Will Murray is a lifelong Lovecraftian and the author of several celebrated Mythos stories. Enormously prolific, he has written more than sixty novels in series ranging from The Destroyer to the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, which includes Skull Island, pitting the Man of Bronze against the legendary King Kong. He also produces Radio Archives’ successful Will Murray’s Pulp Classics line of audiobooks and ebooks, which includes works by H. P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt.
1. Disturbing Contacts
WHEN HIS CELLPHONE RANG, DR. ROBERT WENTWORTH was on his way to work at the National Reconnaissance Office of the Department of Defense.
“We have a man down,” a low voice told him.
Wentworth stiffened. “Is it safe to to go the office?”
“Unknown. Redirect to Location B.” The line went dead.
“Location B,” Wentworth muttered. “That means Non-Local Affairs. Damn. I hate Non-Local Affairs.” He pulled a skittery U-turn against traffic and shot north.
Dr. Wentworth had never been to Location B. That was how secret it was. Not simply black, but superblack. But he knew the address. As Deputy Director of NRO, this was mandatory—personal beliefs notwithstanding.
Seventy-five Tacoma was not what he expected it to be. A rambling white clapboard home zoned as a business 30 miles from the NRO’s Chantilly, Virginia, headquarters. The wrought-iron sign read: Victoria Venkus Tea House. Fortunes. Palmistry. Astrology.
This was Location B, otherwise the main station for the Cryptic Events Evaluation Section of the NRO, AKA Non-Local Affairs, colloquially derided as the “Weird Desk.” CEES’s mission was planetary defense.
The lot was full with customer cars. Parking his maroon Lexus, Wentworth stepped out into the sweltering late October heat and hurried to the back door. A short flight of steps led to a wooden landing too small to be called a back porch. By the time he climbed it, his suitcoat was soaked and plastered to his back.
Face dark with suffused blood, Wentworth pressed his leatherette ID card to the back-door glass while thumbing the buzzer.
The door was open by a violet-eyed woman who simply murmured, “In the attic.”
“Your name?” Wentworth demanded upon entering, his nose wrinkling at the pungent scent of nag champa incense.
“Call me Cassandra.”
Up a flight of suffocatingly winding stairs, past the second-floor living quarters, she brought Wentworth to a locked door. The pale brunette opened it with a silent keypad.
Another door opened on a sealed room. A lighted sign said: SESSION IN PROGRESS.
Wentworth growled, “What’s this?”
“RV chamber,” Cassandra explained.
“Sorry. Remote viewing. We have a non-responsive viewer.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I’ll show you, sir.” Unlocking the door, she led Wentworth into an egg-shaped chamber where a man lay on a waterbed. Everything in the room was gray. Ceiling, rug, walls. Even the jumpsuit the sleeping man wore. He lay on a gray sheet. In the claustrophobic space, the very air appeared somehow grayish…
“He’s been like that over sixteen hours,” Cassandra reported. “The session was scheduled for ninety minutes. They never go out more than two hours.”
“So what’s the problem? Wake him up.”
“We can’t, sir. He didn’t return. It’s never happened before. Even the old Star Gate unit never lost a viewer to the Ether. They always come back.”
“Come back. Back from where?”
“We call it the Matrix of all Creation. It’s too complicated to go into now, but while the body lies before us, still functioning on an autonomic level, his mind went out there into the Void. It simply didn’t return. We don’t know what to do. The Star Gate manual doesn’t cover this eventuality.”
“Run it down for me,” Wentworth snapped.
Cassandra sighed breathily. “Our section has been experiencing some rather disturbing contacts. It manifests itself as what medical professionals classify as sleep paralysis. SP is a REM-sleep parasomnia characterized by unusually vivid paralyzing dreams in which the afflicted party experiences—or imagines—a non-physical intruder in his bedroom. Sometimes he sees or senses the thing approaching. The intruder is invariably threatening in a malevolent way. Usually the subject feels a crushing and over-powering weight on his chest, but cannot move a muscle. He becomes certain that death is imminent.
“Upon awakening,” continued Cassandra, “the afflicted party is temporarily paralyzed and still caught up in a extremely suffocating terror syndrome. That phase will fade within three to five minutes. The intruder is most often described as an evil black cloud, a shadowy witch or hag, or a dark man. It is never present upon awaken—”
“Dark Man! That sounds like Nyar—”
Cassandra cut him off. “We don’t used the N-word in this building, sir. Against regs.”
“But you know who I mean,” growled Wentworth.
Cassandra nodded. “After two of our viewers were victimized, we went to countermeasures. The problem persisted. It was ultimately determined to take the fight to the enemy.”
“Target N is considered a lower-level entity, as these beings go, so it was deemed an actionable target. And now look at poor Manton.”
Wentworth looked away. “Seal the room until further notice. Generate a full report ASAP.”
“Yes, sir. But what other action do we take? CEES is clearly under assault by outside forces. We can’t stand down without risk of further psychic attacks.”
