene heating units which we eyed with envy. Some of the barracks looked untouched, others obviously had been the site of panicked evacuation or equally panicked firefights. There was blood on the walls and floors of one of these chambers, the streaks more black than red in the light of our hissing lanterns.
There were still bodies in the farther reaches of the tunnels, some lying in pools of water dripping from overhead hatches, others tumbled behind hastily erected barricades at the junction of the underground avenues. The stone vaults smelled like a meat locker.
“Securitate,” said Fortuna and spat on one of the brown-shirted men lying facedown in a frozen pool. “They fled like rats down here and we finished them like rats. You know?”
Father O’Rourke crouched next to one of the corpses for a long moment, head bowed. Then he crossed himself an
Dr. Aimslea said, “But Ceauşescu did not retreat to this…redoubt?”
“No.” Fortuna smiled.
The doctor looked around in the hissing white light. “For God’s sake, why not? If he’d marshaled an organized resistance down here, he could have held out for months.”
Fortuna shrugged. “Instead, the monster, he fled by helicopter. He flied…no? Flew, yes…he flew to Tîrgovişte, seventy kilometers from here, you know? There other peoples see him and his bitch-cow wife get in car. They catch.”
Dr. Aimslea held his lantern at the entrance to another tunnel from which a terrible stench now blew. The doctor quickly pulled back the light. “But I wonder why…”
Fortuna stepped closer and the harsh light illuminated an old scar on his neck that I had not noticed before. “They say his…advisor…the Dark Advisor…told him not to come here.” He smiled.
Father O’Rourke stared at the Romanian. “The Dark Advisor. It sounds as if his counselor was the devil.”
Radu Fortuna nodded.
Dr. Aimslea grunted. “Did this devil escape? Or was he one of those poor buggers we saw back there?”
Our guide did not answer but entered one of the four tunnels branching off there. A stone stairway led upward. “To the National Theater,” he said softly, waving us ahead of him. “It was damaged but not destroyed. Your hotel is next door.”
The priest, the doctor, and I started up, lantern light throwing our shadows fifteen feet high on the curved stone walls above. Father O’Rourke stopped and looked down at Fortuna. “Aren’t you coming?”
The little guide smiled and shook his head. “Tomorrow, we take you where it all began. Tomorrow we go to Transylvania.”
Dr. Aimslea gave the priest and me a smile. “Transylvania,” he repeated. “Shades of Bela Lugosi.” He turned back to say something to Fortuna but the little man was gone. Not even the echo of footfalls or shimmer of lantern light showed which tunnel he had taken.
Children of the Night by Dan Simmons / Horror / Mystery & Detective / Fantasy / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes