Necroscope: Avengers

Necroscope: E-Branch Trilogy (Volume 3 of 3)

Brian Lumley

Tor Books

What Has Gone Before: Invaders and Defilers

THREE YEARS AGO, THREE GREAT VAMPIRES--two Lords and a "Lady" of the Wamphyri, the alien originators of the alleged vampire "myths" or "legends" of Earth--entered our world via a transdimensional Gate under the Carpathian Mountains. Having split up following their covert "invasion," the trio went their own ways. Lord Nephran Malinari ("Malinari the Mind") enthralled an Australian billionaire to set himself up in a casino aerie in the exclusive resort of Xanadu in the Macpherson Range. Lord Szwart, a metamorphic "fly-the-light" in the truest sense of the term, headed for London, settling in a forgotten Roman "temple" in the deepest, most inaccessible bowels of the city. And Vavara--"beautiful" mistress of mass hypnotism--defiled an order of nuns by infiltrating their fortresslike monastery on the Greek island of Krassos.

Their plan to overthrow the planet, reducing it to a vampire paradise, was in essence a simple one: to plant gardens of deadspawn fungi and bring them to deadly maturity. Nurtured on the life fluids (the mutated DNA) of sacrificed vampire thralls or lieutenants, these toadstools when they ripened and spawned would release a myriad of spores into the Earth's atmosphere, to be breathed by an unwitting human race! Then, as men became blood-lusting monsters who hid from the sun during daylight hours and hunted by night, and nation fought nation as the world sank into chaos, and no one--least of all the mazed, blood-addicted victims--was able to understand or even consider fighting the incurable "disease" that was converting them...then the Great Vampires, the Wamphyri, would emerge from the shadows and come into their own.

As in the earliest days of their predawn Vampire World of Sunside/Starside, their thralls and lieutenants would go abroad in the world, carrying their monstrous plague with them as they consolidated their masters' (and mistress's) territories, where the laws of the Wamphyri would be the only laws. Malinari would take Australia, expanding into all the islands around and eventually Asia, and Vavara would take the Mediterranean and Africa, spreading east to form a border with Malinari. As for the metamorphic horror that was Lord Szwart: while it would seem he had been disadvantaged, with only the British Isles, France, Spain, and the northern and westernmost regions of Europe coming under his control, as he deployed his forces west across the Atlantic, he would quickly seed the Americas with his deadspawn, and when the time was ripe he would move his power base to New York. The metropolis's sprawling underground network would provide access to all parts of the city whether in daylight or darkness, while its greatest building would be Szwart's aerie, its every window lacquered black and draped against the sun.

These had been the ambitions of the Wamphyri, and they had seemed infallible; their dreams, and an unwitting mankind's as yet unrealized nightmares. But despite their legendary cunning and leechlike tenacity, the three Great Vampires had not reckoned with E-Branch.

E-Branch (E for ESP): a top-secret arm of the British intelligence services, many of whose psychically talented agents had dealt with vampires before, and not only in this world but also in Sunside/Starside. Ben Trask, the members of his London-based organization, and a small handful of people in the Corridors of Power were the only human beings who knew of the alien invasion. And because of the planetwide panic any disclosure would cause, they didn't dare speak of it to anyone outside their circle.

But having traced Malinari to Australia (and with the ever-grudging assistance of their Minister Responsible in Whitehall: his help in covertly informing an Australian counterpart of the problem and enlisting military aid), Trask and an E-Branch task force had ventured down under to confront Malinari in his aerie. There in Xanadu they had destroyed his fungi garden (though not without the timely assistance of Jake Cutter, a young man whose extraordinary powers were not yet fully developed or even understood) but The Mind himself had escaped.

As for Jake Cutter (though more especially from Ben Trask's necessarily cautious point of view):

Jake seems an entirely wrongheaded man with something of a chequered background. Having fallen foul of a gang of international drug-runners and suffering at their hands, he was bent on settling old scores when strange circumstances brought him into contact with E-Branch. (He was in fact pursuing a vendetta with this criminal organization's powerful leader and several of his close colleagues--people who had raped and murdered a girl of Jake's acquaintance, with whom he had had a brief but passionate affair--and had been responsible for a series of violent, extremely ugly deaths in their higher echelon.)