“Take no action until you hear otherwise,” Wentworth snapped. “And for future reference, don’t use the P-word around me. It’s against my religion.”
Wentworth flew down the stairs. His Lexus slithered out of the lot, nearly running down three teenage girls coming to get their cards read. He cranked the air conditioner up as high as it would go, inwardly praying that the heat wouldn’t break 100 as it did last Halloween.
On his way to NRO HQ, Dr. Wentworth stopped at Holy Thorn Church to light a candle to Saint Andrew. That helped him shake off the tendrils of superstitious unease creeping into his soul. He hurried back to his vehicle, eager for its air-conditioned comfort, and shot north.
As DDNRO, Dr. Wentworth believed implicitly in science, whole-heartedly subscribed the NRO mission of safeguarding America through a web of recon satellites. He saw himself as one candle dedicated to holding back the eternal night of ignorance.
But as the mission of NRO shifted after its 1992 declassification to include environmental and what were euphemistically called “external” threats—threats from outside time and space—Dr. Wentworth rediscovered the comforts of his childhood Catholicism.
Striding by the sign that read, “The Nation’s Eyes and Ears in Space,” Wentworth passed through three security stations before reaching his office. It was spare and spartan; the only concession to his personal beliefs was a hollow crucifix hanging on the wall containing two short white candles and a tiny bottle of holy oil reserved for Extreme Unction.
In privacy, he familiarized himself with RV protocols, starting with the old Department of Defense definition used during the Star Gate RV program:
“The acquisition, by mental means, of persons, places, and events remote in time and space normally blocked to ordinary perception.”
Two versions had been developed: Coordinate Remote Viewing, which seemed to be almost a form of automatic writing, and Extended Remote Viewing, an adaptation of shamanistic-style out-of-body soul travel. Both depended on the “viewer” being blinded to the true nature of the target, and cued off a set of encrypted coordinates representing a temporary space-time address for the target.
To Wentworth’s skeptical eye, it sounded like so much voodoo….
Sleep paralysis proved to be a recognized medical condition, not previously linked to star-born threats. That much was a relief.
Finally, Wentworth called up a secure file with the cryptic word NYARLATHOTEP. Categorized as an indeterminate threat entity of unknown origin and objectives, Nyarlathotep was first manifested in modern times when a once-obscure writer of pulp horror stories experienced a nightmare centering on this being, so intense and powerful that he got out of bed to transcribe an account of the contact. It was classified as a “contact” because the subject later testified that he began writing his account before fully awakening. That was back in 1920.
Within a month, Nyarlathotep sightings were being reported globally at an average of three per week. For that reason, the Lovecraft experience was retro-classified as a Presumed First Contact.
Wentworth made a nervous sign of the cross after reading that. Then he picked up the phone and speed-dialed CIA.
“Walter? Remember Star Gate? Yeah, that. Know any retired viewers? You do? Put me in contact. Your nation will be grateful.”
Three hours later, Wentworth was back in the dismal gray room looking down at the still body of NRO Viewer #28, Manton Marrs. The close air was moist and had that attic smell. In accordance with the latest emergency Federal guidelines, the air conditioning was on low to conserve precious power.
“It’s all-gray because it cuts down on the noise-to-signal ratio,” Carl Muirhead was explaining. “Any noise or color perceived before the viewer drops down into an Alpha brainwave state can influence his subsequent perceptions.”
“Skip the technobabble,” Wentworth bit off. “What do you make of him?”
Muirhead noted the placid features, the gently rising and falling gray cotton chest. “Could be stuck in Theta. That’s the bridge between waking Alpha and the Delta sleepstate. Most Extended RV is done in Theta.”
“Can he be unstuck?”
“The brainmind, maybe. But his spirit is out there. Really out there.”
“Well, reel him back in.”
Muirhead frowned. “Can’t be done. But possibly I can go out and fetch him.”
Wentworth visibly shook. “Gives me the creeps when you say that….”
Muirhead eyed Cassandra, waiting outside the chamber. “I’ll need the coordinates he was working.”
“I’ll get them.” She departed.
“Coordinates?” Wentworth asked. “What good will they do?” “All RV is done off coordinates to blind the viewer to the target, so as to inhibit aol—analytic overlay.”
“Imaginative associations,” Muirhead said softly. “Tell someone to RV the moon and his imagination will paint the moon he knows. But convert that target to a set of encrypted coords, and all he’s got to go on is the data coming off the signal line—the train of signals emanating from the target. It’s how we avoid frontloading.”
“You’ve lost me completely.”
“Sorry. I was with the Star Gate unit for seven years. RV is second-nature to me. The problem here may not be the viewer, but at the target site he was run against. I need to figure out which it is.”
Cassandra returned with a file. “The tasking started with an Open Search Outward,” she supplied. “We couldn’t assume a lone attacker, so we tasked the viewer to go to the central source of the attack. Here is his first session report.”
