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       The Gap Into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die, p.1

           Stephen R. Donaldson
 
The Gap Into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die


  The Gap into Ruin

  Stephen R. Donaldson has won a worldwide reputation for his bestselling, critically acclaimed works of imaginative fiction. Now his stunning science fiction cycle, the Gap series, comes to a shattering climax in a cataclysmic showdown that will mean either the survival of all humankind … or its absorption and annihilation.

  THIS DAY ALL GODS DIE

  Drifting in space, sabotaged by a crewman tainted with ah alien mutagen, the starship Trumpet broadcasts to any ship in range the formula of the mutagen’s antidote—a drug the United Mining Companies has suppressed for its own sinister purposes. Aboard the crippled ship, the fugitives and survivors—Morn Hyland, an ex-UMCP cop, Angus Thermopyle, a newly freed cyborg, and unwilling saboteur Ciro Vasaczk—must make a desperate gamble. Pursued by the UMCP ship Punisher, threatened by the return of an Amnion combat vessel, they will hijack the police craft by any means necessary … and take it back to Earth.

  OTHER BOOKS BY STEPHEN R. DONALDSON

  THE GAP SERIES

  THE GAP INTO CONFLICT: The Real Story

  THE GAP INTO VISION: Forbidden Knowledge

  THE GAP INTO POWER: A Dark and Hungry God Arises

  THE GAP INTO MADNESS: Chaos and Order

  THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT

  Book One: Lord Foul’s Bane

  Book Two: The Illearth War

  Book Three: The Power That Preserves

  THE SECOND CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT

  Book One: The Wounded Land

  Book Two: The One Tree

  Book Three: White Gold Wielder

  DAUGHTER OF REGALS AND OTHER TALES MORDANTS NEED

  Volume One: The Mirror of Her Dreams

  Volume Two: A Man Rides Through

  To

  Sensei Mike Heister

  and

  Sempai Karen Heister:

  two of the best.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

  I wish to thank Douglas A. Van Belle and Mark Woolrich—as well as the entire HIT-list—for their efforts to relieve some of my ignorance. The Dancing Wu Li Masters would be proud of them. Any evidence of incomprehension which remains is entirely my own responsibility.

  HASHI

  It was typical of Hashi Lebwohl that he did not report to Warden Dios as soon as he returned to UMCPHQ.

  He wasn’t trying to avoid another confrontation with the man who had outplayed and, in a strange, piquant sense, shamed him. On the contrary, he felt remarkably sanguine about the prospect of talking to the UMCP director. He simply made no effort to bring about a conversation himself. He assumed that Warden Dios was perfectly capable of recognizing an emergency when he saw it—and that he wouldn’t hesitate to summon Hashi when he wished to speak to his DA director.

  A kaze had attacked the Governing Council for Earth and Space in extraordinary session, apparently intending to exterminate Cleatus Fane, the First Executive Assistant of the United Mining Companies. Only Hashi’s personal intervention had prevented serious—not to say embarrassing—bloodshed. And as a direct result of the attack the GCES had voted to reject Captain Sixten Vertigus’ Bill of Severance. Indeed, the Members had been stampeded into clinging to the status quo for their lives; to Holt Fasner and the UMCP. None of them had wanted to take on the responsibility for their own safety—and certainly not for the safety of human space.

  If Warden didn’t call this an emergency, he must have lost all contact with the world of factual reality. Or else his game was deeper than anything Hashi had dared to imagine. Perhaps it was deeper than he could imagine.

  Neither prospect offered reassurance. On the whole, however, Hashi preferred the latter. That which he found impenetrable today might well appear transparent tomorrow. And he could always push himself to expand his own capacities. The challenge might conceivably be good for him. In the meantime he could endure the shame of being outplayed.

  But if Warden Dios had lost his grasp on events—

  From that fount endless disasters might spring.

  This was all speculation, of course. Still Hashi wondered—and worried. The quantum mechanics of his conundrum remained as Heisenberg had defined them. By his own efforts he had taken hold of events in flux in order to name them accurately; establish them in their positions. Therefore he was prevented from knowing where those events tended. Certainty precluded certainty.

