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“Scientists said Sunday they expect to discover so-called space warps—hidden extra dimensions of existence other than space and time.…”

“Scientists May Find Space Warp,” UPI, 02-18-02

Having stepped through the gigantic steel gates into the access tunnel, then carefully to one side of the railway, Stark paused, troubled by the appearance of the horizontal shaft extending before him. Though the corridor had been fashioned to match the outer hall, darkness as thick and as black as nurtured coal ebbed around him. This was unexpected.

Turning, he glanced at the ceiling. A maintenance bulb hung sideways on a conduit fastened to a cracked and tar-coated timber. The crooked light dangling from it painted the gang’s silhouette against the floor and up one wall as fish-eyed and angry, like uninvited ghouls standing bent and impatient for the group to move along. Halfway between it and the darkness, a tiny waterfall dripped lazily from a new crack in the wall. A murky pool formed beneath it on the uneven floor, from which a cluster of rocks emerged in a long crooked line, like the bony finger of a lost adventurer beckoning them forward into the cursed unknown.

“I believe there’s a penlight in your vest, Joe. May I have it, please?” Stark said. He watched as Joe unsnapped the appropriate pocket, withdrew an object slightly smaller than a cigar, and handed it to him. Stark twisted the flashlight and, when nothing happened, tapped it against his palm. Inspecting it, he found it had been crushed.

Joe moved closer to examine the damage. “That must’ve happened when the Hulkster fell down,” he said, clearing his throat.

Stark gave the penlight back to him. “The Hulkster?”

“You know, the big soldier you killed.”

Though Stark knew Joe didn’t mean anything by the blunt response, the comment stung like a firebrand. The fact that he had killed an American soldier was already heavy on his mind.

Clearly unaware of the offense, Joe added, “I have light sticks we can use. Five of them.”

“All right…but you’d better pray those are broken bulbs ahead, not a cave-in blocking our path.”

A chill moved through Stark even as he uttered the sober words. This could be the end of the line. He had often taught cadets that if ever they needed shelter, they should seek natural formations. “You don’t have to worry about them collapsing,” he had said. “Cave-ins occur where men have blasted through the rock.”

Now, if the impending void were due to a cave-in, if the joists had broken recently and dropped the unnatural ceiling, the tunnel no longer represented a path to freedom, but an abysmal, tomblike trap.

“What about the other set of tracks we passed a ways back,” Joe asked. “The ones with boxcars on them? Is that a way out?”

The alternative tunnel had been designed to transport the giants to their appropriate staging areas when the time was right. It eventually exited the mountain and joined the Columbia River Railway at I-84.

“It could have been, but not now,” Stark said.

“Why’s that?”

“It’s a much longer tunnel—several miles longer—and we’re out of time to consider it.”

Pritchert checked his watch and agreed. “We have little more than thirty minutes to implosion, sir. There’s no way we can go back—unless you think returning topside and out the front gate is feasible.”

Joe looked Stark in the eyes. “Implosion?”

Accepting a light stick from him, Stark cracked it and said bluntly, “Don’t ask, and as far as going topside now, not a chance.”


As Stark started down the tunnel to investigate the darkness, Joe followed into the haze. The unusual haunting he had felt moments before was worsening with each step. The lack of light alone was so absolute it felt contemptuous, like the abandoned tunnels he’d explored with Garth Pumphrey a few years ago along the old Lewis and Clark trail. Those had been boggy and caliginous too, filled with unknown secretions and crystalline formations that had crusted within the deserted rocks over the last half century, though he knew the frontiersmen that built those tunnels had never encountered anything like the mutations these walls had seen. Indeed, to be surrounded by so many meters of Montero’s infernal stone was equivalent to falling down the proverbial wormhole on the boulevard to Hell, a fine location for gremlins and other tricksters, but not a place for people to be stuck.

Twenty yards further, the phosphorescent rod Stark was carrying glowed neon green against a solid rock wall. At his feet, Joe could see light fixtures crumbled in a messy heap, wiry and torn apart at the mounts. The tunnel had indeed collapsed.

Kneeling, Katherine ran her petite hands along the edge of the debris. The farther she reached into the darkness, the deeper the earth must have been, for it was as if the loam slanted upward and away from her until it no doubt reached the top of the ceiling. A pyramidal blockade.