Muirhead scanned the top page. The coordinates were a set a numbers:
“Pretty sketchy stuff,” he murmured, skimming the session report. “Mostly auditory impressions—pounding drums and anti-coherent music.”
“Inteference was assumed,” she explained. “We then assigned a set of coords to this Matrix address and ran him against it. The first time, he aoled black holes. Then, on the second tasking, he…”
“Black holes, you say?”
“Yes. On the second tasking, he bounced off the membrane. Hard. Shook him up badly. Had to take the day off.”
Wentworth interrupted, “Membrane? What membrane?”
“In ERV,” Muirhead explained, “the viewer visualizes himself in a safe place in his mind. A sanctuary. Then he creates a vortex in that space, into which he mentally projects himself. It’s actually a quantum-level wormhole. Usually, you can feel your perceptual self going through a membrane at the opposite end before you drop into the target area. If he bounced off, that means a denied area.”
“Denied! By whom?”
“That,” said Carl Muirhead, “is what I’m going to find out.”
“Have you ever dealt with this type of target before?” Cassandra asked quietly.
Muirhead nodded absently. “In training, I worked a target where I found myself on a vast surface marked by a great blue star. There were several robed figures standing guard before a gigantic throne of some dazzling material. No sooner had I perceived them than they approached and ordered me in no uncertain terms to leave.”
“So?” Wentworth snorted.
“So this: I am not a person or even a ghost when I go out there. I’m a point of perception. I can’t be seen by human eyes. But they saw me.”
“What was the target?” Cassandra asked.
“The Throne of God.”
“Jesus Henry Christ!” Wentworth exploded.
“It made a believer out of me,” Muirhead said soberly.
“Believer in what?”
“Everything. That all possibilities are possible, and maybe no possibilities are mutually exclusive, but simultaneously possible.”
“That’s not possible.”
“It is—as if the universe is actually a hologram, add some scientists now speculate. Then we have parallel worlds and alternate realities galore.”
“God Almighty created the Universe!” Wentworth snapped back.
Muirhead frowned absently. “Whatever. It’s long-ago created and we have to deal with it on its own terms, not ours.”
“Then I’ll leave you to your voodoo, or whatever it is you do…”
Wentworth stormed out.
2. Dark Upper Regions
“Has anyone tried CRVing this target?” Muirhead asked. Cassandra opened the top drawer of her cramped office desk. “As a preliminary probe, yes,” she said. “This was the result.”
A half-dozen black rollerball pens spilled onto the desk. They were contorted into various arthritic shapes.
Muirhead picked one up. “Melted?”
“If only. Lab analysis indicates they were reconfigured on the molecular level.”
“Any useful data come out of it?”
“None whatsoever, captain.”
“I’m retired. Call me Carl. Okay, I’ll need a place to cool down.”
“Do you have a cooldown preference?”
Muirhead pulled a CD sleeve from a pocket. “Brought my own mix. Thetawave entrainment track. Pink noise with an embedded binaural beat.”
Cassandra nodded. “Once we find a place to store Viewer #28, you’ll be good to go.”
An hour later, Carl Muirhead was lying on the gray waterbed listening to the buzzing pink noise fill his brain. He had once been based at the US Amundsen-Scott Research Station in Antarctica, and its harsh serenity appealed to his military mind. He mentally re-created its geodesic dome as his Sanctuary.
While his brain and body cycled down into a receptive brain-wave posture, Muirhead mentally paced the cool austere interior, creating an imaginary strongbox into which he cast his fears and concerns. Also, all the frontloading he’d received thus far. In this case, frontloading came with the territory. He’d have to work through it.
In the center of the dome’s floor lay a great well. A gray vortex churned in the well. The coordinates were chiseled into the rim. He has set them there as he visualized this space.
When he felt ready, Muirhead would plunge in. But not before. He had to be free of all earthly thoughts.
Even for a seasoned viewer, the line between the imaginal and the operational is a treacherous blur. So when his strongbox started to rattle, Carl Muirhead ignored it as an artifact of an active rather than receptive imagination.
It refused to settle down. Mentally, he unlocked it. Out popped something black and rubbery, sporting an eggplant-blank ovoid instead of a featured head. It flung a long-handled spear at him.
Muirhead went to White Light. The spear vaporized upon contact with his expanded aura.
With an angry whipping of its snaky black tail, the ebony entity retreated down the churning well.
Boosting his auric field, Muirhead stepped to the rim and plunged in.
The sensation of falling was long and pleasant. When he hit the membrane, it was a surprise. He bounced back. Taking another run at it, he struck hard and rebounded.
The third time, it passed him through with no more sensation than a finger going through a soap bubble.
Rolling upon impact, he found his metaphysical feet. That was RV Rule #1.
Rule #2 was to keep moving. It was the only way to perceptually turn undifferentiated waves into recognizable particles. His recon was spiral. Nothing was manifested, so Muirhead expanded his scope.