  He chose not to report to Warden on his own initiative because he wanted to know how long Warden would wait before summoning him. That interval would reveal more surely than words the extent to which Warden had been taken by surprise.

  In any case the DA director still had plenty of work to do in order to ready himself for Warden’s summons; to confirm and solidify what he’d learned on Suka Bator. No one would criticize him for spending every available moment on an effort to be sure of his facts.

  Using a tight-beam transmission coded exclusively for Data Acquisition, he’d begun speaking to Lane Harbinger as soon as the UMCP shuttle had left the GCES island and broken free of Earth’s gravity well; supplying her with preliminary data; preparing her for the research he required. He felt some discomfort as he did so because he wasn’t alone on the shuttle. Protocol Director Koina Hannish rode with him, accompanied by her retinue of aides and techs. And UMCPED Chief of Security Mandich was also aboard: he was on his way to explain his failures to Warden Dios, since his immediate superior, Min Donner, was absent from UMCPHQ. He’d left Deputy Chief Forrest Ing in charge of Security’s version of “martial law” on Suka Bator.

  circumstances didn’t supply privacy, or justify delay. He owed Warden restitution for his earlier mistakes. Instead of waiting for the shuttle to reach UMCPHQ, he kept his exchanges with Lane as brief as possible; and when he spoke, he employed the impermeable jargon of DA to disguise what he was saying.

  To all appearances Koina ignored him completely. No doubt she had more than enough to occupy her contemplations. Although she was new to her duties, she’d acquitted herself admirably during the extraordinary session. And she had reason to be grateful to Captain Vertigus, despite the failure of his proposed legislation. On the other hand, Hashi deemed that most of her thoughts were more troubled. He knew her well enough to suspect that she feared her performance before the Council may have triggered or catalyzed the kaze’s attack. For her it must have been easy to believe that the men who’d sent a kaze against the GCES would not have felt compelled to go so far if they hadn’t been surprised or frightened by her declaration of the UMCP’s neutrality in the debate over a Bill of Severance; her declaration of Warden Dios’ independence from Holt Fasner.

  Hashi knew better. Earlier he’d been uncertain: now he was sure. Her performance may in fact have been a catalyst. Nevertheless it was essentially incidental. The men responsible for Clay Imposs né Nathan Alt could not have known that Sixten Vertigus, Senior Member for the United Western Bloc, would introduce a Bill of Severance. In addition, Imposs/Alt had been moving past Captain Vertigus toward Cleatus Fane when Hashi had accosted him. Therefore Captain Vertigus wasn’t the intended target. The motivations behind the kaze’s attack operated independently of the UWB Senior Member and his bill, as well as of Warden Dios’ neutrality.

  Hashi said nothing to reassure Koina. She hadn’t asked for anything of the kind. And she would hear what he’d learned soon enough.

  In contrast Chief Mandich studied Hashi narrowly while he spoke to Lane. Clearly Mandich was waiting for a chance to talk to the DA director.

  A pox on the man, Hashi thought with unwonted vexation. The Chief of Security’s rectitude was as ironclad as Min Donner’s, but he lacked her flexibility of intelligence, her capacity to acknowledge
concepts which violated her personal reality. For example, Hashi didn’t doubt that if Mandich were suddenly exalted to the position of UMCP director, the man wouldn’t hesitate to fire Hashi for having done things which disturbed the Chief’s scruples. Min Donner, on the other hand, might well retain Hashi in DA, even though she knew far more about his actions arid policies, and therefore had experienced far more outrage to her peculiar sense of honor.

  Still Hashi did nothing to fend off Chief Mandich. Instead he made himself accessible as soon as he’d finished his interchange with Lane.

  The Chief took the opportunity to move to a g-seat beside Hashi, belt himself down. “Director Lebwohl,” he began without preamble, “I need to know how you knew that man was a kaze.”

  Hashi’s blue eyes glittered dangerously behind his smeared lenses. “Do you?” he countered in a tone of false amiability. No doubt Mandich meant, How were you able to spot him when we couldn’t?

  “I do.” Chief Mandich was a blunt man with a blunt face; stolid as bone. His nearly colorless gaze had the dull tenacity of a pit bull’s. “And then I need to know why you didn’t do anything to stop him sooner.

