Night chills, p.10
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       Night Chills, p.10
 

           Dean Koontz
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  The general scratched the shadow of a beard that shaded his blunt chin even when he was freshly shaved. “But you think that the dream was caused by his subconscious playing around with the key-lock implant.”

  “Yes.”

  “And that the dream might have been about the subliminals. ”

  “Yes. I can’t come up with an explanation that makes more sense. Something about the key-lock program so shocked his subconscious that he was propelled straight up into a dream.”

  “A nightmare?”

  “At this point, just a dream. But over the next two hours his sleep patterns became increasingly unusual, erratic.”

  “The alpha waves mean Kingman was awake here for two minutes,” Salsbury said. “Not wide awake. His eyes were probably still closed. He was hovering on the edge of the first level of sleep.”

  “The dream woke him,” Klinger said.

  “Probably.”

  “The first time he entered deep sleep,” Salsbury said, “he stayed there for eight minutes. This time it lasted only six minutes. That’s the start of an interesting pattern.”

  “He was only in deep sleep three minutes that time,” Klinger said. “The cycle is accelerating, at least on the down side.”

  Dawson said, “But why? Ernst apparently understands, but I’m not sure I do.”

  “Something’s happening in his subconscious mind during deep sleep,” Salsbury said. “Something so unsettling that it causes him to leap up into stage one sleep and dream. That subconscious experience, whatever it may be, is getting ever more intense—or, if it isn’t getting more intense, then his ability to withstand it is dwindling. Perhaps both. On each occasion, he’s able to tolerate it for a shorter period of time than he did before.”

  “You mean he’s in pain in stage four?” Dawson asked.

  “Pain is a condition of the flesh,” Salsbury said. “It’s not the right word for this situation.”

  “What is the right word?”

  “Anxiety, perhaps. Or fear.”

  “One minute that time,” Klinger said.

  “By now he’s extremely agitated,” Salsbury said, speaking of the dead man as if he were still alive. “The pattern becomes increasingly unusual and erratic. At two twenty he gets back to the third level. Look what happens to him after that: ”

  Klinger was as fascinated by the print-out of Brian Kingman’s disintegration as he possibly could have been by the sight of the real event. “He didn’t even reach the fourth level that time before he popped up to stage one again. ”

  “He’s having an acute subconscious anxiety attack,” Salsbury said.

  Dawson said, “Is there such a thing?”

  “There is now. His mind is wildly turbulent at this point—yet in such a way that it doesn’t wake him up altogether. And it gets worse:”

  “He was frightened awake at two thirty-seven, wasn’t he?” Dawson asked.

  Salsbury said, “That’s right. Not wide awake. But beyond the first level of sleep, into alpha wave territory. You’re learning to read it now.”

  Dawson let out his breath somewhat explosively, as if he had been holding it for the past minute. “He was a good man. May he rest in peace.”

  “There at the end,” the general said, “there were five consecutive alpha wave readings. Does that mean he was fully awake for five minutes before he died?”

  “Fully awake,” Salsbury said. “But not rational.”

  “I thought you said he died in his sleep.”

  “No. I said he died in bed.”

  “What happened in those five minutes?”

  “I’ll show you,” Salsbury said. He went to the nearest computer console and briefly used the keyboard.

  All but two of the overhead scanners went dark. One of these was an ordinary television screen controlled by the computer on a closed-circuit arrangement. The other was a cathode-ray readout tube.

  Getting up from the keyboard, Salsbury said, “The screen on the right will run a videotape of the last six minutes of Kingman’s life. The screen on the left will provide a synchronized read-out of some of his vital life signs, updating them every thirty seconds.”

  Dawson and Klinger moved closer.

  The right-hand screen flickered. A sharply focused black-and-white picture appeared on it: Brian Kingman lying atop his covers, on his back, twelve data-gathering patches cemented to his head and torso, wires trailing from the patches to two machines at the side of the bed. A sphygmomanometer was attached to his right arm and wired directly to the smaller of the machines. Kingman glistened with perspiration. He was trembling. Every few seconds one of his arms would jerk up defensively, or one of his legs would kick out at the air. In spite of this movement, his eyes were closed, and he was asleep.

  “He’s in stage one now,” Salsbury said.

  “Dreaming,” Dawson said.

  “Obviously.”

  At the top of the left-hand screen there was a digital clock that broke down the time count into hours, minutes, seconds, and tenths of seconds. On the soft green background below the clock, white computer-generated characters reported on four of Kingman’s most important life signs.

  BK/OB REP 14, ONGOING, AS FOLLOWS:

  “He’s still asleep,” Salsbury said. “But his respiration and pulse have picked up approximately twenty-five percent. He appears to be having a bad dream. His thrashing about gets worse in just a moment. He’s ready to come out of it now. Ready to wake up. Watch closely. There!”