A face flashed briefly. An ovoid head, sharp bat ears, and absolutely no features. It was lost almost as quickly as perceived.
The area seemed cavernous. Drums, or something that reverberated like drums, crept into his conscious awareness, pulling him toward their maddening cacophony.
Muirhead resisted. The thrumming tug persisted. He pulled back. The tugging tones grew tormented, insistent.
Although he had left his physical body back in the gray room, Carl Muirhead could feel his heart-rate accelerate. A creeping panic was setting in. The tug turned into tendrils of terror.
He gave himself the mental command: Return to Sanctuary.
For a panicky beat, nothing happened. A cold blackness seemed to be creeping over him. The drums swelled. A weird piping started up, wilder than Pan at his most manic.
Then, abruptly, he was back in Sanctuary.
And something infinitely black and manlike was rising out of the well….
He seemed to be dreaming. Strangely, he knew he was dreaming. Carl Muirhead lay in the womblike gray chamber, but something was wrong—horribly wrong. The geometry. It was impossible. He was enclosed in a sealed place. Although he could remember coming to this room, suddenly it made no sense that he could be enclosed. It was against the very laws he knew—or thought he knew.
There were no corners or angles in this round sealed space. Yet somehow, something was extruding out of a high round spot that was akin to a corner.
It was small and black—intensely black. A cloud. It possessed no face, yet it looked at him with such malevolence he could imagine a visage of incalculably unutterable evil.
A harsh voice spoke:
“Death is all around you! Your eyes! Your eyes!”
He could not move. He could not breathe. He lay paralyzed, a helpless morsel for the nasty black cloud that stealthily slipped toward him like a formless spider descending a web.
Remembering his training, he shot it with White Light.
Shocked, the dark thing retreated from view. It was that easy.
Abruptly, Muirhead was awake. He sat up, heart racing. There was no cloud. Nothing. The geometry of the room seemed perfectly normal now.
Yet he remembered clearly how it had been. For a frightening moment, his mind attempted to reconcile two utterly opposed views of reality. Then it all faded like a dream….
“What the hell happened?” Cassadra asked anxiously.
Muirhead sat up. He was drenched in a strange sweat. “I must have Deltaed out. I returned to Sanctuary, and suddenly I was dreaming. A black cloud zeroed in on me—”
“You’ve been hagged.”
“Hagged. Newfoundland folk term for sleep paralysis-style demon assault. The fear will pass very quickly. Breathe normally.”
“Fear? That was sheer terror.” Muirhead lay back down. “There’s something else. I can’t seem to recall what….”
“It will come back if you relax. Please compose your session report while the data is still fresh in your mind.”
She departed hastily.
“Your session report clearly describes a night-gaunt,” Cassandra was saying thirty minutes later.
“I’m unfamiliar with the term,” Muirhead admitted.
“An even lower order of entity than Target N.” She frowned. “Do you recall what you had forgotten?”
“No. It’s at the periphery of my consciousness, but still eluding me.”
Cassandra frowned. “I think the next session should be monitored.”
“Carl, are you familiar with the soul retrieval concept? I think what happened to Manton calls for such a procedure.”
Muirhead frowned. “I’ve done a lot of non-local operations, but I’ve never done that.”
“Have you ever had a spiritual experience during RV?”
“Once. Never forgot it, either.”
“Good. Then you’ll understand what I’m driving at. A human being at our level of vibration is capable of making contact with a disembodied consciousness. That will be your tasking. To locate viewer Manton Marrs. Are you okay with that?”
“No guarantees,” he reminded.
“Not even that you’ll come back,” Cassandra said flatly.
Muirhead stood up. “I want to bulletproof the next session before I jump back in.”
“Don’t know. But there’s got to be a way.”
“Fine. This time tomorrow.”
“Done. See you then.”
“On your way out,” Cassandra called after him, “you might want to get a reading. On the house. Forewarned is forearmed.”
“It’s a thought,” said Muirhead.
“I recommend Kim.”
Kim was blonde and almost no help. Her eyes skipped over the Tarot card spread. “There’s something you’ve forgotten.”
“I know. Can you tell me what it is?”
Kim couldn’t. “I can’t seem to grab an image. I feel blocked.”
Muirhead sighed. “I know exactly how you feel….”
3. Present and Unaccounted For
Lying in bed that night, Carl Muirhead felt blocked too. His mind kept jumping to those last few minutes in Sanctuary, just before he fell into that surreal space where Euclidean geometry ceased to be relevant. There was a missing memory there, but he still couldn’t access it.
He didn’t remember drifting off, but knew he was dreaming. He did not know how he knew, nor how it was possible to know that he was dreaming. But he knew.
A black faceless figure stood at the foot of his bed. Tall, lean, radiating incalculable power, it gazed down at him with a weird combination of malevolence and contempt, even though it possessed no discernible orbs.
—I am come again, it communicated. The words rang in Muirhead’s mind, not his ears. For the tall black entity possessed no mouth either.