“Now what?” she whispered, looking despondently at Joe. Her eyes were as deep as they were puppy-dog sad.

“Hang on a second,” he said. He leaned into the void and, before the group knew what he was doing, started up the vertical mound. He heard Stark behind him warn, “Be careful, soldier, you could get buried doing that.”

“I know, I know.”

As if there were options.





After Joe disappeared into the darkness, Stark could hear him straining, grunting, pushing something out of the way.

He gazed overhead.

Couldn’t see anything.

Imagined the worst.

Death had been a risk all along, and Stark had accepted it, for himself and the others. The ethics of what they were doing had been rehearsed and the options weighed over and over, leading to the same conclusion each time—Operation Gadfly was the right thing to do. This was war, and war was hell. It had to be this way for the sake of the greater good.

Suddenly from somewhere above, Stark heard Joe say, “Hey!” He sounded excited.


“There’s a crawl space up here! I can see light on the other side!”

Oh God. Thank you, Jesus.

Stark shouted, “Strike another rod. Wave it at us so we can find our way to you.”

Then, for reasons he couldn’t comprehend, the embryo container jerked in Stark’s right hand. He froze, waiting to see if the movement had been in his mind.


An eighth-mile away, with monster in tow, Apol emerged from the elevator and walked into the Dungeon. Immediately he sensed something calling to him, and stopped. Rahu flared his nostrils at a lingering residue of uninvited guests. In a cage nearby, its hackles raised against its quivering skin, Mantus, the Mega-Nephilim only slightly smaller than Rahu, made a keening sound, sending information to Apol about unscheduled visits to the Dungeon by Donald Pritchert and John Stark. Strangers were with them, the thing conveyed, and they had gone toward the access tunnel. They were carrying a round container.

Although encumbered by the temporary shrine of its fleshy costume, the foul and ancient spirit beneath Apol’s skin suddenly heaved its malformed head upward with a shriek so plaintive and inhuman that Apol’s eyes, usually alive with fire, rolled back into pale cataractic discs. The scrape of the inner rogue convulsed agonizingly through his throat and burst into a thunderous wail that echoed down the Dungeon’s passageways.


The group of five whirled around. A screeching sound, unlike anything they’d heard before, unearthly and deranged, filled the corridor behind them.

Joe struggled backward and stared down the tunnel.

From the shadows, as though expecting something monstrous to fly at them through the gateway, Sheri winced. “W-what was t-that!?”

Stark’s usually vibrant demeaner, illuminated by the gentle radiance of the light stick, went flat. Rubbing his hand across his mouth, he whispered nervously, “Him.”

“H-him?…H-him!? W-who?”

Stark pulled a necklace from beneath his shirt and took it off, kissed it, outlined the sign of the cross over his heart, and wrapped the rosary around the embryo tank’s handle. He hoped it would bind the spirit that had shaken the container, if indeed one had. He thought about removing the embryo and destroying it, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it could be needed as a hostage for their freedom. He would destroy it when the time was right.

For now he stared at the others, his face sunken and gaunt.

“Apollyon,” he breathed apprehensively. “He’s here.”


Terrified by his unusual comment, Pritchert stared at Admiral Stark. He’d known the man for at least a decade, and had never seen him afraid of anything or anyone at any time. Usually two steps up the rung from most military officers in terms of personal control, Stark was the last person on earth one would expect to succumb to paranoid or delusional outbursts. Yet his claim that an ancient demon had arrived inside Montero was simply more than Pritchert could accept. Searching Stark’s face for hope, Pritchert stammered, “Y-you mean Apol Leon, r-right?”

Although he tried to sound composed, the words came out of him in an impotent, nervous squeal. Deep in his mind he could hear Apol’s voice whispering, “Look at how well we’ve adapted to your environment.” He shifted his attention to the gates behind them. Moments ago they had been like portals to freedom; now they seemed as cryptic as enclosures to an outrageous mausoleum.

Glancing warily at the Admiral, shaking visibly, he raised his voice and murmured again, “Y-y-you said Apollyon is h-here! John! You mean Apol Leon! Right! John!?…John!?…Mr. L-leon! Right!?”


