Immortal Twilight, page 1part #66 of Outlanders Series
OUT OF THE GASLIGHT
Kane and his Cerberus rebels have defied the odds and repelled an alien infiltration by minds of far greater complexity than those of man. But with Earth undefended and ripe for the plucking, a new threat emerges…one that has been created by man himself.
Nurtured in the secret laboratories of nineteenth-century London where they were designed as Queen Victoria’s ultimate supersoldiers, five immortals break free from their most recent subterranean prison in the Gray Area. Impervious to attack, stronger and faster than ordinary humans, these surreally beautiful, self-serving five are the ultimate killing machines. And they’re ready to make up for centuries of boredom, warping everyone they meet in their perverted quest to rule the world. Only Kane and his team dare to stand against their wicked art—if they can.
“Now then, what art shall we make of him?”
Grant saw the man’s strange blaster come into his field of vision.
“What about inside art?” Antonia proposed. “Red things, the color of life.”
Hugh pressed his weapon to Grant’s gut and pulled the trigger. With a hum, the odd-looking blaster emitted an orange beam of heat that Grant could feel even through his shadow suit.
Grant screamed as pain racked his body, vibrating his very atoms as he juddered in place, quivering on the ground like a jumping jack. The scream passed in a moment, and after that he strained to cling to consciousness as the pain pressed against his chest.
Grant was unconscious when the pain finally stopped as Hugh switched off the heat beam. “It doesn’t work, Algie,” Hugh said. “Your heat brush doesn’t work.”
“It repelled his bullet, didn’t it?” Algernon called from where he stood before the fallen figure of Shizuka. She was barely conscious, looking up at him from her position sprawled on the floor.
Other titles in this series:
Wreath of Fire
Tigers of Heaven
Tomb of Time
Devil in the Moon
Talon and Fang
Sea of Plague
Mad God’s Wrath
Mask of the Sphinx
Children of the Serpent
Rim of the World
Lords of the Deep
Closing the Cosmic Eye
Pantheon of Vengeance
Warlord of the Pit
Cradle of Destiny
Special thanks to Rik Hoskin for his contribution to this work.
Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.
—Oscar Wilde, “A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-educated”,
Saturday Review, 1894
“All war is art.”
—First recorded words of Hugh Danner, 1895
The Road to Outlands—
From Secret Government Files to the Future
Almost two hundred years after the global holocaust, Kane, a former Magistrate of Cobaltville, often thought the world had been lucky to survive at all after a nuclear device detonated in the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. The aftermath—forever known as skydark—reshaped continents and turned civilization into ashes.
Nearly depopulated, America became the Deathlands—poisoned by radiation, home to chaos and mutated life forms. Feudal rule reappeared in the form of baronies, while remote outposts clung to a brutish existence.
What eventually helped shape this wasteland were the redoubts, the secret preholocaust military installations with stores of weapons, and the home of gateways, the locational matter-transfer facilities. Some of the redoubts hid clues that had once fed wild theories of government cover-ups and alien visitations.
Rearmed from redoubt stockpiles, the barons consolidated their power and reclaimed technology for the villes. Their power, supported by some invisible authority, extended beyond their fortified walls to what was now called the Outlands. It was here that the rootstock of humanity survived, living with hellzones and chemical storms, hounded by Magistrates.
In the villes, rigid laws were enforced—to atone for the sins of the past and prepare the way for a better future. That was the barons’ public credo and their right-to-rule.
Kane, along with friend and fellow Magistrate Grant, had upheld that claim until a fateful Outlands expedition. A displaced piece of technology…a question to a keeper of the archives…a vague clue about alien masters—and their world shifted radically. Suddenly, Brigid Baptiste, the archivist, faced summary execution, and Grant a quick termination. For Kane there was forgiveness if he pledged his unquestioning allegiance to Baron Cobalt and his unknown masters and abandoned his friends.
But that allegiance would make him support a mysterious and alien power and deny loyalty and friends. Then what else was there?
Kane had been brought up solely to serve the ville. Brigid’s only link with her family was her mother’s red-gold hair, green eyes and supple form. Grant’s clues to his lineage were his ebony skin and powerful physique. But Domi, she of the white hair, was an Outlander pressed into sexual servitude in Cobaltville. She at least knew her roots and was a reminder to the exiles that the outcasts belonged in the human family.