Muirhead’s question was non-vocal. A thoughtball. —What?
—All knowledge you desire I possess, it returned.
—What are you?
—Am I not magnificent?
—Do you fail to behold me?
A sucking sensation took Carl Muirhead by the feet and his consciousness spun crazily and without direction.
He did not know where he was in time or space, but something like a black organic egg swallowed him. Flaps closed over his head and he felt as if he were in a womb. Not his mother’s womb, but something both familiar and alien. It seemed as if he were suspended in a warm jellylike substance.
A soothing disembodied voice pulsed.—You are safe here.
—What are you? returned Muirhead.
—The god of this sector. I am named Nyarlathotep by him who created me.
—Who created you?
—He whose name is Love.
—God Almighty created you! Muirhead thought back, stunned. —For what insane purpose?
—To fulfill my destiny, as will all creation.
—You have opened the door for me, the mighty mind of Nyarlathotep interrupted.—Therefore, I will permit you to enter Ultimate Chaos to retrieve the entity you seek. I offer no other guarantees.
Carl Muirhead abruptly woke up. Terror was high in his throat. His heart pounded. Jerking awake and up, he expected to behold Nyarlathotep, but there was nothing there but a dark emptiness that reverberated like a lingering presence….
Cassandra picked up on the second ring. “Yes?”
“I made contact,” Muirhead reported. “Target N. They’ve been wrong about him since day one. He’s not a low-level entity, but a sector god. Probably has dominion over this solar system. Maybe the whole damn Milky Way.”
“That’s useful Intel.”
“But here’s the bad news. I remember what I couldn’t before. He followed me back through the wormhole. He’s on Earth now.”
The silence on the line was electric. “Are you…certain?”
Muirhead hesitated. Feeling a suffocating constriction at his throat, he clawed at the collar of his sweat-soaked pajama top, only to discover that he had it on backwards. He had not gone to sleep that way.
“Dead certain,” he said thickly.
Neither one spoke for a long time. Finally Carl Muirhead said, “I’ll see you at the agreed-upon time,” and hung up.
Sleep eluded him till dawn. Instead, he danced in the Theta state, getting physical rest but no mental peace. He was trained to do that.
The morning was spent going over every CEES datafile on Nyarlathotep.
“Interesting that this H. P. Lovecraft should have dreamed or channeled such a name,” Cassandra was saying. “It means ‘Nyarlat comes in peace,’ or possibly ‘is satisfied.’ Doubtful he would know that.”
“Listen to the first paragraph,” Muirhead put in, “the one he wrote before he fully woke up: ‘Nyarlathotep…the crawling chaos…I am the last…I will tell the audient void….”
“Audient means listening. That’s a pretty advanced concept for a pulp horror writer.”
“He channeled this, unwitting,” Muirhead decided. “Records of his dream-life show the usual indicators of an emergent psychic. Lucid dreaming. Astral encounters. Nature spirit visions. Hyper-sensitivities to assorted stimuli. The works.”
“I’ll buy that,” Cassandra said. “But what does this story tell us?”
“That Target N is a sector god, and a harbinger for the end of the world, if not the galaxy. His advent on Earth will mark a kind of metacosmic Ragnarok.”
“Or trigger it.”
“Let’s not go there….” Muirhead wrinkled his brow. “Suppose that all these reports of sleep paralysis are in fact artifacts of Target N attempting to enter our plane. These black clouds. There’s nothing like them in mythology or literature. They’re not Jungian in nature. If they’re part of the collective unconscious, they don’t pop up except in SP experiences. They invariably induce profound terror. Ancestral memories of thunderstorms would not evoke a cold cosmic fear.”
“Lovecraft used that exact term,” Cassandra murmured. “Cosmic fear. He reported multiple REM sleep nightmares of profound terror. Even pre-prepubescent night-gaunt attacks. It’s starting to sound as if he suffered from SP before it was a documented medical condition.”
Muirhead leaned back in his chair and stared off into thoughtful space. “Nyarlathotep has been trying to invade Earth since this crypto-sensitive Lovecraft first summoned him out of the void. These clouds may be what Lovecraft called the crawling chaos. If he’s loose, we’ve got to find a way to put this big black genie back into its bottle.”
“Maybe Manton Marrs can tell us,” Muirhead mused softly.
Cassandra’s violet eyes deepened in hue. “Are you ready to go in, Carl?”
“Yeah,” Muirhead said, loosening his shirt collar absently. “And I think I know how I’m getting back if I run into trouble out there.”
“Care to share?”
“No. The Ether has ears.”
The pink noise buzzed insistently in his headphones as Carl Muirhead sank from Beta to Alpha to Theta. It was a drowsy feeling, yet his heart pounded high in his chest and his palms perspired profusely as if his pores had let go completely.
The coordinates were etched in the rim of the Vortex well once he reached Sanctuary. Methodically, he went through the standard protocols, then jumped into the swirling gray Vortex.