But the leader of the gang--a Sicilian vampire named Luigi Castellano--had laid a trap for Jake, causing him to fall into the hands of the Italian police. Incarcerated in a Turin prison, Jake had soon discovered that Castellano was not without influence there, and that Jake's demise had been scheduled for the very near future.

Then, during a jailbreak (also arranged by Castellano), when it seemed certain that Jake must die under fire from the guards...a weird reprieve, a miraculous escape: Jake's first taste of things to come, and the beginning of his transition.

Something he took to be a ricochetting bullet--a flash of golden fire--struck him in the forehead. But instead of falling dead he fell into something else entirely and was conveyed through the Möbius Continuum (a means of metaphysical teleportation) to Harry's Room at E-Branch HQ in London.

Harry's Room:

The long-dead (?) Necroscope Harry Keogh was once the most important member of E-Branch. On those occasions when he stayed at the London HQ, he had a room of his own, as did many espers. Harry's Room, however, has always been (and still is) different from other rooms. Perhaps to signal their regard for their much loved, highly respected ex-member--or perhaps because the room continues to retain something of the Necroscope's personality--it has been left untouched and unoccupied, exactly as it was in the time of Harry's residence.

And so it was a singular event for Ben Trask and his espers to discover a bewildered stranger inside the locked room of the Necroscope, in the heart of security-conscious E-Branch HQ! And it had to be more than a mere coincidence...

Jake's advent had come at a propitious moment (or at least, everyone except Trask thought so), for it was only a short time later that Nephran Malinari was discovered in Xanadu, his playboy retreat and aerie in the mountains of the Macpherson Range. And teaming Jake up with Liz Merrick, a young, attractive, budding telepathic receiver whose powers, like Jake's, were still developing, Trask took them to Australia as part of his task force.

It was during the course of this largely successful operation that Jake discovered the truth of what Trask and his people had suspected all along: that indeed he had inherited something of Harry's powers. For when the original Necroscope had died on Starside, his metaphysical personality--the sidereal intelligence that was Harry--had fragmented into many golden splinters or darts, one of which had entered into Jake! Now in his dreams Jake could converse with the "dead" Necroscope through the medium of deadspeak. Then, too (not yet aware that his dreams were of crucial importance, that they had real meaning in the waking world and were much more than disturbing symptoms of paramnesia and a crumbling mentality), Jake had felt obliged to ask Trask just what, exactly, a Necroscope was.

But while Trask had been willing to explain something of a Necroscope's powers to Jake--his ability to teleport, and the unearthly "gift" which enabled him to converse with the dead--there were certain other things that he dared not speak of. For as the director of E-Branch for many years, Trask had developed an enquiring and skeptical mind; he knew how very deceiving outward appearances can be, and how even the most innocent seeming of men (especially the innocent ones: for example, the original Necroscope) may be susceptible to the greatest evils. Moreover, Trask had never had much faith in coincidence or synchronicity. He believed that things usually had good reasons for happening, and that when they happened might be equally relevant...

Jake had come on the scene at a propitious time, certainly--but for whom? And wasn't it simply too much of a coincidence that at the advent of a trio of Great Vampires out of Starside, a new Necroscope should also put in an appearance? So, had Jake arrived of his own (or Harry Keogh's) accord, by "coincidence," or had he in fact been sent to infiltrate E-Branch? What was it of the original Necroscope--how much of Harry, what element--had entered Jake? Something of his light side, from his earlier life, or something of his far more dangerous side from a later, darker period?

For one of the several things that Jake didn't yet know was that at the end of the Necroscope's time on Earth he had been a vampire in his own right--Wamphyri! And probably the greatest of them all! And not only Harry but two of his sons: they, too, had been vampires, changeling creatures, on Starside in a weird parallel world...