  On the black-and-white screen, Kingman suddenly drew up his knees, kicked out with both feet, drew up his knees again, and kept them drawn up, almost to his chest. He gripped his head with both hands, rolled his eyes, opened his mouth.

  “He’s screaming now,” Salsbury said. “I’m sorry there’s no audio.”

  “What’s he screaming at?” Dawson asked. “He’s awake now. The nightmare’s over.”

  “Wait,” Salsbury said.

  “His respiration and pulse are soaring,” Klinger said. Kingman screamed soundlessly.

  “Look how his chest is heaving,” Dawson said. “Good God, his lungs will burst!”

  Writhing continuously but a degree less violently than he had been a moment ago, Kingman began to chew on his lower lip. In seconds his chin was covered with blood.

  “An epileptic seizure?” the general asked.

  Salsbury said, “No.”

  At 2:59, the left-hand screen began a new line print from the top of the tube:

  On the black-and-white screen, Kingman convulsed and was almost perfectly still. His feet twitched, and his right hand opened and closed, opened and closed; but otherwise he was motionless. Even his eyes had stopped rolling; they were squeezed tightly shut.

  The read-out screen went blank, then an instant later flashed an emergency message.

  0200 59 12

  MASSIVE MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION MASSIVE MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION

  “Heart attack,” Salsbury said.

  Kingman’s left arm was bent in a V across his chest and seemed to be paralyzed. His left hand was fisted and unmoving against his neck.

  0300 00 00

  PULSE IRREGULAR

  RESPIRATION IRREGULAR

  Kingman’s eyes were open now. He was staring at the ceiling.

  “He’s screaming again,” Klinger said.

  “Trying to scream,” Salsbury said. “I doubt if he could manage more than a croak in his present state.”

  0300 01 00

  PULSE ERRATIC

  RESPIRATION ERRATIC

  EEG WAVES DETERIORATING TO DELTA

  Kingman’s feet stopped kicking.

  His right hand stopped opening and closing.

  He stopped trying to scream.

  “It’s over,” Salsbury said.

  Simultaneously, the two screens went blank.

  Brian Kingman had died again.

  “But what killed him?” Dawson’s handsome face was the color of dusting powder. “The drug?”

 
; “Not the drug,” Salsbury said. “Fear.”

  Klinger returned to the autopsy table to have a look at the body. “Fear. I thought that’s what you were going to say.”

  “Sudden, powerful fear can kill,” Salsbury said. “And in this case, that’s where all the evidence points. Of course, I’ll do a thorough autopsy. But I don’t believe I’ll find any physiological cause for the heart attack.”

  Squeezing Salsbury’s shoulder, Dawson said, “Do you mean Brian realized, in his sleep, that we were on the verge of taking control of him? And that he was so terrified of being controlled that the thought killed him?”

  “Something like that.”

  “Then even if the drug works—the subliminals don’t.”

  “Oh, they’ll work,” Salsbury said. “I’ve just got to refine the program.”

  “Refine?”

  “I’ll put it in lay terms as best I can. You see, to implant the key-lock subliminals, I’ve got to—to bore a hole through the id and the ego. Apparently, the first program was too crude. It didn’t just bore a hole. It shattered the id and ego altogether, or very nearly did. I’ve got to be more subtle the next time, preface the commands with some careful persuasion.” He pushed a wheeled instrument cart to the side of the autopsy table.

  Not wholly satisfied with Salsbury’s explanation, Dawson said, “But what if you don’t refine it quite enough? What if the next test subject dies? It’s conceivable that one member of my personal staff might walk off his job, vanish without a trace. But two? Or three? Impossible!”

  Salsbury opened a drawer in the cart. He took out a thick white linen towel and spread it across the top of the cart. “We won’t use anyone from your staff for the second test.”

  “Where else are we going to get a test subject?”

  Salsbury took surgical instruments, one at a time, from the drawer and lined them up on the linen. “I think the time has come to put together that corporation in Liechtenstein. Hire three mercenaries, give them sets of forged papers, and bring them here from Europe under their new names.”

  “To this house?” Dawson asked.

  “That’s right. We won’t need the walled estate in Germany or France for some time yet. We’ll give the drug to all three of them the first day they’re here. The second day, I’ll start the new key-lock program with one of them. If it works with him, if it doesn’t kill him, then I’ll use it on the other two. Eventually, we’ll be running the field test in this country. When the time comes for that, we’ll be happy to have two or three well-trained submissive men so close at hand.”

  Scowling, Dawson said, “Hiring lawyers in Vaduz, establishing the corporation, buying the forged papers, hiring the mercenaries, bringing them here ... these are expenditures I didn’t want to make until we were certain the drug and subliminals will work as you say.”

  “They will.”