Stark focused on the girls. He couldn’t allow Pritchert’s rising hysteria to unnerve the two of them. He pointed toward the darkened area where Joe had disappeared, and whispered to them as calmly as he could, “Run.”

As if unsure what he meant, Katherine blinked and said, “What?”

Stark stepped toward her to repeat the command, the beat of his heart responding to what he knew was about to happen. Pushing both ladies toward the hidden mound of earth, he implored them, “I said run!”

The sound of his voice, although controlled, must have terrified Katherine and Sheri as they screamed and charged into the rubble, thrashing and clawing up the avalanche.

“Find Joe and don’t look back!” he called after them as they fled. When they were gone from view, he turned and grabbed Pritchert by the shirt. He pulled the “overrider” from his hands, shoved it behind his own belt, and jerked him face-to-face. “Snap out of it, soldier,” he said roughly. “You hear me? You’re frightening the girls.”

Pritchert gazed at him, strangely disconnected, his lips quivering like a child’s when they know they’re about to cry, but no words came out of him.

Seeing that his anxiety was paralyzing him, Stark slapped Pritchert across the face, hit him so hard that he fell to the floor, then grabbed and lifted him from the muddy ground. “I said snap out of it, Donald, we’ve got to move,” he growled.

Slumping as the Admiral let go, Pritchert looked as if he’d lost his best friend and was in shock at the thought of it all. He sniveled with a mesmeric stare, and stumbled toward the embankment. “O-okay…okay.”

Now a clattering sound in the distance caught Stark’s attention. He knew what it was; he’d seen the training videos and how the Mega-Nephilim whip themselves into a feeding frenzy before they begin their final assault. It was more horrifying than impressive. The creatures had been designed to do one thing very well—kill, period. Heeding his own advice, he clasped tightly on to the embryo container and rushed into the void.


Pritchert’s response to the bansheelike wail had scared Katherine half to death. As she struggled to make it up the mound, she could feel the Dragon of her dreams all around her, moving phantasmagorically through the darkness, brushing against her skin, swishing its claws at her face. She cried desperately to Sheri, “Sheri! Hold up! Wait!”


Sheri heard Katherine screaming behind her and, with no thought for herself, turned and headed her way, surprised that under the circumstances her instinct to offer assistance was as strong as it was. Normally, she would not have been shocked by the reaction. But for the last twenty-four hours her need for self-preservation had weighed heavily on her mind. She had never been controlled so maliciously, had never been denied physical liberty, had never been manipulated and induced to obey a total stranger, like she had the past two days. The experience had convinced her that, from now on, she needed to protect herself and her own personal interests at any and all costs.

Yet now that it really mattered, the dissociative inclination had been without real strength; no self-indulgent, self-centered debate about the ethics of survival, simply the innate reaction to a frantic cry for help. The desire to rescue Katherine had actually cleared her troubled mind. Apol could kill her body, she told herself, but he couldn’t touch her soul.


Stark was on his way to help Katherine when suddenly Sheri came out of the darkness. Illuminated by the phosphorescent rod he was carrying, she looked like an emerald angel swooping down from God above. He watched as she grabbed Katherine by the hand and said, “Don’t be afraid. Follow me, and I’ll show you the way.” The way Katherine’s face abruptly lit up, Stark could tell the scene had meant something unusual to her.


A second baleful sound, malignant and terrible, escaped the human costume of Apol Leon, as Rahu’s equals, Bisclaveret, Chemosh, and Mantus, reeking of methane, crawled from their cages and stood abreast the rougher beast.

The demon in Apol glowered at the four of them in a low, boiling voice. “You’ll bring me the embryo,” it said. “Sssee to it that it’s not harmed. And capture that cow, Sheri. I can ssstill use her.”

The dreadful hunters leaned forward, their steely eyes shooting back and forth inside their pebbled sockets, heads cocked, ears pricked like warhorses, waiting for the command.

Now Apol glared at Rahu. “And you’d better not fail me like that night at the river, when you let the boy essscape. I want him dead like his father. I want him eviscerated!”