Thus Trask's doubts--or more properly his natural caution, coupled with his inability to read the young Necroscope despite that his own weird talent made him a human lie detector--held him back from bringing Jake more fully into his confidence. For if Jake was not the real thing, if he had not inherited Harry's mantle to become the fantastic weapon against the Wamphyri that most of Trask's agents believed him to be, but rather possessed the potential to become the exact opposite...then Trask might yet have to kill him!

Hence his great quandary, for if on the other hand Jake was the real thing, and if he was made privy to everything, then he might easily shy from the knowledge--the full knowledge--of what he was becoming and what he would be capable of doing, and would be lost to E-Branch forever. For while it takes a special kind of man to accept the responsibilities of a Necroscope, the role of caretaker to the dead, it takes an extra special man to accept that the Great Majority will do almost anything for love of him...including the agony and horror of self-resurrection, of rising from their graves in order to protect him!

After the Australian venture, when Jake was given the comparative "freedom" of E-branch HQ--if not access to all of its many secrets--the first thing he did was desert the cause in order to pursue his own agenda: his vendetta with Castellano. But the fact was that Jake didn't see his leaving as any kind of treachery; his reasons for walking out on Ben Trask and E-Branch were more than one, and not least self-preservation.

First, the Harry Keogh influence had been replaced by something of a far more disturbing nature: Jake was finding himself under constant attack from a deceased vampire lieutenant called Korath (once Korath Mindsthrall), an ex-minion of Malinari. Dead and sloughed away in a subterranean sump in Romania, Korath had used deadspeak to tell Jake the histories of the three Wamphyri invaders from Starside--but in the process he had also tricked his way into semiresidence in Jake's head. Only let Jake relax and let his mental shields down, Korath would be there with him in his mind, dreaming his dreams, conversing with him, attempting to influence--to "guide" or "advise" him--and generally sharing his waking world experiences. Jake could send him away, back to his sump, but he could never be absolutely certain when Korath was or wasn't there.

The only good thing to come out of this was that Korath had "inherited" something of his former master's mentalism; endowed with eidetic recall, he'd memorized the mathematical Möbius formula given to Jake by Harry Keogh--which for some reason Jake was unable to grasp--and had thus become his reluctant host's one and only key to the metaphysical Möbius Continuum's mode of trans- or teleportation.

And so he and Jake had worked out a compromise. All Korath wanted--or so he had led Jake to believe--was revenge on his former master and the other Great Vampires for killing him as a means of accessing our world. But since Korath was incorporeal, a dead creature whose sole contact with the living was through Jake and his deadspeak, the new Necroscope was the only one who could possibly exact such a revenge. Jake couldn't go about his business without Korath, and Korath would have no existence at all without Jake.

One other problem with Korath: if Ben Trask found out about his coexistence with Jake, it might yet be a case of having to kill two birds with one stone--or more properly one man and a parasitic mind-thing with however many bullets were required to do the job.

But even that, self-preservation, wasn't Jake's only reason for quitting the Branch. In fact he was driven to leave by some unknown but increasingly insistent force which demanded that he pursue his own--or perhaps someone else's?--agenda. Moreover, the longer he remained with E-Branch, the greater the chance of a romantic attachment to Liz Merrick, with whom he'd developed a semitelepathic rapport. The last thing Jake needed was to be close to someone he couldn't touch for fear of a dead vampire's voyeurism!

In Jake's absence, while he used the Möbius Continuum to pursue and harass Luigi Castellano's Mediterranean-based drug-runners, E-Branch had tracked down Malinari and Vavara to the tiny Greek island of Krassos. This time, as distinct from the Australian operation, Trask's task force was a very small one, and politically and economically (even climatically, in an El Niño year), there were huge problems to be overcome. But with the help of a Greek friend of theirs from an earlier adventure--an Athenian police inspector called Manolis Papastamos--finally E-Branch located and burned Vavara's monastery aerie, while her deadspawn garden was dynamited and buried in a series of explosive attacks.