The membrane passed him through, and Carl Muirhead began tracking through a superblack realm in which drums pounded at some near distance. He had the sensation of things in engaged random motion—wild, unseeable, yet perceptible on a sensory level divorced from the organ-based human senses. It brought to mind a swirling blackness, if an unrelieved blackness could be perceived to swirl.
He recalled the frenetic final lines of Lovecraft’s story:
And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods— the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep. Somewhere back in Earth reality, his body shuddered in sympathy with his dislocated mind.
Mentally, Muirhead sent out the name Manton Marrs. If this was a typical thought-responsive other-dimensional environment, his focused intention would take him directly to his objective.
It did. Instantaneously. Manton Marrs was a disembodied energy signature, but one that was recognizable. And responsive.
—Manton? he probed.
—Yes. The energy coming back felt dismal and depleted. Muirhead moved toward it. He was confronted by a wall—a medium resembling a mass of gray gelatin. The essence of Manton Marrs was fixed in this like a wasp in amber. Muirhead sensed others as well, arrayed dimly behind him.
—Come back, he signaled.—I’ve been sent to bring you back. Come back with me.
The return signal was weak.—Cannot … . Unable.
—Connect with my energy. I know a way to return.
—No point … . Nothing to return to … anymore.
—What do you mean, Manton?
—Nyarlathotep … Dark Redeemer … Crawling Chaos … approaching … Sothis Radiant … Rapture … Ragnarok … All are One …
—What? Muirhead pressed.
—No hope … . It’s all … scheduled for demo—
—For what? Muirhead pressed.—I don’t understand.
A picture came to mind. A big black ball swinging on the end of an iron chain. A wrecking ball. It came toward him, causing him to flinch instinctively.
—I understand, Carl Muirhead thought back. He felt cold. The background drumming seemed to swell. A thin piping noise joined it, and he knew his time was short.
—One last question, Manton. What do you know about Nyarlathotep that will help me change the future?
—Created by … Love …
—You mean God?
—God is Love …
—That makes no sense.
—Nothing makes sense when you correlate the All … .
The dread piping drew nearer, and Carl Muirhead gave himself the command to return to Sanctuary. Nothing happened. He was not surprised. The drums boomed more loudly, and the flutes grew eager. He tuned them out and began chanting a desperate numerical sequence.
Muirhead came out of it, drenched in a chilly second skin of perspiration. The room felt warm in a claustrophobic way. The reassuring hum of the air conditioner was absent. Another power failure. They were a daily occurrence these days….
He rolled off the gray waterbed, saying thickly, “Better euthanize the remains. Manton Marrs isn’t coming back.”
Cassandra asked, “You found him?”
Muirhead shook his head. He could still feel that damnable drumming in his bones. “Wish I hadn’t. He told me there would be nothing to come back to.”
“I don’t want to hear that!” Cassandra snapped. “I have children.”
Muirhead found his legs. They were unsteady under him. “I almost didn’t make it back myself.”
“But you did. That means hope. We have hope.” She handed him a tall glass of icewater. “Tell me we have hope.”
Muirhead sipped slowly before replying. “The coordinates always take you to the target. I learned that early on. Before I went out, I gave myself a second set of coords, 0001/0001.”
Muirhead took another slow sip. “Ground zero. The place from where I started. Not Sanctuary, which is no longer inviolate, but my own body. Reverse coordinates. They carried me back.”
“Brilliant! No one’s ever thought of that before.”
“There’s something else no one has ever thought of before.”
“Let’s get Wentworth in on this. He has an absolute need to now.”
4. Beyond All Night
Fifty-two minutes later, Carl Muirhead was making his report. He covered everything that had transpired over the last twenty-four hours and finished with, “I think I understand what is meant by the assertion that Nyarlathotep was created by Love.”
“I don’t believe that the Good Lord would create such an abomination,” Wentworth insisted hotly.
“Hear me out. It’s complicated. A theory has been gaining ground in scientific circles for the last decade or so. The holographic theory of the universe. It postulates an explicate order—outer reality—what we see and experience in life, and a hidden vibrational realm, underlying it. The implicate order, which is the true ground of all reality.”
The scientific side of Dr. Wentworth kicked in. “Go on,” he said flatly.
“This ground, whether you call it the subatomic or the imaginal realm, is essentially consciousness—pure and undifferentiated. Like the quantum field, it manifests itself as our reality of disparate elements, but fundamentally it is one thing. A Plenum that is also a Void, empty and full at the same time. The ultimate contradiction. It’s been called the Frequency Domain. The Audient Void, as Lovecraft dubbed it.”
“I don’t follow,” Wentworth said slowly.
“Azathoth…” Cassandra breathed wonderingly. “Now we know… ”
Muirhead nodded. “In other words, all things in the universe are one thing manifesting itself as many things. It’s all one Matrix. The early RV pioneers discovered this, but it wasn’t part of our national-security mission, so that insight was kept within the Unit. No need to know for the civilian world.”