With a violent jerk, Apol curled his head back, forcing his concealed and hideously forked tongue to unfurl like a mottled leather strap. A short, delightful pain shot through his throat as the lengthy muscle fell from its grotesque gullet onto his chest with a putrid, sloshy flop. He shook his transgenic bones, stretching his mouth in pleasant agony as the bloody organ swung in front of him like a tumorous pendulum. A phlegmy gurgle more reminiscent of dragons than of men disgorged a sulfurous stream of arterial blood over his lips as black as oil and as rotten as clots of stinking sewage. It ate away his thyroid cartilage, larynx, and esophagus on its way through his ruined throat to his cancerous alien mouth. He was changing rapidly now, and so was the thing inside him.



In the access tunnel, near the top of the mound, Stark paused as Katherine slipped through the crawl space to Joe and Sheri on the other side. The shaft, formed by the tunnel’s ceiling and a muddy collage of rocks and sludge, was barely sufficient for a large man to fit through. He considered the damp, seeping walls that shaped the vaulted passage. The roof could come down on them at any moment.

Joe pulled Katherine from the other side of the hole and said, “Okay, Admiral. You’re next.”

Without hesitating, Stark threw his cap off and pushed into the soggy hollow, his arms out in front of him, the embryo container in one hand while he dug at the floor with the other. The passageway was only eight or nine feet long, but narrow and restrictive. If Joe hadn’t taken hold of his wrists and pulled him through like he did, he doubted he could have made it out the other side. Once his shoulders penetrated the craw, he erected himself and stood up on a berm beside Joe.

“Thanks, soldier,” he said. “Is that everybody?”

“All but Pritchert.”

Kneeling down and staring through the crevice, Joe said in a loud whisper, “Donald?”

Nothing but his echo returned.

Pausing, he looked at the Admiral as if to ask something, then started into the passageway after Pritchert. Stark caught him by the seat of the pants and pulled him back out. “Wait,” he said delicately. “Let me handle this.”

Stark placed his head into the burrow and with a fatherly voice said, “Donald…come on now, son…”

When nothing happened, he repeated a little louder, “Donald? Can you hear me?”


On the other side of the shaft, near the bottom of the debris pile, frozen in terror, Pritchert’s face was bleak with fear, the whites of his eyes barely discernable against the dreary cavernous gloom. He’d heard the Admiral, but dared not answer. Fifty yards away, at the tunnels entrance, five horrendous creatures—one resembling Apol Leon—were looking his direction.


Joe had the feeling something was beyond the crawl space looking for them. He focused, straining to detect…what? He did not know.

Then he heard something…a sound—so horrible, so inescapable, like mammoth hooves galloping toward them. His face went pale as the otherworldly presence slammed against the opposite side of the mound.

Donald Pritchert began screaming: tortured, blood-curdling screams, as Joe spun to the girls and shouted frantically, “RUN! RUN! RUN!”

Right beside him, Stark jerked his head from the crawl space and braced himself against the ledge. He reached for Joe’s vest, as if trying to grab a grenade, but something wet and hard flew through the passageway and struck him with such force that it knocked him head over heels down the bluff onto the railed landing. He dropped the embryo container on the way to the bottom.

Since the utility lights were working on this side of the shaft, Joe saw what happened. He headed for Stark, scooping up the embryo container as he descended toward the floor.

On the ground next to the Admiral was the object that hit him—Donald’s left leg from the kneecap to the heel. It was covered with globular drool.

Now monstrous hands were tearing at the undersized crawl space, bone-chilling sounds blaring from the voracious predators as they clawed to move the rock.

Joe pulled John Stark to his feet and looked for the girls. Sheri and Katherine were running down the corridor, their ragged, filthy gowns fluttering ghostlike around them. He withdrew a pineapple grenade from the load-bearing vest and pulled the pin. Acknowledging the admiral, he tossed the explosive device toward the opening.

Just then, a large, talon-tipped fist punched through the hole.

Joe’s thoughts spun. If he hadn’t seen the gigantic fingers with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed them possible. The digits were much larger than those of the dead beast he’d seen in the ravine, as thick as baseball bats, covered with warty, razorlike protrusions. At the tip of each finger, armorlike claws, pointed and flexing, curled in and out toward the palm.

He spun and raced toward the girls.

Stark ran.

Sheri ran.

Katherine ran.

And then the grenade exploded, and they couldn’t run anymore.


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