Parents, friends, community—the very rootedness of humanity was denied. With no continuity, there was no forward momentum to the future. And that was the crux—when Kane began to wonder if there was a future.
For Kane, it wouldn’t do. So the only way was out—way, way out.
After their escape, they found shelter at the forgotten Cerberus redoubt headed by Lakesh, a scientist, Cobaltville’s head archivist, and secret opponent of the barons.
With their past turned into a lie, their future threatened, only one thing was left to give meaning to the outcasts. The hunger for freedom, the will to resist the hostile influences. And perhaps, by opposing, end them.
The widow wore black. A tribute to their love eternal, Queen Victoria had worn black since the death of her husband, Albert, in 1861.
She had sat on the British throne for as long as Major Fortesque-Penwright could remember. Her reign had already broken records, with no sign of her stepping down. Some had speculated that she might abdicate when Albert died, but that was thirty-four years ago now and yet the queen stayed on the throne. Queen Victoria ruled not just Great Britain but also the vast British Empire, which circled the globe. Empress of India, head of the Colonial Conference of 1887, she was a magnetic force around which everything on Earth seemed to revolve.
The queen followed Fortesque-Penwright as he led her through the arched doorway and into the vast research theater. The archway was wide, like a train tunnel from the underground system, and the room beyond was wider still, with high rafters and pools of light aimed in cones at the various units in use there. The room was dominated by what appeared to be a vast aquarium along with bubbling cylinders and whirling centrifugal separators like some strange parody of a fairground, with desks and overflowing bookshelves arranged along three walls. Over in one corner of the chamber, set far back from the unfathomable operations, was a small loungelike area with a rose-red rug laid down across the stone floor and four accommodating leather chairs arranged in a crescent around a low table with a gas lamp behind. Incongruous with the rest of the laboratory, it looked strangely comfortable to Victoria as her eyes darted around the room.
There were people here, too, over a dozen men wearing their finest suits for the royal visit, their shoes shined to mirror clarity. To a man, they looked awkward and scruffy despite their best efforts—scientists, Victoria realized.
“God save the queen,” one of the men announced as Victoria and the major stepped into the room. Around him, his fellows voiced their agreement with the sentiment, waiting patiently for either the queen or the major to give them their instructions.
“One is delighted to visit,” she finally announced, her voice strong despite her advanced years; she could still command a room, even at seventy-six. Her words echoed around the chamber for a moment, bouncing back from the hard surfaces of the wall and ceiling. The room was underground, hidden beneath a great army complex on the outskirts of Windsor in Berkshire, England. No one but her most trusted aides knew that the queen was here. Indeed, if any had asked, the existence of this visit would have been denied.
Once excused, the laboratory men went back to their tasks, checking on the bubbling tank that dominated the room. All except for one man; he remained by the bank of desks, waiting patiently for his audience with the queen. The man was dressed more casually than the others, his hair a little longer, his pants not quite matching his jacket. He was taller than average, with tanned skin, his hair and sideburns black as india ink.
Fortesque-Penwright introduced him, leading the queen to him by a gesture, deigning never to touch Her Majesty. “Professor Howard, Your Highness.”
“Obliged, Your Majesty,” Howard said, tipping his brow with his fingers. His accent clearly marked him as an American, an outsider among this group.
“Which part of the United States did you travel from, Professor?” Victoria asked.
Howard looked surprised, caught off guard by the sheer ordinariness of the question. “Texas, originally,” Howard recovered. “Then a little all-over for a while before I landed here in merry England.”
“One is informed that you are something of an expert in your field,” the queen continued, standing before Howard and glaring up at him. “Artificial evolution, from what one understands.”
“That’s right, Your Majesty,” Howard agreed in his Texan drawl. “Biogenetics is what I call it. It’s a discipline of science that explores the extreme possibilities of the body, both human and animal.”
Victoria shot the man a fierce look. “Do you then consider humans and animals to be interchangeable, Professor?”
“In strict terms of biology, there’s not that much difference from a scientist’s point of view,” Howard admitted uncomfortably. “Though, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my work. It’s very respectful of the human body. I’m seeking to improve, not to hurt.” As he spoke, Howard reached across the desk behind him and took up his hat, a dun-colored Stetson with a band of silver coinlike circlets around the base of the crown.
“What success have you achieved, Professor Howard?” the queen asked.