“Go on,” Wentworth urged.
“Nyatlathotep is an artifact of the implicate order, an issue of Azathoth, from which all reality springs. Now he’s loose on our level. He has one objective: to bring our local reality to a close. Why, we don’t know. But that’s his mission in the explicate order: to fold it back into the implicate order. To uncreate it.”
“And you think you brought him here?” Wentworth prodded.
Muirhead winced. “Inadvertently.”
“But if the world is near the End Times, there’s still Jesus.” Muirhead thinned his lips. “I don’t know that,” he said at last.
“It says so in the Bible. Have you ever read your Bible?”
“It’s not my Bible, sir,” Muirhead said stiffly. “But I would like to venture a working hypothosis. It is this: nothing was known of Target N until H. P. Lovecraft evidently channeled a brief piece of writing describing how he would come out of Egypt during a time of tribulation and augur the end of life as we know it. Such a time would be marked by political upheavals and unusual heat.”
“And the ice caps are melting,” Wentworth said thickly.
“Yes, the ice caps are melting. We’re deep in October and its feels like August. But hear me out. One element of the theory is that all minds are one mind, and godlike in their capacity to create reality. We now know that as individuals, bubbled off from our Source, we exist disconnected from our innate divinity.”
“I don’t buy this line of thinking,” Wentworth snapped. “There’s only one deity, indivisible…”
“As individuated sparks of the godhead,” Muirhead went on steadily, “we can sometimes manifest miracles unconsciously. Specific examples are innumerable and range from drawing long-lost objects back to us through synchronic chains of events to poltergeist-class telekinesis.”
“Superstition!” spat Wentworth.
“He’s going somewhere with this, sir,” Cassandra inserted. “Please hear him out.”
Wentworth subsided. He was sweating profusely now.
“I have been told twice that ‘Love’ is the creator of Nyarlathotep. We have so far assumed that meant God. For ‘God is Love’ is a recurrent tenet of all major religions.”
Muirhead paused. He let the statement hang in the still hot air.
“Suppose what was meant wasn’t God Almighty, as in a divine creator being, but a particular spark of that supposed entity? One highly imaginative although bizarre spark. An eccentric unique among his kind.”
Wentworth frowned. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Suppose Nyarlathotep was the product of the powerful unconscious mind of a long-dead writer of cosmic horror stories, Howard Philips Lovecraft. Suppose he didn’t merely channel Nyarlathotep. What if he created him, and all his train? The Ultimate Gods, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth. What if Lovecraft was powerful enough to create these dark forces he wrote about, and one of them has come to sweep the Earth—if not the galaxy—of all life?”
“Dear sweet Jesus!” Wentworth exploded.
Cassandra began sobbing raggedly.
Muirhead went on dully. “We can’t jam the genie back in the bottle because the one who created him, and the only one powerful enough to constrain Nyarlathotep and his intentions, lies dead in his grave. And once created nothing can be uncreated. At least, not by us.”
“This is a joke,” Wentworth choked out.
“A cosmic joke,” Muirhead corrected. “On humanity. I once had an encounter out there that proved—”
“Let me tell you,” Wentworth interrupted savagely. “It will take more than a wild-ass theory to shake my faith in a living God. I believe in the Rapture and the Resurrection. It’s been promised to us. Two thousand years of Christianity can’t be wrong.”
“One worshipper’s Rapture is another man’s Ragnarok,” Muirhead said. “Out there, Manton used the term ‘Dark Redeemer.’ I think he meant Nyarlathotep.”
Wentworth bristled. “I’d have a see a sign before I swallow—”
Cassandra vented a sudden shriek. A shaking finger pointed past Wentworth’s head. All eyes tracked it.
On the wall was nailed a crucifix. Where the Savior of Men had formerly hung in agony was a lean black figure, head smooth as an eggplant, a spiked tail enwrapped about its left leg.
“There’s your sign,” Carl Muirhead said softly. “Nyarlat Comes in Peace from beyond the Audient Void.”
“My God!” Cassandra breathed. “It makes sense. The Void is listening for…what?”
“For Nyarlathotep to visit his final peace on us all,” Muirhead said. “Just as the Greeks invented their gods to avoid facing the horror of primal chaos, the ancients created Jesus to mask the true myth of the one who will return at the End of Days.”
Dr. Wentworth straightened his Princeton tie, wiped a suddenly cold sweat mustache off his upper lip and cracked, “Excuse me.”
After he stepped into his private bathroom, a loud report was heard. There was no accompanying sound of a fall, but very soon a flow of blood began to seep out from under the door sill.
“We’re done here,” Muirhead said quietly. “We’re done everywhere. Everything is. Marrs said we were scheduled for demolition. He couldn’t have been more clear.”
Cassandra clutched at the armrests of her chair. “But my children!”
“Won’t exist much longer. Nothing will.”
She came out of her seat like a tigress, spitting her words savagely. “But—what do we do? We can’t just not do anything!”