  “We aren’t yet certain.”

  Holding a scalpel to the light, studying the silhouette of its razored edge, Salsbury said, “I’m sure the money won’t come out of your pocket, Leonard. You’ll find some way to squeeze it from the corporation. ”

  “It’s not as easy as all that, I assure you. Futurex isn’t a private game park, you know. It’s a public corporation. I can’t raid the treasury at will.”

  “You’re supposed to be a billionaire,” Salsbury said. “In the great tradition of Onassis, Getty, Hughes ... Futurex isn’t the only thing you’ve got your hand in. Somewhere, you found more than two million dollars to set up this lab. And every month you manage to come up with the eighty thousand dollars needed to maintain it. By comparison, this new expense is a trifle.”

  “I agree,” the general said.

  “It’s not your money that’s going down a rat hole,” Dawson said irritably.

  “If you think the project’s a rat hole,” Salsbury said, “then we should call it off right now.”

  Dawson started to pace, stopped after a few steps, put his hands in his trouser pockets, and took them right out again. “It’s these men that bother me.”

  “What men?”

  “These mercenaries.”

  “What about them?”

  “They’re nothing but killers.”

  “Of course.”

  “Professional killers. They earn their living by—by murdering people.”

  “I’ve never had much of anything good to say about free-lancers,” Klinger said. “But that’s a simplification, Leonard.”

  “It’s essentially true.”

  Impatiently, Salsbury said, “So what if it is?”

  “Well, I don’t like the idea of having them in my home,” Dawson said. His tone was almost prissy.

  You hypocritical ass, Salsbury thought. He didn’t have the nerve to say it. His confidence had increased over the past year—but not enough to enable him to speak so frankly to Dawson.

  Klinger said, “Leonard, how in the hell do you think we’d fare with the police and the courts if they found out how Kingman died? Would they just pat us on the head and send us away with a scolding? Do you think that just because we didn’t strangle or shoot or stab him, they’d hesitate to call us killers? Do you think we’d get off scot-free because, although we’re killers, we don’t earn our living that way?”

  For an instant Dawson’s black eyes, like onyx mirrors, caught the cold fluorescent light and gleamed unnaturally. Then he turned his head a fraction of an inch, and the effect was lost. However, something of the same frigid, alien quality remained in his voice. “I never touched Brian. I never laid a finger on him. I never said an unkind word to him.”

  Neither Salsbury nor Klinger responded.

  “I didn’t want him to die.”

  They waited.

  Dawson wiped one hand across his face. “Very well. I’ll move ahead in Liechtenstein. I’ll get those three mercenaries for you.”

  “How soon?” Salsbury asked.

  “If I’m to maintain secrecy every step of the way—three months. Maybe four.”

  Salsbury nodded and continued laying out surgical instruments for the autopsy.

  7

  Monday, August 22, 1977

  At nine o’clock Monday morning, Jenny came to visit the Annendale camp, and she brought with her a sturdy, yard-high canary cage.

  Mark laughed when he saw her carrying it out of the woods. “What’s that for?”

  “A guest should always bring a gift,” she said.

  “What will we do with it?”

  She put it in the boy’s hands as Paul kissed her on the cheek.

  Mark grinned at her through the slender, gilded bars.

  “You said you wanted to bring your squirrel to town this coming Friday. Well, you can’t let him loose in the car. This will be his travel cage.”

  “He won’t like being penned up.”

  “Not at first. But he’ll get used to it.”

  “He’ll have to get used to it sooner or later if he’s going to be your pet,” Paul said.

  Rya nudged her brother and said, “For God’s sake, Mark, aren’t you going to say thank you? Jenny probably looked all over town for that.”

  The boy blushed. “Oh, sure. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Jenny.”

  “Rya, you’ll notice there’s a small brown bag in the bottom of the cage. That’s for you.”

  The girl tore open the bag and smiled when she saw the three paperback books. “Some of my favorite authors. And I don’t have any of these! Thanks, Jenny.”

  Most eleven-year-old girls liked to read nurse novels, romances, perhaps Barbara Cartland or Mary Roberts Rinehart. But Jenny would have made a serious mistake if she had brought anything of that sort for Rya. Instead: one Louis L’Amour western, one collection of horror stories, and one adventure novel by Alistair MacLean. Rya wasn’t a classic tomboy—but she sure as hell wasn’t like most other eleven-year-old girls, either.

  Both of these children were special. That was why, although she had no particular affection for children in general, she
had fallen for them so quickly. She loved them every bit as much as she loved Paul.

  Oh, yeah? she thought, catching herself in the admission. You’re just brimming with love for Paul, aren’t you?

  Enough of that.

  Love, is it? Then why don’t you accept his proposal?

  Enough.

  Why won’t you marry him?

  Well, because—

 
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