But at the same time there had been two major setbacks. In London, Ben Trask's newfound love of only a few days' duration, the telepath Millicent Cleary, had been kidnapped by Szwart and his minions down into his Roman temple dedicated to dark gods in a forgotten cavern deep under the city. And in Krassos, Liz Merrick had been taken by Vavara when that mistress of evil made her escape from the blazing monastery. It had looked like the end for both of these brave women. But:

In Sicily, where Jake had finally rid the world of Castellano and his organization--and in the process discovered why he had felt so driven by his vendetta: that this had been part of a task begun but left unfinished, even unremembered, by the original Necroscope--the new Necroscope "heard" Liz's desperate cry for help. Across all the many miles between them, Jake heard it. It was the rapport which existed between them, which had boosted Liz's developing telepathic talent.

But when Jake required Korath to show him the Möbius equations in order that he might use the Continuum to find Liz and rescue her...then Korath had sprung his trap!

Korath had already discovered that Jake couldn't be bribed or threatened when his own life was at stake, for without Jake there would be no Korath; so whatever else the vampire did, he would try to keep his host alive. But Jake would definitely be open to persuasion if another's life were at risk...and more especially if that other was the woman he loved. Now Jake knew Korath's real objective: access to his inner mind--to be one with him, a part of him--and perhaps permanently!

Jake couldn't refuse...

Without Korath's help, Liz was as good as dead...

In order to view the equations, create a Möbius door, teleport through the Continuum and rescue Liz, he must first accept this dead but incredibly dangerous thing's conditions. And this despite Harry Keogh's warning: that he must never let a vampire into his mind...

But there was no longer any other way...

He went along with it, gave Korath access to the very core of his mind and welcomed him in "of his own free will"...and only then discovered how he had been duped, that he would have been able to conjure the formula all along--if Korath had not been blocking his every attempt!

Too late now, though, to do anything about it, for Liz was in trouble on a small Greek island hundreds of miles away...

Jake was in the nick of time. In Krassos, he reunited Liz with her E-Branch colleagues, who then informed him of the plight of the telepath Millie Cleary in London. Using the Continuum, Jake returned Trask and company to their London HQ, where the espers combined their weird talents to locate Millie. Still alive, her psychic aura was well known to Liz who was then able to contact her and determine her precise whereabouts. Now it was up to the new Necroscope.

Taking Millie's coordinates from Liz's mind, Jake "went" to the distraught telepath in her previously unknown temple prison. There he found not only Millie, but also Lord Szwart's terrible deadspawn garden, which (after a nightmarish confrontation with the "Lord of Darkness" himself) he managed to destroy by bringing about an explosion of natural gas.

So now, and despite that the plans of the Wamphyri were in disarray, the main question had to be: how many of the invaders themselves had survived? Had Vavara died when her limo crashed, throwing her into the sea? Had Malinari been trapped below, in Vavara's garden, when it was buried? Had the metamorphic Szwart suffered the true death in a Roman temple whose destruction had even registered on the seismographs at Greenwich?

Now, too, with Ben Trask and his people in Jake's debt, it was time for a showdown. Time for Jake to give up his secret--the fact that he harboured a vampire intelligence in his mind--and ask for E-Branch's help, but also time for him to demand to know the full story: why had Trask been so reticent in his dealings with him, and what had been the problem with the previous Necroscope that the Head of Branch hadn't dared talk about it?

Harry Keogh's ability to raise the dead? But Jake had found that out for himself; indeed, it accounted for the grey streaks at his temples, and the hint of fearful, forbidden knowledge in his eyes. But he knew that wasn't the entire story. Perhaps one day the teeming dead--that Great Majority of human souls gone before--might believe in Jake, have enough faith in him that he could ask them, but for now he was asking Ben Trask.

Or he would have been.

But at a meeting in Trask's office, when all Jake's questions might finally have been answered:

An urgent message from the Minister Responsible: something had come up which he knew would "interest" E-Branch. His usual British understatement, for in fact the minister knew that it was something which only E-Branch could handle.

And now read on...