“There’s nothing to be done. Once it’s all dissolved back into the quantum field, it won’t matter. There won’t be any more of any of us. It will be as if we never existed.”
“If it’s not today or this month or this year, then next year, “ Muirhead went on raggedly. “It’s only a matter of when and how they want to do it.”
“Are you even human? We have to stand up. We must! The race. Think of the human race. Future generations!”
Muirhead stared off into space. “Don’t you understand? We can’t stop Nyarlathotep. We are Nyarlathotep. All of us. We are one with Nyarlathotep!”
“I refuse to accept this! I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!”
“Remember my visit to the Throne of God? I didn’t tell you the whole story. It was empty, Cassandra. No one sat there. No one ever had.”
“No, no, no…”
“I decided to go back,” Muirhead continued sadly. “To make sure I understood the experience. I went out there and I beheld the face of God. It was radiant, as if it were composed of electrons. I approached. And as I approached, whatever energy composed the face of God separated, the way stars in a galaxy would separate if you flew through it. The face of God was like the face of the man in the Moon—an illusion. It wasn’t there after you got close to it. Behind it, I saw in the underlying reality… others…”
“Other gods or beings, or what have you. They were exactly what Lovecraft described. Blind cosmic godlets, mindless and ignorant. I didn’t understand then what they symbolized. I do now.”
Cassandra was moaning in a low, inarticulate way. Her grief could not find utterance.
Muirhead kept on. “The earliest minds in the universe must have created them before the religions took hold. Before the concept of One God took root in civilized societies. By that time, it was too late. Just as we create our earthly reality today, they created the Ultimate Gods in the eons long before anyone knew better, just as Lovecraft accidentally created Nyarlathotep, adding to the primal inchoate chaos the Greeks said predated the rise of the Olympian gods, which they imagined because the truth was too terrible to contemplate.” He bowed his head. “There are no gods. No one Creator. There is just the Audient Void of unconscious creation, and since no governing mind, no overriding spiritual authority exists, what was created was absolute chaos. Ultimate Chaos. The crawling chaos. It’s been crawling for untold trillions of kalpas, and will continue to crawl long after Nyarlathotep finally dismantles this segment of creation.”
Cassandra buried her face in her hands. “Don’t. I—”
“It’s no use, Cassandra. I’ve correlated my experiences. That’s where they lead…”
Night had finished falling. A nearly full moon was coming up over a stand of trees. It was breathtakingly big. A pure effulgence seeped through the closed office window. It made one almost feel hope.
“We should go now,” Muirhead muttered. “They’ll be looking for him soon.”
Quietly, they exited the NRO building in Chantilly, Virginia, and reclaimed Muirhead’s Honda CR-V. The early evening heat was oppressive. They got into the vehicle like the dead climbing into their coffins. Words rose in their throats, only to die unborn and unuttered.
Muirhead started the engine. Suddenly it was very dark. Too dark.
“Where is it!” Cassandra cried, craning her neck upward.
“Where is what?” Then Muirhead made the connection. It was hard not to. The rising moon had been coming up over the trees, limning them so that the branches resembled spectral cobwebs of wood. But now it was no longer there. A clear night sky was gathering early stars. No cloud obscured them. But where had hung the moon was simply a void.
“The moon couldn’t just…vanish…” Cassandra moaned, thick-voiced.
Muirhead scanned the skies. His voice came ragged as cloth. “It didn’t. It’s still there. You just can’t see it. It’s been doused.”
“Doused? Doused? What are you trying to—” From the glove compartment, she grabbed a flashlight and shone it upward in a foolish effort to locate the lunar orb.
“Please get hold of yourself,” Muirhead said gently. “The moon reflects light, remember? The light of the sun. We can’t see the moon because it has nothing to reflect.”
The flashlight fell from her impotent hand. “The sun…”
Muirhead released a long sigh of complete surrender. “On the other side of the Earth,” he said wistfully, “they’re probably witnessing it firsthand. But we’re fortunate. We have time to say our goodbyes. Not that they matter…”
“Ridiculous! The moon’s gone behind a cloud, that’s all. We’re jumping at clouds and shadows.”
Muirhead keyed the engine. “A cloud would be visible. And would block out the stars, too.”
Unnoticed, a blue-white star flared out of existence low on the horizon. Another followed. Then two more. The entire Milky Way was winking out, soundless and unexpected, dissolving back into the undifferentiated quantum soup from which it first emerged.
Cassandra scanned the heavens. “I…I don’t see Mars. Or Venus.”
“Dead worlds with nothing to reflect, just like Earth….”
Muirhead drove in silence, eyes stony. Above him the unlit lamp of night continued to rise, perhaps for the last time. No human eye could see it, but Carl Muirhead saw it clearly in his hyper-receptive mind. It was round and black and featureless like the mocking mask of Nyarlathotep….
Deep in his skull, he felt the subauditory vibration of relentless drums, beating, beating, beating the dark music of Ragnarok.