  “Something about him made you suspicious. You left your seat and moved around the hall specifically so that you could get close to him. But you didn’t say anything.” Mandich spoke with undisguised bitterness. He hated his own failures. “We’re just lucky nobody in the hall was killed. If you’d bothered to warn us, a GCES Security guard would still be alive. Ensign Crender would still have his left hand.

  “With respect, Director Lebwohl,” he sneered, “what the hell did you think you were doing?”

  A tremor ran along Hashi’s frame. His own reaction to the danger and indignity of the past few hours seemed to shrill inside him. “Very well.” He folded his thin hands in his lap to conceal their indignation. “You answer my questions, and I will answer yours.

  “To use your phrase, Chief Mandich, what the hell did you think you were doing when you assigned a whelp like Ensign Crender to take my orders?”

  Mandich’s eyes widened.

  Wheezing sharply, Hashi sent his words like wasps into the Chief’s blunt face. “I made my needs known explicitly to Deputy Chief Ing. I informed him that I desired him and his men to stand ready to carry out my requests and instructions.

  “He replied that he could not comply without consulting you.

  “I did not consider that adequate. ‘If I ask you to “do something,” I will need it done without the delay of applying to your chief for permission.’ Those were my exact words. I told him plainly that I did not know what to expect, but that I wished to be prepared for whatever might transpire.

  “Still he hesitated. I answered, Then kindly inform Chief Mandich that I require him to assign personnel to me who have been given his authorization to do what I tell them.’ Again those are my exact words.

  “Director Hannish supported my wishes.”

  Obliquely Hashi observed that Koina was staring at him, her lips slightly parted in surprise. It was probable that in the years she’d worked with him she’d never heard him sound so angry.

  An undignified flush stained Chief Mandich’s neck, mottled his cheeks with his own anger. He opened his mouth to deliver a retort. But Hashi wasn’t done. He didn’t give the Chief a chance to speak.

  “How did you respond?” he went on harshly. “By assigning to me a boy so untried that he was unable to react without hesitation—hesitation which could well have resulted in murder in the meeting hall of the Governing Council for Earth and Space.

  “True, he mastered his hesitation. He took the action necessary to save lives. For that I honor him.

  “But I do not honor you, Chief Mandich.” If Hashi hadn’t controlled his hands, they would have flown like stings at the Chief’s eyes. “I am the United Mining Companies Police Director of Data Acquisition, and you did not take my stated requirements seriously enough to assign personnel capable of prompt obedience.

  “Shall we discuss our separate motivations now, or do you prefer to wait until we can explain them in front of Director Dios?” Hashi shrugged dismissively. “For myself, I am content to wait.”

  Chief Mandich closed his mouth. Congested emotion made his features appear swollen. Poor man, he was cursed with a sense of probity so strict that it left him, defenseless. Min Donner would have faced down Hashi’s challenge in order to pursue the answers to her own questions; but her Chief of Security couldn’t do the same.

  After a moment he murmured through his teeth, “You have a valid grievance, Director Lebwohl. If you want to censure me, I won’t fight it.”

  Stiffly he unclipped his belts and drifted back to his former g-seat.

  Oh, censure you, forsooth, Hashi thought in the direction of the Chief’s retreat. I would not trouble myself. Our present circumstances are accusation enough. We confront a dilemma which censures us all.

  Honesty with himself forced him to admit that he’d enjoyed scathing Chief Mandich.

  Koina met Hashi’s look when he glanced at her. Gravity and speculation darkened her gaze. “Aren’t you being just a little disingenuous, Director Lebwohl?” she asked crisply. “Even a ‘whelp’ like Ensign Crender wouldn’t have hesitated if you’d told him what you were looking for.”

  Hashi spread his hands as if to show her that his equanimity had been completely restored. “My dear Koina, have you studied Heisenberg?”

  She shook her head.

  “A pity.” He settled himself in his g-seat to await the shuttle’s arrival at UMCPHQ. “If you had, you would understand that I could not possibly have known what I was looking for until I found it.”

  That may have been as close as he’d ever come to telling her the truth.