Howard fiddled with the brim of his hat, unsure whether he could wear it in the presence of British royalty. It remained in his hands as he spoke. “I had some success with rats and other rodents, a dog that could run faster than anything you ever saw on my pappy’s farm.” He looked embarrassed. “Um...which is to say...”
Queen Victoria brushed away his explanation. “We have dogs in this country, Professor,” she said archly. “Your meaning is quite clear. Please continue. How is it you have ended up on this side of the Atlantic Ocean?”
“Once I realized the applications of my procedure, I approached the U.S. government to determine their interest levels in my work,” Howard said. “There was some interest, what with the longevity and the medicinal implications of...”
The queen stopped him with a wave of her black-clad hand. “A little slower, if you would, Professor, and perhaps a remedial step for the benefit of an old woman’s comprehension.”
Howard did a hard swallow, realizing for the first time how nervous he was. His funding depended on this aged woman—his funding and his career. Together, the professor and the queen walked across the room, making their way toward the bubbling aquarium. “Ahem. My background draws from both biology and veterinary practice, Your Majesty. I began by experimenting on various mammals, rats and what have you, in an effort to determine what could be done to make them stronger and more resilient—kinda like the way a horticulturalist will crossbreed strains of flowers to make a new rose.
“Now, once that was in place, the implications became obvious. If I could make a stronger rat that was resilient to disease—and I did—and if I could make a cocker spaniel that could outrun its fellows by some considerable margin and never get tired—and, once again, I did—then it only takes a small leap of the imagination to realize what might happen if I were to apply those same techniques to the human form.”
The party had stopped before the glass-walled tank in the center of the underground room. Twenty-five feet on its longest side, the aquarium-like tank was thirteen feet high and had been secured to the floor by cast-iron bolts. The tank glowed with ultraviolet light, turning the liquid within an iridescent green hue. Equipment hooked to the tank fed it with chemical compounds and rigorously monitored its makeup. Each feed was printed out by a wavering needle that showed the peaks and troughs of the components, a little like a seismology unit recording earth tremors. The glow from the tank painted the floor in a green wash, while the liquid itself clouded and parted like the London fog, revealing its contents in snatched glimpses.
“Imagine human beings that were resilient to all disease,” Professor Howard continued. “Humans of fearsome intelligence who could outmaneuver their contemporaries in every field.”
Taking a step closer, the queen eyed the emerald tank with interest. There were shadowy forms within, people floating in the liquid murk, upright as if standing. They were tall, with long limbs and
As the queen watched the man floating there, Major Fortesque-Penwright stepped forward, blushing a beetroot-red behind his bushy mustache. “I do apologize, Your Majesty,” he blustered. “I had no idea that this...show would be so obscene....”
Her eyes still on the naked figures in the tank, the queen spoke in her most regal tones. “One was married for twenty-one years and has had nine children, Major. It takes rather more than a naked figure to offend.”
Howard smiled at the put-down, feeling a growing admiration for this old woman on whom his very reputation depended. Around them, white-coated men bustled about the lab, referring to notebooks as they checked bubbling cylinders and rolling printouts.
“You asked how I ended up on this side of the pond, Your Majesty,” Howard said, “and that’s a mighty fair question. At first I tried the U.S. authorities, and the Army folk were interested, make no mistake. They saw potential here to create some kind of special soldier, strong as an ox and invulnerable to disease, a soldier that never became tired. That didn’t sit so well with me, but research of this nature takes funding—a lot of funding. Thing is, Your Highness, they couldn’t meet the budget I needed.”
“So you came here, Stetson in hand,” the queen suggested, fixing Howard with her intense gaze.
“That’s how it worked out,” the professor admitted, gazing down self-consciously at his hat.
Major Fortesque-Penwright took up the discussion, addressing Queen Victoria. “Now, it should be clear that we, too, are looking into the military implications of this, Your Majesty,” he began. His was a voice that always sounded as though he was shouting, no matter how quiet he tried to make it. “The empire would benefit greatly from these...immortals, as Professor Howard has dubbed them. And there are medical applications, as well, down the road as it were. As such, the top people felt it was judicious to invest in Professor Howard’s little project.”
JAMES AXLER SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Time NomadsNemesisTerminal WhiteHomeward Bound d-5Deathlands 28 - Emerald FireBlood HarvestAtlantis RepriseCrater Lake
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