  Lane Harbinger met him at the dock as soon as the shuttle powered down its systems and the space doors of the bay sealed to restore atmosphere.

  On Suka Bator he’d supervised the essential chore of placing Imposs/Alt’s earthly remains in a shielded, sterile bodybag and loading them into the shuttle’s cargo space. Now he watched over the delivery of the bodybag into Lane’s care.

  A glance at the corridor in which the kaze had been detonated had assured him that too many people had trampled too much evidence—and indeed that the corridor itself was too large—to permit the kind of meticulous scrutiny Lane had given Godsen Frik’s office. Of necessity he’d surrendered his desire for some form of microscopic data from the region around the body, and had instead concentrated on Imposs Alt’s corpse—on the smears of his blood and the mangled mess of his tissues. The body itself had been simply scooped into the bodybag with a sterile shovel. But every streak or droplet of blood Hashi could locate had been cut out of the concrete with a utility laser and added to the bodybag’s contents.

  He hoped devoutly that these remains would enable Lane to find the answers he needed.

  No, not the answers: the proofs. He already knew the answers.

  A fuming nic dangled from her mouth as she joined him beside the cargo space. Her eyes glittered like shards of mica—a sign that she rode levels of stim and hype which would have poleaxed anyone whose metabolism hadn’t been inured to them. In the pockets of her labcoat her fingers twitched as if they were entering data on a purely metaphysical keypad. While the bodybag was being loaded onto a sled for transport to her lab in Data Acquisition, she asked tensely, “You sure of his id?”

  “My dear Lane,” Hashi chided gently. She knew as well as anyone who worked with him that he was unlikely to mistake an id.

  She shrugged like a twitch. “Just checking. If you’re right, my job’s that much easier.”

  Certainly she would be required to spend less time waiting for Data Storage to run its vast SAC routines.

  “Any chance I’ll find a detonator?” she continued.

  Hashi made a conscious effort to remain calm; amiably unruffled. He didn’t want to be infected by her congenital tension. “Who can say?” There were too many factors: the type of ex
plosive, its brisance, the shape of the charge, blast reflection from the nearby walls. “But if you do,” he went on more sharply, “the information will be vital. Do you understand me, Lane?”

  She sucked on her nic. “What’s to understand? Isn’t that what it all hinges on?”

  “Not all,” he countered with a shake of his head. “But enough.” He knew the truth: whatever Lane learned wouldn’t change it. Nevertheless the proof he wished to give Warden Dios depended heavily on what Lane could discover.

  “In any case,” he added, “these will be of interest.”

  Casually, almost covertly, as if he didn’t wish to be seen, he slipped Imposs/Alt’s clearance badge and id tag into Lane’s pocket.

  She identified them with her fingers, nodded decisively. “I’m sure they will.”

  The sled was ready to go. Lane moved to accompany it. Despite the nature of the emergency, however, and his own desires, he called her back. Camouflaging his seriousness with his peculiar sense of humor, he told her that he wished to see her results “relatively instantaneously. Engage your gap drive, Lane. Defy time if you must.”

  He wanted her findings before Warden summoned him.

  She replied with a snort of smoke, “Don’t I always?”

  He wheezed a laugh. “You do. Indeed you do.”

  He waited until she and her sled had left the dock before shifting himself into motion.

  By then he’d already begun to wonder how much longer Warden would delay.

  More than an hour passed before a call from the director of the UMCP reached Hashi, instructing him to present himself immediately to one of Warden’s private offices.

  Hashi hadn’t wasted the time. First he’d issued a number of Red Priority—“screaming red,” as it was sometimes called—security locks: one for every communications channel and computer that belonged or connected to Anodyne Systems, the UMC subsidiary which manufactured SOD-CMOS chips; one for the UMCP’s own personnel files; and one for each of Holt Fasner’s Home Office personnel, payroll, and Security Liaison computers. A screaming red security lock didn’t prevent anyone else from looking at electronic files or using communications linkups; but it blocked changes of any kind to those files, or to any transmission logs and records. At the same time it warned DA that changes had been attempted, and traced the codes and routing of the attempt backward.

 
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